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A Doula Grows and Dreams in The Bronx

Rina Crane

Life is unpredictable. Rina Crane can attest to that.

As a doula, founder of Bronx Doulas, homemarker and home schooler, Rina’s days are never typical. “I could be on call and be on my way to a birth at 2am. I never know,” she mused. It is easy to see how this dynamic woman’s life is far from ordinary.

Rina arrived in the United States from Colombia by way of Panama when her mother was 8 months pregnant with her in 1973. Her mother gave birth at Fordham Hospital, a former health care institution in the Bronx. Rina, who also has Italian roots, began her life living with her extended family, until she was 4 years old and moved in an apartment with her mother and sister. Today, Rina lives and works in the Kingsbridge area of the Bronx.

She attended a local public school until her mother, who was a hair stylist, conversed with one of her clients, a principal of a private school. She got a recommendation from the principal that Rina be enrolled in her school. It was during her years at Bronx Science High School that she began to realize what her heart-led path was. She knew that she wanted to be a homemaker and mother but with the influence of the Feminist Movement, she felt that it would be frowned upon to aspire to such a career. “A young lady can’t go around saying she wants to be a mother and wife,” Rina said.

“I met a couple when I was 15 years old who was having a homebirth,” Rina began as she recounted the story of why she started to research pregnancy, birth and motherhood years before she would experience it. She remembers being accepting the couple’s desire to have a home birth. “I always imagined my grandmother hanging from a tree limb giving birth,” she explained, invoking her ancestry of wise women in Colombia who birthed traditionally. After that, Rina began to look for more information. “I wanted to be a mother so I had to learn about my career.”

Once during her travels, a woman sat with her on the train and told Rina about her experience at the former Elizabeth Seton Birthing Center (Greenwich Village, Manhattan). This inspired her to go visit. There were smiles and memories in Rina’s voice as she recounted how matter-of-factly she expressed her intentions to the receptionist when she arrived at the birthing center. “They were confused and told me to come back when I was having a baby,” she mused. This did not deter her from her passion to learn more about becoming a mother.

Rina went on to New York University, where she studied Early Childhood and Elementary School Education as well as Music. This multi-talented woman also sings and though she taught, she also spent time as a professional singer. Finally, upon meeting her husband, Rina was able to freely express her first passion and career. Her partner was looking for a woman who had the desire to be a homemaker, and together they discovered they had the same wishes and vision for the world. She retired from being a teacher but continued to sing. Getting the opportunity to become a mother to two beautiful children opened the door to her path as a doula.

“My husband gave me too much credit. We didn’t go to childbirth classes. I realized I didn’t know a lot of the basic things. If after 15 years of doing all that research, I didn’t know the basic things, other women were definitely clueless.” Rina’s journey into motherhood made it clear to her that many women did not have access to important information about the process of their pregnancy. This realization moved her into becoming a doula. She first did the ALACE doula training and is also certified through DONA International. These organizations provide certification for doulas, as well as resources for pregnant women preparing for birth. Soon after she began helping one or two women a year, but quickly got more requests. Rina became busy to the point that she felt the need to train more doulas to meet the needs of the women in New York City.

“I never went into it as a career to make lots of money. If that’s what’s in your heart, that’s not compatible with how to be a doula,” she reflected as she thought about all the work she does to help pregnant women. Rina still volunteers her time and is accessible to women who don’t end up hiring her for their births. Her true desire is to help. She continually emphasized that as the core and root of her doula practice.

She knew that although many doulas are willing to volunteer their time, she feels strongly they should be compensated for their hard work. “The work we do is really challenging and we should be compensated. What I want is to be funded so I can offer more training,” Rina explained when asked about her vision for her work in the community. She sought to get funding for Bronx Doulas by training doulas in the community. Rina and her partner figured she should get trained as a doula trainer through DONA International. They came across DONA’s Doulas of Color Trainer Workshop Fellowship and Rina became one of 4 women who trained during the 2011 DONA International Conference. Rina was certified as a doula trainer in early 2012. She then connected with a family practice doctor at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center who was originally from Chicago. He shared his previous experience from witnessing a patient-led centering program. It was a group of women who had a combination of prenatal classes and clinical visits. The women supported and bonded with each other; the program showed to improve outcomes for the mothers and families involved. The doctor was interested in replicating this program at Bronx-Lebanon. The conversation between Rina and the doctor started out as doulas teaching prenatal classes once a week and ended up with her being in charge of the doulas and the classes.

