Categories
interviews

Alex Papale

Alex Papale, they/them, @thesexpositivePT and Flourish Physical Therapy. alex.papalePT@gmail.com

Emma: Alright, well, I am here with Alex Papale, and I am excited to hear a little more about you and your practice. If you want to start by saying where you are, and the kind of clients you see and the kind of work you do in the world, that would be awesome.

Alex: I am in Boston, Massachusetts and I am a pelvic floor and orthopedic physical therapist. I’ve been doing PT for two years, have been in Boston for eight. That’s just been my home base at this point. Predominantly working with, also based on preference and just happenstance of working with largely younger folks, which is really cool. A lot of college-aged people, lots of queer and trans folks, which is also really exciting because that’s my favorite group of people to work with if I had to choose. I work with everybody, but generally that’s the case. 

Emma: You can have a preference!

Alex: Yeah, I’m not discriminatory, obviously, of whoever – I’ll see anybody. But it’s obviously exciting with queer/trans folks coming in. Love working specifically also with kink folks – love that. Because I’m also a sex educator, I worked at a local sex shop for two years teaching workshops and I have taught workshops outside of there on pretty much anything from safer sex to kink-specific things, technique kind of stuff, sex across any age – sex for older folks or pregnant folks. Pretty much anything, love talking about it. So those things really overlap a lot. I’m not sure if it’s because of those things but also a lot of my patient demographics, people that I treat the most tend to have pain with sex, pelvic pain mostly. 

Emma: It’s so good to know who you can be honest with – like, which providers, you can be like, “This is me, this is my life, and also.. I need pelvic floor physical therapy, now what?” 

Alex: Yeah, it’s huge. 

Emma: Awesome. So glad we get to live in the same place. What are you queering right now?

Alex: Ugh, like I mean.. What are you not? Existing as a queer person these days… hopefully everything. I think just healthcare, I would like to say. Also sex ed, always. I think largely making it known that queer inclusive -not even just queer inclusive — and queer competnant healthcare is a necessaiyy and absolutely should already exist. I love what I’m doing, but I wish what I was doing specifically was not really a thing, because it should just be normal and expected. Which is unfortunately not the case. Same kind of thing with sex ed, I do a fair amount of sex ed for providers which is also really fun and also something I wish I wasn’t doing because it should just be included. Making sure that is always through a queer lens, because that is such a big lack in any sex ed. If people get any sex ed, it’s usually really heteronormative and cis-normative. 

Emma: Awesome, I mean, we need it – I’m all for it. I’m curious to hear a little more about what got you started in the first place. How does one decide to become a sex educator/pelvic floor specialist?

Alex: Great questions. I decided to do pelvic PT.. I was in PT school and not loving anything else – ortho’s cool, I don’t know, I didn’t really find anything I love. I have a distinct memory of working in a group during PT school. It was a research group of some sort, and I would always be like, “This is how this thing affects these marginalized groups, this is how this impacts trans people, or whatever it is, or LGBTQ people.” Someone else in the group made a comment like, “We all know what Alex is gonna do with their degree!” I was like, “What? Oh my god.. Ok, yes.” That’s the advocacy part of it. The pelvic side of that came in because I have chronic pelvic floor dysfunction and I have had it since my teens, really. I just never knew that that’s what was happening. It was literally me, in PT school, on a pelvic floor clinical rotation, before I realized like – it’s pelvic floor stuff and not the chronic UTI’s I thought was happening, or was telling myself. If it took me being in PT school, in a pelvic rotation to get the healthcare that I needed, how is anybody else supposed to access this? How are queer and trans people supposed to be able to access this particularly? So that became a big point of that. I was teaching a course for healthcare providers about trans inclusive healthcare and the sex shop I used to work at ended up tabling at it. I just ended up talking to them  – oh also sex ed is something I love to talk about, and they said, “Well, we’re hiring” so I picked that up and deeply fell in love with it. It was really cool to get a semi-formal (wasn’t really formal)… a very comprehensive sex ed training at this job along with having the experience of teaching workshops and learning a lot and having these resources available. 

Emma: That’s awesome, I mean I love a good personal draw story. That’s really when you can, I think, make the most impact with other people – when you personally are going through something they are, or that’s how they seek you out and find you as a provider. But it’s kind of funny that you ended up in PT school, not really thinking about it until deep into the program. That’s very interesting. 

