On the Ground – an American Doula in the Dominican Republic

Prior to traveling to the Dominican Republic I read another participants blog about her experience and what to expect in terms of the hospital conditions. I can honestly say that all the reading in the world did not prepare me for the working conditions (more about that later). The staff was absolutely wonderful and welcoming. They were kind and gracious in sharing their space with people who did not have a working command of their language. During some down time they helped Lynn and I (a student midwife) translate the labor progress chart into English as well as commonly used reproductive terms. It was really a fun learning experience. Here is a picture of the ladies (there were men too but they weren’t there when we took the picture).The lady in the yellow scrubs is one of the doctors who was gracious enough to teach me how to correctly say “I like your shoes” (she had some cool rainbow Crocs, and she let me observe a cesarean birth with her and another physician.

They taught me the value of resourcefulness by putting to use the various supplies we gave them, sometimes in ways we had never imagined. One thing that stuck with me was their patience with “Americanos” who spoke in broken Spanish. How many time have I heard people complain about people who don’t speak English in this country and they say mean things including learn to speak English this is America. Thank goodness no one said that to me as I walked through the hospital with my dictionary, phrase cards for labor and postpartum, and memory from HS Spanish classes and language immersion as an adult. In the labor and deliver section I met abuelas (grandmothers), tias (aunts), hermanas (sisters) and other women who came to support the mamas in labor. I witnessed grandmothers praying for their granddaughters as they labored and vocalized in Spanish. I held hands with women and rubbed their backs knowing that just like at home sometimes the biggest part of being a doula is about your heart, your touch and your eyes. We used gestures and single words to communicate when they needed a drink or support to get to the bathroom. They made me step out of my comfort zone as a woman and labor support person. More than once I thought to myself if that were me what would I want this stranger to do…and so I did it. Watching babies being born is a blessing that never grows old for me. Every single hospital in the US could learn from these women and the staff…100% breastfeeding rates at birth and upon leaving the hospital. My Spanish comprehension is much better that my speaking. One family member told a new mama whose baby was crying “when your baby cries you give him your breast, you let him suck.” Formula was not an option and did not exist. No cute baby bags that read Similac or Enfamil. Lynn helped a mama who had a c-section get her baby to latch on. She was having a hard time with her incision so Lynn took the baby and laid her sideways across her chest. The baby latched on instantly. Mama’s were up on their feet and out of the hospital in less than 24 hours heading back home. IV’s were standard; induction was not. A couple of mama’s received Pit after being in labor for over 24 hours, there was no epidural, there were no narcotics. While some may see this as not providing options what the seven births I watched proved was that women can and still do give birth without drugs. Except for one baby (which was premature) all were born robust and alert, latching on fairly soon. Here are a couple of pictures of some more families. The second picture is not the mom, but a relative holding the baby.

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