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In this episode, I’m welcoming Eri Guajardo Johnson, the founder of Birth Bruja, a platform dedicated to decolonial approaches to healing and reproductive care. Eri, a queer, biracial, Latinx birth worker, specializes in supporting survivors of sexual violence and marginalized populations. We discuss the importance of centering Black and Indigenous wisdom, breaking down oppressive systems, and creating alternatives in the realm of birth work. Eri also shares insights on self-compassion and the practice of intimacy in their work. Join us for an enlightening conversation on how to navigate decolonial approaches to birth and healing.

Content Warning: supporting survivors of sexual assault, the impact of colonialism and racism in the context of reproductive care and healing.

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Transcript

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:00:00:

Hi everyone, on today’s podcast, we’re going to talk with Eri Guajardo Johnson, birth worker, educator, and the founder of Birth Bruja about supporting survivors and how their organization uses decolonial approaches to healing and reproductive care. Hi everyone, my name is Rebecca Dekker, pronouns she/her, and I’ll be your host for today’s episode. I wanted to let you know a content note that we will be talking about supporting survivors of sexual assault, colonialism, and racism. If there are any other detailed content or trigger warnings, we’ll post them in the description or show notes that go along with this episode. And now I’d like to introduce our honored guest. Today, I’m so excited to welcome Eri Guajardo Johnson, pronouns she/they. Eri is a queer, biracial, Latinx birthworker who specializes in supporting survivors of sexual violence and teaching care providers within the intersections of healing and reproductive care. For more than 15 years, Eri has been dedicated to supporting survivors of sexual assault and marginalized populations. She has studied indigenous Mexican and Indian healing modalities to learn about mind, body, spirit, communal wellness, herbalism, and food as medicine. They’ve taught and organized countless classes and community events centered around the healing and empowerment of those most marginalized in our society. Eri is the founder of Birth Bruja, an online educational platform devoted to decolonial approaches to healing and reproductive care where they teach and host other guest facilitators. Outside of Birth Bruja, you can find Eri teaching and speaking on panels via local community organizations, nonprofits, academia, social media, and more. I’m so excited that Eri is here today. Welcome, Eri, to the Evidence Based Birth® Podcast.

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:01:56:

Yes, thank you so much for being here. And I also just had this moment of going from complete groundedness to this, like, holy wow. I’m having a conversation with you. Just having this flash of how much your work has meant to me on my journey of being a birth worker. So yeah, just deep, deep gratitude for being here.

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:02:23:

It really is an honor to have you here too. We’ve been talking about having you on the podcast for a long time and I’ve been following your work at Birth Bruja and I’d love for listeners to learn more about you and really feature, highlight the work you’re doing. So I was wondering if you could tell us how you came to find your life’s work in birth work because I know that’s not something that everybody thinks they’re going to do when they’re growing up. So how did you come into it?

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:02:48:

Yeah, this is one of my favorite questions to ask in a room of birth workers, because yeah, our journeys here are so varied. So my journey, I would say, towards birth work started in my early 20s, when I started working for a woman of color-led community-based Rape Crisis Centers in San Francisco called San Francisco Women Against Rape. And it was here that I deepened my analysis around understanding how identity plays such a huge role in the experiences of violence, and specifically North America. But for our context today, I’m going to be speaking from my work here in the States. And also, I was seeing firsthand how identity plays a role in not just how we experience violence and the rate of that, but also how we encounter resources for healing, as well as justice. At that time too, I was really launching into my work studying ancestral medicines. First I started with Ayurveda, which is an Indian science. And then from there, that gave the framework for me to start doing my ancestral reclamation work, which is diving into traditional Mexican healing modalities. And so I have to say all at the same time because I was in seemingly two different realms of focus, but they were happening simultaneously. And so, from there onto the beginning of birth work, I was feeling very fragmented, where my work within the Rape Crisis Centers, my work within social justice context was one in which there wasn’t a lot of room for the spiritual, because there’s a lot of religious-based depression, right, that results in violence against so many of our peoples. And so there was a lot, there’s a big devaluing of spirituality as just kind of like, you know, all one in the same in regards to it being part of a system of violence and also how prayer is not like a real force for healing and justice. And then on the flip side, I was in spiritual communities where there wasn’t a lot of room for overt political analysis, where there was kind of this understanding that focusing too much on identity was a sign of being like, unevolved. Focusing too much this lifetime was losing the whole focus of, you know, ancestry and spiritual consciousness in a higher realm. And it wasn’t until I got to birth work that I felt like I could be my full authentic self because birth work is so inherently a body-based thing. It’s so inherently a spiritual and emotional wellness journey. It’s so inherently the connection between our individual experiences of power, of healing, and all at the same time, tied into the experiences that came before us through our family, through our community. And so birth work was like a big breath of fresh air. And then also birth workers, there’s no one flavor. There’s so many flavors of us, but birth workers also tended to be a realm of folks where I felt like I could very easily speak from one realm to another and folks were on the same page. Speak about the power and potential of healing in the birth room. And then also in the same breath, acknowledge the potential for trauma, for re-traumatization and for trauma. And folks were on the same page, understanding, yeah, exactly, both of those things can happen at the same time in the same space. So that was the… My step into my emergence into birth work. And then since then, it’s just been kind of hitting the ground running where my continued work around supporting survivors plays into and pours into my work supporting folks through reproductive experiences. My understanding of systemic violence has deepened just as my understanding of spiritual significance. You know, all those things have been deepening at the same time and however, what, six years? I think it’s been six years or seven years of being a birth worker and. Yeah, the lifetime, especially since COVID, it feels like a lifetime ago.

