Following the inauguration of President Donald Trump, Austin non-profit Mama Sana took to the streets to make the voices of mothers and women of color heard. Founded in 2010, Mama Sana/Vibrant Women works to provide prenatal and postnatal care to women of color.
Paula Rojas and other community organizers co-founded the group following a survey they conducted with low income mothers of color in Austin. They met women in welfare offices and schools, asking them to share their experiences and concerns.
The group received a wide variety of responses from housing issues to discrimination they felt within the education system, but their healthcare as mothers struck the group the most.
“[Prenatal care] wasn’t the issue that came up most frequently, but when it did come up it was very intense,” Rojas said. “People had very, very hard experiences when pregnant. They felt mistreated during their pregnancy and during the birth.”
Amongst the two groups of women, Rojas said their main issues were very different. For Hispanic women, the primary issue was access.
Many of the mothers Rojas works with are undocumented and are wary of seeking healthcare because they fear getting deported. But even if the mothers do seek out treatment, the application process can take months and clinics that will take them are often overworked.
“From start to finish, you might be well into your second or third trimester by the time you get your first appointment,” Rojas said.
On top of that, Rojas said the issue is made more complicated by the language barrier that sometimes exists between healthcare providers and expectant Hispanic mothers.
“This is a very personal, intimate issue,” Rojas said. “It’s hard enough to have these conversations in your own language, but for someone who doesn’t speak your language it’s hard to get your questions answered and the care you need.”
Among the black low-income mothers who were surveyed, the main concern that arose was the quality of the care they received. Many of them reported feeling discriminated against throughout their pregnancies, and felt as though they were being racially profiled. As a result, they didn’t feel comfortable with their care providers.
But for both groups of women, Rojas said she saw the main problem being a lack of agency.
“Both groups talked about not being consulted when things escalated during the pregnancy or not receiving much support from the healthcare providers,” Rojas said.
To combat these issues, Rojas and the other women went to school to become licensed midwives, hoping they could make the mothers who sought them out feel more comfortable throughout and after their pregnancies.
As midwives, Rojas said their approach is largely based on ensuring the women feel supported.
“I care for women who don’t have anywhere to live, who don’t have access to resources to take care of their basic needs,” Rojas said. “What makes a healthy pregnancy is the ability of the woman to care for herself. All of those social stresses can challenge the mother and baby just as much as a health-related issue.”
Over the past few years, Rojas and the other midwives have seen different threats to women’s healthcare. With Trump in office, Rojas said their concerns have only grown. They believe access to prenatal care and women’s ability to make decisions about their bodies will only worsen. Because of this, the group joined the other members of Communities of Color United, a grassroots coalition, in the One Resistance march on Friday, Jan. 20.
“The real work isn’t the march, it’s what’s going to come after,” Rojas said. “It’s about building the power of the people who are directly impacted, organizing people on the ground, and creating institutional changes. We want reproductive justice for women to determine whether they want to have babies or not. If they do, we want to be able to support them.”