Katie: Alright, so thanks for hanging out with me today! Just to start, can you tell us a little bit about your practice?
Sierra: Yeah, so I’m Sierra Holland, I use she/her pronouns and my practice is called All Bodies Birth, so it’s kind of an umbrella for my work in a lot of aspects of reproductive healthcare. I trained primarily as a birth doula and expanded out from there to become a full-spectrum doula. So I do abortion support work, fertility support work, placenta medicine, childbirth education and now I’m a student midwife. So my practice is really focused on people who are oppressed by systems that don’t wanna recognize us, mostly queer, trans and nonbinary folks, religious minority folks, people parenting in creative parenting and family structures, and other people who just get overlooked or written out of the system.
Katie: Awesome, and what are you queering right now?
Sierra: I hope everything, everywhere I go, all the time. As a femme I have to be a little more explicit, like y’know, throwing biosafe rainbow glitter behind me everywhere I go. But generally, spaces around reproductive healthcare and family building. I’m kind of straddling two worlds right now, as a doula I work in the hospital system a lot. So that means making space for people that don’t have a space in that system or who are actively oppressed by that system. And then I’m a student midwife as well, so I’m training to be an out of hospital provider. So that means exciting things like in-home IUIs and preconception fertility care and lots of support for people’s unique family building journeys. I’m kind of in both worlds at once, trying my best to queer them all up.
Katie: Awesome. And where are you geographically?
Sierra: I’m located in Portland, Maine, so unceded Wabanaki territory, but I serve all of New England physically and anywhere in the world virtually.
Katie: What inspired you to do the work that you do?
Sierra: Oh goodness. I come from an academic background, so I spent a lot of time studying these things, family building, especially queer fertility. Feeling a sense of distance from the process in the researcher role, you don’t really get to invest in people and make their lives better directly, and that was very frustrating to me. So I knew that I wanted to be in a more practical role where I get to walk alongside individual people and give them the options and support and advocacy that they might not have elsewhere and that as a researcher I could never provide them. So I do it to make more space for people in institutions that don’t like us and to make more opportunities outside those institutions.
Katie: Awesome, and relatedly, how do you describe your support philosophy?
Sierra: Hmmm. I believe a lot in the power of individuals. And I’m also a sociologist in a past life, so I have a very structural view. What I see is that those things don’t match up a lot of the time. So my support philosophy is really about bridging the gap between individual experiences and needs and institutional limitations. So if you’re choosing to or need to be in a hospital setting, but your identity or family structure or way of existing in the world is one that isn’t recognized by that setting, then my support is in creating the space for you and helping the institution meet you where you’re at. Kind of reducing the harm that can be done when there’s such a disjoint.
Katie: Awesome, and so to shift gears a little.. We’ve asked you about your natal work, and now I also need to ask you about your natal chart. What is your sun, moon, rising?
Sierra: Yes! I’m a Virgo sun, cancer moon, sagittarius rising but super don’t identify with that.
Katie: And what’s your favorite thing about being a queer support person working with queer and trans families?
Sierra: Creativity! I mean, queers are the creative people on the planet. Just when you decide that certain rules don’t make sense or don’t apply to you, you can really do anything you want. Like, the freedom to arrange your family however you want, arrange your support system however you want, parent your children however you want. I mean, we’re all living in institutions and systems, right? But there’s just a certain amount of expansiveness that I love about queer folks and trans folks and family building that is radical in that way.
Katie: And if you could improve one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth for queer and trans families, what would it be?
Sierra: I don’t have just one, I have a laundry list. But, right now I am focusing myself on becoming a provider. So, what I’ve seen is that we need good providers in every space and they don’t always exist where we need them to be, and they don’t always meet the needs of people in individualized and human-centered ways. So right now, the goal I’m working on is becoming another provider that can meet people where they’re at and provide that care. That’s the one that I feel equipped to work on, but my list of things is …
Katie: Rrrreal long?
Sierra: Very, very long. And some days, it’s like, y’know, burn it all down, we don’t have a use for these systems anymore. But most days, I can see the need for them for a lot of people in different situations. I think the other big one I want to change is access. I care a lot about people having access to the kind of care that they need and want when they’re building their families. So that’s hopefully gonna be a cornerstone of my practice.
Katie: And one piece of advice for new or aspiring queer and trans birth workers?
Sierra: Find other people. Other people will make it doable and sustainable. What’s really kept me going the last few years as a doula, in particular, is having a network of queer doulas that understand that our identity is so mixed up in what we do and don’t try to advocate for us to be a different person in those spaces. So: find other queer and trans folks that will see you for your whole self and that you can rant about institutions with often and decompress after tough interactions with institutions. Because nobody understands this work like other queer birth workers, really. Also, don’t train with DONA. You can edit that if you need to, but that’s my…
Katie: (laughing) absolutely not. What’s something not nata/birth/reproductive related about your life that you wanna share?
Sierra: I’m a former, so now retired, roller derby skater and coach. So I love being in environments where alternative forms of masculinity and femininity and being get to thrive and get celebrated. So I spent some time in Boston coaching the little ones on skates- you think having a kid is hard, have a kid on skates. That’s really hard. And that was a big part of my life for a long time. Unfortunately the on call lifestyle of being a birth worker is a little incompatible with that. So, these days I’m a rock climber, climb a lot of rocks, and read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi books with my cat when he will entertain me.
Katie: Can I ask what your derby name was?
Sierra: Madam Secrescary.
Sierra: Yep, Scary for short. Which is such a good… (smiles) yeah.
Katie: And where can people find you on the internet-land?
Sierra: I’ve got an instagram and a facebook under my business name, All Bodies Birth. Also AllBodiesBirth.com. Pretty easy.
Katie: Awesome, and is there anything that we haven’t asked you that the people need to know?
Sierra: Find a queer/trans birth worker near you and ask them what they need on your journey. Find a black or person of color midwife and ask them what they need on their journey. A lot of us are facing barriers to access for getting into this kind of work, and I believe a lot in having care by people who look like you and who have a shared affinity with you. So: find an oppressed birth worker, aspiring birth worker, plant the seed, buy their books from a local bookstore… that’s a really good way to get more of us out in the field to give better care for queer and trans people and other oppressed communities.
Emma: Hey, well, we’re going to dive in a little bit and hear more about your practice, so we’ll just start there. So, can you tell us a little about you, maybe that sweet little baby you have, and the work that you do in the world?
Ashley: So, I have been in my own solo practice for about three years. I trained through DONA. I just do full-spectrum doula practice, I also do childbirth education, I’m a CLC, and I’m gonna be taking my IBCLC exam next year, so really working on that.
Emma: That’s amazing. IBCLC is such an undertaking.
Ashley: Yes, oh my gosh, there’s so many things that go into it. So working on that, I do cloth diapering education, babywearing education and I do all of those in group and individual formats. And I’m in Kansas City, I serve the Kansas City metro, and I’ve also gone a little bit out of the Kansas City metro to some surrounding citie.
Emma: Beautiful, thank you for that. Important to know. And are you working with folks over Zoom or online for now?
Ashley: I haven’t been doing that many virtual birth supports, I have done several in-person births at our birth center out here, cause they haven’t been limiting doulas. So I’ve been doing in person births still, but I think some of our hospitals are going back to more limited. They let off of it for a month or two, and I think they’re moving back towards .. I’ll support people in whatever format they’re comfortable with, and whichever their birthing location allows.
Emma: Thanks for sharing that. Your baby is just like – oh my gosh – so adorable with all the eye contact right now.
Ashley: She’s like “stop talking, you’re talking too loud, I’m trying to sleep”
Emma: I know, maybe we’ll settle in, maybe we will. What are you queering right now?
Ashley: Y’know, I don’t really know what that question means! I am just working on a class about conceiving via artificial methods, so that’s kind of where I’m focusing on for queer folks. Just trying to put that together and everything made me switch to virtual, so trying to translate that into a virtual format as well. So that’s what I’m working on for queer folks, but just really trying to make connections with the queer community here in Kansas City, so I can support more birthing folks.
Emma: Beautiful, I think that answers the question, y’know! Basically what that covers, I love it. It’s so great to know – a lot of folks don’t connect with other queer people in the conception part of the process, too, so I’m really glad that you’re trying to expand that. That’s awesome. Well, what inspired you to do the work that you do now?
