Season 3 Episode 4: Sista Midwife Productions: Entrepreneurship and Training Black Birth Workers with Nicole Deggins
Tanya: Hi, Nicole. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Nicole: Hello, Tanya. Thank you for having me.
Tanya: I've really been looking forward to having you on the show. I will tell you, and maybe I told you this in our email exchange, when you, you know, put it out there that you wanted to do it. Um, I had you on my list from day one before I told you I have a long list of people who don't know that they're on a list because I'm shy about asking <laugh>. So I kind of, you know, wait for someone to say, Hey, I'm interested. And then I'm like score. I got somebody off the list. So, um,
Tanya: So, um, it's kind of fun and I'm really grateful for you to share your story, your journey, your really awesome entrepreneurship with my audience.
Nicole: Yeah. I'm excited about it.
Tanya: Thank you. So, okay. Let's, let's just start by you telling us a little bit about who you are. Um, and then we can dive in and, and really talk about midwifery for a little while.
Nicole: Yeah, sure. So, um, I'm Nicole, Deins the founder and CEO of Sista Midwife Productions. We are a birth advocacy training and consulting agency based here in New Orleans. Even though we do work, um, I like to say worldwide, we've had a few worldwide customers, um, I'm born and raised new Orleans, although truth be told I was born in Hawaii and I was there until I was three when my parents got divorced, but I don't like to share that because you know how it's in new Orleans. If you're not born and raised here, it's the issue. And I'm like, I was here since I was three and my family is from New Orleans, but, um, my daughter will often correct me. No, you weren't mommy, you weren't <laugh>,
Tanya: You're like you're blowing my cover.
Nicole: You're blowing My cover. Right. But so yeah, I still say born and raised New Orleans public school girl, um, mother of one beautiful daughter who is just everything. Um, and yeah, that's like the, I don't know the box answer to who I am. Right.
Tanya: Well, sure. And I'll have you add one more detail because I listened to this episode, but I don't remember what show it was. Um, if anyone wants to hear Nicole's birth story, um, she told that on fill in the blank. What podcast please?
Nicole: Well, it's been a few, but more recently it was with, oh, Shala brown Genesis birthing. Um, she has a series called what did our mamas do? Was it on that
Tanya: One? I don't know if that's where I heard it. I can't remember right now. Were you on Evidence- Based Birth?
Nicole: I was on Evidence-based Birth.
Tanya: I think it was Evidence-Based Birth
Nicole: On, yeah, I was on Evidence-Based Birth, which I think, but Tanya, you're gonna, you're gonna squash this. I think that is the most listened to of all of my podcast interviews because people will always say I heard you on evidence. Like I hear that a Lot.
Tanya: Wow. I mean, we all aspire to be as amazing as that woman and her organization. So I have no desire. I, I don't even wanna try to Trump that I use her materials, her words, she does so much. It's insane. I couldn't function without her and evidence based birth as an organization anymore.
Nicole: She’s Great.
Tanya: Yep, yep. But she does it so well. Cool. Awesome. All right. So I know we'll get to know more about you as we chat. Nicole's birth story, her journey to birth and all of it is super interesting. It's a great story. Um, and I mean, maybe I'm biased, but I really enjoy listening to the birth stories of birth workers, because I just think the stories get told in a very special way. So I'll make sure to link to that episode in the show notes and any other things Nicole has been on that we can link out to it. So let's start by just having you tell us all what brought you to midwifery. We all have such interesting stories and I think there's an overlap in a lot of our experiences, but within that, there's still usually something super unique.
Nicole: Yeah. So for me, um, one, it's like a two, two parts, right? One thing I have learned over the years is that midwifery has always been in my calling, but I did not know like spirit was always aligning me to do women's work, to do womb work, to do midwifery. I just didn't know. Right. But, um, the, the, the, the dynamic of it kind of shifted for me. I was a labor and delivery nurse. Initially, I was planning to go to med school to become an OB GYN as so many people. I, you know, have that piece of the story. And I was working as a labor and delivery nurse, a postpartum nurse. And I was like, I don't wanna be a doctor. I don't like what they do. I don't like how it feels. I don't like the energy of obstetrics, um, that I was observing.
Nicole: And so I was just kind of stuck and trying to figure things out. But I also knew that I was not going to be a staff nurse for long because I didn't like the bureaucracy and the paperwork and the doctor's orders and things in that space too. And I wanted to be able to make a bigger impact. You know, you're a labor and delivery nurse. You're 12 hours with a mom period. You never see her again. Maybe if she loves you and you see her in Walmart, this would happen to me.
Tanya: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.
Nicole: you get to see a picture of the baby, but there's no follow up. There's no follow through. There's no full connection. So I wanted to do something bigger and more. And one of the things that really prompted me was there was a woman who was a midwife at the hospital. She really worked in the public health clinic system here in New Orleans back when we had housing projects. And she worked in a clinic that was attached to the housing projects, but she was an old white woman. And, um, I was like 24. Right. And I looked like her patients. I was like, I was, ah, you know, just high energy, always dancing, running around, smiling, laughing, joking, whatever. And so, um, at that time in my life too, I was “different” right? This was before there were a lot of black people in my community talking about veganism and not eating meat and wearing natural hair. There were people, but in my circle, I was like an anomaly, right. And I'm not a vegan and I wasn't a vegan then. But the simple fact that I didn't eat bacon in pork chops, like it was like a big deal. And the fact that I thought natural birth was cool. It was like this PE oh, whatever. So anyway, the midwife, every so often would come for a birth depending on her relationship with a particular mom. And so whenever that would happen, because my coworkers knew that I appreciated natural birth and all of these days used to call me mother earth. It was like this. It was a thing when I was working as a new nurse. And so, um, they, Hey, go take, you know, midwife has this patient here, you be her nurse. And I was like, okay, great. I love to have the midwife as a provider for a patient. Because quite honestly, what I would try to tell them is it meant I had to work less, honestly, like the midwife was right there. I didn't have to do anything, but write a few vital signs.
