“We, as a culture, want to try to fix things and we have a really hard time not offering unsolicited advice when so many people just need to be listened to.” Words of expansive wisdom from our September feature, Erika Davis. Erika struck us for her genuine radiance, her per-
vasive knowledge, and the critical work she does. She’s a Black, Jewish, Queer doula– 100% herself. It’s a beautiful thing to witness. Enjoy <3
Erika, you do such deeply important work. The history of pregnancy and birthing is one, like many, burdened with horrors and abuses. Though at the same time, it has forever been one of the most beautiful and absolutely essential things that we as humans have the opportunity to participate in. How did you find yourself drawn to build and share your knowledge around the birthing experience?
Thanks for acknowledging the various emotions that pregnancy, birth and postpartum can bring up. We live in a culture where birthing people are expected, and I would venture to say only tolerated, when we share the "good" parts of the journey - when, in fact, the entire picture is more vivid and complete when we celebrate it all; the messy and the beautiful. I came into birth work because I was looking for a new career. During my training, I realized that birth work was political and community work. And then when I began the process of trying to conceive I realized there was way more nuance to the entire journey. Sharing this nuance started off as a way for me to feel less alone. My wife and I tried to have a baby for eight years and I spent the first three years in isolation. People knew we were trying, but not the behind-the-scenes stuff. Especially after my miscarriage, which was traumatic and long and hard, coupled with a rough patch in my relationship the isolation became dangerous mentally and emotionally. The first time I shared felt like a release. And then so many people came out of the woodwork to share their experiences of infertility and loss. I realized that so many birthing people do this alone. And didn't want to hold back any longer.
So my shares are multifold; they help me move stuff in my own body and mind, they help to normalize the various feelings folks have around conception, pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, and they help birth workers to be able to hold space, be active listeners and work with families more holistically. There's so much healing in listening. We, as a culture, want to try to fix things and we have a really hard time not offering unsolicited advice when so many people just need to be listened to.
I could talk about this forever.
We know you just birthed your own little one, and one thing sure to follow is many sleepless nights and finding ways to take care of yourself and your family when there is just no time at all! Can you share with us methods for care and healing that you and your wife (and whole support system!) are partaking in?
Sleep isn't real. I've said that to every family I've worked with and in every childbirth preparation class I've taught - living it is NO JOKE!! One of the best things about being a birth worker is that I really understood the need to have solid support postpartum and to find that support prenatally. So when we came home from the hospital we'd set up an appointment with our midwife and lactation consultant and doulas to be with us at home. We also had a meal train set up and lots of support right from the start which has been helpful to get longer stretches of rest and to make sure that I have time to allow my body to heal. As the weeks have progressed, my wife and I make a point to check in with one another about what we want or need for the day. For her it's usually time out of the house to walk the dog or to do a Peleton. For me it's always a nap and lately long showers. I've also been trying to prioritize traditional postpartum care for myself like peri steaming and ingesting tonics that our doula has provided. And therapy - I scheduled my post-birth session with my therapist before the baby was born so it wasn't something that slipped through the cracks. So, I would say for folks to try to do as much post-baby planning before the baby comes. And, because I love an and - to think about what small things can make a big impact. Self care doesn't have to look like a spa day or a manicure or a massage, it can be 5 minutes on the front porch feeling the sun on your face.
Hell no! This person you see before you was and is a work in progress. I think, especially as a Black woman socialized as a woman, that my entire life has been experienced through whiteness and proximity to whiteness; from skin tone to hair texture to the volume of my voice. Being able to step into myself as a full human; a Black, Jewish, Queer woman has been a journey and it's a journey that I'll continue to be on. But standing in my truth and being unafraid to articulate my truest self has been the best blessing. Embracing myself and my intersecting identities and not compartmentalizing myself has been healing. It's no longer "hard" to do because I no longer care how I am perceived or try to fit into anyone else's idea or perception of me. This is who I am and I'm not trying to change that, nor would I want to.
I like to consider myself a modern renaissance woman. I really enjoy spending time in my garden and am super excited about fall planting and spring bulbs. I also started throwing pottery about five years ago and recently acquired both a wheel and kiln for our house so I'm anxious to start throwing again and I love to sew. Next spring I dream about walking through my cut flower garden with my daughter harvesting blooms to put in a handmade vase wearing clothing I've sewed.
You have such a soothing, joyful, and genuine presence. You effuse authenticity and encourage nothing less from the people around you. What does authenticity mean to you, and has it always come naturally to you? What advice can you share with us about exploring our own authentic selves?
I am not perfect, but I am the perfect version of myself. I think in order to explore your own authentic self you have to be able to be honest. One of the first lessons in all of my trainings is to ask participants who they are, what they believe and who they want to work with, and why. To ask them or encourage them to understand these things in relationship to who they want to work with not only helps us to see ourselves more clearly but helps us to see who we would and should not be working with as birth workers in order to do the least amount of harm. We can't be everything to everyone. And we'll only be our best selves if we know who we are. It takes work, especially to unpack the hard shit. For example, I always have to unpack the ways in which I, as a Black woman, perpetuate white supremacy. I need to understand the privileges that I hold. And I can do this with the understanding of the ways in which I've been marginalized by society and the ways in which I've experienced racism. There can be both things and for most of us there is both and more ... So my invitation is for folks to look at themselves honestly, to see all of the parts of them, and to step into the parts we want to expand and do the work of fixing the parts that bring us shame.