Alex: I do think it’s wild that literally someone else had to be like “Well, we know what you’re doing,” and I was like, “What am I doing? Tell me please!”

Emma: “This is just how I live my life, iunno”

Alex: This is just what I get mad about! Obviously, I need to get paid to get mad about it. 

Emma: Yeah – thats right. Get paid! I love it. Well, you have touched on this, in terms of knowing about comprehensive sex education, and being queer/trans – not just inclusive, or competent –but focused, and in it yourself. Do you have a specific support philosophy that you bring to your work with clients?

Alex: I think that would just look like meeting people really where they’re at. I think that especailyl for queer and trans folks, especially with pelvic floor dysfunction there’s just so much shame that comes with that. Which is super relatable – and a lot of that can be… there are just so many facets of experiences and identity that can bring that up. Whether it’s trauma, whether it’s internalized homophobia or transphobia. It’s having a hard time being able to say out loud that you have this sort of dysfunction that largely affects your sex life, or your ability to experience pleasure which is already really hard to talk about. A lot of it is just hearing people and validating their experiences and just meeting people where they’re at. Whatever their goals are – working towards that and just validating them. Doing my best not to put my goals on somebody. If they just really want to be able to do this thing, then that’s going to be our functional goal and not, like, the kind of insurance pushed “oh they need to be able to insert a speculum” or whatever it is. Which you might have to do for insurance purposes, but it’s really important to need to …. Any of the little nuanced things that are important to my patients are things that I really try to center. 

Emma: Interesting. Did you say that being able to use a speculum is required by insurance? What was that?

Alex: Oh, yeah! That insurance – oh my god – so insurance will not cover “pain with sex” for folks that don’t have penises and that’s just generally true. So we tend to have to bill insurance with like, my favorite code that I use is just like “other muscle spasm” or “general pelvic pain” but it has to be like “functional goals” if insurance requires those, like, “patient will be able to insert a speculum.”

Emma: Wow. That’s fascinating to think about that side of it. 

Alex: It’s kind of wild – exactly – that’s obviously not most patient’s goals. Maybe it is for some people, but that’s not why they’re coming to PT. But that’s usually how things have to get billed, unfortunately. 

Emma: Yeah – wow, thanks for sharing that. Fascinating. Well – you told us a little bit about your pelvic floor work, your sex educator work… now I want to know about your natal chart. What’s your sun, moon, rising?

Alex: It’s a trip. Ok. So, I am a Virgo sun, an Aries moon and Aries rising. Like, yikes…. but..

Emma: Aries, alright, alright…

Alex: Also, starting to learn about houses – my Aries rising is in my first house, I think, so that’s also just even more Aries and, yeah… can be kind of intense. I think other aspects of my char that make that a little bit more palatable (well maybe not, this is arguable) but that my venus is in scorpio and my mars is in Cancer, which I think is very like the Virgo and the Cancer are the caretaker vibes. I feel fiercely protective of my patients and my work and the communities that I work with and I think that’s the Scorpio/Aries.. Also Virgo, honestly.. And Cancer….. I think my chart is honestly very accurate for myself and also, a little bit much. 

Emma: It’s cute. We can be true to ourselves and still be a little bit much. But it’s really sweet to hear the interpretation or how it comes into your work, even. 

Alex: It’s fun. A lot of just, I feel like the Virgo and the Aries to me is just a lot of a high quantity of somewhat finished to do lists, but it works out. 

Emma: I think a lot of people can probably relate to that – that’s awesome. Alright, well, I’d love to know if you have a favorite thing about being a queer sex educator and pelvic health professional and working with queer/trans people. I mean you’ve touched on a little bit, but if you have a specific thing.

Alex: I think my favorite things are the sense of relief from patients that I get sometimes. Just “ugh, you get it” or “ugh, it feels so nice” and whether or not this has been verbalized or just getting the sense of it – the comfort that comes with that. Just getting to know patients in general, building a relationship with them. Feeling like they’re like, “Oh, I can actually talk about these things and I can bring up these nuances of my sex life or my kink life or if folks mention they have multiple partners and that’s something that you don’t necessarily get to share with a healthcare provider. But it can be really important, and it just feels nice when patients feel comfortable enough to start to say those things. To earn that level of trust and comfort is really huge for me, and also for anybody – but particularly for queer and trans folks to trust a healthcare provider. It’s an honor, and it’s also heavy cause it’s like, I’m frequently told I’m one of the few for folks, oftentimes. Which is horrible and also relatable. 

