Tiny & Brave

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Barbara Verneus is the founder of Tiny & Brave Holistic Services based in Austin, Texas. She holds a Graduate certificate from Boston University in Maternal and Infant Care in Public Health and a Master’s in Counseling with a concentration in Marriage and Family. Barbara is a student midwife, blogger, maternal life coach, and single mother of one. Barbara has been a trained Birth Companion (doula) since 2004 and is the the recipient of our Maternal Health Micro Grant. She will be using the funds to provide a person of color who resides in Austin with doula services at a reduced price.

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What drove you to pursue a career in the field of maternal health?

To be honest a movie brought me to the path. The movie was called “Losing Isaiah” starring Halle Berry and Jessica Lange. From there a few days later during my time in community college I met a woman who was in a nursing program who was studying to become a midwife. I never heard of a midwife until I met her but she planted the seed. To this day, I can’t remember her name but if I could, I would say thank you.

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In 2006, you went overseas with the African Birth Collective to Senegal, West Africa assisting midwives in labor and delivery—can you tell us more about that experience?

It was an amazing experience where I assisted midwives in two different birth centers which were completely different worlds. But I learned so much about myself and my vision. It was there that I confirmed I wanted to do birth both in the States as well as overseas. I want to help maternal and infant mortality in the homeland of my parents which is Haiti/Hisponal. Senegal was also the place I experienced my first infant death. For some reason, even through that traumatizing experience, it propelled me more towards becoming a midwife.

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You’ve conducted workshops at Juneteenth Health Summit (Austin, Texas), Yoni Poppin-Bellies Edition (Miami, Florida) and Decolonize Birth (Brooklyn, New York) and even facilitated the first Black Breastfeeding gathering in Dallas, Texas in 2016. Do you hope to continue to make workshops and public speaking a part of your work?

I hope to continue to do more workshop. Recently, I curated an event led by Sister Divine who taught about Grandma's Hands, a 1 Day Intensive Workshop in Austin, Texas. In October, I conducted a workshop in Louisiana where I spoke on motherhood, entrepreneurship, and depression at the Black Birth Matters Conference.

On the intersection between birth work and activism—

I am a strong advocate in being an instrument of healing to women, mothers and mothers-to-be who have experienced trauma; while inspiring more Black and Brown women to enter the birth work field. I am also an advocate and activist on the issue of the infant and maternal disparities happening within Black communities. When I become a midwife I desire to serve those of the African-diaspora in the urban community and overseas in Haiti.

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Can you speak on racial disparities within midwifery and death rates amongst black mothers and infants in America?

With 15,000 accounted midwives, only 2% are black. On top of that, black babies are 3-4 times more likely to die in comparison to white babies.

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Also, Haiti has a high maternal and infant morbidity and mortality rate and a lack of professionally trained midwives. Yet midwives are in short supply in many developing countries. And the deficits are highest in the areas where needs are greatest. Currently, there is only one midwifery education program in all of Haiti. Haiti has never had enough midwives to meet the needs of the population. After the earthquake of 2010, the gap widened.

An estimated 303,000 women and about 3 million newborn babies died in Haiti in 2015 alone. The vast majority lost their lives to complications and illnesses that could have been prevented with proper prenatal and delivery care—services provided by midwives.

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A lot of women in the black community are unable to have a doula at their birth due to cost.  With a black mom having a doula it will help decrease the use of pitocin, c-section, medication, and the chances of her newborn being admitted to a special care nursery. Doula services support successful breastfeeding. Doula services save lives. There needs to be more opportunities for women of color to gain more support in the birth world as the consumer and as the provider.

For more words from Barbara:

Birth of a Midwife

I Wasn’t Able to Fulfill My Purpose Until I Had My Daughter

Facing and Healing from Abuse During Pregnancy

11 Life Lessons MY 1-Year Old Has Taught me

Please consider donating to Barbara’s work and follow her on Instagram.




One Of The Lucky Few

Early Intervention Specialist, Kristin Steffan, lives in New Jersey with her husband and three children Ella (6), Jack (3), and Lila (15 months). Here Kristin shares what her family’s day to day looks like and how her profession has impacted her role as a parent.

 Kristin with her daughter, Lila.

Kristin with her daughter, Lila.

For those who might not know, can you explain what Early Intervention is?  

Early Intervention (EI) is a program for babies aged birth-3 who are experiencing developmental delays. Typically, pediatricians will refer families to call Early Intervention if a baby/toddler is not meeting developmental milestones. Parents make the initial phone call to EI and then the process begins to assess the child and decide which services are appropriate for the child and family. Services provided in Early Intervention vary by state.

What inspired you to become an Early Intervention Specialist?  

