Shara Lili is a Hungarian-American producer based in California’s San Francisco Bay Area (www.sharalili.com). Having grown up bi-culturally between Hungary and the United States, she’s fascinated by how our experience of life is shaped by the particular lenses, languages, and cultures through which we view it. Shara is a graduate of Stanford University, where she studied the history of social movements and revolutions in the Modern Age. Her research at Stanford about communications in social movements is what brought about her passion for film as a medium through which to engage in collective conversation about shaping humanity’s future. She has produced and edited hundreds of commercials and short video pieces for clients including Tesla, Google, Nike, SanDisk, as well as the narrative dramatic short film Inamorata (www.inamoratafilm.com), which premiered at Blackstar, the San Francisco Black Film Festival, and on Issa Rae Presents.
Noemí Delgado is a Salvadoran-American health educator, tarot card reader and doula based in San Diego. As a 2019-2020 Fulbright Scholar, she collected testimonies from midwives in El Salvador and worked closely with the Association of Midwives in Suchitoto to develop programming and resources to support the midwives’ work across El Salvador. She is co-founder of the collective Cuidando a Las Que Nos Cuidan (www.cuidandoalas.org).
There is a global birthing crisis, with women all around the world being stripped of their autonomy when they go to the hospital to give birth. However, the situation in El Salvador is exacerbated by the repression of midwives in an already precarious reproductive health landscape. Midwives in El Salvador have been progressively pushed out of the nation’s formal
healthcare system, despite a growing body of research demonstrating the positive impact that midwives have on maternal health in Latin America. Reproductive rights are limited in El Salvador, making it an important place to advocate for improving maternal healthcare.
Instead of being recognized as a resource for community-based maternal and reproductive care, midwives are forced to operate under very constricted conditions since the government announced that all home births are prohibited in 2011. Despite the harsh criminalization of their work, midwives continue to provide life-saving services to women and girls in their communities. We hope this documentary will help advocate for a restoration of the rights of both midwives and birthing people in El Salvador.
We believe this story is important to tell not only for El Salvador, but also for the globally relevant insight it provides us as birth becomes increasingly medicalized everywhere. If birth becomes the exclusive realm of hospitals and doctors, we lose access to traditional birthing practices which integrate our connection to the natural world from the moment we enter it, and which center women’s agency. In contrast in hospitals, nonconsensual chemical induction of birth and medically unnecessary c-sections are more and more common. This documentary brings into question the idea that ancient indigenous wisdom is outdated and thus in opposition to scientific progress. The midwives of Matronas, many of whom are in their late seventies and eighties, safeguard an extensive body of knowledge about important technologies for a safe and empowering birth, such as plant medicine, gravity, the moon, corporal intuition, and emotional support. These technologies are in danger of being lost if the government continues to persecute midwives in El Salvador, making training of younger midwives rare.
The filming of this story grew out of the intimate relationships between the filmmakers and the women featured. Noemí, who grew up between El Salvador and the United States, lived with Lola and Patricia, two of the film’s main characters, for eight months while completing her Fulbright fellowship, and considers them mother figures. Shara spent a total of five weeks filming with the midwives and women over two separate visits in the summer and fall of 2019 and she too lived with the midwives during the filming. Creating Matronas was a community-driven process, as the midwives played a key role in planning visits to film rural communities and coordinating interviews with midwives and patients. The filming of this project took shape through a combination of deep trust between the midwives and the filmmakers and a shared desire to raise awareness about the history and repression of Salvadoran midwives, as well as of the widespread obstetric violence taking place in the public hospital system.
It is urgent to document the historically unique, but globally common wisdom and experience of these midwives, especially as their age gives us limited time to do so. Moreover, in a moment when hospitals around the world are running out of resources, when the for-profit biomedical establishment is crumbling in the face of a global pandemic, we must recognize the healers, the herbalists, the midwives who have been keeping their people healthy for centuries. This is a time to re-think healthcare—to strengthen the localized resources that already exist within our communities and divest from the idea that giant corporations, or even our governments, are going to save us. We must create medicine that brings us closer to the earth, to the moon and to each other.