32, original prose by Ruth Castillo | Salty Mama Doula, San Antonio, Texas


Each month, She comes.

You count, “27 – maybe this time.”

You look to the stars: a full moon would be an auspicious sign.

You mark 28 and smile weakly.

You did things you never imagined that you would, consulting with elders who prescribe new rituals, herbs, teas…


Did you do it right this time?


You hold your breath, maybe you have broken the curse.


Your room spins as you put the wand down, look up and count “one-hundred-twenty-Mississippi.”

Maybe you need to wait awhile more.

32. Patient. Maybe.

She comes to you in the middle of the night, a daemon of cleansing. A tide of fresh starts. The horror of starting over – again.

You mourn your ritual and all your offerings. You cleanse and rest, ready for another cycle. Another ritual.

One day, day 280 might come.

32 pomegranate fertility ritual prose ruth castillo salty mama header


“32” is original prose by Ruth Castillo, first appearing in Soother- Femmes Grieving Family and Fertility (May 2015).  Thank you to Cristina Gonzalez for editing support.  Header image adapted from “Halloween Fruit” by Tedd Okano (via Flickr), under Creative Commons license Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Interviewing Doctors and Midwives: What should you ask? | Ruth Castillo Salty Mama Doula

Interviewing Doctors & Midwives: What should you ask?

Picking out a doctor or midwife for your pregnancy can be tough!  There are so many factors that we want to (and need to!) consider.  Does this Nurse-Midwife take your insurance? Does this OB have privileges at the hospital you liked?  A quick search will give you lists and interview forms – pages upon pages of questions such as

  • “How many years have you practiced?”,
  • “Are you board-certified?”, and,
  • “What’s your rate of inductions and cesareans?”.

While those are some great questions to ask, you might not get a good feel for the provider out of yes-or-no questions.  So I leave you with some questions that may not be on your typical checklist: Continue reading

What Defines a birth? Cesarean birth and language choice | Ruth Castillo, Salty Mama Doula & Family Services

What defines a “birth”?

A closeup photograph of a dictionary entry for the word, "birth". | Ruth Castillo, Salty Mama Doula & Family Services

Birth: a : the emergence of a new individual from the body of its parent
b : the act or process of bringing forth young from the womb. 
Birth.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 5 Apr. 2017.

Who decides what counts as a birth or not?

“Vaginal” and “natural” are often used synonymously to describe birth; instead of considering that “cesarean” would be the antonym, some people would rather use language that detaches “cesarean” completely from “birth”.  There are those who reject phrasing such as “cesarean birth” because it would normalize cesareans as a part of the birth landscape – as if 1 in 3 American births was not by cesarean.  Some people feel that since a surgeon intervened in delivering baby, that it was not “giving birth”.  Toxic thinking like this leaves some parents feeling detached from the experience of their child’s birth.

But cesareans are births.  The body still must open, and baby must come out.

So who decides what counts as a birth?

You do.

Ultimately, you define birth when you do it.  For you birth, may be a very active, all-hands-on-deck birth at home with two doulas, a photographer, a midwife and her assistants, and your family.  Birth might be a quiet affair with just you and your partner in a hospital.  Birth might even be a cesarean.

I most often use “cesarean birth” when I work with clients or speak of my own experience, but I also say cesarean, cesarean section, section, C-section, and surgical birth. Why? When I work with clients as their doula or childbirth educator, I use reflective language. Mirroring the phrasing and language my clients use gives them the power to define their experience. I want to validate that some of my clients give birth via cesarean, and that their journey and decisions are just as valid and valued.

Birth workers like myself, will always work towards encouraging healthy pregnancy and birth practices — practices that increase the overall health of all parents and infants.  When we work on a one-on-one level, we step back from philosophy and support each individual where they are.

I help people as they navigate pregnancy and birth, however that happens. I will always help them find the best practices to use for their health – physical and mental.  If my use of the phrase “cesarean birth” helps them to frame their experience of their child’s birth, then that is precisely what I plan to do.  Because language matters.

What does a doula look like? Blog header Ruth Castillo Salty Mama Doula San Antonio Texas

What Does a Doula Look Like?

What does a doula look like?

I honestly could not tell you.

Sorry. There is no one type of person who pursues doula work. Doulas provide support in many different situations and different people find themselves doing this work, so there’s no one doula “uniform”.

