Jennie Goldfarb and Lindley Mease (Blue Heart) met with Rebecca Orozco, an organizer of Roots of Labor. Our profound and provoking conversation is what follows. You can learn more about Blue Heart here and check out Jennie’s community-sourced publication supporting Roots of Labor titled “completely and without pause: feminist notes on oppression and expansion”.
Can you tell us a bit about your own story and what brought you to this work?
I’m originally from Los Angeles (Tongva land) and I’ve been living in the Bay Area (Ohlone land) since 2011. I moved to the Bay for UC Berkeley to study Medical Anthropology. Before and through school, I worked as Early Childhood Education Provider. I was supporting parents and giving doula support before I even knew the term. I started volunteering at San Francisco General Hospital in their doula program in 2015. Although I’m super grateful for my experiences I quickly noticed that these programs were lacking faces that looked like mine. My family is from Mexico — I’m Xicana. The patients at SF General were primarily low income communities of color and the volunteers were not. Very early on in my birth work I was stuck in this volunteer cycle, which I couldn’t afford as a low income person. Through the journey to figure out how to get paid for this work, and support my community, I came across Roots of Labor and it was everything I was looking for. After about a year and a half of working in isolation –in spaces where I felt like I didn’t really fit– I found community. The mission of Roots of Labor is to decolonize birth. It’s to make this work sustainable. It’s to empower each other. I feel like a poster child of our mission, having benefited so much. It has helped me in my own healing, in reclaiming my ancestral knowledge. I’ve been a core organizer with Roots since 2016. It’s the first time I’ve been in a role like this and it’s been a really nurturing place for me to step into that level of leadership within my community.
What does a day in the life of a Roots organizer look like?
No day looks the same. Saturday I was at a birth. Sunday I was meeting with a new client. Every single Monday we go to Santa Rita jail to support pregnant incarcerated community members. Yesterday I was on the computer for hours and then I went to a grants meeting, then went to a doula circle to debrief Santa Rita. And now I’m doing this interview and afterwards I have back-to-back postpartum visits. That’s a glimpse into my week.
What does it mean to decolonize birth?
Thank you for asking that because I know this word “decolonize” has many different connotations these days. For us, it means many things. It means recognizing the long standing effects of centuries and generations of oppression — racism, colonialism, homophobia, transphobia, and others — and how they intersect with practices, specifically medical practices, around birth. Birth in hospitals is relatively new, and this medical institution often doesn’t serve us. It’s created a culture where we don’t trust our bodies, we don’t trust the knowledge our bodies give us. For us, decolonizing birth means empowering and supporting birthing people of color using tools and skills that came long before hospital births. It looks like, wherever folks chose to birth whether in the hospital or at home, we can collectively access that wisdom.
How do you think Roots holds feminine leadership?
Roots of Labor largely identifies as queer. Some of our members also identify as gender non-conforming/two-spirit/trans. Some of us don’t identify as female, and some of us don’t identify as feminine. However, we are all attempting to disrupt patriarchy and dominance. We hold spirit instead of binaries. We do talk about womb work, but not in gendered language. And we do uplift the fact that womb-carrying people have experienced generations of trauma. For example, how bodies of color have been historically used in the name of medical research (i.e. Henrietta Lacks, history of obstetrics). Feminine leadership for us is the emotional and spiritual nurturing we do within the collective.
How do you care for one another?
We are all really understanding of this life we are leading. There’s a lot of community accountability for self-care and self-preservation. We try to model for each other the ways we know we need to be taking care of ourselves. So it’s critical that we show new doulas that we are capable of setting healthy boundaries, getting enough sleep, eating good food, putting our own family’s first. You are only as effective as a doula, as much as you are able to show up for yourself. We also create space for when folks can’t make it to a meeting because they are exhausted from a difficult birth or on their menstrual cycle, or if folks need to step away for a few months because the work is emotionally taxing — we understand. That can’t really happen in the same way in a masc-dominated space.
How has this work changed you?
It has forever changed me. I’ve really learned how much unlearning I needed, and still need, to do. This work has grounded me in things that I’ve always known that were important to me, and now I have community and language to share it. It’s given me a healthy direction in all the ways I want to continue to grow as a doula, community member, and ancestor..
What are some of the mistakes and impacts of those mistakes allies and supporters have made?
I’ve seen more talking than listening. People want to share our stories, but not include us in the room. This makes us a talking point versus at the forefront of conversations regarding our experiences as people of color.
Allies and supporters who make saints of us for supporting our community instead, of doing the work to support us. For example, with our work at Santa Rita jail, we don’t need people to tell us how “good” we are.. We’ve gone every single Monday for since 2016 and Birth Justice Project did the two years before that. For some reason, issues around incarceration are sexy or exciting to people and I can’t tell you why, it’s upsetting. What does it mean to think about being a birthing person that’s incarcerated? What does it mean to be trans and be incaractered? What does it mean to be a child from this experience? There are so many intersectional experiences here and I worry that truth gets lost. This is where people from Alameda County go. These are our neighbors. These are not invisible community members, even though the system is designed for their invisibility. I guess what I’m saying is instead of painting us to be saints, question the systems in place that propagate oppression to the point of your personal discomfort. Use the discomfort as an opportunity to learn and grow. Why is this feeling pushing you to be defensive, reactive, and/or guilty?
As allies and supporters in a position of privilege, being intentional in where your money, time, and skill-set goes has the potential to disrupt an oppressive status quo. Use your resources to support people and grassroots organizations doing the work at the community level. Buy our products, support our patreons, offer us the use of your space for our events/retreats, donate your food goods to us for meetings, offer us a place to print our materials for free, offer us your skills/service, offer scholarships for our ongoing education, connect us to grant opportunities and funders, organize fundraisers and events that benefit us.