Teacher profile: Francine Madrid
Today in the Ancestral Apothecary classroom a small circle of women gathers around an altar with one candle and a bouquet of fresh flowers and herbs. Throughout the day they share deeply personal stories amid much tears and laughter. This safe and sacred space was created for women to tell their stories about their wombs, their menstrual cycles, and their histories of sexual abuse, pregnancies or abortions.
Teacher Francine Madrid created the Matriz Sagrada (Sacred Womb) class to help women make a healing connection to their wombs and to their bellies. Francine wanted to help women connect to this part of their body because “our womb is a place that can bring joy, laughter and creativity or it can bring sadness.”
Francine practices Mayan abdominal massage, which she studied with her mentor Rosita Arvago in Beliz. This type of massage can be done on men or women, and focuses on the entire abdominal area. For women and womb carriers, one of the primary abdominal organs in need of attention and healing is the womb.
“People need this work,” says Francine of Mayan abdominal massage. She says that so many women and men suffer from what she calls “cold stagnation in the belly.” People are disconnected from their abdomens, which is unfortunate because so many hold emotions, memory and trauma in their bellies. Her own grandmother died of stomach cancer, who according to Francine, “held so much in her abdomen, that it ate her alive.”
Francine is a highly trained healer, who works as a massage therapist, herbalist, doula and is also a senior midwife apprentice. To describe her work, she prefers the term partera, which encompasses all her modalities. In a more Mexican indigenous cultural setting the partera, or midwife, would regularly use massage and herbs as part of her midwifery practice. However, in the United States, as midwifery has been modernized, more midwives are trained exclusively in a western medical model that omits traditional midwifery practices like herbalism and massage.
Francine grew up in a large Mexican/Native American/European family in San Diego. Her mother was the oldest of ten children and Francine grew up close to her aunts, grandmothers and “around family all the time.” She found comfort in her big family but at some point began to feel different than her clan. Her path of self-exploration led her to relocate to the Bay Area for “a series of misadventures.” Eventually she met her partner Tim and started a family. Today they live in Emeryville with their two children, Isa who is eleven and Amalia who is nine.
The seeds of Francine’s midwifery practice were planted when she was sixteen. At that time she discovered on the bookshelf at her best friend’s house, a book called Spiritual Midwifery. She was enchanted by this book, which described birth as a sacred ritual.
At the same time, Francine’s mother became pregnant with her younger brother. Francine’s attended her brother’s birth and was struck at how starkly different it was than what she had read in Spiritual Midwifery. She described her brother’s birth as “an alien abduction” in a harsh, hospital setting with bright glaring lights and masked, faceless people groping at her mother.
Yet the idea of becoming a midwife never crossed her mind for many years. She studied massage and as a massage therapist developed a niche for working with pregnant women. After the birth of her own two children, her desire to be a midwife was sparked. Her partner Tim grew up in England “in a very ‘Call the Midwife’ setting,” where home births were a cultural norm. So it was a natural choice for them to choose to birth at home. Francine was stuck at how radically different her home births had been from anything she heard about from her friends’ hospital birth stories. She also became aware that the midwifery community was predominantly white, even though traditionally parteras were a strong part of her own Latina and indigenous cultures.
After the birth of her own two children, Francine became a doula, which is a trained birth assistant. Doulas give physical, emotional and spiritual support to the mother before, during and after childbirth. Eventually, as a doula Francine became “fed up with what I was seeing in the hospital.” She witnessed many hospital births that upset or angered her, especially situations where the doctors were not given consent by the woman to “stick a hand up their vagina” which ended up re-traumatizing the birthing mother, especially those with a history of sexual abuse.
Still she did not choose to walk the “long hard road to be a midwife” until she met her first mentor, Latina/Mayan partera Sara Flores of Reclaim Midwifery. Francine saw Sara give a talk on home birth midwifery at a conference. She approached her afterwards and they quickly became friends. Sara told Francine that if she ever wanted to become a midwife she would gladly mentor her. Sara was also aware of the lack of midwives of color and was willing to support Francine’s path. When Francine enrolled at the National College of Midwifery, Sara became her first preceptor.
In one year, Francine will complete her training, so that she may practice “culturally competent midwifery” to serve the Latino community. Here at Ancestral Apothecary we are lucky to have someone with her gifts and talents as a teacher of the Matriz Sagrada class.
We have a few more spaces available in Francine’s Matriz Sagrada class which starts on Friday October 28th. Class open to all womb carriers. Check out the class page for more details!