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Jessica Roach: Midwifing a New Social Reality for Black Women and Mothers



Guest: Jessica Roach
Host: Kozo Hattori
Moderator: Emily Barr

Welcome to Awakin Calls. Every Saturday, we host a conversation with an individual whose inner journey inspires us and whose work is transforming our world in large and small ways. Awakin calls are an all volunteer run offering of Service Space. A global platform founded on the simple principle, that by changing ourselves we change the world to create a more compassionate and service oriented society. Thank you for joining us.

Kozo: Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening. Depending on why you're calling in from. My name is Kozo Hattori and I'm really excited to be your host for our weekly global awakin call . Welcome and thank you for joining us.

The purpose of these calls is to share stories that help plant seeds for more compassionate society, while fostering our own inner transformation. We do this by holding collective conversations with guest speakers from all walks of life, who inspire us to live in a more service-oriented way. And behind each of these calls is an entire team of service space volunteers whose invisible work allows us to hold the space. Today our special guest speaker is Jessica Roach. Thank you again for joining today's call. Let's start with a minute of silence to anchor ourselves into the space.

Thank you. Welcome again to our weekly awakin call, today in conversation with Jessica Roach. As an all-volunteer offering, each awaken call is a is a conversational space that is co-created with many invisible hands. In a few minutes, our moderator, Emily, will begin by engaging in an initial dialogue with our speaker. And by the top of the hour will roll into Q&A and a circle of sharing where we invite all your reflections and questions. I've opened up the queue right now, so at any point you can hit star six on your phone and you'll be prompted when it's your turn to speak. You can also email us at ask@servicespace.org.That's ask@servicespace.org. Or submit a comment or question via the webcast form if you are listening online via live webcast.

Our moderator today is Emily Barr. I did some research on you Emily. And Emily is also a part of our volunteer team for Daily Good. And she also has a blog, a beautiful blog, and I read through some of your blog posts, Emily, and I noticed that you are very strong proponent and I would consider an expert in self-care. So appropriate for this call, especially when you're talking about, well, if you're talking about parents in general, but mothers, birthing, the birthing process, and then, you know, after-birth, taking care of a young child. Self-care is so important.

So I'm really excited for you to resonate with Jessica on those lines. So I think this conversation was like tailor-made; you know, it's not a coincidence that you have all this, you know, knowledge and research on self care and that you're getting to be in conversation with Jessica, who you know is trying to change huge communities by changing the way we treat African-American mothers and you know and the children that come out of those... the products of that community. So at this point, I'm going to hand it over to you Emily, and I can't wait to hear what emerges.

Emily: Thank you so much Kozo. So today I have that privilege of speaking with Jessica Roach who is the co-founder and executive director of ‘Restoring Our Own Through Transformation’ or ROOTT. And ROOTT is a black women-led reproductive justice organization that's focused on providing community-based maternal health, child and birthing support, and it's based in Columbus, Ohio. ROOTT offers a whole spectrum of affordable Doula Services, healthcare provider trainings and organizational consultation.

Their whole spectrum doulas assist clients at any and all stages of pregnancy, from preconception to postpartum. It was Jessica's own birthing experiences with her three daughters that largely influenced her decision to pursue work as a doula and a home birth midwife following a career in nursing. In 2013, she founded ROOTT, along with co-founder Monique McCrystal to begin addressing the significant discrepancies amongst black maternal and infant health care. Jessica, thank you so much for taking the time with us to joining this call today. I am really excited to get to learn more about both your personal experiences and the work that you're doing for ROOTT.

Jessica: Thank you. I'm very happy and excited to be on this call.

Emily: So I want to start by hearing a bit about -- I understand that your great-grandmother was really influential to you, particularly as a young girl and that she worked as a healer and assisted women in the small village of Irondale, Ohio with childbirth. I know that you have some experience working alongside her. I would love to just begin by hearing a little bit about that.

Jessica: Sure. It's a really interesting story and perspective, one that I don't think I really came into full awareness about, until I was pregnant with my first child, and really understanding the role that Mama Heart played not only in my life, but in the life of her community. Of course, by the time I came along, she wasn't doing direct birth work and birth service, but I did know at the time that she had all of her children at home. And that there was often times when women and babies that were around the house, or that would recognize her when we would go out. She also had a small farm and had a lot of different things in the cupboard. I used to always talk about this with the kids when they were little.

You know that she would like kind of create her own tinctures and medicine and even when we were sick as children, she would give it to us and we would take it, no matter how horrible it tasted, because you never know. And it would, we would feel better by that. So for me it was just that there was always women, babies, and families that were around. It was kind of a norm for me.

So, she influenced my life and in my later career as I really came into this understanding of myself and my own calling and being able to ground in some of the principles that had been passed down inter-generationally through being a woman of African descent in the U.S., in particular. And how it was that not only were we, by the narrative, forced to have to take care of ourselves and birth our own babies because we didn't have access to hospitals or doctors. But, really, the understanding of this knowledge that we actually brought with us through the transatlantic slave trade, there's a significant amount of research around some of the herbs that would be used, some of the different physicians, and how some of the medicines was created.

So for me, it was just really an understanding of this isn't new under the sun. This is really something that we have a knowledge of, that we know, that is firmly ingrained in our DNA. We've always had babies since before the advent of western medicine! And that there had to be something different than what I was seeing that was happening around me, or some of the experiences that I was having.

Emily: And can you speak a little bit about some of the things that you were seeing, in the experiences that you were having, that sort of initiated that motivation to change?

Jessica: Sure, so I was stereotypical by standard and I mean that by standard as far as what some of the stories are that are told about us and our community. So I was a teenage mother. I had my first child when I was 19. It was five days after my 19th birthday and I remember very distinctly the first physician that I had being really stoic and not very caring, and very much by the book, telling me about all the things that could go wrong with my pregnancy, because I was a teenager and I was black and these are all of the risks that were associated with it.

It was a very different story from the influence that I still had, since my great grandmother was still alive. My grandmother was very involved in my life, my father, my uncles, my mom. That pregnancy ended up being a very healthy one that was full-term breastfed. I remember being in the hospital and them immediately thinking that I was going to be formula feeding my daughter not even asking what my preference was or what my plans were. So, it was a distinctly different because my family was just about like, oh you're having a baby.

Like that's what we do -- we have children. And so there were some very distinct cultural norms and supportive norms inside of my family that I think really helped guide me and support me through my first pregnancy. But when I got to my second pregnancy, and I had all of those things that were being addressed, so we talked about in particular with black maternal and infant health, we talk about the social determinants of health being influential and it factors in our health outcomes. But by the time I got pregnant with my second baby, I was already a nurse. I had a significant other and partner. I had my own home, you know, I had addressed all of the social determinants of Health. I was in the higher economic bracket. Clearly already had an education, but it was that pregnancy that I started having problems. I had my first set of problems around 20-21 weeks, where I was told that I had an incompetent cervix and I was at risk of losing my baby. And I remember the physician not in a way that he was trying to be condescending, but literally trying to figure out what was wrong or what was going on. And one of the things that he said was that we just see this happen more often with African-American women. So there was that grounding conversation of like this is a problem because I'm black.

