I didn't see her for several weeks, so went on horseback to her aldea, about two hours' away. I had been to her compound with several tiled houses, one for the kitchen, the other a bedroom, another for storage, a work area in the center for animals, threshing wheat or drying maize. She was nowhere around, rather unusually. I waited a while and finally I saw Eucevia coming up from the river with a basin of washing on her head. Her usual smile was missing, I sensed something amiss. She had only her toddler daughter with her, no babe in arms. I could see straight away that the little boy had died, 'I'm coming from washing his things' she said. We sat together and were silent. What could we say? Her little girl shuffled her feet, no one felt like talking.
Eucevia invited me to eat, and we sat heating tortillas and beans, finally finding something to say. I then made a promise that when she had her next baby, I'd come to help deliver it, as I was doing research on midwifery practices, working with my friend Dona Martita, who attended childbirths. Eucevia and I looked at one another and sealed the promise to be together for the next childbirth.
Time passed quickly and we kept making progress with our weekly meetings for the Mayan women's weaving group, growing both in numbers and the women's confidence. Eucevia kept showing up, and I noticed under her expanding belt and skirt that she was indeed pregnant. Mayan women have practical clothes, a long wrap around skirt held up by a 12 foot long woven belt that they wind around and tuck the end underneath. The belt both holds the skirt up and acts as a protection for the stomach and back, especially useful during pregnancy. Their blouse or guipil can be split at the side for easy breast feeding when the time comes. Eucevia's waist was definitely getting bigger, and she promised to remember our pact. I told Dona Martita about the forthcoming event and she, the experienced midwife, agreed to come with me at any time day or night.
One night I heard a knock on the door at 10 pm, far past the time for visitors to Tom's and my little house on the far edge of the town. It was Eucevia's husband, 'The time has come, please come.' I rushed on my bike to Dona Martita's, she gathered the equipment and we quickly got horses from the local stable, grateful that it was a full moon lit night. Eucevia's husband led the way, and we arrived at their compound at the top of a hill, surprised to see Eucevia greeting us. She insisted on offering us tortilla and beans, and Dona Martita and I thought to ourselves that this was a false alarm. After she was sure that we had eaten and had enough to drink, Eucevia said, 'It's time', and asked us to come into the bedroom house, a separate building. We asked her husband to boil water and we went inside.
There was a simple wooden plank bed, covered with petates or straw mats, some blankets, a basin. The bed was quite high up, resting on saw horses. Eucevia by now was having more frequent labor pains, and her water burst. Dona Martita and I asked her to lie on the bed, and she said, 'No, this is the way we do it.' There was a rope lasso hanging from the rafter, and Eucevia knelt on the bed. Dona Martita and I took Eucevia's cue and realised the wisdom of her position. She half squatted with her legs apart, held on to the looped lasso with both hands and pushed. We got ourselves ready to 'catch' the baby, and sure enough, quite quickly the baby just about fell out of Eucevia, helped out by gravity rather than her having to push out while lying on her back, a method presumably invented by doctors so they could more easily see what was happening. A baby girl literally fell from heaven into the world, and all that Dona Martita and I had to do was to catch her, be ready there for her to arrive.
Dona Martita and I tied off and cut the umbilical cord, cleaned the baby and gave her to Eucevia, still alert and eager to greet her new daughter. We called the father who came to rejoice with us. They invited Dona Martita and me to spend the night, and we camped out in blankets in the same room with Eucevia and her daughter. By now it was cold, and we huddled in our blankets on the floor, Eucevia and her daughter on the bed. We kept talking late into the night, we three women, savoring the stillness, the dark, the closeness, the joy of witnessing the birth done the Mayan way. As we finally fell to sleep at about three in the morning, I yet again realized I still had so much to learn and felt fortunate that my friends were generous in teaching me. The still and silent darkness was a comfort, the lost child remembered with the new one newly brought into the world.
Sequel: 27 years later, I went back to visit Eucevia and her family, surprising them by driving to their aldea with some of the original weavers from the group we started in 1965-67. Lucia and Reina, two of the weavers, walked with me up the hill to Eucevia's compound. They were of course surprised to see me there with the women from Comalapa. The astounding thing was that it was the birthday of the daughter born 27 years ago, and she was there to celebrate with her family. So it was exactly on her birthday that I showed up unannounced. And the other amazing thing is that the daughter worked in rural community development with Oxfam, a UK charity, and she was teaching nutrition, mother and child care as well as enterprise development in remote areas, the work that I had been doing as a Peace Corps volunteer when I met her mother.