Kara Strohm
Kara Strohm
Argentina, 2022
Hi I’m Kara! Since graduating from Belmont in 2020, I’ve been working as a nurse here in Nashville. I’m thrilled to finally invite you along as I spend the next 5 months in Buenos Aires, Argentina working with Venir Al Mundo, a doula association aiding high-risk individuals through their pregnancies, births, and postpartum journeys. ¡Vamos! Read More About Kara →

Ciao Argentina <3

 

Final Report:

Me at my goodbye park hang with all my friends :,)

I have been back in the States for about one week now, staying busy between moving into a new space, seeing friends in Nashville, preparing my Lumos presentation, and now visiting my family up in Chicago. I spent the final hour on the flight into Nashville reading letters from friends and from my host family, tears welling up and releasing. I love crying on planes. There is nowhere to go and nobody familiar, engine roars mask the sound of sniffling and, if you’re like me, your face remains still, dramatically looking out the window (cue “Here Comes Goodbye” by Rascal Flatts once more).

As I am certain any former Lumos traveler can attest to, it has been a challenge putting together an answer to, “How was your trip?!” Usually I get stuck after, “Incredible!” and fumble through describing what I love about the city of Buenos Aires after a a few seconds of blank stares. The truth is that I could never quite put into words all that I experienced or felt or learned the past 5 months. So let me start small: I speak Spanish! I may not be fluent (yet, fingers crossed) or fully bilingual but I shared a home and had complex conversations with my fully Spanish-speaking host family daily, which I have to remind myself is no small thing. This will benefit me as a nurse and my Spanish-speaking patients for the rest of my career. Since being back, I have already communicated with Spanish speakers on two separate occasions. I feel that a new level of neighborliness, of community, of local engagement has been opened to me—there is a new realm of possibility in communicating with the people around me, especially in my work at the Public Health Department in Nashville. I plan to continue taking classes in the States and have looked into programs, such as those organized by Casa Azafrán, that connect English speakers with Spanish speakers for weekly exchanges/practice/community building. One of my main goals in planning this project was to return with an improved ability to provide healthcare to our neighbors with Spanish communication needs, and I think that while I am still continuing to learn, this goal was obtainable. I also experienced the challenges of living in a country that functions in a different language than my own, gaining first-hand understanding of just some of the obstacles facing those who move away from their home countries.

Another goal of mine was to strengthen my skills as a doula and healthcare worker, as well as progress in my training, and provide empathetic care to my patients in the hospital of Moron. Throughout the course of my project, I participated in several workshops led by my host mom, Ana, a well-seasoned professional doula. The workshop topics ranged from breastfeeding basics to caring for the placenta in postpartum. I also took Ana’s doula training course, once as an observer in June, and again as a participant and graduate in September. My placement in Hospital de Moron included 3 shifts per week and our primary responsibility was to serve the emotional needs of women in labor, in postpartum, and with infants in the NICU. While the first few months we’re challenging from a language perspective, my prior experience as a volunteer doula at Vanderbilt provided me with a basic understanding of my role and a foundational skill set that did not require much need for communication (i.e. non-pharmacological pain management, distraction techniques, massage, aromatherapy). Coaching women through birth and breastfeeding, providing a listening ear to their hopes and concerns, advocating their needs to the healthcare team, and serving as a silent companion in a busy environment were some of the ways me and the other volunteers helped contribute to our patient’s wellbeing. Moron is a province outside of the city of Buenos Aires and the public hospital serves a population with few healthcare resources. In the hospital many of the birthing mothers were under 20 years old and had little education beyond primary school. Birth control options and sex education is scarce, and many of the women we worked with felt more comfortable complying with the doctor’s suggestions than advocating for their wants or needs. A practical (and frequent) way in which we saw this occur, and in which us doulas helped advocate for our patients, was in the laboring rooms when a woman was seemingly solo and their accompaniment (i.e. mother or partner or friend) were outside in the waiting room. Oftentimes the patient did not speak up that they had someone there with them and the accompaniment didn’t ask to be brought inside either. Neither did the doctors or nurses make an effort to include them in the process until the vey last minute. When we discovered that they had a loved one passively waiting outside while the patient sat alone progressing in labor, we were the ones to communicate with the healthcare team and retrieve the accompanying person as early as possible. There were many small ways in which we worked to create a more equitable, personal environment for the women in Moron, something I can continue to work to do here in my job in the States.

It doesn’t take long living in Argentina to realize that politics are a hot topic there. Since the dictatorship ended in the early 80’s, building themselves as a democracy has been filled with political polarization. Over time, I learned from a diverse variety of people with different socioeconomic backgrounds (my host sisters, my friends, the teachers at school, the doulas I worked with, the patients I took care of) the arguments and values of each side. I also explored the history of their government, including the beginnings of Peronism, through the devastating dictatorship that led to the disappearance of over 30,000 people, up to the modern-day Kirchnerism. Argentina’s economic crisis has led to a current inflation rate of 83%—one USD is equivalent to 157 Argentine pesos today. In a country where houses and cars and plane tickets abroad are sold in USD and government loans do not exist, acquiring wealth is extremely difficult. Many of my friends would say things like, “it feels like there is no hope for us young people, except to be politically involved.” However, they would also say things like, “we are trapped in chaos, but we have our culture to bind us together.” The culture in Buenos Aires is so rich. Traditions like passing mate around at the park, bustling weekend street markets, and futbol games and rivalries. Taking great pride in their asados (barbecue), wine, hospitality, free education system, empanadas, history, and diverse landscapes. The people of Argentina share in their love for their culture, despite their diverse political opinions—something I hope to remember as I return to a very divided country.

