Emma: Hey Katie
Emma: How are you today? Nice to see you.
Katie: Nice to see you too, doing well!
Emma: Awesome, do you wanna tell us a little about you and your practice?
Absolutely. So my name’s Katie Byron, I use they/them pronouns. I provide full-spectrum reproductive support. So supporting folks through pregnancy, birth, postpartum, also abortion, miscarriage, other pregnancy losses. I am also a childbirth educator and a social worker
Emma: Awesome. That’s a lot, love it. What are you queering right now?
Katie: I am queering … one of the things I’m queering right now is perinatal mental health. It’s certainly a space in which there is certainly a lot of folks who are straight and cis who have a lot of experience working with queer and trans people and famlies. AND there are not as many folks who are queer/trans/nonbinary themselves in this work and it is certainly a place where I think there is deep need both for more education and for folks who are actually from queer and trans communities to be doing the work and to be in positions to be providing support to specifically queer and trans families.
Emma: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for that, that’s awesome. And such a good point, too, y’know, with all perinatal work, there’s plenty of straight and cis people who say they have experience working with queer families, and that’s great if people feel like they’re a good fit. And also, there’s so much more to it than that. So, thanks for bringing that to the table. What inspired you to do the work that you do?
Katie: A couple, a few spaces – the most, well, one of which being my personal experience particularly as a fat femme person and living in a world where a lot of people have a lot of opinions about my body and what my body does in space and the size of my body and the shape of it has me feeling particularly attuned to the way that bodies get the amount… the amount that our society puts on bodies during reproductive changes, and so there’s something that’s both personally very liberating and healing for me in doing this work of helping and accompanying people as they are finding new ways to claim their bodies as their bodies change. On sort of a more practical note – I like got to college as a young white feminist and was like, “Oh yeah! The way to express my politics is to become a clinic escort at Planned Parenthood.” So, that was work that I did for a couple of years in college and was a space where I saw those micro-interactions mattered to people. That having someone who is going to smile as they walk you from your car, or who is going to ask about where you got your shoes to drown out the sounds of protesters meant something. I certainly think that’s work where I built a lot of my skills around establishing rapport with people and shaped how I approach people understanding that I might be approaching people who are about to step into who knows what kind of shaming/judgmental landscape. It was in that work that I started to learn about other forms of abortion support work and actually found out that there were people who did support work around abortion. After I finished college, I moved down to DC, I did a training with the DC Doulas for Choice Collective and started working in clinics providing support to folks around abortion experiences. That for me was really a transformative space of realizing, this is in fact not about my politics. That was a wild presumptive mindset. And that really the thing that was so moving to me about the work was not because it was some expression of my politics in any kind of way, but it was about the experience of being with people and of sitting with just the messiness of what an abortion meant to someone or what any kind of reproductive experience might mean for someone. Whether it’s the thing that means you get to go on your vacation and have margaritas without any sense of guilt or if it’s like a really complicated thing that is tied into feelings about a relationship or whatever else. Often, when I think about what inspired me to get into a lot of the work that I do, I think back to some of those initial clinic experiences and the people who I had the honor of getting to sit with and and be with and got to really fall in love with that way of being with people.
Emma: Yeah, that’s really awesome. So drawn in via maybe college politics and then stuck around for the actual human element of it. That’s awesome. I think a lot of people are gonna go through that similar transformation, so it’s where a lot of people have their starting point. Thanks for sharing. What’s your support philosophy?
Katie: Yeah, I fundamentally will tell people that I think… I approach this with an understanding that reproductive support work is fundamentally about justice work. My support philosophy comes from a place of acknowledging that we live in a society that has privatized all kinds of care in ways that are not aligned with how humans have at any point in history done care for each other. My support philosophy is rooted in the fact that I don’t really think that any of the hats I wear “should” exist as professions. And, nonetheless, we live in a society that has told us that your community’s not gonna show up for you in hard times or when you’re going through big life transitions. So the way to get support is to bring in some private individual who has “specialized training.” My support philosophy, acknowledging the fact that, it’s messed up that we have to have this at all, comes from a place of really trying to empower people to make real choices about what they want their experience to be like, what tools they already have to deal with hard or big things, and about what kind of story do you want to be able to tell about this experience? This is not – at times, it might feel like something that is happening TO you, and that’s super real, and what kind of sense can we make out of that? What are the ways that this can be integrated into the story of your life? How do you want to understand this experience? So that’s a lot of how I approach my support work.
Emma: Amazing, I love it. To acknowledge sort of the history of any kind of support work, being not a “professional” role that you do training to do. It’s because of the system that we have these roles, because the system doesn’t have these roles in it. So, uh – amazing! Thank you so much for bringing that up. OK! So we’ve talked about your natal work, what’s in your natal chart! Tell me your sun, moon, rising.
Katie: I am a Capricorn sun, virgo moon, libra rising.
Emma: Nice, alright alright. Libras!
Katie: I feel like there’s a lot of libra energy in birth work.
Emma: That’s awesome. I’ve never had anyone say that to me, but I have clients ask me my chart sometimes, and I’m like, “Libras get along with everyone, so it’s cool.”
Katie: I’ve definitely seen threads of birth workers talking about their charts, and I feel like I’ve seen a lot of libra energy.
