Birth Center Transforms Women's Care in Chiapas
"Hop on a plane and come visit us!" That's what Cristina Alonso told us when we asked what she'd like to say to Seva donors.
"I wish you could walk in and meet the new mothers and their babies, talk with the midwives we've trained and see the vibrant community Luna Maya has become in just our first year. I want you to know you've actually helped change the world."
Cristina is a midwife and founder of the Luna Maya Birth Center in San Cristobal de las Casas, a highland town in Chiapas, the southwestern state of Mexico. In a place where the conflicts of race, gender, culture and class have resulted in widespread poverty and some of Mexico's highest rates of infant and maternal mortality, Luna Maya offers a fresh solution.
It's a culturally sensitive, holistic approach that combines the proven benefits of midwifery with the best of medical science and modern health care. And it's a great example of the work being supported by Seva's Community Self-Development Program.
SEEING THE NEED
With her background in public health and midwifery, and nine years of experience working in Central America, Cristina understood what was needed in Chiapas. "As I worked in family planning clinics and attended home births as a midwife, I could see several factors that threaten women's health," Cristina explained.
"Economic pressure and poverty are driving a lot of indigenous people from rural communities to the city. As this happens, women lose the social networks they've always relied upon and lose their connection to traditional midwives. In the city, women can't find midwife care because the older midwives are dying and there hasn't been adequate training of new ones. At the same time, the hospitals are focused on a medical model that doesn't offer natural, women-centered maternity care, and they don't really know how to work with midwives. The net result is that many women go without the support they need — and that's when things become dangerous.
"The idea for Luna Maya was to create an alternative, a place that provides the education and care women need for safe, natural childbirth. Seva understood and believed in this vision right away, and helped us with the money and support. And now, here we are — celebrating our first birthday!"
THE WORK OF LUNA MAYA
With devoted volunteers and a staff that includes two midwives and a nurse-educator, Luna Maya has launched a comprehensive array of programs and services.
Prenatal Care In addition to medical exams and wellness care, there are classes in childbirth preparation and prenatal yoga.
Birthing Support Professional midwives support mothers in safe, natural childbirth — at the center or at home. If needed, women are referred to a network of medical providers for specialized or emergency care.
Mothering Support The Mother's Group provides education about lactation and parenting, plus ongoing emotional support. The Lunay Maya Shop has natural health care products and supplies for babies and mothers.
Midwife Training More than 60 midwives representing 40 indigenous communities attend monthly trainings. The program respects traditional ways while preparing midwives to identify and address obstetric emergencies.
Collaborative Partnerships Doctors, nurses and hospital staff are being trained to support natural birth strategies. Midwives are trained to make referrals for medical care as needed. The result is a network of professionals working together to offer women effective, flexible and affordable care.
Community Education Through workshops and a weekly radio show, Luna Maya is teaching about sexual and reproductive health, family planning, natural birth, gender issues and more.
And taking a cue from successful Seva sight programs around the world, all services at Luna Maya are offered with sliding-scale fee structure that promotes sustainability and helps subsidize service to low-income women.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
"These problems women face in Chiapas weren't created overnight, and they won't be solved overnight," Cristina said. "But with the Seva family behind us, we're going to move the world to make it a better place.”