The care we provide for mothers, helping them to feel seen and supported, not only changes the way they internalize their self worth, but the trajectory of the perceived value they internalize and pass along to their children.
Joining me in this episode is Chanel Porchia-Albert, the founder and Chief Executive Director of Ancient Song Doula Services and activist in the fight for birth equality for all, regardless of race, location, or socio economic status.
Together we’ll help all expecting or soon-to-be expecting new parents know more about their options, learn what questions to ask of themselves and their doctors, and what exactly to consider to help them feel most cared for during their pregnancy and birth experience.
You want to leave a legacy for your children, you want to leave a foundation where they are better off than the generation that came before your generation. Well, then that means that we have to be very intentional about creating those networks of support, of centering them and creating spaces where the parent can flourish so that the child can flourish.
Dr. Sarah (00:26):
The care that we provide for mothers, helping them to feel seen and supported, not only changes the way they internalize their self-worth, but it changes the entire trajectory of the perceived value that they internalize and pass on to their children. My guest this week is working tirelessly to ensure that these basic human rights are given to all mothers and parents no matter their race, location, or socioeconomic status. Chanel Porchia-Albert is the founder and chief executive director of Ancient Song Doula Services, which is a reproductive health organization focused on providing resources and full spectrum doula services to women of color and marginalized communities throughout New York City and Northern New Jersey. Her work in birth and reproductive justice spans research and methods of care of marginalized people and people of color, bringing a human rights framework into birthing rooms and institutional reform and accountability measures within healthcare to address implicit bias and racism, and realistically taking care of and supporting mothers has a deeply positive impact on individuals, on families, and on society at large. So I’m really excited to dive into this conversation.
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Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology, and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights so you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.
Hi, I’m really excited today to welcome our guest, Chanel Porchia-Albert, thank you so much for being here. I’m so excited to chat with you.
Thank you for having me.
Dr. Sarah (04:02):
Yeah, so you are the Chief Executive Director of Ancient Song Doula Services. You are an activist, you do really amazing work, and I want to talk all about that today. Before we dive in, can you share with the listeners how you got into this work? A little bit about your story?
Yeah, I got into this work because of my first child who just turned 15 on Friday.
Dr. Sarah (04:32):
So I’ve been doing this for 15 years apparently, but I had a wonderful home birth with a midwife and a doula, and that could completely change my whole perspective on life. I was like, why don’t more women know about these options, these reproductive health options that you can have your birth in a hospital or you can go to a birthing center or you can go and have a home birth and had an amazing experience at home. When I was seven weeks postpartum, I had my son in tow and I took a doula training and I was completely and totally transformed the ways in which I was around black midwives and doulas and healers and herbalists and other mothers. And as being a mom coming into motherhood, as someone who I lost my mother at a young age, at the age of 14, she had an asthma attack.
And when you’re a mother without a mother to ask questions to, it can be a little scary. So on top of just the regular motherhood things that you’re thinking about, I want to make sure I’m a good parent and I do all of the things. Not having that guidance, that space offered me that reassurance that I was okay, that I had all of these folks there that just kind of swooped in and was like, child, give me the baby and you’ll be all right and you’ll be fine. So yeah, so I got into this work based on that, took a doula training, I started to attend births for free. I was just starting out and I was like, listen, I don’t know what I’m doing. I just want to don’t know what I’m doing doing, but I knew what it meant to be a mother. I knew what it meant to feel centered and wanted to offer other people those experiences. And so as I was doing birth work, I was working with low income people of color, and I started to see the ways in which they were treated at birth. I was like, wait a minute, because I came into this work, I think very green and very thinking, well, there’s no way that racism is permeating through birth.
I came into it with this idealism of we’re all human beings. We are birthing children, and when we’re talking about centering pregnant women and birthing people and parents, that’s what it’s all about. All of that other stuff is the stuff that happens out in the outside world, but it could possibly be happening in birth.
Dr. Sarah (07:37):
This is a protected space. This is something sacred. This is something it’s protected from that.
