Rachel Hess, she/her/hers, Rachel’s website and Facebook.
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.
Katie: Awesome, thank you so much!