I ended up having to be on bed rest for a significant portion of time, but during that whole period I had private insurance. I had two different physicians. I was working at the hospital that I was going to deliver my baby and you know, I could go and have an ultrasound, just if I wanted to see her face. I mean I had access to all of the things that say that you should have a healthy pregnancy.

And that pregnancy still ended at 34 weeks and 5 days. Postpartum, it was a real challenge because I had the unfortunate circumstance of being with a nurse who was very strictly dedicated to following hospital policy. Hospital policy at the time was any baby under 36 weeks had to go to the NICU. My daughter was already nursing -- she had left and she was doing really, really well. And the only thing that I asked for was just let her finish nursing. She's breathing well on her own. Of course at this time, I reminded her that I'm a nurse working in the same hospital. And the nurse, it was almost as if she didn't hear anything that I was saying. And she literally took my baby off my breast. And I was left in the middle of the labor and delivery room, just screaming and crying and having this absolute fit, because I was devastated they were taking my child from me without my consent. And it was through that experience that I really came to start understanding that this wasn't just about biology or genetics, which we now know from research, that that's not the case.

Clearly that's not the case whatsoever. But this had nothing to do with me being black, other than the fact that there were some very real things that were happening on an institutional level. Stress factors were through the roof. It was very clear that I had to work at kind of a hundred and twenty percent to prove myself worthy, comparatively to my white counterparts, who didn't necessarily have to put in as much time to prove that they were valid. And that deeply impacted my own physiology and so when I got to my third child, for me, it was like the light bulb that clicked. And remembering what it was that I had distinctly different in my first pregnancy and the principles that had followed me and the lessons that I have learned and the support that I had had, I basically just said I'm not doing this.

I went to see a physician one time. That physician very clearly started out the conversation with "You're at risk for preterm infant because you're African-American and because you've already had another preterm infant." And I kind of shut down. I started hearing like the Charlie Brown teacher talking. You know? I don't even really remember a lot of what he said. And I made the decision that I was not going to go back to see a traditional OB-GYN. And that I was going to follow the principles and the guidance that I had during my first pregnancy and I was going to have the baby at home.

That pregnancy ended at 42 weeks. So I was technically two weeks past due, and she was a healthy 9-pound baby that was born at home. She didn't have any of the issues I had with the second pregnancy -- no infection, you know? I had a great breastfeeding experience, felt very healthy; followed some principles of like meditation and prenatal yoga throughout that entire last pregnancy.

It was just absolutely wonderful, but it really made me understand through the different aspects of my nursing career primarily working inside of my community, and then the experience that I had as a woman giving birth in the US -- that the story that was being told about us was not true. And it became consistent as I moved into doing this work as a doula and a birth worker, and training to become a home birth midwife, really watching the difference. And how my patients were being treated simply based upon the color of their skin or the judgment that was happening in that, or the health communication that was immediately starting out with you are at risk because you're African-American. And for me, I knew that that was that was the thing that would set off that course of events that would cause those real physiological changes, because if the first thing you're told as a woman, when you walk in to see someone that you're supposed to trust, and they tell you on some level that your body is broken and you are more at risk to put your child at risk -- it's immediately going to set off the stress response.

And it had nothing to do with our genetics or our biology. It had everything to do with some of these systems that have been created. And have developed these levels of health communication that automatically assign risk factor to race, versus the very real conversation about the health risk behavior of racism. And that comes from being inside of the system.

Emily: It sounds like that was -- can you talk a little bit about what you were going through during this time emotionally? It sounds like coming into that realization could be very difficult. When you're first encountering it, even though it sounds like you also have had some experiences previously through your work that were suggesting that as an African-American, you were at a disadvantage. But really coming into through your three pregnancies, a lot of different barriers that you were up against. Can you just talk about what was happening for you emotionally during this times?

Jessica: It was a challenge. It was really really really difficult. So it was really difficult for us both externally and internally. So there's the story that you're told and that also reflected inside of my home, because those were, you know, those were the words that were also being told to my partner at the time. And so there was a lot of emotional stress that was happening in that way, where he was even saying things like -- what's wrong with you, why? You know? He was...I know now that it was out of fear. But at the time, it was a blame game. It was him very specifically saying to me, you know, like you're hurting the baby and what's wrong with you and why can't you get it together? This level of responsibility that was being put on me that there was something that was wrong with me and me actually listening to that and believing it. And that impacted me so deeply that it led to a lot of issues with postpartum depression, issues with being able to follow through with work. I really genuinely believed that I was broken, in that I had done something to hurt my child.

And it took a great deal of just absolute vulnerability to say the third time around -- I'm not going to believe what it is that's been told to me. I'm going to do something completely different. And that's a terrifying place to be, right? When you're in that place of really trying to make transformative changes -- you have to start with yourself. And so it was with that lesson and understanding that we have this internal source of power, and that really if we take the time to trust our own instincts and our own validity, that can extend out into the people that we get to interact with, and work with, because learning is a constant reciprocal part of our lives.

But it has also been really challenging and it still is really challenging. I'm not here to say at all that I totally got it together, because I don't. There's still lots of times that I go home and cry. There's lots of really, really tough days and that has to do with the fact that this is a conversation that still has to consistently be engaged. That it is really difficult for my organization and organizations like mine to be able to convey to what is a mainstream mentality that some of these things just happen because they're assigned to race. And it really isn't. And being able to show and prove that that's not the case. But again, we're put in a position of having to prove it at a hundred and twenty percent. We have to have research upon research, and more statistics on statistics, to constantly answer the questions that are counter to what it is that is the belief system within the mainstream society.

And so it can be really, really challenging for us as providers. But for clients that are very clear about what it is that they want for themselves, and for their families and the levels of safeties they are asking for and the levels of autonomy that they have the right to have -- basically, it's just grounding and basic human rights principles. And having someone tell them -- well, they're wrong and they're not allowed. It's tough. It can be really challenging.

Emily: Hmm. Yeah hearing you speak about it, at times, I get it can be exhausting. Both emotionally and I'm sure that translates into your physical exhaustion as well. What are some of the ways that you counteract that? Are there some of the practices that you might engage in, to manage that -- both emotional exhaustion and the effect that it's having on your physical body, both for yourself and like you said, when you're working with clients?

Jessica: Sure. I think that it's really important to note that like the practices that I've been able to learn and I call them practices because it's something you have to engage in every single moment of every day. So you're consistently in a place of practice and learning, but we apply those same principles to our organization. So we don't ask anything of our clients, especially in this concept of decolonizing, we really try to get rid of the who's the expert and who's not. Because we know that each person has their own individual expert in their own being.