While in college for my Bachelor’s in Education, I enjoyed my time in Preschool programs the most.  There is so much growth happening in those very young years, their wonder and amazement of all things makes you stop and think about life in a whole new way.  After a few years of teaching Elementary and Middle School I decided it was time to explore my options. I was lucky enough to find out about my current position, a Developmental Intervention teacher.

How has your professional background supported your role as a parent?

I have met so many amazing children, parents and educators along my teaching journey. They truly helped pave my path and helped mold me into the parent I am today.

 Jack, Lila, and Ella.

Jack, Lila, and Ella.

What’s your philosophy on parenting?

Having a sense of humor! We have a 6, 3, and 1 year old, so truly our life is hysterical!

What’s the best part of raising your youngest, Lila?

Watching her beat the odds. Lila is beautiful, everything about her radiates. She works so incredibly hard to achieve her milestones and truly is so determined to meet those milestones.  While I was pregnant with her, we knew there were a couple of markers for Down syndrome. Even though we didn’t know for sure, my Maternal Fetal Medicine doctor was extremely negative about having a child with Down syndrome. After she was born and in the NICU the doctors were knowledgeable but only wanted to talk about the negative aspects of having a child with Down syndrome. Lila has proven over the past 13 months that she isn’t defined by her diagnosis and that she will work hard for what she wants.

What barriers have you and your family experienced in receiving EI services in New Jersey?

We personally have not had any barriers, but I also know how EI works. For families without a background in Education I know that EI is sometimes difficult to understand.

What have been the sweetest moments in Lila’s journey?  

Watching how much others truly love her, especially her sister and brother. Her brother is 3 and the way he loves her is so gentle and kind. Her 6-year-old sister is her biggest cheerleader and loves helping her work and play every day. They say there is nothing like a mother’s love, which I agree with! However, Lila is so very loved by so many people and to me that is the sweetest thing ever.

And what have been the most challenging?

Experiencing doctors and others in the medical community who do not value people with Down syndrome. For the most part we have an incredible medical team supporting our girl wholeheartedly.  However, my prenatal care was less than desirable and at that point there was only suspicion of Lila having Down syndrome. After that I felt as though I had to fight for my unborn child. To be in a doctor’s office pregnant and not even hear congratulations is such a difficult experience.  At that point I knew that I would be her biggest advocate and make sure she never felt as horrible as I was made to feel about Down syndrome.

 Kristin along with her husband, Tom and their three children.

Kristin along with her husband, Tom and their three children.

Your hopes for Lila?  

That she lives a full and happy life, being included and accepted for who she is, people to understand she is a person first, and that she is successful in whatever profession she chooses.

Stigmas you wish would go away about individuals with Down syndrome?

That people with Down syndrome are unable to have the same success and achievements that their typical developing peers have.  People with Down syndrome can be successful, productive members of society just as any other person. Another popular stigma is that people with Down syndrome are always happy.  While yes Lila is mostly happy she also has times where she is sad and lately mad when told no! Through meeting other families with older children and adults, there are a wide range of emotions when you have Down syndrome, just like any other person.

Are there any books, websites, or social media figures you would recommend to readers who want to learn more about Down syndrome or Early Intervention?

I have so many!!  Google became my friend after we were told she had one marker for Down syndrome. After she was born, I found so many more resources online and online communities through Facebook and Instagram. Those online communities are amazing and provide such a wealth of information.

Books:

The Lucky Few by Heather Avis

A Parent’s Guide to Down Syndrome by Jen Jacob and Mardra Sikora 

Websites: 

DS Diagnosis Network

National Down Syndrome Society

On Facebook there is a DSDN group and you are able to be linked to it from the above website. There are other private groups as well on Facebook for parents who have a child with Down syndrome.

Instagram was my honey hole in the beginning!! Searching various hashtags related to Down syndrome was the easiest way to find families sharing their journey. I love following:

@uplifeofemmyjoy

@karenjp0915

@extraevielove

@rubysrainbow

@theluckyfewofficial

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A note to expecting parents.

Raising Lila is just like raising our two “typically developing” children. We have hopes and worries for all three and only want the best for them. If you are given a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, it may be done in a negative way or you may be made to feel your child won’t be valued.

Please do your research, reach out and talk to people, real people who have a child with Down syndrome. Also, when you give birth whether you know or your baby is born and you had no idea beforehand, everything will be okay. Whatever thoughts and feelings you have are okay, find people that have walked this path and reach out. Lila completes our family and I’m so glad I get to be her mama.


Please consider donating to Lila’s campaign for the BUDS—Bringing Up Down Syndrome Buddy Walk here and follow Kristin on Instagram to watch Lila grow!

