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Latina doulas provide much needed support for immigrant mothers

Latina doulas provide much needed support for immigrant mothers

Giving birth is no easy task. And doulas—who support pregnant women—know that all too well.

 “It’s very nice to have a doula. They are here to help you and answer any question or doubt,” said Celmi Tus, a mother who had the support of doulas. “The truth is that I felt very good living with them, I saw them as my family, since they always helped me and took care of me.”

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Doulas are trained women—most of whom have already been mothers—who provide personalized support for care during maternity, childbirth and newborn care.

They are prepared to provide emotional and physical support so that mothers can have the best experience during pregnancy and during the birth of the baby. They can be in the hospital as a family presence during labor, thus allowing the mother to feel relaxed, comfortable and safe.

“For those who are pregnant, never doubt having a doula. I recommend it,” Tus said.

Doulas Telar is the first group of doulas composed of Latina immigrant women in San Francisco. Doulas Telar was founded at the end of 2017 with the intention of providing support to Spanish-speaking women in the city and its surrounding areas.

“What most motivated us to start this project was when we began to care for mothers in hospitals and seeing that they greatly needed someone who spoke their language and a companion, beyond the nurse who was coming and going. We found ourselves needing to be there permanently with them, from the moment the mother enters the hospital, until the baby is born,” said Martha Franco, Director of Doulas Telar.

“What most motivated us to start this project was when we began to care for mothers in hospitals and seeing that they greatly needed someone who spoke their language…”

Martha Franco, Director of Doulas Telar

Currently, the group has around 21 volunteer collaborators who offer their services free of charge to immigrant mothers in need of support.

“Mothers have the right to a birth plan, and they have the opportunity to choose who they want to be with them that day,” said Maya Herrera, director of Doulas Telar’s Communications Committee. “We know that some of them do not have any family member or someone close to accompany them. That’s what doulas are for. To provide that accompaniment during such an important moment.”

The members of the organization are trained to provide breathing, position and relaxation techniques as well as massages, hot and cold compresses, aromatherapy, among other things.

As this is such a demanding job, mothers can receive the support of more than one doula, the aim being that someone can be available at all times. One of the missions of this organization is to empower the mother and support her in making decisions with her pregnancy—if the mother decides to pursue a natural birth, the doula respects that decision.

One of the missions of this organization is to empower the mother and support her in making decisions with her pregnancy

“We seek to respect the mother’s decision during childbirth, we have statistics that tell us that when the mother has the support of a doula, the possibility of cesarean section is reduced,” said Franco.

In October 2020, the California Department of Health published on its website the importance of allowing doulas in hospitals.

“The presence of a partner or support person is essential to the mental health of patients who are in labor and delivery,” the website reads. “CDPH recommends that one support person be allowed to be present with the patient. In addition to the support person, CDPH recommends that a doula, if desired by the patient, be permitted to be present if prior arrangements have been made with the hospital and the doula complies with hospital PPE and infection control guidelines.”

“As a mother of three, I have the experience of knowing what it is to feel alone and also what it is to have the accompaniment of a doula,” said Lorena Sanabria, who now also serves as a doula. “I think that a doula should be part of the medical team because it does make a difference. A nurse cannot give the same support because they have more patients to attend to each shift.”

Celmi Tus and her child pose for a portrait in their San Francisco apartment building. During her pregnancy, Tus was supported and accompanied by a doula. Photo: Benjamin Fanjoy

Currently, the organization is fighting for doulas to be part of the state medical program.

Doulas Telar has joined together with other groups in advocating for AB 2258, the Doula care: Medi-Cal pilot program, which was sent to the state legislature last November and seeks to have Medi-Cal cover the service of a doula as part of their insurance, thus ensuring that more mothers can have access to a doula and that the doulas are compensated.

“We are trained to be part of that medical team, we are not only there for common situations,” Franco said. “We are also prepared for situations such as a premature pregnancy, an abortion, a rape, when the mother decides to give up her child for adoption, etc. As doulas our training is very rigorous. It is a career, and we want it to be recognized as such.”

This bill, if approved, will be handled primarily as a three-year pilot program for pregnant and postpartum Medi-Cal recipients residing in 14 counties, including Alameda, Sacramento, San Diego and Solano, who experience the largest number of births in the state. Advocates hope that in the future, doula care can be a permanent service.

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The organization also has a training center called Casa Doulas, where mothers who want to volunteer as doulas can receive the necessary training.

“To be part of the group, we need women who have the intention and desire to support the community and pregnant women,” said Luz Bautista, head of the training and education committee. “We take care of preparing them with certified training.”

“To be part of the group, we need women who have the intention and desire to support the community and pregnant women.”

Luz Bautista, head of the training and education committee.

The training program consists of preparation for childbirth, postpartum, pregnancy process, partner participation, nutrition, breastfeeding, among others things.

“In addition to having the gift of wanting to help and serve all those immigrant families, I believe that a doula also has to have that sense of justice, to enforce the rights of all those mothers to have a dignified birth,” Herrera said.

In order to successfully complete the training, one would require 24 hours of theory classes, 60 hours of practice and, finally, six months of commitment to the community.

Yet despite the pandemic, the organization has not paused aid. Since the beginning of the pandemic, they have been in contact with all of the pregnant women associated with the group, both by phone and by email.

They recently hosted an event, with all the necessary precautions, where they collaborated with LUNAS (Latinos Unidos del Napa Valley and Solano), for the collection of essential items for babies: car seats, cribs, toys, diaper bags, and essential items for newborns are some of the donations that were received and have been distributed to pregnant mothers or those already in postpartum.

Doulas Telar is an independent group, which is supported by donations and the help of its volunteers. They are currently looking for support so that they can continue to grow.

If you’re interested in collaborating, you can contact them at doulastelar.org

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