by Seneca Overduin
I arrived in Honduras at the beginning of September to the coastal city of La Ceiba, the “home base” so to speak, of Dar a Luz. After a concise briefing and orientation with Silvia, I was given a tour of the public hospital in the city centre.
The public hospital in La Ceiba sees about 18 to 22 births a day, and early September is a particularly busy time of year.
Giving birth in the public hopsital of La Ceiba is often a difficult experience for most women, who are prohibited from bringing a friend or partner into the labor room. The hospital staff often demonstrate very little personal care towards the women. First time mothers, women who had never previously delivered a baby in a hospital, or women with previous traumatic birth experiences found the hospital environment particularly overwhelming.
Often there was one woman or girl who appeared to be in more distress than the others, and I would go to her first. Physical comfort measures such as giving massages, warming packs and socks, and water to the women was always greatly appreciated. However, emotional support seemed to be most valuable to the women. I often witnessed the calming effect of merely having a hand to hold, or a few words of encouragement. Because the work is empathy-driven and very physical, my rudimentary Spanish was not too great a barrier.
Over the course of the first week I assisted dozens of women in labor and attended more than ten births. Depending on the day, I would help anywhere from one to six women in a variety of ways.
On weekends, the surrounding area of La Ceiba was at my fingertips: Parque Nacional Pico Bonito, Cayos Cochinos/Bay Islands, and the mangroves at La Union are all easily accessible, beautiful places to find some R&R!
After three weeks, I moved on to the highland city of Santa Rosa de Copan, in Western Honduras. Santa Rosa is a smaller, more tranquil town set in the mountains. I continued my doula work here at the public hospital. This hospital is physically smaller, but sees more births a day – up to 35 – and there are no curtains between beds, as there are in La Ceiba. However, I found the staff very welcoming, and the women as always were very appreciative of my support.
I also began to teach prenatal classes at the maternity home in Santa Rosa, twice a week. My Spanish, which was rudimentary when I first arrived in La Ceiba, quickly improved! The classes were focused on basic childbirth education and were interactive and relaxed. Often, I saw the women from the maternity home at the hospital later in the week.
I stayed in Santa Rosa for almost a month, and was present at dozens of births. On one occasion, an 18 year old girl (SEE PHOTO) gave birth to surprise twins – quite the shock for her, and I!
Spare time in Santa Rosa was very relaxing. My homestay was with a great Honduran woman, and I found the city to be safe and the people friendly, with some good restaurants and a fancy hotel with a pool that I was able to use as much as I wanted if I just bought a drink (tips of the trade!!). Santa Rosa is surrounded by small villages and cities to visit on the weekends, such as the mountain town Belen Gualcho, the highland city of Gracias, and the village of La Campa – all safe and accessible.
Overall, working as a volunteer has been enlightening and dynamic. A sense of privilege has followed me for most of my time here – privilege to be at women’s side for such important moments in their life; privilege for my economic position as a foreigner; privilege to be allowed into people’s lives here. Honduras is a beautiful country, with beautiful and kind-hearted people for whom I have cultivated a deep respect. The women I met in the hospital were unfailingly brave, fearless, and driven. Living here and working with the Dar a Luz program has been a truly life-changing experience.