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:07:26:

Yeah, it does. I love how you talked about holding multiple perspectives or truths at once and kind of rejecting the binary that, you know, white supremacy culture wants us to keep. And the being able to hold the different modalities at once is very, it’s so valuable and it’s what our communities need.

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:07:51:

I agree.

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:07:51:

So tell us more about Birth Bruja. I love it when you explain what it means. So could you talk about the name and then also what your organization’s approach is and how you support birthing people and birth workers?

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:08:06:

Yeah, yeah. Birth Bruja was born in my garden in the Bay Area. I was actually had my hands in some yarrow, which I was very proudly growing and also whom I’m allergic to. So it’s a very bittersweet, bittersweet plant for me to work with. And as I was working with the yarrow, I was thinking about how grateful I was to be in community with my birth worker colleagues specifically because we just had this like epic gathering in my in my kitchen table the day before and I was just really still drinking in the impact of the conversations that we had and I was thinking about how different my life could have been had I had access to conversations like this when I was younger. I am, as mentioned in my bio, I’m a mixed race person, I’m pansexual, and so much of the way that I’ve been embodied in this lifetime and so much about how I grew up has been with one foot in one world and the other foot in the other. And one of the things I really appreciated about, specifically that community of birth workers, was our ability collectively to connect to each other across differences and our ability to acknowledge, with nuance, our identities and our growing edges. And as someone who grew up in a space where I wasn’t, you know, queer enough to be queer, but I wasn’t straight enough to be straight, I wasn’t white enough, I wasn’t brown enough, right? So someone who grew up with a narrative of being in the in-between of so many identities, I was just feeling so at peace with myself. And again, just because of these conversations I was having in the context of birth work. So again, my hands are in the yarrow, I’m all itchy and inflamed, and I was just thinking, man, like if I could just record some of these conversations, like that would be such a little treasure trove for myself. I’m like, I should start a podcast, I had a friend who was working at KPFA, and I’m like, yeah, like Kat would do it for free, I could make her some tacos. Like, I’m like, yeah, no one would listen to it, but like my friends and maybe my mom, but like how fun would that be? And so then, so then Birth Bruja, the podcast was born out of this love. And you’d see in the earlier episodes where we recorded stuff straight off of YouTube, I invited guests to come in with a prayer or a poem. And then after we hit the ground, running for a bit, that’s when I was like, oh man, like licenses around music and those things came in. So that’s why the shape changed at a later time. But it really, the heart of Birth Bruja was born through collaboration and through conversation. And then it moved to Michigan right before COVID. And then I’m here back in the places where I grew up, but not really a place that feels like home. So I’m back in Michigan. And then naturally I’m doing what I did in my other realms of job, my other professional life, which is community organizing and event organizing. So I slowly start to organize some birth worker, community events, and then I started to meet amazing teachers who were so busy doing the work that like, they didn’t really have much of a social media presence. Like the kind of the authentic teachers where they were so busy doing the work that they didn’t necessarily have a practice of talking about it in a marketing way. And so it was just such a blessing to be able to learn from these folks and invite them, give them a platform to learn, and then let me do the hustle of putting images and marketing terminology and blah, blah, blah. And then. Then the Birth Bruja educational platform was born. And this is also around the time that COVID was in full effect. And so, so many of us were looking to connect to community across the interwebs. Since then, the platform has just really been expansive. And so the tagline around an online educational platform devoted to decolonial approaches to healing and reproductive care, that is super wide, but that holds it all. And just the platform ranges from folks who speak from a Western context of care practices, that can be overtly used in the birth room to folks on the platform who are holding ceremonial space and supporting folks in building their connection to their ancestry, to help folks deepen their sense of identity. So it’s really expansive and beautiful work.