Emma: Definitely. 

Alex: Honestly one of the things that I really, really love a lot. Especially with how much time I get to spend with my patients. 

Emma: Especially doing pelvic floor PT – it’s not like 5 minute in and out kind of work. Thanks for sharing that. That’s really sweet. So, in terms of pregnancy care, I know you mentioned that you would see pregnant clients and thinking of sex education in pregnancy, too. Is there something that you hope to improve about the experience of the perinatal period – postpartum, pregnancy, whatever, for queer and trans patients. 

Alex: Oh my god. Yes. Something in particular would be the hope that pelvic floor PT in general can be affirming and accessible for pregnant folks or their families. In any span of the pregnancy timeline – pre-pregnancy, during pregnancy, post pregnancy. Any of those times, I think, can be really valuable to have access to a pelvic PT even if it’s just for one session of being able to come in and learn a bit more about your body, or learn about your pelvic floor in general, or get a sense of what your pelvic floor is doing before you get pregnant or right in the beginning or whatever it looks like. To be able to have that baseline for when someone is going through a pregnancy, if things come up – low back pain starts up, if there’s pelvic floor pain or pretty much anything. Questions about how to have sex, all of those kinds of things. I would love for that to just be more available and I think a lot of folks that I work, with especially pregnant folks or postpartum folks, are things like “Oh, I wish I knew about you a year ago or five years ago. That this was even an option or that I could have told my friends or my whoever.” I’m always wishing this was more accessible. I wish people were told by other providers that we exist and that we can also exist in your corner for your care, especially during this really life changing time. 

Emma: Absolutely, I totally understand wanting to have that earlier touchpoint before things have to get really bad. Ideally. But yeah, that’s a great thing to work toward. Do you have a nugget of advice for any aspiring queer and trans pelvic floor PTs, sex educators out there?

Alex: I think my advice would be (for the pelvic PT side of it). If you ever find a PT that does the things that you want to do or has an approach that you want to create / make your own, in your own way or whatever it is. Basically, reach out to them. I think that being a student or being an aspiring PT, it can be really intimidating to see the people who “are doing it,” and feel like there’s a huge gap – which is because of our education system and healthcare system of creating this hierarchy. We’re somehow inaccessible. Especially for queer and trans folks, if you find someone who’s doing what you want to do – please reach out to them, myself included. If any of this resonates – I LOVE to talk to people who are thinking about or are interested in it. I can’t speak for everybody, but generally I think we’ve all been students and felt like no one is doing what we’re doing, especially queer and trans providers. I don’t want to be one of the few, I want to be one of the many. Trying to get other people there, I think. If you find anybody you resonate with, please reach out to them. In the sex ed side of things, I think something that’s really helpful for me is that (and same thing with PT) you’ll never know everything. At all. And you’re gonna know some things and once you get comfortable with what you know, push it more. And there will always be people who know something different than you and know something more than you, or have seen and experienced different things. Especially in sex ed, just cause someone has a degree doesn’t make them more knowledgeable than people …. Also because the sex ed world is so un… like anyone can call themselves a sex educator. Just be careful of that – be aware of that. Not to say that people who call themselves a sex educator and don’t have credentials (which is also an issue – the fact that people think you need credentials about sex). Just be aware of where you’re getting your information from, what you’re reading. Making sure you’re getting the viewpoints of marginalized folks, especially in sex ed. Cause sex ed is already hard to access for everybody. On top of that… just make sure you’re not getting all your information from a cis het white man please. Please. Which is hard to do sometimes in sex ed, which is frustrating. Find the educators who are not any of those things. 

Emma: Awe, I love that. That’s great advice. We’re big on… this keeps coming up with all the folks we’re chatting with – that, there’s many pathways to doing this work, you don’t have to have all of the exact credentials all the time if you are in these communities. 

Alex: Yeah. Do not, and especially for queer and trans folks, do not gaslight yourself about what you know. And your experiences. And your value in either world of healthcare, of PT, of sex ed. Just try. It’s hard, and I do it all the time, but try not to (laughs). Which is like, impossible, but… worth saying. 