Ashley: So I also have a full time job. I work for a project that helps low-income families. The main purpose of the project is to reduce infant mortality. We know that Black women have the highest infant mortality rates and so it’s really focusing on that community and reducing the amount of infants that die before age 1. So we do safe sleep education and parenting education, lactation support and all those kinds of things that go into getting folks ready to have a baby and make a person. I’ve been doing that for about five years and kind of in the middle of that, I was listening to peoples’ stories about how they were treated during their labor and deliveries. How they felt like their providers were treating them. We’re based in a community health center, so a lot of our folks were having their prenatal care at our community health center and then they’d go to the hospital to deliver. So that means that they didn’t know who the person was who was in the delivery room – the doctor, the provider in the delivery room with them. So that created another layer of issues for folks as far as having their wishes honored —(looking at her baby) You are really staring at me, girl. (laughs) So just doing that work – I wanted to get more information about how I can support these families and making decisions about their births, and about how they want to bring their children into the world. I came across doula support. We have a community doula program in Kansas City that is working to kind of expand access to doulas especially, especially for Black families. I’d heard about them and I was interested in delving into that world. I just kind of started from there – just wanted to provide more support for the families I was already working with and after that, I got my lactation certificate, my certificate for childbirth ed. I feel like, for most birth professionals, it spirals out of control and you’re getting all of these things and trying to add all these things to your repertoire.
Emma: It’s true- there’s so many ways to have that touchpoint with people in the process but clearly you’ve been deep in this world for a really long time, so.. Really, really awesome. Thanks for sharing all that. In terms of supporting families more directly, do you have a particular philosophy you want to share?
Ashley: There are lots of different types of doulas and birth professionals out there. I’ve always considered myself more of a birth advocate. I really don’t care how you want to birth or what you want to do, I just want to make sure that it happens safely and that you’re comfortable when you’re doing it. I am more about the process, I want to make sure that whatever that process is for you it’s what you’re looking for and try to help maintain the fidelity of your wishes and help you get to whatever that end goal is.
Emma: Beautiful, thanks so much. Well, now for a part that I find fun, what is your sign? We asked about your natal work, and I want to know your sun, moon, rising?
Ashley: So, I’m a Cancer, but I’m not an astrological person so I have no idea what the moon rising and the sun rising thing means? But I see that a lot – I see them and I have no idea what that means. So I really have no idea what the moons and suns are.
Emma: Totally fair. It’s where those were positioned at your time of birth. But my dad and my sister are Cancers, so I feel ya at least that much. I’m using this as an opportunity to learn more myself. I’ve been surrounded by people who are into it for long enough, and I’m like, you know what? I’m just gonna go with that. Well, what’s your favorite thing about working with LGBTQ+ people, or being a queer support person in the perinatal sphere?
Ashley:I just really appreciate being able to have so many different family experiences. Have that reflected in the families that I see and then in my own family. It’s really great to build that community with folks and have our kids be able to see other families reflected (baby noises), and just being able to make those connections with families that are the same and different and look all different kinds of ways.
Emma: Baby’s like, so into it. I’m so glad.
Ashley: She’s really into you right now.
Emma: We’re hanging out! This is cool, I haven’t digitally hung out with enough babies – or in person – this year, so. If you could pick a particular thing to improve about the experience overall – conceiving, pregnancy, postpartum – for queer/trans families, what would that be?
Ashley: I think that even as a person who, so my wife had our first baby, and then I had this one. So now we’ve got two kids, and I think just going through this process myself – you really don’t know. Especially going through it the first time, you really don’t know everything that’s out there and all the supports that are available. So I wish that families just knew that there are supports for the entire process. It is possible to – and I have people ask me about inducing lactation a lot, and that’s what I’m really passionate about. I induced lactation for our first kiddo to a full supply, I nursed her for 14 months and then after that I was like, I’m done pumping, let’s– cause I spent a lot of time doing that. So I’m really passionate about that, and I had just happened to stumble across this information pretty early on when we were starting to think about having babies. It makes it really difficult if you don’t get that information soon enough, so I just really wish that people know about all of the information that’s available around inducing lactation or on finding support prenatally and for labor and delivery. Just knowing there are people out there who are interested in helping folks create their families, multiply the love, all that.
Emma: Thanks so much. And that’s SO. COOL. That you were able to induce lactation to a full supply, you should be super proud, that’s amazing. I just think so many people would love to learn from that experience. I’m curious if you have any advice for new or aspiring queer and trans birth workers, childbirth educators, queer family members..
Ashley: The first thing I would say is try to network with other birth professionals in your area. I don’t, I mean… there aren’t that many queer folks here in the midwest doing this work. There’s just some of us, but just not enough for sure. Just trying to make those connections. I’d love to make a queer doula collective for Kansas City, just so people have a starting point of where they can look to for all those supports I was talking about. Just networking with people in your community. I also think it’s really important that if you decide to go for certification for any of the possibilities of things you can get certified for that you really do some research into that agency, and making sure that they align with your values.
Emma: That’s awesome advice. I love it. And perhaps, the answer is, “Kansas City queer doula collective,” but is there anything that you want to cross pollinate in the community, if you’re putting out feelers for anything, what can we help you connect with?
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. I know of a couple other queer doulas in Kansas City, but again we don’t have enough. And I don’t know that the queer community in Kansas City knows about what doulas do and how to reach us and that kind of thing, so for sure trying to establish that baseline of information for folks. Of course I offer all those classes, and just trying to provide that information to folks.
Emma: Thanks so much. Is there anything not perinatal about your life that you want to share? It seems like you’re pretty deep into that world, but yeah…
Ashley: Yeah, I do a lot of birth work. I also do a lot of social justice work. I help run a youth social justice camp every summer. This summer, we had to cancel, so that was hard after doing all the recruitment all spring and last fall and this happening to people, eugh. Don’t think we’ll do anything this year, and it’s just going to be so difficult to make it into some kind of virtual format. All of all our experiential activities are so based on being in person. But we’re definitely talking about how to navigate that so that we can do more things that are a little nontraditional as far as being in person, doing those activities. We’re talking about it. So I’m really passionate about social justice and birth work and helping to combine and meld those arenas so that I can do all of the things that I love at once.
Emma: Amazing. Well, it looks like you’re working on it, it looks like it’s working out. You’re doing amazing. Well, where can people find you on the internet, and find you and support your projects?
Ashley: My solo company is Peachy Births, Doula and Lactation Services. I am only on Facebook and I have a website. I am an “older” millennial, I guess, so I don’t use instagram (laughs) or, I’m on Twitter.. Actually, I’m not on Twitter… I’m on Twitter personally, but I just don’t use it.
Emma: That’s a perfectly good answer. I literally haven’t used Instagram, I make Katie do it. So .. that’s..(laughs) this is cool. Awesome. Well, I’m gonna thank you so much, and thanks to your sweet baby for being so amazing during this recording and we’ll talk soon.
Katie: Alright! Well thank you so much for making the time to chat today. Just to get started, could you tell me a little bit about who you are and about the kind of work you do, about your practice?
Ray: Sure, my name is Ray Rachlin, my pronouns are they and she. I’m a professional midwife, licensed midwife and lactation counselor here in Philly, Pennsylvania. I serve kind of Philadelphia, southeast PA and then all of south Jersey. My practice is part home birth, so I’m a home birth midwife and I help people give birth in their living room or their bathroom or y’know, hallway, wherever. And I also help queer folks get pregnant. So, specifically doing home intra-uterine insemination or home IUI, and kind of trying to build community with queer people who are trying to concieve, get pregnant, have new babies. Both through teaching classes like “Beyond the Baster” which is my favorite, funnest class to take when how to get pregnant when you lack sperm, and also community events.
Katie: Awesome, that work is so important! What are you queering right now?
Ray: I think I’m constantly trying to queer birth work and the birth world. I think… yeah, pregnancy and birth and having new babies is like the most gendered experience in our society. I got into birth work from a social justice/reproductive justice perspective, and what I kind of continue to find and work around is that the way that the childbearing year is gendered really takes away people’s agency and humanity in the process and y’know, queer-centered care is individualized care that calls people by their names and treats them as respected individuals, and everybody deserves that. That’s what I’m kind of trying to work for and build within the birth community here in Philadelphia. Folks that are providing queer-centered care in all aspects of y’know, pre-conception, pregnancy, birth and postpartum.
Katie: Awesome. And what inspired you to do the work that you do?
