by Aliena "Ali" Davis, DC
She was born in 1941 and died in 2013. Into those 71 years, she packed more life experiences than most could fit into three lifetimes. In all honesty, she is still influencing the world in a way that makes her unforgettable, mischievous grin surface readily in my mind. In fact, it’s her influence in large part that brought about the reason for this article.
She proudly bore the title of my “Gramma” – although we had no blood relation, she was more a part of my family and my life than most who did share a blood relation, and continues to be even in her absence more present than some who are still physically present. As a child, I would marvel at her fascinating, and at times erratic, speech.
Later I would learn that she had lived with mental illness in a time that was even less kind to people with mental illnesses than our own time currently is. In my battles with my own mind, I reflect on her experiences with awe and gratitude, drawing inspiration to tackle the next project, protest, and sometimes just the next day, as the reality often is for those of us who share this strange life companion.
My teen and early adult years were filled with late night calls with my nocturnal Gramma, listening to her stories of resistance during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and her impassioned hopes and visions for racial equity.
When I began to struggle academically, she was there, with the smile, encouragement, and advice that eventually leads us to the topic of this article. One day, in a moment of frustration, I expressed to her how difficult it was to quiet my anxiety and ask questions during class when I needed to. With a knowing look in her eyes, she said “Oh, honey. Look, if you have a question in class, just ask. Chances are that if you have that question, someone else has the same question and is just hoping someone else will ask!”
While this conversation took place with the high school version of me, it is the exact perspective that led to the creation of an inclusive birth workers group in one of the largest conservative counties in Texas.
In late 2016, I was a new business owner and I had brought my passion for racial equity, LGBTQIA+ equality, reproductive justice, gender equality, and all the issues with which those causes intersect to the aforementioned county – and I could not have been more distraught about my decision.
In an attempt to express my outrage at the developments in our country at the time, I chose to attend a march in early 2017 that, for all its problems, of which there are plenty, did help to serve as a catalyst for local change.
In the days leading up to the march, my anxiety revolved around being recognized by someone at the march and facing negative repercussions within the fragile network of colleagues I had only just begun to create.
Spoiler alert: that concern was mostly for nothing.
What happened instead, had implications that are still being realized.
In the early weeks of 2017, a colleague responded to an email I had sent earlier in the week, and signed off with “PS, I saw that you’re attending [redacted] march…” – – my heart sank, but I continued reading “…I will be there too,” they continued, “…I’m looking forward to seeing you.”
In that moment, my Gramma’s advice came rushing back – reminding me that the world was now my classroom, and that if I was looking for this community within the field of birth work, I was unlikely to be the only one doing so.
In the months that followed, I searched for The Others. And, I found them – in the most unexpected of places, sometimes. Other times, they were hiding in plain sight.
The materialization of these events has created a group of over 50 local birth workers who openly advocate for social justice in their practices, and to whom we know we can safely refer our clients for affirming, competent, compassionate care in a variety of fields from mental health to body work, and nutrition to photography.
Nearly every single one of us has, at one point or another, expressed a shared feeling of having felt isolated and disempowered to fully serve those we are passionate about serving, and identifying this group as one of the tools that laid the groundwork for a transformation toward serving from a more empowered place within ourselves.
I’ve learned that my Gramma was right, I’m usually not the only one, and it helps to look for The Others. Two years later, I’ve also learned that not only was I certainly NOT the only one – there are folx who have been doing this work for years before I was even aware of the work to be done, and it’s been a privilege to learn from and in some cases work alongside them.
If you’re reading this and you’re feeling alone or out of place, I would encourage you to look for The Others and create a space for the change you desire to see to occur. This is part of how we collaborate and support each other in making the changes that literally save the lives of those we serve and, sometimes, our own, too.
Aliena (Ali) Davis, DC. Birth Worker. Author. Activist. [She/Her/Hers]