My Beloved Teacher: Odilia

{Odilia visits a postpartum mother in her home}

Odilia is a wife, mother and indigenous midwife in a small rural village in Guatemala. In addition to her own 12 children, she raises her late sister’s five children. She is a wise woman, community leader, healer, and birth keeper.

Odilia taught me more about hard work, faith, and servanthood than anyone else I’ve ever met. As a young, healthy girl in my early twenties, I could barely keep up with her!

Every minute, of every hour, of every day she spends serving others. Odilia wakes at 6:30am, her eldest daughters make her breakfast, and then she sets out in an old pick-up truck to visit her beloved pregnant women in their homes. There she measures their bellies, takes their blood pressure, soothes their fears and discomforts, teaches them about safety and nutrition, and prays over them.

{Candles lit for a new mother blessing}

Odilia treats her pregnant mamas, new mamas and their babies with special herbs in the warmth of the temascal (Guatemalan sauna). There she bathes them and performs traditional Mayan massage.

For a rural midwife, her record is impeccable ~ in hundreds of births attended, she has never lost a baby or mother. She is one of the only local midwives who performs timely transfers to the hospital in cases of complicated labor. One of her first births was a vaginal breech birth at home, a baby born limp. She intuitively resuscitated the child despite never receiving training. Today the child is a healthy and intelligent teenager.

{Odilia prepares her supplies for a home birth}

Odilia did not choose to be a midwife – she was called to in a dream. After a series of family tragedies – a baby dying, crops freezing, and money gone, Odilia dreamt one night of a tiny old woman so small she could hold her in her hand. The woman said, “Do you know why these things are happening? These events are not random.” The woman told Odilia that she must listen and heed the message of the dream, otherwise her children would starve. The woman showed Odilia to the front door, which she opened. The golden light of early dawn was streaming through, and in front of Odilia was a line of women as far as the eye could see, all full with pregnancy. “They need you,” the tiny old woman told her. “They are waiting for you.”

Odilia changed my life. She taught me that with courage, discipline, and deep faith, miracles are possible. She taught me that motherhood is one of the most sacred paths of life, and worthy of honor. She showed me that with care and respect, women, no matter their circumstances, are capable of saving the world. In her small community, Odilia is a true hero. She is also mine.


A Guatemala (A Photo Essay)


El Barranco

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