I would like to thank Thandi, Shauna, and the rest of the Lumos committee and their donors for trusting me with this project. I would never have been able to make this trip possible without the help of my partner organization, Experiential Learning International, or the Connecting Worlds team in Argentina. Thank you to my parents, my brother, and my wonderful friends for staying in contact with me even when I made it difficult between losing two phones. If you are considering applying to Lumos, my advice is to do a lot of research into your partner organization and get as realistic of a picture as possible of what your work will look like. Consider how your project will impact what you think you want to do with your career, and how your skill set could be used to impact a community or non-profit abroad. When choosing a country, think about what you know of that place and the obstacles you will face—is there a language barrier? If so, do you plan on taking language classes before leaving/during your stay? What kind of societal challenges do the people of that region face? If you’ll reside on the other side of the equator will you be in winter for 1.5 years like me? Does the length of your planned stay align with the time it will take to reach your goals? If you already received a Lumos grant and are preparing for your leave, first of all, congratulations! The Board believes in your project and you should take that as a boost of courage! I advise you to bring the things you use daily that make you feel like yourself to your destination. I had a list of things I thought I needed based on what I thought Argentina would be like, and when I got there I really just wanted my slippers and some nail polish to keep me company. Bring some “American” treats to share with your host and friends, and leave some room in your suitcase to bring back goodies for your loved ones here. Also—get your vaccines early and budget for them (they’re expensive).

Ok, I think that wraps things up. Thanks for following along, supporting me, and checking in. Te quiero 🙂

Ciao for now,

Kara

A Home Birth

(To preface, I wrote this on October 15th and couldn’t upload due to tech/wifi difficulties)

Welcome back!

I am writing you from my kitchen, eating a bowl of yogurt with fresh strawberries, something that just came into season at the verdulerías (a taste of summer, how divine!) I am feeling very content this morning as I reflect on helping in my first ever home birth yesterday. Here is an excerpt from my journal, written from the couch during a bit of downtime:

“I want to remember this tranquility forever. This home, the natural light pouring in through floor to ceiling windows, a perfect spring breeze swaying blades of grass in one swift backyard dance. Everything is alive. The fireplace, the smell of white pine settling on our shoulders, the cat curled up in a chair facing me, the whispers of the midwives cooking lunch in the kitchen and Agostina breathing through contractions in the room over. Folk music plays in the background, the deep rich red rug holds my gaze—each part of this house playing a role in the welcome. Concrete floors hold us upright as we wait patiently. I am not even aware that this is happening in Spanish anymore, there is an unspoken language passing between each of us. We are collectively being held in anticipation, in warmth.”

I woke up at 9am yesterday to several texts from Agostina (the mother-to-be) in our birth team group message. Her due date isn’t for another week but she woke up with mild, rhythmic contractions separated by 5 minutes each (early latent labor). I quickly cancelled my Spanish lesson for the morning and a moment later Ana entered my room saying, “en diez minutos, vamos.” When you work as a private doula, there is a lot of preparation. This (among several things, I am learning) differentiates the job between a private and volunteer doula. In the hospital, we show up for our shift and whoever is there in the 8 hours we round is who we interact with. We don’t form relationships with any of the patients beforehand, often we aren’t even meeting them until they’re in postpartum and, while we divide up the week to ensure doulas are present each of the 7 days, the relationships to these mothers lasts the duration of the shift (with the exception of some families in the NICU that we get to know over several weeks). With Agostina, we have had monthly meetings, visits to her house, talked in depth about her hopes and desires for the birth, made a Plan B option to the hospital should it be necessary, and formed relationships with her husband and their 2-year-old. Ana has worked with this team of midwives for many years—everything is thorough and thoughtful. There is an emphasis on minimal intervention, on natural pain relief, on relaxation, on the role of the partner, on movement, on prioritizing the needs of the woman, on nutrition, on breastfeeding, on privacy (!!!), on ambiance. When we arrived at their home (pictures below because it is beautiful), Agos was sitting in bed with her husband, smiling and eating breakfast. The rest of the day unfolded naturally, and never once did it feel anything short of calm.

Agostina had the privilege of preparing for this day extensively, and by the time it arrived she was incredibly well-equipped to progress smoothly through her labor. She bounced between walking around the house, sitting on a birthing ball, laying in her bed, and sitting in the bath, all while breathing through progressively stronger contractions. The midwives checked the fetal heartbeat once every two hours and did one check for dilation at the end, but mostly were there in the event that something stopped going according to plan. Ana and I accompanied Agos emotionally throughout the day—bringing her water/food, sitting with her through contractions, mirroring her movements/breathing, setting up the room for the birth, cleaning their house. At lunch we all ate around the dining room table close to the fire, sharing stories and laughing, it almost started to remind me of Christmas. She labored for about 7 hours, the final 2 in the bathtub. When finally she got out to move to the bed, we stopped in the middle of the room where Agos had squatted down, and in one long scream, both her water broke and the baby was born—just like that! It was unreal, like nothing I have ever seen. We helped her move to the bed and put the baby on her chest and let the family have a moment alone in the room until the placenta was birthed.

As someone with a healthcare background, I understand both perspectives of birth. It is something women have been doing for all of time, but it has only been institutionalized in the last 100 years (like most things). In some ways, that has been a very good thing—more chance of both mother and infant survival with the option of quick emergency care, safe surgical intervention, NICU development. However, there is also a lot of agenda in the institution. The patient becomes more like a product and less involved in decision-making (speaking from the perspective of what I have seen in Argentina). They have less autonomy, and overall, the process is extremely rushed. In the hospital, there is more of an emphasis on mitigating pain. In home birth, pain is viewed as a helping agent, a natural part of birth. At home there is no rush and no induction, no numbing or poking or prodding. No interruptions by people you’ve never met, no medication, no unnecessary C-sections or episiotomies. I don’t want to say that home birth/private birth work outside of the hospital is without agenda either. A lot of the more “natural” birth advocates have an agenda regarding how birth should progress. However, if the institution is more about intervention and “doing,” private/natural birth work prioritizes the least intervention. There were many moments yesterday that I felt like I should be doing more, being more productive, intervening to feel a part of the purpose of it. But by and large, it was the most peaceful birth I’ve ever witnessed, and it occurred to me that maybe my job was to not intervene, but rather to provide support when it felt appropriate.

So I have one final week here! So much has happened since I arrived in June (including my phone being stolen for the second time immediately after uploading my last blog post :/ ). My goals for the week are enjoying my final shifts at the hospital, completing my final two Spanish classes, saying goodbye to friends and my host family, buying Christmas presents for my near & dear ones back home, going to a vegan street market in the city tomorrow, and managing to fit all of the chipa I possibly can into my suitcase 🙂

Talk to you once I am settled back in State-side! Since my phone was stolen immediately after the last post and I have been using a friend’s old 2014 android, I don’t have any new photos to upload, so instead I’ll show you some pictures from over the course of my time here that I never posted, enjoy!

