Radical Doula Profiles: Joey Larson

November 19, 2014

This is a series highlighting folks who identify as Radical Doulas. Are you interested in being part of the series? Go here to provide your responses to the profile questions and I’ll include you!

Picture of Joey Larson holding a newbornAbout Joey: Birth has become a passion in my life, the rights for woman and how she is treated before, during, and after birth should make her feel no less than honored and treasured. My mom taught me compassion, choice, love and support are so important in a woman’s life..and behold a doula was born…The idea of birth makes me cry and the truth is it is a true MIRACLE. Working with my many types of families and situations has opened my eyes and appreciation to different cultures and customs of birth. I am in awe how birth changes yet stays the same all over the world. It truly is a universal miracle. I live in Minnesota. Contact: birthingmiracles.yolasite.com or birthingmiracles.jl@gmail.com.

What inspired you to become a doula?
I was so lucky to be chosen by God to be birthed in to a family with a mother who loved the miracle of what birth was..I always worked and loved the babies and mama’s..My mom taught me compassion, choice, love and support are so important in a woman’s life..and behold a doula was born…The idea of birth makes me cry and the truth is it is a true MIRACLE.

Why do you identify with the term radical doula?
I believe a woman should have rights, rights to her body during pregnancy. She should choose when and where she births. A woman should have the right to decide what she puts in her body and her babies body during and after birth. A woman should not have a stereotype because of how she births or what she chooses in the birthing process. Birth is a miracle and should be treated no less than of which it truly is.

What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?
My doula philosophy is a woman should have the birth she chooses. She should have many choices. I believe that to have a great birth you need to treasure a woman in all areas, like emotional, physical and spiritual. To teach her to advocate and give her a voice. I also let women know they can interview, fire, and change at any point in their birth.

What is your favorite thing about being a doula?
I would say my favorite thing is watching the transformation from a woman to a mother and when a partner’s face changes when they see the picture of LOVE in their new baby or babies. I love holding a space and having a women feel treasured. I also think a great birth is the partner feeling empowered and supported as well.

If you could change one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth, what would it be?
CHOICES.. lots and less judgement.

New resource: Trans Birth

November 17, 2014

This came across my inbox a while back and looks like a great resource for people interested in trans friendly birth providers.

Trans Birth is a directory created to connect trans* and gender non-conforming people and their families to midwives, OBGYNs, and doulas who provide welcoming care to our communities.

A few years back I wrote about what my friend (and midwife-in-training) Chula Doula called the “Trans Baby Boom.” We’re seeing way more resources and conversation about the experience of pregnancy and childbirth for the trans and gender non-conforming. I don’t think it’s a new phenomenon, it’s just one that getting a lot more visibility as the issues facing the trans community get more attention.

Check out the website, and if you are a trans-friendly provider, you can request to be added to the directory.

Radical Doula Profiles: Natasha Crouch

November 12, 2014

This is a series highlighting folks who identify as Radical Doulas. Are you interested in being part of the series? Go here to provide your responses to the profile questions and I’ll include you!

Natasha Crouch smiling in black and whiteNatasha Crouch is a certifying doula working with Full Spectrum Doulas and Birth Arts International in Seattle Washington. She has a background in sexual education, women’s & men’s empowerment and a passion for helping women and families feel safe and strong in the decisions regarding their bodies and minds. She can be contacted through her website.

What inspired you to become a doula?
There are layers of things that inspired me to walk this path, when I was 16 I had a late term miscarriage and had an incredibly impossible time finding information or support for myself – or later for and with other women going through the complex emotions of a miscarriage or abortion. I held hands of very amazing friends during their labor and discovered that there was a gap in the professional care provided by hospitals. Wanting to help fill that gap is what really lead me here, for the full spectrum of care – offered to all women – because care and information should not be so difficult to come by.

Why do you identify with the term radical doula?
I identify with the term because I believe care should be accessible by all people of all walks of life. I strive to work with women and families with trauma in their backgrounds, anxiety, depression and other mental complexities. I work both within my community (both LGBT and Polyamourous families) as well as outside of my family (anyone) needing non-judgmental and understanding support. My motto in life has always been that I cannot judge what I do not know – so I work to help people transition during the many walks of life. No one should ever feel alone. No one should be denied support when they need it.

What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?
I believe that support should be readily available as families and individuals need it, I am committed to providing evidence-based, Mother/Family-friendly, non-judgmental Full Spectrum Doula services. With the core belief that each of these essential experiences are as unique as the individual. While birth, life and death cannot be something we control – that is what makes our stories unique. That uniqueness is what defines and excites the world. Providing support and education through birth, miscarriage, abortion, adoption and any other major transition is a gigantic passion of mine.

Politically I feel the same; we should not allow others to take away our power, we should not step on the heads of our fellow humans in order to gain our own prosperity. Unity and strength in community is what keeps us whole and gives us strength. Information and Education gives us the power of choice and choice is one of the most essential keys to life. To take away someones choice and make them feel powerless – is a deep and terrible crime.