Emma: Totally worth saying! And that’s real. Awesome, well are there any projects you have going on or things you wanna drop seeds, spread pollen on that we can put out there for you?

Alex: I’m working on, since I have more time available, working on trying to not gaslight myself and my worth and just working on my website and things like that. Just having a platform kind of. I’m always looking for people to collaborate on any realm of workshop. I love teaching. Any realm of workshop of anything I’ve said – anything that might be of value or interest. I love to do it. Love collaborating very much, so if anybody’s trying to do that. Just creating networks. I have a running list of anybody that reaches out that’s like “Hey, I’m queer or trans or kink-friendly or xyz and I resonate with what you’re doing.” I want to have referrals for people, so I’m always working on that. If anybody wants to let me know who you are, please do that. 

Emma: That’s awesome. Yeah. More overlap in any of those ways is welcome. 

Alex: Please. Please reach out, love it!

Emma: Beautiful, well is there anything not sex-ed related or not pelvic floor related about your life that you wanna share? 


Alex: Ooh, I’m sitting in my room right now and I’m looking at the amount of plants that I have. I’m one of those queers (laughs), I am a plant queer. So that’s a fun. You can see my palm. 

Emma: Plant parent, that’s awesome. 

Alex: Also a snake parent as of this quarantine


Emma: Fun! Oh new quarantine snake!

Alex: Yeah, I have a 4 foot quarantine snake named honey

Emma: Oh my god, that’s amazing! What kind of snake?

Alex: She’s a corn snake, love of my life, like – it’s great. I call her my primary partner (laughs).

Emma: That’s so sweet! Aw (laughs).

Alex: Truly. I’m like, “Oh, is this what this feels like? To love another being more than yourself?”

Emma: Ohhhh, that’s hilarious. I’m so glad you said that.

Alex: So I guess those are fun things to know! You can’t have a conversation with me and have me not be like, “and my snake!”

Emma: Well, I get it now. That’s amazing. Well where can people connect with you if someone is an aspiring trans PT or looking for pelvic floor stuff in the Boston area or even tele-health. Where do people find you?

Alex: I have a not-super-active instagram page, but it does exist! And I am on it. I check it, but I’m not great at telling myself I can take up space on social media….. Unpack that at another point. It’s @thesexpositivePT if you’re just trying to keep up with general things. Flourish Physical Therapy is where I work, so I am on Google there. I have an email address, if that’s helpful. I can send that to you…

Emma: I could plug that in.. yeah, we could do email (laughs) (It’s alex.papalePT@gmail.com)

Alex: Yeah! And please anyone literally feel free to just email me anytime. I do check it somewhat regularly. Please feel free to. I’m not the quickest email replier, but I will eventually and, yeah.

Emma: Thank you so much, Alex for hanging out today and talking about yourself. I really enjoyed it, thoroughly. So (laughs)

Alex: Thanks for the invite, thanks for having me.

Emma: No problem. Take care!

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

Rachel Hess

Rachel Hess, she/her/hers, Rachel’s website and Facebook.

Katie: Alright!

Emma: Hello everyone, thanks for joining us, Rachel Hess. We’re really excited to hear more about you and your practice. So, why don’t we start there? Tell us a little but about you and the work that you do in the world/

Rachel: Yay! So, I am Rachel Hess, I use she her and hers pronouns, and I’m a postpartum doula and also a trainer in Jamaica Plain/the greater Boston area/now the world, virtually. I have two kids who are “old”, 9 and 6 and a half, if you can believe that. So I’m a postpartum doula so typically I used to go into people’s homes and help them with their little babies and from anywhere from sometimes I’d work with people for two weeks, sometimes twelve weeks, it really varies. And my goal always was to or still is to empower new parents with information, but also instinct-trusting, as well, as I’d like to call it. So now I’m doing that work virtually, which is going well in terms of still being able to help parents talk through fears, help normalize things, help strategize around feedings sleeping baby wearing baths – all that sort of fun newborn stuff. I also run parents support groups, so I run parent support groups for first-time parents, second-time parents, and in September I’ll be doing a group for queer parents which I’m very excited about. So those are also really fun, it’s a set group of parents for six weeks, and just sort of a combination of me sort of sharing information about newborns but also parents connecting with each other, finding their village if you will. And the other hat that I wear is that I train providers on LGBTQ cultural humility and that’s been really cool, that’s been building more now that it’s virtual and feels a little more accessible for some folks not having to travel or the way that people have more flexible schedules and stuff so that’s been really great – that’s sort of like, I mean I love babies and I love parents but ending oppression is my heart work, so I need to do that more and sort of speak about my experience but also y’know challenge folks to think about their experience and ways in which they may or may not perpetuate oppression in the perinatal world. Has been really, super rewarding, so. Those are all my hats.