Ray: I definitely got into it through activism and social justice work. Long before I got into birth, I was a labor organizer and then… life situations came up and I was like, “I want to learn how to support people!” so I became a doula. It was like this switch flipped: oh, this is what I’ve supposed to be doing with my life. And birth kind of had all the answers of all the ways I saw problems and systems of oppression coalescing and it was like, “Oh, this is where everything starts and where I want to work.” I felt like, as a doula I was a bandaid on a gaping wound and the first time I went to a home birth, it was life changing. Because I was there as a doula, I’d probably been a doula for like 1-2 years at that point. And what I saw was the midwife worked around the needs of the person in labor. That when you bend over to listen to the baby, instead of telling someone, “Oh, we lost the baby, you need to get back in the bed.” birth looks completely different. I saw agency, I saw empowerment in a way that.. And just a birth that was fundamentally different from anything I saw in the hospital, and it was like OH – that’s what I need to be doing. And If I’m doing this at home and hospitals have to compete with this kind of care, they’re gonna have to behave better. That started off this long trajectory of choosing to become a direct entry midwife, so I trained exclusively with out of hospital birth, so home birth and birth center. So I just wanted to create a different paradigm of how we get to provide care that restores choice and agency to families and ultimately creates competition for hospitals so they have to change their practices to be more family centered.
Katie: Yeah. I really appreciate the framing of that both for what it is in and of itself and the uniqueness of out of hospital birth experiences, and also how that is also like pushing change within the systeem.
Ray: Yeah. I think there’s lots of different ways that, y’know, midwives are change agents in every part of society in every society that exists. But midwifery in the US is particularly a mess and like, some folks choose to work within systems to try to create change and that was not the road for me. I was like, I wanna work out- I want to create an alternative that isn’t navigating the same systemic oppressions in the ways that I’m having to provide care. There are a lot of limitations to out of hospital birth in the united states, and like, working outside the system but for me the benefits are outweighing the downsides and we can create our own alternative that better meets our needs.
Katie: And you’ve touched on this in all of your answers, but just to be really explicit about it, how do you describe your support philosophy in the care that you provide?
Ray: I think for me, being a midwife is about showing up for this process. I don’t have a particular stake in what choices people make or how their birth goes but it’s about providing consistent support, providing full information so you can make decisions about your body and understand what’s going on, feel supported and like someone has your back through the whole process. I think that’s what helps people into empowered parenthood. Just having someone in your corner for all of it. A good friend of mine phrased this well, and I kind of like, this is what I always come back to: Midwifery is about the restoration of choice. Y’know, bringing choice and autonomy and agency and respect back to pregnancy and birth. It’s done through relationship with my clients, it’s done through informed choice, it’s done through slowing things down and so there’s time to make decisions. It’s creating a revolution in our life and society through birth.
Katie: And so, I asked you a little bit about your natal work, but I also need to ask you about your natal chart. What’s your sun, moon and rising?
Ray: I’m a Capricorn. I think it’s very obvious to anyone who meets me. I’ve also had folks tell me they’re glad— I’m right on the cusp – I was born at like 11:55am on the cusp day in January, and I’ve had many people tell me they’re glad I’m a Capricorn, not an Aquarius as a midwife and I’m like, okay sure. I always get my rising and my moon confused! One of them is Taurus, the other is Aquarius. When I first was trying to figure it out, my partner was like, “Well, definitely Taurus cause you’re very stubborn” and I was like, “Huh, yeah.. probably true.” But I think, yeah 100% Capricorn.
Katie: As a fellow Capricorn sun, I… I’m also glad to have you in the mix of Capricorn birth folks.
Ray: It’s like extremely organized, regimented, y’know, with this process that you cannot predict at all..
Katie: Yeah, yeah, like, mmm no idea what’s gonna happen, but let me tell you, I have 36 plans already made and we’re gonna just pick whichever one, we’re gonna just keep switching them around til something works!
Ray: That is exactly true, yes.
Katie: What is your favorite thing about being a queer support person, a queer midwife and/or about working with queer and trans families?
Ray: I think it’s just the way that I can provide culturally competent care. It’s these little things that y’know, you don’t necessarily know this til youre in it, but I remember once doing a postpartum for a family I’d helped catch the baby of that, we were just talking about going through butch phases when we were teenagers and… just having a provider that y’know, just kinda gets it. Understands you, your family, your pronouns. There’s just a lot of shared understanding so you don’t have to explain yourself in a way that leads to a more relaxed care experience. And ultimately, a better care experience, cause you’re seen.
Katie: Absolutely, and then that time that is not actually about you trying to educate your provider about who you are and instead, and is instead about like “what do you need?”
Katie: Wildly different experiences of care.
Ray: For sure.
Katie: Reladetly, if you could change one thing about the experience of trying to get pregnant, prengnacy and birth for queer and trans families, what would it be?
Ray: It’s a good question, I think I have a two part answer. The first is insurance reimbursement, because our families are not recognized in the insurance structure and not recognized in fertility treatments, not recognized in our care needs. Trans people have a really, really high out of hospital birth rate and out of hospital birth is not well reimbursed so the options that we try to seek out to meet our care needs and our unique family needs are not, are only available to people with money and typically white people with money. So I think there’s the systemic ways for families to be better recognized in the insurance system so we can access the fertility support we need: access sperm, access second parent adoption with a lot more ease. But then also just the real issue is lack of representation. Pregnant people are assumed to be moms, and their partners are assumed to be dads, and that’s represented in pictures, in books, in literature, in providers offices and it is so, so, so engrained. And It’s really hard to figure out our own family narratives when we’re not represented anywhere, and we’re constantly having to translate stuff to apply to us.
Katie: What is one piece of advice that you would give to a new or aspiring queer/trans birth worker?
Ray: I think linking up with other queer birth workers. I feel like I have been gay for a long time, and in that time I’ve not always been a queer/trans competent birth worker. Gender is so ingrained in pregnancy, birth and postpartum and I had to do a lot of unlearning and really the best way to continue to do that unlearning and learn how to best serve my community is through the people who are already leading this work. We’re probably the best able to meet our community needs, and also being queer is not a given for being a queer competent or trans competent birth worker, for sure. There’s a lot of extra work that needs to be done.
Katie: Absolutely. And so much of it is about the stuff that we’ve also internalized about ourselves that also it’s sooo, it becomes so personal.
Ray: Yeah, like gender and babies – I constantly find myself at growing edges where I have a client using they/them pronouns for the baby and I slip up on their pronouns like 5 or 6 times like what the hell? I have more work to do. There’s always more work to do. But it’s like having the community both to learn from and also to support me in continuing to do that work.
Katie: I think that those communities both of support and accountability are so important.
Katie: And what is something not natal related or reproductive related about you and your life that you want to share?
Ray: I think (laughs) my biggest, like, hobby or side-thing outside of midwifery is powerlifting.
Ray: It’s kind of, yeah, I’ve been like a gym bro for like many years. (laughs) Now that I can’t go to the gym, ummm, yeah, now like a home gym bro, I guess. But, yeah! Feels like a very different side of my life and personality, but is also a very big part of my identity.
Katie: Wow. That’s incredible. I mean, I feel like a similar type of intensity in like..
Ray: Yeah- I only do things that are intense. I don’t really, like, so I knit so maybe that’s not intense. But typically, it’s like…
Katie: Just something I can really go hard at!
Ray: Yeah, my best lift is bench, which I’m very proud of.
Katie: In. Credible. Finally, where can people find you in the internet land?
Ray: I think most people find me through instagram, so my practice is Refuge Midwifery, it’s that on Instagram and Facebook. It’s been a really amazing tool for connecting with birthworker community, queer perspective parents and just like trying to continue to build knowledge and power around our families and birth and birth justice. I do an “ask the midwife everything Friday” (some Fridays), and just ways to access midwifery care that doesn’t involve hiring me as your home birth midwife. Y’know, as a practice, I’m serving around an hour radius around Philadelphia for home birth and for doing home IUIs, and I do also sometimes have folks who are outside my service area who just want to do preconception care with me because I’m good at helping people get off gender-affirming hormones to create a pregnancy and just want someone to help navigate that that knows the same language. And definitely the pandemic has opened that up more, so I’m doing a lot more virtual care than I ever have before, so for that you can find me on my midwifery website which is refugemidwfiery.com
Katie: Awesome, thank you so much. It was so wonderful getting to chat with you.