What is your favorite thing about being a doula?
This varies, I love the moment in birth when the family becomes a family – that moment of understanding on a primal level that life has happened and that that moment brings unity to the individuals in the room. The primal strength of a mother embracing herself and finding peace and wisdom in the birth space – that deep trust that can happen in a safe and ideal birth setting.

Overall though – its seeing the moment when the peace that trusting ‘your’ body, ‘your’ decisions and the moment – when I see that in a room with a woman/mother/family – no matter what the path is – that’s the most amazing thing in the world.

If you could change one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth, what would it be?
I would remove the fear and dis-information, I would push more medical facilities and popular media sources to not rely on fear mongering and judgement to inform people – but allow the space for people to be fully informed and the empowerment to make their own decisions and not feel as though they had no control.

Two election reflections: Latino myth-busting & the white women’s vote

November 10, 2014

I’ve been writing a weekly column at Colorlines these last five months. My areas of focus are gender and race, so I’ve written about all sorts of topics, including a tax break for Black and Latino men, how control over time impacts healthcare workers, the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, race and gender in American education, helping more people of color learn to code, fatkinis, an angry response to the NY Times erasure of women of color and the reproductive justice movement, children’s books highlighting QPOC families, and more.

If you want to follow along with those articles, you can follow Colorlines on facebook, follow my main twitter feed, or subscribe to my email list. I’m planning to revive it in the coming weeks, and send a weekly-ish email with my latest writing.

I don’t post everything I write elsewhere here, since I want to keep Radical Doula focused on birth activism and related topics, but these two election related pieces felt relevant to share.

First, I wrote about new polling from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health that shows Latinos in Texas are widely supportive of abortion access, contrary to stereotypes about the community:

I spent Valentine’s Day 2007 at a community center in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. I was there with a colleague from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) where I was working as an organizer. We’d come to facilitate a reproductive justice advocacy training with a group of local women. They varied in age from early 20s to 50s, and had been gathered by a group of local promotoras—health promoters—who had been working in rural, isolated trailer park-like communities (known as colonias) with no municipal resources (running water, sewer systems, trash collection).

I no longer work for NLIRH, but their work in Texas has continued. A new poll they commissioned in late October supports what I experienced that week in South Texas—Latino attitudes on abortion are much less polemic than we’re encouraged to believe. When it comes down to it, the majority of Latino likely voters don’t think politicians should be able to interfere in a woman’s decision regarding abortion.

Read the full article here.

Finally on Thursday I published a reflection on last week’s election results, honing in on the difference between voting trends for white women and Black and Latina women:

When you look at Tuesday’s election results by gender, it seems that the Democrats and Republicans split the women’s vote pretty evenly, with a few percentage points in favor of Dems. But when you examine that data by gender and race, you’ll get a wholly different picture that highlights an Achilles’ heel for Democrats: white women.

Exit polls released by CNN show that white women’s votes went to the Republicans by a margin of 13 percent. Fifty-six percent of white women voted Republican while only 43 percent voted Democrat.

And if you look at the numbers for black and brown women, you see just how big the race gap really is. Ninety percent of black women and 67 precent of Latina women voted Democrat. (It’s worth noting that Black and Latino men also voted for Democrats more than white women did—86 and 58 percent respectively.) Even when you break it down by age, the white vote went to Republicans. These numbers mean even more when you consider that white people make up two-thirds of the electorate, with the vote evenly split between white men and women.

Considering a lot of progressive effort goes to turning out Black and Latino voters (even though the majority of organizational leadership and staff is white), I think this week’s results show a need for progressives to also figure out how to talk to, and move, white voters.

Radical Doula Profiles: Stephanie Gentry-Fernandez

August 29, 2014

This is a series highlighting folks who identify as Radical Doulas. Are you interested in being part of the series? Go here to provide your responses to the profile questions and I’ll include you!

Stephanie smiling in black tank top

Stephanie Gentry-Fernandez is a bilingual (Spanish/English) ICTC-certified Full Circle Doula. As a registered nurse, health educator, artist, and organizer, she has long advocated for the use of trauma-informed, holistic, and culturally sensitive frameworks that use harm reduction to be inclusive to all people seeking healthier lives. Using evidence-based practice, Stephanie incorporates emotional, spiritual, and physical support during pregnancies by honoring traditional birthing customs and promoting breastfeeding. Stephanie is a native life-long resident of Chicago’s South Side and is committed to providing services to all Chicago-area residents, particularly those living in the south side and south suburbs.

For the past 15 years, Stephanie has been a source of support to people in crisis through venues as diverse as juvenile detention centers, domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, homeless drop in centers, rape and domestic violence crisis hotlines, and community empowerment and faith-based organizations. Over the years, Stephanie has learned it is imperative to meet people where they are at, provide education and advocacy, and support their decisions in making healthier choices, which are all important components of harm reduction and trauma-informed frameworks.

Contact Stephanie at stephanie.gentry@gmail.com, or visit Stephanie’s website if you are interested in having her be your doula.