Katie: And they are such good hats!

Rachel: They’re very stylish.

Katie: What are you queering right now? 

Rachel: Great question, always, love that. The birth world, is my goal – to queer that. A lot. I think about, I think what’s so cool about that term is like, y’know we do this training, we talk about definitions of what the “alphabet soup” means, definitions of different types of oppression – all that. But also, when you queer things and think of things in more nonbinary nonlinear ways, that’s better for everyone. I mean some of the conversations I have with my new parents even– even when they’re a straight, married couple (god bless them), I think there are ways that we can think about division of labor, sex, parenting that I think come from a queer standpoint that again, are better for everyone. Some of the conversations I have with new parents about gendering their baby and helping them think through that, I think is really rooted in my queerness even though – again, the more the merrier.

Emma: I love that, Rachel. I think it’s so great to be able to, even when you’re working with straight and cis people, still kind of make your job a queer job (laughs), so that’s amazing.

Rachel: Otherwise, it wouldn’t be very much fun.

Emma: Exactly. Well you gotta make it sustainable. Part of making it sustainable for yourself. Amazing. So what inspired you originally to do this work?

Rachel: Excellent question, so I always like to say that the common thread in all the jobs I’ve ever had is that I really like supporting and teaching adults new things. Even though, almost all my jobs I’ve ever done all involve kids or babies in some ways. It’s really the coaching of adults that is my strength. So I was working at Read Boston, actually, which is a city program for kids and when I had my oldest, who like I said is almost 9 and a half. I had this really amazing birth experience: we had a home birth with midwives, I labored for, I like to brag: 76 hours…


Emma: BRAG!!!

Rachel: Oh, back labor – all the things. So, right – you can’t always control birth, but I really planned it and thought about it and had this really magical experience and then the midwife left and I had this little baby and I was like, “What do I do now? OMG.” I mean, my midwife supported us postpartum as well, but I just felt like there was such a lack of information, resources, support in that period and then I learned that it was a job, like, you could help people at that time as a job! Isn’t that cool? So I was a stay-at-home parent for a while, and then I actually did my postpartum doula training when she was only 9 months old, and I didn’t really start doing it more as a job until actually my youngest was born. So I have been doing it for about six years, but yeah I mean what sort of drew me to it. Sort of similar to birth doula work, or I think, I like to say that my job… I would like to live in the society where my job isn’t a job. Y’Know, where like, people are informed, people feel empowered, there’s better leave, there’s not a disconnect between what the baby needs and what the parents need, where there is like, seamless love care and support between pregnancy, birth and postpartum. So, I think we’re a long way away from that, but… That’s sort of what drew me to it. Long answer to your question.

Katie: I think you’ve touched on this in all of your answers, but just to be like really explicit about it: how do you talk about your philosophy of support?

Rachel: Oh, yeah, totally. So I’m gonna give you an example, actually. 


Katie: Yes, love it.


