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.

My two trips to Fenway!

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I can’t believe it is March again, a whole year since our world dramatically changed. I haven’t held a baby in almost a year and what a tumultuous year it has been, for all of us. As the plants start to peak out from the cold ground, as I plan another virtual birthday party for my oldest (who is turning 10!!!!), and as I plan what I want the next year to look like, I have some very exciting updates.

In-Home Postpartum Doula Work

I am so excited to announce that as of Friday, March 5th, I am fully vaccinated!  This means I plan to return to in-home postpartum doula support starting April 1st. I realize that we still do not know a lot about how vaccination relates to transmission and there are still many precautions to consider. Here are the safety steps I am taking. First, my wife will also be fully vaccinated by mid-March and we will continue to wear masks when we go out into the world. I plan to start by working with one family at a time, so as to avoid any transmission between families. Finally, I will wear a mask when I’m in folks’ homes to ensure everyone feels completely safe. I am so excited to hold babies again and really look forward to the hands on support this will allow me to provide. Please be in touch for any due dates around April 1st and beyond. 

Virtual Postpartum Doula Support

I will continue to provide virtual support to families across the country. While this does not involve baby snuggling, there are so many skills I’ve learned to teach virtually over the past year. I can provide information and support around baby wearing, feeding, burping and holding, bathing, and diapering. The core of my support and my doula work is providing emotional support, helping parents strategize around sleep and feeding, and how to manage this huge life transition, especially during a pandemic. I’ve found supporting families virtually over the past year to be incredibly rewarding, especially as people navigate what the pandemic means to them as new parents and as we learn new ways of being parenting and being in community. 

To learn more about my Postpartum Doula work, please check out my Postpartum Doula Services Page.

Parent Support Groups

I will continue to provide virtual support groups for both new and second time parents. I have found these groups to be vital in the pandemic, both as a way to break isolation as well as helping folks find a parent community. These groups are a wonderful mix of information and problem solving from my years of experience as a postpartum doula as well as a supportive and non judgmental environment to connect and be held by other parents who are in a similar place in their parenting journey. I look forward to continuing to provide these groups online until we can meet again in person. To learn about upcoming groups, check out my Parent Classes and Policies Page.

Provider Trainings

I am excited to grow my perinatal provider trainings for LGBQ/T Cultural Competency.  I have been providing these trainings for the past three years with a range of perinatal providers from nurses to doulas to in-home visitors. My trainings go beyond basic information and a “tolerance” narrative and invites participants to take a deep look at their own learned biases and have a deeper understanding of how systems of oppression function for all marginalized bodies. With tons of opportunities for discussion and small group work, these trainings have been well received by participants who appreciate the opportunity to dig deep and reflect. My style is humorous, non-judgmental, and with a deep love for the perinatal world and those that live and work in that space. For more information, check out my Provider Support and Training Page.

Please spread the word far and wide about my offerings. I am excited to recommit to the healing and social change work that I do in the perinatal word. I believe my approach is unique and that I am truly gifted at what I do.

Thanks for your support.

Virtual Work: Far and Wide

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Hello,

I wanted to update everyone on how my work has progressed virtually. My family has had a lovely summer of swimming and social distancing and I’ve been getting back to the important work of supporting providers and families.

I have found there to be both pros and cons of doing my work virtually. The good news is that I have been able to do more training and talks for providers, as virtual makes this work more accessible to many. Speaking about queerness and structural oppression brings me great joy. Last week I ran a training for a state-wide program supporting new parents in recovery. I also recorded a talk for the upcoming CAPPA conference. It was a lot of screen time but worth it. Here I am prior to sitting in front of the screen for hours:

I have also rededicated myself to making virtual support groups happen. I have been impressed and amazed by how open parents have been to share and support each other, even on a virtual platform. It is not the same as being in a room together, no, but we are still holding space and creating community in beautiful ways. I have two new groups starting September 14th, one for any new parents and another for queer parents.

I am so excited to start facilitating a queer parent group again. I used to do it many years ago, and it brings me great joy to talk about the unique strengths and challenges of being queer families in an oppressive world. I am excited to bring this group back and open it up to queer families from around the country.

