This Month in Music: February Vibes

Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

I listen to music constantly. Work, eat, workout, play — these are some songs that have been traveling with me through February. What songs have been getting you through your month?

Hold Up. Who Let Racism, Sexism, and Classism In My Birth Room?

Photo by Jade Chiu

Photo by Jade Chiu

Today's post comes to you from Everyday Birth, a new magazine I've launched through The Educated Birth, about pregnancy, birth, and parenthood created for folks from many life experiences. View the original post here.

Racism, sexism, and classism can be found pretty much everywhere. Whether you're worried about facing obstacles due to age, race, gender, sexuality, language, or anything at all, there are ways that you can address this possibility head on to remove its power from your birth. You know what they say, the best offense is a good defense. Here are some ways you can proactively prepare to avoid, block, and confront discriminatory experiences we know happen in some birth rooms.

Spend Time Learning and Saying What You Want
If you've been to any birth classes, interviewed any doulas, or searched the internet enough, you've probably heard of these things called birth plans, or birth goals, or birth preferences. They're all the same: an organized way for you to say to your doctor, "This is what I do and do not want for my birth."

Since labor is like a box of chocolates— "you never know what you're gonna get" — birth plans can't tell us what we can expect from labor — but when we talk about them with care providers and hospitals, they can tell us a lot about what we can expect from them.

So invest time in attending a birth class in your area that can teach you (and your partner if possible) more about your options. Then take that information and make sure it matches up to the place and people you're surrounding yourself with at your birth.

Interview Your Care Provider
How did you find your care provider? Recommendation? Internet search? Are you in their office because it's the closest, the most familiar from passing it often, or it's the first one you visited and seems just fine?

When it comes to your care provider, remember you're hiring them. If you have private insurance, your insurance payments are going toward their care for you. If you're on Medicaid – same deal – that care provider is still getting paid for their service, and you're the direct link between the two. 

So write down your birth preferences and talk them over one by one with the care providers you want to consider. Then take notes on them. How do they respond to your desires? Do they listen fully or interrupt? Do they support and show comfort with your choices or do they seem worried, agitated, or a little too amused? Do they try to talk to you out of things, or ask questions to understand what you're looking for? The way a care provider treats you in a meeting will probably be similar to the way they treat you when you're in labor, and feeling much more vulnerable.

Have an Ally Present with You at Your Birth
Birth doulas are professionally trained to support pregnant people before, during, and for a short time after birth (then postpartum doulas step in). If you are able to hire a birth doula or find a low-cost or volunteer one through a community doula program you and your partner will have someone who'll get to know you, walk you through your options, and be with you during labor to support and empower you if any red or yellow flags arise.

Talk to your doula about how you want to address these potential situations. For example, if a hospital staff person repeatedly uses incorrect pronouns during labor, would you prefer to address it, to have your partner address it or would you ask your doula to do so? Or if English is a second language for you or your partner, and a nurse appears agitated by the extra time it takes to get information,

do you want your doula to quietly support you through the unpleasant moment passing, or to request a new nurse for you even if it makes that moment take longer? 

Talking through some of these scenarios, while not as fun as say, practicing massage as a comfort measure, may help quell some of the nerves that may exist around the uncertainty of what you could do if A, B, or C situation happened. And you can also come up with a game plan to reground your mind and body, so you can refocus on the beautiful work of bringing new life into this world if a discriminatory presence disturbs your birth.

Ask a Lot of Questions
If someone in your birth space is giving suggestions or directions that feel biased, or making statements that you feel infringe upon your right to choices, start asking questions. You might ask, "I understand [some issue] is a concern for some parents, is there something you're seeing that makes you worry about it for me?" Or, "I understand [that intervention] is one option. What are some of my others?" Or, "I know I may want [another intervention] later. Can I wait a few more contractions before deciding?"

If the issue is more that you feel the folks in your birth space are not communicating openly, you might ask, "Can I have an update on how labor looks to be progressing?" Or say, "I feel [this way] right now and when I got here I felt [that way]. Is there anything I should know about what may happen next?" 

