Interview: Breaking Down Barriers to Birth
I had a rock talk with Rowan TwoSisters, the founder of Labor Whisperer, and her message is: You’re the boss.
You’ve heard of the Dog Whisperer and Ghost Whisperer, and of course there’s The Horse Whisperer (Robert Redford… swoon!) So you already know a whisperer possesses the unique skill of communicating with and even soothing another being. True to title, the Labor Whisperers have also trained to reach individuals who often feel unheard or unable to voice their fears — expecting mothers.
“A lot of people don’t think about birth until they get pregnant. Also, a large percent of our population reproduces… so why is this not talked about very much? Well, sometimes birth is traumatizing for people. So then they don’t talk about it afterward because other people act like a traumatic birth is normal.”
That’s real talk from Rowan TwoSisters, founder of Houston-based collective Labor Whisperer, and she should know. In her more than 20 years as a licensed massage therapist, birth worker and entrepreneur, TwoSisters has helped hundreds of expecting parents come face-to-face with their birth anxieties. Her approach? Empowerment. And the therapeutic massages don’t hurt either.
“A lot of times, people don’t know that they’re the consumer, that they have options. In the Labor Whisperer model of care, whatever the pregnant person wants, that is how the care is driven.”
Birth in the big city
In a city of 2.3 million, it’s easy to feel like just another number, and it’s no different for pregnant folks. (Insert “eating for two” joke here, right?) Birth is a booming business — think fertility, pre and postnatal care, childbirth education and lactation consulting, not to mention general services specialized for pregnancy, such as yoga, massage and even hair coloring.
Starting or growing a family is a big investment, in more ways than one, and child bearing is often further burdened by finance, family or health issues. Gender identity too uniquely complicates feelings toward experiences like being pregnant, giving birth vaginally or breast/chest feeding. TwoSisters explains, “Not just female-identified folks get pregnant.” This is why she and many birth workers favor the gender-fluid term “pregnant person.”
When I first met TwoSisters, I couldn’t help but notice she is remarkably present. She’s a coach, a consultant and the coolest friend you’ll ever have, all rolled into one. From her pink hair and striking stature (she calls herself goddess-sized) to her passion for connecting with and serving others, you instantly feel that you are in the presence of something powerful, genuine and safe. Sound divine? Well, it’s an important part of her approach — because let’s face it, birth can be overwhelming and it’s nice to have someone on your side.
We met at Empire Café to chat about the program and chill on the patio. Before we started, we gazed through the glass counter at the massively decadent cakes. TwoSisters grinned and asked me, “What do you want?” Before I could slide into an existential crisis, I answered, “Coconut.” Good choice. And while her question was merely a social nicety, it’s one she presents to all of her clients: The question of desire.
TwoSisters references Danielle LaPorte as one of her favorite “teachers,” pulling inspiration from the author’s Desire Map approach to life planning. When coaching her clients on their pre-delivery choices and behaviors, TwoSister’s highlights the power of self-direction. “Every choice you make drives you to an end goal. When you approach an option or choice, you ask yourself: What is my ultimate desire or perceived outcome, and how can I guide my choices toward that outcome?”
Again, the emphasis is on the parent’s ideal vision of labor and delivery.
“I’m real chill. If you want to have your baby in the driveway, I’ll start blowing up the birth pool. If you want to have a scheduled surgical birth — we say surgical birth instead of C-section because it’s still a birth — I will help you do that. You want an epidural in the hospital? Great! That’s what a Labor Whisperer does: They meet you where you’re at.”
The path to self-restoration
TwoSisters is known in the birth community as the Urban Curandera since the style of healing arts she personally practices is curanderisma (a Latin American method of holistic healing). “And that means I am not a healer. I am the person who teaches you how to heal yourself.” This mindset of empowerment is foundational, not just for the Labor Whisperer, but for the client as well. Put simply, a certain amount of self-controlled behaviors impact how or even when mothers give birth.
Labor Whisperer protocol attributes birthing hurdles (anxiety and stalled labor) to four general reasons, including due date expectations, mental/emotional blocks and physical blocks.
#1: The due date is arbitrary
“When you tell someone your due date, it’s not like a turkey with that red pop-up thing. And here’s the thing, sister, a watched pot doesn’t boil.” More free wisdom from TwoSisters — and she’s not wrong.
Although projecting due dates is a science, there are plenty of variables that can overturn the prediction. Conditions like nutrition, stress and even genes affect delivery dates. Gestation is generally 266 days from fertilization and 280 days from your last normal menstrual period, but the actual due date is subjective. For example, if you have remarried or have a different partner from your first birth, your pregnancy will be chemically different. You may have had preeclampsia with your first child, but you may or may not with the child of a new biological parent.
