Sunday, December 10

When the births left the houses: the story of María Victoria García Ochoa, “the midwife” of Monreal del Campo

Fresh out of college, María Victoria arrived in Monreal del Campo in the mid-1950s, for what would be her first contact with the profession. From then on, her name would always be linked to an alias, that of “the midwife”. She dedicated her life to helping women in childbirth, until it passed from the private sphere, -from a family environment with home births, assisted or not- to the public sphere, with the hospitalization of pregnant women. Then her life took a slightly different course, although also linked to care and health, María Victoria got the exam for practitioner and practiced until 2007, when she retired at the age of 70.

But the documentary that was presented just a week ago in Monreal, the town that saw the protagonist develop professionally and where she has lived for almost 50 years, focuses solely on that first stage as a midwife. The journalist Elisabeth López Orduna, who investigates and studies motherhood in the 20th century, wanted to reflect in a biopic the fundamental work carried out by María Victoria in the town, and how her presence meant an important change in healthcare throughout the deliveries.

In those years, having a matron in the village was almost a privilege, and the exception to the rule. Only the largest municipalities had one and at that time, Monreal del Campo had about 3,000 inhabitants. In the smaller towns, the women depended on the practitioner or the midwives, neighbors who had certain skills and assisted in deliveries, but who did not have medical knowledge. This was also the dynamic in Monreal, until an advertisement in the newspapers of the time requesting this service made María Victoria pack her belongings and, from Zaragoza, set off for this town in Teruel’s Jiloca.

For Elisabeth López Orduna, director of the documentary “La matrona”, the work carried out by García aroused her admiration and respect. She has dedicated part of her career to studying motherhood in the 20th century and even produced another documentary in which she interviewed women from her town, Lécera, who narrated her experiences of how she had been give birth at home In many of these cases the stories were very harsh, with births without assistance or with the help of neighbors, with infections and subsequent complications that had put the life of the baby and the mother in danger.

Elisabeth and María Victoria met precisely at the presentation of this documentary in Monreal del Campo and the journalist was impressed to hear the testimony of this midwife, with experiences so different from those that the women of Lécera and surroundings had told her until then. “She told me about a way of proceeding that had nothing to do with what I had heard from other women, and after talking with her and knowing her story, this documentary began to take shape, I proposed to María Victoria to tell about this stage of her life with images and she accepted”, explains the journalist.

A life dedicated to caring for other women

The biopic narrates, in the first person, the story of how she became a midwife. María Victoria explains that she came from a very humble family in Allo, a town in Navarra. She already listened to her aunt and her mother talk about how she attended and assisted in some births. The good results that she obtained in school and her capabilities, already evident at that time, made the nuns and priests of the municipality pay for her high school and university studies. This is how she was able to pay for up to two careers, that of a midwife and that of a practitioner. The second year of her studies and her internships were carried out at the Maternity hospital in Zaragoza, where she read the announcement that would take her to Monreal.

Later, the documentary focuses on her years of profession, with anecdotes such as when María Victoria had to assist women who lived far from the town, in massas, and walked to them accompanied by her dog. Also how she followed up with her neighbors before and after the birth to check that everything was going well. It is even narrated when María Victoria was able to buy her first car, a 600 of hers, which avoided her long walks to visit her patients. There is also no shortage of testimonies of childbirth, some complex and hard, which were also part of her career, but which she faced with great self-confidence.

“María Victoria is a very brave woman, who gave everything for the good of her profession and who never stopped training. She was very advanced for the time and she motivated other women to study because it hurt her to see how they worked in the fields and then her work continued at home, where they took care of everything. She saw those differences between men and women and she did not like them, ”says López Orduna.

In Monreal there is no one who does not know María Victoria and the work she carried out for the people. “She has always been very proud of her host town and in Monreal they love and appreciate her very much. Not only because of her performance as a midwife, she was a very human person, very close and attentive, ”says the director of the biopic.

The affection towards the protagonist was noted last Saturday in Monreal. So many neighbors attended the premiere that it had to be screened up to three times, with a completely full room.