Categories
interviews

Chaney Williams

Chaney Williams. She/They. @TheIntersectionalDoula & their website. Help Chaney pay for midwifery school!

Emma: Well, welcome. I’m excited to spend some time this afternoon with you and to hear more about your practice, and your studies and what you’re working on. So let’s start there – tell us about you, and your practice and what you offer to the world?

Chaney: My name is Chaney Williams, my pronouns are she/they. I kind of go into this on Instagram a lot, but I really feel like birth work is a calling for me. I think it’s an interesting word, cause my granny’s a nun, so she’s always talked about her calling from God and stuff like that. I’m not a religious person at all, I’m more spiritual, but I really do feel like birth work, specifically midwifery, is something I was called to do. I believe in a lot of ancestral stuff, ancestral healing, and I feel like this was just a part of what I’m here for, if that makes sense. So, I did a doula training with DTI in 2018 and it was a person of color, queer doula training, which was cool. It was for birth and postpartum. In that spring of 2018, I did a full-spectrum doula training with Louiville Doula Project, which is a full-spectrum doula collective which I’ve been really heavily involved with since then and they do sliding scale postpartum, birth, abortion and miscarriage support – which I think is a really important thing. Oh, and I’m in midwifery school, which is a big one! I’m like, what else should I say (laughs). So, I started midwifery school in the fall, I started in August and I’m at Birthwise. I’m really excited to be there, cause I actually found them, when I did my doula training with DTI, and I started looking, cause I knew midwifery was a thing I wanted to do eventually. It was just – they were just a school that really stood out to me because it really aligned with my values, if that makes sense. 

Emma: Yeah, that definitely does make sense. I love all these little upcroppings of queer birth workers, rooted in the full-spectrum collectives that are dotted around the world. 

Chaney: I do too, it makes me so happy!

Emma: It’s awesome, I’m so glad you’re in midwifery school! It sounds like many folks who start attending births, and attending doula trainings and stuff, as a stepping stone to this eventual goal. So it sounds like you’re in the middle of that, which is amazing. I’m curious, what are you queering right now? 

Chaney: Can you go more into that… Haha, I know how I would take that, but, yeah..

Emma: Yeah, people can interpret it differently! Anything – is there anything that you are making queer, or with your impact, with your perspective on it.. 

Chaney: One thing that’s been really important to me is, so, I’m also polyamorous – I’m ethically non-monogamous, and intersecting that along with birth work is really important in the queer community. That’s something I’ve been really diving into, and with school.. I don’t think there’s a lot of providers right now who give care from that kind of lens. All those intersections, if that makes sense. One big thing I’m working on, I did a mini research project in school about it is BDSM in pregnancy. Because I think that’s a thing that’s not really talked about, do you know what I mean?

Emma: I do know what you mean, haha.

Chaney: Yeah, it’s just not! I’m really glad I have really great faculty and was able to find really good resources from people online of things that I thought just need to be more widely known. You know what I mean? Because, it’s just not talked about, it’s seen as “taboo.”

Emma: Absolutely. Or it is talked about, but it is just talked about in the kink community and not at all in the pregnancy community. 

Chaney: There’s not an intersection and there should be. 

Emma: Absolutely. 

Chaney: There’s just so many things that I feel like pregnant people and providers need to know. 

Emma: Yes!

Chaney: Information and resource wise, and not feeling embarrassed or like they’re gonna be judged for bringing that up. 

Emma: A hundred percent, yeah! I love that, I agree with you, I don’t think that there’s a ton of providers that would self-identify as non-monogamous, or as kinky, or whatever, but we’re in the pipeline (laughs). Like, these people are in school right now (laughs) they are gonna be your providers in like, a year or three. So glad you’re a part of that, that’s amazing. I feel so happy to see birth workers online creating these dialogues about all the things, and I’m like – oh I’ve mentioned this to like, my clients that I know are queer and kinky and poly, and that’s it… (laughs)

Chaney: I think a thing I struggled with for a while is thinking that people would see me as “unprofessional” for talking about that kind of stuff. But my big thing is if it impacts people’s care, I think it’s something that should be talked about from a very… there’s a way to be appropriate and about it. I’m not gonna be like, “This is my experience!” but providing that information I think is really important. And bringing up that conversation. 

Emma: Yeah, and when it’s your calling, I’m not saying don’t be professional – but it’s so much more than just professional, too. So, that’s amazing. Thank you for sharing that. So I think that totally hit, yeah, that is what you’re queering right now. I’m down (laughs).

Chaney: Yeah, that’s what I’m queering right now. I’m really diving into research around that. Connecting with people who also have interests in making it more widely available for people to find out that kind of research. 

Emma: Amazing, anyone who’s into that- come find Chaney, that’s amazing. So, originally, I know that you said that this is a calling for you, but how did that come about? Did you just have dreams about birth? What originally inspired this?

Chaney: From a young age, I’ve always been really interested in birth. My mom, I grew up hearing a lot about our birth stories. My older sister, she was born at 26 weeks in like 1984 and she was really, really premature. So I always grew up knowing her birth story and my mom’s experience with it. I think that started cause they also really documented our births, really well and told us about it. My mom still has the nature sound tape she listened to while laboring with me and it’s on my altar. 

Emma: That’s the sweetest thing!

Chaney: She found it a couple years ago, I was like, “Oh, what is this?” and she was just like “Oh! That’s what I listened to while laboring with you” and I was like, “You still have it?!” That’s so incredible!

Emma: Yeah, do you even have a cassette player, like, can we listen..

Chaney: We have a cassette, like a CD/cassette player. 

Emma: Amazing. Don’t ever get rid of it!


Chaney: Yeah, I’m never gonna get rid of it! And she also had this book from when she was pregnant with my sister, it was in 1983 and it’s all about labor and pregnancy. The pictures are just so cool and I was really into it when I was like 3-5. I would show people who were visiting our house like, “Have you seen this?? Did you know this was a thing?” That kind of view about it – it was just so magical and mesmerizing to me if that makes sense. So I think it started from there, and then it just built upon that. 

Emma: So cool, I love that. The kid who brings the science textbooks to preschool. 

Chaney: Yeah!! The pictures are just really, they’re just amazing – really unedited, they’re very clear, they’re just all the different things you just wanna know but you wouldn’t see in a book nowadays. Because.. probably now, but not the late 90s, early 2000s.

Emma: Yeah, you have to go a certain length back in childbirth education to find better content. I know you’ve touched on this in all your answers, but do you have a particular philosophy that you bring when you’re doing birth work or postpartum care?

Chaney: So, I guess my big philosophy is coming from my care in a not judgmental place, totally unbiased, trauma-informed. It’s really important to me to think about people’s experiences and the experiences I know and I don’t know of. And bringing all those intersections together to be the best provider I can be for them. A big thing that I’ve been working with – it goes back to me being more open about being poly or stuff like that – is one of my mentors, and my therapist also said this, it’s something I’ve brought up with her… There are the right birth workers for everyone, and just because I’m not the right birth worker for someone doesn’t mean there’s not someone else who they are. It’s not a thing where… I was in a place where I didn’t want to be as open about some things, cause I didn’t want to be ostracised. But it’s really important to live my life in an authentic way, because if I don’t do that, it makes me really anxious. It’s important for people to know that people are human, and we’re all human beings, and we all have different experiences. Bringing that to the table and using that when I’m giving care to someone, and being like – I don’t know all of their experiences. There could be things here that I don’t know about, or different sections of their identity that could affect that care, remembering those things. Keeping it in my brain. Cause that’s how I would want to be treated. 

Emma: Totally, beautifully put. So, we know about your natal work and we wanna know your natal chart. So tell us your sun/moon and rising!

Chaney: I really like astrology, and tarot and stuff like that, so excited to talk about this. So my sun is Cancer, my rising is Leo and my moon is in Libra. 

Emma: Fun! I like a Libra moon, I’m a Libra. 

Chaney: You are? Cool. Is it your sun or..

Emma: It’s my sun, yeah, but my sister and my dad are both Cancers, so I’m into a Cancer..

Chaney: Love that, love that. I feel like whenever I tell people I’m a Cancer, they’re like, “That makes sense with the line of work that you’re in.”

Emma: Definitely, do you wanna expound on that a little bit. I really love hearing birth workers theorize about their star charts and their callings…

Chaney: Cancers, especially suns are known as being nurturers. I’ve always been like that since I was a kid. I’ve always loved babies and if we have a family Christmas party, I was the one that was like 6 years old, holding a baby, or playing with the littler kids and reading to them or stuff like that. A lot of my work I’ve done during college and after – I did work at a Montessori school, at a forest school. I just love working with kids. That’s one of my favorite things. I think that comes in a lot with my nurturing side, if that makes sense. With the Leo rising, I dunno (laughs) that one, I feel like there’s a part of me that’s very much an introvert, but when I’m around people and meeting them for the first time, I’ll turn my personality on. That’s what I call it. I’ll bring my personality out more in a way that I wouldn’t be…. I just do. This is what I need to do right now, and that makes sense. I’m very sassy, which, that’s just a thing. 