What inspired you to become a doula?
I have been supporting all kinds of people with their reproductive choices since high school, but it wasn’t until my nephew was born in 2011 that I realized how amazing witnessing childbirth is, and how my personality type can be supportive and useful for people laboring.

Why do you identify with the term radical doula?
As a native of the South Side of Chicago, ensuring people from my community also have access to doulas is in itself radical. I use gender-neutral language as much as possible as a nurse and as a doula, which is rare, especially in Labor&Delivery/prenatal care. I’m also deeply committed to supporting people’s choices when it comes to their health, pregnancy, termination, and safer sex options.

What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?
My philosophy is to support people in their reproductive choices by educating, informing, and listening. All too often, people of color, women, transgender, genderqueer and queer people, low-income people, disabled people, people of size, and immigrants are informed by their providers how their plan of care will be rather than it being a mutual and informed decision among both patient and provider. I’m also deeply committed to normalizing birth and improving birth outcomes, particularly among Black/African-American communities. I find it interesting that while sterilization abuse is no longer the norm, C-sections increasingly are. At the same time, access to birth control seems to be decreased more every day. Child birth has become extremely pathologized, and I’m excited to be working at Illinois’ first stand-alone birthing center to continue normalizing childbirth and labor.

I truly believe everyone has the right to having their birth plan followed as much as humanly possible. Lastly, I also believe everyone should have access to organic food, holistic care, and indigenous birthing customs.

What is your favorite thing about being a doula?
Seeing babies get born :)

If you could change one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth, what would it be?
The attitudes of nurses and providers in hospitals.

New report takes maternal mortality concerns to the UN

August 28, 2014

It’s a problem we all know about, and one that just keeps getting worse. A new shadow report, written for the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, examines the ongoing crisis of maternal mortality for African-American women, which I wrote about in my latest article for Colorlines.

“Over the last 40 years, the rate of black women dying in childbirth has been three to four times the rate of their white counterparts. For example, in Fulton County, Georgia, which includes Atlanta, there are 94 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births for black women—three times the national average. The white maternal mortality rate in the same county is essentially zero—too insignificant to report. In Chicksaw County, Mississippi, the maternal mortality rate is higher than those in countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya and Rwanda.”

It’s so upsetting to see this crisis worsen, and wonder whether there is any political will to really address it. The report also includes anecdotal evidence from two focus groups conducted in Mississippi and Georgia by Sistersong, where black women shared their experiences with health care. Unsurprisingly, there were many accounts of racism, miseducation and disrespect experienced.

One woman from Jackson, Mississippi, shared that her doctor had assumed she wouldn’t be able to use birth control effectively: “After I had the baby, and I went back for my checkup…[the doctor] told me, ‘I’ll see you in six weeks.’ I said, ‘Why?’ He said I’d be pregnant again.” Others described prenatal and labor experiences where they didn’t feel their providers adequately informed them of their options. Another woman from Jackson had this to say: “We really don’t have a lot of good experiences when it comes to having childbirth, especially because we’re poor…Why are all these women having caesareans? Was it really necessary for me?…You have more black women having caesareans. Now I’m questioning.”

I didn’t include this in the article, but Monica Raye Simpson, Executive Director of Sistersong, told me that doulas and midwives were brought up in both focus groups. While we may not be able to solve maternal mortality on our own, we may be able to improve individual women’s health care experiences by providing support and resources.

The report also addressed lack of access to health care because of immigration status for Latina women living in South Texas.

My only hope is that the more we raise the alarm about this problem, the more likely we are to see steps taken to address it.

Read the full article here, and the full report here.


New efforts to criminalize substance use and pregnancy repeat racist history

July 21, 2014

My latest article for Colorlines is about the new efforts to criminalize pregnant women for substance abuse. Sadly these kinds of efforts are not new, nor are they actually helping moms or kids.

The main problem with these kinds of stories, and prosecutions, is they do nothing to address the very real substance abuse and addiction issues facing many people in the United States today. Despite decades of incredible spending and increased incarceration in response to the war on drugs, addiction and substance abuse continue. Some policy makers have acknowledged this reality and begun looking for a different ways to address substance abuse. “We’ve really tried to reframe drug policy not as a crime but as a public health-related issue, and that our response on the national level is that we not criminalize addiction,” said Michael Botticelli, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. “We want to make sure our response and our national strategy is based on the fact that addiction is a disease.”

There is no evidence that incarcerating women who use drugs during pregnancy will do anything to improve their health, or their children’s health. In fact, these criminalizations actually worsen the health of the newborn, and make access to appropriate drug treatment for the mom unlikely. Mallory Loyola, the woman charged under the Tennessee law, was in jail for at least three days before being released on bond, just two days after giving birth, during which her child was in custody of Child Protective Services. Kylee Sunderlin of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), an organization that works closely with women charged under these types of laws, explained that when a baby is diagnosed with what’s called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome—or, the constellation of symptoms that reflects substance exposure inutero—established treatments for it include skin to skin contact with the mother and breastfeeding. That treatment is next to impossible if the mother is incarcerated and her child is in state custody.

Read the full thing here.


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