Supporting Parents with a Queer Lens

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I often say that my hope is for a world where my job as a postpartum doula is no longer needed. Where we live in community, with elders and resources, held and supported as we welcome a new life into the world. 

I take great pride in the fact that I support all new parents with a queer lens. What does this mean, you might ask? It means I am honest about the ways in which America sets us up to fail and how capitalism requires us to detach from our babies and families and communities of support. It means I help everyone navigate the often unbalanced division of labor in the home and in their lives. It is having conversations with new parents about sex, pleasure, and consent as they hit the 6 weeks postpartum mark. One of the ways in which oppression and patriarchy work so effectively and so consistently is that we are taught to believe many of the messages ourselves. 

Queerness is often understood as a sexual and gender identity. While it is both of those things for me it is also a political identity. I often think about how the beginnings of queer political organizing, led by transgender women of color, was about sexual liberation for everyone, not just queer people. It was about being free from racism and police harassment. It was about everyone’s ability to live and love and have shelter and be supported in a way that felt authentic and real and free from violence and oppression. 

Identity and structural oppression inform everything about how we live our lives, birth our babies, and learn how to parent. I help my clients see and navigate those realities. Let’s talk about how our institutions, from marriage, to leave policies, to systems of childcare, to the medical system, are not set up to support us or help us build authentic connections with each other or our families and instead are set up to make money and perpetuate systems of oppression. 

That’s nice, Rachel, but what does that mean in practice? It means when clients arrive home from the hospital after the birth of their baby, I help them make sense of it, validate their frustration around having a million different people telling them a million different things, and remind them that none of it is their fault. When they talk about feeling nervous or guilty about returning to work at 12 weeks, I remind them that most countries have 6-18 months of paid leave, that there isn’t actually enough time in every day to do all the things we’ve been told we need to do in order to be good parents, spouses, workers, and human beings. But don’t worry, it’s not all gloom and doom. I help new parents tap into their intuition, find who they are and who they want to be as new parents, in relationship to their families and friends. I encourage deep, meaningful, and vulnerable relationships with partners and other new parents. I encourage empowered choices and body autonomy. Major life changes, such as having a new baby, are an opportunity. To grow, to be seen in a new light, to see yourself and the world in a new light. The light I shine is a rainbow one, working towards a fully liberated and connected world. You and your new baby are an integral part of that. 

Also, babies are so cute. Photo by Michelle Schapiro

Confidence

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New parenthood is a time when you are expected to do something, brand new, emotionally charged, on very little sleep, that you have never done before. When you throw in the overwhelming amount of contradicting information out there, from family to the internet, it is hard to get your footing.

One of my favorite expressions about breastfeeding is that it is “natural, but learned,” meaning that you and your baby are perhaps biologically able to do it, but you both still have to learn. I believe the same is true for parenting. How do you find that parenting instinct? How can you trust yourself and your baby to know what to do?

My favorite part of my postpartum doula work is helping parents build confidence, and helping them hear that voice, the one that has good instincts, that knows when something is wrong, and can trust when something is right. I do this through listening, normalizing, educating, and validating. I model confidence. Most new parents are so worried at how fragile their babies are that they feel like they don’t even know how to hold them. Seeing someone like me who has held a million babies, seeing that their babies are actually pretty tough, can help calm them.

I always say that I know my work is done when parents feel confident. Or at least more confident. They know which resources to look to for questions. They know that every little decision they make is not the be all end all of their parenting journey. They can hear that voice, the one that tells them that they know how to parent their baby.

Let me help you build confidence and trust in your parenting journey.

Now taking clients for 2022!

I do love holding all the babies. Photo by Michelle Schapiro.

Relax, I’m here

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There are so many things that new parents worry about. What if my baby isn’t gaining weight? What happens when I return to work? How do I do the first bath? And the biggest concern, what if I’m doing something wrong?!?!?!

That is what I am there for. First off, I don’t believe that you can really do something wrong. But I am there to help keep track and help you along the newborn path. Often at that first visit people ask, when do I introduce the bottle or sleep train or prevent bad habits. I remind them that I am here to keep track of all of those things. I will let them know the best time to introduce the bottle, when to think about changing sleep patterns, all of it. They can relax because I am holding all of those worries. Those worries about doing it “right.” Not that I actually believe there is a right or wrong way to parent, but sometimes people can let go of that concern when they feel held.

I often think of myself as a postpartum strategist. Letting new families know what’s normal but also how to maximize their time so that they can wisely take care of themselves. I don’t know a lot of parents of newborns that can actually relax per say, but I do know that I can help carry some of the burden.

I have postpartum openings from now till October. Let me carry some of your load.

I can literally and figuratively hold your hand as you introduce the bottle. Photo by Michelle Schapiro.

Joy!

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People often talk about how joyful it is to have a new baby. “It’s such a gift!” “You should be so happy!” “Smile!” A big piece of my work is approaching parenting with a both/and mindset. You can love and be happy about your new baby while also struggling and feeling sad.