Emma: I love it. I can tell, I love a little sassy Leo. Thanks for going there with me. So what is one of your favorite things about doing birth work with queer families or being a queer poly kinky birth worker?

Chaney: I guess my favorite thing is, so much is changing about care in a way that makes me really hopeful and happy. I didn’t go into this, but when I first heard about doula work, I was 14. I read a zine that I just happened to order and it was supposed to be there, I was supposed to order it. It was 2006 or 2005 and they were certifying with DONA in like Portland Oregon or something like that. This seems like something I want to do, and I just felt really called to it, but I never heard about abortion doulas or any other kind of fertility doulas or anything like that. I feel like the birth world is making so many strides and I’m really excited about that. It’s becoming more not a more safer, comfortable place, I feel like, but it’s becoming more inclusive, and that’s so important to me. Because everyone deserves care in a way that is comprehensive and evidence-based and a space that’s not where they feel like they’re judged. I’m most excited about all the changes that have happened in the birth world since I first found out about it. 

Emma: Yeah, that’s amazing. Even just thinking about that, 2006 or 7 to now. Just the last 13, 14, 15 years. So much. 

Chaney: When I think about the first things that I read, compared to the things that are available now, it’s just incredible. Everything was very “mom centric,” which is not for everyone, and not everyone who gives birth identifies as a mom. That was something that really, I struggled with for a while. There’s books I haven’t finished because of that perspective. And now there’s actually really great resources I can recommend to people that are not just from one point of view. I love that, that makes me so excited. 

Emma: Yeah, and I think that you point to a really important thing for other folks who wanna do birth work. It is, for queer people, especially for trans and gender non conforming and non binary people.. Fuck reading most midwifery textbooks, truly. It’s rough.

Chaney: That’s the thing I love about the school I’m at right now, and why I chose them. They are really doing the work, I feel like, that needs to be done for midwifery to be at the place it should be, and they want it to be. It’s really important to them. Even in our classes, we use inclusive language. We did a history of midwifery thing, but usually history of midwifery would be about history starting in the 1800s, cause that’s when home birth started.

Emma: Yeah, or like the 1960s.

Chaney: The 1960s! But it had all different backgrounds, different cultures and time periods. One of the big things was: home birth and midwifery has been here since the beginning of time. And that’s so important! There’s not one person who “made home birth popular.”

Emma: Absolutely, and on that note, if there’s something that you could improve about the experience for queer and trans families, LGBTQ+ folks who are concieving, birthing.. What would that be? What do you wanna improve?

Chaney: I feel like I have a lot of answers for this, so I feel like I’m just gonna go with one perspective. It’s a really big question. Having more access to the providers and care they deserve. I even know, my own experience and I’m not trying to conceive right now or anything like that, not pregnant, but going to the doctor can be scary because you don’t know… I also live in a fat body, and that’s a whole other layer of it. I want people to have the access and care they need and want and desire, because so much … a good example is, people, if they don’t feel comfortable just getting a checkup, so many things can happen between that time before it’s an urgent thing. I want people to feel welcome and like they’re getting the care they deserve and need. 

Emma: Of course, let’s start there. 

Chaney: Let’s just start with the basics, just having (sigh) not providers that are just accepting, because I think that’s just a skin, like a little layer of it. People who actually understand and care and get things. There needs to be more trainings, and stuff like that. Everywhere. Everyone needs to have that kind of training when they go to school, so they can understand more.

Emma: Definitely, and especially for folks who don’t specifically seek out programs that are already doing that. For everyone else that’s just in any program. 

Chaney: Yeah! Yeah. They should just.. Worldwide, that should be the baseline, and it’s not. And that makes me sad. 

Emma: I hear that. Well, things that can make us happy are new and aspiring queer and trans birth workers cause there’s a bunch of em. 

Chaney: I know, makes me so excited!

Emma: So what advice do you have for folks who wanna do what you do?

Chaney: I guess figuring out why they’re in it. Why they want to do this kind of work. What their philosophy or perspective is. And finding people who you can connect with, whether it be on instagram, social media or in person. Who have similar values to you, philosophies, I guess you could say. It can be really isolating. If you just live somewhere where there’s not a lot of people who have this point of view as you do, when it comes to birth work. Because when I first started getting into it, it was a lot of, I keep on using this word, but “mom centric” stuff, and very… I didn’t feel like I fit in there, but I found people in my own community and online who get my point of view. I think it’s really important having that kind of support. And finding an organization or school that mimics your values that you feel comfortable with. 

Emma: Excellent, well, I know you have a lot going on right now with midwifery school, but are there any projects you’re working on that you want to cross pollinate in the community of queer birth workers? Or do you need support for anything you’re working on? 

Chaney: I’m really, I really wanted to make a support group for poly or kinky families and stuff like that. That’s something I’ve been thinking about for like….. It’s been gestating for a couple years. There aren’t a lot of resources for that, I guess you’d say. And that’s something that’s really important to me. That’s just something I’m brainstorming, gesting right now and trying to figure it out. I think it’s something that’s needed. 

Emma: It’s absolutely needed, I love that. And I love the idea, again, we said earlier.. There’s discussions about pregnancy in the kink world in that context and then we have everything else. We need like, kinky pregnant people just going to the grocery store, having playdates with their kiddos (laughs), navigating lactation. 

Chaney: That should be the norm! That’s what’s going on, but people don’t have that perspective, I think. They think it’s for, like, 50 shades of grey. Which. (Laughs). 

Emma: Unfortunately, that exists. Well, I love that you’re doing that, and hopefully other folks can help you bring that into existence. I will definitely keep that in mind for my clients.


Chaney: Thank you!

Emma: Well, what’s something about you that you want to share that’s not pregnancy/midwifery related? What’s something extra about your life that you want to share with us?

Chaney: I kind of got into this, but I really love witchy tarot stuff. Tarot’s my thing. That’s one of my favorite things. Creating little rituals where I can set intentions for myself and another thing, I guess, that not a lot of people know, that I have an MFA in creative writing. 

Emma: Okay, cool! (laughs)

Chaney: I went to school and got my BFA in creative writing poetry, so I do a lot of… I’ve done more publishing my personal essays because that’s something that’s interesting to me. Yeah, that’s just something I do. It’s kind of a way to process things. Most of writing is a way to process stuff that’s gone on in my life.

Emma: Absolutely, well, if you write a poetry book about being a kinky, poly midwife, I’m definitely gonna read it! 

Chaney: I want to write a memoir eventually. That’s been my goal since I was like, 15. 

Emma: I can see the experiences amassing as time goes on, amazing. Well, where can folks find you and support you and follow you online?

Chaney: Okay! So, I’m mostly on Instagram, I do not have a Facebook page. That’s just something I’ve never done. That’s just not my thing. I’m on Instagram as The Intersectional Doula. That’s where you can find my stuff, I also have a website and it’s linked on to my Instagram. That’s where all my stuff is!

Emma: Beautiful, we’ll make sure people can find you! Thank you so much for chatting with us!

Chaney: Thank you for giving your time and space in this interview, I enjoyed it! 

Categories
interviews

Alyssa Teixeira

Alyssa Texeira. she/her. @AlyssaTex and www.alyssateixeira.com

Emma: Alright! Well thank you so much for joining me today, I am excited to hear more about your practice and so why don’t we start there. Tell me about you and the work that you’re already doing, and, yeah, projects you’ve got going on.


Alyssa: So, like I kind of mentioned earlier, I started off doing sex education work, and I still do sex education work but it’s always been a passion and a dream of mine to kind of work in birth spaces. The weird thing about my life is I end up watching a documentary and it changes the course of my life, and I remember watching the documentary about birth monopolies and I was really taken aback by the fact that in our society today, there’s so much that falls through the cracks. So many people who fall through the cracks of birth work and there’s no need for that if we can support our own communities. The center of what I do is supporting my community. I love the community that I was raised in, it taught me everything that I know, and I just feel like it’s really important to give back to it. I think that something that I live by is: sexuality is everywhere. It’s in everything we do. No matter what you can think about, at the end of the day, it kind of ties back to sexuality somehow. Which is kind of a weird philosophy, which most people don’t necessarily identify with – like, what? I don’t understand. But sex and sexuality… sex isn’t just like, ‘doin’ the dirty’ y’know – it’s in lots of part of our lives. I think specifically, with my doula practice, as a queer person, I know people who had these really awful birth experiences. Something I always want to do is take the ‘othering’ effect out of healthcare and health education for queer people. Those are the two things that are my biggest goals for my doula practice – just center it around a community of folks who were able to share information, and then also take the othering factor out of care for queer people. We’re just like everyone else – we don’t need you to make it seem like, “ok, there’s this healthcare and then there’s your healthcare. There’s this birth experience, and then there’s your birth experience.” It’s kind of a long rambling rant, but those are two things that are important to me in my practice. 