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:13:09:

When you say expansive, like you really mean expansive because you have a podcast that people can learn from, you have support groups for survivors, you have a mentorship program for BIPOC birth workers, and you’ve got so many other programs you’ve led in the past and I know you have some things coming up in the future. So I would love if you could talk with all our listeners about the term decolonial and how that’s an approach and liberational, because I want the definition to come from you. I do worry sometimes that a lot of white birth workers and white folks are trying to like colonize the word decolonize, so I would love to hear a little bit more about your organization and what it means to have a decolonial approach.

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:13:54:

I appreciate the thoughtfulness and the expansiveness of this question because yes, just we could have so much conversation just on the term of decolonial work and what that means. And in transparency over this next year, Birth Bruja actually might be changing some of the articulation of how we define us doing this work. But for now, I’m going to share with you how I describe my work up until now. Okay, so to start off, to give some context, I’m speaking as someone who resides in North America and specifically the States where we are from currently. Our present day institutions and culture is founded upon the exploitation of specifically Black and Indigenous peoples. The way that they were exploited, of course, has been very different. However, both communities, both peoples, without them, current day would not exist at all. And so that being said, all of the present day institutions are built upon and continue to be built upon this sort of exploitation, this sort of marginalization. The definition of decolonial work that Birth Bruja embodies and practices is that it is a practice of uplifting and centering Black and Indigenous peoples and specifically celebrating them and centering their wisdom and knowledge. So just by doing that, we inherently also learn skills around how to dismantle oppressive systems. You can’t be centering, for example, Black folk in Black upliftment without learning more about how to de-center racism and disempower racist-fueled ways of thinking and institutional practices. And similarly, and flipping to the other side, by centering Indigeneity and the reclamation of ancestral ways of being, we also are centering and birthing alternatives outside of these oppressive systems. I mean, just in short, if we were to focus on global warming, for example, and the protection and utilization of land resources, Indigenous peoples have been at the forefront of these conversations since forever. So I love this framework. Because it centers creation, it centers birth versus a lot of folks talk about decolonization as just based on dismantling of systems, which is important again. But again, I like the framework where it centers building something new and shifts of power. So how that translates to Birth Bruja is I’m going to do my best to portray this in a concise and logical way, but it informs everything we do. In terms of business practices, it informs who we prioritize our outreach to. When we are thinking about spaces, we’re always thinking about how to make spaces most accessible to those who are marginalized in our society. We think about the intersections of accessibility and it informs how we structure our business model. We give a percentage of all of our proceeds to Black and Indigenous peoples and or individuals, depending on the scenario. We prioritize our spaces to be most accessible to those who are marginalized in our society. Most often we are censoring queer, Transgender, non-binary folks of color. Almost all of our facilitators are folks with multiple marginalized identities, whether they share that in the marketing materials or not. So the reason why that is so important, especially in reclamation work, is because folks with multiple marginalized identities come to this work with really expansive lived experience that contributes so powerfully to the knowledge that they have and how they portray it. There’s so much nuance to the way that Birth Bruja’s spaces are held. Clearly, it still really excites me. The other part of how this shapes Birth Bruja’s work is that, and I’ll speak in this example more specifically to how I hold spaces when I teach, it is important to me to weave space where folks can, as best they can, bring their full selves. So that means that I always invite participants to bring their connection to culture, to bring their complexity around their identity and voice it in the space, to consider their physical awareness as well as their intellectual awareness, as well as spiritual awareness that might be speaking to them in the spaces. One of the key facets of colonization is the dismembering of our humanity. It’s putting all of our value into our intellect and devaluing the body as less than, as shameful. It’s separating ourselves from our families and our communities as a measurement of success. And so therefore a crucial aspect of decolonial work is teaching people how to remember themselves. So as they’re in a space of learning, or a professional realm of work, to encourage them to remember that they have ancestors, they have intuition, they have creativity, they have power to change the systems within which they work. And so that re-membering process is one of the most impactful parts of decolonial work that you will see across all of Birth Bruja offerings.

