She cries out to me,

the child within myself.

She clutches at me,

Tugging at my thoughts,

Asking to be remembered.

I became interested in reproductive justice work when I was in high school. I was constantly examining, deconstructing, and reconstructing the world around me, wondering why my reproductive organs were someone placed at a less valued end of the spectrum than my male “counter-parts”. Why my vagina was somehow a curse word that no one ever uttered. Why decisions were made about her and for her… and for as long as I can remember, I was told to never talk to her. Not to become too familiar with that part of me that was dirty and ugly and mischievous and asking for it and unknown. I think the first time anyone ever made mention of her, my “nochetina” as my mother so quietly called her in Italian, was the day I brought home a long blue slip of paper from my school.

New York 1998

“Mommy! Mommy!” I screamed, excited to come home from my first day of third grade. “Ms. Kolikas is so nice and we are going to take field trips and learn American history and here, I need all of these supplies, and she gave me this notice to give to you. She said it was important.”

I handed my Winnie the Pooh school bag over to her along with the long blue notice that my teacher told us was important. I than ran off to find my Nonna and tell her about my first day. I was so excited to be starting a new school and to be in third grade that I didn’t even take the time to ask my Mommy what the contents of that long, blue, important paper were. Regardless of my childish naïveté, when I was done reiterating to my Nonna the contents of every hour of my day, my Mommy called me into the next room and told me she needed to talk to me. I recognized that nervous and even scared look. My Mommy and I after all were more like friends than mother and daughter… I knew this could not be good. I sat down hesitantly fidgeting in the rough cloth of the seat.

“Michela, uhhh, so ahmama you know that there are good people and bad people in this world right?”

“Yes, of course Mommy.”

“Well, that blue paper that your teacher gave you is the mandatory school notice from New York State Public Schools to let us know when bad people move into our area—pedophiles they are called.”

I stayed silent.

“You see MeMe….” I could tell she was struggling. “There are some people in this world that might try to hurt you, touch you even in bad ways.”

“Mommy, I don’t understand.

“Well, okay let’s just say if you ever feel uncomfortable or feel like someone is trying to hurt you make sure you tell me okay.”

“But, hurt me where Mommy?”

“In your “tina. Do you understand me?”she yelled. “Outside of the house, do not talk to strangers, especially not strange men. And, even in the house, you have to be careful. If, anyone, ANYONE, ever tries to touch you in a bad way, even Zio or Daddy or Nonno… I will always believe you.”

“But… but.. why would they do that?”

“I am not saying, MeMe, that they would but, I am your Mommy and I will always believe you.”

The conversation ended there as my Mom ran to pick up my younger Sister at school. But, I sat in that chair for the next couple of minutes trying to process why some people wanted to hurt other people, more importantly why did the possibility of this happening make my Mommy so nervous. This was the first time I realized that bad things could happen, that I had to be careful, that I should be scared. I was eight-years-old.

I had learned that we must protect her. That she should never be touched. From that day on, I bottled her up so deep inside of me that when I tried to find her again, I got lost.

Her small fingers reach through time,

And her sad, dark eyes

Burn the symbol of her pain

onto my soul.

I didn’t fully revisit this forgotten part of myself until college. Even during intimacy, I didn’t feel it was safe to open the box I had hidden her in. As a Women’s Studies major in college, I was always thinking about women’s bodies and the spaces that we inhabited and disrupted, my college campus being one of them. It was so much easier for me to focus on womyn’s struggles in a bigger context than to try to unravel my own. The whole facade begun to unravel in my Women and Health course. In the unit we did on pregnancy and maternal health, I began to think about my own birthing process. Though I had not given birth in the traditional sense, I felt a strong connection to birth in an abstract sense and “natural” and home birth as a way to reclaim power that had been stripped away from women and myself. Birth was at the very beginning and had the power to create the strong coalitions between womyn that I longed for, while (re)enforcing womyn’s innate abilities and power over their own bodies–especially, though not limited, to birthing.

I felt that I had given birth before. When I was in third-grade, I gave birth to energy and optimism, and then someone came in and told me that’s not the way the world was, and my core, my vagina, was stripped away from me. I had given birth to ideas that I nurtured and watched grow over time. I saw the way others were necessary to my birth process and valued every minute that I could give voice and give life to new types of relationships, to love, and to passion. I birth passion every single day. So, I felt connected to birth and when Professor Suarez invited a panel of doulas and midwives to speak to our class. things began to fall into place further. Communities of womyn coming together, through all different identities, to support the beginning of life. It felt powerful and for the first time, since I was 8-years-old, I felt it was time to open up the box that my vagina was in, discover her power and her beauty.

Fast forward a year. I graduated from DePauw University and am back to my roots in New York City. Thoughts of my coursework and my intellectual and activist passions constantly tug and seep and pull at me. It sounds simple, but the thought of birth kept coming back to me. On the train, I heard young womyn talk about their pregnancies and lack of support, as I watched people look on with disapproving glances. This hurt me. These young womyn were about to give birth! Did that not mean anything anymore? In NYC I get to wake up every morning and live out my passions. I work for a young womyn’s leadership organization that sees and values young womyn as leaders in their communities right now. That’s revolutionary. When I think that the young womyn on the train could be one of them, or one of my own sisters… I think about all of the ways womyn’s bodies, especially womyn of color’s bodies have been controlled and de-valued throughout our nation’s history of colonization and our current state of capitalism. Womyn’s bodies are physical manifestations of the timelines of pain and legacies of hope that we have endured. Birthing is our spiritual power source and it must be protected, with all of its sacred knowledge and ways of knowing. Because this is my philosophy of birth, I began to seek out other womyn who approach birth as political and spiritual with both a culturally and community informed model of holistic care and understandings of the past traumas our bodies have faced in this lifetime and before.

After spilling out my heart to a friend and Sister Ynanna, I stopped ignoring my calling to birth. She authenticated the calling for me. And, I passionately moved forward. I knew that I wanted my role to be both one of advocacy and of direct support, and becoming a doula fit both of these seamlessly.

doula: a womyn who supports other womyn; a womyn who serves

After a lot of research, impassioned midnight phone calls to mentors and sistafriends, and finally building up the courage to talk to the womyn in my family about their own birthing experiences, I recognized that the past and present needed to somehow collide in this process. I found Ancient Song Doula Services. I have begun my journey to becoming a doula and to finding my self. Though many people in my life, do not quite understand this calling or how it is so connected to my activist work, I feel so alive and connected when I am in my doula trainings. Every week when we come together, it feels like giving birth. It is so painful sometimes to find that inner piece of yourself that you have so deeply hated and forgotten about. And, yet, so beautiful to find her and to share her with the world.

She cries out to me,

the child within myself.

She clutches at me,

Tugging at my thoughts,

Asking to be remembered.

**************************************************************

This piece was written by my dear doula sister Michelina Ferrera. I met her through my travels, which brought us together at her alma mater. We connected immediately on being in a woman’s body and our journeys, and since then, have remained in touch. She makes me so incredibly proud and I am glad to stand in solidarity and sister hood with her:

Michelina Ferrara is an passionate activist for social chance. She is a doula-in-training in    New York City and is continually re-fueled and inspired by womyn who see one another’s  sparks and begin to start communities of fire, together.

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