Still, many of us look toward the due date as a time to celebrate the expecting parents. We watch our calendars, send encouraging texts and joke about the baby taking his or her time to make an appearance. But depending on the pregnant person’s comfort, health, insurance coverage, or any other of a collection of private details and feelings, the pending due date may be a point of tension. “And everyone has an unsolicited comment for the pregnant person” sighed TwoSisters.
The solution? She recommends adding a couple of weeks to your due date or grouping it with a nearby holiday. “Say you’re due October 10th, then tell people you’re due around Halloween.” While of course expecting parents must be honest with their provider, keeping the specific due date off of Twitter buys some wiggle room, and possibly, some much-needed privacy.
#2: What’s on your mind?
“Mental and emotional blocks [to birth] can be severe or something super subtle that may take a little sleuthing.” Think unfinished nurseries, an unspoken fear of parenting, or more sensitive issues, like relationship trouble or unresolved trauma from another labor experience.
“Something can keep your mind so engaged that the body cannot let itself labor. You’re driving with the gas and the brake. Your body is trying to labor, and the mind stops it because it’s not ready.”
Many pregnant people also nurse apprehensions about friends or family that expect to be present at the delivery. TwoSisters has a thing or two to say about that too, speaking specifically to the infamous mother-in-law problem.
“If your mother-in-law comes and that causes your body to not labor well and you end up with a surgical birth, how are you going to feel after the fact? It’s a huge cost, you’ve had a surgical birth when perhaps you didn’t need one, it delays bonding and maybe your baby gets allergies because it wasn’t properly seeded through your vaginal canal. That’s a huge deal — but you made your mother-in-law happy, congratulations. And she still wasn’t in the delivery room by the way.” There you have it, a professional recommendation to set boundaries early.
#3: Let’s get physical
Physical symptoms are the most common issues associated with a failure to progress. That’s the medical term for not laboring, and TwoSisters says it will get you a ticket to the “intervention train.” The key is to be proactive and identify challenges before they become problems.
“The baby may be malpositioned, or perhaps you didn’t get good coaching on your nutrition. Maybe you have an asymmetrical pelvis that chiropractic care or massage would have helped. Or a fixed coccyx that isn’t allowing baby to drop into the pelvis effectively.” All possibilities that can be addressed prior to delivery and labor complication.
TwoSisters tackles C-section scars too, by teaching her clients how to massage and mend the tissue.
“Maybe you have a scar from a previous surgical birth that hasn’t been addressed that you could self-heal. It’s numb, it’s not sexy, it’s created a new muffin top in your abdomen — but if you can feel it, you can heal it.”
#4: The unknown
The fourth and final block to labor is, at times, unable to be defined. The block can be a mental, emotional, chemical or physical issue that prevents or stalls labor. “Sometimes we see it after the fact, or never know. This is when we are glad for allopathic medicine and interventions, including surgical. A time and a place for everything.”
And the Labor Whisperer is present, even when prepping for a surgical birth. TwoSisters shared the experience of one such birth; a client who desired VBAC (vaginal birth after C-section). After exhausting all other options, her client resolved “We’ve done everything, and I’m ok. I’m ready to meet my baby.”
TwoSisters agreed, called the nurse, and then got busy setting the tone with mood music, loving words and playful prep. “She was putting on the shower cap, and I was makin’ her cuuuute” crooned TwoSisters while making fluffing motions in the air. “They said it was by far the most fun they’d ever had getting ready for a C-section.”
While making surgical shower caps into haute couture may sound silly, bringing levity to the birth environment is serious business. “How the pregnant person feels in that moment sets the emotional and hormonal cocktail that the baby is birthed into.”
It sets the tone for healing too. Amazingly, the client, who had entered her last surgical birth in terror and weathered a slow recovery with postpartum depression, did not experience either burden with the support of her Labor Whisperer. TwoSisters reflected, “We all have self-healing skills, we just need to be reminded how to do it.”
Ready to get started?
In addition to her many existing achievements in the birth world, TwoSisters is halfway through her 5-year apprentice path to becoming a certified professional midwife. “My goal is to create as many resources as possible to put the power back into the hands of the parent” — and that includes all kinds of pregnancies, all kinds of families — “because everyone deserves to have their desired birth experience.”
That means TwoSisters is booked up with midwifery work and her newest birth and postpartum project: Preggers Can Be Choosers. The good news is there’s a network of 10 certified Labor Whisperers throughout Houston, each bringing something special to the experience. Take Erin Young, licensed massage therapist, childbirth educator, certified doula for birth and postpartum — and of course, a certified Labor Whisperer. Her office is located in Old Town Spring, but she serves the entire Houston metro area. Or veteran Labor Whisperer, Lourdes Resendez. As a birth doula, childbirth educator, placenta processor and apprentice certified professional midwife, she does most of her work in southeast Houston where her birth affirmation is “Nothing is impossible.”
You can connect with these talented Labor Whisperers individually, or access them (and a whole bundle of valuable resources!) through Houston childbirth education group Rebel Birth.