So we really try to make sure that we apply those principles within our organization. We spend a great deal of time. We have a lot of meetings, but what would be different about our meetings is that we spend that time making sure that we ground in. We do a lot of both private and together meditation. We do what is typical case review, like you would do when you're working inside of any other medical practice, but our case review also involves what's coming up for you? Yes, we're going over some of these diagnoses, but what's coming up for you? What is the irritation that you're finding inside of yourself? What are some of the trigger points that you're heading? And we take the time to be able to process through those, and really just take that deep breath. Right? Breath is life. Remembering that that's what we're here for.

We're here to make sure that we have the best thriving lives that we can.
And so when we do that as a consistency, for ourselves individually and then connecting with one another within our organization, and doing that as part of our regular routine, for our business meetings quote-unquote, or for our case reviews, we're able to also do the same thing with our families, which has been amazing for us to be able to sit back and be witnessed to, because it's really not about empowering anyone.
It's about being witness to the power that each individual has. And so nobody's overshadowing anyone and there's an opportunity for voice and validity from a real internal source, that says -- I just want this from me. And I can hold space for you as a practitioner, maybe being uncomfortable with that. But I need you to go ahead and work with your own uncomfortable. I'm not going to take that on. I'm going to stay comfortable enough with myself. That we can level the entire room out. So everyone can get comfortable with these choices that are being made.

Emily: And that's remarkable too because it stands in such contrast, I think, to you know, what traditional practitioners are doing. Just taking time to hold that space for their patients and give them room to explore with you, what it is that's coming up for them. You are finding a way to do that within your practice, when a lot of other more traditional practitioners don't really promote that or do that.

Jessica: Absolutely! I think that one of the gifts that I know that I've been given, because I question often -- why was I a nurse for so long, inside of medical practices where I don't necessarily have or hold a strong belief in some of those principles? And I've come to understand and realize that everything is with purpose and power. For me, it allows me that space to be able to recognize that it can be a real challenge. In particular, as a nurse, speaking from a perspective of being a nurse, and working on the floor when you walk on the floor and you think that you're only going to have two or three patients, because that's what the normal ratio is supposed to be. But somebody called off and suddenly you have five and there isn't a lot of space to be able to take that time to ground in.
So it allows me to have that space of empathy of being able to say -- this pause that we need to take to consider this information that you may have given, isn't just for our clients even though that's our priority and that's our center. But it's also for you. At least in this space, you get to have a moment to be able to process everything that you just said to us. And everything that's happening in this situation, because we're going to take a pause for this whole room. It allows you to either take a minute to breathe -- you can either go see another patient, you can take a minute to just take a walk. But we're all going to ground and pause and we do our best to try to convey that to the health practitioners as well.

Like we're not here to work against you. This is not about the fight against. This is about the fight for. And making sure that everyone comes out of this with a good outcome, so that we can continue to establish relationships in this way. And really, you know, impact the, or consider the health disparities, that are within our communities.

Emily: Hmm. I like to get more into that too. But before we go into that, I'm really curious. Have you noticed, I imagine that is very positive, like you said about the pause being not just for the patients, but for all of you. Have you, what are some of that positive effects that you might have noticed from integrating this into your practice, into your work? Have you noticed sort of transformations in those that you work with?

Jessica: Oh, yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. And again, I think the transformation when we talk about that from that perspective. Yes, there are individual transformations, but individual transformation also recognizes and give space for the understanding of interdependence and connectivity. And so I'm always doing my best to be very reflective of, if I know that there's something that's coming up with one of the individuals that I work with. And there's an agitation or they're stressed or they're feeling fatigued from the work that they're doing. That there's something that's probably happening within me that's also fatigue, that I haven't taken the time to notice. And when I take the time to notice, they take time to notice. And vice versa. Like we've really gotten into this rhythm with one another, where it's easy for us to be able to pick up on one another's energy. And to provide the space and to be vulnerable enough to say we're going to pause here. Because there's something that's happening.

And I've watched that happen with a few of our doulas in particular, that have -- just like everything in their lives has started to change. And I've seen that in my own life -- that it's not just about the work that we're doing. Because work is our life and our life is our work and it's interchangeable and some of us are coming into this experience, because we've had previous traumatic experiences. And watching that whole story shift around our own birth experiences, our own interactions with providers and watching that story shift. And then watching those things shift in levels of abundance that we're able to achieve in our household, and in our communities in various different ways.

So it really is all encompassing. It is a holistic model to be able to provide some levels of sustainability and always stay in that lesson of knowing that I have still have so much to learn on the journey. And all of these amazing individuals have come to me because they're part of my reflection and mirror that I have to always redress.

Emily: I'm just imagining if more workplaces, or more even on an individual level or family level, like you were saying could incorporate practices like that -- what a profound impact that it would have? I think the idea of just allowing space for one another and just stopping to address things, and I really liked what you said about you have gotten to a place, where you can so naturally pick up on one another's energies and what's happening for them. I think that really speaks to the sort of connection that your practice has enabled you to form. So that's really neat to hear about. Thank you.

Jessica: Thank you. I think it also lends to why it is that we're so dedicated to doing health care provider trainings as well, because it's really clear that we get caught up on being in the hamster wheel and that constant running in the things that we've been taught that are actually issues. But not really dealing with our own and so we do a lot of this type of work and try to translate that into other aspects of our organization, when we are doing the healthcare provider training, when we are doing some of the organizational consultations. That's been a practice that works for them as the provider as well, as it does for our clients, because there has to be a balance. There has to be a creation of a balance. So it's evolving all the time, and it’s a really amazing experience as we go along, with lots of hills and valleys.

Emily: So, I'd like to transition into talking a little bit about the role of the doulas within your organization. But before we get into that, would you be able to speak on the historical context of doulas within the African American communities and how that may have evolved over time to where you are presently?

Jessica: Sure, and I think the best way to be able to talk about this because this is something that I do is part of like Academia and independent research as well, but it's really talking about not necessarily the history of the term Doula, because Doula is also kind of, actually Doula is more of a modern term. It means servant and it has latched onto more of a kind of a white paradigm system and support. But really where our history begins is this paradigm of midwifery and being a midwife means being with women.

And we see this here and across the world, that it is now very regulated. But before it was regulated and I actually just finished a talk -- we were chatting briefly about this before we started the call with everyone -- I actually just finished a talk with the Indiana Midwives Association -- where I talk about the history of Midwifery in the United States, and very particularly of black midwives. And the reality is that doulas were who we were when we were the aunties and the grandmas and the sisters and the friends. And in this constructive when we were also enslaved Africans that were brought here to US. We already had some of these traditions and skill level of being able to say that we're just having a baby and that continued even after the 13th Amendment and the ending of what we know as the institution of child slavery for people of African descent and that continued because we still were not necessarily allowed to have access to Hospital systems and to Physicians. We still had this internal care practice.

