Categories
interviews

Moss Froom

Moss Froom. They/them. @mossthedoula, www.mossthedoula.com, All Genders Birth Class, Trans Birth Worker Meet Up, Red Emma’s Cooperative Book Store

Katie: Alright hi!

Moss: Hi! 

Katie: It’s so good to see you, so good to have you with us, and to just dive into it – could you just start telling us a little bit about who you are and your work?

Moss: Yeah, absolutely! I’m Moss, I use they and them pronouns. I am a queer/trans centered, full-spectrum doula. So I work with folks at all points on their family building and reproductive journeys. I mainly focus on, or just by virtue of who’s coming to me now, I’m mostly working through folks through their gestations and labors and births. And through their fertility processes. I’m also trained as an abortion doula. I have worked with families in the postpartum period, and I’m here for all the things, basically. Oh, also! I’m a childbirth educator – of course. I offer a class called All Genders Birth Class that walks you through kind of the big pieces that you need to know (or that you might want to know) as you are looking forward to a birth experience. Including what to expect from labor and birth, what are some common comfort measures and coping techniques. I also like to walk folks through the common interventions that they might face in a hospital setting. 

Katie: Yay, all the things! 

Moss: Yeah! 

Kaite: What are you queering right now?

Moss: I guess the thing that’s on my mind the most because I just taught my birth worker workshops that I do to try to get other birth workers up to speed on gender-affirming practice. I’ve been thinking a lot about queering language around birth and around care in general. I think it’s interesting because most of what I’m saying when I’m talking to people about queering language for birth, or about neutralizing language for birth is that it’s mostly all about just asking people what words they use to talk about themselves. It’s like, actually, not necessarily exclusive to queerness or transness. Really, this is helpful for everybody. Ultimately that person-centered approach to language ends up working better for everybody involved, cause everybody gets to feel affirmed in whatever their life experiences. Their experiences with their body, and their experience with growing a baby inside of them. I guess language is my answer. 

Katie: So important. It feels like both so basic and also can’t really be overstated – how important it is to use the words that people use. 

Moss: Yeah – I think it’s a cultural thing, or in terms of specific birth culture or birthwork culture. We get used to using certain words to describing certain things. Even just speech patterns and stuff. Just because of the way you’re taught, and training, and the way other birth workers are taught. We’re all just getting into the habit of using certain words or doing things in certain ways. They’re not necessarily person-centered or client-centered, but it is really easy to fall into the pattern of doing them. 

Katie: Yeah. As you said, they’re habits of speech. 

Moss: I feel like that says a lot about how….. There’s so much “mommy talk” in birth world, obviously, but especially with birth workers and clinicians just calling people “mom” and “mommy” all the time, instead of calling them their name. It’s like – I don’t know that any.. Probably not most… Most people probably don’t love that, even if they do identify as moms – I think most people probably don’t love other fellow adults calling them mom all the time. It is a pattern thing that you just sort of pick up when you’re in the normative, regular birth world. So it just gets reiterated over and over again with new workers. That’s one of those places where it’s like – no one really wants this to be happening. Let’s just stop doing it! It’s not necessary. (laughs) But it’s easy to fall into, I get it. 

Katie: What inspired you to do the work you do, what got you into birth work?

Moss: I was totally called into this work by my community. Initially, I got inspired to learn about birth and birth work on my own when I was… I got a women’s studies degree in college in Florida. This was before most things were rebranded as “women and gender studies” this was just a “women’s studies degree” (laughs). I learned a lot about birth when I was studying that stuff, I learned about the existence of doulas. I never was exposed to anything about birth growing up. It wasn’t until academic studies that I even learned that doulas existed. I originally was just immediately drawn to the world of it and drawn to birth and drawn to doula work because I’ve always been a person that’s really plugged into the very animal pieces of being a human being. There’s not many places in society where you get to really experience that, and birth is just one of those places where we’re all able to get deep into our animal selves. I was really drawn to it for that reason. I’ve always been a person who, for better or worse, grew up focused on supporting other people (as a person), so the idea of doulas just immediately called to me. It wasn’t until later in my life when the people around me (my close friends) started getting pregnant and are trans and I was just really called into becoming a doula when I was seeing how little resources were available to my friends who needed them. In particular, the first birth that I attended was that of one of my best friends and I was so excited when they told me that they were pregnant. I was like, “I’m gonna get in there and find you all the resources that are for you!” and I was just really coming up short, and there was not a lot out there that I could find for them that was affirming, or just even really spoke to their experience. For them, basically, I was like, alright, I’m gonna become a doula and I’m gonna be your doula. I’m gonna just start making resources and start adapting resources so you can get the information that you need without being totally thrown into a dysphoric experience or just not being able to take in the information because it’s so obnoxiously gendered. I was really called to become a doula by my friends, and now, that’s kind of my favorite thing about it. Just getting to work with people, and getting to just be with my sweet fellow queer and trans folks as we make our way through birth journeys. 