I am lucky enough to do a job that brings me great joy. It is challenging at times, but the bonds I create with new families make me so happy. I love supporting folks at this beginning time and helping them enter this next stage of life.

I have September openings for postpartum doula work and am also offering both my first and second time parent support groups. I bring a balanced approach to supporting new parents. And also, I will make you laugh.

What does a visit look like?

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One of the most common questions I get asked in a prenatal interview is, “what does a typical visit look like?” I love this question, because it allows me to talk about all the various facets of my work. A visit can involve so many different things. It is sitting and talking, it is hands on learning, it is holding the baby so families can breathe for a moment. It is both broad and very specific. I have always struggled with how to describe and show what I do. So I decided to get some help.

I hired my good friend Michelle to come along on a visit with some current clients and photograph us as we went through the flow of a typical session. She spent time with me in my clients’ home doing what I do. She really captured the beauty and power of my work; the care, compassion, and humor with which I support new families. I love building relationships with the families I support, and Michelle was able to capture this element honestly and beautifully. The bond I’ve cultivated with these clients was unmistakable, and Michelle made us all feel relaxed, both giving great suggestions for what to do with our time and observing our natural rhythm.

I’ll be updating my website soon and will gradually post the photos on my social media accounts. If anyone would like some beautiful in-home newborn photos taken by Michelle, just say my name and you will get a discounted session fee! Check out Michelle’s amazing work on her website: https://michelleschapiro.com/

Here is the first teaser. Hire yourself a doula who looks at your baby like I do in this photo.

Photo by Michelle Schapiro

In-Person Groups!!!! Yay!!!!

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Forgive my enthusiasm, but in-person groups are back this fall. I am so so so excited to be using Akasha’s beautiful space in their new location! I love being in Roslindale square for these groups. It’s easily accessible from so many neighborhoods and near the arboretum and a wonderful and vibrant community. I will be running both my first and second time parent groups starting September 14th. Check out my events page for all the details!

There are so many reasons why I love running these groups, but holding that space and witnessing the trials and tribulations of having a new baby is at the top of my list. It is a space to ask questions, share joys, and find a deep and lasting community. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve run into a parent who was in one of my groups, now with a toddler, and they tell me that their group still meets, that they still support each other through the various phases of childhood, and how grateful they are to me for bringing them together. Those interactions make my heart sing.

Join me this fall. Find your people. Grow and be held.

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Spring and Rebirth

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While many days lately have felt more like summer thank spring in Boston, it truly is feeling like a reawakening to the world. More of more of my friends, family, and colleagues are fully vaccinated and the world is beginning to reopen, for better or for worse. It feels hard to follow the different rules and guidelines, but I am feeling hopeful about my ability to ramp up my postpartum doula work as well as my trainings and support groups.

Sometimes spring and flowers and sunshine can feel challenging when you are stuck inside with a new baby, recovering from a traumatic birth, or so sleep deprived you can barely open your eyes. One of my previous jobs was working for a suicide prevention nonprofit and I remember learning about how spring can often be the hardest for those of us with depression or anxiety because everyone else won’t stop talking about how happy they are with the nice weather. I feel like I see that theme often with parents of new babies. That they SHOULD be happy or joyful or feel a certain wonderful way about holding a new baby in their arms. This can be extremely invalidating of so many peoples experiences.

While I love showing new families how to do a bath or change a diaper, the core of my work is validating and normalizing all the mixed feelings that come with having a new baby in the house. It is a truly a moment of both/and. You can love your new baby AND feel grief about the loss of your old life. You can enjoy feeding them with your body AND feel incredibly trapped at times. As the mother of older children, I can tell you that those feelings of both/and don’t go away, even though they get less acute.

Happy spring babes. All your feelings are beautiful, real, and seen. I’m available to help you in your homes and will be posting new groups soon. Please reach out.

What is Cultural Humility?

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Presenting at the Postpartum Support International Conference in Portland, Oregon in June 2019.

One of the things I love about my work is how much it grows and shifts as I learn and grow as a doula, as a trainer, as a parent, and as a person. I learn something new about babies and parenting with every family I work with. I also learn more about how to dismantle systems of oppression with every training I do. And the language we use about oppression and identities matters. This is central to the framework of my trainings. When I was younger, discussing LGBQ/T communities with a tolerance narrative was popular. But that never sat well with me. As I like to say in my trainings, I don’t want to be tolerated. There isn’t something inherently wrong or different about my queer identity. I think being queer is one of the greatest things about me. So I began to use the language of cultural competency. I understood this to mean that we must learn about the range of identities in any given disenfranchised group, their history, their language, their experiences, in order to be culturally competent and serve that community respectfully. But even this language felt incomplete because one of the great things about identity, anyone’s, is that it is ever shifting, and ever changing. I believe this to be true for almost any oppressed groups and LGBQ/T folks in particular love our identifiers. So when I came across the term cultural humility I was really struck by the focus on continued studentship. Here is how I define cultural humility.