Like it was great, but at any rate, so let me wrap this up. This birth was something like I had never seen. I was like, wait a minute. Birth can be like this. So the young woman was a teenager. Um, and she had experienced lots of trauma, sexual abuse. I did not know that initially, but I found that out after the delivery and she was using what we now call hypnobirthing, but that was her coping mechanism in her life. Right. And so in her labor, the entire labor, she just was like in the rocking chair, like no sounds. And I was mesmerized watching this young woman in labor. Um, it was such an opposite thing from what I had seen from all the other young women who had been birthing there. And I was at the inner city hospital, a lot of high risk stuff.
So this was just a really very different experience. And so the midwife at one point, the young woman, you know, was time for her to give birth. And she's in the rocking chair. And she like, lets out this sound that we know means the, you know, babies come in and she kind of gets herself up out the chair and she's looking a little panicked and the midwife slides behind her and almost cradles her like a chair and like supports her. And then there's this other person there that's helping her. I don't remember if it was a resident or a midwife student or whoever the other person was, but then they just kind of gently guide her. And then she birthed her baby. Not in, lithotomy not with stirrups. There were no yelling. The lights didn't jump on five residents, didn't run in the NICU team.
Didn't come in screaming. It was like, what did I just witness? This was deep. Right. And so after that birth, the midwife approaches me and she's like, have you ever thought about going to midwifery school? And I was like, not really. And she was like, I think you should. And then, so this, I always pre like the thing is, you know, reality is reality. So she says to me, I think the girls would like you. And basically what she was saying is I'm an old white woman working in this inner city clinic and I don't really fit. And you're really good. And I think that you would be a better fit. And while some people may have taken offense to that, I was like, she's right. They would like me better than they like you. Right.
Tanya: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.
Nicole: And so that was like the biggest seed that was planted for me. And I knew that it was time for me to start thinking about graduate school. And so I went down the path and, and became a nurse midwife <laugh>.
Tanya: Where did you go to school?
Nicole: I went to Emory university in Atlanta.
Tanya: Cool. So tell me what it is that you, once you were a midwife. Right. Because I know for me that what I thought my life would be like was not what it actually was like. And so that's something that I've spent, oh, now a half a lifetime reconciling in various ways. <laugh> um, but nonetheless, once you were finished with midwifery school before any possible changes came down the PI for you, what did you realize you loved most about the work?
Nicole: Oh, just the families touching the lives at such an integral part of their journey in this existence. Right? Like we reincarnate into this world and there are so many things that happen, but this first Rite of passage for the baby and this very significant, important right. Of passage for the mom and the father and the grandparents, and like everybody who's in, like, this is a, like, it is amazing, you know, to just be in that portal with the family. And I was able to experience it a little bit as a labor and delivery nurse, but certainly as a midwife, you really get to assist women in ushering in the next generation, the, the next world moving forward. Like it is, it's really hard for me sometimes as, as I'm thinking about it, um, to put into words because there is nothing more special almost, you know, it's like you are ushering in the whole next generation. You are ushering in people through their journeys, into a new way of being into a new existing, and just being able to bear witness and to support, um, families in that walk was just really profoundly, deep and beautiful for me.
Tanya: Yeah. I totally get what you're saying. Cuz on, on one hand you can kind of compartmentalize and look at one person's individual journey. Um, and I think one that we all really like, and I certainly experienced for myself. I think you may have two is, you know, giving birth to that baby. I also only have one baby changed my life in the sense that it was an, uh, instant moment in which I knew I could do anything. Right. I felt myself on the mountaintop. There's never been a moment that trumps that moment, aside from the love I have for my kid, it was at some, on some level it was about me and faith in myself.
Nicole: Mm-hmm <affirmative>. And there's nothing more profound than that. And so for me as a midwife, I love, I particularly love when I get to see that happen for some people cuz you don't see it as profoundly in everyone, right? Yeah. Right, right. It's like certain moments, but then you've got the family dynamics, the new family that's forming the life of this person. And so you can kind of like pull the lens forwards and backwards over and over again and get caught up in all the different ways that this is evolving.
Tanya: Totally. I get it. Um, yeah. I'm so with you, I don't know that I saw the family dynamics in a big way until I'd been doing this a whole lot longer. I think you saw that right outta the gate sooner than I did. Um, I think I had like tunnel vision on the pregnant person cuz I know, I used to say like I don't really care about the baby. It's the pregnant person that I am fascinated with.
Nicole: Oh, got well, so I would say the reason why I, I really can connected with family. So my first job as a midwife, I hardly did any birth. It was mostly public health. It was in DC. And um, so that was that. Then I left that job and moved to rural Mississippi mm-hmm <affirmative> and you cannot work as a midwife or rural Mississippi and not understand the family dynamic of that thing. Not be included and not, um, experience and witness all of the changes that are happening because I was literally in a town working that had like one red light. Right. So I saw I would go to the grocery store and see the grandmother of the person who I had just seen in clinic that day. Like, so yeah, it was a part of that dynamic. Um, there was really no choice.