This internal care practice allowed us to be able to serve our women and take care of ourselves in a traditional, more endogamous way, where lessons were taught and passed down and this was more of a norm. It wasn't a classification. It wasn't necessarily classifications that were put on us. Even though with the history of Gynecology that was started within the enslavement of African people and during chattel slavery -- but we had our own midwives and our communities that would honor and recognize this process with family.

It wasn't until what's called the Sheppard-Towner Act of 1921, which actually established the Maternal Child Health Bureau within the United States, where we started to see that our profession and our traditions and our cultures were starting to be decimated. That's actually the best way that I can describe it. That the maternal child health bureau and the Sheppard-Towner act was because there were issues that were happening in maternal infant health and rural areas. But they were predominantly impacting white women. With that act came into play regulations, training, and schools that were developed as well as how there was going to be allocations of funds for Maternal Child Health.

But what wasn’t being considered inside of those regulatory bodies, was that nobody was really looking at what the maternal infant health was within black communities -- that wasn't something that was being considered. So it was all based upon what was really happening within white rural communities. And so they set up these trainings, and these regulatory bodies tried to address that issue. In addressing that issue, it also encompass those of us that had already traditionally been working in the spaces as black midwives, as black gran midwives, as we refer to them.

And so it meant that we were no longer able to practice because if we weren't going through the training and the regulatory bodies and the schooling that were being set up by these policies, that were being put into place, we were illegally, at that point, practicing midwifery care. And so you see that there was this plummeting of what we had in our own traditional practices and black midwives. They talked about it throughout the South, but it was also happening in the North as well. And so that's a little bit of what the history was and why it is that today we're dealing with the issue that we have such a low number of black midwives and black doulas and black birth workers, because it is really challenging to be able to access those systems, to be able to get through those schooling programs for various reasons.

And one of them, yes, is economics. Two is because a significant amount of the curriculum is based off of the advent of the sub-specialties like gynecology, that were all based off of some of the subjective views of J Marion Sims, who was a slave owner himself. And performed experimentation on the bodies of African-American women that he enslaved. So we have this whole curriculum that is based on this development of what abnormalities or issues there with us, that have nothing to do with our own story.

Emily: Wow. Yeah, I wonder what are some of the ways that this can be addressed or counter-acted today -- is there any movements or initiatives to overcome...

Jessica: Well, I think that, yes. There's been a lot of discussion in the mainstream media now, in particular around black maternal health and infant health. There has been with that some of the what I will call mainstream exposure of who J Marion Sims was, and what he actually represented in the development of gynecology, which then led to obstetrics and gynecology. And some of the issues that are surrounding that with these stories again. But these stories that are actually now health policy and communication -- they are utilized when it comes to black families overall.

One of the big moves is that you have organizations like ours so not only because of the way that we operate. Yes, it's very easy to say that we do education and we do direct service as doula workers, but we also do a lot of work around advocacy and a lot of work around challenging these paradigms, as far as what is being taught in the curriculum. And challenging the paradigms of when we walk into a clinical space or into a doctor's office and we've got inside of the doctor's office, there's this paperwork that's hanging up that says you're at risk for a preterm birth. And one of the risk factors that's listed is African-American and we challenge that -- like that needs to be taken off!

You can't say that it's because we are African-American that we are more at risk for preterm birth. You have to say that it's because of racism that has created some of these normative paradigms and health communication, that actually lead to some of the stress factors that create these physiological changes that actually do create the preterm birth. I always say it from this perspective. There's no way that we will ever address the social determinants of health, until we start addressing the structural determinants that have led to the consequences of the social determinants of health. And so yes, it's through supporting advocacy groups like ROOTT. We also work with a group and we are kindred partners of a group called Black Mama's Matter Alliance, which is made up of many many organizations across the country that are like ours, and various different ways that represent what is this idea and foundation of reproductive justice and birthing justice. And again it grounds in the basic human rights principles -- that we have autonomy, we have the right to choose where, when, how and if we create a family.

It grounds into the basic Patient Bill of Rights that we have the right to deny care or the right to accept it and that our voices are valid. That the validity doesn't start with a degree, as much as it starts with the validity of the experience of the individual. And so we start from a basic principle of -- listen to black women, trust black women, trust black families. Understand that we know more than you may believe or may have been taught to believe and if you can just be involved and engaged in a relationship with us, and understand that there's an interdependent that's happening -- you will also again return back to the space, a place of being able to take a pause, and understand and unpack some of those things for yourself as well.

Emily: It reminds me of what you said about earlier in the conversation about having to get in touch with your vulnerability, I imagine. I got sort of fighting against a lot of these paradigms or what others have been taught to believe. It sort of forces you to encounter your own vulnerability in new ways, similar to what you were speaking about earlier, following your second daughter's birth and going into your third daughter's birth, where you really felt in the state of vulnerability. I imagine that can be quite frightening, but also, I think that there's a lot of strength behind that and empowerment being able to get in touch with that, I think you said, for good.

Jessica: Absolutely. I mean, think about what's on the other side of fear. The other side of fear is hope. And with that there's the opportunity to be able to make a shift and a difference in ourselves. And hopefully also in the environment that we are also in. I mean the reality is that I'm not here to convince or change anybody else's mind. What I am here to do is to do my best job to be able to listen to my clients, to be able to be seated and grounded in source. And what it is that I continue to learn everyday and put the energy toward producing and helping to support the best outcome possible.

And sometimes that means understanding that other individuals still have their own processes that they have to go through. And so what I'm going to hold is that this is not where I'm going to put my energy and fighting against you. I am going to put my energy into fighting for my people, and just having to be, to remain very clear in that. Is that scary? Yes! Has that been met with a significant amount of adversity? Yes. Does that mean that you quit? No, it means that the more irritation there is, the more that the wound is starting to be unpacked. And you have to get to that place of irritation and pain before you can start processing through the place of healing.

Emily: So I related to that. I understand that within your organization, one of the important roles that you worked hard is validating your client’s environmental stress, and dispelling the myth that individual behaviors are to blame for racial disparities. And I think you've touched on that on what you said. Can you speak a little bit more about how that process looks like with a client. I imagine that it's different for each client that you're working with. More generally, how do you work to achieve that, within ROOTT?

Jessica: Sure, and I think it's right. This is a really good place to be able to speak to it, from a place of maybe even some of the public health language, right? If it's about understanding that it isn't necessarily about the client. It's about the socio-ecological aspect. It's about taking a look at all of the systems and understanding that all of these issues impact what may be happening with that individual.

Oftentimes, what we would -- our go-to is and this is steeped in health communication, in particular when it comes to being an African-American woman birthing in the US, that there are all of these individual health behaviors that create the issue -- it's the blame game. Well, if you do this, this, and this you'll be okay. Or it's because you're poor that you're having this issue. Or it's because of any other multiple factors, things that are constantly almost like the finger-pointing. I'll use another term that I like, that I learned from my own elder -- like any time that there's a finger pointing at someone, there's three pointing back at you.