Yes, exactly. So I was catapulted into a world where I realized that wasn’t necessarily the case, and so I started witnessing the illegal drug testing of low income parents. I started to see the criminalization at birth of a partner, just trying to help their partner advocate for themselves and having security guards or police officers called on them or child protective services being used as a tool to get people to conform to medical procedures that they didn’t necessarily want because historically that is what has been used as a way to get people to conform. And so seeing the ways in which people who are Medicaid would wait for five hours to be seen for 10 minutes to come out of the visit and not know what was going on or being in those spaces and having the person who is gestating completely ignored, and I have all the questions come at me as if I’m the person who’s carrying the child. And so just based on that, I put a call out on a listserv and I welcome folks into my home and I fed them and I created a safe space, and I listened to moms. I really listened to what they said that they needed for themselves, what it meant for them to center their parenting. I fed them. I think everything happens over a good meal in a kitchen. We know, you know what I mean?
When you feed a person, you’re feeding their soul where you’re creating kinship. It eases tension. And so I would cook and I would create space and I would listen, and it got to be so much that I had to move it from my home and to get another space. I mean, that’s organically just how it started, just really wanting to seeing a problem in a situation and just wanting to create space for folks, for people to feel like they were seen. You know what I mean? I think so many times we go through life without people seeing who we are, you know what I mean? And not understanding that. And it wasn’t for me necessarily to try to understand, but it was just for me to let them know someone genuinely cared about their wellbeing, and that’s what the mission has always and continues to be.
Dr. Sarah (10:18):
It’s interesting when you were talking about you got into this work not because you had this really hurdle, this big hurdle to overcome or this really awful experience. You actually got into this work initially because you had this really supportive experience and supported experience, and it was almost like when the veil was removed that you were like, oh, whoa, that’s not what most people are getting. Why is this not happening? For me? It’s like I have this sense that you brought in this immense amount of hope and optimism versus something more coming from a place of anger and frustration and having to fix. I imagine there’s plenty of that in the journey, but I’m curious when you first were like, I’m pregnant, I want to have a home birth, how did decide that? How did you, you know that that’s what you wanted? How did you pick that path?
So I have a younger sister who had a baby at a young age, and I remember going to the hospital with her. Our whole entire family was there, and I just remember just being in the space and being like, why is it so cold? Why is it so sterile here? I don’t know. It didn’t have an energy that I was like, well, that’s how you need to bring in children to the world. This was a private hospital. Just to give you some background, I grew up in a middle class household, so this wasn’t, it wasn’t a space. It was a space where people were being centered by private insurance, private care, all of the things. But still, it was like, this is not it. And then I of course was living my life and I was working in corporate America and happened to be in New York City and Union Square and come upon a national birth expo, and I was like, wow, this is interesting. I’ve never seen anything like this before. And so there were folks there, they have all kinds of tables and information, and I happened to come upon a black midwife and a doula, and I had said to her, I was like, wow. I was like, I didn’t even know black midwives still existed, because everything that I had previously read was in the context of historical, right? Oh, back in the day, this is what used to happen. And she was like, no, we exist. This is a reality. And I was like, okay.
So I held onto the information and I was like, well, if anybody I know gets pregnant, I can give them this information because I wasn’t married. I wasn’t thinking about being pregnant. And so I held onto it. Literally, I met my husband two years later while buying tofu in a Whole Foods store, and we went to a regular OB/GYN. I had a black woman, a woman of color, and I was just like, I thought, oh, okay, if I had someone who looked like me we’re good. And it was like, no, that’s not it. She still didn’t have any energy. There’s people that you meet just organically and you’re like, yes. You know what I mean? You have good vibes with them. You have good energy. They’re easy to talk to. Things just flow, right? Yes. And intuitively, that was not this person. I was like, I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but something is wrong.
So I remembered I had this information and I went onto, now about the date myself. I went onto MySpace and I found that midwife and that doula. That’s amazing. And it was like the care that they gave me, which is amazing. Again, as someone who was going into parenting and who didn’t have their mom to ask questions to, she not only answered my questions, but she answered my husband’s questions. She made us feel like we were being centered in our experience as to, oh, no, you’re parents now. Parenting doesn’t happen after the baby comes out. And really centering that conversation. And that made me feel, I had no about having a home birth. I was just like, oh, yeah, that makes sense. Yeah,
Dr. Sarah (14:56):
It just fit for you.
