There are at least 49 documented languages spoken in our little zip code, which has the reputation of being one of the most diverse run of city blocks in the entire country. I love to walk early on Saturday mornings down Rainier Avenue from Columbia City to Rainier Beach High School. It is an incredible testament to the many colors and cultures that compose our little world here. I never fail to see something totally new and unexpected.
In the other world I live in—that of maternity care and research, best practice, and the wonder and trials of pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum time—there is a lot of buzz about the way health care providers are interacting with a diverse population of clients and patients. The phrase being bantered about and lobbed from one end of the waiting room to the other is, “cultural competency”. I’ve sat in a lot of workshops and conferences over the past months where one presenter after another makes a case for this type of care. As a white woman who grew up in a mostly white neighborhood, I always have a lot to learn. I acquired the vocabulary, learned some key phrases, role-played, and took copious notes.
Outside of the stable controlled environment of the classroom or hotel conference room, things aren’t always so clear or tidy. I meet moms every day and the thing that I have learned is that every mom—regardless of the color of her skin or the size of the house she lives in—brings her history with her into her prenatal care. And it all matters. A lot.
And guess what? I can never make assumptions based on a spreadsheet about what kind of pronouns or titles or phrases will make sense for who she is. I can’t know which pictures in which books or on the walls of the office will speak to her or what her resources are. I don’t know what events in her life have combined to bring her to where and who she is in the moment we are sitting together. What kind of family support she has, the challenges she faces when she comes home every day or how she is treated at work. These are moving functional parts of all of our lives, and the way our culture shapes how we view, experience, accommodate, and reflect upon them is a large part of who we are.
So what’s a midwife (or OB, or nurse) to do? I’m not sure of the perfect answer—I’m not sure I will always even know a good enough answer. But in the past months of interactions with expecting and new mothers and babies of all colors and cultures there’s one thing I have found to be true all of the time: Everyone recognizes words spoken with love and regard for the humanity of another.
Everyone recognizes kindness and care that extends beyond office hours or the walls of a clinic room. Everyone recognizes the feeling of being heard, felt, and understood by another. Every provider has to find the right answer for them and their practice, and there will probably be a mother who is seeking exactly that kind of care. But I hope as members of the allegedly most diverse zip code in the country, we can set the bar for what it means to be culturally competent health care providers and consumers. And I hope we can set it simply, by showing that when it comes to healthcare in the 98118, Love is spoken here.