Immigrant Birthing in El Paso

I wrote about my introduction to working with immigrants in ICE Burns: My Early Doula Clients. In 1990-1991, I volunteered as a doula at a Planned Parenthood Prenatal Program in San Diego, California.

El Paso, Texas

When I moved back to Orlando in 1993, I stopped for 3 months at Casa de Nacimiento, a birth center (now closed) in El Paso, Texas. 99.9% of the clients coming through Casa were immigrant women from Mexico, usually Ciudad Juárez. My Spanish, school-acquired, then practiced with the doula clients in San Diego, became second-nature in El Paso.

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While Casa gave me an amazing education and taught me many skills, there are lingering worries about being a White person using the immigrant women as practice specimens… a reverse voluntourism experience. I will write about these feelings separately; they are deep and complicated.

I was not as woke about the White Savior Complex as I am now, so merely tried to be the best student midwife I could be. I loved these women and their families. I loved talking to them, learning about their Mexican lives (which were slightly different than the Mexicans’ experiences in San Diego). I purposefully kept my heart open, wanting to be a positive birth worker for the women coming and going through the center’s doors. Those 3 months in El Paso remain some of my most wondrous life memories. While most people despise the city, I found it alive with culture and magic.

Rio Grande

Getting from Ciudad Juárez to El Paso for prenatal appointments was often a hit or miss experience for the birth center’s clients depending on which officer was patrolling the border bridge that day.

It had not been easy: The visa that allowed her to cross back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. is expensive, and she had had to prove she had money in the bank and a reason to return to Mexico to be granted it. The lines at the border between Juarez and El Paso can take hours, and border agents are said to sometimes tear up the visas of women who are noticeably pregnant. Some women end up giving birth on the bridge between Juarez and El Paso because of delays….”

When the border was closed to even those with visas, the pregnant and laboring women, with their families, trudged through the Rio Grande River… day and night… to cross into the United States. They often walked miles to reach the birth center.

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Crossing the Rio Grande was bad enough, but the water was/is disgustingly polluted. American maquiladoras rose on Mexican soil years ago as a way to bypass manufacturing regulations implemented in the United States. With so little oversight, the maquiladoras also freely dump their waste, including poisonous chemicals, directly into the river… the same one laboring women were walking through. On several occasions, we would give a river-soaked woman a shower before she felt clean enough to have her midwifery appointment or birth her baby.

I remember one visit down to the edge of the river to help a nursing mom up the slope, the surface of the water had an oil (or gasoline) slick on it as well as scum like this:

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All because Border Patrol would feel holier-than-thou and not let people over the bridge even with valid visas.

Disgusting.

Borders

I’ve not been to El Paso or Ciudad Juárez since 2002, but the border topic, with #45 in power, has a new focus.

Just this week, on February 22, 2017, the Washington Post wrote “Anxiety over Trump stems flood of Mexican shoppers to El Paso,” ending the piece with:

A U.S. border agent checking documents remarked at the lack of cars.

“People are scared,” he said, as he took this reporter’s and a photographer’s passports.

Of what?

“Of our president,” he said, before sending us on our way.

Yes, those of us who have a positive history with immigrants in border towns are, most assuredly, very, very scared.

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Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre for The Washington Post

 

 

ICE Burns: My Early Doula Clients

We are watching as ICE, the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, rounds up immigrants from around the country.

And it’s only getting worse.

In Raids, they are knocking on doors, stopping people in shopping centers, going to workplaces, setting up checkpoints to examine papers and licenses and other vile ways to take, what seems to include, non-criminal folks who have been in this country sometimes for 20+ years.

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In February 11th’s Washington Post, Lisa Rein, Abigail Hauslohner and Sandhya Somashekhar co-wrote “Federal agents conduct immigration enforcement raids in at least six states.” They say in part:

Hiba Ghalib, an immigration lawyer in Atlanta, said the ICE detentions were causing “mass confusion” in the immigrant community. She said she had heard reports of ICE agents going door-to-door in one largely Hispanic neighborhood, asking people to present their papers.

“People are panicking,” Ghalib said. “People are really, really scared.”

I cannot even imagine how terrifying it must be to hear footsteps outside your door, then even worse if there is a knock.

My Early History with Immigrant Women

I’ve spent an enormous amount of time with birthing immigrant families, most from Mexico, but others from all over Central and South America, as well. From Orlando, El Paso and San Diego, I was a midwife and doula to several hundred immigrants over a 20-year period.

My first experiences were when I volunteered to work at Planned Parenthood as a doula to their (99%+) Spanish-speaking-only prenatal care clients. My Spanish was school-learned at that time; I became fluent over the years. I made many language mistakes along the way.

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the artists says this piece “portrays an oppressed pregnant woman trapped by the fear of fighting her oppressors.” I cannot find the artist, any help so I might attribute is welcome.

While the women did not all work, a myriad did, usually cleaning houses and/or being a nanny for White, often English-speaking-only people. The partners (almost always husbands) worked anywhere they could. Plenty were migrant farmworkers.