Rachel: My philosophy is definitely that parents feel empowered. I don’t have an agenda. I have information. And I always think about the first… not the first mom I worked with who had breastfeeding struggles, but the first mom I worked with who did not explicitly breastfeeding her baby. It’s like a real learning experience for me, because it really taught me that my goal is to actually… y’know, I breastfed my daughter til she was 3, my wife breastfed our youngest til she was 3 and a half – she wanted to beat me. Cause it’s a competition (laughs). I think about that mom and how she did not end up explicitly breastfeeding even though that had been her goal originally. But through every step of the process, she had information, she felt like she was making choices around pumping, bottles, formula, putting the baby to the breast, and she decided in the end to do a combination. For her it meant she got to sleep a little more in a different way, she got maybe a little more independence, she decided she didn’t want to pump the way the lactation consultant had suggested that she pump. I had to really be OK with that, and I realized: oh, well, that doesn’t feel bad to me in my job because she got to make all those choices, y’know. I’m a big proponent of breastfeeding, obviously, but I think sometimes the advice people are given is not sustainable from a mental health perspective. Helping people sort through that and feel like y’know the worst is when I have people who are in my groups and they’re already six weeks postpartum and like, no one told them or gave them the option to like, pump when their baby was 2 weeks old and given their baby a bunch of formula. That’s a travesty. But when they’re given choices and understand the consequences of their choices – not “consequences” in a mean way, but just like: yeah, if you give your baby a bunch of bottles and you don’t pump, you won’t make enough milk. That’s a thing. So, figuring out how to do that has been really a big learning experience for me. The point of that story being: my philosophy is information, empowerment, people trusting their gut, people not feeling like they have to sacrifice everything for their baby. This is like a big and totally related to oppression and sexism and patriarchy and all of those things. This idea of the self-sacrificing mother or parent, right? So really having people feel like, you can be a human being and have a baby and that baby is important and what’s best for you is what’s best for the baby – all that kind of stuff. So that’s my philosophy, in a nutshell. 

Emma: That’s awesome, it’s helpful to have examples like that of, y’know, client interactions, different points where you were like, “that was a major growth point for me.”

Rachel: Totally.

Emma: I love the idea of partners, (laughs) I don’t know, trying to beat each other with breastfeeding, that’s like – amazing to me.

Rachel: I mean, we’re both very stubborn and competitive, so that’s not something everyone does.


Emma: Well, speaking of that – you told us about your post-natal work, I wanna know about your natal chart and be honest. 

Rachel: I don’t actually know, so, I’m a what was the listing, it was, moon…


Emma: Sun, moon and rising/ascendednt

Rachel: So my friend says its Capricorn, Cancer and Scorpio


Emma: Oh man. (laughs)

Rachel: What is that response mean?? You have to tell me more.


Emma: I just have a response to scorpios, that’s all (laughs)

Katie: The real thing about these interviews it it’s just revealing Emma and my like, astrological biases (laughs)

Rachel: Is that a thing, astrological biases?

Emma: I mean, it is… implicit astrological biases (laughs)

Katie: Well, I will say: I dont know whats happening for Emma, but as a fellow Capricorn sun, I now feel much closer to you. (laughs)


Rachel: Okay, love that. Gonna learn a lot about my astrological chart in quarantine, and when the moon is full and all of those things… The very beginning of quarantine, I was going for a walk in the arboretum every time there was a full moon, that was really nice.


Emma: Right on, I love that.

Rachel: That’s related, right? 

Emma: Absolutely.

Rachel: That’s when you cleanse your crystals, with the full moon..


Emma: Put em out.

Katie: And aside from the crystals, what’s your favorite thing about being a queer support person, working with queer families?


Rachel: Such a good question. My favorite thing about everything is when it’s queer, so.. Duh. OK, I’ll give you a good example. So, one of the things that… so I think part of that is, as I said from before, how my queer lens helps straight couples navigate things that are traditional gender norms, heteronormativity, all that kind of stuff. One of the things that’s really cool that a lot of people really like about working with me is that I’ve been in both roles – I’ve been a birth parent but I’ve also been a non-birth parent, and so, this is gonna sound really funny, but I really like working with dads, like especially ones who are open to having feelings and and trying to figure out their role. Some of the coolest conversations I’ve had have been around talking to dads who have to like, go back to work in two weeks and work in these super macho environments where like, you don’t help with this/that or the other, or you’re expected to just leave your baby and not have feelings about it. Having these really empathic heart conversations with these dudes who are like, I love this baby and why is it OK that I have to go back? And I’m like, “Well it’s not OK, and that sucks! and you can have feelings about it!” Then also that piece around watching the person that you are partnered with and love go through some of that early postpartum hormones, pain, feelings and just how can you help and then help doesn’t always mean like taking over the feeding of the baby. That caring for that person is part of bonding with the baby. So I feel like that’s part of a pretty unique lens that I provide for families, straight and otherwise. So I like that. And what do I like about working with queer famililes? I mean, all the things, but also: let’s be really honest, its the kind of humor that you can use with queer folks that just really… like about lube, sex, bdsm all those things. I just feel like there’s so many ripe opportunities for that, and usually with queer folks, it’s like more welcome – although there’s definitely some straight folks where I make those jokes, too. That is one of my favorite things. Sort of insider culture stuff that we can joke about. I recently worked with a queer family who, she would send me photos and be like, “This is for my magazine that I’m gonna make” which was, oh god, what did she call it, it was like, “Butch Parenting Quarterly” and it’d be like pictures of her with like a drill, holding her baby – it was so hilarious. Like that stuff is gold. I need to follow up with her actually to see if she has any more photos that she has to share with me.

