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Working with Spanish-Speaking Clients: A Doula’s Experience

Guest Post by Jennifer Riggs

 

Our Rights as Birthing Women

I love working with Spanish-speaking clients, and clients from all communities. There is so much for us to learn from our clients; we learn about their birth customs and traditions, and it’s just fascinating. In many countries, birthing women don’t have many options regarding their birth choices. This is especially true if they are giving birth at a public hospital, where partners are often not even allowed in the labor room. As humans and as women, we have the right to feel empowered, and the right to have the birth experience that we want and deserve to have.

As humans and as women, we have the right to feel empowered, and the right to have the birth experience that we want and deserve to have.

I am a birth doula and a lactation educator born and raised in Mexico.

At the time I gave birth to my first child, I didn’t know I had any options besides what the OB told me to do. Due to the language barrier, I struggled with not being able to understand everything that was going on in the room when my son was born. He was having a hard time breathing immediately after birth, and I wasn’t able to follow all that was happening. Since that moment, I told myself I was going to do something so others who do not speak English as their first language can be supported during these amazing moments in their lives. I wanted to help women during birth, using the language they can understand and feel most comfortable with.

I wanted to help women during birth, using the language they can understand and feel most comfortable with.

In addition to my work as a doula, I also interact with many pregnant women as their breastfeeding counselor, and 50% of the women I serve are Spanish speaking. I enjoy asking them where they are from and how women usually birth in their countries. It is fascinating to learn how each country has different ways of viewing and responding to birth.

I remember one specific mom who was Venezuelan. She shared with me that in Venezuela, it is common to have planned c-sections around 38-39 weeks of pregnancy. She was interested in other options and ended up hiring me as her doula. It was a challenge to help her family members who were in the labor room be more open to what this mom wanted. I tried to help them understand that everything she was going through was a normal part of labor and birth. She had the great support of her husband, and even though her family may not have all been on the same page, there was so much love from every single one of them.

Another experience I was able to be part of was the time a young woman became a mom for the first time. She hired me as her doula and planned to have a water birth. She was one of the most empowered moms I have ever seen, and also had her husband’s amazing support. While we were in the bathtub with her, her sweet mom was in the dark delivery room praying for the wellbeing of her daughter and first granddaughter. She had brought a quartz necklace from Mexico that a Catholic priest had blessed with holy water, and put it on her daughter’s neck. It was a very spiritual and loving moment to witness.

Helpful Spanish Words and Phrases for Doulas

Here are some words that might help you when working with a Spanish-speaking client:

  • Amamantar (breastfeeding)
  • Dar a luz (to give birth)
  • Embarazo (pregnancy)
  • Partera (Midwife)

Now some phrases that you can use during labor for support:

  • Lo estas haciendo muy bien! (you are doing great!)
  • Relaja tu cara y tu mandibula (relax your face and your jaw)
  • Respira profundo (take a deep breath)
  • Inhala paz, exhala tension (inhale peace, exhale tension)
  • Tu cuerpo sabe como dar a luz a tu bebe (your body knows how to birth your baby)
  • Eres una guerrera (you are a warrior)
My experience working as a doula for women from other countries has been very satisfying. I am grateful that they have allowed me to be part of their birth experiences, teaching me so much from their country and their own family traditions in the process. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else; being a doula is my passion. Each birth has taught me something different, and I am certain I will be learning so much more as I continue on my doula journey.

Jennifer Riggs is a birth doula and lactation educator in Salt Lake City, UT. She is available by phone at (801)657-6773 or email at jennifer.riggs19@gmail.com, and is more than happy to provide support and advice to any mom or doula.

By Beth Hardy

I am board-certified music therapist, birth doula, and postpartum doula serving the Salt Lake City, UT area. I specialize in Music Therapy Assisted Childbirth, an evidence-based music therapy technique that helps laboring mothers incorporate music into their birth to promote a calmer, gentler and more empowered birth experience.

2 replies on “Working with Spanish-Speaking Clients: A Doula’s Experience”

Wonderful! Having worked with hundreds of Spanish-speaking families in the capacity of a midwife, I know first hand the necessity of women being able to receive culturally competent care in their birthing experience. I have observed that even if women do have fluency in a language, when they give birth they very often desire to use their first language. Of course! As a side note, I now practice here in SLC and offer deliveries in birthing center as well as home and complete midwifery care that if offered completely in Spanish. I am encouraged to have greater options for Spanish speaking families in Utah!

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