RILA Supports New Moms

Expecting a baby should be a joyful season in a woman’s life, but for many of RILA’s female clients, a pregnancy is a season of fear and anxiety. These women have already fled violence and trauma, and are now faced with the prospect of bringing a new life into the world, often far away from the support of trusted family or friends. In addition, they need to navigate a complex and unfamiliar medical system, as well as foreign child protection policies that prescribe certain standards for newborn and child care.

This was the situation of Sasha, one of the first clients that I worked with after joining RILA. Sasha and her two daughters fled gang violence and domestic violence in Central America. Lured by empty promises of economic support from a man who had immigrated from a different country, Sasha ended up unexpectedly pregnant, and was abandoned by the father of her unborn child. In fear and confusion, Sasha reached out to RILA after about four months. She didn’t know how to get medical care, and was unsure of how the pregnancy would affect her case.

Upon speaking with her, RILA was able to assure Sasha that the pregnancy would not have a negative effect on her chances of receiving asylum, and were also able to connect her with prenatal care through the health department. Generous RILA volunteers and staff members provided baby clothes, a car seat, a bassinet, and diapers. Upon learning that Sasha had no one who could take care of her children during the birth, another volunteer invited Sasha’s children to stay in her home while Sasha was in the hospital! Sasha and the whole RILA team were deeply touched and humbled by this outpouring of care and generosity.

In addition, Sasha shared that had no one to accompany her to the hospital to give birth. She had friends in the U.S., but none of them with the margin and flexibility in their lives to be able to spend a day away from their work or families. RILA reached out to our network to see if a Spanish-speaking volunteer, ideally with medical background, was available. Finally, when we had explored every option with no success, I offered to be Sasha’s support person and she accepted my help. I was not qualified, but I was willing, and I was deeply conscious that if I were in her position, I just wouldn’t want to be alone. It was an incredible privilege to be trusted to participate in such a significant life event, and it was such a joy to be there when Sasha welcomed her new baby boy!

Since our experience with Sasha, RILA has identified six more female clients who are expecting babies in 2019, and we’re in the process of rolling out a program to provide empowering, sustainable assistance to these women. RILA wants to work with our pregnant clients in advance to help them plan to welcome their babies well by leveraging the support network that our clients do have in the U.S., connecting them to trusted organizations for specialized services, and filling in the gaps when necessary. We’re exploring potential partnerships with churches, a crisis pregnancy center, and other non-profit organizations, and are so grateful for the opportunity to learn from those already ministering to pregnant women.

At the end of the day, RILA exists to provide clients with excellent, pro-bono legal services. We will never be nurses or doulas, and we need to rely on those who have this expertise. But at the same time, it is our mission to care for our clients holistically, to see the whole person, and not just their legal challenges. For our pregnant clients, this means empowering them to welcome their new child with love and joy, as every new mom wants!

Heather Hall