Emma: Get me a subscription to Butch Parenting Quarterly!

Katie: I want a calendar, can we have a calendar?

Rachel: I know, right?

Emma: Oh man, we’re gonna have a fundraiser for this… I love it, Rachel, and bless your soul for, y’know, being one of those people who fosters a supportive environment for dad feelings. Like, absolutely integral important soul work. I love you. So, if you could, y’know, thinking of queer and trans families, could you improve one main thing about their experience what would it be?

Rachel: It’s so interesting. I was thinking about this question, because I’ve been doing a lot of this, and I think that …… one of the things I talk about with cultural humility is this idea that you can’t just put a rainbow sticker on your door and be like (wipes shoulders) “I did it, I did all the work, I’m totally gay friendly.” There’s almost a way in which the thing that I want to change is, I want everyone to have to like, do a train-… like, the people that are the challenge are people who feel like they don’t have any more to learn, or don’t have any areas of growth. There’s a way in which that’s the thing I want to change. I want all providers to really, deeply understand and respect this idea of bringing your whole self into a room. Not “tolerance,” even the word “inclusivity” gets me a little. I mean one of the things I would say in my trainings, which, depending on the room, is I don’t want to be like you. I’m better than you because I’m queer. You know what I mean? Ha-ha, but also like: I want things to be where it’s not a deficit or “oh yeah you’re welcome to our straight space.” Where providers can really understand that, and I feel like that’s not a thing yet. It’s more just “Oh yeah, your wife, great I can be on board with that.” or “Oh yeah, I’ll use different pronouns than what I thought. I can be on board with that.” but it isn’t like, “Wow! That’s awesome that you’re queer. How cool!” I don’t know if I’m making sense but that’s the culture shift that I’m wanting to make. That I think impact queer families, but also everyone. A lot of the things I talk about will benefit single parents, or adoptive parents or like grandparents who are raising their kids or all that kind of stuff. 

Katie: Absolutely, so important. Those spaces that are not just like “You’re welcome here” but like, “You’re totally celebrated.” What’s one piece of advice that you have for new or aspiring queer and trans birth/postpartum/reproductive workers?

Rachel: Baby queers, you mean? 

Emma: Professional baby queers.

Katie: Possibly FULLY queers, but like, baby birth workers

Rachel: Baby birth workers, there ya go. Good distinction. I think one of the things that I’ve learned that I’ve talked about a little bit – You don’t have to compromise who you are to get people to hire you. The more fully you can be yourself, especially in your queerness, the better off that is for everyone. That’s actually a strength as opposed to like something straight people – are they gonna be weirded out? Or whatever? No- just be all the things. Be all the fabulous. 

Emma: That’s awesome, thank you so much for that.

(rachel’s kid walks in)

Emma: Yeah, so speaking of family members, other things going on in your life – what’s something not baby related, not natal about your life that you want to share with us?

Rachel: I would say, this summer we’ve done more beaching than we’ve ever done, and it’s been spectacular. I’m from northern California, so the ocean is my jam and so I’ve gone to swim in salt water this summer. That’s made me really, really happy.

Emma: That’s awesome. What’s your favorite beach around here?

Rachel: We go to Nantasket a lot, first thing in the morning before it gets crowded. And there’s a beach we go to in Woods Hole, actually. It’s far, but who cares? What else are we doing? I basically have two fish for children at this point, which I’m not complaining about. 

Emma: Love water humans. 

Rachel: And Nana in Weymouth has a pool. So we’ve also been doing that.

Katie: So much good water. 

Rachel: Exactly.


Katie: Where can people find you in internet land?

Rachel: Oh! It’s just rachelhessdoula.com. That’s my website. I also have a facebook page and someday I’ll have an Instagram account? For my doula work? But, not today. Those are the two main places, and Facebook is where I update when groups are happening and offer those. That’s a good place to find me.

Katie: Awesome, thank you so much!