Katie: Absolutely, so it sounds like you’ve been in support roles in many parts of your life – both before, now, always… How do you talk to people about your support philosophy? 

Moss: My support philosophy… I feel like so much of it is just really, taking the time to get to know people, so you can fully understand what people need in terms of support on a deeper level. There’s so much that you can offer off the bat like, “I know how to do this thing, and I know how to do hip squeezes, and I know how to suggest labor positions” and stuff like that, but if you don’t really understand somebody and where they’re coming from… it’s so much harder to support them in the right way, basically. One of my main focuses in working with folks, in terms of any service on people’s reproductive path, a lot of it is taking a lot of time to just talk and just hang out and get to know each other. Having that background of experience with somebody can first of all, make them so much more comfortable with having you around when they’re in these deeply vulnerable moments. Also can just make it so much easier to figure out.. Anticipate needs, anticipate how someone might need you to plug in at any given moment. 

Katie: Absolutely, that relationship work is so fundamental. Any body in the room can do — most bodies in a room can do a hip squeeze. Not any random person who happens to show up in your birth space can hold the knowledge of a relationship that you’ve been building together and the parts of you that may or may not actually show up in labor, or may show up in unexpected ways. So important. 

Moss: I think so much of feeling supported in a birth space, or in any sort of vulnerable space, is the sensation of feeling seen is so much of what feels supportive. The better you know someone, the better you can be fully present to see them for who they are and have them understand that you see them for who they are. 

Katie: So, I’ve asked you a little bit about your natal work and now I wanna know about your natal chart. What’s your sun, moon, rising. 

Moss: I’m a Leo sun, and a Leo rising and I’m a Gemini moon. 

Katie: Wowowow. Bringing the Fi-yerrr!

Moss: For sure. Which – it was confusing growing up as a not very confident child cause all the horoscopes are like, “YOU are so confident! And you know what you’re doing!” I was like, “I don’t know.” but I feel like in my adult life I’ve figured out my Leo-ness, I’ve figured out what it means. 


Katie: It’s a thing to grow into. 

Moss: Exactly, I had a whole journey about it (laughs). 

Katie: What’s your favorite thing about bring a queer support person or working with queer and trans famlies? 

Moss: I think my favorite pieces is the “getting to know people” piece. It’s so joyful for me to get to meet a family, and really getting to know them, and seeing their family grow. Or support them through whatever intense emotional pieces are their puzzle and really get to maintain that relationship over time and see their babies grow up or see them have whatever journey their families go on. It’s super rewarding. I think it’s an experience of community-building. It’s like getting to know people, and also getting to connect people to each other, wether that’s clients here in Baltimore that I get to be like, “Ooh, here are these other queer families that have just recently gone through this thing that you’re going through.” I love getting to connect people to each other. And stay connected to people. 

Katie: [cat obscures Katie] I love that community-building pieces, that’s such an important resource that you offer the folks that you’re supporting.

Moss: Yeah! And it’s been fascinating in the virtual world, because it’s simultaneously super isolating for people but also the way that we can have community has really expanded throughout space so much. I have been running this “Trans and Gestating” support group on Zoom and so, I’ve gotten to connect with and meet all of these trans folks who are building their families all over the place, beyond the United States. Even folks in Canada and Australia, so far… Really seeing them build relationships with each other has been so cool, so I think that is some weird silver lining about living in quarantine world right now. [cat still obscuring Katie] I’m loving this guest appearance. 