Tanya: That's so cool. So on the flip side, was there anything early on in your career that you saw as a struggle or a barrier to being a midwife or enjoying your life as a midwife?
Nicole: <laugh> lots of things. I mean, first of all, I think that this notion of like the midwife getting the call and running to the birth and first of all, being on call, I told somebody this the other day being on call was anxiety provoking for me. I, so at my, at both of my jobs there wasn't like this immense amount of being on call. So I didn't have to deal with it as much at that time, because at my Mississippi job, we did like three days on three days off. So when you were on, you were on and that was a wrap, but um, just that notion that any moment the phone could ring and that life and death was in my hands, that was kind of scary to me a lot of times, quite honestly. And it was anxiety provoking sometimes.
Sometimes I can look back and be like, oh my God, is the phone gonna ring? You know, that kind of thing. Um, and then there were just not a lot of midwife jobs there was at, at this time, this was in 1999, 2000 2001. When I was actively working as a midwife and seeking midwifery employment in different places.
There were not a lot of midwife jobs. There were not a lot of black women seeking in midwifery care. There were not a lot of black midwives. The jobs that I would find largely were either a, in very high volume, um, hospital settings that I like, and I'm acting like a resident I'm working as a physician, which is not why I went into midwifery or they were like in really tiny towns where there were like, no, no culture, no people of color, no music festivals, no good food. And I'm like, yeah, I don't wanna move there. And so I just found myself feeling lost and confused about what my next step would be. Both of my first jobs ended in unexpected and disappointing ways. And I was just like, okay, midwifery kind of sucks right now. And you know, it was really interesting. There wasn't a lot of mentorship. Um, particularly as a young black midwife, I didn't feel like I was very supported in, in community nor in the profession.
Tanya: Mm-hmm <affirmative> yeah. We have a real problem in our profession when it comes to preceptorships and support. I mean, it's, it's real. I mean, I, I, I am involved in this at two universities and it's, it's the biggest struggle I think we have in terms of even maintaining what we have built so far. Right? Like if you think about the fact that midwives only do 10% of the births in this country, it's not great as a starting point. And I think we're gonna struggle just to maintain what we have not to mention all the other side we can have and maybe will about the different types of midwives and all the different ways this can go, which is a whole other confusing element.
So I guess I wanna know, like what made you leave full scope full time midwifery? Like, was it related to burnout? Was it related to frustration or was it that you thought up this dream that you are now working on and you had to like walk away and go do it? Like what happened there?
Nicole: Well, so initially it was because like I previously just mentioned both of my jobs and in and disappointing, shockingly, like really that's how this is going down kind of ways. Right? So when my second job ended abruptly in a similar fashion, um, not similar fashion to my first loss of job, but in the, it left a similar emotional feeling and there were no jobs available. Nobody would hire me. I was like, you know what? I've always wanted to do travel nursing anyway. And so that was my initial leaving from midwifery to just go, to be a travel labor and delivery nurse. I wasn't even, I was like barely 30 if I was 30, I can't remember right now. And it was like, man, F- all this, this is ridiculous. I'm about to travel this country and make some good money and have some fun and hang out and see different parts of the country.
Nicole: And so that's what I did for a few years. Um, and then after some time I was ready to reenter midwifery, but the at whipping, but the barriers were real. They continued to be real. So now we're 2010, 2010. I've been doing travel nursing. I did not have a midwife license. I moved home to Louisiana. And originally my plan was to move home to Louisiana, just really as a springboard to figure out where I wanted to go. But again, the jobs were inner city, big hospital or small town where I don't wanna live. You know, like I'm not moving to Montana. I'm not moving to like, that's not where I'm going. Right.
Tanya: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.
Nicole: So I was like, I don't have a job that feels good. Let me seek out midwifery here in Louisiana while I'm here. And there were a number of blockages and, um, hurdles that were put in front of me that made it impossible for me to get a license. So I was like, oh, okay, well, I guess this is not what I'm supposed to be doing right now. Um, and yeah, as a result that became my full exit. There were just obstacles put before me that some I couldn't jump and some, I made a decision that I wasn't interested in jumping.
Tanya: Yeah. Oh, I so can hear you on that. Because when I paid for my license in Louisiana only to learn that I needed a stranger's signature in order for my license to actually meet anything. I said, oh, hell no, I will not do it. Like it was just a bar. I wouldn't cross, it was a conscious choice.
Nicole: The collaborative agreement. Is that what?
Tanya: Yeah. Yeah. Uh huh I'm like, I don't know the person who I would be asking to sign this. I'm not begging a stranger. I'm not asking a stranger to vouch for me. How is that even helpful? Like, I could not wrap my mind around what was happening <laugh>
Nicole: I hadn't even gotten to that stage. Right. Like I like, I'll give you a quick example of something that happened to me. So the, the, the board of nursing, first of all, it was like, I was setting a precedent because I hadn't been practiced and licensed in so long. And do we know she's competent? We're not sure. And I had to drive to Baton Rouge where it was almost like I was a criminal. Like they had me sit at this table with like five, I don't know, maybe eight, even people around the table. And they're like asking me all of these questions as if I had been caught stealing or molesting a PA like something horrible had happened. I literally just didn't have a license and I want a new license. Like, why do you want your license back? Why haven't you been practicing? Or you're like, they're, you know, really on me.
