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THE SO FL SUN-SENTINEL
Mamá Knows Best
By Magaly Morales
March 7, 2004
Jeannette Kaplun is well aware of how indiscriminating infertility is. She was healthy, in her mid-20s and aching for a child, but pregnancy just wasn't happening.
"For three years I experienced torturous hormone treatments that I had to keep from my employers at the time and even suffered a painful miscarriage before my son was finally born," says the 30-year-old Chilean journalist, now the mother of 18-month-old Michael.
And in spite of being surrounded by loved ones, Kaplun felt alone, a common feeling among fertility-challenged women.
"You feel like you are the only person in the world going through it," she says.
The isolation, Kaplun says, is particularly hard on Hispanic immigrants, who traditionally believe it "takes a village" to help with parenthood.
"Hispanic women seek support and wisdom from other women in their family circle, and when they leave their homelands, all of these links are broken," says Kaplun. "Parenting is a life-changing experience for anybody, but trying to raise a family in a new country can be particularly overwhelming."
Inspired by her own infertility issues -- and the experiences of Spanish-speaking friends who had nowhere to turn for the kind of advice they usually got from mamá or abuela -- Kaplun, her husband, Joseph M. Braun, and friend Bram L. Scolnick, have created a multimedia empire that serves a largely untapped market: Hispanic expectant parents and families.
In 1999, the trio launched TodoBebé.com, a Web site that started as a place to post translated articles from medical journals. (You can access the site at www.todobebe.com.)
"It's hard to see it now, because it is so obvious, but back when the big Internet boom started, there wasn't a lot of parenting information [in Spanish] specifically for Latinos," says Kaplun.
Accessed each month by 350,000 people around the world, TodoBebé.com -- which can also be read in Portuguese -- offers localized sites in Puerto Rico, Chile, Argentina and Mexico. Content and services are tailored to each market.
By July 2002, the Web site had spawned radio programs in Mexico City and Miami, where it aired on the now-defunct Radio Unica.
The newest addition to the enterprise is TodoBebé TV, which premieres its second season on Saturday.
Hosted by three young mothers, including Kaplun, the show, which airs Saturdays at 10 a.m. on Telemundo, is the first of its kind to address the issue of pregnancy and child rearing on Hispanic television. The program features five main segments: Planning and Infertility, Pregnancy, Raising Your Child, Consumer Reports and Celebrity Interviews.The new season will debut parenting issues from the male perspective in Confesiones de un Papá (confession of a father), a segment hosted by Julian Zamora, a well-known reporter for Telemundo's Miami affiliate, WSCV-Ch.51.
TodoBebé TV is taped at a Miami studio, and on location at local hospitals and medical offices where the hosts interview doctors and specialists.
Mauricio Bitrán, chief of obstetrics at Mount Sinai Medical Center, describes expectant parents in the Latino community as a group with many questions, and too many answers in a language they can't understand.
"They also have the tendency to include their extended families in their decision making," says Bitrán. "Maybe this is the reason they are more likely to establish an emotional relationship with their doctors."
To deepen these bonds, TodoBebé TV features local specialists, including Bitrán, who make regular appearances on the show. Like the Web site, the show has formed partnerships with medical associations, hospitals and clinics such as Miami Children's Hospital and the South Florida Institute for Reproductive Medicine.
"There are women who cannot express themselves as well as they wish with their doctors and leave their appointments with more questions than answers," says co-host, Maggie Jiménez, a former Mexican model and mother of two girls.
Jiménez hosts the show's popular TodoBebé al rescate (TodoBebé to the rescue) segment, in which she answers audience mail. (The show borrows much of its material from the Web site's content, including comments and questions on its message boards.
A typical question, Jiménez says, might be, "When is the right time to switch from milk to solid food?"
"For first-time parents, this is one of the many mysteries of parenting," she says. "We are trying to demystify conception, pregnancy and parenting issues."
Sex and pregnancy is a topic that seems to frequently come up, says Kaplun.
"They all want to know, but are too embarrassed to ask their doctors or friends," she says. "We try to show them that it is perfectly OK to talk about these kind of issues."
On the air, Kaplun and her co-hosts Jiménez and Adriana Abascal speak frankly about their experiences and struggles with motherhood.
Jiménez and Kaplun have known each other since they co-hosted a technology show for Discovery Channel Latin America. They met Abascal the day the pilot for TodoBebé TV was shot. It was also around this time that Abascal learned she was expecting her second child.
"I got pregnant just so they would hire me," jokes the author and former Miss Mexico, whose son was born in January.
"When we began shooting the show [in October] Maggie had given birth just six weeks earlier, Jeannette was still convalescent from a recent surgery, and I was seven months pregnant and still plagued by severe morning sickness," recalls Abascal, who lives in Los Angeles and handles the celebrity interviews for the show.
Sharing the less poignant symptoms of pregnancy from nausea to breast milk leaks to constant restroom breaks allowed the three hosts to connect in a sisterly way.
"We really bonded," says Abascal, who travels to Miami for the show tapings. "We really have become close friends and have learned to laugh with one another and be one another's strength."
It's this type of familial support system that TodoBebé TV hopes to create among its TV audience.
After all, it takes a village.