And trying to conceptualize that and understanding that -- we have to address all of the environmental and social factors that come along with creating this environment. So, it can mean that we as birth workers and doulas go to physician appointments with our clients. And when a healthcare provider gives information, we do a little bit of a push-back and say -- we would like you to give medically accurate information. We would like you to give not speculation. We don't want to use scare tactics and we're definitely not doing ‘blank’. If you're going to discuss that there is a risk factor related to this particular situation, we need to discuss why those risk factors are there.

So we make sure that we engage in that way and an advocacy place, where if we have a woman that's choosing to have a vaginal birth after cesarean section as a great example. First part of health communication that most want to give this is that you're at risk for uterine rupture. Okay. Well, yes, maybe there is a risk for uterine rupture, but what is the actual percentage because you can't just leave somebody with this idea that something bad is going to happen without giving the full amount of information and being able to say actually the only about three to five percent. Because that changes the story, right? It's no longer about, oh my God, I'm at risk for this thing to happen and putting someone in a place of fear. It's about empowering them by allowing folks to have full informed decision-making, here across the board, with some of the actual percentages.

These are some of the things that could come up, but here are the things that may not. So, we always talk about things within that paradigm, and looking at it from that perspective is -- we have to take responsibility, from a community level, from an institutional level that we continue to reinforce these stereotypes that create negative impacts. We do that without taking the individual into consideration and then we dump that on the individual, as if it's all their responsibilities. And it's not. We're all in relationships will one another, right? If you're going to share bills in a household, why wouldn't you share responsibility and healthcare?

Emily: Do you find that a lot of the patients that you work with are sort of in a place of self-blame and not necessarily recognizing the impact that external factors are having on them? Or in a place that may be similar to where where you were initially, when you were sort of believing all the supposed truths that were being told to you, but not accounting for where all of those truths were coming from -- without accounting for all of the sort of societal factors that were included?

Jessica: No, I would have to say that most of our clients come to us, this is whether their age 17 or 42, most of our clients and families come to us with, "These are all of the things that I'm concerned about because people are telling me that this is what could happen or this is what is going to happen, or I'm more at risk for this. But I don't genuinely believe it. What I need is more information about why I don't believe it." So folks are coming to us with the question mark.

This doesn't make sense, but I don't know why this doesn't make sense because nobody else has told me anything else about what the other possibilities are. And so what we end up doing really is validating, again, we're talking about validating voice, we are validating something that they already innately somewhat come with , but don't have the language around, which makes it a challenge and a barrier, when they're dealing with healthcare professionals. Because there's a whole other language that happens in the healthcare profession. Our clients may not have that language, but it doesn't mean that they don't have some understanding of themselves. What we do is try to help navigate what their inner voice is already telling them.

Emily: I imagine that it could be received in different ways by the medical profession. What are some of the responses that you get when going into these appointments with your clients, and really advocating for them and speak to the doctor, "Look, we need more information. We want to know more about the reason for this risk or more statistics behind them." What are you generally sort of hearing back in those situations?

Jessica: We have gotten to the place where I wouldn't say that it's a large majority, but a majority of our clients, because they typically come to us so early are going to the healthcare practitioners that we have worked to establish relationships with, that have already been this transformative work within themselves and in their practice. So it's not this point necessarily. And again, that's not the large majority, so I want to talk about the positive, where we find the strength. And then where we have found the gaps.

We find the strength within some of those relationships that we have been able to develop locally where they've developed such a trust with us. And because our outcomes are as good as theirs are on that -- we don't necessarily have that level of adversarial conversation because our providers know that we are working as part of the perinatal team overall. They know that we're filling the gaps that they can't necessarily get to during their 15 minute office visit and we're not blaming them for that.They are set, right? Like they have to see patients every 15 to 30 minutes. It's really hard doing longer conversations. They know that we're going to take the information that they have from their patients and we're going to help fill in the gaps as to how to achieve some of these goals. So we work really well with some.

With others, it has been incredibly adversarial. It's been adversarial to the point of utilizing scare tactics, of saying things like where you're going to do this because I'm the one that's in authority versus asking it as a question. We've had it in aspects of practitioners, to be very honest about it, practitioners telling our clients, “Well you know, you're putting your child at risk to die.” But not giving any reason behind it. It's literally just because they're coming up with an irritation because they don't want to be challenged because they're dealing with some of their own ego. And I think those of us that have been doing this work understand that ego also comes from a place of insecurity and being uncomfortable and not willing to take pause.

We've had some significant challenges with that and I will say one of the places that we have found probably the biggest gap is because we develop these closer interpersonal relationships with some of the providers and the practices that we work with that are also engaged in doing some of their own levels of transformative work. But once we get to the hospital, we're dealing with a whole set of staff that we haven't developed a relationship with over the 9 months or 10 months. They are living inside of that paradigm that is really set up by this supremacist ideal and inaccurate health communication.

And so we find that that's where some of the breakdown can really come and that's where we find that we have to take the most space to be able to protect our patients, hold the space, guide that conversation out for and really put boundaries on making sure that we take a pause. We do not accept. We do not accept for our clients and our clients really by the time they get to the place, where they are in that space -- they don't accept anyone coming in and saying well we're going to go ahead and go back and do a C-section, because you've been in labor for over 24 hours. And so we feel like it's just really been time. Our clients are at that point already where they'll say -- well, what are some of the other reasons why? You know, clearly at that point, we'll have a mother that's engaged in active labor, and maybe she's not the one that's communicating as much but dad or her partner is there. And saying tell me some of the reasons why you think this is necessary other than been in labor for a while. Maybe we need to change the position, maybe we need to hit a reset button. Maybe she needs to sleep for a little while. Maybe she needs some food and water. These are all the other possibilities that we have, and that's where we find some of the greatest amount of irritation and significant challenges in those spaces.

Emily: It sounds like it's really a journey about helping them to become their own advocates at that stage, where they're entering the hospital and sort of encountering all of them. A very sort of a different relationship with doctors and staff that are there. It sounds like a lot of women have really been able to stand up for themselves more confidently perhaps, through the work that you do with him. So I think that's it really powerful and magnificent.

Jessica: Yeah, you know it really does. It gets back to grounding in the validity of each one of our clients. Like we all have our own valid reasons for things and we may not be able to articulate them well, and we may not even be completely clear of what it is that we're feeling. But there is something that's coming up that is worth paying attention to. The doulas and I -- and we talk about this constantly like we know that we've actually done our best job when we're no longer needed in the room. And that doesn't mean that we're so not there in the room to hold the space or provide the comfort or whatever the case may be, but we're not actually in space of having to really advocate or speak up for anything because they've got it. They already know we're going to be with them. They feel confident in themselves. They're not concerned about what the outside noise might be. They are doing that work and at that point we get to have the gift of just bearing witness to all of that.