So then the decision is, okay, we'll give you a license, but you need 300 supervised hours. Okay, girl. So like, part of me was not completely upset about that because like I said, I did not have a solid preceptorship prior to me. I never felt fully comfortable. And I had been outta work as a midwife for a long time. And I tell anybody I was, I am like a hell of a good labor and delivery nurse. I could run circles around many labor and delivery nurses. I know how to labor and delivery nurse. My midwifery was, eh, so I figured you put 'em together. I'm gonna be okay. Right. So I'm like, no problem. I'll do it. It's not a big deal, but I couldn't get anybody to rock with me in this thing. So they gave me what's called a provisional license.
Tanya: mm-hmm <affirmative>.
Nicole: But at one point there was a hospital system in the state who shall remain nameless, who was hiring a lot of midwives. And I was like, this is fantastic. They're hiring a lot of midwives and Baton Rouge. I'm gonna apply for this job. I applied for the job. They initially email me for an interview. And then they email me back a week later and say, oh, sorry, we can't interview you because you don't have a real license. And I'm like, okay, you sound really dumb, but okay. And then I meet the person who they hire. So this is for a job at an inner city hospital, working with black and brown patients. They hire a white woman. Who's not from Louisiana who had zero experience, who had never even been a labor nurse and who did not have any type of license because she had just sat for the board, but you didn't hire me.
Tanya: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.
Nicole: Someone who was already a certified nurse, midwife, someone who's from the community. Someone who has experience, not only as a midwife, but also as a labor and delivery nurse. But because my license was quotes provisional, huh. Or temporary, I don't even know it was temporary, provisional, whatever it was, you won't even interview me. And then the way the system was set up, I couldn't even talk to anybody because they have all of these ridiculous gates. It's like, I'm not applying to be a lab tech. This is a professional position. I should be able to speak with someone, but they, you know, everything was just through human resources. It was all on the internet. It was ridiculous. And that was just like one example of the ridiculous. I was like, you know what, um, this is, yeah, you can have it. <laugh>
I hear you. Wow. That's intense. So how does sista midwife productions come about? Tell us the origin story. Tell us what it is and tell us the origin story.
Nicole: Yeah. So Man, it's like, it has an origin story and it's been rebirthed a couple of times, but initially, while I was doing my travel nursing, it was when I really realized that birth was bad everywhere because I had primarily worked in Louisiana in Mississippi. I really just thought birth was bad in a patriarchal racist south. Right. But then I started traveling to California, to New Hampshire, to New York. And I was like, wait a minute. Birth is bad ever everywhere. Stop talking about, but in California sure. Parts of California, not in all of California, ask the people birthing in California, they'll let you know. So <laugh>, I'm traveling all over the country. Um, I read a book called pushed by Jennifer block, um, which was really interesting to me because, you know, she is a journalist and not a medical person. So there were certainly things in the book that I would be like, ah, Jennifer, it's not exactly like that.But her book really shifted me because I was reading all of these stories. That sounded like places where I had sat as the nurse, where I had sat as the nurse, um, mistreating a patient where I didn't think I was mistreating her. I did. That was not my intention. I'm just following orders, doing my job. And people who work with me will let you know if anybody's gonna question an order, it's gonna be Nicole. I'm gonna question an order. If it doesn't feel safe, doesn't feel right. If the patient doesn't wanna do something, I was always the nurse saying, you know, you can decline that you can like, so I certainly never thought that I was doing things that could potentially be causing trauma and abuse to patients. And when I read Pushed, I was like, oh shit. Right. So I'm reading this book. And I remember I was in Minnesota it's night shift, I'm reading the book and Im like talking to the other nurses.
And I was like, oh my God, y'all have to hear this quote. And I read this quote out the book, and this is like a real quote from a real mom who had had a real baby. And these nurses looked at me. I'm like, ah, whatever. They're just like, basically belittling what I'm reading in this book. And I was like, okay, this is really, really bad. And people are not listening. And the nurses don't wanna hear it. And what can I do to help people have better experiences? And so a friend of mine suggest as I started a blog. And so I started a blog back before people knew what blogs, where I had to like research, what is a blog? How do I start a blog? Right. So I started a blog and it was basically an opportunity for me to tell inside stories like, so listen, you, you do not have to have an IV. You do not have to get, like I was working at hospitals where they were still doing enemas right. And I'm telling you on admission. I'm like, ma'am, you do not have to have this enema you can decline it. And they would still, they would not want it, but they didn't feel like they could decline it, even though I'm telling them they could decline it. So anyway,
Tanya: They didn't wanna Make their doctor mad.
Nicole: They didn't wanna cause any problems. Right. So I began just, I had, it was called your birthright.com and I just really started blogging about birthrights. And I was doing free conference calls.net. And it was like doing these classes. And I just started really trying to educate people on things that you can ask for decline and how you can navigate the hospital system a little bit better. Um, and then I got a cease and desist letter from an organization telling me I was infringing on their copyright, right. Because I was using your birthright and they're another organization that had nothing to do with what I was doing. You may know the organization. And so I was like, at that time, I wasn't making any money. It wasn't, it was more of a hobby that I was working to turn into a business.