Katie: Truffle is now also conducting this interview. Truffle would like to know, if you could improve one thing (or one of the things on what I’m sure is a very long list of things) about the experience of conception, pregnancy, birth, postpartum for queer and trans families, what would it be?

Moss: I think it’s just access to quality care, for me. It’s so hard to find medical providers who are, for one thing, queer and trans-affirming, but another thing – not super bogged down into the implicit bias and racism. It’s so hard to build our provider recommendation lists because providers are so few and far between who are trans-aware, even. Let alone trans-affirming. So many of us are trying to chip away at that problem by training people, and by building relationships with providers, but it’s very slow and hard work. That would be the piece that I would hope will change over time and more quickly than it’s currently changing. I guess that’s the thing. 

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

Moss: I think that, honestly, based on my own personal experience – working with your friends and sort of being called into the work by the people who are in your community and around you is the best way to get started, in my experience. I trained as a doula many years before I actually started practicing, so I have that experience of like, “OK I did my training! Who wants me to be their doula? I don’t really know why you want me to be your doula, but I’m here… to try..” and so, I had that and I didn’t end up working with any clients out of that feeling of, y’know, not being plugged into any kind of community or birth scene, not feeling totally prepared to start, but trying to start. I think a lot of people have that sensation when they’re getting going. The difference between that experience that I had, and the experience of like, “OK, my good friend needs somebody and I wanna rise to the occasion and be kind of that person” is huge. I know that’s a very lucky, special position to be in, to be like, “Oh, I magically have a great friend who wanted me to be their doula.” I think it really speaks to, more than anything else, being plugged into the queer and trans community around you. Just making sure that the people.. that you’re building community intergenerationally, making sure that people know that you are there for them when they need somebody. I guess that’s a convoluted piece of advice, but I think building community is the tl;dr on that. 

Katie: That’s so important, so often we talk about building community within “birth world” but being fully in all of the communities that you’re in, is I think, so essential and yeah – making sure that the people who might need you know you are there is really important and I think often gets overlooked, especially in cis-het birth world. 

Moss: It’s a super different set of challenges. And a different approach (laughs). 

Katie: And are there any projects that you’re working on that you want help cross-pollinating with others in the community?

Moss: One thing that I’m really excited about is this trans birth worker hangout that we’ve done two months in a row so far, and we’re about to do our third one. This doesn’t take much work, because it’s really just like – we set up a call and whoever wants to hangout who is trans and a birth worker comes and hangs out. I just want folks to know that that is in existence and available, so. I should get an easier link to sign up, so I’ll work on that, but maybe we can post the link to it. 

Katie: We will post the link to that. 

Moss: Hell yeah. 

Katie: Ab. so. lute. ly. 5/5 stars, would recommend, can confirm. It’s fucking great. 

Moss: It’s so nice to get to talk to other trans birth workers.. There’s so many not trans birth workers out there! It’s wild to actually get to be in a virtual room just full of only trans birth workers. Other than that, I guess I’m always open to collaborating with other queer and trans birth workers on… I mean, the childbirth class that I’m running now, I love doing it and I would love to be referred to if folks are looking for a trans-centered childbirth ed course, but I’m also so here for collaboration – to create resources with other birth workers, so. If anyone out there is trying to work on creating resources, whether that’s videos or PDFs or any kind of helpful resource, I am so here to collaborate on stuff like that. 

Katie: Amazing, make all the resources. 

Moss: Yeah, we just have a lot of gaps to fill. And I wanna work together to do that. 

Katie: For. Sure! Yes. And what’s something not-natal/reproductive-related about you and your life that you wanna share?

Moss: Well, I guess this is a good way to talk about my other work, which is I’m a worker-owner with Red Emma’s. We’re a cooperative bookstore and vegan restaurant and we’re trying to figure out what all of that means in Covid world, cause we’re owned by the workers, we’re not gonna make ourselves work super close to the public when we have our own families and selves and everything else to consider. We’re not currently open for people to come inside, but we are selling books online, which is one of the things that I love to do the most, is do the book-selling work. RedEmmas.org is our website, and you can buy lots of books, related to birth work there, because I’m one of the book sellers, so I’m always trying to make sure that we have the good things available. For instance, we just got in ten copies of “Why did no one tell me this? (the doula’s honest guide to birth and labor for expectant parents)” or some sort of subtitle like that. 