Emily: I wanted to ask about your personal spiritual practices and if that has any influence on both your personal journey and transformation as well as the work that you're doing now.

Jessica: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I don't know that I can say that I align with any one particular sense of spirituality or actually align with any one type of religion. And I know that that's really clear. I did have the opportunity to grow up in a household and I would be really curious about things and so I've studied a lot of different types of "religions" and different practices. And for me what that has settled into is just being very aware that there is this energetic source that we have. Also, that makes sense because my original background in nursing was in neurobiology and the nervous system itself is nothing but electrical energy currents constantly. Neurology is also one of those subfields that you can never have just like a direct diagnosis. It has to come from a differential diagnosis. So it's putting together all of these pieces of the puzzle and then coming up with what you think the answer might be based upon all the pieces of the puzzle.

And our spirit and our entity and our neurology all operates in that same way. And so for me, it's really about making sure that I pay attention to that -- what my reactivity is, regulating sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, but really doing that from a place of understanding that it's deeply grounded in Source. That we all come from something and that we all have something within us, that's worthy of being able to be shared with others, because when we open to sharing, then we also open to receiving. And so I stay very grounded in that and I think that I walk through life just really grounded in gratitude and appreciation. That's my spirituality.

Emily: Yeah, I think I directly connect to the approach that you take with your clients in your work and recognizing that each one of them is different and each one of them has a different story to share. And like you were speaking about earlier -- just holding space for that, within all the interactions that you have with them as well as all the interactions that they're having with others, as they're going through their pregnancy and breathing experiences. And so I definitely can pick up the connection between that and the foundation of your spirituality sort of in the work you’re doing.

Jessica: Yes, there's definitely a deep connection across the board and I'm continuously in a process of learning more about every single day every single day.

Emily: So ROOTT was founded in the summer of 2017 -- is that correct? So about a year and a half ago.

Jessica: Yes

Emily: So what are some of the things in the last one and a half years that you have engaged with and how has that led to perhaps your vision for the next five to ten years.

Jessica: ROOTT came together because it was a group of us that had already known one another primarily. In that we had known one another in very different spaces and different aspects of our lives. And so there was a huge discovery period when we first initially incorporated ROOTT and started doing this work on a more visual basis, because again, I've been doing this work for well over 15 years now that ended up drawing people out. It was -- literally the incorporation of ROOTT was the invitation and so I had folks and individuals that had passed through my life a decade before that came forward and said, you know what I've always wanted to do this work and I had no idea. And so understanding what has grown out of this in the last year and a half is just how much I don't know. And actually really being excited about that, and being able to discover that, and continue to learn almost in a child-like manner, when you get really excited about something that you’re seeing for the first time - that is what has come out of this year and a half, that there's just so much more to learn.

The deep level of trust that has been developed and learning how to trust. That's a huge thing for me on a personal level, because I come from a lot of different circumstances where trust was a major issue. Learning to trust, and learning to let go, and learning to trust what you built. And trust who you are in relationship to that. My vision has stayed the same (somewhat) since I even started in nursing, which is really to figure out a way to work myself out of a job. I think my ultimate vision would be that we come to understand that while there's different skill levels that we get to learn and develop, no one person is more important than another. I always use the analogy -- like the brick mason is just as important as the physician is, because without the brick masons, the physician wouldn't have a house to practice in.

What I see from an organizational perspective, really would like to see if we'd be able to get to the place where we have some better levels of self-sustaining work and foundational support because it's really challenging when you're a smaller organization, especially when you're a smaller organization that is black-woman-led, that is challenging these paradigms, in the intersection of what is reproductive justice and birthing justice and having these really tough conversation.

It can be really really difficult to get the level of funding that other larger organizations have. And also be able to develop a sustainability plan that would put into place that I'm not in the executive director role for too extended of a period of time, because I know that for my own growth there's had to be changed in transition. And in order to watch ROOTT grow and to allow it to become what it needs to be, there also has to be growth and transition in the position that I hold as well. So really being able to find that balance of creating the root of what this organization is now, creating levels of sustainable funding sources and also social enterprise opportunities and being able to allow it to take on its own growth so that we can grow into what will be the next set of leadership within the organization. So that they can take it to the next level that it needs to go, with a new set of eyes and a new perspective and a whole new value structure and to be able to move it along and in that way.

Kozo: Beautiful! I'm going to break in here and use my host prerogative and ask some questions, if that's okay, Emily. I've kind of an area of exploration or advice to pursue, but first I'd like to apologize. It seems like very sensitive material and if you're uncomfortable with it, go ahead and just say so and we can move to someplace else. So there's a Native American philosophy that says, when we heal, we heal seven generations forward and seven generations back. It seems kind of mystical, but it's actually being scientifically validated recently with epigenetics. The trauma that our ancestors experienced can be passed down through us biologically and influence our gene expression.

I'm wondering when I think about African-American women and birthing and you look at slavery in this country, there's a lot of trauma there. Not only that these women were birthing children that they didn't choose to have, but also the women who birth children that maybe they chose to have, they were then birthing them into an environment that was not conducive to nurturing that child and the image that just sticks with me is Toni Morrison's image of this African American woman who would much rather kill her child in "Beloved" where she swings it into the tree. I understand you're talking about racism that affects the health of the mother and the health of the child in this birthing process in the present circumstances. I mean walking into an office and having a doctor tell you that you're at risk for this, causing you stress when that's based in racism. But also, I'm wondering if you've sensed into this ancestral trauma that has come down the line and is affecting African American mothers and children?

Jessica: Absolutely! Actually I would have to say that that's probably the grounding core principle of how it is that we operate and why we operate in the way that we do. It's actually something that I do a lot of work around and part of what the discussion that I just had and as part of my independent research with a lot of my colleagues throughout the MMA is that we are very frank.

When I talk about the structural determinants of health, we are very specifically speaking to the impact of enslavement and that intergenerational trauma that has been created. But we're also speaking about that from a place of not just like our levels of like... because unfortunately that gets turned into a kind of a blame as well. The conversation around like why can't you just get over it? We're beyond that. You can't, because those things do become part of what gets passed down.

In order to address what is that scarcity model that is discussed about us, you also have to discuss the benefit model of how colonialism in and of itself and these institutions that were created i.e Institution of Shadows Slavery provided benefit for populations that aspire to that. In order to really deconstruct all of this, we do have to have those very real conversations that may not also be up to us to be able to address. Because if you still have structures and institutions and policies that have been created that are still directly influencing how it is that we provide health communication today, how it is that people are able to purchase homes, how it is that whole neighborhoods exist in poverty -- If we don't go back and address how those were developed to begin with, none of the other things will really be addressed.

