Delivering Diversity: Midwife Brings Bi-Lingual Care
By: Hilary Powell
January 10, 2015 — Marisol Holman thinks her job is more important than yours.
“The realization of what it means to likely be the very first person to touch another human being coming into the planet. I mean, seriously, there is no other greater honor that I can come up with,” she says.
Her calling card is her name.
“Just because of my name, people have come,” she says.
“She speaks Spanish, so I was like, ‘I want her.’ I wanted something very intimate,” says Johanna Perez Ray, a mother originally from South America. “Because she knew Spanish and because she was from a South American country, there was a special kind of bonding. I kind of trusted her automatically.”
She is known as the only Spanish-speaking homebirth certified professional midwife of South American roots, regularly working out of homes.
Columbian-born Holman is based in Anderson Ind., but travels hours around the state to “catch babies” as she calls it.
With the state as diverse as ever it may be important to embrace cultural traits and traditions now more than ever.
The latest U.S. Census estimates show that from 2010 to 2013 the Hispanic population — which is considered an ethnic background not a race — grew more than any race or ethnic group in the state, with Lake County leading most others in growth.
Holman says she wants women of all ethnicities, especially Latinas, to be empowered to know maternal care is not one size fits all.
“My families of color who come, usually at the consultation when they come and sit down [say] ‘you have people that look like me,’” she says. “There’s pictures, there’s dolls, and have said that’s just so comforting. I need the affirmation that people like us do this.”
Holman says her fellow midwives in hospitals have just as high a calling, but a 2013 change in Indiana law, House Bill 1135, only recently made the work she does now possible: It recognized midwife assisted homebirths as legal.
“Look, you should be able to have your baby wherever you want. You’re making an informed decision,” Holman says.
Anna Vallow is a doula who provides non-medical care to pregnant women. As the legislation committee chair for the Indiana Midwives Association, she says culturally competent and thorough training is the loudest call from the midwife community.
“Those cultural type settings, having a care provider who can serve them and protect their needs as well as their wishes and beliefs that brings together some continuity for their care,” she says.
Holman says non-nurse midwives preserve cultural preferences of women they serve. She says not all voices in maternal health think homebirth is a safe option. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has called home births riskier than hospital births.
She says she’s worried about backlash, but her concern for diversity is greater.
She says only 15 percent of her clients are African American or Latina – and suggests a cultural reason for this preference.
“In Mexico and Central America and South America whose using them now is the very poor because they’re very much on the outskirts,” says Holman of birthing preference of her clients who’ve migrated to the Midwest.
Although in her experience, Latina women aren’t as open to the idea of a homebirth, she thinks even understanding those cultural differences is key to starting dialogue.
Elizabeth Ray is special to her parents but also statistically rare. Figures from the Indiana State Department of Health show only 27 Hispanic babies were born by homebirth in 2012.
Elizabeth’s mother, 35-year-old Johanna Perez Ray, says when she moved to Carmel, Ind. a few years ago from Chile, she wanted to embrace a form of birth culturally frowned upon.
“I don’t know if there are many Hispanic women who want to have their children at home,” she says. “It’s seen as something you just want to avoid. You just don’t do that. It’s not safe; it’s not anything that you would expect in a birth. So, when I told my friends and family, they were all shocked.”
But, Elizabeth’s mom says having a birthing expert with whom she shared a cultural connection was so invaluable she’s doing it again.
“I’m doing it again, with Marisol,” Perez Ray says. “It was a mix of English and Spanish, it was so amazing. I’m so grateful I was home.”