And so I was like, okay, who cares? In addition to that, I realized that the audience that I wanted was not the audience that I had. And so as I began to really think about who do I really want my audience to be, and how do I reach them first off, you need to fix your name. Right. So I literally, I don't even remember the day of how it happened, but I just gotta download Sista Midwife Productions. That's what it is. And it was like, okay, that is who you're gonna be. That's what you're gonna call yourself. That's what the business is gonna be called. And I went and got an LLC. And initially...
Tanya:What year is this? At this point,
Nicole: This is December, 2011.
Nicole: Like get my LLC because I was committed that in 2012, I was gonna take off running and I was not gonna be held back by like paperwork and stuff. Right. So December, 2011, I get my LLC and I'm super excited about it. And initially my business model was being a virtual birth coach, a virtual midwife. And that's how I was marketing myself. And it was really great. I had a few moms, I had a few people that I worked with. Um, I helped like a woman navigate for a feedback. And there, you know, I just, it was great because we just had phone calls and I didn't have, because part of me was like, I don't know where I'm gonna be in five years. So I don't wanna do anything in person I wanna be able to. And at this time it was like, you can really use the internet and have an online business.
This is great. So that's what I'm doing. And then, I was working a lot with Shafia Monroe. Who's been, um, on the front lines of creating black birth workers and black doulas for years.
And so one of the things that I did was I held a state meeting where we were coming together, bringing black women together who were interested in black birth. We called ourselves the friends of I C TC, which was the international center of traditional childbearing. And, um, we got together, we had a beautiful meeting, we set an agenda, we set goals. And part of the goals, um, included us going to wit clinics, healthy start community events, and really teaching people about doulas and who doulas were and why they should wanna doula and that sort of thing, natural birth, this whole thing. And, um, it sounded great. It felt really good. The meeting was well, it was just great. And then I go to bed, I wake up the next day and I realize all of that is cute, but there's like seven black doulas in the city, literally that were actively working. And one doula obviously can only do so much. Right. And people are working other jobs. There were no practicing black midwives in the city.
So this notion of telling people to get a doula in a mid midwife, it didn't even fit. Right. And so, um, at that time it was like, okay, so what's the next step? And that was in 2013. And that was when I shifted to begin training doulas.
And initially I started training doulas simply to get a crew so we could do this work. But I began to realize that number one, everybody who comes to a doula trainer is not trying to be a doula. Right. and so, you know, you can train 20 people and at that time, maybe five of them would move forward to do actively do the work. And in addition to that, I wasn't trained in 20 people. My classes were like seven people strong. And I had to like ask people like, don't like, I mean, marketing really, really marketing.
That was in 2013. Right? So things have shifted a lot. Um, where now there are so many people who want to do this work and they're showing up to do the work. And so it's a little bit of a different landscape, but back then the landscape was so different. And so I started training doulas and then started supporting doulas. And even as I was doing my free conference calls stuff, I began to notice that most of the people who signed up for my calls were already birth workers. They were people who wanted this additional insider information. Like I am a Dolan, I'm trying to help my moms and they're not having the experience that they want. And so that was kind of like the beginnings of system at white productions and, and moving.
And it's just, the agenda has continued to shift and ebb and flow based on, um, community needs where my voice has been needed. What has felt good for me to move forward with, um, little bit at a time. And the vision has con continues to grow. I definitively have what I call my Oak vision, you know? And if you ever had, if anyone ever wear interested, I probably wouldn't share it all. But there's like this huge vision of where I see people will ask me, why'd you name it? System midwife productions. And I'm like, cuz we gonna be producing some. Like we got plans.
Tanya: I love it. I love it. That's so cool. So, okay. Just to like frame this very broadly here, you start very focused on advocacy. You shift into training of doulas. And as far as I know, that's still a big piece of what you do, right?
Nicole: Yes. I still definitively train. I like to use the term birth sisters mm-hmm <affirmative> so I train birth sisters to support families in birth. Um, my training is one of the best things. I feel like I've ever contributed to the world outside of my daughter. Right. Um, I really love my training. I love the light bulbs that I see pop off in people. I love the testimonies that are letting me know that I am making a difference, not only in the lives of the families that they will work with, but that the women who come to my class, most of them choose me with intention. And I focus on elevating the experiences of black women that is like the focus for me from a spiritual perspective, from an emotional perspective for healing. Um, I feel like there's so many people entering birth work who are coming into birth work with a goal first to heal their own personal birth trauma.
And so part of my training, my goal is to help heal some of that crap because you don't need to be bringing that into somebody else's birth. And so I'm very intentional about every part of my training. We do ritual, we do song, we do space holding. We cry, we share. And my training is now virtual, um, which was a difficult decision for me to make. But I'm very excited and blessed and happy that I've been able to maintain the energy system midwife and who I am. Even in spite of the fact that I've gone virtual, um, definitely not the same as my in-person training, cuz we're not holding hands literally, but I am still able to bring this other level of emotional awareness and activity that happens during the training, which is really special to me,
Tanya: Tell us a little bit about the birth story project.
Nicole: Yeah. So the birth story project was started, um, in 2018 as a way for black women to come together in circle to just share their birth stories. It started because I had helped the woman who had a home birth and after her home birth up, you know, home birth will change you man, like, right? So she has this beautiful, transformative birth and she comes to me and she's like, mama, Nicole. I think everybody needs to hear about this stuff. We need to be telling these birth stories. People don't know how good it could be. Right. And I'm like, bet let's do it. And so we initially started just having circles.