Ciao,

Kara

Spooky Season in Spring

Holis!

I am entering my final month of living in Argentina and am in full denial. Like full blown pushing back my flight/dishing out wishful thinking to my friends that maybe I could stay until my Lumos presentation on November 7th/making plans to return later in the year (partly out of dread to be entering yet another winter.) I am set to take off on October 25th, and I am sorry if any one of you reading this (s/o mom, dad, Ruthie, Theresa, Mark, curious Belmont student) coincidentally has a significant attachment to that date but it is actively going down as a personal curse. I cling to the hopeful comforts awaiting me in Nashville: my job at the Health Department (being able to communicate with my Spanish-speaking patients), volunteering as a doula at Vanderbilt Hospital, hugging my angel friends after 5 months of long-distance, $3 Mule Mondays at The Village Pub…the list does go on, and I have to remind myself of that. Ok enough sulking (at some point I have to look in the mirror and realize how beautiful it is that I am exiting this experience with so much to miss and be grateful for). I don’t think of myself as a very intense person, sound off in the comments below if I have a completely incorrect self-awareness, but I do recognize a recurring tendency of mine to burrow into a place and forget that parts of me are elsewhere. Our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses, or something like that. Ok, now it’s enough! Get on with the show, girl!

The hospital has been eerily quiet the past two weeks, something all of the doulas have commented on. I think this can, in part, be attributed to the increasing flux of c-sections we are seeing at the hospital (something out of our control as volunteers but something we are actively working to push against), and in part because birth rates fluctuate with seasonal changes (according to my very basic research this is due to fluctuating inclinations to conceive with seasonal changes—my host mom believes October will bring an increase in births and that these past two weeks were the calm before the storm, I’ll keep you posted). Tomorrow Ana and I are going to the home of one of our doula clients to have a pre-home-birth consultation. Her due date is October 19th and tomorrow we will get a perspective of the layout of her home/how to make use of the space, make plans for where she wants to deliver, cover emergency situations, and meet with the midwives to work through preparations. We will also provide the mom with counseling, emotional support, and provide childcare to her other young ones for the day so she can focus on working with the midwives. I’ve never participated in a home birth but the more I talk with Ana about it and the further I get into doula classes, the more excited I become for the opportunity to witness and participate in my first. In the month leading up to a home birth, the doula and midwife have to remain close to home and abstain from any consumption of alcohol as they could receive a call at any moment from their client going into labor. Originally, I was hoping to do a bit of traveling in my final month here, but now that I have joined this patient’s team, I will remain in bsas and wait for the call with Ana.

Outside of work, I have been putting creative energy into the kitchen, alongside the help of my talented chef friend, Lucas. I made purple sauerkraut (nothing that I have eaten in past two weeks was safe from this), beet tortilla, olive oil orange budín with mascarpone topping (my most repeated recipe as my host sisters ask for it nearly every week now), fresh squeezed OJ iced matcha (this is the first thing I think about when I wake up every day), and homemade chipa (if you’re reading this, bury me in a pile of chipa, please I’m begging!). Other than cooking, lately I have been energized by spring in full effect and have spent a lot of time laying in the abounding parks of Buenos Aires, reading or sharing mate with a friend. Spring is by far my favorite season, for a multitude of reasons but mostly for its ability to revive the energy of everyone in it. Flowers showing off after 9 long months of rest, parks filling up with musicians/children playing/neighbors exiting hibernation, layering just for the purpose of de-layering throughout the day. I’m taking note of the ways simple things revive with livelihood, and trying to soak it all up before returning to what I know as November.

The next time you hear from me will be my penultimate blog and, believe me, we’re both not ready for it! In an attempt at distraction, here are some sentences I wrote the past two weeks:

September 22: Feeling very grateful for my long-distance friendships and amazed by how loved people can make you feel even from so far away.

September 26: Today a man on the street walked up to me “just to practice speaking in English” because he had a “deep-seated fear” of trying to exercise his second language and I hope to channel this confidence for the rest of my life (I also told him that the fact that he could say “deep-seated fear” meant he was doing well).

October 1: Happy Halloween!

Ok that’s it for this episode, I love you (too soon? I don’t think so!).

Ciao, bellas.

Kara

Clickbait: The World’s Largest Ice Cream Cone

Que onda! Welcome back to the blog, thanks for checking in 🙂 I am feeling quite daunted by the blank page ahead of me, so I’ve decided to break down my updates by topic this week, starting with…

Doula Updates:

Last Thursday began another round of doula training led by my host mom, and this time I am functioning as an active participant in the course. If you recall from my earlier posts, I attended the second half of the June-July group meetings, mostly as an observer, but at that point I was comprehending maybe just 40% of the conversation, as opposed to ~90% this past week (plus contributing my thoughts!) It has been so difficult for me to measure my growth in Spanish the past few months, in the hospital each week, talking with my host family, even in Spanish classes, I think because I continue to feel that the more I learn, the more aware I am of how little I know. Having these doula meetings as tangible markers of my growth provided much gratification and relief to me this week. I came away from the group beaming, simply from being able to understand what was being said! Language is crazy!!! (ok, I’m the first person to ever say that out loud). So once a week through the end of October, our doula group will work through various texts/teachings/discussions/activities. We are a small group of 3, plus Ana and another seasoned doula, Belu, which provides a very safe environment for me to feel comfortable sharing my ideas and speaking up if I don’t understand.

 

Current Events:

You may have seen this in the news, but two Fridays ago Argentina’s Vice President survived an assassination attempt, prompting a national holiday for the country and creating much heated political debate around the city. Argentina became a democracy in 1983 after the fall of the military dictatorship that led to the disappearance of nearly 30,000 people. I had many conversations with my Argentinian friends, host family, and even strangers that week and saw directly just how divided the people of this country are politically (not unlike our situation in the States). Some people believed that the assasination attempt was staged to win the favor of their Vice President, a very politically divisive figure here. Other people felt very strongly that no matter where you fall on the political scale, if you remember the previous dictatorship, this act was a threat to the country’s relatively new democratic society, and something to be taken very seriously. Most of my Argentine friends are very politically engaged and learning from them, as well as my teachers at school, my doula coworkers, and my host family, has given me a much deeper understand of the history and culture here.

