When Maricela Martinez immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, she didn’t know where to go for a medical check up. After Matilde Cachiguango arrived from Ecuador, delivering her baby in an American hospital was the worst medical experience of her life.
Martinez and Cachiguango want things to be easier for other Spanish speakers in Dane County, especially pregnant women or women with new babies. To that end, they’re part of a recently formed local health cooperative owned entirely by Latina and indigenous Latina women providing health services and education.
All six women in Raíces para el Cambio, or Roots4Change, are doulas and community health workers, providing services like postpartum support, prenatal yoga and health and wellness education, and are working to offer breastfeeding support.
The co-op grew out of a program at Centro Hispano to train community health workers, or promotoras de salud. Raíces para el Cambio continues to work in collaboration with Centro, using their space, contracting with Centro to provide some classes and volunteering for others.
Aida Inuca, originally from Ecuador, had been talking with other immigrant moms at Centro about helping out her community when Centro staff members Mariela Quesada Centeno and Karime Perez recruited her for the new community health worker training program.
"As immigrants we have many dreams … we started talking about our dreams of working for our community,” Inuca said. “(Quesada Centeno and Perez) were already starting with this idea, so we just got in the boat.”
On average, group members received over 500 hours of holistic training, and have learned about breastfeeding, nutrition and yoga instruction, and taken computer, leadership and trauma-informed care classes.
“Our training has not just been for a week, it’s been really a commitment with a mission and vision,” Martinez said.
Now, they are all working on their certification as doulas, a service that’s particularly meaningful when they can help a mother whose family is not in the county, Martinez said. Jennifer Valencia, a co-op member from Colombia, said as a doula she can give women a voice and let them know they can ask doctors for what they want. Spanish-speaking doulas are few and far between, the group said.
There are traditional doula-like practices in many Latin countries, Inuca said. In her own indigenous Kichwa community in the Andes mountains of Ecuador, “it is an honor to be chosen” as the friend who will assist the woman and provide emotional and physical support during and after birth, she said.
The work has been rewarding, with positive feedback for their services thus far. It’s fun to see kids repeating what they learned in nutrition class, like refusing soda in favor of ordering water at a restaurant, Inuca said. Mothers in the co-op’s postpartum group for those with kids up to age 1 ask if they can stay after their kid ages out.
The group tries to create a “very safe space” in the postpartum support group, where moms can “really expose what they’re feeling,” Martinez said, like struggles with depression. They probably wouldn't want to share if the setting wasn't culturally competent, she said.
Inuca remembers a woman in the postpartum support group who said, “Now I can freely leave my baby with his dad and go for a walk, and when I go back home, I feel I have more energy to continue with my baby.” She wasn’t doing that before she started meeting with the group, Inuca said.
But among the group’s challenges, it can be hard to bring in community members to attend classes or workshops, due to a lack of transportation, participants working multiple jobs and having to arrange child care, co-op member Rosalba Montoya said through a translator. The group said learning about medical terminology and other topics in English could be tricky.
“A lot of trainings have been in English and sometimes it’s been hard, but not impossible. So we figure it out, we help each other,” Martinez said.
Funding is also a problem. Much of their work so far has been volunteer-based, but they want to be compensated for their time. To that end, they are asking for the public to sponsor scholarships for mothers seeking doula services.
The co-op regularly sees the needs in their communities, like a lack of maternal health care and breastfeeding support; they've often witnessed women quickly stop breastfeeding in order to get back to working multiple shifts. The co-op wants to start changing these trends and empowering women.
“We are here to help everybody,” Martinez said. “We are community; we are here to hold hands all together.”