Emma: That’s awesome, yeah, thanks for sharing that. I love hearing about being really rooted in a local community and at the same time reaching a larger audience online. I’ll ask you where people can find you later on. So on that note – uhh, what are you queering right now?

Alyssa: What am I queering right now? Well, let’s see… what am I not queering right now… I feel like every day of my life I’m just a big ole queer. One thing I’ve been really trying to do in my local community around some advocacy for healthcare in the queer community is trying to make a standardization across our local community clinics. Basically, when you have a chart, you typically have someone’s dead name, and their incorrect pronouns, right? Something I’ve been trying to work on with our county resources is creating some sort of system in our current systems where we can have on someone’s chart their correct name and their correct pronouns. Which is something that I feel very passionate about – making sure, at the basic level of care that you give someone is calling them by their right name and their right pronouns. In so many medical spaces, it’s traumatizing. It’s traumatizing to be in a medical space and just constantly have people get it wrong, y’know? At the end of the day, I think that no one should have to deal with that and no one should have to be their own advocate for that. That should be some behind the scenes stuff that someone else is doing or figuring out. You shouldn’t have to know about all the crazy BS that has taken to get there, but yeah. I’m currently trying to queer my community health clinics, is what I’m doing. 

Emma: That’s awesome. Queering institutional paperwork is necessary work, but obviously not everyone wants to do that. So that’s amazing – thank you. I hope that it can work out – let us know. If you figure out how to make that happen, and that’s just some kind of system we can put in place in all of the other counties…

Alyssa: Yeah! I’m working on trying to figure out a way to standardize it. Mainly, I have this issue where I constantly — it’s not an issue, it’s just me as a person — where I just knock on people’s doors and show up to people’s offices and cold call them all the time and they’re like, “Who are you?” and I’m like, I need to find a way to make sure I can standardize it so it’s not just a back door that I was able to get through, y’know?

Emma: Sure, yeah. But that’s… any way to get in. That’s really awesome. So I know we talked a little about this earlier, but what originally inspired you to do the work that you do today?

Alyssa: Like I mentioned before, documentaries have been a very persistent thing in my life. I watch a documentary, I get really upset, and I’m like, how can I change this? Birth work specifically – what called me to get involved is I’ve always been interested in care work. I think femme people are kind of always, even if they don’t want to be, called to do a lot of care work. Unfortunately, a lot of times, for free or low cost – right? Something that I was really really passionate about was providing care work in the realm of a reproductive sphere. That is something I was really passionate about, and something I felt was lacking in a lot of reproductive health outcomes. Whether that’s birth – whether thats abortion, whether that’s miscarriage. Whether that’s taking a pregnancy test, right? Something that was really a call to action for me was when I learned about the crazy disparity of maternal mortality rate in this country. Realizing that there’s no need for that, kind of was like, I have to be a part of the solution somehow. Combining my desire to be there and support people through whatever reproductive decision and also wanting to be a solution to the problem of maternal mortality rates kind of called me together, I think. It’s a combination of my own wanting to hold people’s hands and my own desire to be involved in some sort of activism. Something that is cool, but also sometimes a little disappointing, about working in reproductive health spaces is that – at the end of the day, it’s all kind of tied to activism. People with uteruses have for the longest time, been under the control of whoever wants to decide how your reproductive system is used. That is something that calls me to do the work. 

Emma: That’s awesome. And I know you touched on this a little earlier, thinking about the sex in everything – but what’s your support philosophy, that aside. Worldview, philosophy that’s included… y’know, what kind of lens do you bring to that support work?

Alyssa: The first and foremost philosophy I have for support work is that support work should be given to anyone and everyone who asks for it or needs it. If I’m not particularly the doula for you, or there’s someone who can advocate for you better, I will definitely help you figure that out. At the end of the day, I don’t ever want to turn someone away because they can’t pay for it or because they are in a situation where maybe their family doesn’t support their decisions. Whatever it might be. I think care work is a human right. Having someone to advocate for you and having someone to hold space for you is a human right, I feel like. Even though, it’s not really … people will argue with that, but I think it is. Having someone to just hold your hand through things is just something that humans need. So that’s at the base of everything, I’m like – no matter who you are, no matter what you do, no matter how things turn out for this pregnancy or for whatever reproductive decision you’re making – I wanna support you. I wanna be here for you. The other lens of that is, like I mentioned, the whole politicising of reproductive justice. What’s really important to me is bringing back the autonomy of a person in my practice. Making sure that I have the tools to support someone through understanding our own autonomy. Like I said, we live in a world where there’s a lot of situations where femmes or people with uteruses don’t have autonomy over their bodies or over their decisions in life. That’s the second tenant of my sort of practice philosophy – I really want to be able to give people the tools they need to …  I don’t like the word empower, because I feel like “empower” kind of implies that I’m giving you the power, when you already have the power. This is a whole ‘nother rant, but something that’s damaging and I don’t really like, is when specifically white women tend to try to say “I’m going to empower you” or “We’re going to empower you to do this this or that” to People of Color. Whatever it might be – I think what’s important is that you have a set of tools, let’s share a set of tools, and then let’s figure out how we can make the best outcome. I think, sharing knowledge is the other part there. I don’t ever feel like, we should protect a secret of like, “Oh, well this provider, y’know, said this this or this…” I just feel like sharing knowledge is really, really important. I think if we did more of that, you know what I mean, then some of the problems we have in the reproductive health sphere wouldn’t be so bad. There’s a lot of gatekeeping. I feel like this is a little rambly. (laughs)

Emma: Great! You covered so many good things! I think it’s great to have the breakdown “empowerment” conversation – what does it mean? What does it mean when you’re doing it for someone? And that gatekeeping of information – it’s so interesting to toe that line when chatting with clients about, “Oh, well do you know that hospital you’re choosing has xyz statistics of this.” or “I’ve seen that provider xyz.” It can be hard to share that stuff, but it is also life saving. And trauma preventing, and all that. So it’s just so important to bring those things up in these worlds. 

Alyssa: Especially when it’s like, the “mystery” around birth has forever been — ever since it got really medicalized, back in the 1900s, there’s this idea that birth is a secret and what happens in birth, no one really knows. You see this picture of it on TV where a woman is screaming, and she gets into the labor room and the baby pops out, right? I’ve met so many people who come to birth or come to their experiences like, “I’m just scared. I don’t know what happens. I don’t know what the process is.” Demystifying that is really important to just let people be able to support themselves best by having that information. 

Emma: Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing that. Well, we’ve heard a little bit about your natal work and your sex education work, I’m curious about your natal chart. So tell me your sun/moon and rising?

Alyssa: OK. So. If I tell everyone my sun, you guys have to promise not to think I’m the worst person ever. Because I am a Gemini. 

Emma: That’s alright- I’m a Gemini rising! It’s fine. 

Alyssa: You’re a Gemini rising? Okay.. Well, I am a Gemini. And everyone hates us. But I promise I’m not the worst. I am a Gemini sun, but my moon is Pisces, so I’m very emotional. I feel my feels. And my ascendent is a Capricorn, which I don’t really identify with particularly. That’s the one part of… My chart, every time I look at it, I’m like, “Yes. That’s it. That’s me.” But my ascendent? I just don’t relate with Capricorn vibes at all. 

Emma: Give it some time, we’ve had some lovely Capricorns, actually, that we’ve chatted with. Maybe you’ll get it through the queer realm.

Alyssa: I’ll be able to figure out the Capricorn vibe a little better. 

Emma: Note on Geminis though, I had a client once who was a Gemini, and was also a twin. And her baby was a Gemini also, due around that time. It was a single baby, but when the baby was born, her placenta had – it was two lobed, she had this beautiful, like the letter B or a heart, very much two placentas. She was like, “It’s my Gemini placenta.” and I was like, “You’re blowing my miiiiind.”

Alyssa: (laughs) The power of the Gemini, man. 

Emma: On all levels that day, for sure. 

Alyssa: I have a theory… people seem to think that Geminis are two faced, My theory is Geminis aren’t two-faced. Geminis are socially and emotionally intelligent, so they can adapt to different social situations. So that’s when people think, “Oh you’re one person with this person and you’re another person with this person.” No Karen, I’m just socially, emotionally, adept, alright??

