7 Titles to Start Your Reproductive Justice Journey: An Interview with a Local Feminist, Midwife, Educator, and Public Health Practitioner

Posted on May 30, 2024

by Melissa L

On June 20 at 6:30 p.m. the Library will be hosting Reproductive Justice: A Steinem Sister Collection Talking Circle at Maumee Library.

Leading up to that event, we’ll start the conversation by interviewing local feminists and reproductive healthcare workers. Our first interview is with Erin Martin, a local midwife, maternal and child public health practitioner, and sexual health educator.

What is your name and what is your background in reproductive health?

Erin Marten:

My name is Erin Marten and I am a midwife by training, a maternal and child public health practitioner, and sexual health educator. I have been living and breathing sexual and reproductive health since I read Spiritual Midwifery when I was in my mid-20s. Since then, I have been focused on developing a well-rounded and comprehensive knowledge and experience base in reproductive health, rights, and justice.

Have you always been a feminist or do you have an “aha” moment?

Erin: Definitely no aha moment, more of an evolution. I think my feminism was always there, but as a woman raised in the 80s and 90s, I am definitely as susceptible to the need to “people please” as much as anyone. When I was young, I took on philosophies that I knew would please the people who were important to me. But as I grew up, injustices became very clear to me, and though I am still working to shrug off that need to please, it is getting easier and easier every year to care less and less.

Was there a specific event that brought the issue of reproductive justice to life for you?

Erin:I am not sure if I would describe it as a moment or event that brought it to life as much as a “knowing”. Throughout nursing school and my midwifery program, I always described myself as a healthcare person with a public health heart. Community health and public health have always just made sense to me. As I started into clinical practice as a midwife/sexual and reproductive health care provider, I knew that my education was only half complete. I loved caring for patients and their families, but I just felt that something was missing. As I pursued an education in maternal and child public health and started to dive into concepts like health inequity, intersectionality, and political determinants of health, a fuller and clearer picture started to appear. Patients, clients, PEOPLE are so much more than what they are able to bring to the table at a rushed 15-minute check-up. Lives are so complex, and so are needs. Our systems reward and prioritize the privileged and punish those who aren’t and many in our community face very real harm when they enter our healthcare system. I cannot stand by anymore and let the nurturers and cornerstones of our communities risk their lives just to desire to have children or to seek out simple preventative healthcare.

Would you like to share any of your personal reproductive health history?

Erin: I have three beautiful children. My first two children were born at home in what I describe as unintentionally unassisted, planned home births. While I was working with a midwife throughout those pregnancies, I did not plan on them being born quickly and both times the midwife was still on her way when they were born! I always say, it was a good thing I had some knowledge about what to do in those moments since I was already on my way to becoming a midwife. This is one reason I am so passionate about childbirth preparation and education.

My youngest child was born to make waves. She was born at 35 weeks via urgent Cesarean for pre-eclampsia. She was also very small and breech. I had to receive magnesium therapy and be hospitalized for days. She also lived in the NICU for 11 days as she grew big enough to maintain her body temperature. I have experienced both ends of the birth spectrum, so to speak. I hope that my experiences can help me remain compassionate to what my patients are experiencing in their own lives.

How have you seen the birth worker and birthing community change during your career? What has been positive? What do you see that still needs to shift?

Erin: When I was young and optimistic about building a birth worker and birthing community in Toledo, it was tough to find others who felt the same. The community was small and the work was a bit niche. It was also really hard to make a living doing birth work, particularly as a doula. The hours were long, you had to be willing to sacrifice your personal time for being on call, and there wasn’t a sense that doulas should ask for what they felt they were worth. Doulas love big and I can’t count how many times I have heard of doulas working for free because they are so dedicated to their clients.

Currently, the birth worker community is exploding in Toledo. We have amazing organizations like The Doula Xperience, a Black woman-led business that trains and provides doulas for clients and ensures that the doulas are paid for their services. The feeling around community midwifery and birth work is changing too. In response to skyrocketing maternal mortality rates women, and specifically Black women and women of color, are looking to community care for their pregnancy experiences. We need to recognize that all pregnant people deserve to make the choice that they think is best for them and their families and that Black women are scared to go into the hospital. Building a vibrant and diverse birth work community in Toledo will always be a priority of mine. We have a long way to go, though.

Later this year, Ohio Medicaid will begin to cover doula services for doulas who become registered with the Ohio Board of Nursing. This is good…and not so good. Many doulas feel that the restrictions put into place are too stringent, and the reimbursement rates inadequate. Many feel that this policy goes a ways, but not far enough. Some barriers will be removed for patients, but more will be put in place for doulas. I would like to see some more organizations like The Doula Xperience and Neighborhood Health Association, who utilize grant funding to adequately compensate doulas and increase access for patients.

