Gretchen Lawlor looks over small dolls being made by Whidbey Islanders for a maternal health project in rural Chiapas Mexico. (Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News Group)

Gretchen Lawlor looks over small dolls being made by Whidbey Islanders for a maternal health project in rural Chiapas Mexico. (Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News Group)

Making dolls to make a difference in Mexico

Sewing bee focuses on moms, infants in rural Chiapas

The dolls are only the size of newborns, but they’ve been shown to make a big difference for expectant mothers living in rural, far-flung villages of southern Mexico.

Saturday, about two dozen women gathered at Create Space in Langley to make the dolls that are used by village co-madres in rural Chiapas, Mexico.

Co-madres are midwives and their local health providers and aides who visit homes and teach skills, such as breastfeeding, nutrition and early infant care.

The effort is part of Partners In Health, which assists in 10 rural, public clinics in the Sierra Madre mountains of Chiapas — one of the most marginalized states in Mexico. Women typically give birth at home, with the assistance of midwives.

Co-madres provide important prenatal care, and they help siblings and dads learn how to properly handle, bathe and diaper babies, said Gretchen Lawlor.

“They give that visceral, tactile feel that’s so important,” she said.

Lawlor created the Co-Madres Project Whidbey/Chiapas Community Sewing Bee after learning of the need from her niece, who is a medical doctor trained in Cuba.

“So I called friends around Whidbey Island and got an amazing, immediate response,” said Lawlor, who lives in Clinton.

All around, little doll parts were being made; limbs stuffed with quilt baffling, eyes and nose stitched to faces and tiny wigs of black yarn were crocheted.

Langley Create Space, a new free space at South Whidbey Community Center full of sewing machines, paint and other craft supplies, hummed with conversation and commentary about local and national topics.

Many said that reaching across the border to help communities in Mexico seems especially important now as a symbol of goodwill.

“This is heartfelt work,” said Anne Zontine, who was known as The Dolly Mama of Clinton for 40 years because of her designing and crafting of soft cloth dolls.

“It’s women making dolls for women who are learning how to get more connected to their child,” Zontine said. “To be a part of that is really special.”

All the material has been donated; the goal is to create 38 dolls by the end of the month.

“I love the fact that we’re reaching across communities and borders and making sure more little healthy Mexican babies get born,” Lawlor said. “This is a very potent moment.”

Doll sewing sessions continue 3-5:30 p.m. every Friday in January at Create Space, behind Island Dance School. Sewing skills are not required. Contact Gretchen Lawlor at light@whidbey.com or at 206-698-3741.

Volunteers with the Co-Madres Project who are making small cloth dolls to help mothers and families learn how to take care of newborns. The group meets on Friday afternoons at Langley’s Create Space at the South Whidbey Community Center. (Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News Group)

Volunteers with the Co-Madres Project who are making small cloth dolls to help mothers and families learn how to take care of newborns. The group meets on Friday afternoons at Langley’s Create Space at the South Whidbey Community Center. (Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News Group)

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