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Story Publication logo March 22, 2021

Reclaiming Her Space: Birthing Through a Pandemic

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Overhead shot of a pregnant woman lying on a bed with her eyes closed, her head at the bottom right of the frame, and her stomach at the top left of the frame. Her tank top is rolled up, and someone to her left is placing their hands on either side of her stomach.
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Reclaiming Her Space: Birthing Through a Pandemic follows Sophia Tupuola, 32, a new mother and first...

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Sophia Tupuola was pregnant with her fist child when COVID-19 arrived in San Francisco. Her only hope, and biggest concern, was delivering a healthy baby. Over the next months, she navigated housing insecurity, marched for racial justice and prepared for birth during the pandemic.

Because of the shutdown, Tupuola attended prenatal visits alone. During one, the provider, a white woman, said there was a city full of homeless pregnant women and suggested she take antidepressants. With support from her doula, Tupuola advocated for a more culturally competent midwife to deliver her baby.

"As Pacific Islanders we survive communally, and it's almost impossible to not be around a million people," said Tupuola, who planned to have 300 people at her baby shower, but narrowed the list to 80. "She just has a lot of love," said her partner, Dante Stevé.

On July 28, 2020, Tupuola went into labor at home. In the courtyard of her apartment complex, Stevé and her doula guided her through hours of excruciating contractions. "Nothing can prepare your body for this experience," said Tupuola, who was in labor for nearly two days.

Tupuola and Stevé named their daughter Oshún Rae'Lynn-Ku'ulpo Togiai-Stevé to honor Oshún, the Yoruba deity of light, love, fertility and flowing water.

Tupuola and Stevé recently ended their relationship but are working closely to co-parent Oshún. "The shift into co-parenting really put a fire under my a-- to get back into the ring and start fighting for my life again," Tupuola said. "Our support system has literally pulled us through the process. When we can't talk because we're jaded, hurt or overwhelmed, we have people to help us communicate and we've been grounded enough to do the best and do right by Oshún."

In December, Tupuola started a new job with a group that uses design to address inequity, making enough to stay at the apartment in Concord after her assistance ends. "It feels good," she said, "not having that worry to stay in a shelter."

This story was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center and Diversify Photo through the Eyewitness Photojournalism Grant.

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