Katie: This one. It’s this one!! [Katie holds up “Why Did No One Tell Me This? The doula’s honest guide for expectant parents”] (laughs)

Moss: (laughs) I love… cooperative work is some of the — what I’ve been dedicated my life to, in my adult life, that I feel is the most vital thing that I could be doing besides supporting people in their reproductive journeys. So, yeah, I love my cooperative and I love Baltimore. One of the things that is so special about Red Emma’s is that we’re able to be building space and building free education and building community … It’s harder in covid world, but before we couldn’t let people inside, so much of it was about building space to be accessible by our community and for organizing, for just friendship and radical joy and whatnot. Being able to do that work with a coop of other weirdos, we’re just such a group of… a rag tag group of weirdos. We’re at least 50% trans, and we’re just all over the place, and I love them. (laughs) That’s the thing. Red Emma’s. 

Katie: There’s just so much beautiful joy to be found, even in just watching you describe the experience of that community. 

Moss: Awwe, yeah. 

Katie: So, finally, where can people find you on the Internet?

Moss: Yeah! I have a website, at www.mossthedoula.com. I’m also on Instagram @mossthedoula. I am on Facebook, but I would say that’s like, I’m trying to be engaged on Facebook but I’m maybe not as engaged as I am on Instagram, but… I think you can also find me there, Facebook.com/MossTheDoula. I’m all over those places, but yeah my website has all the info about all of the services that I offer and all of the trainings I have coming up, and classes. Feel free to also DM me or email me, I’m moss.froom@gmail.com. Please, anyone, email me for pretty much any reason. 

Katie: (Laughs) Alright, everybody email Moss. 

Moss: If you feel like it (laughs)

Katie: Alright, thank you so much, it was such a joy getting to hear from you. 

Moss: Thank you. I so appreciate that y’all are doing this. It was great to talk to you, also!

Categories
interviews

Chaney Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma: I do know what you mean, haha.

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

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

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

Emma: Absolutely. 

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

Emma: Yes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma: That’s the sweetest thing!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma: Yeah, or like the 1960s.

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

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

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

Emma: Of course, let’s start there. 

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

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

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

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

Chaney: I know, makes me so excited!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chaney: Thank you!

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

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

Emma: Okay, cool! (laughs)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
interviews

Alyssa Teixeira

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma: On all levels that day, for sure. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alyssa: Yeah! Thank you!

Categories
interviews

Amber Matteson

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

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

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

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

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

Katie: Yeah!

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

Katie: What are you queering right now?

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

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

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

Katie: YESS.

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

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

Amber: Right? 

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

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

Katie: Little queerlings around – ohhh!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katie: Limit does not exist. 

Amber: Does not exist (laughs)

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

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

Katie: The feelings! Moreso than the spreadsheets..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katie: That’s the crew you need. 

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

Katie: What are their names?

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

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

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

Katie: Absolutely not, no.

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

Katie: Oooh! Congratulations! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amber: Thank you so much! 

Categories
interviews

Mystique Hargrove

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

Emma: Well, welcome, thanks for hanging out with me a little bit this afternoon. I’m really excited to hear more about you and your practice, so do you want to introduce yourself, say where you’re at geographically, and a little bit about the work you do in the world.

Mystique: Thank you, I’m really excited to be here. This is a really dope and amazing experience. My name is Mystique Hargrove, pronouns she/they. I reside here and provide services for Greensboro, NC and the triad surrounding communities. Do a little virtual consultations, services as well. My titles or what I do, I will keep it very general cause it’s a long list and I didn’t realize it until I do these things – I do a lot. So, I’m a certified full-spectrum doula, certified herbal medicine practitioner, community lactation professional and advocate, aspiring to be a future IBCLC, that is in the works, hopefully next year. Doctoral student – woo! A counselor in education in supervision. I’m a single, radical, parent mama as I’m called by my 5 year old, and yeah I’m a part of the LGBTQ community. I’m a very open bisexual, Black, feminine nonbinary… also identify as a woman because that’s just the energy, the femininne energy I align with. What else do I do? I do consultations, I do birth work, I provide postpartum care whether its for birthing bodies, whether its for bodies who’ve terminated pregnancy, grief and loss, also helping with the recovering and healing aspects of either if they want to conceive again or if they just want to heal in general. Kind of the mental health and wellness aspect of it. An aspiring soon to be out of retirement counselor in the community, because that is definitely also needed. So, pretty much, my focus my work is mainly for BIPOC individuals, specifically Black individuals and Black LGBTQ individuals of color. My business pretty much started with servicing sex workers in the black LGBTQ community in the herbal medicine aspect, so I still do that as well. So that is all of what I do in general. 