Rina began to find that many women who learned what a doula was wanted one. She certainly could not attend to all the births and would pair up women by sending out an email for volunteer doulas on the Metropolitian Doula Group she was a part of. This was the beginning of Bronx Doulas. The doctor left Bronx-Lebanon; Rina struggled for 5 years to keep the program going without the support of the community. She went to Montefiore Medical Center where the doctor she was working with had taken a job and continued there. “I’d like to be able to train women who have had a doula,” she continued and explained how she felt that would help them connect with other women when introducing the idea of a doula to more members of the community. She dreams of expanding the program beyond the Kingsbridge community and into the whole Bronx, training more doulas and educating more families.

In the Bronx, the state of maternity care is mediocre. As a matter of fact, even with all technological advancements, the way women are treated on a psychological and emotional level in the United States is problematic. The situation is worse in the Bronx because of the confluence of low-income people marginalized by society. Rina has witnessed doctors talking down to patients and not being concerned with the woman knowing what is going on. Rina attended a birth with a woman who had experienced trauma. This instance opened her eyes on how hospital birth could be potentially stressful for the woman. There were a number of students and resident doctors in the delivery room ready to work on that woman without having any emotional interactions with her or getting her consent on procedures. Rina felt that if she hadn’t been there, there would have been no one to advocate for this woman. This is a common situation for many women in the Bronx. Women in recent times are becoming more aware of their options; yet, women with scarcer resources have fewer options and less information is available for them. “It’s challenging to know it could be so much better. People don’t know it could be better,” she sighed, thinking of the births and situations she’s seen through her years as a doula. Rina is optimistic about the future of her work and about her vision for her community. She sees women waking up, slowly but surely.

For more on Rina: http://www.doularina.com/

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

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Comments

Monica09's picture

Good choice of subject

Dear Ynanna,

I congratulate you on completing your first assignment with such a great choice of subject! I really liked the story because it is about a woman who pursued her interests despite social norms that underestimate certain occupations. It also highlights the support of the husband which is very encouraging for a woman.

I wish you all the best!

In friendship,
Monica

LatiNegra's picture

Dear Monica, Thank you for

Dear Monica,
Thank you for reading and resonating with my assignment. Thank you again!

Ynanna Djehuty
Certified Birth Doula and Writer
Email: ynanna@thesewatersrundeep.com
Website: thesewatersrundeep.com

Precious M's picture

Caring for the next generation

Rina's advocacy is not only important for the women but she is helping to preserve the lives of the next generation. I love her work.

Precious

My pen speaks

LatiNegra's picture

she is indeed. she is my

she is indeed. she is my inspiration to speak out about reproductive justice here in my country. thanks!

Ynanna Djehuty
Certified Birth Doula and Writer
Email: ynanna@thesewatersrundeep.com
Website: thesewatersrundeep.com

Vweta's picture

Thank you LatiNegra for this

Thank you LatiNegra for this post. I must confess its an eye opener.

I wish Rina the very best in her advocacy work as a doula.

Our Voices make the WORLD PULSate...
Vweta.

LatiNegra's picture

thank you for your thoughts

thank you for your thoughts and support :)

Ynanna Djehuty
Certified Birth Doula and Writer
Email: ynanna@thesewatersrundeep.com
Website: thesewatersrundeep.com

Mukut's picture

Riveting and Inspiring !

Rina Crane is such an inspiring lady ! Well done on your story. Beautifully written with information and quotes from her.

Brilliant job !!

Lots of love,

Mukut Ray

LatiNegra's picture

Thank you Mukut! I appreciate

Thank you Mukut! I appreciate it deeply!

Ynanna Djehuty
Certified Birth Doula and Writer
Email: ynanna@thesewatersrundeep.com
Website: thesewatersrundeep.com

pelamutunzi's picture

good job

rina crane is doing an important job. this is one of the most important jobs in the world and iam glad she is doing it. thank you for the story

we may be powerless to stop an injustice but let there never be a time we fail to protest.
regards
pela

LatiNegra's picture

you're welcome and thank you

you're welcome and thank you for reading my work!