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:20:22:

Yeah, and you mentioned the word beauty. It reminds me of some of your posts recently on Instagram talking about how you’re intentionally trying to match the intensity of this work with nourishment and beauty and rest. Can you talk a little bit about, you know, in this pause that you took, how did you nourish yourself in this work?

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:20:46:

I deepened my connection to creation. I was painting, I was writing. I reconnected to my practice of building altars and my practice of offering smoke medicine to the day and to my body. One of the things that happened when my work as a facilitator deepened is I had this inclination to where every aspect of medicine that I received, I would automatically think about how I could turn that into my offerings with clients. Specifically my one-on-one with survivors. I do peer counseling with survivors. And so one of the things that shifted was my learning, remembering how to step back from that teacher space. And learning how to be selfish in a way, with experiences of beauty and experiences of medicine. And I also learned how to interact with my depression in a new way. As a double Aquarius with a Pisces moon, that means that I have a lot of feelings and I don’t really appreciate them because they’re inefficient. ‘Cause they’re inefficient, they’re inconvenient. If they’re, and so much of my depression, I have related to it as just this big inconvenience. And then finally, during this pause, when I needed more spaciousness, I’m like, okay, fine. Fine sadness, like I’m like, I’m a sad boy. It’s just my identity now. So like, what sort of medicine do you have for me? And that is when I started to see my depression as an opportunity. To decompose. Every garden to have health and vibrance needs to have a solid decomposing process taking place. And in all of my hyper productivity and all of my efforts in so many realms, I was not giving myself room to digest and decompose and just, and to respect that process. I was always looking for, looking towards the output of productivity or the output of like positive feelings. So this rest was this period of rest was me turning to beauty and turning to the medicine of decomposing.

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:23:34:

I feel like your words will help somebody who’s listening right now, who’s, you know, mad at themselves for being depressed, because it’s true. I think our society really puts on us that we have to be productive all the time, and that’s a capitalism, colonialist belief. And the truth is we all have productive and non-physically productive phases of life.

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:24:03:

Yeah.

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:24:03:

People, especially listening with disabilities, I think relate to that as well.

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:24:09:

May I ask you a question? 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:24:11:

Yeah. 

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:24:11:

Informally, and this is something that I’m sincerely curious because, so my context of you is entirely from what you’ve produced on the interwebs, right? Vast resources. And so my impression of you is that you are an incredibly dedicated person and seemingly highly organized. And there’s a consistency to the passion that you present to your offerings. I deeply respect that. And so my question to you is in your journey of this work, what has it been like navigating self-compassion? While also navigating discipline. In how you’ve been showing up for your work.

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:25:00:

That’s a good question. You might have to help me with the answer. I have to go back to my childhood and of my biological siblings, we all kind of share this tendency where we always have to be doing something. And I don’t think it’s necessarily something wrong with us. I think it’s just a… A way our brains were made to kind of need stimulation. And for me, how I focused that energy growing up was through music. So I’m a musician. And starting from when I was very young, I could practice for one or two hours at a time. And I loved it. I mean, I’m sure I hated it on some days. My mom can tell you stories, but that was how I kind of exercised my brain in a way. It made me feel better. And it also has that creative outlet, but it’s also like mathematical and scientific and artistic. And so I love music in that way. And so I grew up with that habit of self-discipline as a musician, someone practicing their craft. And I think that carried over into when I found a passion for research and birth work, it became something that I learned. I don’t sit down and do it all at once. I work on it little bit by little bit. Just like with music, every day, not every day, maybe five days a week or whatever, I would practice a little bit every day and I still do that. I had to take a pause while I was, my kids were young, with music, but I think It’s partly finding something that you love to do and then seeing that as something fun and rewarding and exciting. Like it doesn’t get me down to get on a podcast recording or to look at a research study. Like that’s stuff that I enjoy. So I think what most people may think that I put out an incredible amount of work is, but the truth is we work in advance. I don’t like deadlines. I don’t like last minute, that culture of like the pressure to get something done. So, you know, we’re recording this months before it’s going to come out. And we’re working on articles in the middle of 2023 that will come out in 2024, because I believe that’s one way how I show compassion to myself is by kind of always looking towards the future and doing the work in the past, if that makes sense, so that I’m not constantly stressed about deadlines. And that, and I know my brain works differently than the other people’s were all different. And some people may call it like executive functioning. I don’t really like that term, but I do. I just do my work. I get it done and then I’m done. And I try not to work more than 30 hours a week. So, and that it might be less than that now. But my work is spread out throughout days and evenings. It’s hard to track, you know. So when you do something like Evidence Based Birth®, there’s always a weekend emergency or a nighttime thing you have to do. So there’s little things, but I like that not having to sit at a desk for eight or nine hours or do a shift for 12 hours, that kind of shift work for long periods of time is not good. I like moving from thing to thing. And then I think also self-compassion is like what you said, finding things that nourish your soul, like being in community with others. For me, my family is really important. My parents who are my elders now, being with them and with my kids and doing their music with them, I think it’s important like that. I think sometimes musicianship is passed down from families to families always has been. And I also love teaching new children music, so that haven’t had that for whatever reason was not made available to them for different reasons. So yeah, I think that’s where I come from.

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:29:01:

I love that answer so much because it began with you describing a practice of intimacy. For me, one of the big ways that I understand creative practices, whatever medium you have, is that it’s a practice of intimacy with ourselves. I love that that was the framework because that was one of the things that I struggled with in regards to teacher space or facilitator space is that it started off, the root of it is authenticity and a natural surge of inspiration. But then, especially with online offerings, beating the beast, the social media algorithms, the emails, it changed. It changed something that began as an expression of intimacy to fodder. For capitalism.

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:29:54:

It feels like you’re just, yeah, you’re part of the cog in the wheel trying to game the algorithm and yeah, and trying to capture people’s attention when you’re competing with a million other videos.

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:30:07:

Yeah. And so I love this, what you shared with us around how you hold this work, cause A, that’s absolutely brilliant. And talk about like an example of work-life balance. Thank you for a tangible example of that. Yeah, it’s refreshing, honestly, hearing your answer.

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:30:24:

Yeah, and I have to say as well, another thing I think a lot of people mistake is that people make is thinking they’re alone in the work, you know. And you started by talking about community and so we have a community at EBB of people who are paid for their time and their skills and we try to build an inclusive, healing, positive workspace so that people love coming to work and doing their work and we get enjoyment out of being with each other as well. So that’s another way I think, you know, important. Sometimes people will see somebody who’s the face of something and think it’s just them, but it’s… clearly not. I can tell you behind the scenes, there’s so much work going on, even with getting this one episode out into the world. And so thinking you have to do it on your own is another, I think, capitalistic belief, that individualism, when it’s really all about community. And that’s where people got so lonely in the pandemic, right?

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:31:22:

Yes.

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:31:23:

I have to say, it is hilarious to see the shift back to people trying to find community after years of isolation. And so I play in a local community band, like a wind band. And last night for our first fall rehearsal, we had a record number, I think nearly 90 people were at this rehearsal. And I think the largest we’ve ever had is 70. So it was really interesting to see all these people wanting to be with other people and make music together, just something really simple like that.

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:31:54:

That’s beautiful

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:31:56:

So I would love for you to talk a little bit, Eri, about your experience supporting survivors. I know you mentioned it a couple times in terms of also the risk of burnout and with that profession. But we haven’t really had anybody on the podcast whose work is or talked about how their work centers on this. So could you speak more about this work that you’re doing and maybe any words of wisdom you have for birth workers who are listening who everyone of us interacts with people who are survivors. So what words of wisdom do you have?