What we do do for ourselves is try to make sure that we do acknowledge that is part of our experience and that we get to have the self-determination and the collective responsibility, not individual but the collective responsibility, and the collective knowledge that we have, that says we have the power to come out of having to survive such atrocity and to be able to continue to and develop the lives that we expect for ourselves.

In speaking to epigenetics, just real brief, I talk about it in almost every talk that I give and every time that I have an opportunity to talk about this. The theory of epigenetics is becoming something that's becoming much more widespread and people are talking about. But epigenetics has been talked about in very different ways. And again this gets back to who gets to have the predominant valid voice. I've heard about this through the stories like it's soul remembrance - you remembering what your ancestors did, let the power of your ancestors guide you. The experiences of your ancestors guide you.

I heard that growing up as a child. We have Dr. Joy DeGruy who did work well before we ever started talking about epigenetics on what was considered the post-traumatic slave syndrome, which very much talks about epigenetics, but in a different language. It wasn't recognized until it was brought more into the mainstream western research model that it was considered a valid question. So again, it gets back to we get to know that we're valid and we get to make sure that we are utilizing our voices as the grounding aspect and very much acknowledging that -- yes, this level of intergenerational trauma has created some of the significant amount of the issues that we deal with in particular, in black maternal and infant health. When I'm talking about it from that perspective. And in order to address that, we have to start talking about decolonizing and those of us that are doing the work right now, I'll speak for myself, but I know that this is something that myself and a lot of our colleagues have spoken about.

This is not something that I'm doing because I think that there's going to be a significant change or anybody's even going to remember who I am. It has nothing to do with that. It can't, there can be no ego in this work. This is about -- what is it going to look like? And how are we going to shift this paradigm for what it looks like for the third, fourth, and fifth generation that comes from this time and this moment in our lives in our history.

Kozo: Beautiful. Yeah, you know, when you say like epigenetics has been around, but just in a different language -- my family comes from Hawaii. And you know, we talk about our kapuna, our ancestors guiding us and and you know, talking to us and transferring wisdom down, and it's interesting, when you were talking about how midwifery of the African Americans was outlawed and forbidden, right? By having to go through these days' gynecological training process.

The same thing happened in Hawaii, where Hawaiian medicine and Hawaiian spiritual practices were literally outlawed. Like if you practiced Hawaiian medicine, you were thrown in jail. And if someone went, if they broke their leg and didn't go to the hospital, the Western Hospital, but went to a Hawaiian spiritual healer, both the people were thrown in jail -- the person who went to get healed and the person who was the Healer. So it was forbidden. And so what's been going on in Hawaii has been this process of recovering that powerful indigenous wisdom of healing and spirituality. And all different forms -- navigation and dance and all these different aspects of Hawaiian culture that were basically erased, right?

And so I'm wondering in your journey -- how have you cleared that gap, right? Because like you said, so there's an extreme absence of African-American midwives. So how have you recovered that indigenous wisdom and and what are your roads to clearing, to paving over that Gap?

Jessica: I think that really honestly, it's about telling the story and being able to make sure that we ground in our principles. And those are the things that we do, within our organization, within the alliance, within those that we work with, we're talking a lot about the reclamation of that story. I mean that's that's part of this process, is making it known.

Like a lot of people don't know our story. They don't know what it is that is our reality. I mean, I hear what you're saying and I resonate with that so much because it is a reality that I see and that I've experienced across multiple cultures, across multiple areas where you're talking about these levels of indigenous practices that have been literally erased and eradicated, because of the influence of colonialism throughout the world.

And so we're doing what we can to be able to make sure that we honor and recognize, through practice, through principle, and through our own learning and rediscovery. And through the trust of ourselves, and knowing that these are our ancestral processes. In this little tiny piece of time that we've had what are considered these Western Medical paradigms, it is such a short time span compared to the rest of human existence, where clearly we were getting through okay, or else we wouldn't be here!

And to know that part is where we get to really continue to ask the questions, ask the deeper questions of ourselves, listen to that ancestral knowledge, understand and realize that we've already come with so much. We already have so much. And we get to have that voice and to say that when it comes to our own care. And that's where, you know, some of that part is in like trying to close some of the gaps, because this isn't stuff that they teach in medical school. This isn't stuff that they teach in nursing school, you know? So but once you know, and once you understand, then it is your responsibility to follow through and honor it. At that point, if you don't, it's a willful ignorance to me. And that's something that is not well-tolerated.

Kozo: Mmm Yeah, I would argue that not only did we get by but we actually did better. Like if you think about Hawaii when Captain Cook, you know, "discovered" it, it was completely sustainable. There was you know, research that says there were close to a million people there without disease. Living a sustainable lifestyle where they had fresh water and they weren't polluting.They were in rhythm with the land. Same thing with Native Americans, right?

But if you cut out this short period of time that the Western paradigm has ruled, look what's happening to the world, right? So even though, by Western standards, we're more civilized or thriving, we're actually destroying the planet. So we actually did better back with indigenous wisdom than we do today, you know? Which not only validates it, but, you know, if you're going to put it on a hierarchy, we got to start listening to indigenous wisdom!

Jessica: Absolutely. I couldn't agree more, I could not agree more! And I will add this to it. Even when I say that you know -- when I say things like 'we were getting by' -- like there's definitely a deep amount of cynicism that comes with that, and understanding that there's another part of the irritation that comes up. That we were doing okay. We were doing better than okay. The systems were thriving, life was growing. There was sustainability. There was working within rhythms. There was working with the land. You cannot deny that, looking at the world as an entity, there is absolutely no denying that certain aspects, a lot of aspects of Western culture and these paradigms of colonialism have disrupted and interrupted what is a natural order and flow. And it has deeply impacted brown and black people and Indigenous people across the world, and continues to do so!

Kozo: Beautiful! We got a comment in from the web chat and it's interesting because well, I'll just read the comment and then I'll let you comment in whatever direction you want to go with. But so David Doane says: "In my life. I'm helping birth the reality of my true identity, which is my being an expression of One Source just like everyone and everything is. Which also helps birth the realization that we are all one, which helps birth compassion and cooperation, instead of hatred and violence. And that birth in my life helps birth peace in the community." So he's using birth in the metaphorical sense here, but I think a lot of the same sentiment is shared by you and the work that you do. I get the feeling I'm obviously the One Source, but just wondering if you have comments on that?

Jessica: Absolutely and I can't say that I disagree, because I do agree. I think that's a lot of what it is that I'm expressing and that way I do put names to it, because we have to have the name in order to call it out, to be able to clear the space and bring back in what it is that we are trying to do. You cannot deny a circumstance and a history, especially when it has been so prolific and is so deeply embedded in what is considered culture today. What you can do is recognize it, illuminate it, shine the light on it, and try to clear the space to allow for what can be birthed out of that. And that is really what it is that I've been saying this whole time.