It just fit. And for some people, I know it doesn’t, and that’s okay. But I think all folks deserve the opportunity to birth in a way that feels good to them.
Dr. Sarah (15:08):
And I think there’s also, I had my births in a hospital, but I had a doula, and having a doula was probably the most significant choice that I made in my pregnancy. And I didn’t realize it until afterwards, but upon reflection, I was like, wow, if I hadn’t had Megan with me, so much would have been different because having that person, I remember when I was having my son, when I was in labor, something had happened, his heart rate dropped really low, and they started doing all this stuff to me, and I was like, I don’t know what’s going on. And if I had been there with just me and my husband, I think I would’ve probably gotten panicked and everything would’ve kind of gotten worse. And what happened was Megan was there and she basically was just this voice in my ear explaining what was happening and telling me, all you got to do right now is breathe.
Get your breath stabilized back to as much as you can, and just focus on that. And I did. And I avoided having complications. Everything went back to normal, everything back went stabilized. And another thing you said that I thought was super that I related to so much was when I told my husband I wanted to have a doula, he’s like, what is that one and two? And when I explained it, he was like, then what’s my role then? If this person is there to support you, what am I supposed to do? And he was a little bit felt displaced by having a doula in this relationship or in this experience. And when Megan came to meet with us, I remember she spoke to him more than she spoke to me. And not in a trying to convince you kind of way, but in a really authentic, here’s what I see my role is, and it’s to support you, to support her. And he felt so included and centered too in a way afterwards he’s like, okay, yeah, this feels like a really good decision and not because of anything I did to convince him. And I just think, I dunno, there’s so many ways to find support in the birth and the pregnancy and the birth and the postpartum and the parenthood. I think it’s just so critical, like you said, for people to know all the options so they can pick from the full menu.
Right? I mean, I don’t think it’s my responsibility to convince someone to have a particular type of birth, but I do think it is the responsibility of all of us to provide information to folks so that they can feel like they’re making an informed decision about what’s happening to ’em, or no, I shouldn’t say to them what’s happening with them because it is something that, it’s a distinction. Language is important and how we choose to center it, even within that, it plays a role in how you’re able to center your parenting. Now, as a mother of six, I has allowed me to parent in a more efficient way to understand what it means to center my children’s voices. My first pregnancy, yes, I had a home birth, but I have identical twin daughters, and that second pregnancy was a hospital birth where I had a cesarean.
And so that was a totally different experience and also understanding what did it mean to navigate that system. So I become the doula at the end of the hall, like, oh, that’s the doula in the room. She’s okay. She’s good knowing the staff and advocating for myself in that space, but having a certain level of education to be able to do so. And so what does that mean though then to translate that to other folks and allow them to be able to have that level of information so they can center themselves in those spaces. So even if you don’t have a doula in the room, everybody doesn’t want a doula, and that’s fine too, but I think that everyone should have information to, again, be able to center themselves in whatever their birthing experience is.
Dr. Sarah (19:33):
Yeah, I agree. And I think in addition to all the work you do as a doula and getting people this information so that they can make informed decisions about how they want their birth to who they want by their side and how they want to participate, at what level, you also do a lot of work around helping support for mothers who are not getting the medical care that they need. So can you talk a little bit about the work that you’re doing in terms of activism and trying to help create more voice for women and birthing people who are not being represented and who’s kind of getting a bit failed by the healthcare system?
So the advocacy work is really centered on a human rights framework. What does it mean to bring human rights into the birth room and throughout the reproductive life course, right? Understanding in my doula work, I understood like, oh, okay, so that person who’s giving birth is bringing their whole life experience with them into that birth room. So if they’ve experienced previous sexual trauma, if there’s things going on with body image, all of these things, now you bring in, you compile that with housing insecurity, food insecurity, maybe there’s substance usage. Maybe we’re talking about someone who was undocumented or someone who was on Medicaid, low income individuals, literacy level. Thinking about all of those things, well, then what does it mean for someone to again, be able to make an informed decision about their care? Well, what I realized was as a doula being in that room, I was limited in the ways in which I was able to really center that person, right?