Emma: Absolutely incredible. We are so glad to, y’know, have you out in the world and be able to kind of even hear you talk about vaguely the scope of what it is you embody is amazing. So to come off of that question and draw more on those queer parts, what are you queering right now?

Mystique: I’m queering the acknowledgement and the awareness.. Checking ignorance, checking biases, just not being ashamed of being my own self and living in my truth. I always say, I was not living in my truth before I “walked in my truth.” I was out, but I was hidden, because I hid myself from y’know, the world. I’m very like, “Yes, I’m bisexual.” just because my partner is a cis man, does not mean now I’m heterosexual. Just because I have a girlfriend does not mean I’m a lesbian! I’m attracted to both genders, I’m pretty much attracted to whatever energies align with me, attracted to me. I’m just loving myself, embracing all pieces of me. Especially those pieces that I’m also healing from when I used to hide myself and not be so out and knowing that I do have a community that accepts me and loves me and can protect me throughout all this mess that is happening. 

Emma: Absolutely, we really need each other.

Mystique: Yes!

Emma: So thank you for sharing that. So, originally – I don’t know what your starting point was to get into this work, but what kind of inspired you to be where you’re at today?

Mystique: My own personal experience when I was pregnant with my now rebellious five year old. I had a very traumatic birthing experience where both of our lives were almost lost. Nobody was listening to me, pretty much ignoring me, it was neglect, my birth plan was thrown out the window. Things I know now – I reflect back and I’m like – that was abuse and neglect, that experience. My own experience and advocating that and kind of creating this circle of other Black folks or other people of color saying, “Yes, I experienced the same thing” brought me to where I’m at now. When somebody, one of my friends was like, “Hey. I run a doula program. You would be great.” You know I’m out advocating for the community and birth work and this/that and the other, so I went to get trained under their doula program. Moreso, I liked the fact that it was community based. Even though the organization that it was under definitely neglects the fact that intersectionality in the community exists. Especially with people of color, my own experiences are very separate. We may all experience discrimination, however, they’re separate. They’re not the same. So she kind of tied that into our training to be community based doulas. To know that you’re not just serving those who have middle to high income and are heterosexual couples. There are single parents, there are those who are teenagers, those who have gone through trauma and sexual assault. It’s various levels to this that you have to work through and navigate through in the community and be aware of. There are people with different family dynamics, who have poly dynamics, or blended families, kindred type of families, guardians – the whole – it was mind blowing. So that even made me want to dive deeper into it, and this is where I am. Continuing to still learn and continuing to check my own biases. Trying to unlearn what I learned growing up because of the community I was around was not very open to the community I serve now. So, you know, once I escaped from that community and was actually into a community that I was taught “this and that” was not even true.. Learning that, I feel comfortable being myself because even at a time, I couldn’t express, “Hey, I’m part of the community that you’re talking trash about” you know? Pretty much my whole experience as birthing and almost losing my life and my son’s life is what pretty much brought me into the work that I do now. 

Emma: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for sharing that. And it’s heavy, and that’s just real. Your work literally saves lives. 

Mystique: Right.  

Emma: That’s, it’s critical. We’re really glad you’re out there. I’m so sorry you had to go through that, and that anybody has to go through that. But that’s why, some of why a lot of people get into it, for sure. 

Mystique: Yes, yes.

Emma: So, you definitely touched on this in all your answers, but to be really explicit, do you have a specific support philosophy that you kind of bring through your work?

