A migrant shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, is providing much-needed services to women and children in need — and helping pregnant women choose life. The San Juan Apostol Shelter for Migrant Women not only provides expectant mothers with prenatal and postpartum medical care but also supports the mothers and children afterward in numerous ways. Many of the women are from impoverished and violent areas and are victims of sexual assault. They have little to no support as they seek to escape their circumstances.
A recent profile in TIME highlighted the difference San Juan Apostol is making for asylum seekers in Central America. One woman, Xiomara, told TIME she was scared to cross the border into El Paso, Texas, to go to the hospital, even though she was nine months pregnant and having contractions. She was left wandering Ciudad Juarez with her children, alone — until Dr. Leticia Chavarria found her, and offered to give her a medical examination for free. It was the first medical exam she had been given throughout her entire pregnancy.
“This is a total vulnerability that these women face,” Dr. Chavarria told TIME. “They’re women; alone with children; and, on top of that, migrants; on top of that, pregnant.”
One 19-year-old mom had been bleeding for days and was unable to receive any care. The shelter helped arrange for her to see a doctor, and weeks later, the mom sent a beautiful set of ultrasound photos featuring her healthy baby boy, still thriving safely inside her womb. Medical care is often arranged by Dr. Chavarria, who arranges pro bono medical care at Hotel Filtro in Ciudad Juarez. Thanks to Dr. Chavarria and other volunteers, women not only have access to prenatal care but follow-up care after delivery as well, with the volunteers providing moms transportation to their appointments. One mom, for example, needed a c-section, so the shelter checked on her each day in the hospital until she was discharged. Afterward, they brought her back to the shelter to recover.
TIME cited German research which found that asylum-seeking women are more likely to suffer miscarriages or undergo abortions. San Juan Apostol gives the women the help they need to choose life by providing free health care, legal advice, baby items, and a safe place to live if needed. The women who live there support each other and undergo training for jobs like manicuring, which is in high demand in Ciudad Juarez. This gives moms an opportunity to build a new life in Mexico, where they can provide for themselves and their children. The women celebrate each other’s births, cook together, and sing to their children together.
San Juan Apostol also provides therapy after childbirth, which can help serve as a lifeline to help women suffering with postpartum depression. “I felt very strange; I’d look at [my daughter] and it was almost like I didn’t want her,” Xiomara, who was sexually assaulted and left her home to escape gang members, told TIME. “[F]our months after [the baby] was born, I was able to be affectionate with her.”
Over 100 pregnancies were supported in 2020, and it gives these women hope that there could be a brighter future on the horizon for their children.
“First and foremost, all I want is safety for myself and my children. I have faith in God that things will get better,” Xiomara said. “That’s all I can do.”
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