  • Full picture of someone’s race, language, gender, sexual identity, background etc.
  • People can bring their whole selves into the space.
  • Requires an awareness of privilege, power, structural oppression and inequality.
  • Focuses on self-humility and awareness rather than achieving a set amount of knowledge.

I particularly love the emphasis on taking responsibility as a learner to grow and continue learning. Even as a queer person, I am fully aware of the fact that I will continue to learn and grow around the language people within my own community use. Something I love about these trainings, and the way that I run them, is that I am a facilitator not an all knowing expert. I encourage the participants to come into each training with all their knowledge, experiences, and biases. My job is to educate but more importantly to dig and dismantle the things that our white supremacists homophobic, transphobic, sexist society has taught all of us. I do that work with love, compassion, and honesty.

If you would like to learn more and dig deep with me, check out my upcoming training on May 1st on my Provider Support and Training Page.

A Brave New World (In which I return to holding all the babies)

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Expert baby holder.

I have been so lucky to be able to provide my postpartum doula support virtually over the past year. It was a steep learning curve but enabled me to help friends of friends from Chicago to New York, and soon my new baby niece in Los Angeles. Virtual support has allowed me to have face time (literally) with clients more frequently, even thought our “visits” are shorter. It sometimes involves partners holding (and dropping) phones over boobs as I try to see a latch or position of a baby trying to learn how to feed. It has been a real gift to learn how to do my work in this way and I hope to continue to provide virtual support to families far and wide.

Here is a lovely testimonial from a family who had their baby weeks after the beginning of the quarantine:

My partner and I were so anxious about the isolation and unpredictability of caring for a newborn during a pandemic without the in-person support that we had expected. But from the first day we brought our baby home, Rachel was there for us via video call, offering invaluable support with breastfeeding, bath time, sleep tips, and how to get through the first few nights at home. I was surprised at how skillfully she was able to address all of our questions and concerns without being there in person. Rachel’s approach is so affirming, gentle, and non-judgmental. I always emerged from our digital sessions feeling more calm and confident in our ability to care for our baby. I don’t know how we would have gotten through the first several nerve-wracking weeks without her.

I am also so excited to return to people’s homes. It has been over a year, but the anticipation is palpable. I can recall the feeling of seeing those brand new babies and holding them in my arms. Of comforting, with a consensual hand on the knee or shoulder rub, weepy and exhausted new parents as they anticipate that first night to come. The energy in the room is profound, at times terrifying, and deeply magical. While the emotional support, and some of the skill building, is similar to the virtual support, there are some pieces of my work that can only be done in the home that I am so excited to return to. I love making exhausted parents breakfast in the morning, especially when it is 11am and all they have had since the previous night’s dinner is a granola bar. I somehow hate doing laundry in my own home, but love folding other people’s teeny tiny baby clothing and putting it away. And most of all, I cannot wait to snuggle all the babies so that parents can get an extra hour or two of sleep.

My schedule is open. I am ready and vaccinated. Bring on the newborn magic!

For details about my postpartum work, checkout my Postpartum Doula Services Page.

To see my previous post about the my continued COVID safety precautions see my vaccination post here.

Holding Space in a Pandemic

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This is what parent support groups used to look like. The last year has been a little different.

When I switched my parent support groups to Zoom a year ago, I had no idea what the next year would look like. None of us did. As it became clear this is what life would be like and that my work would have to go online, I had many concerns about what a virtual group would look like. Would people be able to see my compassion through the screen? Would they be able to see other parents shaking their heads in agreement, that gesture of deep understanding and empathy? Would these groups still create a village and build connections? How would it all work? And most importantly for me, would I be able to do the thing I love the most, which is hold that space for struggling and thriving parents? What does holding space mean on a screen?

I was very quickly assuaged of all my fears and have been so deeply impressed by the way in which I, along with several groups of parents, both new and with their second babies, have navigated the virtual space to build deep and lasting connections. Parents in my groups have made a great effort to stay focused, to practice deep listening, to nod and wave and validate each others experiences. While I have to do more “calling on” than I would like, I have also found that people can feel and see the ways in which I am here for them, holding space, sharing knowledge and tips, and guiding them as they build connections with others.

And it should surprise no one that there have been some silver linings (isn’t that the theme of the last year?). For folks under 2 weeks postpartum especially, not having to leave the house to participate has been a real gift. It has also allowed me to expand my reach, having folks join the group from all over the greater Boston area, as opposed to just those very close to Jamaica Plain.

I miss snuggling babies and being in a room with all the nervous and joyful energy of newborn parenthood. But facilitating these groups is truly a gift and I have loved sharing this space virtually. My next online group, Getting Started, for first time parents, starts on April 6th. I hope you will join me or share with your friends and neighbors who are entering this new stage of life. It is such a big transition and it is hard to do alone and isolated, especially during pandemic. I’ll see you on Zoom, until we can be in a room again safely.

For registrations and details, check out my Parent Classes page.