Whether your birth story was a beautiful ecstatic walking on the moon hospital or home or birth center birth or whether it was traumatic in a crash. C-section no matter what your experience is or was we wanted to create this safe space. And it has proven to be that the testimonies that come out of the birth story project sharing circles are phenomenal. Um,
So I wanted to go deeper with these sharing circles. And so in addition to the sharing circles, now we have an online survey and the online survey is for anybody who has given birth in the state of Louisiana. Why? Because we understand that birth trauma and poor birth outcomes are happening to everybody. This Louisiana is not 49th, just because of black birth, right. We're 49th because birth sucks in Louisiana.
So, um, the, the online surveys for anyone who's given birth anywhere in the state and we're collecting data. And the goal is that we'll use the data via this anonymous survey to have real hard conversations with hospital administrators and CEOs and physician's offices and be like, Hey, they said your name because in this survey we're asking for names like we're like drop the name, right? Because it's one thing to just say the hospital or at birth, but which hospital and which providers are doing these things we need to know, we need to know. And so, um, we relaunched the survey in December of 2021 and we're really looking to get like, we, I would love to have 500 results on this survey from women who have given birth across the state, in every parish, in every region at every hospital, even home birth. And I even tell like my home birth midwife friends tell your moms to fill that out too, because what that does is it shows the, the, the difference and what these home birth families are experiencing compared to what hospital birth families are experiencing. So we want all of the stories,
Tanya: Well, we will definitely link to your survey and we'll get them out to listeners and even my personal mother wi mamas. Right. And they will come through and add to your data collection. So, um, we're gonna get that out there. I love that.
So one other thing that you have on your website that I use a lot, I'm on your website a lot for the purposes of my clients and people who reach out to me, even if they don't end up working with me and that's your tool to find a black doula or find a bid midwife. Um, so I think that this and the earth app, which I've talked about a bunch, I think people know what that is. Um, are two of the most impressive things that are out there to help people find care providers like them. And I think that that's really critical. And you even touched on this when you first started talking you beginning of your story, I didn't quite expect that part of having the older white midwife say, Hey, come work here because my people would like you <laugh>. And that's exactly what my motivation is.
My career actually started with a grant funded position to help with the retention of people of color in midwifery programs. Um, and it it's always been part of what I do and a big piece of what I love doing, because it just makes sense, but I'm sure that there are pieces of this that even I'm missing. What, what is it that you think is most profound and important about building a larger midwifery doula birth worker in general workforce so that people can receive care from other people that are like them?
Nicole: I mean, it's, you know, to me it's like not even rocket science, right? Like we, when we are in a place in a vulnerable position, yes, we want somebody who's compassionate and who has the ability to hold space in, in an appropriate way. And, but then when you tack onto that, someone who looks like you, right? So I'm, I'm feeling vulnerable. I wanna look into the face of someone and feel like this could be my mother. This could be my grandmother, my auntie, my sister. And I know that they have my back. We live in a country that has historically and currently, um, abused black women's bodies. The foundation of the economics of this country is built on the wombs and the uterus of black women. And so when I go to a provider, if that provider does not look like me, then there is this thing in the back of my mind.
Nicole: And I'm speaking collectively, not like me directly, but there's this little thing in the back of my mind, like, am I, do you really care? How are you treating me? And then because of the amounts of implicit bias that we know now that, you know it's a real thing. It's a real thing. It exists. And the statistics show it, the facts show it. Like it's not even made up black families, black patients, black women, black men, black people are treated differently by white providers, period. Black people do better when they have a provider that looks like them. Period. We have done the research, right? So for me, it's like a no brainer. Like, yeah, we, we have more, um, black and brown and indigenous and Asian and, um, Latina and like, you know, all of the cultures, everybody. And if we think about historically, what midwifery was, your midwife came from your community, all communities, right? It wasn't that, um, like the Jewish people had a Jewish midwife and the Mormon people had a Mormon midwife and the black people had a black midwife and the Irish people had the Irish midwife. That was the thing, because this was a time when you were ushering in life and you needed it to happen in a way that was appropriate to your religion, to your culture, to your dietary restrictions or desires, like all of these various things. And yes, we're quote American, but even in that space, we have, there are different cultural aspects but in America, because of the way that things are set up, that's the easy, common denominator. And I'm going with it. I'm going with the least common denominator. She's black. Boom. I want her.
More black midwives because, even though we have increasing numbers of black physicians, unfortunately many physicians are indoctrinated into the obstetrical way. So I will tell people all the time, if you have a choice between a hospital birth with a black, a physician and a home birth or a birth center birth with a white midwife, take the white midwife because I would prefer you to have a better, I, unless obviously if she's, you know, completely belittling and degrading and that sort of thing. But if she's like a regular run of the mill white midwife girl, take her all day. Because once you walk into that hospital system, you're in the hospital system and most physicians black or white are indoctrinated into that system. So we need more black midwives who are not indoctrinated into that system.
Tanya: And so what do you say to the people white or black who are going to go to the hospital either because they just haven't gotten comfortable with the idea of home birth yet, or because it's not accessible to them or it's not affordable to them because scattered throughout the country, as you know, there's probably a different primary or secondary reason depending on where you are. So what do we say to those people who are trying to make the best of their hospital birth?
