A Doula Grows and Dreams in The Bronx
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.