 

Having SO mUch Fun:

I mentioned in my last post that I was going to visit one of the seven natural wonders of the world (Iguazú Falls), and let me just say it Did Not Disappoint (obviously). My friend Lucas and I spent the weekend alternating between eating incredible local produce (#HighRawVegans) and stuffing ourselves with cheese, french fries, and chipa (Argentina’s version of a breadstick). When we got to the peak of the falls we stopped speaking entirely for what must have been 20 minutes, overwhelmed by the enormity and power of the water. We spent the nights dancing and eating at local markets and exploring the less-touristy streets in town. Please take a moment to appreciate this enormous avocado we ate while standing over las cataratas:

A friend of mine won tickets to a ballet at Teatro Colon a few weeks back, which is one of the most famous theaters in the world for it’s acoustics. Here is a classic ceiling pic:

One of my very best friends (s/o Rachel Wozniak, Belmont Marketing School 2021 Grad) came to visit me last week! Nobody here could understand why someone would come so far just to visit their friend, but it was basically the greatest honeymoon anyone could ask for (wine tastings, botanical gardens, jazz bars, sightseeing, neighborhood exploring, bike riding, pool-side happy hours—how divine!) Needless to say, we were either laughing or walking for 8 days straight. We also checked off so many restaurants, cafes, tourist spots, activities on my must-see list. It’s going to take me awhile to mourn her leaving, and to come to the realization that I have roughly only 5 weeks left in this city. In an attempt to ignore that, here are photos from our week:

And with that, some sentences:

September 5: I found a real bagel in this city!!!!!

September 7: Today I ran into a guy playing ping pong that grew up 30 minutes from me in Illinois, el mundo es un pañuelo as they say.

September 13: Rachel and I traveled far and wide to obtain an ice cream cone the size of a small armchair and it was easily the greatest witchery I’ve ever seen. ~don’t worry, here is a pic:

That is all for now, y’all (trying to get back into saying things like “y’all” to soften the blow of October 25th). Same time, same place next week (or two).

Ciao,

Kara

Getting The Cheese Touch, And Other Short Stories

Bienvenido de nuevo!

Well you hate to see it but at long last I came down with The Coronavirus™ last week. I’d never previously come down with it and quite honestly was, like the rest of the outlier group never to test positive, starting to (secretly) think I could be immune. I am humbled, to say the least. I have come down with several flu-like illnesses since arriving in Argentina (and since the pandemic began), testing negative each time. So when I awoke to a 103 fever two Mondays back, I took the test with full certainty I was being overly cautious. The double line appeared almost immediately, and I briefly understood what it must feel like to discover a pregnancy (of course it was nothing like that, but it was a moment of disbelief I have never otherwise experienced). As I mentioned in my last post, I was set up in the living room due to construction taking place in my bedroom, a situation we quickly realized wasn’t going to allow for isolation. So I packed my sleep away camp bag and moved upstairs into my host sister’s room, separated from the rest of the house by a terrace and lots of distance. I spent the recommended 5 days of quarantine sleeping, watching movies, reading, sitting on the terrace, doing yoga, scrolling through TikTok, calling my friends and family, and reflecting on the time I have spent here. In the moment, I felt that I was being robbed of a week I could have spent in the hospital and in doula meetings and at my Spanish school and exploring the city, but with the perspective of hindsight, I now see how beneficial that week alone was for me. Being forced to rest, to step away from work or the job of constant translating or the pressure to meet new people or see my friends; to process emotions and, most importantly, to be fully alone for a week provided a kind of reset in this experience that I didn’t know I needed. Coming out on the other side, I was filled with energy to keep learning and practicing Spanish, to put myself out there and ask for more hours at the hospital, to initiate more conversations with my host family, and to share myself more honestly with the people around me here. The Saturday I left my host sisters room, the construction had finished and I was finally able to move my things out of the doll house and back into my dresser (refer to previous blog for context). Back and better than ever, baby!

This past week at the hospital was my favorite yet. I worked out a plan to start going three days a week (the difficulty is organizing a ride, as the city of Moron is too far to take public transportation), so my schedule is currently Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday at the hospital, Spanish classes on Wednesdays and Fridays, and scattered doula groups/responsibilities in between. Starting this past Monday, we new volunteers were able to enter the laboring rooms freely without the accompaniment of our senior doula. Thankfully, the birthing room requires much silence and very minimal communication. I have practiced conversations/terminology in Spanish class that are specific to my work in the hospital, and beyond these basics, a lot of the work is physical, i.e. providing massages, suggesting new positions to progress the labor, helping the women walk/shower/get onto the birthing ball, providing a break for the partner or family member, fanning the woman in labor (this is truly the most important part), getting cold rags, recommending when to take rest, encouraging the most natural process possible, and promoting skin to skin post-birth. Monday and Tuesday we split our time between the birthing rooms (neither day with active deliveries), the postpartum unit, and the NICU. Thursday, however, we started the day in the room of a 17-year-old who had come in for contractions at 40-weeks (full-term). She was accompanied by her partner, and we spent the day guiding her through movements to progress labor and having conversations to ease her anxieties. At several instances during the process, she begged for a cesarean birth out of doubt in her ability to deliver her baby. As advocates and emotional support companions, we reassured her of her body’s capabilities and her original desires to delivery naturally. We were present when her water broke, through each of the transition phases, and provided support during the delivery. Her mom could not be present at the birth, so it felt in some ways that we provided the maternal accompaniment she would have otherwise not had. I have been present for births throughout nursing school and in my time as a volunteer doula at Vanderbilt before the pandemic, but never have I witnessed and aided in a birth from start to finish in the way we did with this family. It left me both exhausted and filled with immense gratitude for the privilege of working in this intimate field.

I feel in some ways that I’ve entered a new chapter here. If at first there was the honeymoon phase when everything was exciting and fun, followed by several challenging/frustrating weeks of doubt and homesickness, I think I have now finally entered a season of feeling comfortable and rooted here. Speaking and understanding Spanish is becoming easier and therefore more enjoyable, relationships are growing more naturally and I feel like I have transitioned into a member of my host family here, and hints of an impending spring are carrying us optimistically forward. Of course, I know that my feelings will continue to develop in my final two months, but for now I am leaning into this newfound feeling of comfort, however long or short it may last.