We know that discrimination in the healthcare setting often comes from subconscious biases that medical professionals may not even be aware they are acting out. While this does not excuse these behaviors, it does give us some tools to confront them. Asking questions can be a great way to gently redirect a medical providers' biased reaction to the actual situation in front them.

Remember You're in Charge
Bottom line, know and regularly remind yourself throughout your pregnancy that you are the keeper of your body and your baby. You can ask anyone in your birth room to leave and/or be replaced. You can change hospitals or doctors if they cannot properly support you and your birth. And you can decline medically unnecessary suggestions to changing how to labor.

And Hold Professionals Accountable
If you have a discriminatory experience with a birth professional, there's a good chance, unfortunately, that you're not the only one. If the situation is slight enough and you feel comfortable enough to talk to the provider yourself, that can be a good option.

Otherwise, talk to someone who can document the situation and hold them accountable. For their own professional development, someone around them should know they have some growing to do, and if they can't get past their biases, someone should be able to prevent their behavior from harming other families.

It’s All My Parents’ Fault: How I Came to Believe That I Could Do My Own Thing

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

Most often, I write my intros first. But I’m writing this one after having written everything below, so I can tell you right now I’m tearing up a bit, that's the kind of post this is. When I wrote the tongue-in-cheek title, I smiled and I was excited to start thinking back. Well, I really thought back. And I'm so grateful for my parents. It's all their fault I'm where I am in life. ☀️


My father is an incredibly hardworking, creative, no-excuses Marine and businessman.

My dad didn’t finish college on the first try. He went into the Marine Corps in his early twenties, working largely with electronics and gathering lots of stories he’d later tell me as I fell asleep and marching songs he’d "sing" to me — my lullabies. Going into the military he married my mom (who he’d known since they were in the fifth grade), moved them to California, and less than a year later I was born. He was stationed in Japan for much of my first year, and was in the military for years longer. We have these old home videos my mom used to make of me as a baby and she’d send them to him in the mail — no Skype back then. He’d mail her cassettes back of him standing in the trees and talking about what was going on, and asking her questions (probably a lot about me 😊).

My dad worked a bunch of jobs between the Marine Corps and the industry he finally landed. I know he was a roofer for a while. I know he worked at a pizza place for a minute. I know he worked at in a mailing room at a shipping company called Maersk, and after a while of going up and down from the mailroom to the offices and getting to know the guys in the cubicles, he found out they’d be interviewing for more salesmen and he went, got a suit, and interviewed.

He got that job. He went to it every day. When my mom was working too, he did my hair in the morning, and dropped me off at school and picked me up, and made dinner (anyone else remember Chef Boyardee?). Throughout my elementary school years, when I said things like, “I need to stay up late to finish my homework!” Nah, man. That was not an option. My dad would smile at me and say, “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” Which I still don't even really get though! No one was saying it was an emergency, I was just saying I wanted to stay up another hour. 🙄 He also used to tell me that I was “a natural” anything. “You’re a Varner,” he’d say. “We’re natural athletes” or “artists” or “speakers” or anything I’d ever wanted to be.

I remember my dad coming home from work tired. I remember him coming home from work stressed. I remember him coming home from work excited about promotions and sometimes bonuses. Our apartment was really small. It was drafty — there was a whole room we never used, I called it "the cold room," it was so drafty. The door to my room was always coming off the sliding track. I remember he thought about changing jobs once, and I remember that well. He came home talking about becoming a state trooper, and I cried because I was afraid he’d get hurt doing a job like that.

So, that passed, my dad kept working in that office, and eventually, he went back to school to finish what he’d started before I was born. I was in middle school around that time. He’d take me with him to the library at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and I’d read a book while he studied and worked on assignments. He would sit alone at a table in the library in a quiet place, and he’d just put his head down until his work was done. His handwriting was nice, his notes neat and organized, and I don’t think I ever heard him complain about his schoolwork once.

That must be exactly how I knew what to do when I got to college. I had a favorite quiet spot in my library at the University of Richmond. Saturday mornings I’d often wake up early, eat breakfast and go sit, head down until the evening sometimes, whenever my work was done. I don't think I pulled a single all-nighter in college, and I think that's why.