Mystique: I’m always about supporting the person where they’re at. Working from where they are, it’s very person-centered. It’s also working, if they have trauma and have experienced trauma in the past. Kind of working with my services, making sure it’s trauma informed and is trauma supportive, as I like to call it. Because trauma cannot be.. It’s so… not black and white. And it’s a lot to navigate through. Regarding just my work, I just work where the person is and just go from there. Given that I’m very direct, but I’m loving. I always call it my “tough love.” I’m not gonna sugar coat it, my client’s know. I don’t sugar coat, I’m here to inform and educate, but also respect your choices as well. Because I don’t want somebody making a choice and they’re not informed or educated. I don’t push, I don’t say – just because I wouldn’t personally choose that, I’m not gonna say “you shouldn’t do that” or whatever, it’s their choice. So if they’re like, “I still want a c section, I know the risk. I know what’s possibly to happen, but I just want you there, should I need to have a c section – I’m all for it…” great. I’m not that type of birth worker that’s like, “No! you should–” I don’t do that. That’s… that- Cause I wouldn’t want anybody to do that to me! If I want to give birth at a river sitting or squatting near a tree, I want my birth worker to be like “Let’s do this. OK. However. You do know, these are the risks, and if you’re aware- ok, let’s do it, but these are the risks and let’s come up with a plan..” So kind of just meeting them where they are, not forcing my own personal preferences on them. Also just checking myself should I feel like I might be shifting toward that type of energy. Which, it happens. You know, I’m normal, I’m human, everybody’s human. So I say, “You know what, you’re right. Let’s formulate a plan. Let’s work with the choice that you want to make and go from there.” So that’s pretty much how I work. I’m very flexible, I’m there for the client, and their needs. Making sure they are informed and educated, though, with their choices. 

Emma: That’s awesome, yeah – and it’s important to acknowledge certain situations that make you question yourself for a second. That’s kind of all you need as a support person, taking a minute to be aware of what you’re thinking of, where your experience is at, and yeah, trying to be present with what’s actually in front of you. 

Mystique: Exactly. Exactly. 

Emma: Amazing, well, we’ve asked about your natal work, and now I want to know about your natal chart! What’s your sun sing, moon and rising?

Mystique: Okay! So I am an Aquarius sun, Taurus moon and Aries rising. And when people hear the Aries rising, they’re like “I get it. Because that’s where the fire is.” My aqua sun, I’m chillin’: I’m just trying to be a humanitarian and serve those in need and advocate and all this great stuff, and y’know, my Aries is that radical knock everything over, flip tables, yell “Yall are gonna hear me, you’re gonna listen to us” type of thing, and my Taurus moon is, I’m chillin. I’m relaxing, “Why are we making such a ruckus, why are we making so much noise? Can we just calm down?” So, luckily I have that nice little balance. (laughs). That’s my natal chart, I love my natal chart. 

Emma: I love it, I think it’s working.

Mystique: Right? It’s a balance! I need it! 

Emma: I’m a Libra, and I was gonna be like, “Seems really balanced!” but that’s also how I tend (laughs). Awesome, so what’s your favorite thing about being a queer perinatal worker or about working with queer and trans families, and queer and trans families of color?

Mystique: I love the fact that everybody is different. Everybody presents a different – it’s never a boring day, it’s never a boring time period at all. I also allow celebrating us, because we don’t get to do that a lot. And when we do, it kind of gets shut down, and some of us are like, “Well, maybe I did too much.” So I’m the type, again here’s my Aries rising, who’s like “No, we’re gonna celebrate, we’re gonna be loud because we’re here, we’re queer, get over it – like they said!” I just love the fact that we have different expressions, different identities, and we can just come together knowing that we are a community that faces through all this mess, through all the discrimination, through all the hate crimes, and the trageties that are happening to our communities, we can be there for– Ooh we are so strong– for each other, and supportive, even if we feel like, “I’m gonna give up, I can’t..” I will say my own support system, which is majority LGTBQ, I will send a text like, “I don’t know if I can do this, I’m throwing in this towel,” and instantly it’s like, “You better be so glad that we’re in a pandemic and I can’t come over there and shake you and say, ‘NOPE, we’re gonna dance it out, whatever, we’re gonna go for a walk.’” Just that supportive collective, to just be there and be strong and just be like a unified front. I really love how we bring that energy for each other and just in our communities as well. 

Emma: That’s awesome, gives me the warm fuzzies. I wish you could have your lil queer shaking friends like, “get it together!!”


Mystique: Yes!