Because I could be an advocate, but I also don’t want to take away the voice of the individual who is actually birthing. And so I think there’s a distinction between being this mediator between understanding what it is you want for yourself, but also understanding institutional policies and practices and the ways in which they also inform how your birth could go possibly on top of racism, bias, and all of the other things that we have that can happen. And so my work has really centered on what does it mean to create systemic level changes where we’re looking at the historical implications of education around, or lack of education around what does it mean to center people of color and black birthing people? What does it mean to, and when I say education, I’m talking about medical school education because when we think about the history or the evolution of healthcare as it pertains to people of color, you have a timeline of the enslavement of African people.
You have the reconstruction era where black men are allowed to vote, then they lose that right to vote. Then you have the Jim Crow era, which lasts for about 40 plus years, right? Then you have the civil rights era, and you have people who are fighting for equality and access, right? Okay. So you get equality or you get access, but then the folks who are in those spaces are never given education as to what it means now to serve those populations of people that historically they have been taught you don’t serve them. So now you are inserting people into a culture that has, again, historically excluded that population from access to services and saying, okay, now treat them without having any kind of remedy. And so there’s the education part there is understanding how our healthcare system in and of itself is fragmented, and a lot of it works in silos.
Maternal health as a whole across the United States is inequitable for anyone. It doesn’t, anybody. It’s not great. It’s really not great. It’s not great. It’s not great. So black or white, it’s not serving any of us. You have obstructive violence. You have then racism, bias, you have all of the other things you have if you’re in the south, you have a lack of access to healthcare services in rural areas. You have doctors who are moving out of those areas because they’re not being supported. You have hospitals that are closing down. You have folks who, because you have good intention, individuals who are coming from various different backgrounds who are medical residents, who really want to work within communities but are not giving the support that they need.
In looking at that, I’m looking at city, state and federal policies as to how we can break down these silos. What does it mean to, of course center those who are most disenfranchised, but also look at the system as a whole and see how we can better support all folks who are everybody. If you have the capacity to get pregnant, if you’re a woman, you’re getting pregnant, then you should be able to have access to equitable healthcare. You should be able to go to the OBs or the midwifes that you want to go to if you want to see a family physician. I don’t think even people know that. Family medicine doctors, a lot of them, they train to be able to support folks in birth. And so just knowing one’s options and being able to center folks. So yeah, my advocacy work is really centered on what you said initially was you came into this work kind of centered in hope, and that’s my phrase.
What does it mean for us to center intergenerational hope? Right? And this is a theory that I’ve kind of come up with, which is sometimes people look at hope as being a weakness or as being meaning, like you’re timid, but you can be hopeful and powerful at the same time. And I think that traditionally all individuals who have stood as suffered for the rights of others and centering their humanity and common decency and morals and wanting to lift up community members, they live in the margins of that hope, and they’re creating that hope for other generations. And that’s how it becomes intergenerational because our children see that. Our children see how we are intentionally or not intentionally censoring folks who are in need. When I’m walking with my children and we happen to see someone who was on the street who’s homeless and they’re asking for something, I might not always give them money, but I’ll feed you like, are you hungry?
Let’s go get something to eat. And my children have seen that. You know what I mean? Is there any way that I can connect you to the resources that you need? One of the things that we do at Ancient Song is we feed folks every month. We donate, we give out about a hundred bags of groceries to everyone who’s in the community, pregnant parenting, grandparents, aunties, understanding that support is necessary. We give out diapers and wipes. Those things are expensive. We don’t necessarily realize it all the time, but when someone feels like they can be centered in their parenting or they have, again, I’ve given a little bit of assistance to help them, it goes a long way in someone feeling like, okay, I’m a better parent, you know what I mean.
