Why I Came to Dar a Luz

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by Olivia Herrera, Birth Assistant

I had LONGED to work at Dar a Luz. On my drive through the North Valley, I would pass the bell tower with a new baby’s name proudly displayed on it… a sweet announcement to the community that a new babe had arrived. There were sometimes even people gathered around a new sweet-smelling fluffy little head. Tired faces, but blissfully there. When things were tough at the hospital where I worked, I would dream about working at Dar a Luz instead. After longing for a change, I signed up for the email list to be notified when they were hiring and waited eagerly. When my best friend became pregnant, she took a feeding class at Dar a Luz. I was thrilled when she asked me to come with her. I sat there in awe of Amity, the wizard of a feeding educator, and thought about how I would love to hold space like she does. I tried to hide my excitement about how I might get more involved. She told me to reach out and that they would keep my resume around, but I chickened out.

A year later, I was still working at a hospital when I got an email that there was a position open. I squealed and then spiraled into panic. My imposter syndrome made itself a comfy home in my body and posted up. Was I ready to step into something so profound and meaningful? The place I had dreamt of was inviting me in to peek. I submitted my resume before overthinking it. I knew the worst that could happen was getting a no, but that the best thing could be a yes. I remember hearing in my interview from a midwife that “working here is a lifestyle.” They went on to say that the hours could be tough and that working in a birth center was big heart-centered work. I genuinely thought about that for a minute. What would it look like to be on call that often? What would it be like to be the only clinic nurse? I was champing at the bit and I knew I needed to take a second to really think… was I ready? I was still a fresh nurse, and for a second I thought maybe I need more experience under my belt to prove I was ready. But I had already seen so much. Heard so much. I thought about how much I have always loved birth.

My memories

When I was three I got to watch a birth for the first time. I remember a lot about that day. I remember my mom being in and out of the tub, and me being excited to watch her birth my brother. She labored at home for awhile, and knowing it could take some time, she wanted me to get some rest. My mom’s doula strapped me into the car seat and took me for a drive in a last-ditch effort to get me to go to sleep. I remember asking her to take me back, but we drove on. Three-year-old Olivia did not want to miss a thing! I began to kick and scream until she couldn’t take it and had to take me home. It worked. I was a fierce little being, but I was front and center when he arrived earthside. I was able to help cut the cord, help weigh the new baby and practice nursing with my “big sister” baby doll that my parents had thoughtfully gifted me when they found out they were expecting. Even at just three years old I wasn’t scared of the rawness of birth. I was ready to witness.

On my journey in nursing school and into my nursing career I saw sad births, medicalized births, natural births, complicated births, empowering births and everything in between — although one really imprinted on my heart. I was a new nurse on a postpartum floor. She was a new mama, thirteen years old. I remember trying to hide my reaction as I heard that number. Thirteen. They both looked so tiny in that bed. But as I looked closer I realized they also looked like a force to be reckoned with. I remember other nurses telling me that I should think about counseling her on bottles and formula because nursing would probably be “too hard for her.” As I watched them interact I saw awe in her eyes of what she had just accomplished. She knew what she was planning to do, and I learned so much from her those two nights that I sat with her. No adults in her life came to welcome her to parenthood or tell her how capable she was. Instead she was greeted by pity parties of people whispering and eyes that told her she couldn’t do it. In fact, with the exception of the nurse and doctors, she birthed and recovered alone. At one point she admitted to me that she felt traumatized from her birth because she was scared and alone. I wiped her tears and we held her baby as I told her that she was miraculous. That no one should ever have to feel that scared, but that she did it and she was strong. I told her that in the same night in the same hour in the same pandemic-stricken world, women everywhere roared babies into existence and because of that they had all given birth together.

I nicknamed her baby “little strawberry” because of her dimpled cheeks and pink body. I sat with them as they forged ahead on their journey together. The fiercest mother I had ever seen. On Mother’s Day, I headed out from my night shift and bought her a shirt that said “Mama,” and an outfit for “little strawberry.” She had only packed one outfit, and it was for a six-month-old baby. She looked down in embarrassment and admitted she didn’t know how small the baby would be. I told her, “It’s amazing how tiny they are, right?!” I too was in awe. I handed her the shirt. “This is your first of many Mother’s Days. Some will be harder than others, but always know that people are rooting for you to win. You have more strength than you know.” She nodded. We hugged and I saved my tears for the car ride home. On my way home, I sobbed out of anger for how we abandon birthing people, how we don’t see each other’s humanity and each other’s strengths and how we instead hide behind judgment. I thought about how this was my “why I am a birth worker.” I wanted every birthing person to feel held, supported and loved.

Despite my better judgment, I got home and told the staff of Dar a Luz what I had witnessed the last two nights, and that I was charged up and ready for a lifestyle change — a lifestyle that lived and breathed empowering and supportive care in birth. A space I could feel endlessly proud of. I hit send and knew I had just revealed my bleeding heart to them and worried if they would think I was intense.

After a day of shadowing, and tirelessly checking my email, I was hired on. I have called Dar a Luz my home for a year and half now. Even after 24 hours awake at a double birth night, I know I am where I need to be. My home is here with you, watching you own your strength. I am so proud of you and everything you do. I never stop talking about birth and how much it means that I get to be there to witness, to hold, to learn, to cry and to grow with you. You all are my why, and this place means so much to me. Thank you for giving me purpose and strength. I am so happy to be part of your community.

Olivia is a treasured Birth Assistant at Dar a Luz. She attended the University of New Mexico’s college of nursing in 2017 and focused her studies on childbirth and women’s care. Following nursing school, Olivia spent a challenging and insightful year in a hospital setting as a postpartum nurse soaking up as much as she could. She established her fierce advocacy for patients and honored her journey in becoming a self-assured nurse, but knew that the hospital was not her home. Being in a natural birth center felt important to her and she wanted to be part of a team that focused on holistically loving and healing through evidence-based care. She feels deeply honored and grateful to be a part of this birth center.

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