Saturday, August 20, 2016

San Juan Midwife

Crucifix belonged to Polonia Montanez

San Juan Capistrano Midwife

The blister on her left hand bleeds on the slath. Rods and weavers form the crucifix constructed from willow and native grass. Doña Polonia Guiterrez Montanez (Canedo and Simard) waits for labor of the girl on the cot to hasten. Doña puts the cross in progress on the night table.
"I'm adding oak to the stove outside, I'll be right back."
"Hurry before the next pain comes, or I will die." 
"He watches over us, pray to his mother Mary."
Doña trims sprigs of black and blue cohosh from hemp string bunches of herbs. Flowers and leaves smash in a mortar. Herbs turn to malachite green mush. Then she carries the ball of moss to the fire outside. Add a log, and place the herbs into a iron pot hanging over the fire. Water bubbles over the iron. It spits as the tincture dunks. Aroma of smoking sage fills the air. Doña allows the medicine to steep. She returns to the girl.
Inside the girl's legs prop on the hammock. In the darkness her limbs are the color of roasted chestnut.
"Sit forward, I'll massage your back."
As the girl  leans forward, Doña times stimulation of energy pathways with the return of the spasms. Doña hums. Her hands sand the sharpness of pain.

She sings the responsorial psalm, "Cuenten las Maravillas del Señor."

The girl screams.
"Don't waste energy. Let me see if it's time to push."
The midwife pulls up the girl's gown. She holds the legs wide. The opening is the size of a silver dollar.
"Next contraction we push. Breathe now."
The girl inhales with a whistling sound  through the gap in her front teeth. Doña brings the clean towels closer. She mops the brow of the Indian girl.
"Will the Padre take my baby?" Tears are in her eyes.
"No. We know what the soldier did." 
The wave of contraction returns. Doña props the girl upright to use gravity. 
"Make long good pushes. Don't yell or speak. Bear down."
The girl's face reddens. She grunts.

"A breath. Now push more. Almost."
The girl leans back. She rests. In a minute the urge to push out the pain returns. The girl lifts up. With Doña's coaching, the head comes out from the womb. Doña holds the neck of the baby as the girl relaxes before the next contraction. Cramps return with force to push the shoulders, and a wet child is born. Doña cleans the infant's mouth and eyes. 
The girl, a child herself reaches out  to hold the infant. Doña places the cooing baby on her chest.
"Let me put your son in a clean blanket. Let us pray in thanksgiving for a healthy child."
As the two rest, Doña finishes creating the straw and willow crucifix. She hangs Christ upon the wall above and blesses herself.

(The cross remains in her humble house in Old Towne San Juan.)

Caroline Gerardo
copyright August 20, 2016

Polonia was one of a few midwives at the San Juan Capistrano Mission. It is said she created rain from prayer during the drought. Oh how we could find such a talent today.  She taught the native children at the mission. This woman out lived four husbands (Simard - the last was a Medical Doctor who lived to the age of 103) She practiced healing arts with native herbs. If you have any artifacts or information about her family the Heritage Society, and myself would be proud to record more facts.

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