Ray: Yeah! Thanks for asking me to do this, I’m excited for the resource that you’re making.
Emma: Awesome, do you wanna tell us a little about you and your practice?
Absolutely. So my name’s Katie Byron, I use they/them pronouns. I provide full-spectrum reproductive support. So supporting folks through pregnancy, birth, postpartum, also abortion, miscarriage, other pregnancy losses. I am also a childbirth educator and a social worker
Emma: Awesome. That’s a lot, love it. What are you queering right now?
Katie: I am queering … one of the things I’m queering right now is perinatal mental health. It’s certainly a space in which there is certainly a lot of folks who are straight and cis who have a lot of experience working with queer and trans people and famlies. AND there are not as many folks who are queer/trans/nonbinary themselves in this work and it is certainly a place where I think there is deep need both for more education and for folks who are actually from queer and trans communities to be doing the work and to be in positions to be providing support to specifically queer and trans families.
Emma: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for that, that’s awesome. And such a good point, too, y’know, with all perinatal work, there’s plenty of straight and cis people who say they have experience working with queer families, and that’s great if people feel like they’re a good fit. And also, there’s so much more to it than that. So, thanks for bringing that to the table. What inspired you to do the work that you do?
Katie: A couple, a few spaces – the most, well, one of which being my personal experience particularly as a fat femme person and living in a world where a lot of people have a lot of opinions about my body and what my body does in space and the size of my body and the shape of it has me feeling particularly attuned to the way that bodies get the amount… the amount that our society puts on bodies during reproductive changes, and so there’s something that’s both personally very liberating and healing for me in doing this work of helping and accompanying people as they are finding new ways to claim their bodies as their bodies change. On sort of a more practical note – I like got to college as a young white feminist and was like, “Oh yeah! The way to express my politics is to become a clinic escort at Planned Parenthood.” So, that was work that I did for a couple of years in college and was a space where I saw those micro-interactions mattered to people. That having someone who is going to smile as they walk you from your car, or who is going to ask about where you got your shoes to drown out the sounds of protesters meant something. I certainly think that’s work where I built a lot of my skills around establishing rapport with people and shaped how I approach people understanding that I might be approaching people who are about to step into who knows what kind of shaming/judgmental landscape. It was in that work that I started to learn about other forms of abortion support work and actually found out that there were people who did support work around abortion. After I finished college, I moved down to DC, I did a training with the DC Doulas for Choice Collective and started working in clinics providing support to folks around abortion experiences. That for me was really a transformative space of realizing, this is in fact not about my politics. That was a wild presumptive mindset. And that really the thing that was so moving to me about the work was not because it was some expression of my politics in any kind of way, but it was about the experience of being with people and of sitting with just the messiness of what an abortion meant to someone or what any kind of reproductive experience might mean for someone. Whether it’s the thing that means you get to go on your vacation and have margaritas without any sense of guilt or if it’s like a really complicated thing that is tied into feelings about a relationship or whatever else. Often, when I think about what inspired me to get into a lot of the work that I do, I think back to some of those initial clinic experiences and the people who I had the honor of getting to sit with and and be with and got to really fall in love with that way of being with people.
Emma: Yeah, that’s really awesome. So drawn in via maybe college politics and then stuck around for the actual human element of it. That’s awesome. I think a lot of people are gonna go through that similar transformation, so it’s where a lot of people have their starting point. Thanks for sharing. What’s your support philosophy?
Katie: Yeah, I fundamentally will tell people that I think… I approach this with an understanding that reproductive support work is fundamentally about justice work. My support philosophy comes from a place of acknowledging that we live in a society that has privatized all kinds of care in ways that are not aligned with how humans have at any point in history done care for each other. My support philosophy is rooted in the fact that I don’t really think that any of the hats I wear “should” exist as professions. And, nonetheless, we live in a society that has told us that your community’s not gonna show up for you in hard times or when you’re going through big life transitions. So the way to get support is to bring in some private individual who has “specialized training.” My support philosophy, acknowledging the fact that, it’s messed up that we have to have this at all, comes from a place of really trying to empower people to make real choices about what they want their experience to be like, what tools they already have to deal with hard or big things, and about what kind of story do you want to be able to tell about this experience? This is not – at times, it might feel like something that is happening TO you, and that’s super real, and what kind of sense can we make out of that? What are the ways that this can be integrated into the story of your life? How do you want to understand this experience? So that’s a lot of how I approach my support work.
Emma: Amazing, I love it. To acknowledge sort of the history of any kind of support work, being not a “professional” role that you do training to do. It’s because of the system that we have these roles, because the system doesn’t have these roles in it. So, uh – amazing! Thank you so much for bringing that up. OK! So we’ve talked about your natal work, what’s in your natal chart! Tell me your sun, moon, rising.
Katie: I am a Capricorn sun, virgo moon, libra rising.
Emma: Nice, alright alright. Libras!
Katie: I feel like there’s a lot of libra energy in birth work.
Emma: That’s awesome. I’ve never had anyone say that to me, but I have clients ask me my chart sometimes, and I’m like, “Libras get along with everyone, so it’s cool.”
Katie: I’ve definitely seen threads of birth workers talking about their charts, and I feel like I’ve seen a lot of libra energy.
Emma: Right on, libras, hit us up! Amazing. So what’s your fabroite thing about being a queer support perosn or working with LGBTQ families?
Katie: Yeah, one of my favorite things about queering support work is about the ways that we’re able to acknowledge relationships. I think that particularly in medical systems, and y’know I’ve worked in hospitals as a social worker as part of my social work training, I also wear another hat in a spiritual care realm – I’ve served as a chaplain in hospitals. Something I consistently see is the way that there are real hierarchies of relationships in medical settings. In part, cause there are “next of kin” hierarchies about who gets to make medical decisions for you in an emergency. So, you know, married legal spouses win all the time. I think something that’s really special about queer folks doing support work is that we know that that’s not always and possibly not most of the time true. To be able to acknowledge: who are the most important people in your life around this experience? Maybe the answer is a monogamous partner. Maybe the answer is an aunt who you know had a similar reproductive experience, or a close friend who has been with you for all of the hard times. Or it is a space where actually the person who is best equipped to support you is your metamour who you don’t get along with and actually don’t talk about all that much with… but, this is something that you have a shared experience around and they’re gonna be your… really gonna be your person. Or they’re really organized in a way that’s gonna be helpful. I think that being able to not have… walking in without assumptions about who is going to be most important to you or which relationships are going to be the thing to hold you in this is something that I think is one of my favorite things. To just see all the way that people build community and family.
Emma: Yeah, that’s awesome. And it really is in these times that those kinds of relationships get tested and called on and it’s like, who’s name do you write on your paperwork and all your medical stuff? That’s a really, really good point! If you could improve one thing about the experience about queer and trans birthing families, what would it be?
Katie: I would do so many things. But if I could change one thing, it would be for providers of all kinds to actually take seriously the words that people use to talk about what’s happening to them and their bodies. Which, I think about both in particular with queer and trans families – the family names that people want used. It’s not…. in every other part of clinical training, people are taught to use the words that your patient or your client uses. And yet, somehow, when it comes to queer and trans families, somehow all of that knowledge just falls out of people’s heads. Or about reproductive experiences in general – I’ve certainly seen, I’ve heard plenty of really horrific stories of medical providers who suddenly don’t have any helpful words to say around abortion, around pregnancy loss. And I think certainly, also, the experiences of all kinds of marginalized people who are telling people about things they’re experienced in their bodies and are being dismissed, or written off, or not taken seriously. I think if I could change one thing, it would be for providers to actually hear the words that people use, take them seriously, and then reflect those words back at people.
Emma: Amazing. I think that would make lots of subsequent changes! So… good answer, amazing. Do you have any advice for new and aspiring queer and trans birth workers?
Katie: If there’s one piece of advice I would give… you get to, this can be a “choose your own adventure” style path. I think there are a lot of setup in birth world that is like, “You have to do your training, and then you follow the step by step guide to get certified in whatever it is that you trained in, and then you somehow find clients, you probably undersell yourself for the sake of climbing up this… I just think that so many people get stuck and so many people don’t stay in birth work. People who we need in our communities and who the families in our community need as birth workers and as support people because they get lots in the bureaucracy or in the what they think is the step by step thing, and I think the reality is: there are very few rules and if the organization you trained with has a certification process that is trash, you don’t have to do it.
