Thursday, February 21, 2013

Latina women, reclaim your birth power!

Latina mothers have a rich childbearing heritage to draw upon.  Maria Apreza is a doula and Spanish medical interpreter serving the Seattle area. She is passionate about immigrant and women’s rights. Maria also volunteers her services through Open Arms Perinatal Services, a local non-profit that provides doulas free of charge to low-income women of color.  She lives with her husband and four kids.  Originally from Mexico, she enjoys teaching women how to use the rebozo in pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period.  Click here for an excellent list of resources and information on the rebozo that she has collected.  Maria Apreza reflects upon her personal heritage and her professional experience in the inspiring essay below.

My mother, a loving, strong, wild woman, gave birth to twelve children in Mexico.  Squatting and pulling on a rebozo, my mom—with immense power—gave birth by a tree in her wooded backyard with the help of a midwife.  Rumors began to circulate around her town that a medically-trained obstetrician lived nearby.  My mother thought that, in case of an emergency, a trained professional might save the life of her baby.  In Mexico, it was not uncommon to travel two hours to seek care in an emergency situation. Driven by her selfless nature, she sought the care of this male obstetrician for future pregnancies. She was drugged for consequent births and tied to a bed.  Her hands lay out by her sides, strapped down, and she was barely conscious. No one knows why, but under the care of this professional she experienced three stillbirths. Devastated, she sought care in a large city hospital for her remaining births. The hospital births were not that different.  Still she was strapped to a bed for the births.  Immediately upon arriving she was given an epidural and left to labor alone for hours.

I often ask my mother about the births of her children. She looks down and ponders for a while as if trying to hide her experiences. She is thrown into an anxiety whirlwind when anyone in our family is about to give birth. The trauma that my mother endured has pushed me to help mothers have empowering births.  Many Latina women are tied, not physically to a bed, but to a system of birth in the United States.
As a doula and Spanish medical interpreter, I have had the privilege to support many Latinas during the childbirth process. Results from the 2010 Census showed that racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 91.7% of the nation’s growth since 2000. Most of that increase from 2000 to 2010—56%—was due to Hispanics. Births of Hispanic babies are on the rise, yet my perceptions of the Latina births I have attended are not always positive. I routinely see medical staff approach childbirth as an illness they must treat with interventions and drugs.  Birth is instinctive and women know exactly how to birth babies--unfortunately a hospital setting is not always conducive to letting a birthing woman follow her natural instincts.  Hospital staff (in my experience) are often uncomfortable with instinctive labor and birth sounds and movements, like moaning and squatting. Often nurses will repeatedly offer women narcotics in an attempt to sedate their behavior.
I have witnessed many empowering births. Some have been in hospitals.  These women have birth plans and are not afraid in the least bit to voice their opinions; to their provider, interpreter, partner or doula. It’s their way or the highway!  They are strong willed “chingonas.”  But most of the empowering births I’ve seen have been outside of hospitals where women have options like birthing in water, and are empowered to follow their instincts without unnecessary and intrusive medical interventions.  Midwives usually attend these births.  Sadly, I have yet to attend a birth in a birth center with a Latina. In Mexico there is a stigma--parteras, or midwives, are for the poor.  There is just not enough information circulating in the Hispanic community about the benefits of midwifery care.  Spread the word about midwives and birth centers.   Latina women, reclaim your birth power.


  1. Orale, Maria! I deeply appreciate your words and your sharing of your mother's birth experiences. I am a student midwife in San Francisco, hoping to be credentialed and licensed as a CPM (Certified Professional Midwife) and LM (Licensed Midwife) very soon. I am one of a handful of Latina midwives that work in the San Francisco Bay Area which has a significant immigrant and Latin@ community (over 20% of total population). What can be done to let Latinas and other women of color know that birthing in a hospital is not the *only* option, and in most cases, not the *best* option for them? The birth revolution is underway. I'm so pleased that you and I are a part of it!

  2. Thanks for sharing. I've been considering becoming a doula for a while now, specifically geared towards Latinas, we really need this in the community. natural birth is not just for the "upper class" women.

  3. Maria, thanks for posting this. My friend Patty and I were just talking about this subject matter. It's also amazing how little we are informed about our body as a whole within the Latina community. When I told my Mom I was getting a Doula, she asked the common question: "a what?" She said I didn't need a partera, I would be in great hands at the hospital. I had my wonderful Doula Candace, and I was so glad I had her guidance. I also love using my rebozo with my baby :)

  4. Que gusto leer tu blog Maria!! I'm so thankful that you wrote your truth and the experience of your mother. Thank you for sharing the statistics of Latinas and People of Color being the MAJORITY giving birth and also being the least outreached to by the mainstream birth movement. We have a lot of work to do, and your writing will inspire so many more people to stand up and DO THE WORK! Un abrazo fuerte amiga, pati

  5. Laura,to create more awareness we need to get out there! Host free information sessions. Here in Seattle we have Centro de la Raza "A voice and a hub for the Latino community as we advocate on behalf of our people and work to achieve social justice" I was part of a discussion a couple days ago regarding midwifery and women's childbirth rights. You can see it in women's faces, they want a "Parto Respetado" Have a discussion, do not tell women what is "best".
    Pati, YES! How can it be? The majority being the least outreached. That is a powerful statement. I hope more people can truly understand. Not only is there no outreach, there is alot of birth trauma in our community. The elephant in the room is the baby.Our future generation is already being controlled at time of their birth,"The administration of such drugs as Oxytocin and Pitocin have the effect of making the fetus feel as though it is being overpowered and controlled. Both classes of such drugs interfere with subsequent bonding and sometimes result in substance abuse in later life as well as feeling of being interrupted and interferred with"(William Emereson P.hD).


  6. You Maria are a shining star of healing and empowerment. Thank you for all that you do!!

  7. The insensitive "care" your mother received in Mexico is, sadly, the norm for even the rich. The doctors have fancier offices and they wear silk ties but the same emphasis on fear and control rather than trust in the body (and the woman!!) prevails. Now there isn't even a pretext of "bothering" with labor...we have hospitals with 90% cesarean rates. De buena fortuna si haya alternativas!!! In Guadalajara, Monterrey, DF, San Cristobal de las Casas, San Luis Potosi, Tuluum, Oaxaca, Culiacan y Guerretero tenemos proveedores de salud que respetan a la mujer y su bebe. Too many mothers though who don't live in those communities or who aren't aware that alterntives exist. That is why the internet is so vital. With blogs, websites and articles the women are finding us!!!! Joni Nichols

  8. Hello Maria, soy partera hispanhablante en el campo de California. Mucho gusto conocerte. Me gustaria ofrecer mas servicios de parto a las familias Latinas. Si la ley se cambie en nuestro favor esta primavera, podria ser posible recibir ayuda del estado para cobrir los partos en Casa y centros de parto (de Medi-Cal). Tenemos 30% Latinos en el condado de Mendocino donde vivo per casi nadie da luz fuera del hospital. Algunas recomendaciones para inspirar mas gente de buscar partos con parteras. No soy Latina pero tengo bastante experiencicia con la comunidad y me gustaria ofrecer clases de preparacion y yoga, tambien cuidado prenatal, reuniones etc. Me faltan recursos para ser voluntaria porque soy madre soltera con in bebe todavia...pero una o dos veces a la semana puedo ofrecer algo por una hora. Seria bien ofrecer un entrenamiento de doula a algunas personas de la comunidad. Gracias por mas inspiracion. Que son buenos recursos ya en espanol para familias? Tal vez algo sobre parto natural u en Casa?