Next weekend I am headed north to the infamous Iguazú Falls with my friend Lucas, so get prepared for many waterfall photos (think mom at Niagara Falls for the first time energy). In the meantime, enjoy some sentences from the diary & some photos:

August 17: Today I read an entire book and watched a whole TV series, I think covid is making me really powerful.

August 19: My quarantine craving all week has been boba tea (?), feels random because I have consumed it maybe twice in my life so if someone could tell me what this means?

August 25: I watched a woman naturally push a baby out of her body today and it made me forget everything else in this life.

Until next time, ciao lindos!

Kara

Somewhere in the Middle

Buenas :))

It has been a bit. Unfortunately, I spent two of the past three weeks in between my last post and now back in the States for the funeral of my boyfriend’s mom. Two nights prior to heading back to the U.S., my phone was stolen out of my coat pocket in the millisecond that I took my hand out to grab something from my bag on the subway (not an uncommon occurrence here, however the timing of everything was, of course, less than ideal). Thankfully, adrenaline carried me through surprisingly smooth travels (just in: it IS, in fact, possible to travel cross-continentally without a phone) and I was able to spend a week and a half with my partner and his family. What a gift to have been able to eat ripe watermelon and go for sun-lit walks at 8pm together, small glimpses of hope amidst a devastating week.

Upon returning from such a short, intense trip home, I was struck with the realization that I only have two more months here in Argentina. I am currently learning the balance of remaining present here with my doula practice and Spanish classes, while also caring for someone physically far away from me. Many things have felt difficult about returning—getting back into functioning in Spanish, host family dynamics, the heaviness of hospital work, activating my phone (including 5 trips to the phone store), a run-down immune system, grey/cold days with minimal hours of light—getting re-acquainted with being uncomfortable. I have to remind myself to speak up when I need something, when I don’t understand the conversation or directions, when I want or don’t want something. My personality is the type that prefers not to bother others or speak up for the fear of conflict or tension, something that often causes me to trip over my own tail. However my host family continues to encourage me to be assertive and bring my thoughts to the table—that it is better to be honest and an active participant than to always try to be “out of the way.” My personal goal for the second half of my time here.

I returned last Friday and did not waste much time getting back to doula work. Last Saturday, Ana (my host mom and a practicing doula) led the first half of a placenta workshop for a group of midwives that I both attended and helped host. We discussed the purpose of the placenta in fetal development, during birth, and it’s role in postpartum. We then worked with a participant’s actual placenta (frozen for 7 months) and made art, skin salve, and capsules for her to use in the coming year. As someone who studied the very clinical perspective of birth, this experience has given me a plethora of appreciation and knowledge for the more holistic, alternative approach to birth. I understand this as a balancing act, the dynamic between medical and supplemental intervention, however my understanding of what is important as an advocate for my patients has been vastly enriched. Many of the doulas I work with are also lactation consultants, a degree that takes roughly 3 years to obtain here. The past few hospital shifts were spent mostly alongside new moms experiencing challenges with breastfeeding their newborns. I have learned so much about lactation from the other doulas, and about how to teach lactation. Next week, we will begin entering the cuarto de parto (laboring rooms) to aid in birth firsthand, which I am really looking forward to.

This week in addition to the placenta workshop, we had Crianza, a group therapy including three moms and their babies (7 months-2 years). Ana guided the group through sharing their recent motherhood challenges, successes, questions, concerns, etc. We talked about infant separation anxiety, how to say “no” to learning toddlers, how to balance taking space for yourself by setting up boundaries with your family, and how to be present with your often confusing or frustrating little ones. It was beautiful to witness the moms share advice and empathy, and to watch the babies play and eat and sleep. Crianza is one of my very favorite roles of the doula, and something that I hope to carry with me as I grow into my professional career.

I am reassured by my host family and professors (and my grocery store cashier) that my Spanish skills are improving immensely, though I think at this point I am unable to see the big picture, only that I still have much to learn over the next two months (and the rest of my life). Everything I do here involves stretching my brain around this language, and while it has been exhausting and challenging and frustrating and funny and fascinating, its incredibly gratifying to think about going back to the Health Department in Nashville and being able to have meaningful conversations with my patients there. It is also incredibly gratifying to be able to better understand and participate in doula groups and conversations with my host family. I no longer dread sharing about my day at the dinner table or asking questions for clarification. I am only just halfway through my time here and 

Some sentences I have written (I took a break while at home, therefore these are all from the past week):

August 6: Today I touched a real placenta and it reminded me of those games at Halloween parties where you blind-folded touch spaghetti disguised as a brain? Is that gross to say?

August 9: My room has been moved to the living space due to house construction and my temporary “closet” is an old doll house, which just cracks me up every morning when I go to get dressed and have to sort through all the rooms for my socks.

August 12: It was 60 degrees today so, naturally, I went for a run (something I’ve never done in my life).

And, as always, some photos below.

Take care of yourselves (& those around you!)

Ciao,

Kara

Checking In (With Myself)

Buen día!

I can’t believe that it has already been two weeks since we last spoke (and then some). I am currently in my kitchen, eating lentils with rice and grilled peppers and drinking mate far too late in the day. The past few weeks have been a jumbled attempt at settling in here. Between suspected tonsillitis, my bathroom and bedroom flooding while my host family was out of town, my host sister getting robbed, taking the wrong bus to another city, friends leaving, and adjusting to new routines, I haven’t quite relaxed into the space yet. Also going from Nashville winter to Argentina winter and eventually heading back to Nashville come late October has left me yearning for the longer days and in-season tomatoes my friends are enjoying atm. I will, however, praise Argentina winters for the consistent sunshine—while my skin may be nearing a dangerously translucent shade of white after 9 months of winter, I am not without adequate vitamin D!

