Spanish interpreter/doula has helped with hundreds of births

She was one of the first interpreters to serve the Spanish speaking community at IU Health Methodist Hospital maternity ward. Over the years, Luisa Valle has formed a special bond with many of her patients.

On a recent Wednesday, Luisa Valle entered the room of Marina Flores and began a conversation in Spanish that included laughter and lots of oohing and awing over the tiny little center of attention. A dark-haired infant in a bassinet named “Salma” was born at 7 a.m. on March 5 and weighed seven pounds, 10 ounces.

Salma was Flores eighth child. She delivered all of the babies – five girls and three boys – at IU Health Methodist Hospital. And Valle was with her during three of the deliveries.

Born and raised in Acapulco, Mexico, Valle moved to the United States after college to practice her English. She came to IU Health in 2004 working in dietary.

“I was delivering trays to the rooms but everyone kept asking me to interpret and the food was getting cold so eventually I became a Spanish interpreter,” said Valle. She was one of the first to work as an interpreter and Doula in the Luz de mi Vida program, which means “Light of My Life.” The program is part of the maternity unit at IU Health Methodist Hospital. She later obtained her certification as a lactation consultant. A doula is a birth companion or birthing coach that assists patients before during and after childbirth. As a lactation consultant she also helps mothers breastfeeding their newborns.

“I believe this position is not just to interpret the language but also to help others understand and appreciate the culture,” said Valle. And there’s a difference between interpreters born in Spanish-speaking cultures and those born in the United States.

Valle tells about a belief in Mexico where pregnant women wear a red string around their bellies or on their wrists to protect them against any eclipses. The belief is the protection helps avoid their child from developing a cleft palate.

“When a woman goes in for an epidural and the anesthesiologist sees a red string around their belly, I’m able to explain,” said Valle.

The most difficult part of her job is relaying bad news. “I don’t like them to hear bad news from the interpreter rather than the doctor. Most of our Hispanic patients have Catholic backgrounds and Catholic priests don’t routinely baptize babies when they pass so I usually ask the parents if they want someone of a different faith baptizing their baby and they will say almost always say, ‘yes.’”

At the bedside during delivery, Valle’s focus is to help the patient relax and save her energy for pushing. She usually talks to the husband and family members about how they can help in the birthing process.

If a patient is in the hospital for a lengthy time, she will bring them magazines and books written in Spanish to help them pass the time.

Every patient is different.

“Sometimes there are bilingual patients and we still help with interpretation because sometimes during horrible pain you lose your second language. Then after the delivery, the pain is gone and they can communicate with the doctors and nurses on their own,” said Valle.

The best part of her job is seeing returning patients like Flores. “I get to help my own people at their most vulnerable time in their life and the most important time in their life. It’s an honor to help in the delivery. Each of them has a little bit of my heart with them.”

The number of births she assists with in a given month varies. She estimates there could be as many as 10 and she has no idea how many she has assisted with since she started at IU Health. “Probably hundreds,” she said.

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
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