Ynanna Djehuty
Certified Birth Doula and Writer
Email: ynanna@thesewatersrundeep.com
Website: thesewatersrundeep.com

libudsuroy's picture

This story truly resonates

This story truly resonates with traditional birth attendants in my country. It is fast becoming a vanishing occupation and need to be integrated into the practice of midwifery. I like Rina's attitude towards motherhood and homemaking. She makes me re-think my own stances towards certain aspects of womanhood.

Blessings,
libudsuroy/Lina Sagaral Reyes
Mindanao, The Philippines

''Every Day is a Journey and the Journey itself is Home.'' (Matsuo Basho)

LatiNegra's picture

Yes. She made me do the same

Yes. She made me do the same as I rekindled my own desire to be a mother. Traditional birth attendants in this country have had to fight to be able to stay alive and it's so needed.

Ynanna Djehuty
Certified Birth Doula and Writer
Email: ynanna@thesewatersrundeep.com
Website: thesewatersrundeep.com

Iryna's picture

Female nature

Rina is a woman who always, all her life, understood about her female nature. How is beautiful this wish, dream, target - call it whatever you want - to be a mother and help others in this magical process!
Beautiful and original story, LatiNegra!
Greetings from Ukraine,
Iryna

LatiNegra's picture

dear iryna, thank you so much

dear iryna, thank you so much for your support. she made me think hard about my own desire to nurture the same thing in my life. thank you!

Ynanna Djehuty
Certified Birth Doula and Writer
Email: ynanna@thesewatersrundeep.com
Website: thesewatersrundeep.com

Katherine Okerlund's picture

Hey!

Love the subject and theme. Being the first, out of 6 children, born in a hospital, my mom always told me the experience was traumatic. She had her first three boys with parteras (doulas) and she HAD to go to a hospital because she couldn't find one for me. To this day she says she would have rather had me with a partera than in the hospital a thousand times (not only because it was cheaper) but the pre and after care, the intimacy, the NO use of chemical drugs, just herbs: was everything she wanted. Sadly the insurance companies in Colombia killed the profession in the late eighties and doctors and nurses were at risk of losing their licenses if they sent patients to have their births with parteras and not in hospitals. Now you can only find parteras in the villages not in the big cities.
Thank you for bringing this subject up, the work you and Rina do is very important and makes a world of a difference!

LatiNegra's picture

wow. that's insane and also

wow. that's insane and also eye opening to know that similar situations are happening around the world. thank you for reading my piece!

Ynanna Djehuty
Certified Birth Doula and Writer
Email: ynanna@thesewatersrundeep.com
Website: thesewatersrundeep.com

HeatherAndersen's picture

An inspiring portrait

Ynanna,
I was immediately engaged in your story and interested to keep reading, learning more about Rina and her path. She has an inspiring vision. I love how you captured her inspiration and also described the reality that includes a range of her emotions (struggling without community support, sighing as she laments that people do not know it could be better). Learning about her ups and downs had me appreciate her commitment that much more.

You have shared a clear and inspiring portrait of Rina and also highlighted the importance of continuing to raise awareness about the choices women have.

Thank you for writing this article!
Heather

LatiNegra's picture

Dear Heather, Thank you for

Dear Heather,
Thank you for your insightful feedback and reflection. It was my hope to show Rina exactly as she is in the world and hope to continue writing about reproductive health throughout a woman's life. Thank you!

Ynanna Djehuty
Certified Birth Doula and Writer
Email: ynanna@thesewatersrundeep.com
Website: thesewatersrundeep.com

Zoepiliafas's picture

Good thinking

I am glad that you included her website on there, in the event someone is reading and wants more information. I wonder if we should put it in the resource exchange center.

What do you think?

Zoe Piliafas

Voices of Our Future Community Manager
World Pulse

LatiNegra's picture

hey zoe! i'm just seeing this

hey zoe! i'm just seeing this now...where in the resource exchange should we put it?

Ynanna Djehuty
Certified Birth Doula and Writer
Email: ynanna@thesewatersrundeep.com
Website: thesewatersrundeep.com

Y's picture

Thank you, LatiNegra for

Thank you, LatiNegra for highlighting this issue. I would like statistics on mortality and morbidity of mother and child in comparing hospital personnel managed births and those managed or assisted by a doula before becoming impassioned about this issue. While I am passionate about the right to make our own decisions, we must be willing to take the consequences for our decisions. I believe it is an injustice that women do to themselves and others ignoring science and using only emotion in their decision making processes.
Blessings.
Yvette

Y

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