It makes people very uncomfortable, and I'm very aware of that! When I speak to it in very direct manner -- of this is what we do, this is who we address, this is why it is that we address these things, and this is why we are so dedicated to addressing these things. But that also has to do with establishing levels of equity. You cannot have populations that have been oppressed for as long as a period as they have been, without taking the time to establish the equity. And establishing the equity means that sometimes you got to give more resources to that one particular area, in order to heal the wound. That also means that we have to be honest about what the realities have been, in order to know what it is that we have to redress, clear and open up capacity for. And that is also a birthing process -- very, very physically in a very physically-related manner -- You can't get to the rainbow without having a storm!

And transition in birth is the same way. When you get to see that baby and oxytocin gets released and all of those things that happen, it's an amazingly beautiful experience. But the period before that is a challenge and it is one of the deepest challenges of your life and you got to go through some discomfort, in order to get to the other side.

Kozo: Wow, beautiful. It reminds me of this neighbor after I graduated college, she was very pretty, cute blonde girl. She lived underneath and she had a baby and she came up to me one day and we were just talking. I forget what we were talking about but I remember she said -- yeah Kozo, if we got into a fight, I will kick your ass! And I'm like what? You are 90 pounds; what are you talking about? I know Aikido. I can kill you. And she's like -- No, no. She's like -- I gave birth to a baby. You don't even know what pain that is. You don't know how hard that is. I know for a fact you've never done anything in your life that painful and hard and knowing that, I can kick your ass.

Jessica: It is so funny.

Kozo: And I thought she was right.

Jessica: But you know, what is so funny about that is that when you really get a chance, you can take it even to the next level. When you get to understand, when we get to have that process of understanding just how strong we are and just how strong we are in one of the most vulnerable portions of our life, that's really when it starts to all come together, like it takes that level of vulnerability to really understand our true strength, which does ultimately end up with a sense of peace because at that point there's nothing to prove. It just is.

Kozo: Wow. Wonderful. We have a question coming in. This is from my sister who is transitioning into a lactation specialist, and she wasn't able to join the call today, but she wanted me to ask about Mother's Milk-lactation. I mean that story about you with your second child and having it ripped off your breasts while it was nursing -- well, that just broke my heart. And then you said like your other children, you nursed. And I'm just wondering if there's obviously that was a big part of indigenous culture was nursing and we got away from that one formula, but I'm just wondering what your views on that are.

Jessica: I think that it's an absolute necessity for women to be able to have the opportunity to be able to breastfeed their children. I'll take it even a step further. I think that it's necessary to understand that sometimes maybe direct breastfeeding doesn't happen. But mother's milk should always be offered and there should be levels of support. If we're talking about it from being a lactation consultant, how is it that that can be provided?

I think that it's necessary to take it even a step further that we've gotten away from culture and tradition where there was a certain sense of what I considered shared parenting or allo-parenting, where we were able to nurse one another's children as well and that was a deeply steeped practice, that has been interfered with through Western medicine. And I also think that it's necessary that the best way to feed babies is to make sure that they're fed. And so what I don't want to have happen is have women feel guilty because they're unable to breastfeed or because they have a discomfort with it or because there may have been some challenges or stories that they've been told that they still believe in there trying to work through. I don't want to see that happen.

But what I will say is that there are some very distinct differences and research supports this, but these are things that we know through our own cell remembrance, that there is a definite advantage to nursing our children. We have decreased issues with severe postpartum depression. It helps regulate our own hormones. It helps regulate physiological aspects like respiratory function and cardiovascular system and the nervous system with our children and for us. It helps us regain our body type and have it go back to what it was before we got pregnant -- in a different way because the changes are beautiful and should be celebrated, but helps us with our own health and well-being as well. It is a very necessary component to be able to provide the space for our babies to be able to be offered breast milk in whatever way, shape or form we possibly can. I definitely am an advocate for direct breastfeeding, if possible. And if not, let's make sure that we're providing support for other means to be able to give the options, because again, it all comes down to informed decision. If you don't know that you have other options, how do you know what decision to make?

Kozo: Beautiful. Thank you. We have one final question that we ask all of our guests and Jessica that's how can we, as the larger ServiceSpace community support your work. What can we do to help you on your journey?

Jessica: Two very specific asks. I’ve thought about that multiple ways. I've had that question asked me several times by many many people. Two very direct ways. One is obviously continue to try to raise the visibility of what it is that we're doing. Organizations like us, talk about us. Let people know that we're here and the work that we're doing and that were being successful at it. And trust us to do that because we know what it is that we need. We are informed through cell remembrance, we are informed through our own various levels of education and experience and all of those are valid. So continue to talk about us and let folks know about who we are and the work that we're doing.

And two, try to leverage your different levels of privilege, in ways that you can. Whether that be through direct financial support, whether that be through fundraising, whether that be through other organizations that you know that are philanthropic that would be interested in the work that we're doing, that are grounded and steeped in human rights, that want to see an equitable fair and sustainable society. One can continue to direct them our way. Allow us some of the space that we need to be able to do the direct care that we need to do, but assist in achieving our levels of liberation, by being liberated, right alongside us, and utilizing the resources that you have in order to do that. And right now in a very real aspect in a very real world, those resources do come in the form of making sure that folks know about us, and making sure that there's some financial stability for organizations like ours.

Kozo: Yeah, we'll definitely get the word out and I personally will be working on leveling out those inequalities and privilege, so thank you for that. Emily, did you want to have some closing statements?

Emily: I'm sort of still soaking in everything that was shared in this conversation. I think there is a lot of depth in what you shared Jessica, and a lot of genuineness and I really appreciate that and it's really inspiring to hear about the deep personal connection behind your work. And I think I do, it certainly is by having conversations like this -- obviously, it makes me reconsider the privileges within my own life that I am aware of. And sometimes take for granted and even those that I'm not aware of on a daily basis, but that I'm blessed with in this life. I think it's definitely a catalyst for more reflection and growth for me in that area so I really appreciate that.

Jessica: Wonderful. I'm glad to hear that because that's really ultimately what it's all about for all of us, in order to be able to work for the world. Where we can say that we are all one. It's about making sure that we're consistently engaged in relationship and evaluating and re-evaluating and reassessing. I mean, that's a pretty beautiful place to be in.

Kozo: Yeah, and I just want to comment that I feel so honored to be a part of this conversation. At one point Jessica you said we start with the basic principle of listen to black women, trust black women and listen to black families. And I take that as Spirit speaking to me and I totally agree with what you're saying, but for me as a man that becomes - listen to women, trust women, drop the privilege, drop the patriarchy, drop the preconceived notions of whatever it is. I was so arrogant as to like when my wife was pregnant trying to tell her what to do because I had read this in some book or something.

So I make a call out to all, especially men, not of people of color, to take that -- listen to black women, trust black women and listen to black families -- as a sacred vow. So to thank you for this wonderful conversation. I feel honored to be here and you know taken to what you said and we're going to take a pause here. We're going to do a moment of silence before we sign off. Thank you.

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