Who was the 'birth specialist' attending to your dear mom when she delivered you? A gynaecologist or a trained midwife? Or a village midwife (bidan kampung)?
In my case, it was home birth. And the birth attendant was a bidan kampung. All my six other siblings were also delivered by bidan kampung. Alhamdulillah, none of these natural births which took place in a non-clinical setting, had any complications!
While we celebrate Malaysia's achievements in the delivery of its western-oriented midwifery services (under its maternal and child health care programme), we might not want to forget the contributions made by our traditional midwives in the rural areas. I feel so greatly indebted to all the village midwives who had deligently assisted my late mother when she gave birth to all my siblings, and me! These birth specialists -just like all the dukun bayi (in Indonesia), the moh tam yae (in Thailand), the matrone (in Cameroon), the daya (in Egypt), the mananabang (in the Philippines) or the partera empirica (in Colombia) - had undoubtedly played a very significant role in fulfiling the needs of parturient mothers in the villages, as well as their newborn babies, at a time when modern midwifery and child health care services were still so limited and highly inaccesible.
Because of their limited knowledge and lack of training in modern 'obstetrics', except for those who chose to undertake the short training conducted by the Health Ministry in the late 70s that made them bidan bertauliah or 'licenced bidan', our bidan kampung had since time immemorial, depended on skills and knowledge that they inherited from their predecessors in their practice as midwives. Such skills and knowledge, which had been passed down from generation to generation, had over the decades, saved the lives of millions of newly born babies and their mothers in the rural areas of Malaysia.
Above: Pictures showing (i) the UNICEF box containing kits used by the bidan kampung while attending childbirths, and giving post-natal care, and (ii) a bidan kampung from the village of Sungai Batang, in Rungkup sub-district , Perak state.. This bidan kampung who passed away about 20 years or so ago was referred to by the villagers as 'bidan besar' or 'big' bidan, which means that she was a highly revered midwife. Thank you bidan besar! Hundreds of village babies had safely come into this world, insya Allah, with your assistance.
The Malaysian government introduced The Midwives (Registration) Regulations in 1971. That was seen by many as a means of checking the perpetuation of the bidan kampung institution. Evidently not all the village midwives reacted positively to this regulation and they continued to 'illegally' serve their clients when and where their services were needed.
My small research in Rungkup sub-district, Perak, revealed that prior to 1959, pregnant mothers in the area had to depend solely on the services of the bidan kampung. The first midwife clinic was built there in 1963, and more new clinics were established after that. I was expecting that more if not all deliveries taking place closer to or during 1981 (when the study was conducted) would have been assisted by the government midwives. However, it was found that more than half of the sample mothers still resorted to the services of the traditional bidan for their most recent births (occuring between 1961-1981). More than 70% of these births actually happened between 1971-1981.
An old picture of Klinik Dan Rumah Bidan (Midwife Clinic
cum Quarters) in Rungkup sub-district.
Mothers who chose to enlist the services of the bidan kampung had of course their 'good' reasons for doing so. I will not dwell into this here. Certain social, cultural, psychological as well as situational factors did contribute to the persistence in the use of the traditional midwifery services in Rungkup. Evidently, some of the reasons for such choice were also associated with the modern midwifery system itself..
A lot of things have now changed, including people's attitude towards the modern midwifery care system introduced by the government. Many, many years have passed. I haven't got the chance to revisit those places where bidan kampung once flourished. But I do know that a few of these 'birth specialists' who were still quite 'young' when I first met them, are still around. Their role is rather restricted nowadays. Evidently, as a result of better accessibility to government midwife clinics, government's ruling pertaining to use of birth attendant during delivery, and change in people's attitude, our traditional 'midwives' today are not anymore enjoying the status they used to occupy before. I wonder whether we could call them bidan or midwives now that their role as birth attendants has actually been fully taken over by the government midwives, stationed in the kampung areas. Clearly the role of the traditional bidan kampung is quite different now. They are not birth attendants anymore. Today, they function more as traditional masseurs, particularly for puerperium mothers - perubahan dari menyambut (kelahiran) kepada mengurut (badan) !
Terima kasih semua. Jasamu tetap dikenang!
Terima kasih semua. Jasamu tetap dikenang!
Shots of the happy faces of some bidan kampung in Rungkup.
Reference: Population Reports, Series J, Number 22, May 1980.