For those of you local to the NYC birth community you definitely know who Tanya Wills is, and for those who aren’t, well, you Wills now (sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves). She is a real force with just about the entire alphabet after her name: MSN, LM, CNM, WHNP-BC, IBCLC. She’s an educator and Doula turned Certified Nurse Midwife turned Homebirth Midwife and Lactation Consultant. And is known to all as someone who gets shit done (and aces whatever she does). And while Tanya is more so in the 'conception phase' of birthing whatever comes next for her, it was very invigorating to meet with a woman who refuses to be small and who believes, that just as birth is BIG, so will be whatever comes next for her.
So, here’s Tanya on finding her voice and how we can support birthing women to do the same.
HOW WERE YOU BORN?
TW- I actually don’t know a lot about how I was born. I asked my mother about her births when I became pregnant. She said 'Oh! Just listen to your doctor and you will be fine.' I was born three weeks early I’m told. My mother claims that she had no drugs when she had all of us but she did say that they put a mask on her face and she doesn’t know what that was. I’m like, 'Thanks Mom! Did they numb you? Did they do something?' She’s like, 'Nothing, nothing... except for the mask!'
WHAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE OF ASKING ABOUT YOUR BIRTH LIKE?
TW- I think my mom had her kids and never thought about her births ever again. It was because of the process of having my son that I became interested in childbirth, a topic I knew nothing about, and couldn’t help wondering, 'How this is happening!?' And I think the answers are too big for us.
BB- That was part of the impetus to start Brilliant Bodies and this interview series - to start reaching people before they are pregnant, to start connecting people to birth before it happens to them so that they can deeply trust their bodies and their selves and become active participants.
What are your thoughts on reaching women sooner?
TW- I’m asked this all the time and I think the answer is that we have to get them as girls and address how they view themselves and their bodies and what their bodies can do, probably will do. Something like 88% of women are going to have babies. This is not alternative stuff. It doesn't get more mainstream than this! What is happening during births now is a kind of oppression, oppression because we don't know any better. There is no good reason why no one in the system can't help women breastfeed. There is no good reason that people are separated after having their babies... why partners can’t stay in the hospital overnight without paying $900. There is no good reason why women can’t hold their babies after having a c-section. I assure you, I’ve been in that room. There is NO good reason - she’s awake during the surgery, don’t tell me there is a good reason she can’t hold her baby! Women are not cupcakes - tell them the truth!
This is a blanketed statement, and there are definitely hospitals with better practices, but generally speaking, what is happening now is that hospitals are controlling births - even if there's no IV, there’s some unnecessary intervention that happens because they feel they have to do something. How many times have I heard students tell me they couldn't push effectively? One student told me once she felt like she was a dancer and her doctor the choreographer and she couldn't figure out the moves.
how can we empower these women?
TW- The thing is, babies are SO GOOD at being born, and we are SO GOOD at birthing them. So what happens when we start honoring the experience of what she is doing which is so ordinary and so extraordinary at the same time? This life force is SO POWERFUL. What happens when we just allow ourselves to work with it if we need to and otherwise just stay out of the way? What happens when we stop measuring outcomes by if everyone came out alive?
Women tell me all the time 'I was changed [from my birth experience].' I personally didn't have a home birth because I was looking to have a spiritual, transformative, beautiful, peaceful experience… but I was changed. I sat with my baby and was like 'Whoaaa! That was so much bigger than I thought it would be.' There is this wall that you get to, this self-doubt. I believed with every pore of my being that this was impossible.
So what happens when we say, 'She will find her way' in our own minds?
BB- She will find her way!
NOW TELL US ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE CURRENTLY BIRTHING?
TW- For me right now in terms of what’s next, I feel I am standing at a cliff. What’s next for me is not something I envisioned before and that is so big, SO HUGE. I have my hand in a lot of things which is great. I thought that when I graduated from midwifery school that I would be there but now I know there’s no there. I graduated and I thought that things would get smaller and fall away and become sane. And that is not what has happened. And I don’t feel willing to get smaller right now. There is a part of me, as a mother, a wife and a friend where I feel pressure to get smaller as far as my work goes. But every other sense that I have is to get bigger and that is scary because I don’t know what that is. I am very interested in having the largest amount of influence that I possibly can. That’s what I feel I am here for - to help people. My work as an activist is the way that I live now.
I don’t know if I am going to be able to lower the overall c-section rate but where do I lower it? On the front lines - with my own hands. And I can help lower the rate by encouraging people to have their babies with folks that have low c-section rates, and help those practices be so busy that the change is totally consumer driven. I feel part of what I am called to do is to ignite the consumer to ask for what is right. It’s going to be some bigger influence to get people to hear this issue, I’m just not sure what the portal will be just yet.
IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU’VE FOUND YOUR VOICE. WHAT HAS THE LABOR OF GETTING TO THIS POINT BEEN LIKE?
TW- I’ve been told that I take up too much space. I feel OK about that now, but in my first year as a doula I didn’t. I felt I wasn’t playing the role as this person that has more experience than me thinks I should. And that was challenging for me. The good news is that I had some terrific mentors that told me, 'They are afraid of that...This is about you and if you’re taking up space you must have something to say.' Stepping into that is BIG.
TW- Where are we right now? Ina May is retired, we have her book - half of her book is totally dated and doesn’t speak to what’s happening in the hospital. And the other half of her book is about people having their babies on The Farm, which I personally did not identify with as a pregnant New Yorker whose favorite food is Doritos.
So where are we? I am interested in knowing who is speaking to pregnant families right now - it’s kind of no one!
BB- Other than friends and family sharing scary stories right when you’re about to hit your due date, of course.
TW- Right. So what is the change that needs to be made and how can it be made boldly? And I don’t think it’s going to be made in the political organizations. It’s going to have to be a personality who moves this forward and it is going to have to be with consumers asking for what they want, and specifically with consumers asking for what they want for things that there is no reason we don’t have. Somebody approachable has to talk to them and be available for them. Someone who’s feet are on the ground. I feel a lot of the birth visionaries that are out there have excellent messages that have carried us all and have paved the way, but I think that we’re ready for somebody regular. We’re ready to talk about birth and labor as it is. I don’t think it needs to be a special place in Tennese or an orgasm. It can be something regular. And what is wrong with that?
BB- Boom. So exciting!
ANY #BRILLIANTBITS YOU WANT TO SHARE?
TW- Your body is going to birth the baby, it's your mind that will not go along for the ride, it's your mind what will try to screw you every time.