An interview with Maddie Johnson, TTS Marketing & Recruiting Coordinator
What motivated you to become a birth doula?
Throughout high school and college, I knew that I wanted to work with women and girls in some capacity. In college, I studied maternal health and sociology with a minor in Spanish – but I had no idea how these tools would manifest into a career. Towards the end of my college education at Quest University in Canada, I was exposed to the idea of natural birth and midwifery as a professional career. I had the privilege of meeting midwives and doulas during my time living in Canada and this line of work made me more excited than any potential career I had ever been exposed to.
The idea of being a feminist with my hands was thrilling and intriguing.
For my thesis at Quest, I was deep in the potential career of social work, also inspired by my TTS semester. I conducted an 18 month research project in collaboration with a local Women’s Center, where I studied access to social and health care services for survivors of domestic violence. I wrote a book called “Mapping the Margins”, which is a culmination of these women’s stories and suggested improvements for social services. Throughout this project, I found myself most interested in the stories of how Mothers and their children were able to survive given such adverse circumstances (i.e. sex work, domestic abuse, homelessness, unemployment, and a lack of access to healthcare and legal services). Some women shared their birth stories with me and their relationship to their children– commonly being the “thread” and the bind that held their lives together despite the despair and hardship surrounding them.
This project taught me two things– 1) I did not want to become a social worker, and 2) I wanted to be a larger part of empowering women from the very beginning of their journeys as Mothers– the foundation of a lifetime of growth and self-understanding. Shortly after graduating from Quest, I participated in my first Birth Doula training through an amazing company called DONA (Doulas of North America).
After completing all my coursework, I founded my doula business called Adelita Doula, which means “woman warrior” in Spanish. I work predominantly with Mexican-American families and offer Spanish birth translation, body work, yoga, and extensive birth and postpartum doula services. I love my job, however, being a doula is not the end game. I hope to eventually become a CNM (certified nurse midwife) and WHNP (women’s health nurse practitioner) and serve as a primary care physician for women and families throughout the entire pregnancy and birth process!
What do most folks not know about the work of a doula?
Oh my goodness. Where to begin?! Due to the fact that we live in a world saturated in patriarchy, it is of no coincidence that there is a major lack of education and empowerment driven care for women throughout reproductive health experiences (this includes abortion, birth, sexual assault response, birth control, family planning, and much more). I wholeheartedly believe that doulas are critical in the improvement of reproductive experiences. There are a number of questions that I frequently get asked about doula and birth work, so I will list them here. I also encourage you (if you are interested) to visit my FAQ section on my website which can be found at adelitadoula.com.
Things most people don’t know about doulas:
- Doulas support, educate, inform, and provide assistance to birthing people and families throughout pregnancy, birth and postpartum. Doulas are advocates, teachers, mentors, and birth professionals trained to support families and reduce cycles of traumatic birth experiences.
- Doulas and midwives are not interchangeable, and they are drastically different roles within the birth worker world. Doulas primarily work from the waist up and support birth givers both emotionally and physically, however, they are not doctors or primary care givers. They are birth partners. Midwives, rather, completely replace the role of an OB or primary care doctor and work as natural birthing doctors for families who desire either a homebirth, a birth center birth, or a hospital birth in the case of a CNM (certified nurse midwife). Many families will choose to have both a doula and a midwife present at their birth. Midwives work primarily from the waist down; ensuring and monitoring the health and labor process of the birth giver and baby.
- Doulas do not replace the role of a partner (Dad, Husband, Wife, Mom, Romantic Partner, Life Partner, etc.), rather, doulas work to educate both the birthing person and the partner to best support the birth giver, providing suggestions for comfort measures, massage techniques, emotional strength building, resources, and advocacy.
What does feminism mean to you?
This is a great question and one that I try to redefine on an annual basis.
Feminism, to me, means a myriad of actions, willingness to learn new things, equality driven politics, health care systems, education systems, and much more. When I was younger, feminism simply meant the equality of men and women. However, after years of interrogating my privilege as a white, cis woman in the world and learning about expanded versions of feminism, this word means so much more than the equality of men and women.
Today, feminism, to me, above all else, is an intersectional practice amongst humans to actively include and listen to BIPOC and LGBTQIA communities, to interrogate each of our own relationships to privilege and act upon these identity-based realities, to critically engage with each of our communities through active listening, gate-opening, love, unity, emancipation, critical awareness, and true efforts towards shifting a system that continues to operate in a white supremacist, male-centric and heteronormative reality.
Feminism is NOT about man-hating, stereotypical anger and women rising above to conquer all. No. Feminism is about humans doing the work to rebuild a system focused in more equal opportunity, equal access, equal circumstances and love. Right now, more than ever, humans need to see each other, need to love their neighbors, need to listen to each other.
Feminism, to me, is the consistent act of bettering the lives of all humans– beginning with the overwhelming amount of marginalized people fighting for a better reality.
What has 2020 taught you?
This is also a wonderfully difficult question.
