A Clarkston girl’s mission to make it simpler for pregnant refugees to navigate the healthcare system

A Clarkston girl’s mission to make it simpler for pregnant refugees to navigate the healthcare system
A Clarkston girl’s mission to make it simpler for pregnant refugees to navigate the healthcare system
Muzhda Oriakhil

{Photograph} by Audra Melton

Muzhda Oriakhil was three months pregnant when, within the spring of 2014, she moved to Clarkston from Afghanistan, arriving along with her husband, who’d been resettled on a particular immigrant visa reserved for Afghans who labored with the U.S. army. Although she spoke English, she discovered adapting to life in a brand new tradition laborious, notably as her being pregnant progressed. “In my nation,” she stated, “we don’t talk about being pregnant or share our experiences.” She had no thought find out how to handle her intense morning illness, not to mention navigate the healthcare system in another country.

Whereas Oriakhil’s husband regarded for a job, the couple had no insurance coverage or automobile—which made it tough to seek out an ob-gyn. Earlier than coming to the U.S., she’d imagined {that a} nation “with all these services” would make for a “dreamy life.” However she shortly realized that new arrivals confronted loads of limitations to entry the sort of healthcare she wanted. Then a pal launched her to Heidi Copeland, this system impression supervisor of Embrace Refugee Delivery, a nonprofit in Clarkston that guides refugee moms via being pregnant and early motherhood. “It was the primary time I noticed I’m not alone,” Oriakhil stated.

Since 2010, Embrace has assisted greater than 500 newcomers from greater than 30 international locations. Its workers and volunteers assist safe mandatory gadgets like child garments and automobile seats; join refugees with docs and supply transportation to appointments; and educate ladies on reproductive well being, being pregnant, postpartum restoration, and parenting. “A lot has already been taken away within the technique of turning into refugees,” Copeland stated. What her shoppers want is to “have the ability to be empowered once more to know and take heed to their our bodies.”

Like many feminine refugees from restrictive cultures, Oriakhil had little data of reproductive well being. In response to United Nations information, Afghanistan has the best maternal loss of life fee within the Asia and Pacific area, due largely to poverty and restricted entry to care; moms there face a 1 in 52 probability of dying from pregnancy-related causes. With Embrace’s assist, Oriakhil acquired an appointment with a health care provider at Grady Hospital—practically 4 hours spherical journey on public transit. “It was very laborious,” Oriakhil recalled. “I used to be drained on a regular basis.” When she was 22 weeks pregnant, Oriakhil began experiencing stomach ache. Her husband was understanding of state, so she known as the one particular person she knew she might depend on: Copeland, who rushed her to the hospital. On the emergency room, Oriakhil discovered she was miscarrying.

She recovered at dwelling, feeling “very down.” Sooner or later a neighbor reached out and stated she’d enrolled in one among Embrace’s wholesome being pregnant courses, asking if Orkiahil would accompany her as a translator. Oriakhil, who speaks Dari and Pashto, figured it might be a great distraction—and located herself intrigued by the subjects the courses coated: “I stated, ‘That’s one thing I need to do.’ I need each pregnant girl coming from one other nation to learn about this.”

After attending that first-class, Oriakhil discovered she was pregnant once more—simply six weeks after her miscarriage. “I had no thought that might occur,” she stated. She continued attending the courses as a volunteer translator and as an expectant mom. Oriakhil says the programs taught her about her altering physique and what to anticipate at physician’s appointments, and helped her overcome the cultural disgrace of speaking about her physique—which enabled her to obtain higher care. In 2015, she gave start to a wholesome child lady.

At present, Oriakhil is a mom of three and works full-time as Embrace’s group engagement supervisor and Afghan group liaison, constructing relationships with Afghan ladies and connecting them to the assets and training they should have secure, wholesome pregnancies. Within the yr because the Taliban retook Kabul in August 2021, she helped greater than 70 pregnant Afghan refugees resettled to the Atlanta space. “I do know, from residing it, the trauma they’ve skilled,” Oriakhil stated. “They belief me to be an advocate for them, assist them discover assets, and navigate the healthcare system.”

Embrace’s workers and volunteers help ladies all through their pregnancies, from connecting them with docs to offering training on parenting.

{Photograph} by Audra Melton

Khalida Ahmadi, who arrived in Decatur within the winter of 2021, was one month into her being pregnant when her immigration caseworker put her in contact with Oriakhil. By way of a translator, Ahmadi defined how Oriakhil satisfied her to attend Embrace’s courses regardless of Ahmadi’s fears that she wouldn’t have the ability to perceive, since she doesn’t converse English and has no formal training. “Muzhda gave me confidence,” she stated, explaining that Embrace leaders use assets like slides and footage to beat language and studying limitations. Ahmadi was in a position to provide you with a start plan, study which meals to eat for a wholesome being pregnant, and acquire a greater understanding of the medical care she was receiving.

“I feel anybody would acknowledge that being pregnant and childbirth are a defining second in a household’s life, and that that have might be actually great,” stated Embrace’s director, Virginia Voyles Tester. “But it surely will also be very daunting. I at all times encourage folks, once they’re occupied with volunteering, to think about what it’s like to provide start in a rustic the place the language isn’t yours, the tradition isn’t yours, and the medical practices, the devices within the room, all the things is completely unfamiliar.”

Having the ability to navigate the cultural variations among the many refugee ladies Embrace serves—who come from locations as disparate as Syria, Burma, and Sudan—is essential to the group’s success. Embrace’s group liaisons, Tester continued, “ensure that a mother doesn’t really feel lonely, remoted, misinformed, or obtain insensitive or inappropriate care.” Final yr an preliminary research involving researchers at Emory College and Georgia State College confirmed that the community-based, culturally tailor-made applications provided by Embrace do result in higher well being outcomes for contributors when in comparison with different ladies from the identical group with related racial/ethnic backgrounds.

Oriakhil’s arrival in Clarkston not solely saved her life from the Taliban. It additionally introduced a possibility: the prospect to develop into newly educated about her well being. And now she’s paying it ahead. “When ladies begin speaking and asking questions,” Oriakhil stated, “they get empowered.”

This text seems in our February 2023 problem.