Accompanying mothers during childbirth offers the possibility of living pro-life values
“¡Veo su pelo!” I shouted at the screaming young woman whose hand was clenched in mine. I see her hair.
“¡Veo su oreja!” I exclaimed a few seconds later. I see his ear.
And then, as the obstetrician lifted the newborn into the air, I cried. I don’t know what I expected, but the sight of a new person who had just arrived in this world was beyond anything I had imagined. As I watched the young mother giggle with joy as she hugged him, I knew I had witnessed something beyond my daily concerns, something deeply connected to the mystery of existence itself.
God definitely has a sense of humor. The fact that I, a 38-year-old single woman who never expected to see the inside of a delivery room, ended up accompanying a mother through childbirth seems like a divine joke. Perhaps the biggest joke was my bewilderment as I tried to strap an infant’s car seat into the back of my vehicle. And yet, I have had the privilege of interpreting for mothers in labor (tracking baby-Uber driving and interpreting at pediatric appointments) four times in the past year.
My journey to becoming a volunteer interpreter for Spanish-speaking mothers began nearly five years ago, when Donald Trump’s radical immigration policies determined me to work for immigrant rights. In early 2017, as I watched the newly sworn in president sign order after order calling for travel bans and walls, I was overwhelmed by my own smallness, the feeling of helplessness that I could do nothing.
But with the help of a dear friend who had started interpreting for an agency that provides undocumented immigrants with free legal services, I realized there was indeed something I could do. Spanish-speaking immigrants from the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras – a region facing persistent poverty and violence as well as the aftermath of the US War on Drugs – were arriving in increasing numbers in our small town in Midwest. In a community where most people are monolingual English speakers, the skills of bilingual Spanish-English speakers were needed to support these newcomers.
As a volunteer with a local nonprofit, Dubuque for Refugee Children, I used my language skills, accompanying Spanish-speaking immigrants to legal and medical appointments, interpreting at seminars for informing them of their rights and, in one case, tutoring a young mother as she graduated from high school. When I learned that some of these young people needed US citizens to act as legal guardians when applying for special juvenile immigrant status, I eagerly took on the role.
Over time, the relationship deepened. Some young women who had known me asked me to accompany them first to their maternal health appointments, then to the delivery room and finally to the pediatric appointments of their children. “Honored” is an understatement when describing my emotional response to these requests.
In the ongoing debate over reproductive rights in the United States, I believe that more than ever, pro-life and pro-choice advocates must seek common ground. As Charles Camosy argued in America last summer, the most obvious way to do this is to support mothers. Life advocates – especially Republicans – are often criticized as “pro-birthing”, but not really pro-life, because they rarely support policies that will help children after they are born, especially if they are born in poverty and marginalization. Meanwhile, by refusing to question the premise that a fetus is not a person with rights, many pro-choice proponents dismiss philosophical discussions of personality as worth considering. But common ground for both parties can be found in supporting mothers before, during and after the birthing process.
In Luke’s Gospel, a pregnant Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth and greets her with a passionate declaration of faith in a God who “has cast down rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.” He filled the hungry with good things; the rich he sent back empty. He helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy” (2:52-54). With this powerful Magnificat, Mary prophesies the mission of justice and mercy that her son Jesus will bring to the world – a mission that all who follow are called to continue.
How do we do this? One answer is to vote and advocate for fairer politics. Paid family leave, universal health care, poverty reduction and other policies that help the most vulnerable in the United States and abroad are an important piece of this puzzle.
However, advocacy for justice can also be combined with direct charity. Nearly 90 years ago, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin founded the Catholic Worker movement with the firm belief that people should care for each other rather than expect institutions to do so. The principles of solidarity and subsidiarity so central to Catholic social teaching remind us that we can act in our own communities as well as more widely.
Whether we live in big cities or small rural communities, we can try to get to know our neighbors and be considerate of those who might need our help. If we know a single mom, we can buy her diapers, give our own kids’ oversized clothes as gifts, or babysit her kids so she can enjoy a well-deserved night out. We can be more open to sharing our adult spaces — whether offices, business meetings, classrooms, restaurants, or churches — with young children. Perhaps, if we have a spare room at home, we could provide free or low-cost temporary accommodation for a mother and her baby in need. There is always something we can do.
As the new year begins, I am happy to report that the four babies I witnessed are all happy and healthy. As their mothers face unique challenges, they overcome them through their own hard work combined with family and community support. Some friends asked me if the experience of accompanying these women made me want to have a child of my own. With a smile, I answer that it makes me want a better world for the birth of children. By working to build such a world, we can all become truly pro-life.