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The Birth Talks Podcast: Six (thousand) things we learned from this intersectional feminism and reproductive justice gem

Posted by Mom Friends on

My love for both podcasts and feminism surged after my first labour and delivery. I fell into podcasts for the hands-free intellectual stimulation, and I fell hard into feminism because I had just brought life into the world and was feeling like superwoman (sometimes) but I was also beginning to notice and feel both positive and not so positive about the new label ‘Mom’ projected onto me by my community.

What is The Birth Talks podcast?

The Birth Talks is a totally badass series created and produced in Ottawa by Mai Ngo. The mission of the show since its start a couple of years ago is to find and share “… birth conversations that get left out of the mainstream.” She welcomes first-hand experts to share perspectives on pregnancy, birthing and postpartum from an intersectional and reproductive justice lens; perspectives that are often unheard next to the dominant narratives developed and reproduced by white privilege.

I have been keen to share some takeaways from this podcast for a while. At first my plan was to create  a post that detailed every grain of wisdom and nuance about feminism and birthing that this show has imparted on me. However, when I hit six pages of notes just five episodes in I realized that I couldn’t possibly put into one page all of the lessons this podcast has for a white, cis-gendered, straight tadpole of a feminist such as myself. So you’ll have to take what I found in the first five episodes as a teaser and add this to your favourites yourself.

For the following post I have used direct quotes when I was having a ‘hell ya’ moment during listening, but the rest of the writing is my own interpretation of what I’m learning as a student of intersectional feminism and reproductive justice. I welcome feedback. Here goes:

Lesson #1: If you have conflicted feelings about your uterus (or lack thereof), you’re not alone.

In the debut episode of the podcast we listen to people musing about what their uterus would tell them if it could speak. At first there is a lot of giggling, but almost all respondents arrive at a deeper reflection about the connections between their uterus and their overall well-being and self-identity. It’s pretty cool.  

A few of my reflections from these reflections:

  • Not everyone with a uterus is a woman
  • Not everyone with a uterus wants their uterus to grow life
  • Someone may want to grow life with their uterus but cannot
  • Many people that you would assume have a uterus don’t
  • It’s not really any of my business if someone has a uterus or not
  • The uterus is a part of the body that may exert deep pain, strength, hope, loss and joy

Lesson #2: What is intersectionality?

Ok, so some of you took a second to listen to your uterus just now. Mine is asking for a hot compress and a hug. But it’s time to get intersectional.

In episode two Mikki Bradshaw explains that intersectional feminism goes beyond the white feminist notion of male/female equality. It goes beyond trying to boil our identities and the levels and layers of oppression beyond gender to include racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, Islamophobia and more. Intersectional feminism insists that varied layers of identity exist in concert with one-another. Each of us has more than one identity, and each of us will experience the world differently as a result.

“Think of it like a highway. So, intersectionality is like a complex system of roads zig-zagging, crossing over one another. Sometimes when you look at a highway that’s really complex you don’t know where one starts and where one begins. What are these multiple identities? What are these multiple oppressions? What are the systems that cause these oppressions?”

In 2019 feminism without intersectionality is stale and gross, and we can’t undo the harm that white feminism has had in marginalizing basically everyone that isn’t white, straight and binary. We have a long way to go.

Lesson #3: The term Indigenous feminism is kind of redundant

In episode three Krysta and Denise, two Indigenous full spectrum doulas explain how the term feminism as it’s usually understood is very colonialist. As their communities reflect the experience of Indigenous communities across Canada and the world, Krysta and Denise explain how to them the survival of their people in the face of centuries of genocide is the ultimate feminism.   

“I’m here because they were feminists before feminism became a thing. They survived.”