Katie: Right? Like, if the reading list for your training organization is a bunch of heterocis-centered nonsense, like, you don’t have to do it! And if you feel like some step in the process has made it so you’re being asked to do something that’s not aligned with your values, or not how you want to practice, or makes you feel like you need some sort of extra specialized training to know how to do the stuff that you intuitively have been doing your entire life, you don’t have to do it.
Emma: Amazing, I love it. As someone who, y’know, has been an uncertified birth attendant for ten years – I’m all about it. There’s very little benefit to that depending on the states you live in and the legislation and all that. I like the choose your own adventure advice. That’s good.
Katie: And I think there’s so much that’s like, there are a lot of particularly white cis straight birth workers who have really commodified specific types of training that you dont’ actually have to pay hundreds of dollars to learn how to do that. And I think there’s a lot, I see this a lot in the mental health field. Right? That there are all kinds of very expensive trainings you can do about like, “How to support LGBTQ clients” that are taught by straight people who have all thix “experience “ in part to train queer and trans people who don’t have the “right certifications” to do the thing that they do for their community and all of their clients all of the time. Right?
Emma: And it’s like, who is the money going to? Where are these resources being given? …So what’s something not natal about your life that you want to share with people?
Katie: Something not natal about my life is that I am — yeah, sure! I am trying to think through things that I do. A not natal thing about my life is as I mentioned earlier, I also wear some spiritual care hats. I’m also getting a masters in divinity, which is in part related to natal stuff, it’s certainly in this realm of holistic spiritual and emotional care for folks. But also means that I’m a little bit of a theology nerd. Also always down to talk theologies of liberation.
Emma: Right on! Liberation theology folks, hit us up! Amazing, Katie, so where can people find you on the internet?
Katie: You can find me at LGBTQBirth.com, my personal birth support website is BirthWithKatie.com you can also find me on instagram @birthwithkatie.
Emma: Well, welcome, thanks for hanging out with me a little bit this afternoon. I’m really excited to hear more about you and your practice, so do you want to introduce yourself, say where you’re at geographically, and a little bit about the work you do in the world.
Mystique: Thank you, I’m really excited to be here. This is a really dope and amazing experience. My name is Mystique Hargrove, pronouns she/they. I reside here and provide services for Greensboro, NC and the triad surrounding communities. Do a little virtual consultations, services as well. My titles or what I do, I will keep it very general cause it’s a long list and I didn’t realize it until I do these things – I do a lot. So, I’m a certified full-spectrum doula, certified herbal medicine practitioner, community lactation professional and advocate, aspiring to be a future IBCLC, that is in the works, hopefully next year. Doctoral student – woo! A counselor in education in supervision. I’m a single, radical, parent mama as I’m called by my 5 year old, and yeah I’m a part of the LGBTQ community. I’m a very open bisexual, Black, feminine nonbinary… also identify as a woman because that’s just the energy, the femininne energy I align with. What else do I do? I do consultations, I do birth work, I provide postpartum care whether its for birthing bodies, whether its for bodies who’ve terminated pregnancy, grief and loss, also helping with the recovering and healing aspects of either if they want to conceive again or if they just want to heal in general. Kind of the mental health and wellness aspect of it. An aspiring soon to be out of retirement counselor in the community, because that is definitely also needed. So, pretty much, my focus my work is mainly for BIPOC individuals, specifically Black individuals and Black LGBTQ individuals of color. My business pretty much started with servicing sex workers in the black LGBTQ community in the herbal medicine aspect, so I still do that as well. So that is all of what I do in general.
Emma: Absolutely incredible. We are so glad to, y’know, have you out in the world and be able to kind of even hear you talk about vaguely the scope of what it is you embody is amazing. So to come off of that question and draw more on those queer parts, what are you queering right now?
Mystique: I’m queering the acknowledgement and the awareness.. Checking ignorance, checking biases, just not being ashamed of being my own self and living in my truth. I always say, I was not living in my truth before I “walked in my truth.” I was out, but I was hidden, because I hid myself from y’know, the world. I’m very like, “Yes, I’m bisexual.” just because my partner is a cis man, does not mean now I’m heterosexual. Just because I have a girlfriend does not mean I’m a lesbian! I’m attracted to both genders, I’m pretty much attracted to whatever energies align with me, attracted to me. I’m just loving myself, embracing all pieces of me. Especially those pieces that I’m also healing from when I used to hide myself and not be so out and knowing that I do have a community that accepts me and loves me and can protect me throughout all this mess that is happening.
Emma: Absolutely, we really need each other.
Emma: So thank you for sharing that. So, originally – I don’t know what your starting point was to get into this work, but what kind of inspired you to be where you’re at today?
Mystique: My own personal experience when I was pregnant with my now rebellious five year old. I had a very traumatic birthing experience where both of our lives were almost lost. Nobody was listening to me, pretty much ignoring me, it was neglect, my birth plan was thrown out the window. Things I know now – I reflect back and I’m like – that was abuse and neglect, that experience. My own experience and advocating that and kind of creating this circle of other Black folks or other people of color saying, “Yes, I experienced the same thing” brought me to where I’m at now. When somebody, one of my friends was like, “Hey. I run a doula program. You would be great.” You know I’m out advocating for the community and birth work and this/that and the other, so I went to get trained under their doula program. Moreso, I liked the fact that it was community based. Even though the organization that it was under definitely neglects the fact that intersectionality in the community exists. Especially with people of color, my own experiences are very separate. We may all experience discrimination, however, they’re separate. They’re not the same. So she kind of tied that into our training to be community based doulas. To know that you’re not just serving those who have middle to high income and are heterosexual couples. There are single parents, there are those who are teenagers, those who have gone through trauma and sexual assault. It’s various levels to this that you have to work through and navigate through in the community and be aware of. There are people with different family dynamics, who have poly dynamics, or blended families, kindred type of families, guardians – the whole – it was mind blowing. So that even made me want to dive deeper into it, and this is where I am. Continuing to still learn and continuing to check my own biases. Trying to unlearn what I learned growing up because of the community I was around was not very open to the community I serve now. So, you know, once I escaped from that community and was actually into a community that I was taught “this and that” was not even true.. Learning that, I feel comfortable being myself because even at a time, I couldn’t express, “Hey, I’m part of the community that you’re talking trash about” you know? Pretty much my whole experience as birthing and almost losing my life and my son’s life is what pretty much brought me into the work that I do now.
Emma: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for sharing that. And it’s heavy, and that’s just real. Your work literally saves lives.
Emma: That’s, it’s critical. We’re really glad you’re out there. I’m so sorry you had to go through that, and that anybody has to go through that. But that’s why, some of why a lot of people get into it, for sure.
Mystique: Yes, yes.
Emma: So, you definitely touched on this in all your answers, but to be really explicit, do you have a specific support philosophy that you kind of bring through your work?
Mystique: I’m always about supporting the person where they’re at. Working from where they are, it’s very person-centered. It’s also working, if they have trauma and have experienced trauma in the past. Kind of working with my services, making sure it’s trauma informed and is trauma supportive, as I like to call it. Because trauma cannot be.. It’s so… not black and white. And it’s a lot to navigate through. Regarding just my work, I just work where the person is and just go from there. Given that I’m very direct, but I’m loving. I always call it my “tough love.” I’m not gonna sugar coat it, my client’s know. I don’t sugar coat, I’m here to inform and educate, but also respect your choices as well. Because I don’t want somebody making a choice and they’re not informed or educated. I don’t push, I don’t say – just because I wouldn’t personally choose that, I’m not gonna say “you shouldn’t do that” or whatever, it’s their choice. So if they’re like, “I still want a c section, I know the risk. I know what’s possibly to happen, but I just want you there, should I need to have a c section – I’m all for it…” great. I’m not that type of birth worker that’s like, “No! you should–” I don’t do that. That’s… that- Cause I wouldn’t want anybody to do that to me! If I want to give birth at a river sitting or squatting near a tree, I want my birth worker to be like “Let’s do this. OK. However. You do know, these are the risks, and if you’re aware- ok, let’s do it, but these are the risks and let’s come up with a plan..” So kind of just meeting them where they are, not forcing my own personal preferences on them. Also just checking myself should I feel like I might be shifting toward that type of energy. Which, it happens. You know, I’m normal, I’m human, everybody’s human. So I say, “You know what, you’re right. Let’s formulate a plan. Let’s work with the choice that you want to make and go from there.” So that’s pretty much how I work. I’m very flexible, I’m there for the client, and their needs. Making sure they are informed and educated, though, with their choices.