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:32:28:

Okay, I will try to make this concise. Um, so first off, um, the statistics is that one in three, specifically one in three women, women identified folk will be sexually assaulted by the time that they’re 24. So that means those of us who hold space for birthing people. We have come across survivors without a doubt. And one of the things about being in our culture is that this is a culture who is active in rape culture, which means that if you look across the media, there is a sensationalism around sexual violence as sexy, as an expression of masculinity and femininity. There’s a stereotype around that. If you look at how many of us… Speak to ourselves and speak to our kids, there’s a culture of victim blaming when it’s about teaching our kids and teaching specifically our young girls how to not be raped. Meanwhile, excusing millions of seemingly small actions that boys and masculine folks perpetuate that create this pattern of excusing violence and coercion. Even if we have not had clients come and identify as being survivors, without a doubt, we are serving folks who are navigating trauma responses from simply being in this society, let alone actually experiencing overt, quote-unquote, experiences of sexual violence. For the remainder of this conversation, I wanna focus on survivors themselves and not just speak to care providers. So my work within the intersections of survivorship and reproductive experiences, so much of it is two folds. Number one is what many of us birth workers would describe as basic birth education. So help normalizing what to expect in reproductive experiences, such as going to get a pap smear. So many folks have no idea what to expect until they’re there. And then when they’re there, they’re expected to behave accordingly, right? So let alone that and I think a prenatal visit, right? So a lot of this is just providing basic education on what to expect, while also reinforcing rights that people have within the medical system, as well as reinforcing options that folks have outside of the medical system, such as most folks don’t realize that most midwives offer a service where you can get a pap smear inside your own home. Most folks don’t know that in order to get a pap smear, you don’t have to be on your back with your knees spread, that there are other positions that they could use to, that you could use for them to access your cervix, right? So quote unquote basic information like that, and that basic information as you know, reinforces someone’s autonomy, reinforces someone’s ability to choose and to have some sort of control over their physical well-being. In regards to navigating pregnancy, a lot of folks who identify as having experienced sexual violence, a lot of folks seek my services because A, they identify that they’ve experienced some sort of trauma and they want to decrease the chance of their birth being a retraumatizing experience. And so a lot of times what it is is working with them to identify what triggers may exist. Like for some of us, we may not have any triggers in regards to being touched. Being touched may be like for some of us, that’s actually fine, the comfortability, as long as it’s a woman identified person, we feel safe. But for that same person, it could be lighting, where it’s a hard no to have the lights off. Or it could be a hard no having someone access our bodies from behind. Or it could be a hard no being in that intensely vulnerable space and having a stranger, which happens super commonly inside hospitals, a stranger come in, not introduce themselves, give no context as to why they’re there, do whatever they want and leave. So working with folks to identify what triggers may exist and then coming up with a strategy, not to fix it, but a strategy that can be the thread of them staying connected to themselves and to their autonomy, to their support system while navigating a trigger, while navigating uncertainty. So a huge part of my work with survivors is a combination of that. And then the other work is the straight emotional spiritual aspect of the work. This is for that first realm, in my brain especially, it’s a highly structured process. And then the other realm is highly unstructured. Because when we’re talking about healing, when we’re talking about power, that’s so different from how I would describe my need for healing and power and how you would describe it. And so for some folks, the emotional journey is simply having a place where they feel seen enough to be radically honest with themselves. And so that could literally mean having a space where they could simply share what happened throughout their life without having to minimize it because they’re concerned about how the other person is gonna think about them or minimize it because they’re concerned about hurting the other person’s feelings, right? So for some folks, it’s just simply having a place to have that honesty. For others? It’s not about talking at all about what happened, but it’s talking about how it’s impacted them. Perhaps is talking about not even the experience of sexual violence, but how those that were close let them down so deeply. And so then it’s like, okay, so let’s just say we have a mother wound because your mom didn’t believe you when you tried to tell her, right? And so now in this pregnancy journey, your mom’s wanting to support you in postpartum and now all of a sudden you have this wounding that’s related to sexual trauma, but it’s not actually about the experience of rape, but it’s about this wounding from your mother, it’s like, okay, so in our time together, in our limited time before baby comes, let’s talk about, what is your heart feel called to do? Is it to move on? Is it to speak your truth? Is it to have a difficult conversation? And so it’s working with folks to for them to self-identify. What healing, what connecting to their power means for them. And then also in that mix too, supporting them in being connected to other resources, knowing that this is just one healing chapter, this is not like the fix-it, right? But supporting them and being connected to resources so that the momentum that they build in our work together, the momentum that they’re building in their own work through their prenatal journey is able to continue into postpartum so that with all the vulnerability, all the freshness that comes, that it’s creating the best case scenario for them to navigate all the uncertainties with while staying connected to themselves.

