Interview with Esperanza Dodge, Durbin CHW Awardee & Operations Director of Young Women United

Published June 3, 2019 under Blog

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Birth Work in New Mexico

Sometimes, we don’t know all the birth options that are available to us and even if we do, they aren’t always accessible. It’s pretty cool that here In New Mexico, Medicaid covers home births and freestanding birth center births with a licensed midwife. It’s such a great option for many seeking a respectful perinatal care.

Many who hear about this after giving birth wish they knew of it sooner so they could have received that type of care. While I did know about home births when pregnant, I really wish I knew I could give birth at a freestanding birth center as this option really appeals to me as a single mom. . It could have meant so much to have prenatal, labor and postpartum care where I wasn’t rushed, but was listened to and my body and birth experience was treated respectfully. Pregnant women and people need a trusted relationship with their provider, not just the provider on shift at a hospital while you’re in labor. It makes a big difference when women and people of color can access birth workers that look like us. Our birth outcomes are better for it too.

Through my work at Young Women United (YWU), I helped launch the New Mexico Doula Association alongside other New Mexico-based BELA leaders to support doulas in New Mexico, advocate to make doula work sustainable and increase the number of women and people of color birth workers, especially in rural areas. My desire is to advocate for doulas and midwives because their jobs are so important in supporting the pregnant person and babies. It’s challenging for doulas to both have the time and energy to do birth work, but also spend their time doing birth equity work. As a non-doula, I hope I can be part of making their work a little easier and accessible to families most in need of this service. YWU is also conducting a research project that looks at the birth experiences of low income families of color who have accessed licensed midwifery care in the state of New Mexico and I’ve really enjoyed being a researcher on this project.

Addiction and Pregnancy

The project I’m most proud to have worked on over the past year is a unique curriculum I and YWU created alongside women with lived experience around addiction and pregnancy. This curriculum is a training for doulas and birth companions to work with women and people with substance use disorders during their labor. The training is informed by women with lived experience of addiction and pregnancy. Topics covered are unlike any I’ve ever experienced in the birth workers community. Even I learned so much from the women and find the information valuable and essential for our communities struggling with addiction who also deserve compassionate care. We’ve taught this training 4 times and every time, it has made a meaningful impact on the doulas and birth companions who will be proving their services to community who needs it the most. It makes me so happy to know women and people are closer to receiving the care they deserve. It is part of a larger movement we (YWU) has done to create a culture shift around addiction and pregnancy/motherhood alongside those most impacted.

Birth Equity Leadership Academy

I didn’t know I was a community health worker (CHW) until I attended the orientation for the Birth Equity Leadership Academy (BELA). One of the facilitators described it as improving the overall health of a

Birth Equity Leadership Academy Training at photo credit: Judy Fidkowski

community. It made me realize I’ve been doing this work for a long time in various communities. Being part of BELA has also given me the opportunity to host a webinar for my fellow BELA colleagues on making your money work for you, because as birth workers and advocates, finances are crucial to sustaining our work and our lives.. As a single mom I learned that taking control of my finances was essential for my family’s well-being and allows me to parent in ways I find meaningful.

The other part of BELA that I love is the regional meetings because they are rich in learning opportunities and allow me to connect with others doing incredible work around the US and Puerto Rico. It’s a great gathering where people share their birth work experiences, challenges, support and common goals. For me, it’s important that everyone is valued for their expertise in whatever piece of the work they are doing to make an impact. There are so many BELA leaders that are doing amazing work to address maternal mortality and other birth equity issues in their respective communities. I’m moved by the work BELA leaders and faculty are doing to provide grassroots level solutions and that gives me hope.

Advocacy: Ban-the-Box Legislation

Through the policy work I’ve done at my organization, I’ve been able to collaborate on and successfully pass Ban-the-Box legislation in New Mexico. It was important for me to work on this issue because it has a direct impact on the lives of women and families. Prior to this legislation, those who were previously incarcerated had to check a box on applications asking if they have any felonies or convictions, which could greatly diminish their chance at employment. This legislation removes that question. I accredit the hard work of the mothers and fathers we worked closely with who were previously incarcerated. For 5 years we lobbied our state legislators by having real conversations about what it means to seek employment with a record. They just want to find successful employment, give back to society and provide for their loved ones. Ban-the-Box brings them one step closer to this. It’s been a beautiful victory I’m proud to have finally won this year.

This Fall: Feature Film Debut on Addiction and Pregnancy

I am so blessed to be able to do the work I do, especially at a reproductive justice organization led by women of

Photo credit via Las Cruces Newspaper

color. Sometimes I’m in disbelief about the opportunities I’m given to make gigantic things happen across New Mexico, and beyond. One of the most incredible projects I got to work on is the feature film that we at Young Women United (YWU) produced that centers the complexities of addiction and motherhood. The creation of the film was created by women with lived experiences of addiction and pregnancy/motherhood. Their expertise was so valuable in shaping the film from its inception to actual production. We worked closely with professional cast and crew to bring the film to life. I’m so excited to see the movie debut this Fall. We are on our way to creating a huge culture shift in the way people view addiction and motherhood, which can have real impacts on people’s lives.


Esperanza Dodge is HC One’s 2019 Durbin Community Health Worker of the Year Recipient

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