A White Observer

My care as a doula began by going to all prenatal visits during the pregnancy and visiting their home twice, making sure they had the supplies necessary for the new baby. It was not uncommon to take mom to the store, kids in tow, and buy her bags of groceries because there was nothing but rice in the cupboards. Everything from toilet paper to diapers were needed by my clients. I foraged wherever I could to find what they needed.

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It had to have been difficult to have (yet another) White person enter their home and see how they lived. Would I judge? (No!) Would I think they were bad parents and turn them in to CPS? (No.) It was nice after the first couple of women let the others know I was a decent person and could be trusted.

Medical Prejudice

My role as doula continued by going to the client’s home when she was in early labor, then taking her to the hospital as labor progressed. (Doulas do not transport clients anymore because of liability.)

Once in the hospital, I remained with the client and her partner (if he chose to come and/or stay in the room) until after the baby was born, including helping her get started with breastfeeding. I translated from Spanish to English so the nurses and doctors knew what she was saying and needing.

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photographer, Barbara Herrera

You know how many women choose an epidural for pain relief in labor? Back in 1990, an epidural was not an option for women on Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid).

Do you hear that?

Women on Medi-Cal could not get an epidural for pain relief.

If my immigrant clients thought they might want an epidural, they had to give a $1000 down-payment or it was simply not an option.

This was horrifically cruel and incredibly discriminatory. It took until 1998 before it was legally challenged.

The controversy over Medi-Cal rates was highlighted further through news stories about physicians charging Medi-Cal recipients for services. The Los Angeles Times reported on the practice of some physicians and hospitals illegally forcing Medi-Cal beneficiaries to pay cash for epidural anesthesia during childbirth. The physicians named in the story maintained that they had to demand payment from the patients to cover their costs because Medi-Cal payments were insufficient.

My History with Immigrants

Over the years, I worked at Planned Parenthood, overseeing one of their Prenatal Programs, then, in 1993 and again from 2000-2001, went to Casa de Nacimiento in El Paso, Texas, my path towards becoming a midwife. In 1994, I worked under a CDC grant at the Farmworker Association of Florida as a Spanish-speaking HIV/STD educator for female migrant farmworkers.

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strawberry pickers near Orlando

As we watch the decreasing rights for immigrants in the US, ICE hunting men, women & children down for deportation, my heart aches. I know, because I know, some of the people being shoved out of our country are the women whose hands I held during labor, the babies-turned-children-turned-teens I helped into the world and the fathers who took care of their families working the fields and doing whatever they could to pay the bills.

It is beyond unfair.

U.S. Border Agents Pursue Human And Drug Smugglers Near Mexican Border

Sacagawea Brings Hope

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Sacagawea: A heroine when we most need one.

I was given 2 Sacagawea (Sah-cog-uh-wee-uh) dollars this morning, reminding me of the resilience of women.

On the coin, Sacagawea, a Shoshone Native American, is wearing her baby Pomp, who was 2 months old when the Lewis & Clark Expedition continued their journey with her as one of their guides (along with her husband).

I often gave this coin to my pregnant clients, especially those who were really nervous about childbirth and parenting, letting them know that if Sacagawea, at 14-years old, could toss her baby onto her back and traipse across the wilds of the pre-United States, leading a group of men and saving many lives along the way, they, too, had the inner strength to be a parent. I was told it comforted many of these women.

So how does this relate to today’s times when so many human rights are being destroyed within days of the new administration, so many more to be lost soon as well?

Sacagawea reminds me of the resilience of the human spirit. Stolen as a girl, married at 13-years old, birthing Pomp at 14 and onward with 33 men (with only one dying during the 2.5 year journey), assisting the Corps of Discovery as they ventured forth on their SCIENTIFIC Expedition. She helped them tremendously with the foods and medicinal plants, helping them chronicle everything for President Jefferson… much of the knowledge still relevant today.

These times are indeed dark, our most basic knowledge, love and understanding for others, many of whom unlike ourselves, are being vilified and negated. But, our country has had other difficult times (albeit not with the threat of annihilation by nuclear weapons) and overcome them. I believe if we cling to each other and, with guidance and support as we traverse new territories, we will make it through.

I will make it through with your help. I need you all.

And I am here for you as well.

Bipolar Diary: This Isn’t Good for My Depression

I am horrified to learn I live in a country with so many bigots, xenophobes and hate-filled people that they would elect a crazy man to lead our country.

But, I refuse to give up.

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I am scared; I stand up

I Will Not Be Bullied

I don’t know what or how yet… and the only thing I can physically or financially do is write… but I will write until my fingers bleed trying to share, in words that have not already been said a million times, the impact of this Hitlerian President on those around me. And on me, a mentally ill Latinx on Obamacare, a femme Lesbian, an extremely pro-choice sex worker in love with a Muslim (who I am also terrified for).

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Time for the work to begin.