Dr. Sarah (27:35):
I always talk about this in terms of parenting. Our kids’ sense of self is based on what the world is reflecting back to them. It gets internalized. It becomes the pieces that form their sense of self. And just like with raising children, becoming a mother, becoming a parent, it’s a developmental process and it’s a shift in our identity. And so if you think about it, the way that we are receiving our reflection from the world, the way that people reflect our experience back to us gets encoded as part of that sense of self, that new identity that’s being formed. And so if you are a person who’s having a kid and your doctor doesn’t speak to you or answer your questions or dismisses your pain, or you’re not able to get support around getting the diapers or having paid time off from work, these are things that reflect back to us our worth and unintentionally or intentionally or unconsciously, intentionally.
These are things that form our sense of value and sense of self as a parent. And so I love what you’re saying, this idea that if you can reflect back to someone who’s becoming a parent, a mother, or a father, you have worth, I see you, I listen to you, I consider you, all of you. That’s going to come into their sense of self, which is then going to trickle down to the way they parent their child, to the confidence they bring to that relationship, to their ability to find delight in their child. And that we know is a precursor to secure attachment, which creates a healthier outcome in the child who’s then going to go become a parent one day possibly, and do the same, right? These intergenerational patterns, we talk a lot about intergenerational transmission of trauma, but it’s also intergenerational transmission of hope or of confidence or of positivity around these roles. And it can shift. It’s amazing.
It can, and it allows for, I think also when you center a mother, you’re centering also a nation. You’re centering what it means, how you value the folks that are in that you, because the first touch point for every child is their parent, is their mother. We always go to what we go to mama when we hurt ourselves, we get a boo boo. You want to hug, you want comfort, you want affection. That’s your first form of affection. That’s your first form of discipline and structure of like, no, don’t touch that. You’re going to hurt yourself. You know what I mean? All of those things. And so when we choose to center parents, and I always say postpartum is forever.
Because also looking outside of it, past this six week marker and understanding as you go through your transition of parenthood, as your children are growing and developing, so are you, right? And what does it mean for you to have the necessary emotional, physical, and even spiritual support that you need in order for you to really parent in a meaningful way? Well, that means that you need to know that you have actual community. It means that you want to know, as you said, that someone sees you, they’re listening to your story, understanding you as an expert in your care. And so we’re learning with and being able to humble ourselves to the experience of that. And it makes for a responsive healthcare framework that I think could actually work as opposed to one that likes to methodology or use this methodology of a medical framework. Well, there’s this, this, and this, and so that means that this is what needs to go for that for you. And it’s like, no, everybody’s body is different. And how they choose to pair is also going to be different too. And so we really need to give ourselves the opportunity to want to change that. And that’s just where the advocacy work comes in at.
I live in that moment of hope all the time. I have to be, I have to because I’m trying to create a foundation for those beautiful six children that I have to know that people genuinely out there care. You know what I mean? I think that’s important. You want to leave a legacy for your children. You want to leave a foundation where they are better off than the generation that came before your generation. Well, then that means that we have to be very intentional about creating those networks of support, of centering them and creating spaces where the parent can flourish so that the child can flourish. And you can’t do that if we don’t have certain systems in place.
Dr. Sarah (32:50):
Yeah, I so agree. If there are parents listening who are like, okay, I want to rethink how I approach maybe this pregnancy or my future pregnancies, or I want to support people in my life who are having a baby, what are some things that you would encourage people to consider?
Ooh, what would I consider? I’d say first I would consider just you as an individual. What is your vision for your birth? I don’t think we ask ourselves that question enough. And I say that because that’s the first question I usually ask folks when I’m dueling somebody, what do you see for your birth? And people usually give me this quizzical look like, what do you mean what do I see? Or What do you mean? What’s my vision? I vision myself going to the hospital and I have to say, well, what do you want for you? Have you thought about that? What do you want your parenting to look like? A lot of that will help to, when we ask ourselves those questions, it will help to dictate the space that you don’t want to be in and understanding to understand what you do want. I think it’s also understanding what’s available in your area.