Nicole: Yeah. So number one, if you are going to the hospital, then definitively get you a black provider, right? If then get you a black provider and get you a black doula, right. Because we know that they're gonna help be your gatekeepers. Um, so that's one thing. The other thing is to just be educated, know that there is nothing in these spaces that anybody can technically force you to do. I've heard and I've witnessed much forcing of things. And so I know that there are situations and dynamics where people are really assaulted, right? I've seen it. And I know that it exists. That said always bring somebody with you. Even if you can't quote, afford a doula, bring your mama, your sister, your uncle, somebody not just to labor and birth, but also prenatally because you wanna set the tone that I am not alone. I have a support system and not here, not today, not on my watch. You want, you want that energy up over you so that when you move forward with your birthing experience, people know that basically you not to be played with, right? Like you are not the one, not here, not today.
Tanya: Totally. Uh, I mean, I think to your point, the early research on doulas in case people don't know this information, is it, wasn't just about people who had training. In fact, that came later as a consequence of the early research, it was on having a supportive person trained or untrained. So that meant, yeah, mamas, it meant on, it meant everyone. I do believe it was always a woman, a female identified woman, but in that early research, but now we know a lot more. Um, and I, I really think that that is the roots of all the early doula trainings that we've seen. And of course these doula trainings are taking on very different, um, perspectives and becoming much more individual like the work that you're doing, it's become so much more about getting to a deeper level of things. And I think that's where your whole, your thoughts about the birth plan kind of segue into what the work that you're doing. Right. Cause it, it was so simple at one time.
Nicole: Um, and it was so simple. And the other piece of that was too, that it was a person who was not connected to the hospital system. So it doesn't matter that you have a really good attentive nurse that still, this of it's still this other person who is not a nurse, not a doctor, not even your midwife, but like this other person, right. Trained or untrained.
Tanya: Yeah. And that reminds me of, you know, one of the hospitals that I worked at for a long time that she remain nameless has a quote unquote doula program and what their doula program is, is one person that's on shift if you're lucky each shift. And so she's literally running to 12 different labor rooms and she's basically just an extra set of hands. And the only time she can be super duper helpful is if 11 people don't want her and one person does <laugh>. So it's kinda a joke, right? So you can't just look at the programs that people say they have, or this kind of reminds me of when a hospital calls itself a birthing center, nothing gets me more frustrated than when a hospital labor and delivery unit calls itself a birthing center, because I can't tell
Nicole: There is the lie Tanya, come on.
Tanya: Frustrating. Okay. Um, alright, moving along.
I wanna know about your art of birthing conference that you put on in 2021. I want you to tell us about that and tell us what you envision the future for that looking like.
Nicole: Yeah. So, um you know, I'm in New Orleans and every time y'all see Mama Nicole, I'm talking about infant mortality and birth trauma and mamas dying. And in New Orleans, we like to have fun and drop a couple of drinks and dance and party. And so I was like, okay, y'all are probably sick of me saying these things. How can we shift the conversation while still educating and bringing information? And so, um, I create, I had been holding onto this idea of using art and advocacy around birth for some years.
And so the first event I did was a play. There was a woman, um, named Karen Brody who wrote a play out on New York called uh, Birth, I wanna say. And it was kind of Vagina, Monologue style. Um, and it was funny. It was thought provoking. It was a really, really good play.
I think it was eight or nine women. So of course every single character in the play invited their friends. Um, we had this big event, I had art up, we had belly painting going on. We had refreshments, we had wine for purchase. And at the end of the play, we had a talk back, right? So we had this entertainment coupled with this education. And I was like, bam, this is it. This is where we're going. And so a couple years later, I co coined the art of birthing where when, what I say is that we use various forms of artistic expression from spoken word song and dance music, art documentaries, um, to really raise awareness about perinatal, disparities, birth options, birth choices, and as well as to talk about solutions while having fun. The birth justice film festival is by far my favorite piece of it, where we show anywhere from three to six documentaries, all covering various different topics around reproductive justice, reproductive health. So in 2020 we went online and it was great because we really got to reach a bigger national audience. And we mailed out these great virtually vibe in boxes. It was a lot of fun. Um, and everything was virtual.
So, with the birth justice film festival last year, we showed highlights from a documentary legacy powered voice, which is a new documentary that's being created to highlight the legacy power invoice of black midwives. And it was exciting for me because I had been interviewed. And so we showed my little clips that was super exciting. Um, we showed, uh, T Waller, which was a documentary about the doula prison program in Alabama. And then we show belly of the beast. Belly of the beast is a documentary about the horrific hysterectomy, sterilization stuff that was happening out in the California prisons. I'm talking deeply disturbing to watch this documentary. And then after the documentaries, we are so blessed, particularly because we're virtual now, um, are doing this hybrid thing to have the actual producers and people who were featured in the documentary actually on this, in as a part of this panel discussion afterwards. And so to be able to share this information, but then to also have a deep conversation about what can we do now. Right.
Tanya: That sounds awesome. Very cool. Yeah. All right. So I know we need to wrap up here soon and I just wanna wrap up on a final note, talking a little bit about entrepreneurship, mainly because I have a growing community of midwives at the time when I started mother wit and I was about to move from New York city to new Orleans. Again, I didn't know anybody who was a midwife who had done something like this, unless they were like a home birth midwife and owned their business. But to me that still fell into a different category. So again, I started getting acquainted with the New Orleans community. I learned about you and Nurse Nikki and you guys were like theoretical people to me at the time. I didn't know you. Um, but I was watching you guys do really interesting things. Um, since then I've had people reach out to me and even people I kind of vaguely knew in my life who are doing really cool, interesting things.