Emma: I get it! You gotta read your audience, I gotta say.. Perfect. I love that. Thanks so much for going there with me. What is your favorite thing about being a queer support person and/or working with LGBTQ++ families? 

Alyssa: Maybe it’s because I am queer, and I just have this bias… Queer people.. They genuinely, just 100% full humans. They just embody what being a human is like, cause there’s so many varied…  people say, “the LGBTQ rainbow,” but I get why we call it a rainbow! When you look at the queer community, there are just so many beautiful colors. I think my favorite part about working with LGBTQ folks or queer communities is .. at the end of the day, while we all have wildly different stories and wildly different experiences, and we come from different places, there’s always… every time I have a conversation with a queer person, there’s always that one thing that we can connect on. Whether it’s that we talk about astrology, or we talk about Queer Eye, whatever it might be, there’s one thing that I can always find with people in my queer community to talk about. There’s a safety being in these communities, knowing we’ve all faced something. Trying to support other people through a collective trauma that queer people have experienced, there’s a bonding part there. I also really love working with queer youth, cause they’re so smart. They know so much more than I did when I was their age. They come up with all these new words and they’re always innovating things. I’m just like, “Y’all are cool. Y’all are really awesome.” I love working with queer youth, specifically. 

Emma: I love it. Thank you so much. Speaking of queer youth, maybe we can go there, I’m curious: If you could improve one thing about the conception, pregnancy, birthing, and postpartum process for queer and trans people, including maybe teens, what would it be? 

Alyssa: OK, one of my pet projects, like I said, is to one day live in a world where no one gets dead named on their chart. It’s something that’s pretty simple, I think. I think we can solve that issue. My pet project, my pet peeve in the world is like, I think we can live in a world where that doesn’t have to happen. We need to try. Something that’s really important to be is normalizing the process of getting pregnant. The different processes of getting pregnant. Often, people think there’s one way to create a family. I think it’s really important for us to change our mindset about how families are created and to normalize that maybe I adopt a child, maybe I do in vitro fertilization. Whatever it is, to normalize that and make it more accessible so that people know what their options are. Support those different outcomes and options. Something that’s important to me is giving .. part of education for young people, talking about how hormones, how top surgery, bottom surgery, whatever kind of medical transition you might be going through might affect your fertility in the future. Something that I’ve been trying to navigate while also towing the line is: when you’re a young person, you’re probably not thinking about if you want to get pregnant 20 years down the line. Unfortunately, for young trans people, it’s kind of something that you gotta keep in mind when you’re doing transition, right? First off, I think there should be sex education and health education that’s incluisve of trans young people, to begin with. In those rare educations that do exist, I think what’s really important is to talk about the different options that people might have growing up to create families. Tying that back in to being able to create a more open conversation about how families are made and created. 

Emma: Similar to what you were saying before about birth, like, you don’t SEE it happening. People aren’t involved – it’s not a community event. With these conception stories, they very much ARE for queer and trans people, involving many friend families and different care prodivers, and approval with therapists, and a whole community of people involved. There’s still that air of mystery about it, so, yeah.

Alyssa: I think that’s a super important thing to note on. The idea of making, creating communities again. I think, especially in these corona times, the emphasis on individuality in America has always been super up there. We could learn a lot from cultures and communities that really focus on supporting their communities. I think it would help a lot of the things happening in the world (laughs). 

Emma: I like your to do list, we’ll get on that this week. Get over our individualism. Love it. Well, for new or aspiring queer and trans sex educators, medical systems coordinators, birth doulas, do you have any advice? 

Alyssa: Well, as a newer doula, I would say, something I’ve always tried my best to do is not be afraid of “doing the wrong thing.” Because you’re going to do the wrong thing. So just knowing, it’s OK to mess up because that’s how we learn. It’s OK to take things slow. It’s OK to figure it out on your own time. The great thing about birth work and work around how our bodies work and how we operate in the world is that no one owns that information. No one is the one authority who can tell you, “This is how you do this.” or “This is how you do that.” Just trusting your intuition as a person in the world, knowing, “what’s right for me, what’s right for my clients, what’s right for my community?” How can we all be more comfortable with that. I think, my ultimate lesson takeaway would be to trust your own intuition because intuition is powerful. We often get these messages like, “Ah don’t listen to this voice in your head.” NO! Listen to the voice in your head. 

Emma: That’s awesome, thanks for that. I’d love to know something not necessarily sex or reproduction-related about you that you want to share. 

Alyssa: Let’s see. You probably can deduct this from my spazzy personality.. Up until very recently, like my entire life, I’ve done musical theatre. I loved doing musical theatre, I definitely will still continue to do musical theatre til I’m old. I wanna be that crotchety old woman who’s like in your community theatre, you know what I mean?

Emma: (laughs) I do know what you mean.

Alyssa: That’s like, my goal. But yeah, I did musical theatre my whole life and I’m very passionate about singin’ songs and dancin’ dances. I actually originally went to college to do musical theater and was like, I’m gonna be on broadway and all that jazz. Then life took a very different turn, and I was like, “Okay! We’re gonna do this instead.” Ope – skirt! The great thing about theatre is that you don’t have to be on broadway to do it. You can literally just be in your neighborhood Nativity scene, y’know?

Emma: Absolutely. I’m totally a theatre kid. I never took it past high school, but very much have a lot of very close, very favorite, queer friends from musical theatre summer camp. So shout out. (laughs)

Alyssa: That’s my favorite thing about looking back at my high school theatre department – we were all so queer. We were all so gay. You know what I mean, we just didn’t all know it at the time. 

Emma: Yeah, you knew it. Amazing. Well, awesome. Thanks so much for sharing all about you and your practice. If folks wanna follow you or learn more about you and your sex ed offerings and your doula offerings, where can they find you on the Internet? 

Alyssa: Yeah! So my Instagram is kind of where I post daily stuff, and updates about what I’m doing. That is @AlyssaTex and I also have my fancy website that I’m really proud that I made, cause I’m really bad with technology. www.alyssateixeira.com – my last name is kind of complicated Teixeira, it’s Portuguese. I’m sure you can just pop it into Google.

Emma: We’ll make sure people have a real link, too! Awesome, thank you so much Alyssa.

Alyssa: Yeah! Thank you!

Categories
interviews

Amber Matteson

Amber Matteson. She/her. Intimate Connections Doula Services.

Katie: Alright, well thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. Let’s just start by telling us a little bit about yourself, about your practice. Where are you, what do you do?

Amber: So, I completed my birth doula training just over two years ago. I did it with DONA, but I did not certify with them. So, right after my training I jumped in and started working with Birthing Gently Maternal Health Program, which is at MGH and Brigham. They’re a volunteer doula service that pretty much offers service for anyone asking for it that otherwise probably wouldn’t have access. Usually they’re linked up by their OB or through Brigham & Women’s childbirth education classes that they offer. That’s kind of how I got my first few births under my belt, which was really cool. It was a really incredible experience to get to serve people from marginalized communities and get to serve people who otherwise, I didn’t even realize needed a doula. I worked with a 16 year old client who didn’t have any support or any family and I was the only one there. It was an incredible experience, obviously, and I think that just drew me more into the work than I already was. I realized how much I really needed to do this. And then, about a year ago, I launched my own website and did my own thing, which was scary and I did it. My website is still not done, but it’s a work in progress. So I am now working on starting consulting for other birth workers who are just looking to be more inclusive, whether or not that’s through their marketing, their branding, or they just want help being more inclusive with the language terms on their website, or if they’re looking specifically to start marketing to the LGBTQ community – if they want help with it.

Katie: Awesome, and where in the world geographically are you, where do you serve? 

Amber: I am just south of Boston, so I serve pretty much the entire Boston area anywhere. I also frequent Women and Infants in Rhode Island cause it’s only like 45 minutes from me, so. But now I can’t go there, cause of covid…

Katie: Yeah!

Amber: Can’t cross state lines right now.. But normally, I would go there. 

Katie: What are you queering right now?

Amber: Oh god, I– everything??? Technically?? I’m feel like my existence is a bunch of queer. In all seriousness, to call out all of my labels – I am queer, I identify as fat, I identify as femme, I am polyamorous, I am kinky. Pretty much everything about me is pretty queer (laughs). It’s pretty different and so, I bring queer in my every day life. In terms of my birth work, the process is ever-evolving of queering my business. I think it’s so important to both market yourself to families who just want to be inclusive and want to work with somebody who is queer or to queer families, cause I want queer families to feel safe while they’re giving birth or in the birth process in any kind of way and to feel safe with me. 

Katie: Absolutely. And what inspired you to do the work that you do? What initially got you into birth work?