Emma: At least we’ll do that digitally for now, we’re connected. Amazing. So, speaking of perinatal care in general, your own experience – what is something that you’d hope to improve for queer and trans birthing families and families of color? 

Mystique: I’m hoping to improve the awareness just being mindful that everything is not so binary. Intersectionality, or being intersectional, exists. In all of this. Knowing that this work is very intersectional, we are very diverse and being aware of checking those biases like I spoke about earlier, but also using inclusive language. Also understanding that using inclusive language does not dismiss or neglect anybody else that is or identifies as being binary, cisgendered or heterosexual. We’re not excluding you, you’re included! So, that’s kind of the tough, that’s a challenge that I’m being presented with. Explaining what being inclusive means and when you’re using inclusive language in this work. “I’m a woman, I identify as a mother or a mom” it’s not dismissing you, it’s including everybody. And to wrap it all up, I will say, inclusive language or say “those who not only identify as ‘mom’ and ‘female’ but also, we have to understand pronouns and identity, such as she/they, they/them, nonbinary bodies, transgender bodies, and breaking down that there’s transgender women, transgender men, transgender nonbinary people. Breaking that down, and understanding but also coming from a space of knowing that I can’t let my hot head get to me – my Aries rising get to me. Let’s take it down, let’s breathe through it cause this is an opportunity to inform and educate. So that is pretty much what I’m dealing with, making sure we’re using inclusive language and not only that, but we know, you know in certain spaces. That is the challenge. Slowly but surely, progress is being made. Of course there’s kick back, there’s rejection, it’s expected. But I know I’m doing my job of what I can do, my end, my part in all of this. Knowing I’m not alone and I’m not by myself in this. Yes, it’s a battle, but we are strong and we’re gonna keep it moving, we’re gonna keep it going because you guys will understand that this work is not so binary. It’s checking those heavy heteronormative agendas as well.

Emma: Amazing, I mean it’s such a deep seated debate in the birth world. 

Mystique: Yes it is. Woof.

Emma: Y’know, I’m not referring to every single person in the world who’s ever had a baby when I say “mom”!

Mystique: Exactly. 

Emma: Sure, we’re just acknowledging that “you’re a mom.” It takes time, and it’s good to be with other birth workers who are seeing it like that and being in that community. We gotta hang out with each other more.

Mystique: Right!

Emma: Well I’m curious if you have any pieces of advice for aspiring queer/trans birth workers, lactation counselors, herbalits, phD candidtaes, any of that. 

Mystique: I would say, I was guilty of that same y’know “What am I doing wrong? Why am I not being heard or being taken seriously?” just overthinking things. Don’t compare your journey to other birth workers or lactation counselors or whatever. Don’t compare your journey to them. This is your own journey. Through your own journey, you will discover that when you have … walking your own truth and navigating through that. You’re constantly navigating through that throughout this. See how, when you transform yourself and and start walking in your truth, you’ll start transforming the way you do work. Especially for your community, especially communities who are marginalized, neglected and dismissed. Elevating to the next level. Next levels come with even more stress, so kind of being aware of your own biases as well, because we tend to forget that we’re like, “ra ra ra, let’s be inclusive, make sure you respect me and my community” we all have our own biases. We don’t know everything – everybody doesn’t know everything. So it’s important to learn from each other, and learn from those who are in those represented communities that you’re not. For instance, I know nothing about those who are in the disability community, who are disabled. I don’t know and I haven’t lived that life, so I communicate with those –especially if they are queer and trans disabled people– I can’t speak on their experiences, so I want to know that, especially if I have a client who is in that situation, and they feel comfortable with me working with them. I also want to have that resource to bring in, as well. 

Also, know your worth. Just because you’re trained and you’re in training and you’re gaining experiences, it’s ok to know your worth, to price what you’re worth. It’s OK, you can get paid as a trained birth worker. I got paid as a trained birth worker. I was surprised that I would! They were like, “I’m not having you do all this work for free.” You’ll be surprised – a lot of people understand the hard work that comes with birth work. That comes with being in the community, being an actual community birth worker, they understand that it’s a fight. You’re fighting for that community, those people, those individuals. So, charge your worth. Don’t compare yourself. Definitely work on checking biases, charge your worth. And just take your time, learn as much as you can. But – and I’d stress this, because I always get fussed at – self-care is very important. That is a priority. And it’s sad if you have to schedule self-care, cause now I gotta schedule it, but it’s done. You have to do what you have to do to actually schedule self care because you can’t be an empty cup trying to fill other cups. It does not work. It will tip over, and nothing will be coming out of you but dust. So, self care is definitely, definitely important. Whatever that looks like that is healthy, in a way that that helps you cope with whatever stressers, heaviness, weighted energies are thrown your way. So self care is important in this work because if not, you will be burnt out. We can’t have burnt out birth workers cause we got too much work to do, so take care of yourself. Definitely. 

