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A Glimpse at Pregnancy at the Border, An Invitation to a Benefit Concert

Glimpse at pregnancy at the border

[Editor’s note: Please join us at the upcoming benefit concert on Sunday, July 16th in San Rafael, California – support Migrant Clinicians Network in linking pregnant asylum seekers with prenatal care!]

After being released from detention, pregnant asylum seekers arrive at shelters across the US-Mexico border. Many have had no prenatal care at all – even those just weeks from giving birth.

“Many were learning for the first time even when their due date was,” after receiving their first ultrasound, remarked Juliana Birnbaum, a bilingual certified doula and midwife assistant, who recently volunteered at the border with Migrant Clinicians Network. She worked with our partner shelter and birth center in McAllen, Texas, and with MCN’s Health Network Associates. Together, the three entities provide pregnant asylum seekers with basic prenatal care and enroll them in Health Network to link them with prenatal care when they arrive at their receiving community.

During her time with the Health Network team, Birnbaum was surprised to see how many women arrived. “We had eight women the first day, 10 the second,” she recalled. They had entered Texas during the “heat dome” which was pushing temperatures well above 100 degrees each day. “It was ungodly hot, but there was air conditioning.” She helped with office work, assisting Health Network Associates Enedelia Basurto and Brenda Ramirez. She also helped nurse midwife Annie Leone, CNM, as she saw patients, by taking blood pressure readings and temperatures, getting the patients clothes and underwear – some of which Birnbaum brought with her in a suitcase to hand out. “I had asked Annie if they needed anything, and she said they always needed underwear and leggings,” Birnbaum said. “I brought a whole suitcase full. After the second day, I went to Target and bought another round using donations I had gotten from my GoFundMe.”  Birnbaum had recruited 40 of her friends and family to donate toward her trip, covering her travel and supplies. “It felt really good, having 40 people I knew who were behind me and supported me,” as she did the work, she said.

Birnbaum was impressed with the program, and in particular with Leone. “She has so much energy… and she’s very good with people, talking to people she just met about the most intimate things – and it felt like they felt comfortable,” she noted. Basurto, Ramirez, Leone, and Birnbaum could speak Spanish with many of the asylum seekers. For those from Haiti, Birnbaum tried to communicate in French, and the team relied on a phone interpreter. Some of the Haitian women spoke some Spanish, having lived in parts of South America before heading to the border, she added. 

“A lot of them had difficult stories – getting to the border, having to leave other children behind. All of that was really intense,” Birnbaum recalled. “One woman had lost three brothers to gang violence. Several had to leave their children behind with family, hoping to be reunited some day. There were tears shed. The stories were heart wrenching.” She recounted the story of a Haitian pregnant woman who couldn’t drink the water while she was migrating north. “There were people in her party who got sick and died from drinking the water that they had to drink along the way,” she said. Luckily, her pregnancy had progressed, and she had made it to safety.

During the rest of her week at the border, Birnbaum assisted with the birth center, traveling with the mobile clinic and then assisting at two births of local women, even going with one couple who had to transfer to the local hospital, as the labor was not progressing. She acted as a doula, supporting and advocating for the couple at the hospital. 

Overall, “it was a sweet experience,” Birnbaum said. “It feels so special after the pandemic to be able to connect with people in that way and have an adventure – and to use my experience to be able to give compassion and care that they hadn’t had during their pregnancy. It felt like an honor.”

Birnbaum has since returned home to Northern California, but she hasn’t lost her drive to help MCN. On Sunday, July 16th, she and her 70s rock band the Rough Edges are playing a benefit concert, with all funds donated to MCN, in San Rafael. She also hopes to return to the border for another volunteer experience in the fall. “I was very moved by the strength of these women and their ability to keep focused on their goal to have a better life for their families,” she said.

For those in Northern California, please join us at the upcoming benefit concert!

Sunday, July 16th, 4pm – 7pm

Pond Farm Brewing Co.

1848 Fourth Street

San Rafael, CA 94901

Can’t make the concert? Consider making a donation to MCN.