And so doing a quick Google search, what are your options? Can I have a home birth? Can I go to a birthing center? Do I want to go to a hospital? And being able to make an informed decision about that. And so I usually say to folks, you want to ask practical questions when you go into places. I know a lot of times insurance dictates where people will go, but also it’s understanding you have the right to interview the person that you’re going to see. You know what I mean? And so everything starts with a question. And how do you feel about that? I ask doctors when I first come in because they automatically assume that because you set up an appointment that you’re going with them. And I’ll go in, I’ll keep my clothes on and I’ll say, oh, so I just wanted to know a little bit more about you first before I allowed you to do anything. And they’d be like, okay, what do you want to know? What’s your philosophy on birth? What does it look like? If there’s a medical emergency? What are your hours outside of the times that you are on call?
Are you the one that’s going to be giving birth to my child assisting me in that process, or is it going to be someone else? And so a lot of it has to do with one’s individual philosophy, what it is you want for yourself, ask questions. I say, go in with at least three questions every time you go somewhere, no matter what they are. And, and just take it from there. Everything else is based on, I know it sounds crazy maybe, but intuition, what is your intuition telling you is your intuition? And listen to that, especially as mothers.
Dr. Sarah (35:51):
Yeah. We have to learn to trust it. It’s going to serve us.
Yeah, you have to learn to trust it.
Dr. Sarah (35:57):
We may have been trained to not listen to it, but we have it.
Yes. And listen to it. You know what I mean? It’s a reason why we have it and it keeps us safe. It keeps our children safe, and then everything else is extra. You know what I mean? It’s just a matter of doing a Google search, finding what you’re looking for.
Dr. Sarah (36:19):
Giving yourself permission to have it if it’s what you want.
And use it and use it. I have this tech space that I co-founded with my partner, Aimee Brill. It’s called Just Birth Space. And Just Birth Space is literally, it’s a tech platform. People can text in, they can ask questions about anything at any stage of their journey. You can also take classes. And so we have a postpartum class for new parents. We have a postpartum class for seasoned parents. We had classes for people who are currently pregnant in childbirth education classes. And you can drop in as many times as you want, or you can come once and never come again. But it’s a space that was created to really be able to help folks to feel safe about asking questions. And so they can share as much information as they want or as little information as they want, and do it in a way that feels good to them. And so there are resources out there for folks to be able to use. And again, I feel like sometimes we become pregnant and it’s like getting prepared to go to college. You know how you get all sudden, you get all these flyers and information and you’re going and you’re scoping everything out and you’re doing your hospital tours and all of that. Yeah. It doesn’t have to fill that overwhelming, you know what I mean? Take it one day at a time and and listen to your intuition and be okay.
Dr. Sarah (37:52):
That’s very good advice. If people want to learn more about the different resources that you share, whether it’s Ancient Song Doula services, or this tax-based resource that you shared, where can they find you?
So you can find us on Instagram, and so you can go to Instagram, you can go to Ancient Song, and you can find out all things if you want to get a doula, if you want education, if you want to take a doula training, if you have questions about anything regarding reproductive health. And again, that’s across the reproductive life course. So just had a baby thinking about having a baby in between babies, postpartum, period, all the things you can go to just birth space. And we’re also on Instagram. And then if you just have general questions for me around advocacy and policy and I don’t know, parenting, I do talk about parenting and all the things in between. You can check me out @chanelporchia on Instagram.
Dr. Sarah (38:55):
I’ll put all links to all that in the show notes too, so people can find it easily. But I so appreciate you coming on and sharing all this with us.
Yes, thank you for having me. This is great.
Dr. Sarah (39:11):
Being able to feel understood and like you have the proper support to help you in your pregnancy, your postpartum and into parenthood has a massive impact on the health of mothers and of the entire family system. It always struck me how new parents are sent home with a baby, but are rarely offered support with what to actually do with respect to raising that child once they get home and get settled in. And all of the sort of post-delivery support fades away. And while this is understandably a really overwhelming time for so many, I really have to emphasize it’s not about having all the answers. It’s actually about being able to tune into your child and your relationship and knowing where you can turn for information when you do need some additional knowledge. I know just how important it is for all new parents to get that level of support. So I’m offering a completely free masterclass aimed at helping new parents feel confident in their parenting journey right from the start. You’ll walk away from this masterclass with tools that you can immediately put into practice to challenge self-doubt. To stop panic, Googling and to find the ease in the first year of parenthood.
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