Lastly, I will say that from the healthcare delivery perspective, we need more midwives, specifically Black midwives, and more supportive physicians to collaborate with us. The other large Ohio cities all have supported and thriving midwife communities where midwives practice in birthing centers, not just hospitals, and are serving their communities. These models (midwifery and doula care) are evidence-based to improve birth outcomes, particularly for medically marginalized communities. While we are working on growing a doula presence here, I would love to see more OB/GYNs come out as supportive of these models and to step out of their comfort zone to work WITH us.

Have you ever had to speak out against a witnessed reproductive health injustice?

Erin: Yes. Definitely.

But I think it is also important for me to say that I have also certainly committed reproductive health injustices. None of us are free of bias, and when I think back on my career, I cringe at things I have said to patients, things I have suggested or recommended, and ways in which I have dismissed patients’ reports or complaints. As I continue to learn and continue to be committed to providing access to compassionate care, I will always remember that my journey has been long, but it has led me here, to a place where I can help other providers to come to that place of compassion.

How does the issue of reproductive justice impact the LGBTQIA community and how should we be supporting this community?

Erin: The LGBTQIA community is very heavily impacted by reproductive injustice and by healthcare discrimination in general. LGBTQIA individuals are much less likely to access healthcare for fear of discrimination by healthcare providers. These individuals are also more likely to be treated for issues that they did not present for, like STI testing, simply based on their gender or sexual orientation or to be subject to exams that are not medically warranted due to provider curiosity. The stories I have heard are terrifying and shameful.

In the LGBTQIA community, reproductive injustices happen outside of healthcare as well, when same-sex couples wanting to conceive are discriminated against by certain agencies and when adoptions are limited based on family structure. Children of queer couples also experience discrimination and unfair treatment by other adults in their lives such as teachers and school staff.

The greater community can support the LGBTQIA community by being leaders in compassionate treatment of others. Healthcare providers can wear pronoun pins and use them in the exam room. Practices can show that they are supportive and safe by having queer patients and families represented on their pamphlets and in the art in their offices. The NW Ohio LGBTQ Coalition can provide evaluations and training for area healthcare providers to participate in to become a safe and affirming practice. Providing chaperoning services to friends and family who may be nervous to see a healthcare provider is also one way that individuals are standing up to protect others.

What do you hope to see change in the future in regard to the discussion of reproductive health?

Erin: I would like to see the conversation shift towards a greater understanding and consideration of the experience of the patients, the patient’s right to choose where they access their care and with whom, and why they are scared to enter the health care system. We need to remove the ego from providing care for others. I would like to see midwives and doulas better supported and compensated. And I would like to impress upon people that, in this movement of reproductive justice, no one is free until we are all free, and Black women have been leading this movement since before it began. If you are not leading, get out of the way.

Are there any books you would suggest to those looking to learn more about reproducive justice and feminism?


Book Jacket: Reproductive Justice

reproductive justice by Loretta Ross

This is my go-to for when folks are looking to get started in the field of reproductive justice. This book gives an excellent background of how and why the movement was begun by Black feminists and activists over the last half century or more, and why Black women should be preserved as the leaders.

Book Jacket: Medical Bondage

medical bondage by Deirdre Cooper Owens

This is a thorough- and graphic- account of the history of gynecology in the United States and how the bodies of Black enslaved women were used and horrifically abused to develop techniques that are still used in modern medicine. For a deeper dive, visit www.anarchalucybetsey.org

Book Jacket: Hood Feminism

hood feminism by Mikki Kendall

In this book, the author spells out chapter y chapter, essay by essay, how modern feminism continues to exclude the issues experienced by women and girls of color. She explains how issues of poverty, food insecurity, housing insecurity, safe neighborhoods, and gun violence can be considered women’s issues, and thus reproductive justice issues as well.

Book Jacket: Killing the Black Body

killing the black body by Dorothy E. Roberts

For those looking for a deeper dive after reading Reproductive Justice: An Introduction, this book covers everything from the commodification of Black enslaved women to Margaret Sanger, eugenics, and forced sterilization.

Book Jacket: New Handbook for A Post-Roe America

new handbook for a post-roe america by Robin Marty

This is a new iteration of Robin Marty’s previous handbook, modified to address the current state of abortion in the US (as of 2021). Very easy to read and with clear and actionable items, this book is a must-read for anyone who believes in the right to abortion.

Book Jacket: Policing the Womb

policing the womb by Michele Goodwin

Attorney Michele Goodwin leads this conversation towards legislation, issues of incarceration and pregnancy, and how the system continues to target birthing people, and in particular, people of color and low income families.

Book Jacket: Birthing Liberation

birthing liberation by Sabia Wade

This book, written by a doula, explores the current state of maternal health and mortality rates in the US. An argument for collective liberation, she offers four guiding principles to lead us there.

Find your next great read in the Steinem Sisters Collection, located in the Fact and Fiction department of Main Library.

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