Some of them have already been on this podcast or will be this season. Um, and so there's this growing community of midwives who are flexing their entrepreneurial muscles in really creative ways. And you, and I know, and this whole group of people I'm referring to know what a challenge that is because there is absolutely nothing in our backgrounds and training that give us <laugh> this body of information or the confidence to do this. And, you know, I mentioned to this at the very beginning and people may have picked up on the word and wondered what it is. Nicole attended a startup accelerator called propeller a year or two before I did. And that is a New Orleans based program. That is just fantastic. I'll make sure to link it in the show notes for anyone in New Orleans or in Louisiana. Who's interested in learning about this for me, that's a big piece of the education, the more formal education that I've received on running a business, I'm curious where you started, where propeller propeller came kind of late. So you learned a lot on your own before ever going to Propeller, but what are some of the like tidbits that you can share with people about being brave enough to do this and how to approach it?
Nicole: So it's an interesting thing, because like you said, there's nothing in our formal education or curriculum that includes entrepreneurship, right? Not even how to run a into midwifery practice. We didn't even really learn that. Right. So it's a very interesting thing for me. Um, one of the things that happened for me was when I started system midwife productions, I was very intentional about making it in LLC and not a non-profit, even though now I'm considering creating a nonprofit, but at that time I was like, I don't want a grant chase don't want a grant chase. I wanna create a solid product that I can sell that will pay me what I need to live and have a good time, and also have money left over to run a program. That was always my vision. I am fortunate in that. Um, and I think there are a lot of people probably in my generation who are black, who can say this, that both of my grandmothers were entrepreneurs.
So I always knew in the back of my mind, because at the time we had, they had to be entrepreneurs, nobody wasn't giving them jobs for real. Right. So both of my grandmothers were in their own rights entrepreneurs. One was the candy lady, the herb seller, the, the, the person who sold spiritual charms and things of that nature. And the other one ran like bar. Right? And so I saw all my life that there was this option for me to have my own thing. I always too thought in my mind, it's like, you know, you, you buy low, you sell high that's common sense. Um, I knew I needed to make more than I spent. Okay. Um, I knew I didn't wanna have to worry about loans. And so I was like, what, how can I do this in a way that I am profitable early on?
And I was very fortunate in that. Um, you know, my overhead was Lim. I was doing doula trainings in my mom's living room. So there, the overhead was very minimal and I just made a very intentional plan to move forward in this bootstrapping kind of way. Um, I got into propeller, I think it was maybe four years after I had already been in business. And what propeller helped me to do. And I think a place where we often stumble is it reminded me that you cannot have an entrepreneur venture without first being a successful entrepreneur. And it realigned me with the understanding that you can make money. You should make money. It is okay to make money. Um, and this notion of public community service is great. But if you don't have any money, you can't serve anyone. So how do we find that balance?
And I think for many of us as heart centered entrepreneurs, we're often called. We find it difficult to want to charge for the things that we are giving and providing. Um, one of my teachers, her name is WIO. I don't know if you know, WIO I love WIO. Um, one of the things that she teaches and I share this with my students all the time is it is okay to give something away for free, but pick that one thing you're gonna give away for free, feel good about it. And that's it. You don't have to give away everything for free, because if you do again, you cannot serve. Right. Um, many of the people who come to my training, they're all like, I just wanna get free doula services. And I, you know, I smile and I nod and I listen and then I help them see that like one of my other, um, partners in success in this thing, Nikia Lawson talks about there is a way to earn and serve. You can do both. And just because you're earning doesn't mean that you're bad or evil. And there are so many things that we have to, uh, contend with in our culture, around our money issues. So I would encourage people who are interested in pushing into an entrepreneur space to number one, like right now I'm following all sorts of business money, people on my Instagram, I'm like trying to eliminate, I'm trying to shift my algorithm so that there's no more birth stuff coming across my line. I don't need to see the birth stuff. I know what's happening in the birth world. I don't need your educational video about choices and options. I actually can create these if I wanted to. So like, that's not what I need. I need to understand how to invest, how to increase my profits, how to market. Don't be afraid to take classes. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there. It can be a little scary sometimes, right? But if you connect with business people, then you can learn business. You have to connect with business people to learn business.
Tanya: I wanna hug you right now because I needed to hear a little bit about what you just said. It's like everything you said somewhere in me. I know, but we all, I don't know. We need to hit the reset button once in a while, for sure. So you just gave me some really profound lessons. I have no doubt that you just gave a bunch of listeners who are traveling this path, because other than the midwives, I just mentioned two podcasts that air in this season before you, um, are former clients who are becoming birth workers, which is a very common thing. I think we've all experienced this in this field. So I'm dealing with a lot of people in a lot of capacities who are building things from the ground up right now. I know they all need to hear that. If I needed to hear it, they need to hear it for sure. So I thank you for those pieces of advice. I thank you so much for taking the time to come on this show and share your story, share your work. Your work is amazing. And I love watching you from the background when you don't know I'm watching you like creepy stalker <laugh>.
Um, and I, I just, I really appreciate you, Nicole.
Nicole: I appreciate, uh, the conversation. It's always fun.
Tanya: All right. Well, thank you so much for your time today. I'm so looking forward to sharing you with the world.