I saw “Everything Everywhere All At Once” (in Spanish it translates: “Todo En Todas Partes Al Mismo Tiempo”) with some friends a few Fridays ago, and if you’ve seen the movie you probably also shed one out (a tear) for your relationship to your parents, but I think it was just the thing to form a crack in my “I’m not homesick” exterior. Navigating a new place in a new language without anyone you know leads to a new level of social exhaustion I’m not sure any amount or kind of preparation protects you from. I trust that it’s all part of the process, and that slowly over time I will begin to forget what it even feels like to be so uncomfortable here. I do hope, however, to continue carrying around the empathy gained from experiencing the challenges of being a foreigner. I would be lying if I came here exclaiming it all came naturally to me, and anyway I am a horrible liar (right, mom? :)). So catch me on my 2 hour evening walk, a different snack in hand each night (usually cheese), clearing my head and re-committing to being present and patient (ok it doesn’t happen every night, but we’re getting close!). My dear friend, Mele Girma, a Belmont University Alum, wrote a piece on navigating communication through a language barrier (the essay is about much more than that, but I won’t spoil it) that I will link here and that I strongly promote! It could be the cry you didn’t know you needed (it was for me): https://scalawagmagazine.org/2022/07/amharic/

Shifting gears, let’s break down my week. Remember in my last post when I said that I finished Spanish classes? Well, I restarted! Humble thyself, or something like that. I also started my doula shifts at the hospital!!! Here’s the nitty gritty of it all:

Monday: Spanish class in the afternoon, and afterwards probably a run to the Verdulería (produce shop). Every Monday night in capital there is a drum performance called La Bomba de Tiempo where 12 musicians simultaneously freestyle on various percussion instruments for 2 hours nonstop. It may sound chaotic, but while dancing our stressors away, my friends and I consistently find this to be the highlight of our week.

Tuesday: I ride to the hospital with Marce, a seasoned volunteer doula and a practicing Puericultura (lactation specialist), and together with two other new doulas (Victoria & Flor), we spend the shift going room to room talking with new or expecting mothers “mujer a mujer,” “woman to woman.” We ask about their birth experience, how they’re feeling or recovering, how breastfeeding is going, about their support system, and answer any questions that may arise about caring for their newborn or for themselves. Mostly, we serve as an advocate between the women and the health care team, or as an emotional support companion. After visiting each room, we spend the second half of our day in the NICU, supporting parents through the difficulties of caring for a sick or premature newborn. Most of these patients have very limited resources available to them, many have several children to care for at home, many are under the age of 20, without partners or a support system, or have preexisting conditions leading to unelected cesarean births. Last Tuesday every patient we saw underwent a c-section. Every! Patient! While some conditions lead to unavoidable cesarean births, several elements including time “constraints”, power dynamics, and misinformation lead to unnecessary, invasive intervention. In a few weeks, we will begin supporting women through the actual birthing process, and I look forward to learning techniques for advocating in the delivery room.

Wednesday: Usually studying Spanish, reading for fun, baking, cleaning, or accompanying Ana with one of her many doula responsibilities, including one-on-one meetings with expecting moms, new mother and baby group therapies, or doula workshops.

Thursday: Hospital shift with Analia, another seasoned doula. Usually, there are some of the same patients in the postpartum recovery on Thursday that I already met on Tuesday, and I love being able to interact with these patients in a way that feels like a friendship already formed. This shift starts early in the day, so I often spend the afternoons resting/recovering/calling people I love/going outside/participating in a group activity offered by my Spanish school/meeting up with friends/riding my bike. The past several Thursday evenings were spent at home helping Ana with her doula trainings, however that class ended last week and won’t start again until early September. Next week we will be hosting a placental workshop and I am currently helping Ana prepare for that two-day course.

Friday: Spanish class in the morning usually followed by an activity put on by the school. Last week they hosted an Asado, or a traditional Argentinian barbecue. I’ve been a vegetarian for about 7 years now but I did give in and try the freshly smoked chorizo, and yeah, I was loving it. In class, the professor and I read and translated several articles on obstetrical violence, a devastatingly horrifying reality just recently being brought to the news here. My professor shared a few Instagram accounts run by female obstetricians dedicated to sharing this information and I have found myself spending many evenings deep diving into these accounts, which I am describing as “homework,” but more than that is an educational enlightening, and something to digest with Ana and the other doulas. The accounts are @sol_despeinada and @mujeresquenofuerontapa if you’re interested.

Before I go, a few sentences for your reading pleasure,

July 4: Today I’m thinking about how my best friend gifted me fireworks in college for Christmas one year and they’re still in my closet back home, I could really go for a firework rn.

July 8: I don’t own nail polish remover so I just keep repainting my nails the same shade of “willow in the wind” green since I stepped off the plane, which got me thinking that maybe nobody I know here will ever see me without frog green fingers and maybe they’ll never be able to recognize me by my hands without it.

July 15: Happy birthday to me! (This was the day I participated in the Temezcal, or ancient South American ritual symbolizing “rebirth”).

Ya está! Thanks for tuning in. If you’re reading this, comment what snack you think I should take on my next evening walk.

Ciao, sweet angels.

Kara

Chapter 2, Kind Of

Welcome back (talking to myself, mostly)!

I am writing this from the comfort of a new home—the place I will be staying for the remainder of my time in bsas. This home is the birthplace of Venir Al Mundo, the non-profit doula association I am working with. My host mother, Ana, is the founder of the association, and keeps busy throughout the week with a variety of jobs: hosting weekly group therapy sessions for new mothers, teaching doula classes, meeting with expecting mothers as doula clients, and being a mom to her two daughters, Delfi (22) and Serena (20). I have lived only a week under this roof and I already feel fully welcomed as a member of this all-female cast (even Amy, their 11-year-old golden retriever, supports the theme). The house itself serves the feminine motif as nearly all of the art portrays breastfeeding, utero, or birth, and a mural filled with scenes of motherhood covers the entirety of the outer fence, making it incredibly easy for me to spot home. My host family speaks exclusively in Spanish, which gave me a lot of anxiety prior to moving in. I anticipated many awkward blank stares, much frustration from both parties, and a b-line plunge into homesickness. This was, of course, me preparing for the worst (see blog #1 for a run down of how I am trying to ~not~ do that during this trip) and I was, of course, thoroughly wrong. These three women have patiently taken turns finding ways to explain topics to me when I am lost in conversation, they have played grocery store cashier to me memorizing numbers and money exchanges, they have fed me an abundance of new foods (they’re all somehow also vegetarians?), shared their space with me, and acclimated me to the ins and outs of culture here. I have spent many evenings walking or biking with Ana through the neighborhood or to the river, sometimes in conversation (mostly me listening and replying “claro,” which translates roughly to “cool,”) but most of the time in shared silence. The four (well, five) of us eat dinner together at roughly 10pm each night and discuss our day’s whereabouts or current events. There is a lot of laughing, sometimes I don’t even understand what at, but I feel connected to their warmth, nevertheless.

