The Ixmucané Birth and Women’s Health Center opened in 1997 in Antigua, a historic and beautiful town near Guatemala City and one of UNESCO’s cultural world heritage sites.

Founded by Jenna Houston (a certified nurse midwife from the US), the center was named in honor of Ixmucané, (“Ish…moo…kanay”) described in the primary Mayan text Popol Vuh as the grandmother of all Mayans and the entire human race. She is the feminine goddess, the protector of women, and the vessel maker (Goetz, Morley, & Recinos, 1950).

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Ixmucané is the midwife for all midwives.

The Ixmucané Birth and Women’s Health Center (Centro de Partos y Salud de la Mujer Ixmucané) opened in a large old hacienda in the center of Antigua.

A year after Ixmucané opened, we began making connections with the local traditional midwives and were eager to learn more about indigenous birthing practices and midwifery in Guatemala. We soon discovered that the local midwives were required to attend monthly meetings facilitated by a government-trained nurse. What happened at one of those meetings forever changed the direction of this work.

About 40 traditional midwives came to the meeting from the small towns and remote areas in the Department of Sacatepéquez, dressed in traditional woven traje (skirts and woven blouses with sashes). Most wore shoes, some were barefoot, some had children in tow.

While seated in a circle, the midwives spoke in turns, shared their stories and problems, asked questions, and voiced their concerns. Although many spoke from the heart, the nurse seemed dismissive of their comments. One comadrona (midwife) stood to speak. She began quietly and carefully, as if finding it difficult to share what she had to say. Looking downward, she told this story:

“I attended a birth two months ago and the mother died. I see the family every day and am so sad. The husband cried at the birth, and the children are now all motherless. I too cry and go to church every day. On my knees, I ask God for forgiveness. I know it is God’s will, but maybe I did something wrong. I can’t work anymore, because they took my carnet (license) away, and I feel guilty and very, very sad. I want to know what happened and what I could have done.” (Antonia Son Buk, 1998) All the midwives sat in silence for a moment. The nurse facilitating the meeting then said, “Alright, next…..”

The loss and pain in the traditional midwife’s story was shocking. The tender and personal plea for assistance was ignored, and the enormous anguish and courage of this midwife to share her story with the group was dismissed. At the meeting’s end, Ixmucané offered to start a midwifery support group and invited the midwives to come to a meeting at the birth center. The next day, 19 midwives arrived at the doorstep of Ixmucané. We were impressed by their eagerness to learn and connect. During that very first meeting, they suggested the idea of a support group of midwives, “by midwives and for midwives.”

Soon thereafter, Midwives for Midwives became a non profit and Ixmucané Women’s Health and Birth Center became a clinical practice site for midwifery students from other countries, and a place where traditional midwives could bring clients from their communities for consultation and care.

Ixmucané Women’s Health and Birth Center became the living representation for the merging of indigenous knowledge and evidence based best practices.

  • 2000 – 2002

    The first class of 18 Traditional Midwives (TM) trained in evidence-based midwifery.  

  • 2001

    Midwives for Midwives and Women’s Health International (MFM) incorporated as a non-profit and received 501(c)(3) status.

  • 2001

    Met with various Guatemalan midwifery organizations in 5 different areas of Guatemala, conducted a needs assessment and began developing close relationships with Guatemalan midwives and organizations working with traditional midwives. Developed a training model based on stated needs using the Hesperian Foundation’s materials.

  • 2001-2002

    MFM formed Asociación Ixmucané (IA), a Guatemalan-based NGO run by midwives that was a national organization supporting unity among Guatemalan midwives.

  • 2002-2005

    Requests for training grew. Over 350 TMs requested training. MFM further developed the TM training and took it “on the road”, traveling to 4 other departments in Guatemala. MFM provided over 200 hrs of training to 250 traditional midwives. (This is the longest, most comprehensive training for traditional midwives ever provided by any governmental or non-governmental agency and the only training of professional midwives training midwives.)

  • 2006

    Ixmucané clinic closed due to lack of sufficient funding and resources.  MFM redirected focus on the Training Model and the Monitoring and Evaluation tools that were developed and tested to evaluate Traditional Midwife trainings.

  • 2007

    Partnered with Guatemalan Ministerio de Salud in training midwives from Solola, HueHuetenango, Totonicopan. Established a birthing room in Solola public hospital. Established the first clinical site within the public system that allowed for hands on experience within our didactic program. Granted authority by the Minister of Health the ability to give a “ titulo” (title of authority to practice midwifery) with the seal of the Ministry of Health.

  • 2007-2010

    Continued training of Traditional Midwives (TM). A total of 450 TM’s trained. Monitoring and Evaluation of midwives trained completed which included 1 yr follow up.  All follow-up interviews of with midwives trained demonstrated continued improved knowledge and skills.

  • 2010

    Trained 23 Midwives in San Juan De Laguna contracted by the Mayan Support and Soroptimist Club, West Betuwe Holland. All midwives were practicing and demonstrating excellent use of skills at one year follow up.

  • 2011-Present

    Review of lessons learned and strategic planning with MFM board members. Training in Sociocracy, Non-Violent Communication and sustainable organizational development. Formation of a self-regulating collective of senior midwives and Guatemalan TMs with the goal of owning and operating a free-standing birth center (Ixmucané), providing care, training and illuminating the midwifery model.