Emma: So true. We need you, we need you to stick around for a few years, longer than just a few years. 

Mystique: Yes, yes. 

Emma: Excellent survival guide for starting out in the perinatal field! Awesome, what upcoming projects – do you have anything that you’d like to cross-pollinate with the community or is there anything you’re trying to spread pollen on?

Mystique: Yes, so beginning next month, I’m doing a free virtual support group for black postpartum moms and parents, it will be definitely a variety of these postpartum groups. One focused on just parenting-wise, navigating through that. One focused on grief and loss, because that is also a thing as well. And one focusing on healing and recovery in general, should they terminate a pregnancy, — so there will be various support groups that will trickle on throughout the year, but the first one will be focused on Black postpartum parents, and that aspect and examining what it looks like. What healing and wellness looks like for Black postpartum parents. The next one will be starting next month, I will be offering two free to very-low-cost postpartum services to BIPOC bodies, just doesn’t matter what their situation is as far as postpartum is concerned, that service will be focused on their healing and recovery. But it will just be two, I’ll pick two every month and the free service will go to one who is either no-low income, and the very low-cost will be to those who are actually employed, making a specific amount. My focus is mainly helping to serve those who are in need, especially who can’t afford a lot of these postpartum services that are out. A lot of people have been financially affected by the pandemic. Luckily I was able to promote that, provide that to the community, so that will be starting next month.

Emma: That’s really amazing, and I’m looking forward to asking how we can support that in a moment, but before we wrap up, I’m curious if you have anything not perinatal about your life that you want to share?

Mystique: Well, I did have, I hit a parenting milestone moment that my five-year-old is losing his first tooth. I don’t know how to take it. I’m just like, “Oh my gosh, you are really gr..” and he was fine with it until he heard he could get money for the tooth, and now he’s working on trying to get the tooth out and I’m like, “Leave it alone” It’s kind of like a moment of “Wow, you are actually growing up. This is really happening. Wow.” and then my partner just stepping in and being that parenting figure for him, it’s amazing. We realized that, “You know that you’ve been around for over two years?” He’s’ like “Yeah!” Whoa! So, we celebrated that. We went to Baltimore to celebrate our anniversary, cause that was kind of the safest way to celebrate it. It was supposed to be Miami, but no- we decided to make it a little safer for us. But other than that, just the parenting moment of my child is, he’s growing up. He’s just so aware of things and he’s always into “what is mama doing?” If I’m studying, he wants to be there studying with me, so it’s a really “aha” moment. My child is growing up and he’s really interested in seeing what his mama is doing and if he sees me trying to do services or take care of one of my doula babies, he’s very helpful. He’s like, “Mom, I’m your assistant” I’m watching my kid grow up! It’s a beautiful moment to reflect that, wow, we went through what we went through and now we’re here type of moment. Parenting is hard! (laughs) it’s so hard. But it teaches me patience that I need for other things in life, so yeah.

Emma: That’s so amazing. It sounds like he’s turning out pretty good if he’s like, super into all the work you’re doing. That’s just an extension of the work, making examples for future generations. And five is such a big kid age. Awesome, well, I’m curious where people can find you and support your projects on the internet. Especially the low-cost post-pregnancy care that you’re offering. Where can we follow up with you?


Mystique: So, social media, Facebook The Black Birth Healer. You just type it in, I’ll pop up, you’ll see my face. Instagram is @BlackBirthHealer and my website is www.theblackbirthhealer.com So soon I’ll be posting about my projects on my website, but Instagram as well, and more details will come with that.

Emma: Amazing, thank you so much for being here today!

Mystique: Thank you for having me, this was awesome. 

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!