Mai, Krysta and Denise discuss a very tangible, yet often unconsidered oppression against Indigenous birth parents from rural and remote communities who were stripped of their birth rights – the right to choose where, when and how to give birth. During the 1970s it became mandatory for births to occur in hospitals. Pregnant people were no longer allowed their ceremony, tradition or midwifery care and were forced to travel long distances to give birth. Imagine delivering 500 kilometers from home, without any friends or family, surrounded by medical professionals who don’t speak your language and don’t look like you. I can feel my contractions slowing just thinking about it.

Lesson #4: We need to talk about the commercialization of doula care and parenting writ large

This was touched on in a few episodes, and could be sensitive for some – but as we’ll learn intersectional feminism can get hella uncomfortable for those of us that are privileged. That’s how you know it’s working!

Why do we need to pay for a class to learn how to wear our babies as cultures around the world have done for millennia? Are the parents who don’t pay for such classes bad parents because they already have that knowledge from their auntie and/or they can’t afford it? Do you have to be wealthy to be a good parent? Who is able to pay to become a certified doula and benefit from the ‘business’ of birthing? Who has access to doula support? These are big and complex questions but the lesson here is we need to talk about it more.

Lesson #5: A ‘good birth’ = self-determination 

In the next episode Professor Candace Johnson from the University of Guelph shares her research expertise on cultural perceptions of the ‘natural birth movement’ vs. ‘medicalized’ approaches in Canada and around the world.

Parents make tons of seemingly life-threatening decisions every day and many of these decisions, no matter how big they feel can’t be boiled down to good vs. evil. This is (just one part of) what makes parenting hard.

Dr. Johnson warns that in Canada we are living in a culture that paints maternal care options as dichotomous and even combative: You either go all-natural and vaginal with a midwife or you go with hospital care where you will for sure experience a more medical and perhaps even surgical approach, (which I guess is bad? Even writing this it just doesn’t make sense but I have felt this too).

The more we reproduce this farce, the more we work against patient-centered care where ultimately the birth parent pursues the best route for themselves with the informed guidance and practice of professionals. Dr. Johnson signs off encouraging more discussion and openness to integrated care where professionals such as midwives, nurses, doctors and surgeons all do what they do best, collaboratively and with the patient in mind first.

Lesson #6: How to be an ally

In the final episode of the first series of The Birth Talks Vanessa Borjon from Bitch Media gives us some cues on how to consider and work towards becoming an ally against all of these reproductive injustices we are learning about.

She explains that reproductive justice is easier to think of when you look at the injustices; the types and levels of oppression impact someone’s right to reproduction, their right to choice, their right to access appropriate care and more. If you aren’t marginalized or haven’t heard from marginalized people it’s harder to spot and understand reproductive injustices.

Once we acknowledge injustices because we’re not total jerks we should want to become allies and push against them. Vanessa explains that it’s easy to announce you’re not racist or homophobic but there is a lot of work to do beyond that in order to support the people whose lives are on the line. Further, those of us who have a lot of privilege are called upon to put the energy and resources we have into this work to help everyone see the humanity in society’s most oppressed communities.

While we learn here that there is no universal checklist to become an ally, we are provided in this episode with cues that we can integrate into our process of becoming:  

  • Show solidarity online – read, learn, like and share social justice posts
  • Call out family and friends when they are being hateful
  • Listen to the voices of marginalized communities
  • Amplify the voices of marginalized communities
  • Step aside and let other people speak
  • Show up for them, literally – buy diapers for a single mom, give someone a lift to a Planned Parenthood appointment
  • Go beyond good intentions, get used to being uncomfortable

I feel like I just wrapped up my final paper in some ‘Introduction to Intersectional Feminism and Reproductive Justice’ class. Even if I flunk it my eyes are open and I’m so excited. The good news is that there are plenty more lessons already uploaded online and a new series of The Birth Talks will be out later this spring!

One more little gem from the show for us to acknowledge – not all people who give birth are moms. While we’re Mom Friends, and we embrace and joke about that cliché label for ourselves, we’re so glad that life is more complex than that and we can’t wait to hear more.


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