Philly’s Queer Doula Collective helps LGBTQ parents navigate the healthcare system

“I haven’t always had to explain myself. I was able to focus on my health.

Giving birth in a modern hospital can leave new parents frustrated, even traumatized. The experience can be even more difficult if the system is not designed to recognize your gender.

A group of Philadelphia birth professionals are trying to change that. The Philly Queer Doula Collective is a peer support group that helps pregnant LGBTQ people find affordable medical care from knowledgeable providers and helps them navigate the healthcare system.

“How can we create mini-cultures in this room that center them,” said collective founding member Jacks Overstreet, “even when a larger institution can’t offer that?”

Zach Strassburger is an attorney with the Philadelphia Legal Department. The second time they got pregnant, they had a miscarriage. When they visited a doctor for a necessary procedure to remove the fetus, the receptionist asked why they would need it – and even asked Strassburger to take a pregnancy test as proof.

“I just felt invisible,” Strassburger said. “There’s a disconnect that someone with a traditionally male name would be there for a traditionally female procedure.”

The experience is unfortunately quite common for queer and trans people who become pregnant. Expecting LGBTQ parents have to deal with a system so rooted in gender norms that they often feel insecure.

Things were a little easier the next time Strassburger got pregnant, as they tracked down a trans birth professional to help navigate the process from an LGBTQ perspective. With a lawyer on their side, Strassburger found the experience completely different. The hospital staff knew their pronouns in advance. When the baby was born, he was given a yellow name tag instead of pink or blue.

“I didn’t always have to explain myself,” Strassburger said. “I was able to focus on my health.”

The Doula Collective began in early 2020 when a group of five LGBTQ birth attendants in Philadelphia came together to support each other as they struggled with the highly gendered healthcare system.

“We needed more consistent and assertive peer support,” said Noelle Sengsourinh, member. “We need to do things that cishet people still have access to in our work. It takes a different form of energy, and in some cases it’s more exhausting.

After about a year of meeting, the group decided to try to improve the LGBTQ birth experience for members of their community.

They organized gay family get-togethers and began compiling a growing list of resources.

The Overstreet Collective member spoke about some of the resources: “Prenatal care, body work, chiropractic care, pediatricians. Just everything under the sun that queer and trans people need to feel empowered in their journey of parenting and starting a family.

The list currently includes about 50 queer and trans-qualified healthcare professionals — doulas, therapists, lactation consultants, bereavement support groups and others.

Stephanie Brown is one of them. A Certified Lactation Consultant and Chair of the Board of the Philadelphia Midwife Collective, she prioritizes LGBTQ patients and runs a regular lactation support group for queer and trans people. The group isn’t just about lactation, Brown said. “It’s more like a space where the language I use is neutral.”

Strassburger, the legal department staffer, attended Brown’s meetings — and remembers wishing more LGBTQ parents knew they existed.

The Philly Queer Doula Collective is working to make this happen; the group plans to expand this year.

By adding more childbirth professionals to the ranks of the collective, they hope to expand the list of resources, turning it into a robust database of strong medical providers. They also plan to start consulting, offering to teach major institutions about LGBTQ skills.

“We have all these ideas about how to meet the community and create safe spaces, but we’re at our bandwidth,” Overstreet said. “We just need more people to keep up with the demand for what’s going on.”

This story originally appeared in Billy Penn and is reprinted here as part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative economic mobility reporting project. Next City and Billy Penn are two of more than 20 news agencies producing Broke in Philly; learn more at breakinphilly.org or follow on @brokeinphilly.

Michaela Winberg is a generalist reporter at Billy Penn. It covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, transport and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web reports for NPR. A 2018 graduate of Temple’s Klein College of Media and Communication, Winberg served as editor of the university’s student newspaper, The Temple News. She helped start CoveringAddiction.com, a project to find addiction solutions in Philadelphia. Winberg also spent time working at the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Bellingham Herald in Washington state.

Comments are closed.