Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Guest Columnist Thania Muñoz: Latina Motherhood, a Pandemic, and Belonging

Note: In 2008, today's Guest Columnist, Thania Muñoz, posted exclusive reports from Crime Fiction's international big-bash as our  Roving Reporter at that year's La Semana Negra (link). She was a student doing research in the best way. 

Dr. Muñoz writes, "I got to say, it feels like a full circle. La Bloga supported me in my early years as an academic, not even in grad school yet, and now I am a profe, a mami, and a researcher. Thanks for all the mentoring and support! It meant to me a lot then and now!" 

 It means a lot to us at La Bloga then and now. What a wonderful journey Dr. Muñoz has shared with us here at La Bloga. Thank you, compañera. Adelante!

Our Birth Story: on Latina Motherhood, a Pandemic, and Belonging
Thania Muñoz D.

Sinan Sol was born at home, in our bathroom, unexpectedly. 


I was pregnant at the beginning of the pandemic. When my university closed down, my husband started working from home, my daughter’s daycare closed, and I was pregnant with our second child. I taught my college classes online and did yoga at night to alleviate sciatica discomforts. My doctor’s appointments were spread out and every time I did have one I was told, “The hospital protocols are changing everyday, so just be prepared to labor mostly at home and head out at the last minute. It’s better to spend the least amount of time at the hospital during these unprecedented times”. 


Although I did think about having my baby at home, my husband refused. During my first pregnancy and this one, he feared complications that could potentially put me and our babies in danger. I, on the other hand, have always been afraid of hospitals, knowing too many statistics about the mistreatment of Black and Latina women— they never felt like safes place for me. Even if sometimes people just by looking at me are not sure if I am Latina, when I am in pain or afraid, I feel more comfortable communicating in Spanish. The few times I had been stopped for traffic violations and when I had my first encounters with immigration officers, my brain switched quickly to Spanish; unable to communicate in English, cops and la migra always dismissed me while rolling their eyes.  


36 weeks


Sometimes in the evening, when my back and sciatica pain was unbearable I would recite mantras and prepare mentally for the day my baby decided to come: “Ride the wave”, “It’s easier to remain in control than regain control”, “This won’t last forever”, “Every contraction is one less”, “I embrace the wisdom and innate knowledge of my body” —these were my favorite. I repeated them out loud for weeks while I bounced on my yoga ball to open up my hips and be ready for labor. During those evenings, I also thought about my grandmas, mis abuelitas, women who gave birth to 5 and 10 children. I thought about how they had prepared me for labor, how they created big families for my children to cherish. But I also felt scared. I never had a chance to talk to them about pregnancy and motherhood. They passed away when I was still too small to worry about these things. I am well aware not all their pregnancies were happy ones. I also know they lost a few children, but I would lay down most nights thinking about how they had relatives close by and vecinos ready to help out; I’d also remember my neighborhood when I was a child in Mexico, a big warm barrio, where I knew all the kids, their parents, and never felt alone. Here, as I was laying down in a suburban house in Maryland, far away from my family in California and Mexico, a few nice neighbors, no Latinx neighbors, I didn’t know their kids or if they would help us if we needed help. I felt alone. I’d dream of giving birth and not been able to communicate with my husband in English. I’d practice all my mantras in English as a way to make sure I didn’t lose my Mexican English while I was in pain, giving birth in a white hospital, in a white city in Maryland. 


My kids’ middles names are in Spanish, Sol and Lucía. Both are bright. Both are bold. Both mean light and glow. We decided as a family to give them my husband’s last name. Davaslıoğlu. A long name full of otherness and Turkish roots. Mexican, Turkish, American. I wanted their names to interconnect all of their heritages. People in the U.S will probably say their names with a gringo pronunciation, so at least I wanted to resist through spelling. But I also wanted their names to be creative and share the light and shine I felt while I carried both in my womb. I wanted their names to inspire creativity. While I wish they choose artistic paths, I know this is out of my control. As the daughter of immigrants, I was supported to go to school so I could go to college and find a job. When I decided to graduate with a Spanish language and literature degree I was asked by family, ¿vas a encontrar trabajo?  Are you going to find a job?  I’m a professor of Latin American Literature now, I somehow successfully managed to merge my love for creativity, books, and trabajo. I will support my kids in whatever career and life path they choose. I hope they don’t feel any debt to me. I hope they are unapologetically creative.


“El sol” - Huichol Art


The morning my contractions started I went on a walk around the neighborhood. It was 11 am when I called my mom and my sister. They both told me they would pray for me. The semester was still not over and I had to grade final projects. It didn’t seem like the best week to have a baby, but of course, it was the perfect time. I still had two weeks before my due date, it was just starting to feel like summer in Maryland, and I was worried I would have to push my baby out while wearing a mask. As I finished my walk, my contractions were getting stronger. Sinan Sol’s amanecer was coming. 