Amber: Man… so, the story goes: that I was a doula at nine years old. 

Katie: YESS.

Amber: I attended my brother’s birth, when he was born. Him and I have a nine year age gap and we’re the closest of close. But I attended my mom’s birth and it was beautiful, wonderful, and the nurses that day were just like – is she gonna be a nurse when she grows up, because has she ever done this before? I had my mom walking the halls and she had preeclampsia so she was pretty much bed bound when she was in active labor because she was so swollen and she had blew up like a balloon. I freaking love birth work and that’s kind of where it started, was when I was nine. I went to school and thought I wanted to be a teacher, and in my undergrad had finished school and then kind of floated around in the job world and my friend out of nowhere was like, “Oh yeah, I think I’m gonna become a doula!” and my friend started talking to me about it I was like, “This is really cool..” not four months later I was doing a training and starting my own business, cause I was like, “Oh, that makes a lot of sense. That’s probably where I should go and that’s how I ended up here.”

Katie: Incredible, incredible. I want more baby queer doula children running around. 

Amber: Right? 

Katie: Wowowow, the dream. I am changing everything that I could ever envision if I were to ever give birth, wow- amazing. 

Amber: Right? Just wanna give birth to so many little queerlings. Little queer doulas everywhere. 

Katie: Little queerlings around – ohhh!!

Amber: Yeah, so I was a nine year old little munchkin running around the hospital helping people. 

Katie: So good. And how would you describe your support philosophy? 

Amber: I think the baseline that all births, bodies and choices around birth are completely valid. That’s kind of the baseline – no matter how somebody chooses to identify, or identifies and chooses to give birth is completely valid and I’m there to support their choices. But… I use trauma-informed care in my support, my work is Health at Every Size centered. I’ve done a ton of work around HAES and kind of intuitive eating and those things and that’s so important to my work. As a queer fat femme, I want other fat femmes to feel good giving birth in their bodies and know that their bodies are not bad cause they’re big. So, that’s really important to me and obviously — not obvious, but I feel like it should be — that all of my care is evidence-based. It’s kind of cheesy but this is how I named my business, my business name is Intimate Connections Doula Services and I think that the connection between a doula and a birthing person is just so incredible and so so important and it’s important that we build off of those connections too. That’s kind of where I ended up naming my business, was around my own philosophy of that care and that level of connection that you have to have with the person that you’re working with. 

Katie: Absolutely. And, so… I asked you about your natal work, and so I also need to know about your natal chart. What’s your sun/moon/rising?

Amber: So, my sun is in Capricorn. My moon is Saggitarious and my rising is Scorpio. 

Katie: I’m also a Capricorn sun, so – always excited to find another one. 

Amber: More Capricorns. I’m an almost New Year’s Eve baby, December 30th. I’ve been told that my business self is the Capricorn cause I’m very type-a when I’m at work but everything else in my life is not so type-a. Like, my Sagittarius is all my feelings. My Scorpio is my mama bear side, cause I’m a fierce protector of my family. It’s funny, my friends all call me the mama bear and they’re not wrong. They’re really not. So that’s a little bit about me (laughs). They’re all very accurate, they all fit me very well. 

Katie: I also feel like so much of birth work sits in that intersection of like “spreadsheets and feelings.”

Amber: Spreadsheets and feelings. Like, how many feelings can I have about my spreadsheets?

Katie: Limit does not exist. 

Amber: Does not exist (laughs)

Katie: What would you say your favorite thing is about being a queer support person or working with LGBTQ+ families?

Amber: My heart. That’s my favorite thing. 

Katie: The feelings! Moreso than the spreadsheets..

Amber: Feelings is the big things. Working with queer famlies in particular just warms my heart to have my community feel supported and if someone’s coming to me and is birthing with me, as in: One, it’s such an honor to be there for those moments. And it creates this beautiful community. The more that we grow within our own queer community, it’s even more beautiful and if we’re having this tiny queerling baby: hey, welcome! Welcome to this big beautiful community that we created for you. I think that that’s.. The queer community for me is family. I don’t have kind of blood family, I guess. I have a lot of baggage with family, and that is my family. So for me, queer communtiy for me is that. It’s family. Watching your family literally grow is incredible. 

Katie: I’m just so into the idea of these little queerlings being born into this queer family and surround… ugh. Yes. 

Amber: Surrounded by good queer energy. It doesn’t get better!!

Katie: Doesn’t get better. And if you could improve one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth for queer and trans families, what would it be? 

Amber: I want to make it all better… but if it was one thing it would be for providers that they’re working for that are not educated or not trained that at the very least to treat the family with respect. I think it’s faded away in OB care and hospital care that there’s a person in front of you. Like, it’s not just a person in a room taking up a bed. It’s this person and this family and these people and they deserve to be respected and they deserve your respect at baseline. Even if you’re not trained, even if you’re not educated. You don’t understand, and if you don’t understand someone’s identity, at least respect. At least show up to have the conversation and be willing to be educated. Because, I think that would make a huge difference. That alone, just showing up to say “OK, I’ll listen” is enormous. I think that would make a huge shift and change within OB care. 

Katie: Yeah, for sure. There’s so much about the process of obstetric care that is so objectifying. 

Amber: Yeah! Absolutely. And I just feel like there’s so much that I would change but I feel like that one thing. If we could get every single provider who comes in contact with this family to just respect them. That would be enough – for a little while. 

Katie: Wouldn’t get you everything, but if you had to start. 

Amber: Right. If you had to start somewhere, with one thing, that’s what it would be. 

Katie: And what’s a piece of advice that you have for new or aspiring queer and trans birth workers?

Amber: One, trust yourself. Trust yourself getting into this work is important and good, and if you want to do this you should. Even if it feels like no one out in the universe is listening and you have like three followers on instagram – keep going. Keep going, cause you will find your community and you will find your birth partners. It doesn’t matter where you are. There’s gonna be another queer. There is, I promise you. Just keep looking, and I think that would be the thing. From trusting yourself to get into this work, and then find your community. And find your people. This work is super hard and can be really draining. It’s important to have people you can lean on who can really understand it. Unless you’re part of birth work, I don’t think you can fully “get it”… It’s funny, cause I have a friend of many, many years who is also a doula and sometimes we’ll just text each other randomly, out of the blue – we’re not friends that talk to very often. But like, we’ll text each other randomly, out of the blue to be like “I NEED to tell you about this THING. This birthy thing that no one else is gonna get cause it’s a random birthy thing.” So I think it’s just so important to have those connections with people that are gonna understand you, and are gonna understand the viewpoint that you’re coming at it from, too. 

Katie: There’s the friends you can text weird stuff to, and then there’s the friends you can text weird placenta stuff to. And those are somehow, different…

Amber: Those are somehow, selectively different. Like, you can tell me all about your beautiful birth experience, but who can you send a picture of the placenta to?

Katie: That’s the crew you need. 

Amber: Right! Thats… that’s the crew you need. I have to say sorry, my cat is screaming in the background. I think he saw a bird? I don’t know. I have four of them. 

Katie: What are their names?

Amber: So, we have Finn who is the oldest, who usually just goes by Mr. Man, because he is Sir Proper Paws of the house. He is also the oldest, the grumpiest and the most arthritic. (laughs) We have Griffin who’s next in line, who is just a fat orange couch potato. He is 25 pounds of fluff. Then we have Gizmo, who is my middle rescue, and he … we rescued him from the MSPCA and he loves to be outside on a leash, but he doesn’t like to go outside alone. And then we have our baby, who is three, and that is Mr. Noodle, who is .. his real name is Oscar, but we call him Mr. Noodle, because he walks around like a noodle. We think he had some sort of brain injury as a kitten, and he has a lazy eye and he is a little wonky. He gets the zoomies a lot. He is the sweetest thing. I think he’s about somewhere… So those are my four! 

Katie: Love it. So good. Are there other not-birth related things about you or your life that you want to share?

Amber: Sure, well, my first fun fact is always that I have four cats and that my house is a zoo. My partner and I each had two when we moved in together and that’s how we ended up with all four, cause of course no one was leaving our nest. 

Katie: Absolutely not, no.

Amber: But… other good fun facts about me. I love to dance. Pre-covid, you could find me pretty much every single Tuesday at Bella Luna – they used to have a two-step and line dancing night there in JP and that was my favorite thing on the planet. It was just like a whole bunch of queers dancing and it was beautiful. I’ve professionally danced pretty much all of my life up until recently, and now I’m just like… I should do this for fun! I think dance is like a huge thing. I am recently engaged.

Katie: Oooh! Congratulations! 

Amber: Thank you. Very excited! We were going to get married, but then covid happened, and so we might have a backyard wedding someday. (laughs)

Katie: Queering the backyard wedding, another thing to add to your list. 