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:40:26:

Yeah, that’s a lot. I’m thinking about everything you just said. There are so many gems in there. And one thing I’ve read is that pregnancy and birth can be triggering for survivors because of, well, there’s also this pervasive rape culture you were mentioning that is throughout health care as well. And that, you know, we see patients as bodily objects that healthcare workers can do what they want with, and that can take different forms. And it’s not always that way. Not every provider practices that way. But have you seen birth be healing and transformative for survivors? And how come it can be both so traumatic, but also for some people can be so healing?

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:41:14:

Yeah, one of the images that I have when working with birthing folks is this image of a lake or a pond even, right, where there’s a bunch of layers of sediment at the bottom. And what happens through the journey of pregnancy is that in a physical way, in a spiritual way, in an emotional way. There is a churning of those waters, right? So spiritually speaking, my belief system is that once we conceive, we are moving closer and closer to a portal. And then the birth itself is the birthing person going through that portal, helping to retrieve that child’s spirit, to retrieve all of that child’s soul, and coming back through the portal into this realm. So therefore, cosmically speaking, spiritually speaking, all that energy is moving through us. And so again, churning of the waters, let alone the intensity of the physicality of birthing. So imagine that like the physicality of pregnancy and birthing means that like deep into our physical tissues, things are being moved. So again, in that pond example, stuff is floating to the surface and it can be cathartic. It can give us a chance to scoop out what we want to or to re-see truth or experiences that we didn’t know were still there. And it can be overwhelming, it can be scary. So therefore it’s so much potential for healing simultaneously, as well as all that vulnerability creates so much potential tool for re-traumatization. Preparation for birth increases the chances for the best case scenario. It increases the chances that your birth could be a neutral experience or that your birth could be an empowering experience. And empowering doesn’t mean that everything is all smooth and roses and whatnot, but empowering means that we are, despite all the challenges, despite all of the unknown, that we’re still able to stay connected to ourselves, our power and the meaning behind the experience. And so for some folks, their connection to baby is enough. To stay connected to themselves the whole time. Sometimes their connection to their partner or the support person, like there’s enough love there that that’s what keeps them grounded through the un-vacuousness of the beeping machines or the uncertainty of the intensity of the pelvic pressure and all that. Preparation creates the best case scenario, however, birth is such an incredible pregnancy and birth and postpartum is just such an incredible ritual that healing can just happen on its own. I think that as birth workers, that’s something that we should also always remember because we are never responsible for someone’s outcome. And it’s important to stay humble in that, yeah, we can make a huge difference in supporting someone. However, the menace in their birth is enough on its own to be healing.

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:44:35:

I can see that being really healing for birth workers too, because I’ve met a lot of birth workers who take things really personally, like as a personal reflection on their skills or their abilities when things don’t go well. And at the same time, they might take credit for when things go really well. And I can see how that could really mess with your head over time with your mental health in terms of thinking that everything bad was caused by you, everything good was caused by you. When you said you got to respect the process for what it is.

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:45:08:

Yeah, and that birth doesn’t have to be positive in order to be powerful. That’s, you know, like if we think about meditative practices, we think for a lot of folks meditation or meditative practices, it can be excruciating. It can be boring. It can be frustrating. And it’s just as powerful as when we are in the practice and it’s uplifting. It’s just as powerful because it’s an opportunity for us to see ourselves. It’s an opportunity for us to the connections that we otherwise never would have seen and witnessed. And so yeah, the toxic positivity culture in birth work is like such a huge turn off for me. It’s like so annoying. So that’s yeah, the other thing is that doesn’t have to be enjoyable for it to be a powerful, meaningful experience.

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:45:58:

Which makes sense, because I know so many people who’ve given birth, a lot of people we try to feature positive stories, but other people who have had not positive stories, it’s still changed them. It’s still in most cases brought them this child. And they get through the other side and they have realizations and transformations. For anybody who’s listening who’s looking for support as a survivor, because I feel like this is something that our culture doesn’t talk about enough. And so some people may all of a sudden be listening to this and realizing, oh, this might impact my birth experience. Where do you suggest people go to start that preparation that you talked about?