My dad did change jobs eventually, but not industries. After going from the mailroom to a salesperson at Maersk, where he worked for 8 years, he was hired at Tradewinds Intl, where he worked up to the vice president seat, where he's been for over 10 years and still is now, working hard every day, commuting sometimes for hours in that fabulous New Jersey traffic.

Look at my dad and there’s no doubt, it is definitely his fault that I’m doing all that I do. It is definitely his fault that I learned what it looked like to put your head down and keep working until the job is done. It’s definitely his fault that my standards for excellence became very high at a very young age. It’s definitely his fault that I learned to do as many things today as I can do, rather than wait until tomorrow. It's his fault that I believe if I don’t finish something the first time that's okay, I can finish it later. And that everything I do, I do not just for myself, but for God, my family, and other folks too.

My mother is a compassionate and tirelessly multitasking artist and entrepreneur.

My mother went to Rutgers and studied journalism and communications. Then she married my dad, moved to California, gave birth to me, and went back to New Jersey while my dad was stationed in Japan. She wrote some articles while we stayed with my grandmother (she mentions it in the video above, which also has my family talking in the background, lol), before my dad came back and we moved into a little street in New Jersey where I spent all my elementary school years and one of my middle school ones.

When we did live on that little street, she worked at Dow Jones & Company, which — I never knew what that company was until this day when I went and looked it up, lol — I just knew as a kid that it was the place that kept my mom away until late at night after my bed time. So I’d stay awake in bed waiting to hear the back door in that tiny apartment open and hear her come into the living room — waiting to hear my dad leave the living room so I could “sleep walk” (apparently she always knew I was faking) in there with her or I’d throw a doll onto the floor of my room and climb down to lay there and pretend that I’d fallen out of the bed so she’d come in to me.

I really don’t know much about that work she did when she was out of the house but I remember the work she did on her boxy Macintosh computer when she was in the house, all the Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing and those early versions of Microsoft Word and Adobe InDesign and Illustrator that she used to write the children’s books she’d later self-publish.

I used Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, and I watched her use those Adobe programs. I watched and played and tried new things all under her encouraging sight. I remember her giving me paints one time, and letting me do my thing. I made this odd really abstract design of a man lifting his hands and the stars and the moon and she made me feel like it was just the most artistic thing in the world. She kept it, took a picture of it, decided to use it as the logo for her self-owned publishing company, icdat, as in “I Can Do All Things,” as in “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”

It may have been around this time that my sister Elan was born and my mom stopped working at Dow Jones and started working in the office at our church. She’d bring me with her there. I’d help fold the church bulletins she designed while my sister sat in a playpen in that tiny church office.

I remember my mom babysitting too, there were twin schoolmates of mine who came over after school and stayed with us, and there were our neighbors, three kids from my age to toddler-age, my mom would watch sometimes. She was and still is an entirely open-door sort of person. We’d have people coming over often, just to talk with her, and she’d always be available.

And when my mom had finished writing, illustrating, designing and publishing her first books, Theodore Walks in the Light, Theodore Goes Fishing, Theodore Gets Salty, and The Worrisome Worm, all these books for children bringing lofty Biblical concepts to a level I could understand — don’t you know my mom said to me, “Let’s make these books ourselves,” and we handmade the first copies. I remember rolling the laminate over the covers. I remember her sowing the binding. I remember the gluing and all the precise lining up we had to do to get the cover attached to the pages just right.

As our family grew and moved and went through all kinds of changes, my mother took care of everything, kids, cooking, cleaning, her books, other friends and family, other jobs. She did everything prayerfully, with the utmost faith that God would direct her steps and be with her. From my high school years through college to this very day, I talk to her constantly. She's always been behind me and beside me, my best friend and my cheerleader and my place to turn to for comfort and advice.