Emma: That’s awesome, yeah – and it’s important to acknowledge certain situations that make you question yourself for a second. That’s kind of all you need as a support person, taking a minute to be aware of what you’re thinking of, where your experience is at, and yeah, trying to be present with what’s actually in front of you.
Mystique: Exactly. Exactly.
Emma: Amazing, well, we’ve asked about your natal work, and now I want to know about your natal chart! What’s your sun sing, moon and rising?
Mystique: Okay! So I am an Aquarius sun, Taurus moon and Aries rising. And when people hear the Aries rising, they’re like “I get it. Because that’s where the fire is.” My aqua sun, I’m chillin’: I’m just trying to be a humanitarian and serve those in need and advocate and all this great stuff, and y’know, my Aries is that radical knock everything over, flip tables, yell “Yall are gonna hear me, you’re gonna listen to us” type of thing, and my Taurus moon is, I’m chillin. I’m relaxing, “Why are we making such a ruckus, why are we making so much noise? Can we just calm down?” So, luckily I have that nice little balance. (laughs). That’s my natal chart, I love my natal chart.
Emma: I love it, I think it’s working.
Mystique: Right? It’s a balance! I need it!
Emma: I’m a Libra, and I was gonna be like, “Seems really balanced!” but that’s also how I tend (laughs). Awesome, so what’s your favorite thing about being a queer perinatal worker or about working with queer and trans families, and queer and trans families of color?
Mystique: I love the fact that everybody is different. Everybody presents a different – it’s never a boring day, it’s never a boring time period at all. I also allow celebrating us, because we don’t get to do that a lot. And when we do, it kind of gets shut down, and some of us are like, “Well, maybe I did too much.” So I’m the type, again here’s my Aries rising, who’s like “No, we’re gonna celebrate, we’re gonna be loud because we’re here, we’re queer, get over it – like they said!” I just love the fact that we have different expressions, different identities, and we can just come together knowing that we are a community that faces through all this mess, through all the discrimination, through all the hate crimes, and the trageties that are happening to our communities, we can be there for– Ooh we are so strong– for each other, and supportive, even if we feel like, “I’m gonna give up, I can’t..” I will say my own support system, which is majority LGTBQ, I will send a text like, “I don’t know if I can do this, I’m throwing in this towel,” and instantly it’s like, “You better be so glad that we’re in a pandemic and I can’t come over there and shake you and say, ‘NOPE, we’re gonna dance it out, whatever, we’re gonna go for a walk.’” Just that supportive collective, to just be there and be strong and just be like a unified front. I really love how we bring that energy for each other and just in our communities as well.
Emma: That’s awesome, gives me the warm fuzzies. I wish you could have your lil queer shaking friends like, “get it together!!”
Emma: At least we’ll do that digitally for now, we’re connected. Amazing. So, speaking of perinatal care in general, your own experience – what is something that you’d hope to improve for queer and trans birthing families and families of color?
Mystique: I’m hoping to improve the awareness just being mindful that everything is not so binary. Intersectionality, or being intersectional, exists. In all of this. Knowing that this work is very intersectional, we are very diverse and being aware of checking those biases like I spoke about earlier, but also using inclusive language. Also understanding that using inclusive language does not dismiss or neglect anybody else that is or identifies as being binary, cisgendered or heterosexual. We’re not excluding you, you’re included! So, that’s kind of the tough, that’s a challenge that I’m being presented with. Explaining what being inclusive means and when you’re using inclusive language in this work. “I’m a woman, I identify as a mother or a mom” it’s not dismissing you, it’s including everybody. And to wrap it all up, I will say, inclusive language or say “those who not only identify as ‘mom’ and ‘female’ but also, we have to understand pronouns and identity, such as she/they, they/them, nonbinary bodies, transgender bodies, and breaking down that there’s transgender women, transgender men, transgender nonbinary people. Breaking that down, and understanding but also coming from a space of knowing that I can’t let my hot head get to me – my Aries rising get to me. Let’s take it down, let’s breathe through it cause this is an opportunity to inform and educate. So that is pretty much what I’m dealing with, making sure we’re using inclusive language and not only that, but we know, you know in certain spaces. That is the challenge. Slowly but surely, progress is being made. Of course there’s kick back, there’s rejection, it’s expected. But I know I’m doing my job of what I can do, my end, my part in all of this. Knowing I’m not alone and I’m not by myself in this. Yes, it’s a battle, but we are strong and we’re gonna keep it moving, we’re gonna keep it going because you guys will understand that this work is not so binary. It’s checking those heavy heteronormative agendas as well.
Emma: Amazing, I mean it’s such a deep seated debate in the birth world.
Mystique: Yes it is. Woof.
Emma: Y’know, I’m not referring to every single person in the world who’s ever had a baby when I say “mom”!
Emma: Sure, we’re just acknowledging that “you’re a mom.” It takes time, and it’s good to be with other birth workers who are seeing it like that and being in that community. We gotta hang out with each other more.
Emma: Well I’m curious if you have any pieces of advice for aspiring queer/trans birth workers, lactation counselors, herbalits, phD candidtaes, any of that.
Mystique: I would say, I was guilty of that same y’know “What am I doing wrong? Why am I not being heard or being taken seriously?” just overthinking things. Don’t compare your journey to other birth workers or lactation counselors or whatever. Don’t compare your journey to them. This is your own journey. Through your own journey, you will discover that when you have … walking your own truth and navigating through that. You’re constantly navigating through that throughout this. See how, when you transform yourself and and start walking in your truth, you’ll start transforming the way you do work. Especially for your community, especially communities who are marginalized, neglected and dismissed. Elevating to the next level. Next levels come with even more stress, so kind of being aware of your own biases as well, because we tend to forget that we’re like, “ra ra ra, let’s be inclusive, make sure you respect me and my community” we all have our own biases. We don’t know everything – everybody doesn’t know everything. So it’s important to learn from each other, and learn from those who are in those represented communities that you’re not. For instance, I know nothing about those who are in the disability community, who are disabled. I don’t know and I haven’t lived that life, so I communicate with those –especially if they are queer and trans disabled people– I can’t speak on their experiences, so I want to know that, especially if I have a client who is in that situation, and they feel comfortable with me working with them. I also want to have that resource to bring in, as well.
Also, know your worth. Just because you’re trained and you’re in training and you’re gaining experiences, it’s ok to know your worth, to price what you’re worth. It’s OK, you can get paid as a trained birth worker. I got paid as a trained birth worker. I was surprised that I would! They were like, “I’m not having you do all this work for free.” You’ll be surprised – a lot of people understand the hard work that comes with birth work. That comes with being in the community, being an actual community birth worker, they understand that it’s a fight. You’re fighting for that community, those people, those individuals. So, charge your worth. Don’t compare yourself. Definitely work on checking biases, charge your worth. And just take your time, learn as much as you can. But – and I’d stress this, because I always get fussed at – self-care is very important. That is a priority. And it’s sad if you have to schedule self-care, cause now I gotta schedule it, but it’s done. You have to do what you have to do to actually schedule self care because you can’t be an empty cup trying to fill other cups. It does not work. It will tip over, and nothing will be coming out of you but dust. So, self care is definitely, definitely important. Whatever that looks like that is healthy, in a way that that helps you cope with whatever stressers, heaviness, weighted energies are thrown your way. So self care is important in this work because if not, you will be burnt out. We can’t have burnt out birth workers cause we got too much work to do, so take care of yourself. Definitely.
Emma: So true. We need you, we need you to stick around for a few years, longer than just a few years.
Mystique: Yes, yes.
Emma: Excellent survival guide for starting out in the perinatal field! Awesome, what upcoming projects – do you have anything that you’d like to cross-pollinate with the community or is there anything you’re trying to spread pollen on?