I labored at home. We had a lunch as a family and my daughter and I napped together while my husband rushed to finish up work meetings. As my daughter and I laid down together in her room, I stared at her small happy face[i]. She likes to touch our arms while she sleeps, but my contractions were so strong I couldn’t hold still. I sang to her while I moved around, kneeled and buried my face on the mattress trying to breathe through another contraction; at one point my eyes couldn’t hold my tears anymore, I cried due to the pain, and because I knew this was my daughter’s last day as an only child. She couldn’t sleep for long and joined me --- we walked around the room breathing loudly. She drank my coconut water and asked me to share my snacks. I laughed so hard when she completely took over my mug and drank the whole thing. She was my little doula and kept me distracted as my contractions became more painful. We started a bath together, but she eventually left with her baba to drop off her furry sister at her sitter’s house. While they were gone, my contractions became so strong I couldn’t walk around anymore. I kneeled down next to the toilet. I couldn’t keep any food down. I threw up a couple of times and drank water to keep me hydrated. I was alone in the house. I kept repeating my mantra, “ride the wave…. ride the wave” whenever the contractions hit. “It has only been a few hours, I probably have a few more” -- I told myself many times, while I kneeled, swayed my hips, buried my head on pillows, or sat in the tub. But the tub was so uncomfortable, I cursed at all the videos I watched that recommended baths to ease contractions. My daughter, on the other hand, came back home, jumped into the tub, and told me the water was so nice. I started to howl.  


Sinan’s birthday


I managed to text my family to let them know the baby was coming. I texted my friend to tell her Bellis would be staying with her that night. It was almost 5 pm and I was howling every 6-7 minutes. The pain was becoming unbearable. I was losing my sense of time. I laid down on the bed, next to my daughter, while my husband pressed down hard on my lower back as he did when Lucita was born. I was repeating my mantras in English. My husband kept telling me, let’s just go to the hospital now. He decided to call the maternity unit, the nurses were rude to him on the phone and said, “Just bring her here and we’ll check her”. As I got up to get ready to go, a big contraction hit. I was standing by our bathroom’s doorway then and the force of the contraction made me kneel down next to the tub. I screamed. Another contraction hit. I was now on the toilet and felt his head crown. As I told my husband “he is coming”, I felt another contraction. 


I was blinded. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t feel pain. I couldn’t speak. 


I caught my own baby and time froze. 


As I held Sinan Sol, wet and soft, his eyes shined. 


He didn’t fall on the floor or in the toilet as I was squatting on top of it. I caught my baby with the same hands Bellis couldn’t let go of while she napped earlier that day. As my husband quickly called 911, Sinan just looked at me quiet. He stared at me with his big dark eyes. He fit perfectly in between my hands. I saw the blood on the floor and my legs turned weak. He stared up at me, to reassure me, yes, he was here. My husband handed me a blanket and Sinan let out a big cry. Kemal and I smiled. He started to cry again. My daughter came into the bathroom and said to him, “baby, don’t cry”. I stared at her and time froze again. She was there the whole time while his brother was making his way into this world. They met just minutes after he gave me his first look. I started to cry. My two kids were in the same room, while the placenta was still inside of me. The children of two immigrants, sharing their first phrase in English. 


As I was sitting on the toilet looking at my two kids, I felt grateful I didn’t have to speak or be touched by someone else. I was at home with my family. My legs were still weak as the paramedics wearing masks helped me walk down the stairs. I did it. I did it. I did it. I kept repeating quietly in English. I can’t never leave this house now. Is this how “belonging” feels like?   


Umbilical cord cutting at home


I napped in soft pajamas and two kids in my cuarentena. The pandemic took away summer and quick visits from friends. I had to show my breasts to a lactation consultant through Zoom to figure out how to feed Sinan successfully. 


While there are moments I feel invincible, strong, for raising two kids in the middle of a pandemic, I yearn for the company of my family and for help. I delivered my own baby, but I haven’t truly rested since. My home feels my own and as a now family of four we have slowly transitioned to a new routine.  But, my quiet neighborhood is not a sanctuary. This country does not feel like a sanctuary either. A year later after my son’s birth, family and friends are still getting sick, friends have passed away, and many others are suffering emotionally and economically from this pandemic. 


Sofa naps with Lucita


I didn’t feel afraid when I gave birth to Sinan on a Monday in May 2020 at home . My English did not fail me. I actually didn’t even need it. While I still feel out of place, as Latina in a white neighborhood in Maryland, I have two kids that taught belonging it’s not necessarily a place. Belonging can mean moments, a touch, a phrase. The birth of my son at 5:30pm in the middle of a global pandemic was one of these moments for me.   





Thania Muñoz is a reader, a researcher, and an Assistant Professor of Spanish, Latin American and Latinx literature. She is an immigrant from México and has familial ties to Türkiye. Thania immigrated to California in 1998 and since 2015 lives in Maryland. Her journey of immigration to the U.S is part of her familial lineage. Her grandfather was a bracero in California and her maternal side of the family immigrated to Southern California because of his move; her mother moved back to Mexico in her twenties, but eventually made the journey back to the U.S along with her family. Thania grew up being called an “immigrant” - a term she found uncomfortable at first, but that now cherishes as it has shaped how she experiences the world. She received her Ph.D. at the University of California, Irvine in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese in 2015. 





[i] I use she/ her pronouns for Bellis, but she hasn’t announced her pronouns yet. We are waiting patiently for her and Sinan to decide on their chosen pronouns. 

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