I can tell you what you can expect to see in your doula:

Continue reading

I Went to a Cuddlist and I Loved It

A couple of days ago, I told my partner that I needed more touch – I needed an intensive massage or something. He’s been working third shift for a few months now and we have had some trouble finding the balance to hang out, much less cuddle or be intimate. We have made a concerted effort to steal away for date nights, but it had been a few weeks. I needed nonsexual touch.

Enter an acquaintance of mine: just a day after this conversation with my husband, she posted on Facebook. She was completing training to be a Certified Cuddlist and needed someone for a taped session. I laughed about it for a hot second – who would want to go to a relative stranger’s home and pay to snuggle? Then I stopped and realized that was exactly what I needed. It’s hard to place the need for touch on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but I knew I was lacking it.

Why not seek out someone who had training in understanding that need?

So I messaged her to arrange the session.

It. Was. Perfect.

I drove up to the house where our session would take place. I was wearing my best attempt at “athleisure” – some comfortable capri leggings and my favorite concert tee. She uses her living room to facilitate group meetings, but that day the lights were dimmed and she had made a pallet for relaxing in the middle of the room. She asked that I wash my hands and told me where payments and tips would normally be left. She had some snacks and water available. We met on her couch in the cuddle space and went over guidelines for the session.

Certified Cuddlists have a code of conduct: all touch within a cuddle session is to be non-sexual and consensual. There is no genital touching. My Cuddlist let me know that she would let me guide the session. I asked her if could start with her hands running through my hair – I find scalp massage extremely relaxing. I asked her to do some of the touch techniques that I use to comfort my doula clients, like brushing down my shoulders and pressing at the base of my skull and forehead together.  When something felt great, I could encourage her to keep doing that motion; when I did not like the touch, I felt safe asking her to stop or modify.

Just like when I get a massage or a pedicure, the hour passed quickly, but I left feeling so light and good about myself.

Seeing a Cuddlist is not for everybody, but I definitely see the value in this service. I did not need a counseling session and I did not want a massage. I needed to connect with another human in a respectful environment that allowed me to prioritize my desires for a short time. I liken my experience to having a doula: in providing non-judgmental physical and emotional support, I may not be providing a service that others could not, but I am uniquely positioned to focus only on those needs for parent(s).

In San Antonio, Janet Treviño is our local Certified Cuddlist. You can find more about her and the groups and classes she facilitates, at her website www.janettrevino.com. You can find other Cuddlists at www.cuddlist.com.

Vamos a leer! Let’s read!

My own baby started a dual-language immersion kindergarten program this month.  My husband is most excited about her learning to read; I am most excited about her chance to be exposed to more Spanish; she is most excited about eating in the cafeteria.

We have homework every night – it is never just her homework as it really involves her and a grown-up no matter the assignment.  There is a standing assignment to read aloud for 20 or more minutes each day.  

Reading has always been part of our bedtime routine.  And because she needs reinforcement of all the Spanish she is learning at school, I have been able to pull out our many Spanish-language and bilingual books from our ever-expanding collection.

The following are some of our family’s top libros de español:
(Please note that the following contain affiliate links.)

Mi Familia Calaca / My Skeleton Family
By Cynthia Weill, cartonería by Jesús Canseco Zárate, photography by David Hilbert

I found this one at On Main, Off Main just a few days before the fall term started – what a perfect first day of school gift!  Big sister Anita introduces her family in English and Spanish.  The photographs are of figures made of cartonería, a Mexican style of papier-mâché.

By Sandra Cisneros, illustrations by Terry Ybañez

This book is adapted from The House on Mango Street.  The narrator talks about the different hair her family members each have – straight up like a broomstick, limp and slick, curly and sweet smelling…  The narrative ends with everyone snug in bed – perfect for bedtime reading.

Un sillón para mi mamá (A Chair for My Mother)
By Vera B. Williams (No translator listed)

A young girl recounts how she, her mother and grandmother saved up for a new chair after they lost everything in a fire.  I also love that this one ends with the girl falling asleep with her mother.  This book was honored with the 1983 Caldecott Medal.