It is definitely my mother’s fault that I do what I do. It is her fault that I came to believe I had something of worth to offer in this world — something born of compassion and skill. It is her fault that I didn't think it was such a crazy idea to start my business — she started her own after all! It's her fault that I believed I could teach myself to do things like all the graphic design work I do. And it's her fault that I learned that I could hustle, I could multitask, I could do more than one thing for a while if I needed to, to support the dream, the work, the life I'm trying to build for myself, my family and ultimately my community.

Do you have family histories that you feel deeply connected to your own journey? I'd love to hear about it. Share something with me about that — or whatever else is on your mind! — in the comments below.

A Day in My Life: Top 5 Podcasts Editions

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Podcasts are a huge part of my life. I wake up — I usually listen to a podcast. I'm working on something — I'm often listening to a podcast. I take a break — what a great time for a podcast! Long drives? PLEASE. I have podcasts on podcasts on podcasts on deck! So now, delve into a typical day of podcast life with me. Learn, laugh, listen.


7:30 AM
aka the time my room gets too bright to continue sleeping, so I've got to get up

The Daily is my favorite way to wake up these days. Just twenty minutes covering whatever story is going to drive that day of news at the New York Times. Almost aways topics I know near to nothing about. The last episode I listened to covered the new appointee to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Extra: Apparently, the show is made in what used to be a large storage closet. How fun is that!


10:00 AM
aka working time

Radiolab is probably my favorite podcast of all time. They'll take a simple topic and unwind it into an hour of deep, story-driven learning. I love listening to this while doing design work. 

The latest episode I listened to focused on 16 words in the Constitution: "Congress shall have the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes." And how these impacted the country, from one wheat farmer, to racial segregation, to way more.


12:00 PM
aka food break time, which usually involves Netflix if I'm being honest but... if I did a podcast instead it'd be this one

This American Life was where it all began for me, hence my school-girl-like voice-crush on Ira Glass. It's all about story, all about taking big topics and hearing real people.

The best episode I've listened to lately was a two-part series called Our Town, about what actually happened when a large group of undocumented immigrants moved into Albertville, Alabama. Here's a quote that stuck with me:

"After all these years, it's hard not to notice that there's a symmetry in the lives of the old-time workers like Pat and the immigrants who arrived to work alongside them. Both groups never finished high school. Both groups used the chicken plants as a way to pull their families out of working in the fields. Both are incredibly proud that this is what let them buy a house, cars, send their kids to school, make sure they finished and didn't end up at the plants like them. And they've both seen their real wages drop over the last 20 years...

The thing is, even if Sessions had managed to block immigrants from ever coming to Albertville in the first place, or if the administration he serves figures out how to do that now, the main things in America driving down wages weren't immigrants at all."

3:00 PM
aka back to working time

Science Vs is a very approaching facts and numbers type of show. Usually about half an hour in length, their episodes have covered a ton of topics. Organic food, attachment parenting, gun control, hypnosis, birth control, and yeah — a ton more. The last one I listened to was Vitamins & Supplements - Are They Worth It?

I tend to take this show with a grain of salt. They list great resources on their website, as well as a full transcript with footnotes, so there's always more digging that can be done.

And, as the show makes clear, our scientific understanding of many things changes over time. There's a big difference between science showing something doesn't work and there not being enough science yet to show us how or why something does or doesn't work. That said, I'm not running to buy a box of multivitamins anytime soon. Cause capitalism is real. Not everything in the health industry is made with best intentions.

6:00 PM
aka could be working, could be eating, could be chilling time

Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me is just the best. Give me laughter and something new I didn't know. I'm happy. One day I'm going to call in like, "I'm Cheyenne from Richmond, VA!" and Paula Poundstone or Alonzo Bodden will say hi to me and I'll be SO HAPPY.

Did you know Britain has a Minister of Loneliness? Or that when archeologists recently reconstructed the face of a 9000 year old teenager, they concluded she looked pissed, proving teenagers never change? Now you do, thanks to Wait, Wait. Your'e welcome!

This Month in Music: January Vibes

Photo by Ilya Yakover on Unsplash

Photo by Ilya Yakover on Unsplash

I listen to music constantly. Work, eat, workout, play — these are some songs that have been traveling with me through January. What songs have been getting you through your month?