However, I’d be lying if I made it out to seem like a breeze. Constantly stretching and molding the language muscles in my brain has left me very exhausted most days. My social battery runs low by the end of dinner and it’s hard not to feel like a burden asking people to repeat themselves or speak slower. Almost a month in and I am more aware than ever of how much I don’t know, which my friends and family continue to remind me is just a natural part of the process. Ah, the growing pains. As of last Friday, I have officially finished my classes at the Spanish school, but I am of course not even close to finished with studying and practicing. My empathy only deepens for the patients I saw and will continue to see in the States confronted by a language barrier. While I want to be very careful not to compare my experience to theirs aside from communication challenges, I already have a much greater understanding of the daily struggle to navigate a new place in a new language. Buying groceries (specifically the privilege of being able to hear and comprehend numbers), navigating public transportation (or lack there of), asking for help, doing your laundry, getting medical care (!!!), expressing your opinions/beliefs/feelings, sharing an earnest laugh, understanding what is safe or unsafe, knowing who or what to trust. My patience for this population grows with every interaction/conversation/transaction I have here. I am doing my best to trust the process, and to quote my high school Spanish teacher, “poco a poco, se va lejos.”

For some exciting news, my official first shift at the hospital is this upcoming Tuesday! My schedule will include Tuesday and Thursday hospital shifts accompanied by a seasoned doula, Wednesday home group therapy sessions for new moms led by Ana, Thursday evening doula trainings, and Fridays I will focus on Spanish lessons. Throughout the next few months, Ana has invited me to participate in a variety of activities and furthering education opportunities including workshops on lactation and placental medicine. On July 15th, I will join her and several other doulas as we participate in something called a Temazcal. The word translates roughly to “house of heat” and the ritual dates back to pre-Hispanic Indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica. Essentially, we will be altogether in an ancient sauna while la Temazcalera, a woman singing and playing a drum, leads us into a meditation on birth/utero/womanhood/the body. I feel grateful to be invited to participate in such an intimate part of traditional northern-Argentinian culture.

This past week, I helped Ana lead her Wednesday night new-mom group therapy session. This meeting only included two moms and their stunning 5 month olds, but we were not short on topics to discuss. From breastfeeding, to stages of development, to taking care of sick babies, to challenges navigating relationships…I really enjoyed watching Ana guide discussion and provide a safe space for these women and their babies to play and eat and share. Plus getting to hold the tiny squishy babes gave me the boost of serotonin I didn’t know I needed.

This next segment is examples of my worlds colliding over the past two weeks:

  1. My mom’s friend of a friend lives in a province outside of Buenos Aires and has invited me to a “4th of July” BBQ this Sunday where a mix of Porteños (people from Argentina) and “Yankees” (the term many people here use for “Americans”) will eat corn on the cob and play bags in 45 degree weather. Lol.
  2. As I wrote previously, one of my Spanish teachers loves indie music and last week he invited me to a concert of one of his friend’s bands (plugging now: Al Club Audiovisual). The show reminded me of seeing my own friends’ bands play in Nashville, and during their cover of My Bloody Valentine’s “When You Sleep,” I closed my eyes and imagined I was at The Basement East doing just that.
  3. Ana shared with me one of her absolute favorite movies on birth work, titled, “Historia del Nacimiento” aka “Birth Story,” which is a documentary following the life and work of Ina May Gaskin, an American midwife and activist, who in the 1980s founded The Farm, a community based in Summertown, Tennessee (just over an hour outside of Nashville), devoted to de-institutionalizing birth. The documentary is profound and inspiring, and even if you are not in the work of birth, you were at one point born or perhaps you at one point gave birth or were witness to someone giving birth and I think it is worth the watch!
  4. I am heartbroken watching from afar as the laws on abortion change drastically in our country. My own experiences working with women at the Public Health Department have shaped my views on this topic and I am, like many many others, left feeling scared and angry and confused and disheartened. I learned originally from some friends here, and later more from this NPR article written by Joe Hernandez, “the shade associated with the reproductive rights movement can be traced back nearly two decades, to Argentina, where a growing number of activists were pushing for the government to legalize abortion…the green handkerchiefs protesters adopted were a reference to the white scarves used by women whose children were ‘disappeared’ by the country’s military dictatorship in the late 1970s and early 1980s.” Now, when you see a green handkerchief used in marches across the U.S., you know they have history!

And at long last, a few of the sentences I wrote in the past two weeks (there’s a pretty obvious theme):

June 20: I tried mate* today,,,,,,and I loved it,,,,super bitter but with a medialuna at 5pm it is Chef’s! Kiss!

*a very popular tea everyone drinks here—at 4pm any day of the week you will see people carrying around a large thermos of hot water, loose leaf mate, and their special mug with a filtered straw (pictured below)

June 26: There are kioskos around every corner that sell golocinas (cookies) and I think I’m becoming a golosa (a person that can’t get a grip on their golocinas cravings).

June 30: I have gone through half of a jar of peanut butter in 4 days, it has become my comfort food and my sustenance, I even told Serena today that it is “la luz de mi vida.”

That catches us up to speed—Below are some photos from the past two weeks for your viewing pleasure 🙂

Ciao, angels.

Kara

 

A Year In The Life

Hello to my faithful followers!

I arrived in BsAs nearly a week ago and am currently living in el capital (downtown) with my first host, Cecilia, a 74-year-old guardian angel, as well as another Connecting Worlds intern. This week has felt something like a year. It started with what was supposed to be a 15 hour travel day turned 30 hours due to less than ideal fog conditions in bsas resulting in a rerouted flight to Uruguay. From Montevideo, our collective American Airlines ensemble hopped on a bus up the coastline, sprinted onto a ferry (quite literally, I ran after any person that I recognized from the flight) and finished the trek crossing the Rio de la Plata onto Argentinian soil. When I finally made it to the apartment, I was greeted by Ceci and a plate of fresh spinach empanadas (pictured below).