Emma: Right on, libras, hit us up! Amazing. So what’s your fabroite thing about being a queer support perosn or working with LGBTQ families?
Katie: Yeah, one of my favorite things about queering support work is about the ways that we’re able to acknowledge relationships. I think that particularly in medical systems, and y’know I’ve worked in hospitals as a social worker as part of my social work training, I also wear another hat in a spiritual care realm – I’ve served as a chaplain in hospitals. Something I consistently see is the way that there are real hierarchies of relationships in medical settings. In part, cause there are “next of kin” hierarchies about who gets to make medical decisions for you in an emergency. So, you know, married legal spouses win all the time. I think something that’s really special about queer folks doing support work is that we know that that’s not always and possibly not most of the time true. To be able to acknowledge: who are the most important people in your life around this experience? Maybe the answer is a monogamous partner. Maybe the answer is an aunt who you know had a similar reproductive experience, or a close friend who has been with you for all of the hard times. Or it is a space where actually the person who is best equipped to support you is your metamour who you don’t get along with and actually don’t talk about all that much with… but, this is something that you have a shared experience around and they’re gonna be your… really gonna be your person. Or they’re really organized in a way that’s gonna be helpful. I think that being able to not have… walking in without assumptions about who is going to be most important to you or which relationships are going to be the thing to hold you in this is something that I think is one of my favorite things. To just see all the way that people build community and family.
Emma: Yeah, that’s awesome. And it really is in these times that those kinds of relationships get tested and called on and it’s like, who’s name do you write on your paperwork and all your medical stuff? That’s a really, really good point! If you could improve one thing about the experience about queer and trans birthing families, what would it be?
Katie: I would do so many things. But if I could change one thing, it would be for providers of all kinds to actually take seriously the words that people use to talk about what’s happening to them and their bodies. Which, I think about both in particular with queer and trans families – the family names that people want used. It’s not…. in every other part of clinical training, people are taught to use the words that your patient or your client uses. And yet, somehow, when it comes to queer and trans families, somehow all of that knowledge just falls out of people’s heads. Or about reproductive experiences in general – I’ve certainly seen, I’ve heard plenty of really horrific stories of medical providers who suddenly don’t have any helpful words to say around abortion, around pregnancy loss. And I think certainly, also, the experiences of all kinds of marginalized people who are telling people about things they’re experienced in their bodies and are being dismissed, or written off, or not taken seriously. I think if I could change one thing, it would be for providers to actually hear the words that people use, take them seriously, and then reflect those words back at people.
Emma: Amazing. I think that would make lots of subsequent changes! So… good answer, amazing. Do you have any advice for new and aspiring queer and trans birth workers?
Katie: If there’s one piece of advice I would give… you get to, this can be a “choose your own adventure” style path. I think there are a lot of setup in birth world that is like, “You have to do your training, and then you follow the step by step guide to get certified in whatever it is that you trained in, and then you somehow find clients, you probably undersell yourself for the sake of climbing up this… I just think that so many people get stuck and so many people don’t stay in birth work. People who we need in our communities and who the families in our community need as birth workers and as support people because they get lots in the bureaucracy or in the what they think is the step by step thing, and I think the reality is: there are very few rules and if the organization you trained with has a certification process that is trash, you don’t have to do it.
Katie: Right? Like, if the reading list for your training organization is a bunch of heterocis-centered nonsense, like, you don’t have to do it! And if you feel like some step in the process has made it so you’re being asked to do something that’s not aligned with your values, or not how you want to practice, or makes you feel like you need some sort of extra specialized training to know how to do the stuff that you intuitively have been doing your entire life, you don’t have to do it.
Emma: Amazing, I love it. As someone who, y’know, has been an uncertified birth attendant for ten years – I’m all about it. There’s very little benefit to that depending on the states you live in and the legislation and all that. I like the choose your own adventure advice. That’s good.
Katie: And I think there’s so much that’s like, there are a lot of particularly white cis straight birth workers who have really commodified specific types of training that you dont’ actually have to pay hundreds of dollars to learn how to do that. And I think there’s a lot, I see this a lot in the mental health field. Right? That there are all kinds of very expensive trainings you can do about like, “How to support LGBTQ clients” that are taught by straight people who have all thix “experience “ in part to train queer and trans people who don’t have the “right certifications” to do the thing that they do for their community and all of their clients all of the time. Right?
Emma: And it’s like, who is the money going to? Where are these resources being given? …So what’s something not natal about your life that you want to share with people?
Katie: Something not natal about my life is that I am — yeah, sure! I am trying to think through things that I do. A not natal thing about my life is as I mentioned earlier, I also wear some spiritual care hats. I’m also getting a masters in divinity, which is in part related to natal stuff, it’s certainly in this realm of holistic spiritual and emotional care for folks. But also means that I’m a little bit of a theology nerd. Also always down to talk theologies of liberation.
Emma: Right on! Liberation theology folks, hit us up! Amazing, Katie, so where can people find you on the internet?
Katie: You can find me at LGBTQBirth.com, my personal birth support website is BirthWithKatie.com you can also find me on instagram @birthwithkatie.
Emma: Amazing, thank you!