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.
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.
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!!”
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”!
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.
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.