Feminist reproductive health work necessitates community. Meet those who define themselves as feminist midwives, feminist nurses, feminist writers, feminist doulas, feminist students, and many others! To participate as a Feminist Worker, fill out this survey. This series is based on the Radical Doula profile series by the incredible Miriam Zoila Pérez: find the Radical Doula profiles here.
What brought you to reproductive health work?
I’ve always felt the conception of my calling to reproductive health work can be traced back to my identity as a trans-racial and trans-national adoptee. I was born in Daegu, South Korea and adopted at the age of three and a half months. The story I was always told was that my birthmother was young and “couldn’t afford to keep me.” For a long time, I took this story at face value.
As I grew older, I started to discover for myself the intersections of pregnancy, power, parenthood, and institutional oppression. I started to explore and question conventional narratives—both my own personal narrative of being “lucky to have been adopted,” and broader societal narratives about who should or shouldn’t be a parent. My birthmother made an individual choice, yes…but what were the larger historical, political and economic frameworks at play that made her feel her only option was to relinquish her legal rights as parent and that I would be “better off” raised by strangers in a country half-way around the world? This tension between narratives of “personal choice and autonomy” and the realities of social inequities that limit real choices have led me to build a personal and professional path working for reproductive health and justice.
In 2010, I started volunteering for Backline (yourbackline.org), a nation-wide resource that provides a compassionate, non-judgmental space for callers to explore their experiences around pregnancy, abortion, adoption, and parenting. Over the 3 years that I served as an advocate and trainer, I learned a lot about how to hold space for what are often incredibly stigmatized conversations. During this same period, I became a labor and postpartum doula and quickly started finding ways to expand those doula skills to support the experiences of abortion and adoption.
I also had the privilege to serve as a Patient Support advocate at my local Planned Parenthood affiliate, spending Wednesdays and Saturday mornings accompanying folks through their abortions. I felt honored and humbled to be invited in to these incredibly intimate moments of people’s lives while at the same time, frustrated at how little support most people had. I was also deeply moved by the compassion and skill of the abortion providers I worked with, many of whom were advanced practice clinicians. It was my time at PP that really solidified my desire and confidence to become a midwife focused on full-spectrum reproductive health.
How do you identify with the term feminist?
For me, feminism is the individual and collective practice of transforming current social injustices that limit people’s ability to safely and equitably make choices about their health, work and families.
For a long time, I used to say that feminism is about women’s rights…but I’ve come to understand that it is so much broader than that. As a feminist, I am conscious about recognizing the limitations of a gender binary. I believe midwives in particular need to be aware of the ways in which language can cut us off from being able to serve entire communities.
Reflect on two favorite things about your profession.
As midwives, we get to talk about our bodies, all the time! We have a real opportunity to normalize, support, and empower people to feel at home in the bodies they’re walking in. There’s nothing that’s off-limits—yes, we talk about sex and desire or lack thereof…but it’s all in the context of supporting vibrant health and well-being.
I also love that midwives are hands-on. We palpate bellies. We hold hands during labor. We learn to discern through touch as well as through technology. In a world of computerized monitoring of everything, I think it is vital to reclaim this heritage that we have, to reconnect people through touch to their own humanity and power. I love that when you go to midwifery conferences, there are tons of people knitting, making beautiful things with their hands. Maria Montessori once wrote, “The human hand allows the mind to reveal itself.” Through our hands as midwives, we reveal our love and reverence for the magnificence of the human body during all stages of life.
What one aspect of reproductive health work are you currently working to change?
The stigma and siloing of abortion care from the rest of healthcare has got to end. There are many, many reasons for this siloing, ranging from cultural and religious to historical and political. But I’m also an educator and I believe that change can come from within the healthcare profession as well.
In my current role as a student, I’m exploring ways to increase sexual and reproductive health content in undergrad and graduate nursing education. I want more midwives to not only be talking about abortion care, but to also be able to provide abortions. I’m so thrilled that California recently passed AB 154, which allows advanced practice clinicians to provide first-tri abortion care. I’m inspired by the model that these midwives are taking in Buffalo, NY (http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/medical/birthing-center-to-open-in-buffalo-in-the-fall-20130824)…that’s basically my dream job, and all my work right now as a student is focused on that larger picture of normalizing abortion as just one more facet of holistic health.
List your top three sources of inspiration right now.
1) My fellow classmates in nursing school, both in my cohort and the ones I’ve met at from around the country at conferences like Nursing Students for Choice (nursingstudentsforchoice.org). There are so many incredible future health care professionals in the making right now, y’all!
2) The midwives and nurse-practitioners who are providing abortion care everyday.
3) Pema Chödrön (http://pemachodronfoundation.org/): I’ve been really savoring her words of wisdom these days.
If you met someone looking to work in reproductive health and justice, what words of advice or resources would you share?
Ask questions. Listen deeply to the stories that make you feel uncomfortable. Examine your own biases and privilege, not with judgment, but with curiosity. Be wiling to acknowledge the limits of your knowledge, but don’t get hung up on it. Remember you’re not the first one to ask these questions, and you’re not alone. This is collective work, there’s room for all of us. Take self-care seriously—if you’re in this for the long haul, taking care of yourself is what is going to sustain the care you can offer others.
Share a quote that currently is keeping you grounded and motivated.
An excerpt from Easter Exultate, by James Broughton:
Open a lookout.
Dance on a brink.
Run with your wildfire.
You are closer to glory
leaping an abyss
than upholstering a rut.
Intrepid all the way
Walk toward clarity.
At every crossroad
to bump into wonder.