For the past few years, I have not stopped moving. I have been working as a semester instructor and outdoor educator, a doula, and a river guide across 5 states and 7 countries. Since I graduated from college, I have not been forced to slow down and appreciate my life, my country, and my people for all that they are.
2020 has taught me to 1) slow down, 2) listen, 3) to be patient, 4) to not be too attached to expectations, because things can change very quickly, 5) that I, as a white woman, still have so much work to do to interrogate and understand my own privilege in this world, 6) that the United States has more healing to do than I ever thought it would, 8) time with family is critical, valuable and worthy, 7) that I wholeheartedly want to be a birth worker and empower women throughout their reproductive experiences, 8) that collective efforts to change require unity, openness, and a willingness to be wrong.
What is something you’re looking forward to in 2021?
2021, a New Year! I love the turn of the calendar year. It reminds me that life is short, that time is precious, and that anything is possible. In 2021, I am looking forward to growing my doula business, busting out prerequisites for Midwifery school, and continuing to build community in my new home in Bend, Oregon.
How has your TTS semester influenced you?
TTS influenced me from a young age; my passion for being a feminine force and working with women did not exist until I was deep in the Andes surrounded by powerful women and girls.
TTS has been the foundation of all my work, all my passion, and all my drive. I am confident that I wouldn’t be where I am without my TTS semester. My experience with TTS gave me the strength and confidence to do what I wanted with my life, to create my reality, and to travel throughout the world as a curious and critical thinker. Since my Traveling School semester I have self-funded my travel to 16 different countries, lived abroad for 5 of the past 8 years, pursued a degree inspired by my semester, pursued a University inspired by my experiential education with TTS, and started a female-lead business.
Needless To Say, TTS set the stage for a lifetime of adventure, feminist practices, working with women, education, teaching, and values rooted in international engagement, love, curiosity, and play.
Finish the sentence “I believe in…”
I love this question for so many reasons. The first being that this was a memorable essay prompt on my Traveling School semester.
During my semester in South America, I wrote a response to this prompt titled “this I believe in optimism.” I wrote this because it was my first assignment when I returned to my semester after leaving the program due to a broken jaw injury (the worst, right?!). I broke my jaw the second week of my semester after fundraising my entire tuition and wanting this semester more than anything in the world as a 15 year old girl.
When I returned three weeks later, I believed in optimism.
I believed that positivity and believing in my healing process is what brought me back to my family in South America. Now, I still believe in optimism. However, if I had to re-answer this question…my response would be “I believe in community.”
Community drives life. Humans need each other in order to thrive, grow, and succeed. From the perspective of a birth worker, a river guide, and a teacher — my entire world is community. I believe that we are who we are because of the people we surround ourselves with and that community is critical to human happiness.
What is one thing you try to do every day?
Everyday, I commit to time outside.
Depending on the season this may be mountain biking, hiking, rafting, skiing, or simply walking around the neighborhood. I commit to fresh air which brings me clarity, ease, and joy…everyday!
Favorite TTS memory?
A moment that I have returned to for the past 10 years…this memory is hard to choose from, I have so many favorites from my semester! However, the first that comes to mind is a moment that I can close my eyes and imagine myself in, it only takes seconds to take myself back! During my semester, we did a week-long trip in the Galapagos Islands. I vividly remember sleeping on the deck of the boat with my girls Sarah, Payton and Lucy. In the night, we would sail from island to island. Snoozing on a boat under the illuminated starry sky…our boat captain started screaming “delfin, delfin, delfin!”, we all ran to the bow of the boat and low and behold there were 3 dolphins swimming in unison with the bow of the boat. These magical creatures were glowing with bioluminescence and I promise you that this was THE most magnificent natural sight I have ever witnessed. We held each other at the front of the boat while the captain continued to drive and we cried, laughed, and lightly touched the dolphin’s fins while they swam with us for at least fifteen minutes. THIS remains one of the most magical moments of my life and my favorite TTS memory.
What advice do you have for a prospective TTS student? Or a current high schooler?
I try to convince most girls in my life to do a TTS semester and I tell them to just DO IT. There is undoubtedly no better way to spend your high school years than on a TTS semester.
Regardless of whether or not your family has the funds, fundraising is possible and worth every single penny. I would recommend a TTS semester to any girl who is bored, uninspired, or looking for an adventure of a lifetime. This semester is more than a trip. It will change the fabric of you; you will come home with an entirely new set of values, global perspectives, lifelong girlfriends, lifelong mentors, critical thinking skills, a love for playing outside, experience in a new language, and a burning itch to continue to travel the world. I believe in the mission of TTS and the teachers, board, and office staff remain some of my closest friends and mentors. I promise you if you do a TTS semester, you will come home with confidence, love for this complicated world, and a self and global understanding that you cannot get with any other program. My advice is to GO, to indulge, to be present, to leave your phone behind, to get to know your teachers, and to put as much into your classes and the programming as you possibly can…it goes by fast.
Sending love to all of you present and future Adelitas!