Jenna “JB” Brown, they/he, @loveoverfearwellness, Love Over Fear Wellness & The Queer & Pregnant Journal, Queer Conception Stories
Katie: Hi there!
Katie: So let’s just get started with you telling us a little bit about who you are and about your practice and the work that you do.
JB: Sure! I want to acknowledge that I am sitting next to a thunderstorm, so there may be background noise. My names Jenna, I use they or he pronouns and I’m a white transmasculine non-binary full-spectrum doula and educator. Typically I describe myself and my work a lot more in depth and that gives me access to other spaces, but I know we’re here just to kind of do a little overview and hello, so: A little bit about my practice is that while I do full-spectrum work meaning I support people preconception all the way through pregnancy outcomes of various kinds into postpartum. I’m also passionate about giving that model of care to all kinds of life transitions, transformations and the education work that I do spans from education that I do with my clients around the kinds of systems and experience that they’re navigating, as well as education and consulting that I do with other birth professionals, family professionals, professionals at large in all kinds of different fields around trans inclusion. I run a mentorship program, too! And do some content creation, so y’know, a little bit of everything (laughs).
Katie: Truly a birthworker of many hats. What are you queering right now?
JB: Oof. What am I not queering? Before we started recording, we were just touching on some lighter conversions about being in community with people and sharing space and what to do when conflict comes up. I think queering conflict resolution sounds really important to me right now. As we’re recording this, we’re in September of 2020 in the middle of the global pandemic and social movement and that as birth workers, as reproductive workers, I feel it’s our responsibility to be in the middle of all that. It’s part of the work, it’s central to our work, it’s the foundation of our work. Reproductive justice being intertwined through all of that. For me, queering that kind of conflict resolution of these uncomfortable, difficult conversations that constantly come up in the work that I do, looks like being nonbinary about how we see everything. There’s not a right and a wrong way now. I don’t know – I’m queering everything, but that’s what I feel most excited to be queering right now.
Katie: Yas. Oh, I loooove that. Love that lens. And so necessary – such a place where so often we get stuck in conflict for so many people.. Sends people into binary thinking and to be queering conflict resolution or conflict transformation in that way is so regenerative. What inspired you to do the work that you do?
JB: I feel like for so many folks who end up doing birthwork or reproductive work – not to be binary about it – but there’s like these camps of either you’ve gestated a pregnancy to term and that’s what kind of drew you in to this work or you haven’t and then it feels like a bigger “why” or “how” to answer when people ask. I think in parts, I was inspired to do this work because of my own experiences both as someone who has accessed abortion as a trans person and experiences as a trans person navigating day to day life in addition to care systems. And in part, by my community. Especially as I got older and I was already in spaces where I was serving as an educator, having discussions with people about their holistic wellness. As I got a little bit older in those roles, more of the folks that I was in community with were having children and kind of hearing about their experiences especially but not only the experiences of folks in shared queer community … just being really distraught! For them, and alongside them. Knowing that it didn’t have to be that way, and wanting to do whatever I could to make a difference. Oh hi kitty! (Black cat walks in front of Katie’s screen)
Katie: Yeah. Truffle’s here. This is Truffle. She’s gonna just show off a little bit.
JB: I feel a little bit like I was called into it by others and part of that overused idea that we want to “be the change that we want to see in the world.” Some layer of truth to that.
Katie: Absolutely (cat). There’s that nugget of resonance in the overused or in the sort of thing that has become more cliche. How do you describe your support philosophy?
JB: Person-centered. That’s what I always say. I feel like, increasingly over the last year especially that’s become more and more of a buzz term, which makes me very frustrated. I think it’s right up there along with “trauma-informed” and “trans inclusive” in terms of buzz words. I don’t expect anyone to show up in a particular way, regardless of the type of experience they’re moving through. Or what their identities look like from the outside, what their support system looks like from the outside. I don’t expect them to think or feel anything in particular as a fixed set of needs until they’ve had the space to explore what those needs are and communicate them with me. So that’s what person-centered means to me.
Katie: So I’ve asked you a little bit about your natal work, but I also now need to ask you about your natal chart. What’s your sun, moon and rising?
JB: I’m a Leo sun, Aquarius moon, Virgo rising. Enneagram type 8.
Katie: Oh! Oh!!! Okay, okay.
Katie: Just throwin’ em all in!! (laughs)
JB: (laughs), just so you get a sense of who I am.
Katie: Did you say Leo sun?
Katie: Wow. I love throwing in the… you start asking about the enneagram now.
JB: I just always ask my clients like, how do you understand yourself? I don’t care what framework they use, if they want to tell me their Harry Potter house, that’s fine too. They can use any system for self-awareness. But I’m like, “How do you make sense of who you are? Is it astrology? Is it Meyers-Briggs?”
Katie: Fair enough, yeah! (laughs) And what’s your favorite thing about being a queer and nonbinary support person or about supporting queer and trans families?
JB: I think that… and this is a generalization, but there are some generalizations I feel perfectly fine with making… But like, the amount of intention that goes into family building. Obviously, there are some queer families and queer couples who have the genetic material that’s in their family or within their couple to conceive. And there are also many that don’t. There are often additional steps, additional choices to be made along the way and I just don’t find that that level of intention is a given for many people who are family-building. I appreciate that working and centering my work around trans and queer experience means that that’s generally who I get to work with! When I do work with folks who are not LGBTQ themselves, that’s really what I’m looking for – right? In terms of being a birth worker and doing this kind of deep relational work with people, there’s a lot of conversation in communities that do this work around burnout. I’ve found that the hardest thing, the thing that contributes most to my burnout is working with folks who are going through the motions and not really willing to even give themselves space to identify what their preferences or their needs are. I don’t find that to be the norm in working with LGBTQ families. I find that the norm IS there is a lot of intention already. So let’s tap into that and keep peeling the layers back.