Amber: Queering the backyard wedding. And turning it into a covid-safe celebration (laughs). I guess!

Katie: And finally, where can people find you in internet land?

Amber: Yeah! I am on Facebook, Instagram or my own website and you can find me under Intimate Connections Doula Services on all of those! 

Katie: Awesome. Thank you so much – it was so lovely chatting with you.

Amber: Thank you so much! 

Categories
interviews

Lucia the Doula (& Future Midwife!)

Lucia the Doula. they/she, @LuciaTheDoula, Not All Pregnant People Are Women.

Katie: Alright, well thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. Just to dive right in, can you tell us a little bit about you and your practice?

Lucia: Yeah, my name is Lucia. My pronouns right now, I just use my name, Lucia and Lucia’s. I am currently in nurse midwifery school but I come to the work through the lens of a doula. So, I’ve been a full-spectrum doula for three years this month, actually. Full-spectrum: I support people through abortion, loss, pregnancy and postpartum. I did a lot of work, mostly in New York and the New York-metro area. Supporting people in their homes, inside the medicalized industrial complex and birthing centers, in Planned Parenthoods, all over the place. I center, in my life, and in my practice, queer people, queer liberation, Black queer folks. I think that we are not an extracurricular, that inclusivity should just be the baseline, that it’s not hard to figure out pronouns. That it’s not weird to be like, “Ugh, I forget, I should just say ‘pregnant people’” – it’s just like no, just say it. So we can just all come to the table and we can all be included and all have resources. And I hope to imbue my future midwifery practices with that as well. My dream is to live in a town where everyone’s like, all the queers go to her. So everyone just comes to my big gay birthing center, and I give help to everyone who has internal genetalia, and that’s my dream. 

Katie: I want your big gay birthing center! 

Lucia: Just flags everywhere. All the flags. Every one of the flags, just waving in the wind (laughs).

Katie: So beautiful. And that might be the answer to this question but maybe you have another answer to: What are you queering right now?

Lucia: Right now, in this moment, it feels like I’m queering a very straight educational experience. I am blowing people’s minds with inclusive language – people are like, “whatttt?? Not everyone’s a woman that gives birth?” It’s not something people can wrap their heads around. So right now, it feels like I’m back to step one of basic queering language in and around reproductive health. I don’t think the major women’s health nurse practitioner should exist. I think it should be called something else, but that’s not my major so that’s someone else’s battle. Especially in nursing and just talking about… there’s a lot of things that we learn that are like, “Oh, well, in men it’s thi number, and in women it’s this number.” and I’m always like, “Srrrrkk. Hi, hello. What does that mean? Are we talking about testosterone or are we talking about body fat percentage to muscle….?” Cause we just can’t say that anymore. We gotta dig deeper, we can’t just be lazy and we have to be expansive. So right now, I feel like I’m queering my school. In the south. 

Katie: Necessary! And really hard work. Your line of “we are not extracurriculars” feels so central and is both about the structure of a curriculum and also the way knowledge is passed down in ways that are both perpetuating these power systems and are just not fully accurate. 

Lucia: Also that! It’s just not correct. I can call five people as, y’know, “people in a study that we could do.” I have examples – it’s not that hard. Y’know? It’s a lot easier than some folks think it is to just be kind and inclusive and expansive than what you were taught. Just this idea that what you learned 20 years ago might have evolved to present day really blows peoples’ minds as well. 

Katie: Yeah. And what inspired you to get into this work?

Lucia: Well birth, I moved to Brooklyn – well, to New York, with a musical theatre degree, with a BFA. So I was doing the grind, I was doing shows all over New York, I moved to Paris and all over the country. So my day job was babysitting, and I started really enjoying doing infants and newborns. I had a part-time job as a babysitter for a 1.5 year old, but his mom was about to have a baby, so she was like, “I just need an extra set of hands in this transition.” We basically had a month, the three of us together – I guess the four of us, cause the little babe was inside. Just getting to know the house, getting to know the flow of things. Then she went to her scheduled cesarean, three days later she came home, I was there, her husband like dropped the bag at the doors and was like, “Alright babe, I’m going back to work” left, and she just sort of just held herself and wobbled back to her bedroom with this baby and just sat there and stared at the wall. Her 2 year old was like, “Mommy, mommy, up up, can you pick me up?” I was like 24 or something, and was just like, “Something’s afoot. Something’s off. Why is she so sad?” We’re told that you have a baby and everything’s great and it’s not that hard and you just breastfeed and chestfeed and it’s easy! And everything happens! I just got a very real look into how unhealthy the lack of support around reproductive health is. That was the first nudge and then I met a doula and the chips sort of stumbled from there. I started to get into the work more full-time and it has taken over my life. 

Katie: What brought you to this shift from doula work to midwifery?

Lucia: I enjoy the time and the emotional connection of doula work. I think.. we’ll get into this later, but I’m a Pisces sun, so it’s very, y’know feelings. Walking into a room and being like, “Oh god, what happened?” before anyone even says anything. That serves me well in the doula space, but I wanted more of a hands-on interaction and also approach to truly having an impact on people’s healthcare. As a doula, there’s only so much I can do, so much I can control, so much I can shield people from – say, the hospital system, if that’s where they choose to give birth. Or if that’s where they choose to miscarry, or to abort. There’s only so much I could do as a doula. So much, legally, I was allowed to do. It just feels like I’ll have more of a positive impact on people’s full health. Not just talking about people getting pregnant and giving birth, but the full health of the whole family – well, not the whole family, some of the people in the family. But really being more of a holistic provider and having that power in the room to change birthing outcomes and health outcomes. 

Katie: Absolutely, and I think that answers a lot of the next question, but just to give you a chance to say it specifically – how do you describe your support philosophy? Your approach to the work that you’re doing in all of these roles?

Lucia: I think, in general, my support philosophy is that if you have to interact with the medical system in any way, you need a doula in the room. I don’t care if that’s for you to have your blood drawn or you’re just going for your routine checkup or if you just need to go get antibiotics for strep throat. You need someone in the room whose job it is to look after your emotional health and to check in with you and to just take a second – and the doula can be like Are you ok? Did you understand everything that was just said?” Because providers are given ten minutes, and that’s because of insurance companies, whoever they work for, blah di blah. My support philosophy is deep, emotionally connected support. Support in many ways – support in whatever people want for their bodies and what they want for their lives. Non-judgmental support is something that is a foundation of doula work or what I think all doula work should be, is some of the stuff that I’m gonna be bringing into my practice. If you choose to do this with your birth – that’s your choice, that has nothing to do with me, I will keep you safe and make sure you know all of the options around that choice and then I’m gonna honor you as you make that choice for your body and your family. I think that’s what comes to mind is deep support, I’m seeing this image of just roots growing. Just bring in the plants! 

Katie: We’re all about bringing the plants!

Lucia: Exactly, it’s just like deep roots that wrap around each other in some ways and just branch off from each other in other ways that like, I know and even just as a doula, I’m a part of many peoples’ lives for like the rest of their life. And then as a midwife, I hope to be the same way, just have some more branches and roots interacting. And feeding off of each other, taking care of each other. 

Katie: Some of those things where, there is the sense that even if …. I think we think of relationships in terms of how long they are, and we put the value of relationships in like, “Oh, you’ve been in a relationship with this person for so many years, and therefore it is a good strong relationship” But I know I’ve had experiences with doula clients for example where like, I support them through a pregnancy, a birth, y’know, maybe a few months postpartum. Maybe we don’t really stay in relationship and yet there is this sense of – I know I carry pieces of that relationship with me. I trust that they do, too – sometimes we run into each other at the farmers market like way down the line and it’s like, “Oh my gosh, hiiii.” There’s a sense, the depth of relationship is so meaningful and I think particularly in some of these heightened moments of a pregnancy or some of these big transitional times, those relationships can grow really deep really quickly. 

Lucia: I still have people that like, I spent 5 minutes inside of an exam room at Planned Parenthood, that I’m like, I don’t want to be creepy, but I’d really love to have their number just to check in on them! Just like, are you okay?

Katie: I think particularly in abortion work that deep immediate relationship building is really such a superpower. I think about in social work school, they gave us all these lectures about “how to build rapport with people” and “how to introduce yourself” and operationalized this way of being. And I’m like, “Oh… I’ve done shifts in abortion clinics…. We don’t need this.”

Lucia: Totally. Especially now, in the time of Covid, how, after meeting someone for a minute, I am like – holding their face, holding their hand, wiping away tears, and then they just get in an uber and I never see them again. But I do that like, ten times in a day. It’s just… that, for me, as a Pisces, that’s really where I thrived. Yeah, I haven’t thought of that in a while, cause they kicked doulas out of the clinics in New York because of Covid. Like, hard, fast, deep connections and support. Truly being like, “Hey, I’ve got your back. If you want me to stop the procedure.” Just really being empowered and “allowed” to just be support. No other tasks. Just make sure they’re okay. Make sure they get home okay. Just so quick, and so tender, necessary. 

