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Health Equity

Expert Q&A: Sabia Wade on Reproductive Justice & Birthing Her First Book

Dec 20, 2022Sarah duRivage-Jacobs3 MIN
A portrait of Sabia Wade, aka The Black Doula, Origin Advisor and author of a new book on Reproductive Justice

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Origin advisor Sabia Wade (she/they) is a Black, queer, and nonbinary author, full-spectrum doula, educator, somatic healer, and the founder of Birthing Advocacy Doula Trainings and Loads of Pride — two organizations that center BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ folks.

Sabia’s first book, “Birthing Liberation: How Reproductive Justice Can Set Us Free,” is coming to bookstores in March 2023 and is available for preorder right now. In advance of their book launch, Sabia spoke with Origin about the meaning of birthing liberation, how we can all liberate ourselves through trauma healing, and why she’s a self-proclaimed “birth neoterist” (with a dedicated Substack for neoteristic musings).

What was your goal when you set out to write “Birthing Liberation”? Did your goals or objectives change at all throughout the process?

My initial thoughts about the book were, obviously, to talk about reproductive justice, the disparities, and things going on in the world. But my biggest thing was, how do I connect reproductive justice to a person? Where it's not just an understanding of these outer things that are going on, but also how does this connect to me? 

So that's why I really did a lot of conversation around trauma and where that comes from, and how we embody our trauma. Not just in the ways that we may have panic attacks and anxiety, but also in the ways that we think. Maybe I do have racist thoughts. Maybe I do have a hard time understanding what liberation is for other people. But how can I connect with my personal experience so that I can free myself and therefore free other people? Because it's connected. So it hasn't really changed over time. 

One of the most interesting things that happened in the process was, of course, the overturning of Roe and a lot of abortion conversation. I remember my editors sent me an email asking if I needed to change any of the content in my book. I was like, actually, I don't. It was made for just this. But I see now that the impact is going to be different with what the world is now versus when I started.

What does a world with collective birthing liberation look like to you?

When I think about collective liberation, specific to birthing people, that looks like a world where people have what they need — not only so they can sustain themselves, but so they can thrive. 

An example from the book: I talked about a particular Black birthing person who was going through the system and died, a reality that is all too common. This is the current world we live in. So, collective liberation for that example can look like a future where she doesn't die — and where her family is educated and supported, mom’s getting the healing that she needs from her traumatic experiences, and the partner is getting support that he needs as a Black man. All these things are happening. 

How can I connect with my personal experience so that I can free myself and therefore free other people? Because it's connected.

But I think the bigger picture is that everything starts at birth. Reproductive justice is, of course, the right to have or to not have a baby. But it's also the water that you drink. It's also the employment that you have. It's also the nutrition in your space. It's all these things that really embody a person — a holistic experience. 

When I think about collective liberation, I think about that holistic experience of wellness as being available to everyone. It doesn't mean that everyone's going to have the same exact ideas. There also has to be space for disagreement and for nuance. I'm not talking about a perfect utopia because, come on, let's be realistic. But can there be space for everyone's wholeness and for everyone's safety? I think there can be. 

What role does collective birthing liberation play in overall liberation and equity?

It’s the center of it. One of the things that I think we all struggle with, especially in a world that is so divided, is that, when we're talking about equity, we sometimes as humans think of it for ourselves, the people that we care for, and the people that are in alignment with us. But, really, I think the center of all those things is not only to want that for yourself, your family — and for the people that don't agree with you, even for the people who don't fly with you, who don't align with you. 

I think in order for people to understand liberation, to understand freedom, they have to experience it themselves. If we have this understanding that people that are living in hate, they're not free. It may look like they're free sometimes, because it's easy to be like, oh, this person has this much money. This person has this privilege and that privilege. And that's true, right? But they're imprisoned by their own mind and their own thoughts. So, in order for us to get to this equity — to whatever we want to call it — it has to center in collective liberation for everyone. Across the board.

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You've talked a lot about the role and impact of trauma. Can you talk about how trauma healing and trauma work, like the somatic bodywork that you do, fit into this idea of collective birthing liberation?

When I first started somatic work, it was with Kimberly Ann Johnson. I was kind of like, what is this? What are people talking about? I think that was because for myself, visually, I just saw a lot of white people doing it. I didn't see people like myself doing it. So, I was like, is this for me? But after some learning and exposure to other people, I learned this is for me — and it's for everybody. One of the things that has been really impactful to me and my trauma healing process, which is ongoing, is that it doesn't require anything but you.

So many things are inaccessible. They just are, right? We can say go to therapy, but therapy is not always accessible. Go do EMDR, go do Reiki, go do whatever. All those things are great — I would definitely practice those things — but they’re not always accessible. So, the part for me that is so important about somatic healing is that it's something that you can do on your own. And it's something that you have access to. No matter where you are, no matter what's going on — you always have access to you. That was one of the first lessons: I always have access to me.

As a Black, queer, nonbinary woman in this world, it doesn't always feel like I have access to myself. Somatic healing is just that reminder of, you know what, I'm just going to sit here for a second. I'm going to check in with myself. I'm going to pay attention to how I feel. I'm going to move my body. There’s something about that that's very empowering.

I think that part of trauma healing is knowing that you have access to you and are in control of you — and that’s what somatic healing does for me. It reminds me that I belong to me — not to the people that surround me, not to my family members, not to this world, not to anybody. I belong to me. Somatic healing is a place to start, a place to always lean back into, and a place to get you where you’re going. 