Tortillitas para Mamá and Other Nursery Rhymes
By Margot C. Griego, Betsy L. Bucks, Sharon S. Gilbert , Laurel H. Kimball
Illustrations by Barbara Cooney

We actually still own the copy my mother read to my sister and I as children.  My favorite continues to be “La Mariposa”.  Cooney’s illustrations are beautiful and complete the imagery.  Be aware that some pages are no longer politically correct.  For instance, “Soy Chiquita, Soy Bonita” ends with the girl stating she would get beat for getting her dress dirty – we used to read just the first couplet, now I paperclip the pages together.

123 Si!: An Artistic Counting Book in English and Spanish
San Antonio Public Library Foundation, San Antonio Museum of Art

This is just one of a series of board books published by this special collaboration of the SA Public Library Foundation, the SA Museum of Art and Trinity University Press.  Home grown always makes me happy.  The art featured throughout the series is actually from the SAMA collection, from artists/artisans across the globe and throughout history.

The First Tortilla: A Bilingual Story
By Rudolfo Anaya, translation by Enrique R. Lamadrid, illustrations by Amy Córdova

In this book, young Jade just knows she has to help her village – can she get the great mountain spirits to send water?

Azul el sombrero, verde el sombrero (Blue Hat, Green Hat)
By Sandra Boynton, translation by Argentina Palacios Ziegler

Boynton’s illustrations are delightful!  When I discovered that several had been translated into Spanish, I was over the moon.  We read this and Muu. Beee. ¡Así fue! so many times when Minnie was little that I can now recite them even when the English book is in front of me.

By Ginger Foglesong Guy, pictures by René King Moreno

The kids work together to prepare for a party, while readers learn their numeros.

Honorable Mention:

My Food / Mi Comida
By Rebecca Emberly
Paper collage illustrations always make me nostalgic. Several older editions of childbirth education materials used paper collage, as did several textbooks I, myself, had in elementary school. Emberly has put together board book primers – not story books. A simple word is presented in Spanish and English per page. There are books on clothing, school, numbers, animals and more. We have been revisiting My School/Mi Escuela a lot in the last few weeks.

The Grief of Cesareans

April is Cesarean Awareness Month.  People all over the internet are recognizing this month, reminding us that one in three first-time mothers in the United States will deliver via cesarean.

I had a cesarean birth with my daughter in 2011. It was not the birth I planned. I struggled to heal physically from that birth – extra swelling from the fluids, increased pain in my core, an infection at my incision. I still struggle sometimes with healing emotionally – grieving the loss of the birth experience I had planned, the impact on my obstetric future, the hurt of the days of separation between me and my newborn necessitated by the circumstances that led to that cesarean.

My story – my grief and triumph – is unique to me;  I will not pretend to speak for every other mother.  But I am able to speak as a supporter of people who have had cesareans – a daughter, a friend, a relative, a doula.  For those who are not sure about how to support their friend, family member or partner who had a cesarean, I want to offer you a two things to consider:

Firstly: Let them grieve. You should also let them celebrate and let them feel neutral. A person is entitled to their own feelings and perspectives. They also do not need your “permission” to feel certain ways. Telling another how to feel is not conducive to any sort of growth or momentum.

You may find that different, maybe even opposing, emotions come up for you when you are with others who are grieving a birth experience.  You can feel your own emotions… without imposing them on others.  This can be tough for some, but to be an effective supporter of people, one must learn to focus outside of their own experience and to be careful with how they direct their passions. You can advocate for reduction in cesareans, or the option of Vaginal Birth after Cesarean (VBAC) as a public health issue without negating the personal experience and perspective of a parent who did have a cesarean.

Secondly: If they are grieving their birth, you do not have to “fix” it. It can be incredibly uncomfortable to see someone grieve. It does not matter our relation to the person – some of us just have natures that drive us to want to make them happy. We want to “do something.”  But often the best “something” we can do is to just be present with our friends in pain. Be with that person, there in that moment. “Puddle sit”, if you will. You do not have to find the silver lining in the situation – “well, at least you didn’t tear up your yoni!” You do not have to educate them on what you think went wrong – “it was that cascade of interventions,” or, “your doctor was quick to cut you.” You don’t have to find anything nice to say – “Your scar is very tidy,” or, “at least you have a healthy baby.” All you have to do is be there and listen.

For some, having a cesarean birth is not something they need to grieve – they may even celebrate it.  That is okay.  For those that need to grieve the birth or an aspect of that process, that is just as valid.  Be there for them by giving them the space to grieve and lending them your ear.