Katie: So you previewed it for us a little bit.. I’ve asked you about your natal work, and now I want to know about more of your natal chart? So you’re a Pisces sun, what’s your moon and your rising?

Lucia: So I have a Leo moon, which is like my biggest shame and my rising is Taurus. So, just like, at home – feeling my feelings, but then every now and then I need to be the center of attention and go out, but then I need to come home…. (laughs)

Katie: Go out, do the thing, but like make sure there’s a bubble bath after. 

Lucia: Yeah. Absolutely!! Or like, making food before I go out – that was definitely my vibe back when going out was a thing. 

Katie: And what’s your favorite thing about being a queer person and becoming a queer provider or about working with queer and trans families? 

Lucia: I love being in a room with people, and supporting people where we can both relax. We can just be like, no one’s gonna say anything shady. No one’s gonna trip up. No one’s gonna be muscling their way through being inclusive or being expansive. It’s also, as someone who wants to have children eventually, it’s also like seeing the potential of what community and what having a family can look like. It’s also (and I hate this word) but I do love the resilience of people choosing and fighting for the life that sometimes, people as a child, never dream they could have. I love being able to support that and especially as a doula going to hospitals, being like, “I’m stopping everyone before they come in the door. We are going through pronouns. We are going through expansive language.” I enjoy being the padding around queer families and I am honored to do that. I really look forward to providing care that is welcoming for everyone and at a place where they can just come sit in the waiting room and look up and see pictures of pregnant people that look like them or look like their partner, or look like their sibling. That really excites me, to sort of build the community gathering place for folks who are like us. 

Katie: Ughh, the big gay birth center slash community gathering space!!!

Lucia: (laughs) This keeps getting bigger… Soon there’s gonna be some kind of like, sport gym, maybe some..

Katie: Like a good dance hall slash food bank probably (laughs)

Lucia: Yes, and!!

Katie: All of it. All of it. And if you could improve something about the experience of pregnancy and birth for queer and trans familiies what would it be? Or I guess another way of asking this question is, what is something that’s different in the future for queer and trans folks around pregnancy and birth? Aside from the big gay birth center / community event space / whatever / soccer field. 

Lucia: Yes, someone else will have to take care of the sports – that’s not my industry. What’s gonna be different in the future for queer folks and trans folks is… that care will not be so difficult to get. Good healthcare that isn’t “tolerant” but is deeply invested in who we are. Not in spite of, but celebrating IN. That the textbooks, the resources, the websites aren’t all like, “Momma, women” and like, “yoni” – we can all come to the table, we can all have this bounty and we can all be supported. I mean, that’s the future. It’s like, I want to get tattooed on my forehead, “Not all pregnant people are women” and just hopefully, slowly spread this gay agenda everywhere. I just hope that has more ease for people. Especially with some of the laws that have been passed – we can be refused care, just because of who we are now. In the future, that doesn’t exist. That wouldn’t even be a thought that people have. 

Katie: And what’s a piece of advice that you have for new and aspiring queer and trans birth workers?

Lucia: I would say, to protect the most tender parts of yourself. Not syphon them off, don’t put them behind like a metal door, but maybe… someone told me this at the Decolonizing Birth Conference last year: Put a screen over your heart, so that it can filter the good stuff and then everything else that you don’t need doesn’t come in. Because you’re going to bump into people who think that being inclusive is erasing their womanhood, or erasing this stronghold of “birth is for women and that’s it and that’s all.. This is our ONE thing that we have, please don’t’ take it away from me.” You’re gonna run into that. You’re gonna run into that, and there are gonna be incredible providers that you thought were really cool and then they’ll like, hit you with some sort of really homophobic transphobic jargon and it’ll hit you like a ton of bricks. But I’m hoping if you have this little screen around your tender parts that it won’t devastate you as much. Also, if you want to go into the educational industrialized complex, not everyone is a QTBIPOC person. Barely anyone is. So it’s tough to go to class and to not have your experience reflected back to you, especially because, as queer people, we create our environment so meticulously and with such care and with such intention that to then have to go to a school, like, I went to school when I was 30, so I had spent all these years creating my queer little bubble in Brooklyn and then I went to the South and I went to higher education. So just knowing that your experience won’t be reflected back to you, but you matter, you are valid, and once you get those really expensive pieces of paper that says you can do the thing that you want to do, you can then get back to what we do best, which is creating family and community where we are and finding each other and deeply supporting each other. And then, once you do graduate, that you have to do that for younger people. You have to look back and put your hand out and bring people with you.

Katie: So beautiful! The idea of one of the things that queer folks do best and all the time and have really honed it as a survival strategy is to so meticulously and intentionally create space and community. I just really resonate with the heartbreak of going into systems that don’t give a shit. 

Lucia: Yeah, like all we do is talk about our feelings at bars and then you have to go to this school and no one cares what you’re feeling! It’s hard! (laughs)

Katie: Yeah! And that there are people who have their hands out, waiting to help pull folks along and I think that that’s such a beautiful … what a beautiful gift that queer community has to offer – those holdfasts in the swirl of institutional bullshit. I could listen to you talk about all of your reproductive work all day forever, but what’s something not natal about you and your life that you want to share?

Lucia: This question is hard. There are two things that stand out, I’m gonna embarrass myself. I really love K-pop. Because of the way that gender is verrrry ..non-existent in this weird way. And I also really love graveyards. Greenwood cemetery up in Brooklyn: would highly recommend 10/10. We’ve got some cool decatur cemeteries down here, so I like to spend my time around dead folks.. listening to K-pop. 

Katie: As a fellow cemetery-wanderer, I really support that so hard! And, finally, if people aren’t gonna wander around cemeteries with you, where can they find you on the internet?

Lucia: The Instagram! I am LuciaTheDoula on Instagram. Usually calling out TERFS and SWERFS, y’know, really all about bumping up Black queer folks and yeah, just the usual shenanegans on there. You can connect with me via that, and we can sort of bump over to email or text or something like that. I provide sliding-scale services for queer and Black folks and right now, as a student, I’m really just happy to support people in any way that I can. So, if money’s an issue, shoot me a message. 


Katie: Amazing. Thank you so much, it was such a gift getting to talk with you!

Lucia: Thank you – this is such a lovely way to spend a weekday rather than on a Zoom class about something random (laughs). 

Categories
interviews

Emma O’Brien

Emma O’Brien, she/her, Birthkeeper Herbalism and Lavandoula

Katie: Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and a little bit about your practice?

Emma: Sure Katie thanks, my name’s Emma, I use she/her pronouns and I am a professional birth attendant. Snd I do full-spectrum work, so I attend abortions, miscarriage, stillbirth, birth postpartum, lots of stuff. And I’m also a clinical herbalist, so I help people with plants.

Katie: And what are you queering right now?

Emma: Love it. I am queering herbal natal education. So, I have a project right now called Birthkeeper Herbalism that I am putting together sort of class topics on different fertility situations from conceiving to postpartum and doing it in such a way that doesn’t gender plants and people! Which is hard to find in herbal education. There’s a lot of amazing queer herbalists doing work and a lot of amazing queer herbalists doing work, but in our area, there’s not a lot of overlap. Yeah, so, that’s what I’m queering right now.

Katie: Yeah! And what inspired you to do the work that you’re doing right now?

Emma: It’s a good question, I feel like I was always kinda drawn to support work in one way or another. When I was even in high school, I worked at an organization that did domestic violence advocacy and would sometimes do on call hospital advocacy shifts if folks went to the emergency room after an assault, so that is extremely similar to a birth doula role or an abortion support person. You know, you meet someone in this medical setting that can potentially be uncomfortable or traumatic in this very specific day of their life. So, that was sort of the beginning of the path. And when I met someone who worked as a birth doula, I was like, “that makes sense! I’m gonna look into that.”

Katie: Yeah, and what’s your support philosophy?

Emma: Usually I tell people that their philosophy becomes by philosophy. I really like to support people in their decision making processes. I’m a big information sharer. So when, I mean really like the informed part of informed consent. I really like to nonjudgmentally support whatever your decisions are as long as individuals feel like they have what they need to make that decisions. Whether its an emotional decision or a really fact based research decision. I’m there for it all.

Katie: So I’ve asked you about your natal work, but I’m also curious about your natal chart? Whats your sun moon rising?