Mystique: Yes, so beginning next month, I’m doing a free virtual support group for black postpartum moms and parents, it will be definitely a variety of these postpartum groups. One focused on just parenting-wise, navigating through that. One focused on grief and loss, because that is also a thing as well. And one focusing on healing and recovery in general, should they terminate a pregnancy, — so there will be various support groups that will trickle on throughout the year, but the first one will be focused on Black postpartum parents, and that aspect and examining what it looks like. What healing and wellness looks like for Black postpartum parents. The next one will be starting next month, I will be offering two free to very-low-cost postpartum services to BIPOC bodies, just doesn’t matter what their situation is as far as postpartum is concerned, that service will be focused on their healing and recovery. But it will just be two, I’ll pick two every month and the free service will go to one who is either no-low income, and the very low-cost will be to those who are actually employed, making a specific amount. My focus is mainly helping to serve those who are in need, especially who can’t afford a lot of these postpartum services that are out. A lot of people have been financially affected by the pandemic. Luckily I was able to promote that, provide that to the community, so that will be starting next month.
Emma: That’s really amazing, and I’m looking forward to asking how we can support that in a moment, but before we wrap up, I’m curious if you have anything not perinatal about your life that you want to share?
Mystique: Well, I did have, I hit a parenting milestone moment that my five-year-old is losing his first tooth. I don’t know how to take it. I’m just like, “Oh my gosh, you are really gr..” and he was fine with it until he heard he could get money for the tooth, and now he’s working on trying to get the tooth out and I’m like, “Leave it alone” It’s kind of like a moment of “Wow, you are actually growing up. This is really happening. Wow.” and then my partner just stepping in and being that parenting figure for him, it’s amazing. We realized that, “You know that you’ve been around for over two years?” He’s’ like “Yeah!” Whoa! So, we celebrated that. We went to Baltimore to celebrate our anniversary, cause that was kind of the safest way to celebrate it. It was supposed to be Miami, but no- we decided to make it a little safer for us. But other than that, just the parenting moment of my child is, he’s growing up. He’s just so aware of things and he’s always into “what is mama doing?” If I’m studying, he wants to be there studying with me, so it’s a really “aha” moment. My child is growing up and he’s really interested in seeing what his mama is doing and if he sees me trying to do services or take care of one of my doula babies, he’s very helpful. He’s like, “Mom, I’m your assistant” I’m watching my kid grow up! It’s a beautiful moment to reflect that, wow, we went through what we went through and now we’re here type of moment. Parenting is hard! (laughs) it’s so hard. But it teaches me patience that I need for other things in life, so yeah.
Emma: That’s so amazing. It sounds like he’s turning out pretty good if he’s like, super into all the work you’re doing. That’s just an extension of the work, making examples for future generations. And five is such a big kid age. Awesome, well, I’m curious where people can find you and support your projects on the internet. Especially the low-cost post-pregnancy care that you’re offering. Where can we follow up with you?
Mystique: So, social media, Facebook The Black Birth Healer. You just type it in, I’ll pop up, you’ll see my face. Instagram is @BlackBirthHealer and my website is www.theblackbirthhealer.com So soon I’ll be posting about my projects on my website, but Instagram as well, and more details will come with that.
Emma: Amazing, thank you so much for being here today!
Mystique: Thank you for having me, this was awesome.
Emma: Hello everyone, thanks for joining us, Rachel Hess. We’re really excited to hear more about you and your practice. So, why don’t we start there? Tell us a little but about you and the work that you do in the world/
Rachel: Yay! So, I am Rachel Hess, I use she her and hers pronouns, and I’m a postpartum doula and also a trainer in Jamaica Plain/the greater Boston area/now the world, virtually. I have two kids who are “old”, 9 and 6 and a half, if you can believe that. So I’m a postpartum doula so typically I used to go into people’s homes and help them with their little babies and from anywhere from sometimes I’d work with people for two weeks, sometimes twelve weeks, it really varies. And my goal always was to or still is to empower new parents with information, but also instinct-trusting, as well, as I’d like to call it. So now I’m doing that work virtually, which is going well in terms of still being able to help parents talk through fears, help normalize things, help strategize around feedings sleeping baby wearing baths – all that sort of fun newborn stuff. I also run parents support groups, so I run parent support groups for first-time parents, second-time parents, and in September I’ll be doing a group for queer parents which I’m very excited about. So those are also really fun, it’s a set group of parents for six weeks, and just sort of a combination of me sort of sharing information about newborns but also parents connecting with each other, finding their village if you will. And the other hat that I wear is that I train providers on LGBTQ cultural humility and that’s been really cool, that’s been building more now that it’s virtual and feels a little more accessible for some folks not having to travel or the way that people have more flexible schedules and stuff so that’s been really great – that’s sort of like, I mean I love babies and I love parents but ending oppression is my heart work, so I need to do that more and sort of speak about my experience but also y’know challenge folks to think about their experience and ways in which they may or may not perpetuate oppression in the perinatal world. Has been really, super rewarding, so. Those are all my hats.
Katie: And they are such good hats!
Rachel: They’re very stylish.
Katie: What are you queering right now?
Rachel: Great question, always, love that. The birth world, is my goal – to queer that. A lot. I think about, I think what’s so cool about that term is like, y’know we do this training, we talk about definitions of what the “alphabet soup” means, definitions of different types of oppression – all that. But also, when you queer things and think of things in more nonbinary nonlinear ways, that’s better for everyone. I mean some of the conversations I have with my new parents even– even when they’re a straight, married couple (god bless them), I think there are ways that we can think about division of labor, sex, parenting that I think come from a queer standpoint that again, are better for everyone. Some of the conversations I have with new parents about gendering their baby and helping them think through that, I think is really rooted in my queerness even though – again, the more the merrier.
Emma: I love that, Rachel. I think it’s so great to be able to, even when you’re working with straight and cis people, still kind of make your job a queer job (laughs), so that’s amazing.
Rachel: Otherwise, it wouldn’t be very much fun.
Emma: Exactly. Well you gotta make it sustainable. Part of making it sustainable for yourself. Amazing. So what inspired you originally to do this work?
Rachel: Excellent question, so I always like to say that the common thread in all the jobs I’ve ever had is that I really like supporting and teaching adults new things. Even though, almost all my jobs I’ve ever done all involve kids or babies in some ways. It’s really the coaching of adults that is my strength. So I was working at Read Boston, actually, which is a city program for kids and when I had my oldest, who like I said is almost 9 and a half. I had this really amazing birth experience: we had a home birth with midwives, I labored for, I like to brag: 76 hours…
Rachel: Oh, back labor – all the things. So, right – you can’t always control birth, but I really planned it and thought about it and had this really magical experience and then the midwife left and I had this little baby and I was like, “What do I do now? OMG.” I mean, my midwife supported us postpartum as well, but I just felt like there was such a lack of information, resources, support in that period and then I learned that it was a job, like, you could help people at that time as a job! Isn’t that cool? So I was a stay-at-home parent for a while, and then I actually did my postpartum doula training when she was only 9 months old, and I didn’t really start doing it more as a job until actually my youngest was born. So I have been doing it for about six years, but yeah I mean what sort of drew me to it. Sort of similar to birth doula work, or I think, I like to say that my job… I would like to live in the society where my job isn’t a job. Y’Know, where like, people are informed, people feel empowered, there’s better leave, there’s not a disconnect between what the baby needs and what the parents need, where there is like, seamless love care and support between pregnancy, birth and postpartum. So, I think we’re a long way away from that, but… That’s sort of what drew me to it. Long answer to your question.
Katie: I think you’ve touched on this in all of your answers, but just to be like really explicit about it: how do you talk about your philosophy of support?
Rachel: Oh, yeah, totally. So I’m gonna give you an example, actually.
Katie: Yes, love it.