Ceci and I spent the following day sorting out various nitty gritty details—I purchased a new SIM card, exchanged my USD for Argentine pesos, activated my Subte card (for riding public transportation), got my bearings in the neighborhood, and bought groceries (apples, hummus, a loaf of bread, almond milk, and, drum roll, a big bag of yogurt). Argentina, along with many other South and Central American countries, exist on a completely different schedule than we do in the states. Breakfast is at 10am, lunch no earlier than 3pm, followed by a siesta or tea time (aka mate or coffee and crackers) between 6-8pm, and finally dinner around 10pm. It is not uncommon to reserve a dinner table for midnight especially on the weekends, and boliches (discos) typically don’t open their doors until 2am. Bsas is a culture of nightlife, though I have found myself in bed asleep by 11pm most evenings. It’s also winter here on the other side of the equator and everyone is ~Bundled Up~. Having grown up outside of Chicago, I would have guessed it to be below zero based on the amount of parkas and mittens I pass on the street, nevertheless our lowest temperature has been a hefty 45 degrees, which I have thoroughly enjoyed in contrast to the terrifying 110 degree weather in Nashville currently.

I have spent the first week commuting to a local Spanish school in the neighborhood of Palermo (which I have been told is the East Nashville equivalent in Buenos Aires). Outside of class, the school hosts group activities such as asados (barbecues), fútbol games (which I did participate in despite my raging disinterest in sports) ((and honestly, I loved it)), and this coming Thursday we’ll participate in an empanada cooking class

Last Saturday was the first training session for new doulas at the association. While I am still navigating the language barrier (especially the Argentinian accent—double l’s and y’s are pronounced “sh”), the other doulas at the meeting were incredibly welcoming and we spent the morning around a kitchen table sharing mate and various homemade treats. On Sunday, I met up with Ana, the woman who will be my second, and primary, host here. She began the doula association 10 years ago and currently runs lactation and postpartum classes out of her home in Vicente Lopez, a suburb just outside of downtown BsAs. We spent the afternoon roaming around a weekend street market and found creative ways to communicate via google translate when my Spanish skills fell short. I am frequently confronted by the growing pains of learning and living in a new language. I have become incredibly aware of the role body language plays in communication and am frequently challenged to set aside my self doubt and engage in opportunities to speak and practice.

This coming week contains a double holiday, aka every grade school student’s favorite sentence: Four Day Weekend. On Saturday, I plan on attending the show of a local “noise pop” band recommended by one of my teachers, and on Sunday I will pack up my suitcase once more and move up north to Ana’s home. Next Tuesday will be my final formal Spanish lesson before I am thrown to the wolves (but instead of wolves they’re just really patient, caring hosts and their families), and Thursday I will begin in the hospital shadowing an established doula. Poco a poco se va lejos!

Without further adieu, a few sentences from my Sentence A Day series:

June 6: I may not know nearly enough Spanish, but when everyone starts collectively cheering on a ferry during an intercom announcement, I know that it’s time to text my driver we’re close to arrival.

June 7: Yogurt comes in a bag here and I spent the majority of my day thinking about that.

June 9: My Spanish teacher loves Mitski and that gives me hope for making friends here.

June 13: I played soccer with a 102 degree fever and afterwards someone told me, earnestly, that I was really good,,,,,,so fever dream? or have I missed my true potential??

Until next time, nos vemos.

Ciao,

Kara <3

I would like to now give a shout out to Juju, I loved dog sitting for you four years ago, be in touch.

Cue “Here Comes Goodbye” by our lord and savior, Rascal Flatts

Welcome to this tiny corner of the internet where I will feverishly write blog posts every other Sunday for the next 5 months, thanks for bopping your head in!

If you have been a part of my life the past two years, in any proximity, you know that a core personality trait of mine has been “hopefully, someday, maybe going to Argentina.” Well, we are T-12 days from departure and I am just as shocked as you that we made it here. I was talking with my therapist this week about my goals for the upcoming months and have compiled a list to share with you (and for me to reference):

  1. Inviting in the discomfort and loneliness associated with moving to a new country while still learning the language, meanwhile being careful not to pay too much attention to the voice in my head trying to prepare me for the worst (i.e. “What if I can’t make deep connections because I am still learning the language,” “What if I always feel insecure about conversing, so I shy away from opportunities to practice and meet new people,” etc, etc). While these anxieties are not unfamiliar to me, especially prior to undergoing big life changes, my goal is to trust in the process that so many have undergone before me (and in much more challenging circumstances), and to continue to find balance between not taking myself too seriously and having confidence in my efforts and abilities,
  2. Writing a sentence a day. This is something I have done on/off throughout summer breaks in college and find it a helpful tool not only for remembering the events of my daily life, but also for checking in with myself consistently without the pressure of filling an entire blank page. I will be sharing a few of these in each blog post, so hold onto your hats,
  3. Inching towards conversational Spanish fluency (this one felt obvious but will motivate me to study and speak and listen),
  4. Gaining and sharing knowledge of empathetic birth support with the other doulas at the association. Forming friendships with the women I work alongside and getting hands-on experience providing labor and lactation support.

 

I have much to do between now and June 5th, including finishing up my vaccines, 3 more full shifts at the Health Department, a pre-orientation meeting with my organization’s point of contact in B.A., packing up my belongings and moving them out of my house, an intimate “going away temporarily” party, and a 5 day trip to Scotland with my boyfriend’s family…woof! I grow more excited as I converse via Whatsapp with the women I will be living and working with, and plan to bring them a small gift representative of Nashville–lmk if you have any insight into something that could fit into my suitcase and is reflective of this city. A pedal tavern keychain? A “Team Bride” tee? Will a cowgirl hat come across earnestly? Sounds off in the comments below!

 

I would like to say a quick thank you to the people who have helped me plan this project and encouraged me to take the plunge after 2 years of global uncertainty–if you’re reading this, or if you’re not, I love you, thank you. S/o to everyone who has put me into contact with their friends or family members in B.A., I’m so grateful to have people to look forward to meeting and to call if (when) I need a hand. Also s/o to my MPHD team, thank you for your overwhelming support in this season, ¡te veré en octubre! Finally, thank you to Thandi, Shauna, and the Lumos Committee for trusting me with this project and allowing me to take this opportunity long after its original timeline.

 

Ok I’m dropping the mic, will pick it back up from the other side of the hemisphere in a few weeks!

 

Xoxo,

Much love,

Kara

 

Pictured below is me in the required scrub color for the doula association! (the Crocs are a personal choice ;))