Emma: I’m a libra, libra sun, October 4, and a saggitarius moon and gemini rising

Katie: Alright alright I’m a libra rising so I feel like that’s why we’re friends. What’s your favorite thing about being a wueer support person or about working with lgbtq+ families?

Emma: Yes. Just the layer of honesty, I feel like, that’s baseline there, y’know, just the comfortability you have talking to other queer people about these things. So you can say something and not be worried that you’re not gonna be received well. And for many folks, at least in our area, there’s not a ton of queer childbirth prep options or parent groups that are specifically queer and all that. So sometimes being that one queer person touchpoint in someone’s fertility, pregnancy and postpartum is yknow, really meaningful! There are a lot of parents desperate for that, so.

Katie: Especially I think going into some of these very medicalized settings where there’s like so much expectation of what your family looks like or how you talk about yourself to have somebody who you at least know is – who you know at least SEES you in that way can be so valuable to families.

Emma: Totally, I love it.

Katie: Yeah. If you could improve one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth for queer and trans families, what would it be?

Emma: Ideally, my dream is to connect more queer families with queer and trans birth workers of all types. So, there’s folks who support people through their fertility process, there’s people who are antenatal birth workers who can help you at home if you’re high risk pregnant, y’know, postpartum support. All of that. I just think there are lots of queer people doing all this work out there and I don’t think parents always know where to find them. So, yeah, that’s it!

Katie: What’s one piece of advice you have for new and aspiring queer and trans birth workers?

Emma: Well, first of all, thank you, you’re amazing, you’re needed, please stick around, and also don’t go it alone. Yknow, when I first trained as a birth doula in 2010 I was definitely the only queer person at that training. And I wasn’t really sure if I could hang with the whole birth scene in general, so having y’know located a couple other queer or “pro choice” birth workers in the early days would have been really amazing. Took a little while to build that community, so yeah, just don’t go it alone.

Katie: I can certainly attest to what It meant for me as an aspiring birth worker to be able to have you in my community and to have somebody I knew who was really willing to share information and support

Emma: Yeah, no gatekeeping!! Birth is for everybody

Katie: Yes, and finally, what’s something that’s not natal or pregnancy/birth related about you and your life that you wanna share with folks?

Emma: I’ve been thinking about this a lot, cause obviously it’s 2020 and we’re home, but my partner and I are pretty big like urban homesteader type people. So, we literally in the quarantine have tanned leather and canned pickles and I make medicine – obviously as an herbalist, getting a lot of plants and mushrooms from the world and making medicines for people. Um, what else – trying to think. It’s so funny, like, “get yourself a lesbian for the quarantine” or whatever – I’m like, yeah, my partner’s sharpening knives on rocks and it’s very practical. So, yeah!

Katie: Awesome, is there anything else about you or your work that you want to share?

Emma: People can find more about us at lgbtqbirth.com, my project with herbalism and natal topics is birthkeeper-herbalism.com and my actual birth support practice website is lavandoula.com 

Katie: Alright, thank you so much!

Katie interviews emma

Katie: Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and a little bit about your practice?

Emma: Sure Katie thanks, my name’s Emma, I use she/her pronouns and I am a professional birth attendant. Snd I do full-spectrum work, so I attend abortions, miscarriage, stillbirth, birth postpartum, lots of stuff. And I’m also a clinical herbalist, so I help people with plants.

Katie: And what are you queering right now?

Emma: Love it. I am queering herbal natal education. So, I have a project right now called Birthkeeper Herbalism that I am putting together sort of class topics on different fertility situations from conceiving to postpartum and doing it in such a way that doesn’t gender plants and people! Which is hard to find in herbal education. There’s a lot of amazing queer herbalists doing work and a lot of amazing queer herbalists doing work, but in our area, there’s not a lot of overlap. Yeah, so, that’s what I’m queering right now.

Katie: Yeah! And what inspired you to do the work that you’re doing right now?

Emma: It’s a good question, I feel like I was always kinda drawn to support work in one way or another. When I was even in high school, I worked at an organization that did domestic violence advocacy and would sometimes do on call hospital advocacy shifts if folks went to the emergency room after an assault, so that is extremely similar to a birth doula role or an abortion support person. You know, you meet someone in this medical setting that can potentially be uncomfortable or traumatic in this very specific day of their life. So, that was sort of the beginning of the path. And when I met someone who worked as a birth doula, I was like, “that makes sense! I’m gonna look into that.”

Katie: Yeah, and what’s your support philosophy?

Emma: Usually I tell people that their philosophy becomes by philosophy. I really like to support people in their decision making processes. I’m a big information sharer. So when, I mean really like the informed part of informed consent. I really like to nonjudgmentally support whatever your decisions are as long as individuals feel like they have what they need to make that decisions. Whether its an emotional decision or a really fact based research decision. I’m there for it all.

Katie: So I’ve asked you about your natal work, but I’m also curious about your natal chart? Whats your sun moon rising?

Emma: I’m a libra, libra sun, October 4, and a saggitarius moon and gemini rising

Katie: Alright alright I’m a libra rising so I feel like that’s why we’re friends. What’s your favorite thing about being a wueer support person or about working with lgbtq+ families?

Emma: Yes. Just the layer of honesty, I feel like, that’s baseline there, y’know, just the comfortability you have talking to other queer people about these things. So you can say something and not be worried that you’re not gonna be received well. And for many folks, at least in our area, there’s not a ton of queer childbirth prep options or parent groups that are specifically queer and all that. So sometimes being that one queer person touchpoint in someone’s fertility, pregnancy and postpartum is yknow, really meaningful! There are a lot of parents desperate for that, so.

Katie: Especially I think going into some of these very medicalized settings where there’s like so much expectation of what your family looks like or how you talk about yourself to have somebody who you at least know is – who you know at least SEES you in that way can be so valuable to families.

Emma: Totally, I love it.

Katie: Yeah. If you could improve one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth for queer and trans families, what would it be?

Emma: Ideally, my dream is to connect more queer families with queer and trans birth workers of all types. So, there’s folks who support people through their fertility process, there’s people who are antenatal birth workers who can help you at home if you’re high risk pregnant, y’know, postpartum support. All of that. I just think there are lots of queer people doing all this work out there and I don’t think parents always know where to find them. So, yeah, that’s it!

Katie: What’s one piece of advice you have for new and aspiring queer and trans birth workers?

Emma: Well, first of all, thank you, you’re amazing, you’re needed, please stick around, and also don’t go it alone. Yknow, when I first trained as a birth doula in 2010 I was definitely the only queer person at that training. And I wasn’t really sure if I could hang with the whole birth scene in general, so having y’know located a couple other queer or “pro choice” birth workers in the early days would have been really amazing. Took a little while to build that community, so yeah, just don’t go it alone.

Katie: I can certainly attest to what It meant for me as an aspiring birth worker to be able to have you in my community and to have somebody I knew who was really willing to share information and support

Emma: Yeah, no gatekeeping!! Birth is for everybody

Katie: Yes, and finally, what’s something that’s not natal or pregnancy/birth related about you and your life that you wanna share with folks?

Emma: I’ve been thinking about this a lot, cause obviously it’s 2020 and we’re home, but my partner and I are pretty big like urban homesteader type people. So, we literally in the quarantine have tanned leather and canned pickles and I make medicine – obviously as an herbalist, getting a lot of plants and mushrooms from the world and making medicines for people. Um, what else – trying to think. It’s so funny, like, “get yourself a lesbian for the quarantine” or whatever – I’m like, yeah, my partner’s sharpening knives on rocks and it’s very practical. So, yeah!

Katie: Awesome, is there anything else about you or your work that you want to share?

Emma: People can find more about us at lgbtqbirth.com, my project with herbalism and natal topics is birthkeeper-herbalism.com and my actual birth support practice website is lavandoula.com 

Katie: Alright, thank you so much!

Emma: Thanks Katie!

Categories
interviews

Sierra Holland

Sierra Holland, she/her, All Bodies Birth

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.

Katie: STOP!

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.

Katie: Alright, thank you so much Sierra!

Categories
interviews

Ashley Haden-Peaches

Ashley Haden-Peaches, she/her, Peachy Births Doula and Lactation Services and her Facebook.

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.

Categories
interviews

Katie Byron

Katie Byron, they/them, https://www.birthwithkatie.com Katie’s Instagram

Emma: Hey Katie

Katie: Hi

Emma: How are you today? Nice to see you.

Katie: Nice to see you too, doing well!

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.

Emma: Yes!


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: Amazing, thank you!

Categories
interviews

Mystique Hargrove

Mystique Hargrove, she/they, Website and Instagram and Facebook

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.

Mystique: Yes!

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. 

Mystique: Right.  

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!!”


Mystique: Yes!

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”!

Mystique: Exactly. 

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.

Mystique: Right!

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.