Katie: Absolutely, and I know that – I’m sure there’s a long list of answers to this question but if you could improve one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth for LGBTQ+ folks and families, what would it be or where would you start?
JB: So, I think you already acknowledged that there are so many ways to answer this question. And it’s so tempting to say things like, “I want it to be more equitable in terms of access to resources” or simple things like, “Access to affirming care.” Second parent adoption… for that to not.. not even be a thing! Or for it to be more accessible if it has to be a thing, right? But to me- I think some of those answers lend themselves toward this “assimilation” into cultures, structures, norms that we already know are a disservice to most people, queer or not. I think where I would want to start is liberation for everybody – queer or otherwise. What’s hard about that answer is that there is no clear answer, and what’s exciting about it is there’s so many possibilities! It’s like an imagination question – like, what would a liberated experience for queer and trans families BE around pregnancy, birth or life in general?
Katie: Yes. Oh. Ohhh. So energizing! I adore that answer. Truffle does too. Very pro-liberation. (Giant cat yawn) She’s also bringing her own thunder to this. What’s a piece of advice that you have for new and aspiring queer and trans birth workers?
JB: Find community! We can’t do this work in isolation. You and I both know there’s so many of us doing this work and it’s really exciting. In seeking folks who are interested in doing some more work who have similar identities, at least on paper, maybe some similar experiences, maybe even some similar value systems and frameworks for understanding not just the work they do but the way that they see the world. Even with all of those similarities, expect there to be conflict and expect there to be disagreement and don’t let that be discouraging. I think conflict and comparison, once people are stepping into this work and seeking community and making connections and finding spaces that feel resonant they can really easily (and I see this in my mentorship program all the time) get trapped in this place where either comparison or conflict stops them. Also seek out the type of care that you need to support yourself through those discomforts because they will come up.
Katie: The framework of comparison or conflict being barriers for folks is so …. What a helpful naming! I know there are many projects floating around in your work – are there any that you want help cross-pollinating with other that are in the community?
JB: Yeah! So, Ray Rachlin of Refuge Midwifery and I are working on a directory, not unlike LGBTQ Birth, but that’s trans-centered specifically. So that’s both a provider directory and a place for queer conception stories to live. It’s called Queer Conception Stories dot com! I think we’re seeking definitely more submissions in terms of stories and providers for the directory. I also think that, more largely, I hear so many of (myself included) of this community of queer and trans birth workers expressing the desire to specifically apply this model of care to gender trandition, social or medical. So all of us have that, and I think, have shown up in that work in different ways in our own communities. And there’s a few organizations that are doing that work in a more structured way, but I would love to see collaboration around –let’s actually make that happen on a large-scale. In a really cohesive, collaborative way. So that’s just like a seed that I like to plant any chance I get.
Katie: Yes! Definitely something that I want to watch blossom. Yes! What else?
JB: There’s so many facets, too. I find myself reaching out to different kinds of professionals all the time. Someone planted the seed in my head of: for a lot of trans people, it’s very important to have a living will. Especially but not only if your name, your gender don’t align with things like your legal gender marker or your legal name. I’ve reached out to lawyer friends to ask “What would it be like to create a system for this to be a free service for trans people?” So I think there’s all these really awesome possibilities if we pool our resources and put our heads together to come up with systems for making these kinds of obstacles that we know are unfair and unjust – a little bit easier to traverse for people. So. Just naming that I think we need to call in more than just birth workers.
Katie: Yeah, absolutely. That’s something that’s very dear to my heart with my spiritual care hat on. I’ve worked as a hospital chaplain, and I’ve seen the places where because of who gets listed on advance directives, or people who have never made them, didn’t know they needed one and then suddenly the hospital “next of kin” hierarchy says, “OK, well, your mom now gets to make all of your medical decisions regardless of whether or not you’ve spoken to your parents in however long.” I’ve certainly seen that play out in really uncomfortable ways professionally and obviously so many people have personal experience of being in those situations. So important. I guess that’s also possibly one answer to this question, but what are some other things that are not natal or reproductive focused about you and your life that you wanna share?
JB: I think I fall into the category of “my work is also sooooooo deeply enmeshed with my identity” that it can be hard to say. But. Pre-pandemic, I’ve sung in multiple queer choirs so I love to do that. I go to stand-up comedy open mics and try my hand at that
JB: So there’s places that I find I can take off the identity of doula for a second and set it down and bring some more levity about a life and a lifestyle that can be really heavy. So I love that, and I’m also, before getting into doula work, I was an environmental educator so of course spending time outside, being around animals, gardening. All things that I love. In terms of not natal but still adjacent – if everything is reproductive justice (which I do believe), just contributing to community organizing efforts, mutual aid efforts when and where I can and how I can with the resources that I have feels like it overlaps with work and also isn’t completely separate from the direct client care that I do as a birth worker.
Katie: I am so excited about your post-pandemic stand-up sets. Wowow. wow.
JB: I’ve written like three jokes during this pandemic – it’s been rough. It’s been rough, y’all, I’ve tried. We’ll come out the other side.
Katie: Until that happens, where can people find you on the internet? (laughs)
JB: Not making jokes. I still try.
Katie: Not making jokes, where can people find you being really serious on the internet?
JB: Because I’m really, really not gifted at introducing myself – I haven’t even named that my practice is Love Over Fear Wellness.
Katie: (laughs) We’ll link it at the beginning, it’s gonna be fine!
Katie: Alright Jenna, thank you SO much. This was such a delight!