You said earlier that one of the steps in collective liberation is freeing yourself and doing the work with yourself. Is that where this idea of reflecting and working on your own trauma allows you to free up enough to, you know, be an active participant? 

One of the things that's been so impactful in my journey of writing this is going through my own stuff. When people think about reproductive justice or equity, they think of it as this overwhelming journey to get to this liberated space — and the liberated space is over there. We'll know if it's coming in 20, 50, 100 years. Sometimes we feel like we get to a freer place, and then things like Roe happen and it pushes us back. So, one thing that is essential to me, and I hope that people can pick this up in the book, is you can always be in a freer place if you choose to be. 

You can always be in a freer place if you choose to be.

We have to ask ourselves, how do I get to a freer place every day? That's a choice that we make, even if that means that the freer place is you deciding, I've been sitting for a while at this desk, I'm going to take a walk around for myself. That is a freer place. That is the aim for me and hopefully for others.

What I'm hearing is that confronting the different types of darkness in your own experience, in your own history, allows us to be in this space that promotes liberation and freedom.

Yeah. Literally, right now, there’s pressure. I'm Black. I'm now an author, which is a very new experience for me. This is actually the first official interview about my book and things like that. But in that, although there's freedom in me being my own boss, there's still not freedom in the pressures that are on me because I am my own boss. And I'm Black and I'm a woman — that comes with its own thing, right? But there are very specific things that I do in order to keep myself in a more free place where I'm enjoying stuff. And if I feel in my body that I'm not okay, I'll cancel this whole thing, you know. So it's keeping myself in that space. It’s about having that liberation practice that centers your wholeness — your physical body, your mind, what you want your future to look like.

But we have to constantly be doing that work in order to be able to free the next person. We're all connected. If you're feeling chained and shackled, whatever you’ve got going on, it's going to convert over to me. So I have to not only take care of myself, but I have to also welcome you into your liberation — even if that means that maybe some of your thoughts and things are not in alignment with mine. 

I think that's the work. It’s not going to be perfect because it’s not a perfect thing — it’s a practice. But the more we're able to do that, the more we're able to create more unity, more openness, and more freedom of our own minds.

What's next for you? Are there any other books that are brewing inside of you? Any expansions to BADT? 

One of the things that has been a blessing about this book is that I really wanted to lay out the foundation of my brain and how I think about things. And with that, it has also allowed me to have so much more space to share exactly what I'm talking about, like building the future. One of my labels that I identify myself as is a birth neoterist. A neoterist is someone who is into novelty and innovation. I'm a doula, obviously — I work on reproductive justice, all that stuff — but how do I build the future? And how do I build a mission and a directive for people to heal, know their history, do work sustainably, but also build the future?

Building the future may not be traditional. As a doula, you learn where babies come from, what we should do about this, and what to do about that — all that information is great. But when I felt like I really unlocked my potential — and I maybe haven't even unlocked that just yet — it was when I started to invest my time and energy into other spaces that weren't correlated with what I do. 

If you're feeling chained and shackled … it's going to convert over to me. So I have to not only take care of myself, but I have to also welcome you into your liberation.

When I started to move it to an internship at my financial advisor’s, I saw what people were doing with money and how they were doing it. I started talking to people who had different businesses that are not related to the work that I do and heard about what they've learned, what their challenges are, advice that they give, whatever the case is. Talking to people who don’t look like me.

When I started to get those perspectives — where I thought, what would me and this person have to talk about? — it unlocked for me. I was like, oh, okay, this is what I can bring back to my community. This is something that will impact the future of birth. This is what reproductive justice is, right? 

So for me, right now, building on birth neoterism is building on my knowledge and building on certain companies like my trucking company, Loads of Pride. It’s focused on truck drivers, obviously, but BIPOC, queer, and trans folks — and getting them employment at a place that actually cares about them. So that’s a lot. I’m always doing a lot.

I'm still mad about it because when I wrote this book, I told my editors, 50,000, 60,000 words in, I was like, I'm never doing this again — why did y’all let me do this? Because it's such a process to write a book. And then, two or three months later, I was like, okay, I know what my second book is going to be about. So, that’s what’s next — a whole bunch. It won’t always make sense to everybody, but I promise you it will make sense in the end.

Is there anything else, before we wrap up, that you want to communicate about the book or say to the Origin audience?

The most important thing that I will say is this book is truly for everyone. When I first started writing it, I was very clear that the primary audience wasn’t parents. There are a lot of books out there for parents — wonderful books. This book is not for them because it is not their responsibility to take care of themselves properly when they’re supposed to be getting cared for. The responsibility doesn’t lie on them, especially Black and Indigenous folks, to not die.

It was important for me to make a book for people who are in the realm of caring for birthing people because we're touching these people all the time — whether we’re the therapist, whether we're the doula, whether we're the nurse, whether we're the doctor, whatever it is. Our ability or inability to care for ourselves, and make sure that we're good, impacts them. And that could be life or death. Literally. So this book is for us. Of course, parents can read it — have your time, whatever you want to do. But this book is for us so that we can change the ways and the things that we do to make sure that we're impacting birthing people in a positive way.

Preorder “Birthing Liberation” today on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org, Chicago Review Press, Google Play, or IPG Books.

Sarah DuRivage-Jacobs
Sarah duRivage-Jacobs

Sarah duRivage-Jacobs is a reproductive health copywriter, editor, content strategist, and educator.

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