As a person who has dedicated much of her life to fighting for equality and social justice, I knew that the journey is not without its obstacles. Over the years, I’ve messed up more than once. My mistakes have taught me that my biases can fool me and that I must never stop examining and reexamining my own privilege. Putting yourself out there as an ally is a vulnerable position because you invite accusations of hypocrisy. I’ve been called out on many occasions and had to defend myself or apologize. Even though it is work, I welcome the opportunity for personal growth, a precursor to societal transformation, toward an end to oppression.
When I first started my work as a doula, my goal was to serve all families without discrimination or judgment. Despite my best intentions, I had to be honest with myself that I lacked the experience and training to feel confident in serving LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) families. Since then, I have taken these steps:
1.) Inclusivity. I re-wrote my intake forms so that instead of asking information on the baby’s “mom” and “dad,” I now have space for information on up to four parents. This allows families to define their own roles, separate from gender, as well as include information on biological and adoptive parents.
2.) Continuing education. I found a wonderful resource in The National LGBT Health Education Center. Their on-demand webinars taught me so much about health disparities, pathways to parenting and ways to be more welcoming in my practice.
3.) Visibility. I have a listing on the resource directory, Trans Birth, “created to connect Trans* and gender non-conforming people and their families to midwives, OB/GYNs, and doulas who provide welcoming care to our communities.”
This is just a start. In the coming year, I plan to create a local resource list of welcoming providers in my community. Do you provide welcoming healthcare services in West Michigan or have a favorite resource you’d like to share? Please contact me!
There is a general understanding that the term “natural birth” means unmedicated childbirth with minimal medical interventions. For the purposes of communicating with like-minded folks about our birth plans and experiences, “natural birth” works pretty well. While I have supported women with no interest in natural birth, most clients seeking doula services are in search of support that will help them achieve a more natural pregnancy and birth.
Despite its convenience and universality as a term, I still have problems with some of the underlying assumptions of natural birth. There is so much about modern lifestyles that veers from what is natural that in order to achieve health, some unnatural habits are often used, such as supplements. Even when natural components are used, there is nothing natural about nutrition in the form of a pill. Perhaps if I were running around nude in the tropics, I wouldn’t need to tan or take a vitamin D pill. During long Michigan winters, however, I need to compensate for what I lose by living in an inhospitable climate.
Family planning is another unnatural choice for most modern families. While I don’t judge women who spend their fertile years pregnant or breastfeeding, I am grateful for the wisdom and technology of all the forms of family planning I have used over the years to control my fertility and limit my family size. Supplements and family planning are just two examples of how modern life leads me to make choices that are not natural.
I question the idea that to live naturally, one must reproduce and have children. Many people struggle, even today, with societal pressure to pair up, settle down and start a family. Those who choose not to parent often are made to feel like they have missed a rung on the ladder toward emotional maturity. This is ironic to me, as my childless friends have been one of my biggest sources of knowledge, inspiration and resources to me as a parent!
Even for those who do choose to reproduce, not everyone is able to achieve pregnancy through natural means. I think anyone who has ever been through the grueling process of in vitro fertilization would agree that there is nothing natural about it! Turkey basters have helped many lesbian, gay and single people become parents. From the beginning, some families need a little creative assistance.
So, while I am passionate about natural birth for myself personally, it is not something I promote. I’m uncomfortable generalizing about birth in a way that could exclude so many diverse families in my community. If you sense this discomfort, please know that it isn’t due to a lack of support for what is natural, but out of a desire to celebrate all families.