All Images by Danner Photography

I Made Your Clothes

By Colleen Keller Mishra

 Photo by: Matthew Rhein

Photo by: Matthew Rhein

Sara Keel spent over a decade as a designer for the brand Anthropologie. She now owns her own company, Penrose Design Studio. Sara is an entrepreneur, mother, and advocate for slow-fashion. 

 

How did your career begin?
I have always been interested in fashion. I think it stems from my mom teaching me to sew and growing up sewing my own clothes, but I didn't consider a career in fashion at all because I wasn't exposed to it much as a child. My parents are in the medical and science fields so when I was younger I assumed I would do something similar in college. A year into college, I realized business marketing wasn't for me and I just wanted a career making clothes! I ended up transferring to Savannah College of Art and Design for Fashion. Soon after graduating, I signed on as an intern at Anthropologie, and ended up designing with the company for eleven years. The concept for my own design studio formed after I went part time so I could stay home and raise my baby daughter. I started designing and making clothes for myself while my daughter napped, and launched Penrose Design Studio (named after my daughter Penelope Rose) as a way to share what I was making with others. After a year of working part time I was accepted into a designer residency program in January 2017 which led me to commit full time to being an entrepreneur and running my own fashion business.

What does your day to day look like?
Every day is so different. My business is very new and it is just me running the show. So, I am doing a little bit of everything during the week. I am currently hand-making all of my garments, so a lot of time is spent sewing and sourcing materials. On Mondays I work with an incredible intern who is a textile designer and helps me with hand-dyeing fabrics. She also doubles as my model so we use Mondays to photograph new products to add to the website and Instagram. I also use Mondays to review the budget, and plan social media marketing for the week. Tuesdays and Thursdays I keep my daughter home with me. She is two-and-a half so you can probably imagine I don't get much work done when she is there! I use those days to run errands, deliver new product to local stockists, and take her with me when I need to go out on inspiration trips. I am currently in a year long designer residency program called the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator, which helps designers start and grow their businesses in Philadelphia by providing workshops, resources, and mentoring. On Wednesdays, I have weekly meetings with the other five designers in the program and often following the meetings we have our workshops. Since I am still a new brand, I try to get as much exposure as possible. Many Fridays and Saturdays are spent preparing for and attending pop-up shops and events with local businesses so I can meet new customers face to face.

How would you define the style of Penrose Design Studio?
Penrose is free spirited and feminine, and I love vintage so you can usually find a touch of vintage influence in my designs. The silhouettes are relaxed and flowy and often are of one size so they can fit a variety of body types. Plus, they are super comfortable to wear. I use vintage materials like silk scarves so each piece has a unique print and pattern, creating one-of-a-kind pieces. I also hand dye so the outcome is completely different on each garment. My hope is that my customers feel as good buying a Penrose garment as they do wearing it.

What are your thoughts on the slow/ethical/sustainable fashion movement?
It is an absolute necessity for the future of our planet. The fashion industry is one of the worst on our environment, second only to the oil industry. The amount of pollution and waste created by manufacturing clothing is huge, not to mention the tons and tons of clothing that we throw out every day because something may be a little worn or out of style. It’s really terrible and has to change, and it is everyone's responsibility because we all wear clothes, right? I think consumers are becoming more and more aware of these effects and are starting to demand higher standards when it comes to the clothes they buy and wear.  I believe larger companies that don't offer ethical/sustainable clothing options are going to have to make changes to meet the demands of the consumer. We have talked about this to some extent in our group at the Fashion Incubator. It’s like the organic food movement: you used to have to go to a farmers’ market or specialty store to buy organic food, but now almost every grocery store has an organic aisle, and it is because the consumer made the demand of the stores. But it is also the responsibility of clothing companies to help educate the consumer on how to make the change and join the movement.

You’ve mentioned that you watched the documentary The True Cost. Did it in anyway influence your work or change your own shopping habits?
It completely changed the way I consume fashion. I was pretty naive about the negative impact the fashion industry has on the environment and the often terrible working conditions of many factory workers in the industry. After watching the documentary, I decided to shop way less than I had been, and to only purchase ethical and sustainable clothing in the future. It actually felt very freeing in a way. I didn’t feel the pressure to buy the newest Zara pieces that drop on an almost weekly basis in order to stay “on trend” with my wardrobe. I had been working in the fast fashion industry as a designer for eleven years and had been sort of blinded by my work for so long. I felt like I gained a new sense of individuality with my wardrobe because I wasn’t guided by trendy fast fashion anymore. I went back to shopping a lot of vintage and remembered it is such a passion of mine! I have had to do a little research to find ethical and sustainable brands but it has been encouraging and fun learning about the slow fashion movement. I watched the documentary around the same time I was forming my clothing line so I vowed to create a brand that keeps sustainable and ethical practices at its core. And I am proud to say that Penrose is part of the slow fashion movement.  Even if you are not into fashion I encourage you to watch this documentary, it is truly an eye-opener. We all wear clothes, so we are all responsible to educate ourselves (and our friends!) on the impact of what we wear.

