"A fragile job" : Haitian traditional midwives (matwons) and the navigation of clinical, spiritual and social risk Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/1z40kw35s

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  • Haiti's political and economy history has led to a maternity care system that lies out of reach, geographically and financially, of most Haitians, resulting in excessively high maternal and infant mortality. The most common birth practitioners are homebirth midwives (matwòns), who attend roughly three-fourths of all births in Haiti (UNICEF), often without the benefit of emergency obstetric services. In this ethnographic study, I examine how matwòns experience caring for mothers and babies in extraordinarily low-resource and high-risk settings. This qualitative research employed a critical approach and feminist research methodologies. In in-depth interviews I asked participants to describe the challenges they find in their work. Then, in an innovative style of group meeting called Open Space, matwòns reflected on those challenges collectively, with an aim to ameliorate their current situations. Data analysis utilized a modified grounded theory approach, which allowed the matwòns' own narratives to determine the categories of analysis. Emergent themes resulting from this analysis revealed four main challenges in the work of matwòns, as well as matwòns' own strategies to mitigate those challenges. The four broad challenges, which include physical risks, social/spiritual threats, a lack of livelihood, and an obligation to practice, are experienced either as episodic hazards or chronic stressors. Matwòns' personal mitigation strategies centered on two broad approaches, providing protection, and offering service. However, the Open Space meeting created an opportunity for matwòns to strategize collective mitigation efforts through professional organization. Based on these findings, I argue that a more nuanced understanding of matwòns' experiences reveals their adaptive skills, which, in part, resemble Davis Floyd's (2007) notion of a postmodern midwife, and offers opportunities for mutual accommodation (Jordan 1997[1978]). Recommendations include support and advocacy for the self-organization of Haitian matwòns, as well as their greater inclusion in efforts to improve maternal and infant health outcomes in post-earthquake Haiti.
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