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.
Leah Rashidyan is a student nurse midwife currently living in Cap Haitien, Haiti. She worked as a labor & delivery nurse for nearly five years in the Los Angeles area, while also taking course work for a Master’s in Midwifery and Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner degree at San Diego State University. She is currently taking a year off from course work in order to spend four months in Haiti working at a birth center with Haitian midwives, called MamaBaby Haiti. She has a passion for providing safe and compassionate maternity care to women in the developing world, and believes we have an ethical responsibility to support and empower midwives and nurses in these settings to be able to provide such care. Leah can be reached at email@example.com
What brought you to reproductive health work?
As a nursing student during my OB rotation, I was frequently asked to give postpartum instructions to Spanish speaking moms as I was often one of the few who spoke Spanish. As I sat next to these mothers and discussed everything from baby care to pelvic rest (no sex for 6 weeks!), I realized I really loved the opportunity to converse with women about their bodies and their health. During college I also spent summers abroad in Uganda and Brazil, as well as a semester in South Africa, and learned an incredible amount about women’s rights (or lack thereof) in these places. A deep compassion grew in me for women who found themselves in places they never expected, whether it be HIV positive, raped and pregnant, or forced into a cesarean section. At the end of college, I wrote my Senior paper on episiotomies, reading every research article in the last 10 years about them, and writing over 25 pages on the ethical breeches of routine use of episiotomy. I subsequently became known to my fellow students as the girl obsessed with perineums, and not much has changed since then. Four months after graduating I finally convinced a hospital to take me as a new grad Labor & Delivery nurse. After a few years of being fed up with the unnecessary cutting of perineums and bellys for babies to be born, I applied to grad school to begin my midwifery degree. I still absolutely love being bedside with laboring women, and as I worked through my 3 year part-time program, I became afraid that becoming a CNM/NP would pull me further away from being WITH women in their labor and delivery. So I decided to take a year off to get some perspective and have more time to give bedside care, and was hoping to spend some time abroad to remind me of my passions. When the opportunity came up to volunteer in Haiti at a wonderful birth center, I quit my job, and my husband and I moved here for 4 months.
How do you identify with the term feminist?
Feminist is a term that to me means to be with women in their struggles– to value women, to take the time to understand their perspective and their life. I don’t know how I could not identify as a feminist, when my life and my work is about empowering and giving way for women to be women. To love, to be passionate, and be angry, and be strong, and be everything that a woman can be. And of course to note how over centuries women have not been allowed to be women, we have been compared to men and compared to their standard.
Reflect on two favorite things about your profession.
I want to reflect on being a labor and delivery nurse because I truly feel that being a nurse was the best lesson in patience I could have received before being a midwife.
Time– as a night shift labor and delivery nurse, most of what I had was time with my patient. Time to talk to her and maybe her partner, talk about what they hoped for; time to sit in the room with her, whether it be to give a back massage or whisper encouragement; or time to struggle through an expectation that was not met. I was not in a hurry because I didn’t have control over the situation, so I really was able to sit patiently and let time go by.
Kindness– a kind care giver makes such a big difference. To stop, and smile, and offer a safe place for people in their most vulnerable moments to share their concerns. I learned kindness as a nurse, when you are tired and irritated and want to snap back– but instead you take a deep breath, remember that this is not about you, and find some compassion to share with even the most irritating person.
So although abstract, my favorite things about my profession (as a nurse and soon as a midwife), are spending time with people and offering kindness to them.
What one aspect of reproductive health work are you currently working to change?
Lack of access to safe, respectful, compassionate maternity care!
I have felt strongly about this in both the US and abroad. In the US, I found that low-income women (especially on Medicaid) had so few choices in the maternity care they received (i.e. OBs that accepted Medicaid), that they often were cornered into a cascade of unnecessary interventions and C-sections. After working with a wonderful CNM/OB group in downtown LA, where the CNMs allowed women to do as they wished in labor (walk?eat?shower? No problem!), I became acutely aware of how beneficial compassionate and safe care is for women, especially those who can’t take birth classes and hire doulas.
Now, maternity care abroad is a whole other beast. After seeing births in multiple developing countries, I understand why over 60% of Haitian women deliver at home. Yes, you read that right. Two thirds of Haitian women deliver in their own homes with a traditional birth attendant. Now, of course a very important factor in this is price– giving birth in a hospital can cost a whole month’s salary here (albeit $40), while being at home is free. But the point still stands, that women do not receive respectful, compassionate care in hospitals here and in the rest of developing world.
As someone who cares deeply about women around the world, I believe that as feminists we have an ethical responsibility to support causes which give women real options as to where they will have their baby and who will catch it.
Describe a project or accomplishment you consider to be the most important in your career so far.
The organization that I am currently working at, Mama Baby Haiti, provides free prenatal, labor & delivery, and postpartum care to anyone who comes to the birth center. On average, the midwives see over 160 NEW patients every month, in addition to the return prenatal and postpartum/well baby visits. The clinic operates by employing four wonderful Haitian midwives, as well as taking volunteer midwives from around the world throughout the year.
Considering this is the country with the highest maternal mortality in the western hemisphere, and that women are so limited in their birth choices due to financial limitations, I feel that this organization truly serves some of the most forgotten needs in the world. This is exactly the kind of work I have always dreamed of doing, and it is absolutely some of the most important work I have ever been involved with.
List your top three sources of inspiration right now.
To always dig deep to find the compassion that someone needs. Rather than blame, to try to understand. Rather than defend, to try to be open. To always, always offer compassion to someone who is hurting.
If I didn’t have a faith that asked me to listen to the poor, and realize how I am complicit in their oppression, then I could just pursue my own success and happiness. I sincerely pray that what I do will bring justice to those who have been oppressed. It is really hard for me to even write those words because I have so much baggage with religion (who doesn’t?) and churchiness– but I can’t deny that my faith is what pushes me to be with those in the margins.
Mama Baby Haiti-
This little organization, in this little country, with these incredible midwives and a director who loves Haiti and its women. Their efforts to serve those who have not a dollar to go elsewhere, the clinic getting by month to month in order to serve the hundreds of women who come. When you see people who are utterly dedicated to work that serves others– that is what sticks with you.
If you met someone looking to work in reproductive health and justice, what words of advice or resources would you share?
Be straight and be honest.
It does not help anyone to pretend that people aren’t having sex. It is not your job to ever, ever judge behavior or the choices that women make. It is our responsibility to give unbiased education, to truly help someone make the decision that is best for them.
Always listen before you talk; ask questions to try to understand what they need, and why. Explain that you do not mean to be intrusive, but that you want to better understand how you can give them the information that they need.
Who are your heroes, and why?
One woman that I have been really inspired by is Rachel Zaslow of Mother Health International. She is the director of an NGO that provides maternal healthcare in Uganda, and also trains traditional birth attendants in Haiti. She is a midwife, and is also finishing her PhD in Women’s and Gender studies. I am so inspired by the work she does and her desire to continue to learn more about the work. I have never met her, but I hope to be like her!
One other woman who has really impacted me is Kelli Beaty, the president of Mama Baby Haiti. She is a very successful midwife in West Texas, yet she gives so much of her time and resources to this organization and its midwives. She has so much charisma and love to share with the world, it truly inspires me.
Share a quote that currently is keeping you grounded and motivated.
“Peace on Earth begins with birth”
Living in a culture where women are so often the victims of violence, this quote resonates deeply. I pray that giving birth can be an act of peace and strength, bringing both of those to the mother.