Doña Cuca, Wise Elder and Midwife
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 91, Autumn 2009
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Reprinted from Chapter 7, Stories for Students, in The Power of Women, Motherbaby Press, 2009. To order the book, please visit our page on The Power of Women.
I sat on the roof of our little midwifery school in Guanajuato, Mexico (CASA School of Professional Midwifery), and held the hands of Doña Cuca. She was one of the village healers, which includes being a midwife. She was very old and very tired.
I asked about her health and whether she wanted to tell me anything before I left for my home in the Ozarks of Missouri.
“Estrellita (Little Star),” she said slowly. “I’m old and can’t do what I used to. The young ones don’t want to walk in our path (meaning they don’t want to become midwives). They don’t want a chicken and some eggs for all their time and labor.”
“What do they want, Doña Cuca?” I questioned softly.
“¡Dinero!” she said simply and plainly. “They want money.”
We sat together quietly, with our heads lowered and our hearts even lower. She in her world and I in mine. Her world was disappearing and the world of my Cherokee ancestors had already disappeared. Then Doña Cuca sat up straight and tall.
”And I ask you, Estrellita,” she said. “What are they going to do with their money but buy a chicken and some eggs?”
I nodded. We sat with our hands and hearts entwined. We sat in silence with the truth ringing in our ears and our souls. We sat with a different sort of silence. A more hopeful silence.
If you are a student of midwifery, of healing or of life, the stories in The Power of Women are for you.
Note: In 2007 Doña Cuca died one week before I arrived for my annual work at CASA. I cried for a week, missing her wisdom and her great love. Whatever we shall do without the great elders only God knows. Their wisdom is not found in books and cannot be replaced by books. I guess we will have to grow our own. But it takes a lifetime to grow a wise elder. As I was explaining to the first mother I helped over 30 years ago—who was pregnant with her sixth child at the time—that I was not a little old granny midwife and didn’t have that level of knowledge, experience or wisdom, she responded, “Well, how are you ever going to be, if you don’t get started!” Right then and there I got started…and so must we all, with all the more commitment, joy, devotion and gratitude when we learn that one of our beloved and wise elders has walked on. We can do more than follow in their footsteps; we can leave behind our own for the next generation. And the next. And the next.
Below is the story of a young mother with a one-year-old daughter who came to visit me during her second pregnancy in 2008. She was afraid that she would have her baby before the birth team could arrive. I agreed that this baby would come faster. I reminded her that she was a strong woman and would have a beautiful birth. I gave her the gift of Doña Cuca’s story and told her to call on Doña Cuca, if she was afraid. Whether it was her intuition or her inner desire, indeed, Olivia had her baby before the birth team arrived. Aurora was born on August 17, 2008, just as I was being anointed as Mother Clare of my hermitess order and celebrating my 55th birthday. And that was planned by God. Or Doña Cuca.
Olivia told me her story with these words: “…in a moment of extreme intensity while sitting on the toilet all alone, probably pretty close to transition, I really thought I was going to die, or at least pass out. Then, in a voice I had never heard come out of my mouth before, I shouted out, ‘Doña Cuca! I need your help! Help me not die, please! MorningStar! Help me!’ Then I hoisted myself up and stumbled into my room to get more comfortable. Shortly after that Duncan came in to help me. My water was broken all over the six inches of blanket/floor not covered with shower curtain, and I began pushing.”