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:46:41:

Oh, such a good question. So in short, to my knowledge, there’s actually very little resources out there that overtly talk about the intersections of being a trauma survivor, not just sexual assault survivor but being a trauma survivor and how that can play into the experiences, our experiences around reproductive care. Very little overt resources. So for folks who, if you’re looking to conceive all the way to folks who are in their postpartum period to just first off try to prioritize connecting to a care provider or a support group where you are able to talk about how your experiences of trauma have impacted you. Whether it’s again, you specifically talking about postpartum experiences or not, this space for folks to talk about how their trauma has impacted them. Again, it could be with a care provider, but just knowing that a lot of therapists out there are not trauma-informed. So look for a trauma-informed therapist, which means that they’re way more likely to meet you where you’re at versus coming with their own agenda of like a multiple step process that they will do once it fits all kind of thing. And then the other thing, yeah, is to try to find peer support, whether it be formal or informal. So one of the, if I may, I’m gonna kind of do a plug. So one of the things that my colleague, Mickey, and I are doing this fall with Birth Bruja is almost all of our programs are going to be focusing on birthing people. So we have an upcoming parent group that is gonna be multiple topics, but a place where folks can, of all identities, can connect to, it’s a postpartum support space where folks can talk about body feeding or actually baby feeding in general, whether it’s body feeding or otherwise, baby wearing, relationship with their bodies and so forth. And then we also have an upcoming group for queer and trans parents. All orientations of family configurations and identities. And then I have a support group for survivors of trauma coming up in the beginning of 2024. Also have some workshops specifically for trauma survivors in the new year that are gonna be supporting folks through anger and grief, which as you know, anger and grief, super common across the full spectrum of reproductive experiences. And very little support outside of go to a therapist, very little support is offered because anger, especially for femmes and women identified folks, we’re not encouraged to express anger. And grief, we have a very limited expression of what is socially acceptable. And so yeah, those spaces are going to be focused on giving a space for folks can be seen, see themselves reflected in other people’s stories, for folks to have experience of community, and then also for folks to leave the workshop with some tangible tools that they can weave into their self-care practices.

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:50:08:

So if anybody listening is sparked by any of those, where can they go to find more?

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:50:14:

So BirthBruja.com is the way to go. Specifically sign up for the email list, y’all. That’s when you’ll be notified of open registration. You can follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Instagram is the more lively of the platforms that’s @BirthBruja, but as y’all know, the algorithm beasts do what they do. And so many folks who follow us don’t actually see our offerings being released until much later down the road. So always, I just recommend, especially if you’re interested in the support groups because there’s limited space in those offerings to keep it intimate, sign up for the email list.

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:50:53:

Thank you so much, Eri, for coming on today and talking with me and our listeners about your work. And I loved hearing about how you’ve cycled in and out of your work, putting out content, which I think is really important. I wanna remind our listeners that the Birth Bruja Podcast is still, you can still find it, and it has really interesting episodes about toxic gendering, navigating survivorship, walking in abundance, the power of baby wearing, and there’s a four-part series from a few years ago about supporting survivors who birth, and that’s another great place you can go to learn more. So even though you are resting, your resources are still out there reaching people, and to get to your email list, it looks like you just go to BirthBruja.com, scroll down to the bottom, and sign up for the monthly newsletter. So thank you, Eri, so much for coming on the podcast.

Eri Guajardo Johnson – 00:51:46:

Thank you for having me and thank you for the beautiful way you keep on showing up for our community. I really appreciate it.

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:51:55:

Today’s podcast was brought to you by the Evidence Based Birth® Professional Membership. The free articles and podcasts we provide to the public are supported by our professional membership program at Evidence Based Birth®. Our members are professionals in the childbirth field who are committed to being change agents in their community. Professional members at EBB get access to continuing education courses with up to 23 contact hours, live monthly training sessions, an exclusive library of printer-friendly PDFs to share with your clients, and a supportive community for asking questions and sharing challenges, struggles, and success stories. We offer monthly and annual plans, as well as scholarships for students and for people of color. To learn more, visit ebbirth.com/membership.

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