Rachel: My philosophy is definitely that parents feel empowered. I don’t have an agenda. I have information. And I always think about the first… not the first mom I worked with who had breastfeeding struggles, but the first mom I worked with who did not explicitly breastfeeding her baby. It’s like a real learning experience for me, because it really taught me that my goal is to actually… y’know, I breastfed my daughter til she was 3, my wife breastfed our youngest til she was 3 and a half – she wanted to beat me. Cause it’s a competition (laughs). I think about that mom and how she did not end up explicitly breastfeeding even though that had been her goal originally. But through every step of the process, she had information, she felt like she was making choices around pumping, bottles, formula, putting the baby to the breast, and she decided in the end to do a combination. For her it meant she got to sleep a little more in a different way, she got maybe a little more independence, she decided she didn’t want to pump the way the lactation consultant had suggested that she pump. I had to really be OK with that, and I realized: oh, well, that doesn’t feel bad to me in my job because she got to make all those choices, y’know. I’m a big proponent of breastfeeding, obviously, but I think sometimes the advice people are given is not sustainable from a mental health perspective. Helping people sort through that and feel like y’know the worst is when I have people who are in my groups and they’re already six weeks postpartum and like, no one told them or gave them the option to like, pump when their baby was 2 weeks old and given their baby a bunch of formula. That’s a travesty. But when they’re given choices and understand the consequences of their choices – not “consequences” in a mean way, but just like: yeah, if you give your baby a bunch of bottles and you don’t pump, you won’t make enough milk. That’s a thing. So, figuring out how to do that has been really a big learning experience for me. The point of that story being: my philosophy is information, empowerment, people trusting their gut, people not feeling like they have to sacrifice everything for their baby. This is like a big and totally related to oppression and sexism and patriarchy and all of those things. This idea of the self-sacrificing mother or parent, right? So really having people feel like, you can be a human being and have a baby and that baby is important and what’s best for you is what’s best for the baby – all that kind of stuff. So that’s my philosophy, in a nutshell.
Emma: That’s awesome, it’s helpful to have examples like that of, y’know, client interactions, different points where you were like, “that was a major growth point for me.”
Emma: I love the idea of partners, (laughs) I don’t know, trying to beat each other with breastfeeding, that’s like – amazing to me.
Rachel: I mean, we’re both very stubborn and competitive, so that’s not something everyone does.
Emma: Well, speaking of that – you told us about your post-natal work, I wanna know about your natal chart and be honest.
Rachel: I don’t actually know, so, I’m a what was the listing, it was, moon…
Emma: Sun, moon and rising/ascendednt
Rachel: So my friend says its Capricorn, Cancer and Scorpio
Emma: Oh man. (laughs)
Rachel: What is that response mean?? You have to tell me more.
Emma: I just have a response to scorpios, that’s all (laughs)
Katie: The real thing about these interviews it it’s just revealing Emma and my like, astrological biases (laughs)
Rachel: Is that a thing, astrological biases?
Emma: I mean, it is… implicit astrological biases (laughs)
Katie: Well, I will say: I dont know whats happening for Emma, but as a fellow Capricorn sun, I now feel much closer to you. (laughs)
Rachel: Okay, love that. Gonna learn a lot about my astrological chart in quarantine, and when the moon is full and all of those things… The very beginning of quarantine, I was going for a walk in the arboretum every time there was a full moon, that was really nice.
Emma: Right on, I love that.
Rachel: That’s related, right?
Rachel: That’s when you cleanse your crystals, with the full moon..
Emma: Put em out.
Katie: And aside from the crystals, what’s your favorite thing about being a queer support person, working with queer families?
Rachel: Such a good question. My favorite thing about everything is when it’s queer, so.. Duh. OK, I’ll give you a good example. So, one of the things that… so I think part of that is, as I said from before, how my queer lens helps straight couples navigate things that are traditional gender norms, heteronormativity, all that kind of stuff. One of the things that’s really cool that a lot of people really like about working with me is that I’ve been in both roles – I’ve been a birth parent but I’ve also been a non-birth parent, and so, this is gonna sound really funny, but I really like working with dads, like especially ones who are open to having feelings and and trying to figure out their role. Some of the coolest conversations I’ve had have been around talking to dads who have to like, go back to work in two weeks and work in these super macho environments where like, you don’t help with this/that or the other, or you’re expected to just leave your baby and not have feelings about it. Having these really empathic heart conversations with these dudes who are like, I love this baby and why is it OK that I have to go back? And I’m like, “Well it’s not OK, and that sucks! and you can have feelings about it!” Then also that piece around watching the person that you are partnered with and love go through some of that early postpartum hormones, pain, feelings and just how can you help and then help doesn’t always mean like taking over the feeding of the baby. That caring for that person is part of bonding with the baby. So I feel like that’s part of a pretty unique lens that I provide for families, straight and otherwise. So I like that. And what do I like about working with queer famililes? I mean, all the things, but also: let’s be really honest, its the kind of humor that you can use with queer folks that just really… like about lube, sex, bdsm all those things. I just feel like there’s so many ripe opportunities for that, and usually with queer folks, it’s like more welcome – although there’s definitely some straight folks where I make those jokes, too. That is one of my favorite things. Sort of insider culture stuff that we can joke about. I recently worked with a queer family who, she would send me photos and be like, “This is for my magazine that I’m gonna make” which was, oh god, what did she call it, it was like, “Butch Parenting Quarterly” and it’d be like pictures of her with like a drill, holding her baby – it was so hilarious. Like that stuff is gold. I need to follow up with her actually to see if she has any more photos that she has to share with me.
Emma: Get me a subscription to Butch Parenting Quarterly!
Katie: I want a calendar, can we have a calendar?
Rachel: I know, right?
Emma: Oh man, we’re gonna have a fundraiser for this… I love it, Rachel, and bless your soul for, y’know, being one of those people who fosters a supportive environment for dad feelings. Like, absolutely integral important soul work. I love you. So, if you could, y’know, thinking of queer and trans families, could you improve one main thing about their experience what would it be?
Rachel: It’s so interesting. I was thinking about this question, because I’ve been doing a lot of this, and I think that …… one of the things I talk about with cultural humility is this idea that you can’t just put a rainbow sticker on your door and be like (wipes shoulders) “I did it, I did all the work, I’m totally gay friendly.” There’s almost a way in which the thing that I want to change is, I want everyone to have to like, do a train-… like, the people that are the challenge are people who feel like they don’t have any more to learn, or don’t have any areas of growth. There’s a way in which that’s the thing I want to change. I want all providers to really, deeply understand and respect this idea of bringing your whole self into a room. Not “tolerance,” even the word “inclusivity” gets me a little. I mean one of the things I would say in my trainings, which, depending on the room, is I don’t want to be like you. I’m better than you because I’m queer. You know what I mean? Ha-ha, but also like: I want things to be where it’s not a deficit or “oh yeah you’re welcome to our straight space.” Where providers can really understand that, and I feel like that’s not a thing yet. It’s more just “Oh yeah, your wife, great I can be on board with that.” or “Oh yeah, I’ll use different pronouns than what I thought. I can be on board with that.” but it isn’t like, “Wow! That’s awesome that you’re queer. How cool!” I don’t know if I’m making sense but that’s the culture shift that I’m wanting to make. That I think impact queer families, but also everyone. A lot of the things I talk about will benefit single parents, or adoptive parents or like grandparents who are raising their kids or all that kind of stuff.
Katie: Absolutely, so important. Those spaces that are not just like “You’re welcome here” but like, “You’re totally celebrated.” What’s one piece of advice that you have for new or aspiring queer and trans birth/postpartum/reproductive workers?
Rachel: Baby queers, you mean?
Emma: Professional baby queers.
Katie: Possibly FULLY queers, but like, baby birth workers
Rachel: Baby birth workers, there ya go. Good distinction. I think one of the things that I’ve learned that I’ve talked about a little bit – You don’t have to compromise who you are to get people to hire you. The more fully you can be yourself, especially in your queerness, the better off that is for everyone. That’s actually a strength as opposed to like something straight people – are they gonna be weirded out? Or whatever? No- just be all the things. Be all the fabulous.
Emma: That’s awesome, thank you so much for that.
(rachel’s kid walks in)
Emma: Yeah, so speaking of family members, other things going on in your life – what’s something not baby related, not natal about your life that you want to share with us?
Rachel: I would say, this summer we’ve done more beaching than we’ve ever done, and it’s been spectacular. I’m from northern California, so the ocean is my jam and so I’ve gone to swim in salt water this summer. That’s made me really, really happy.
Emma: That’s awesome. What’s your favorite beach around here?
Rachel: We go to Nantasket a lot, first thing in the morning before it gets crowded. And there’s a beach we go to in Woods Hole, actually. It’s far, but who cares? What else are we doing? I basically have two fish for children at this point, which I’m not complaining about.
Emma: Love water humans.
Rachel: And Nana in Weymouth has a pool. So we’ve also been doing that.
Katie: So much good water.
Katie: Where can people find you in internet land?
Rachel: Oh! It’s just rachelhessdoula.com. That’s my website. I also have a facebook page and someday I’ll have an Instagram account? For my doula work? But, not today. Those are the two main places, and Facebook is where I update when groups are happening and offer those. That’s a good place to find me.