Representation

Birth Education That Sees and Celebrates Every Parent

Photos provided by Cheyenne Varner

Photos provided by Cheyenne Varner

When it came down to it, I just couldn’t stand the fact that it would take more than five minutes of googling to find a beautiful image of a brown-skinned pregnant person on a good-looking birth education flyer/poster/print-out/anything. And it didn’t just take five minutes — long after five minutes had passed, I gave up on the search. I frowned. Fumed a little. Sat back. And then I started to sketch. Before I tell you about The Educated Birth, let me tell you a little more about me.

 

I started my Doula journey in early 2016. For three years I had been working for a nonprofit I loved (and still do). I’d spent all that time and more as one of the few people of color working at this beautiful, community-driven, visionary nonprofit that mostly served the young Black people of this mostly Black (and quickly gentrifying) neighborhood in Richmond, VA. I had spent all these years studying the impact that racism and economic injustice — on both personal and structural levels — had had on my city, the young people we worked with, and the work we did day to day. 

 

I was struggling to figure out where my creativity fit in the world of meaningful work that I wanted to contribute to. I was struggling to balance my desire to do hands-on educational work (that let me actually get to know the kids we worked with) with all the administrative work I needed to do. I was struggling to figure out exactly where/how I fit as a young light-skin Black woman at this mostly white organization. My challenges, my privileges, what I could say, what I couldn’t, how I could push, how pushing pushed me back. I wanted to use my creativity. I wanted to have a meaningful, caring, educational role in peoples’ lives (like others had had in mine). I wanted a break from spaces dominated by White/American culture — however well-intentioned and sincere this place was —I was still struggling, still just tired. Tired of being the “only one” or “one of the few left.”

 

When I entered the birth world, I saw a lot of the same things that disappointed me when I began my nonprofit communications and marketing role. The first thing that struck me was that Black people seemed mostly invisible, except in the conversation of how terrible it was to be a Black woman birthing. The truth is the truth. To say that yes, this is the challenge, this is the obstacle, this is the problem we have to deal with — that’s one thing. And an important, necessary thing. But the truth is always larger than one story. When all you’re ever hearing about a group of people is the problem(s) they have — “problem” is their story.

 

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When I started creating info graphics, I was just thinking, I want the people I work with to have images that reflect them, and are beautiful, and are helpful. But I hope now for much more. My vision is to produce work that tells the other stories. The story, “I am here.” The story, “I am beautiful.” The story, “I am capable.” The story, “I have power.” The story, “I know.” This is the point of The Educated Birth. The Educated Birth is a collection of childbirth education materials I’ve made to equip parents for well-informed and empowering birth by equipping birth educators and doulas with them. I really don’t want parents having to purchase these materials because I think they have to spend enough when preparing for a child. I just want them to have access to the education. And I really don’t want education to be so difficult to find.

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The way I look at it, education gives people the power they may not know they have yet. If you don’t know what you can say “no” to, especially in a setting like a hospital, especially in a vulnerable moment like labor — how’re you going to say “no”? If you don’t know what to expect, how’re you going to know what’s going to help? For a pregnant person, looking for info about birth shouldn’t feel like a scavenger hunt! It should just be there! Not hidden away in huge paragraphs of long, hard-to-read books. Easy to access. Easy to read. Enjoyable even! And now, because of so many beautiful people who have supported and educated me (shout out to all my Etsy and Instagram peeps) I’m not just focused on Black women anymore. I don’t want anyone to feel like the birth world doesn’t see them, doesn’t respect them, doesn’t think they’re “[anything] enough” to be a part of their intended audience.

 

So I just work to be really thoughtful — to stay intentional about inclusive language, multi-cultural presence, showing the full spectrum of gender and sexuality, and making this available in different languages. The different languages part I have barely begun to tackle yet. But it’s coming, just wait.

 

So, yes, that’s the story. My story and The Educated Birth’s story. It is honestly my favorite thing to work on and I’m so so grateful.

 

 

Cheyenne Varner is a doula, designer, photographer, and writer in Richmond, Virginia.    Born in California, raised in New Jersey, and transplanted to coastal Virginia in the midst of high school, Cheyenne didn't hit the Richmond scene until 2009, to attend the University of Richmond. There, she created the interdisciplinary major Educational Activism in the Arts — a mix of courses in Sociology, Rhetoric and Communications, Education, and Theater — and minored in Creative Writing.    Today,  Cheyenne  is a part-time freelancer, part-time nanny, and a professional birth doula, trained by  toLabor . In her free time, she runs an online shop,  The Educated Birth . Her passion for all things creative leads her to pursue projects of the design, photography, and writing variety.    Whether solo, or collaboratively, Cheyenne seeks to pursue all of her work with excellence, authenticity, and grace. Follow her on Instagram  @cheyvarner

Cheyenne Varner is a doula, designer, photographer, and writer in Richmond, Virginia.

Born in California, raised in New Jersey, and transplanted to coastal Virginia in the midst of high school, Cheyenne didn't hit the Richmond scene until 2009, to attend the University of Richmond. There, she created the interdisciplinary major Educational Activism in the Arts — a mix of courses in Sociology, Rhetoric and Communications, Education, and Theater — and minored in Creative Writing.

Today, Cheyenne is a part-time freelancer, part-time nanny, and a professional birth doula, trained by toLabor. In her free time, she runs an online shop, The Educated Birth. Her passion for all things creative leads her to pursue projects of the design, photography, and writing variety.

Whether solo, or collaboratively, Cheyenne seeks to pursue all of her work with excellence, authenticity, and grace. Follow her on Instagram @cheyvarner