Julianna Allen, she/her, www.embraceptwellness.com, @embracepelvicPT
Katie: Hi, welcome!
Julianna: Thank you so much.
Katie: Just to jump into it, could you tell me a little bit about you, who you are and your practice?
Julianna: Absolutely, so my name is Dr. Julianna Allen, I am a pelvic health physical therapist. I own Embrace Physical Therapy and Wellness, which is an inclusive pelvic health practice aimed at really people of all genders, and while I work a lot in the pregnancy and postpartum space, I also treat people through a vast variety of different pelvic health conditions. Including going through gender-affirming surgery, using dilators and binding safety. Of course, also all of the pelvic floor and physical things people go through – through and after gestation?
Katie: Awesome, and what are you queering right now?
Julianna: What am I queering… well, I try to queer a lot of things. I really am celebrating learning more and taking more courses in trans health specifically. Because, I really love helping people through that process and so, that would be kind of my biggest connection to queering things right now.
Katie: That’s awesome, it’s so important. What inspired you to do the work that you do?
Julianna: I love this question, because I’m not a “traditional”… traditionally, maybe you go get a bachelors’ degree and you go straight to graduate school. I took some time off – I got my bachelors degree, and took some time off. Actually worked in mental health and in an eating disorder facility for a while.. Going back to when I was getting my bachelors degree, I took some, y’know, at that point they were called “women’s studies” classes, and I just was so overcome with the inequities in healthcare, and the inequity of everything around, especially at that point – people who were women. I thought, y’know what? I want to do something with my life that really helps with that and that the time I was exploring my queer identity. But at that point, I didn’t know what I was going to do – so fast forward, working in a facility for people with eating disorders and I really loved it when we did treatments that we were exposing people and their bodies to different sensations. I realized, I’ve always loved physical things. I’ve always loved looking at movement patterns and everything like that. So, I thought, I’ll go to physical therapy school. In order to go to physical therapy school, I worked in an office, a physical therapy office. I actually found out, unlike many people who go to PT school, I found out about pelvic health and I thought y’know what? That sounds really cool and interesting. I’ve always thought it’s fun to learn about and talk about intimacy and sex. So why not try that? I went to PT school and I was super, super lucky in that I got to work in pelvic health during my graduate degree – while I was getting my doctorate. It was mind blowing how many specific things birthing people’s bodies that go through that aren’t then addressed. That people just accept as parts of being a birthing person, being a mom, being a parent. Just astounding – all of the pain, pain with feeding, pain with intercourse afterward, and I just was.. My mind was blown, and I was like, it’s crazy cause it’s a whole different thing. We can actually help a lot of these things, cause there’s physical therapy FOR the pelvic floor, and for the hips and back. I was immediately struck by how cool it was to learn how to work with someone’s body like that.
Katie: How would you describe your support philosophy or your philosophy toward pelvic health physical therapy?
Julianna: I love the idea of being a guide. There is so much unknown about the pelvis, about the pelvic floor, about how bodies change during gestation and what is necessary and what is common but not normal. So, I love guiding people through what.. How their body’s going to change, and what might be something that is expected (but maybe isn’t the most desirable thing) and then teaching them how we can actually both accept what has to change, but also really provide preparation and healing afterward. I would say, I’m a big fan of teaching and guiding because I teach a lot about the body and places that we just don’t know how our bladders function, how our abdominal wall is affected by gestation, how our pelvic floor is affected. And really, how we can prevent a lot of that and heal it afterward. I’m a big fan of guiding people through that experience.
Katie: That’s such important knowledge, right? Those are all parts of our bodies that we don’t get a lot of information about at any point in our lives except for, perhaps if you find yourself seeking physical therapy around the experience of pregnancy.
Julianna: I think it’s quite sad in some ways, because in some countries, like in France, every birthing person gets sent to pelvic floor physical therapy – no questions asked, right afterward. Actually, the United Kingdom has just adopted that and is putting that into practice as well. I think it’s fantastic that pelvic floor therapy is becoming more and more known here, but it’s really interesting that you say that around going to physical therapy, going around gestation… because there are so many times that I see people who are not just around that period, too, and I have so many people as questions about – “oh, isn’t that just for people who are going through pregnancy?” And really that’s not true. I see people for pelvic floor issues around lots of different things – just people who’ve never had children often have urinary urgency or have issues with overactive or tight muscles and it’s often something that’s worth thinking about even before pregnancy, but of course, also, during and after. I just love that you brought that up because everyone has a pelvic floor, and while not everybody needs therapy for their pelvic floor, it’s something to know that it’s always there.
