Mexico has been badly shaken by a photograph of a woman squatting on the grass and grimacing in pain as she gives birth to a child. It’s not that the photograph is so dreadful, although one feels for her pain and the absence of privacy and, therefore, dignity. What’s causing so much soul-searching in Mexico is the reason the woman ended up being photographed giving birth on a lawn.
Mexico, a country with socialized medicine (except for rich people, who have their own private healthcare market), has a troubling shortage of good maternity care. Additionally, Mexico’s indigenous people routinely face discrimination when they try to get access to government health services.
Irma Lopez, 29, went to a health clinic in Oaxaca, Mexico, because she was in labor. She didn’t even make it through the front door. Instead, a nurse told Lopez that she was only eight months pregnant, and therefore “not ready” to deliver. The nurse told Lopez to take a walk and come back the next day.
This advice was ironic, since Lopez and her husband had already walked an hour to the clinic from their one-bedroom hut in the mountains. While walking outside the clinic, though, Lopez’s water finally broke.
Lopez dropped to the lawn in front of the clinic and, clinging to the wall of a neighboring house, gave birth to a son. Lopez said the experience was terribly disturbing. She was entirely alone, because her husband was seeking help. “I didn’t want to deliver like this. It was so ugly and with so much pain.”
Because she was alone on the lawn, passers-by could see what was happening. Eloy Pacheco Lopez took a photograph and sent it to a reporter. It ended up being published in several Mexican papers, including a widely-read tabloid.
Most people assumed that Lopez had been denied care because she is so poor, as well as being a member of the Mazatec tribe. Mayra Morales, a spokesman for the Network for Sexual and Reproductive rights, says that the photograph hit a nerve. “The photo is giving visibility to a wider structural problem that occurs within indigenous communities: Women are not receiving proper care. They are not being offered quality health services, not even a humane treatment.”
The clinic, however, claims that the problem wasn’t discrimination, but lack of funds and a language barrier. Lopez speaks no Spanish. That fact, combined with a partial work stoppage at the clinic meant that the clinic didn’t have the staff to treat Lopez, with the result being that she ended up on the street. The government has suspended the clinic director, Dr. Adrian René Cruz Cabrera, and is investigating the clinic.
Oaxaco is a painfully poor, rural state. Innumerable women have died there during childbirth, either because of hemorrhaging or preeclampsia. It is no coincidence that Oaxaca also has a high indigenous population. There is a direct correlation in Mexico between a state’s maternal death rate and the number of indigenous people there.
The baby, thankfully, is doing well. Lopez has named him Salvador, which translates to “savior” in English. “He really saved himself.” He will join an older brother and sister in his parents’ one-bedroom home.