They threw it into my arms. “Here! You can hold it,” Fabiola, the midwife, said to me loudly as the doctor continued to joke about how nervous I looked. The newborn baby looked fragile and pink as she lay uncomfortably in my tight grasp. Her mother extended her head slightly but quickly got distracted by the surgical procedure that the gynecologist was about to perform. Fabiola quietly started to wave her hands in the air in motions that may have seemed random to any bystander. She explained to the father with a smile, “This is a Japanese form of energy healing. It’s called Reiki. It will calm her.” We had both actually just become certified practitioners that Saturday. I stood in the corner of the room in awe.
The thoughtful process I was having after this experience abruptly ended due to the fast pace of my day. After the procedure had ended, I rushed over to the main building of the clinic to teach a self-defense class. Women from various rural communities all around San Miguel De Allende, Mexico came to this building to attend the course. They all participated in CASA’s public health program. The women filed into the large space that was often rented out for revenue. Bright smiles decorated their faces and loud chatter filled the grand room. I asked them to form five lines in the hall. Their excitement could be felt in the air. Like the youth I taught in NYC and in San Miguel, they giggled when I urged them to kiyap louder with every kick or punch.
After class, one woman approached me. Her pregnant belly made it difficult for her to walk, but her smile still stretched from ear to ear. We chatted for a while about our backgrounds and cultures. Soon enough, her sister, Janette, came to join in on our conversation as the other women drifted into a small room to join a Zumba lesson that CASA hosted every week. In comparison, her lips were clenched together in a serious manner and two little children followed closely behind her. “We’re going to need those skills you know,” she interrupted abruptly. Janette then went on to tell me how her sister had been in an abusive relationship for eight years. At this point my heart dropped, and I also wanted to embrace her. As we said our goodbyes that day, she urged me never to forget her. “My name is Estrella,” she said. “You can remember me every time you look at the stars.” I told her I would come back.
Later that day when I returned to the clinic, the doctor, Manuela and I sat in the consultation room waiting for a patient. “Were you scared when you watched the birth this morning?” she asked me. We had the opportunity to discuss my encounter with Estrella, focusing on the effects her abusive relationship may have had on her pregnancy. She explained that what was needed was legislation to protect women and a society that empowered them because violence did not only take place in homes.
When Manuela worked in a public hospital, she became a witness of the violence perpetuated against female patients. Doctors overused C-sections in order to make more money. Some forced sterilization on many women because they saw mothers who were constantly pregnant as careless. One young lady once told Manuela that she did not want to come in for post-natal care because her doctor treated her poorly. Manuela said to me, “Many doctors view these women as culprits and burdens on society, but in reality these women are victims. They simply do not have knowledge of their own rights.”
As she spoke of her experience, I was somehow forced back to my experience from that morning. The mother was in obvious pain but the sight of her baby put a miraculous smile on her face. The mistreatment of doctors, structural violence and societal burdens have no right to take that smile away.