My postpartum doula work has continued virtually as well. I don’t foresee going back into folks homes anytime soon, but I have been pleasantly surprised at how well my work transfers to the virtual world. I am still able to support parents, teach new skills, and help families make sense of the newborn period. Please be in touch if you are interested in hearing more about my work.

Enjoy the final days of summer and hope to see you all in real life soon,

Service Update and COVID-19

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Hello!

I hope you all are finding ways to stay calm and centered during this time. Caring for a newborn or waiting for a new baby to arrive can be an anxious time, even without the current state of the world.

Supporting new families is now more important than ever and I’ve struggled deeply with what to do to protect the new families I’m working with, expecting families, my family, and the greater world.

I’ve finally decided that it is unwise for me to come into people’s homes to do my work at this time. This was a hard decision and I will deeply miss snuggling new babies and cooking meals. Hands on support is a big piece of my work and I did not make this decision lightly. However, I do believe this is the safest decision for all of us. Here is a link to the article that guided my thinking. 

That being said, I believe much of my work can be done virtually, from talking with families through a new swaddle or baby carrier, discussing feelings, and making a plan for sleep. I will also be running my new parent groups virtually through Zoom. I’m excited by the ways in which this new approach might actually make my services more accessible to people. If you previously contacted me and I said I was booked, please reach out again because there is more flexibility in working virtually!

Thanks for your understanding, I wish everyone continued health and safety during this time. Please reach out with any questions: rachelhessdoula@gmail.com. 

CAPPA 2020

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I’m excited to announce I’ll be speaking at this year’s CAPPA conference in San Antonio in September. Please spread the word!

https://cappa.net/event/conf2020/

Speaking to providers about being culturally humble in the care they provider to new families is my hearts work and I’m so lucky to travel far and wide in order to do it.

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Postpartum Support International Conference 2019

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I recently had the privilege of traveling to Portland, Oregon to attend and present at the Postpartum Support International Conference. Folks traveled from all over the world to attend this conference and it was attended primarily by mental health professionals working with new families in the perinatal period. I saw some amazing keynote speakers, including my long time hero Trystan Reese (https://www.biffandi.com/).

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I also attended workshops on everything from black maternal mortality to birth trauma to weight stigma. I connected with folks doing similar work across the country and reconnected with a few beloved colleagues.

I was also lucky enough to present my workshop, “Supporting LGBQ/T Families” to a room full of people. We had excellent conversations about language, oppression, and cultural humility. Looking forward to the next workshop!

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Exciting Announcement!

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Hello,

Hope 2019 is treating you well so far. Things are busy in the postpartum doula and perinatal care world. I’ve added new sessions of my popular Getting Started group for new parents and now have overlapping groups starting 4 weeks apart on Mondays and Thursdays. Check out my Parent Classes and Policies page for details and to register for an upcoming session.

I’m super excited to announce that I’ve been asked to speak at the Vermont Lactation Association Conference in Burlington, VT on May 10th, 2019. I will run two sessions for IBCLCs, nurses, doctors, and others working with new parents about how to work with the LGBQ/T community. I’m excited to reach a broad audience of providers who want to do better for their LGBQ/T patients.

Registration is up now. Please help spread the word.

Lastly, I’m finally getting real head shots with the wonderful M. Davidson-Shapiro. I can’t wait to share them with you.

 

Almost 2019!

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Hello,

It has been a busy fall. My new parent groups have taken off and I had to add an additional session in November due to demand. I love spending so much of my time cultivating new parent relationships and providing non-judgmental support and information.

I have been busy building up the provider training part of my business and have spent a substantial amount of time applying to present at various conferences. Check out the Provider Support section of my website for more information and testimonials. Email me if you are interested in bringing me to your organization or workplace. I’m hoping I can impact the quality of care that lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and transgender families receive during the perinatal years.

I look forward to sharing more about this work in 2019. I’m still taking one-on-one postpartum clients as well and registration is already up for my Winter 1 Getting Started group. I expect this group to sell out quickly, so get your spot now!  In addition, my next second time parent group is in March and registration is already online for that group. Spread the word!

Stay warm and enjoy this darkest part of our year by snuggling close with friends, family, loved ones, and, most importantly, caring for yourself.

-Rachel