Katie: Yeah, absolutely, I think that’s such an important point. So often we think that this is just … if people think about it at all, it is just around these times of a very dramatic transition, but that’s just not true.
Julianna: Absolutely, and I mean, y’know what? You always have your pelvic floor, and your pelvic floor is going through this dramatic transition and going through covid times and going through everything. Our bodies, y’know, a lot of people get stress in certain areas of their bodies with all of the stress of this situation, and the pelvic floor can show that as well. It’s worth knowing that it’s not just a forgotten part of your body, even if we don’t think about it every day.
Katie: Absolutely, so I’ve asked you about your natal work, now I wanna know about your natal chart. What’s your sun, moon, rising?
Julianna: So, I am a libra, proud libra, love that balance or at least that I like to say that I like thinking about it, cause sometimes I feel like I’m not always the most calm, fair, balanced person. I love thinking, “Nope, I’m a libra, I’m gonna bring some of that in.” My moon is a Capricorn, and rising is Virgo.
Katie: Awesome! And what’s your favorite thing about being a queer support person, or working with queer and trans folks?
Julianna: I love talking about, specifically, I love talking about how queer people interact with one another, even when I’m with, for instance, people who are not part of the queer community. One of the big things I address is intercourse and intimacy after a birth, postpartum, and that can be a really different experience for various – both biological and emotional things, reasons. One of the big things I say to people is “queer up your sex life” if they haven’t heard that before, because, a lot of people, for a lot of people not in the queer community, it’s all about PIV penetration, and that’s the pinnacle, and I really think that, in the queer community, we just have a head start on that. I love bringing my queer knowledge into –OK, well, maybe you’re not ready to have intercourse, even if you’ve hit your 6-week check up and everything’s ok. That doesn’t mean that you’re ready. That means that your body is healing, but you’re not ready, so I often am talking through intimacy in different ways to approach that. Very much come from a lot of research that I’ve read and courses I’ve taken but also just my experience in the queer community and knowing what we’re like. I just love supporting queer and trans families, because y’know, it’s such a special thing coming to creating a family when we’ve had the opportunity, in many cases, to create our own chosen families, but to also have the opportunity to bring a biological child into such a warm and wonderful community. It’s just so happy for me because I find that there’s so much support, often when I am not in the queer community, working with birth, it’s sometimes just the wife coming to me, just the birthing person coming to me, and I love how when I work in the queer community it’s like – OK, let’s talk about your pelvic floor, but with everybody else, and everyone else is gonna be involved in your rehab and that’s just so built in and I love that.
Katie: I really love the idea that people are coming to see you and the advice that they’re getting is to queer up their sex lives, what a dream.
Julianna: Yup. I would say I use those words a fair amount, sometimes I don’t depending on, y’know, you have to read the person you’re talking to. It’s just so true, there’s just a built in… y’know, the walls of building queer relationships and queer family are so different than the hetereonormative standards, so just brining a little bit of that in, that innovation and lack of expectation is such an important thing.
Katie: And if you could improve one thing about the experience of pregnancy, birth, postpartum recovery for queer and trans families, what would it be?
Julianna: Is it a cheat to say, “See a pelvic therapist?”
Katie: No, it is not!
Julianna: I think it’s such an overlooked thing, and I think it’s hard because there aren’t that many of us but just having been in this profession, there are just exponentially more and more and people like me who are focusing on certain communities and who are able to provide you with care that’s going to really resonate with you. I think it’s so important. I like to say, and many people say, prevention – seeing someone during their gestation is really helpful, and that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong if you don’t, but I love the idea of preparing. The way I teach, say, learning how to open your pelvic floor muscles for birth is going to be different from someone else. I can actually feel, a pelvic therapist can feel those muscles opening and that’s such a magical thing about preparing yourself for birth. Of course, seeing a pelvic health therapist afterward can be really helpful in terms of getting your abdominals and your pelvic floor starting to work again. They’ve been so distended, which is a beautiful part of pregnancy, but they’ve been so distended, they may have been pushed wide open with delivery and having those muscles that are such a critical part of your core, getting them back online is really helpful, so I would say a) see a pelvic floor therapist, or b) give yourself the grace and time, but also the attention to your body, especially in those parts that were very drastically changed for a very short period of time.
