The Relationship between Doulas and Latina Women: The Literal and Cultural Translator

By Emily Teixeira

For a Latina woman, childbirth is a moment she dreamed of since she was a child. That dream is then shattered in this world that is built by white men who get to decide how their birth unfolds, white women who get to decide what’s “trendy”, and white medicine that diminishes everything any woman of color has to say. The debate on whether a home birth or hospital birth is difficult for many women, and in my opinion there is a solution that helps both: a doula.

A doula or midwife is a woman who helps the pregnant woman with not only childbirth, but also serves as a mental and emotional trainer in all aspects before, during, and after home or hospital delivery.  Many times doulas are also medically certified and have a cultural and scientific education or come from a diverse culture themselves. In the modern world with all this technology and many male doctors dominating the world of childbirth, women depend on these midwives to respect their customs, but also adapt the customs that can hold a risk for mothers.

According to one article, 08% of Latina or Hispanic women do not receive prenatal care. The lack of prenatal care can lead to premature births and late neonatal deaths. 53% of women don’t use an epidural during childbirth, which is fine, but in many cases, it’s a belief that pain was a necessary part of childbirth, but they don’t know when the pain is too much to bear. A doula could not only be a literal translator, but a cultural translator. An educator, to teach these women and their families about modern technology and the importance of checking in, while being respectful of culture.

The article “Culture of Childbirth ” says, “Never in all of human history have parents spent so little time with their children as they do now. Never in all of human history have so many children been born through cesarean sections.” This is a huge problem, and it is the obligation of the doula to take care of being the voice of the mother and if you are in the hospital, to be the person she can count on. Not only can they be there for support, but be a third party to fight for the patient if needed in a hospital setting. For instance, a doula can fight for the rights of a Muslim women to get an all female staff or fight for a women who can safely continue her labor and proceed with a vaginal birth and not be shipped off for a C-section because it is quicker. 

In many Latin cultures, many new mothers believe in the period of rest of forty days where her family members, or doula, take care of her and prepare homemade remedies, that if the new mother takes, it is believed that their chances of postpartum depression is reduced. The roots of “Cuarentena” are believed to go back to the Bible, where a passage in the Book of Leviticus calls for the need for 40 days of purification after the birth of a woman’s child. 

Not only is this period believed to have deep cultural roots, but also is rejuvenating for the mother to spend her time bonding with her new baby, and not feeling isolated. With the help of a doula during this time, she may also be the “blame placer” for when family becomes too much and overstays their welcome. Doulas can not only turn people away, but fill in the places left open if a mother is alone. 

For those mothers who are going the journey solo, the lack of support from their own maternal figure can leave them helpless and terrified. The emotional support of a doula provides these women with stability, especially in the religious world of the Hispanic community, many times single mothers are single in not only the sense of a partner, but emotionally orphaned by her family. The original translation from greek culture of a doula is  “‘female slave for the child-bearing woman.’Today the word has come to mean ‘One who mothers the mother.’”

A doula is an activist, a protector, a medical professional, a mother, and anything you need them to be – and sometimes, they are the barrier between life and death.

Emily Teixeira is a student at Tufts University. This blog piece was submitted in the course “Our Moms Matter: Exploring America’s Multifaceted Maternal Health Crisis First Year Seminar” led by Shubheccha Dhaurali in Fall 2022.

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