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.