Katie: What piece of advice do you have for new or aspiring queer / trans pelvic health physical therapist, birth workers in general?
Julianna: Sighs. I mean, I think it’s so fantastic that you might be considering this field, I think it’s so needed and so rewarding. My advice is, push through your insecurities. Speaking from my own personal experience about coming into my own as a doctor of physical therapy but also how much do I promote or am out about my queerness in the space of pelvic health, because, y’know, who knows how people will take that? Just be brave, but let yourself be yourself in these situations because I think your clients will get so much more out of it and you will get so much more out of it if you’re able to take that step and be there to help families in the way that you individually can.
Katie: That’s so important, those reminders I think are so helpful in these fields that so frequently are .. and fields where there’s so much emphasis on having your own practice and your own business and marketing yourselves in ways that are like, where you’re selling yourself to some abstract general pregnant person. That reminder about authenticity is always so necessary. Are there any projects that you have going on that you want help cross pollinating with other folks in birth world?
Julianna: So, I have my own practice, for sure, which I always love people to talk about, comment on, let me know what their thoughts are. But I’m also, I currently have a postpartum virtual education program that is specifically aimed at not just the queer community – it’s for anyone who wants it, but we did really spend a lot of time trying to make sure that it is appropriate for people, and the language is worded for people who are queer, trans, just anywhere along our rainbow because I think that’s so important. It’s not exactly an ongoing project, but I do love talking about how… another pelvic health physical therapist and I created this program that’s really aimed at how to both help your body directly after a labor and delivery in terms of taking your first poop and pee postpartum, I hope it’s OK to say that on here –
Katie: Oh, absolutely, yeah!
Julianna: y’know, how to support your core when you’re just rolling out of bed after say, having delivered by cesarean. All the way to reconnecting with your core and pelvic floor, to having intercourse postpartum, as well as how to stop leaking and how to improve your bowel function. I definitely would love to hear and see queer people in our community about that – we have a facebook group, for what that’s worth, called Healthy Pelvis Healthy Postpartum that we are always trying to get together community around.
Katie: Awesome, and what’s something not natal related, pelvic related about you and your life that you wanna share?
Julianna: That’s a great question. Well, you and I talked about this a little earlier, but I’m actually in a queer feminist wrestling league so if anybody wants to look into that, it’s BLOWW (the Boston League of Wicked Wrestlers) and that’s not natal, but is very much in this community. Feel free to look us up, we’re on all the socials, we have our own website. Check us out, cause let me tell you – it’s really, really fun.
Katie: That is… that’s such a vitally important fun fact, and like, wow. What a service to the community (laughs).
Julianna: I just, y’know, if there’s one thing you take away from this, obviously everyone watching, I want you to learn about pelvic health and learn about all the thing that a pelvic health therapist can help you with, or you can become someone like me… but… if you take one thing away, look up the Boston League of Wicked Wrestlers. You won’t regret it.
Katie: Top tips. Top tips: look up the Boston League of Wicked Wrestlers, see a pelvic floor PT, queer up your sex life.
Julianna: If I could tell you one thing about your pelvic floor, relax your pelvic floor.. and go see the Boston League of Wicked Wrestlers. Very related.
Katie: It seems like that would help you relax your pelvic floor.
Julianna: Yeah. Definitely. Definitely. It’s very relaxing (shakes head)
Katie: And finally, where can people find you on the internet?
Julianna: So you can find me, my website is www.embraceptwellness.com, y’know, if you search my name Julianna Allen, you’ll probably get there. My Instagram is @embracepelvicPT, and then I have a Facebook page and everything. So feel free to check me out there. I always love questions, I try to answer them on lives and with posts because I want to know what your questions are about the pelvic floor, about how your body changes and y’know, honestly about your hips and everything else that works really hard to support you during gestation.
Katie: Awesome, thank you so much, this was such a blast!
Julianna: Thank you for inviting me, I am so excited that something like this exists and I really hope that everyone watching in terms of their own career choices, that you do join us in queer birth work, because it’s such a wonderful and rewarding place to be.