 Photo by: Sara Keel

Photo by: Sara Keel

Do you have any advice for readers who want to move towards purchasing a more ethical wardrobe?
I think there is a general misconception that an ethical or sustainable wardrobe means expensive, frumpy, organic, cotton frocks, but that is so not the case. There are many ways you can start to make little changes to your wardrobe without sacrificing your style (or shopping habit), and it doesn't have to be all or nothing. It is important to know there are different terms to be aware of: ethical, sustainable, organic, fair trade, and all can help you move toward a more ethical wardrobe. Buying vintage clothing is a great sustainable practice and probably the best way to cut down on clothing waste. If you aren’t into wearing clothes from a different era, online retailers like The Real Real (a luxury consignment retailer) or Rent the Runway (designer clothing available for rent that allows you to wear something “new” every day) are other great alternatives to buying new clothing. When you are shopping, look for brands that give clear information on where their goods are made. Ethical brand will often show photos of their factories and will even name the individuals who sew their clothes. This is a good sign the brand follows ethical manufacturing practices. There are some great websites like Ecocult which is an ethical fashion blog and lists ethical and sustainable brands on their site. Another great place to start is right in your neighborhood!  Try shopping in local boutiques. These are small independently run business and a lot of the time stock locally designed and made clothing and accessories. Lastly, try to make the clothes you already have last longer so you need to purchase less. I think proper laundering is a largely overlooked aspect of an ethical wardrobe. Washing machines and dryers can be hard on clothes and really wear them out if they are not washed properly. Make sure you understand the care labels of your clothes so you don’t ruin them in the wash, and you can avoid throwing out that sweater you shrunk and buying a new one (this has happened to me so many times). Many companies will list garments as “Dry-clean Only” (a process that uses chemicals which harm the environment) but often the clothes can be washed in cold water and line dried. You can also put clothing in the freezer to refresh your clothes and kill odor causing bacteria, which also cuts down on the water you would otherwise use to wash in your machine.

 Photo by: Matthew Rhein

Photo by: Matthew Rhein

In what ways to do you think Penrose gives back? (to the customer? to your community? on a global scale?)
It feels great to say that because I am still a very small brand. It is easy for me to incorporate sustainable practices into my business model. I am able to use vintage and materials like silk scarves in my designs so I don’t have to buy and produce new materials. Several of my pieces are made to order so I am not over-producing and creating waste if something doesn’t sell, and sometimes I even cut and re-sew or overdye pieces from a previous collection to create new designs. I also use leftover scraps from previous designs in new pieces. I realize it is a brand’s responsibility to educate the consumer about the importance of sustainable fashion so I am using social media and marketing to give this message to my customers.

What have you received in creating Penrose? (freedom to be more creative? a new outlook on environmental impacts?)
It has been an unbelievable blessing and gift to have the opportunity to start my own business. Since being in the Fashion Incubator, I have experienced an incredible amount of personal growth, learning about business and entrepreneurship with a talented group of designers and amazing mentors. The creative freedom of running my own business has given me new life and much fulfillment I didn’t realize I was missing. Above all else, the most important thing at this stage of my life is time with my daughter. Working for myself has given me a flexible schedule that allows me to have my daughter at home with me two days during the work week (she is in daycare the other three days). We have had the best time learning and growing together and I would not trade those moments for anything in the world.      

What are your hopes for Penrose in the future?
As my brand grows, I want to be able to partner with artisan groups globally to produce my designs and develop programs to help give back to their communities. With the rise of fast fashion it is harder and harder to find beautiful handcrafted goods, so I hope to do my little part to help preserve those practices and give artisans the wage they deserve for their craft. And I am dreaming of developing a system for recycling materials (like scraps from past seasons’ designs or vintage materials) into new garments on a larger scale to help reduce waste. Any weavers out there interested in using fabric scraps to weave new materials, give me a call!

 Photo by: Matthew Rhein

Photo by: Matthew Rhein

Here’s some of Sara’s favorite  brands and resources for anyone wanting to learn more about ethical and sustainable fashion:

Penrose Design Studio - My brand’s website

Reformation - Great dresses and other fashion basics; this brand is committed to sustainable practices and it gives information on the environmental impact of each of their garment.

Maiyet - A luxury fashion brand that partners with artisan groups around the world, which promotes self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship within those communities.

Study New York - A sustainable fashion brand that is manufactured in New York and is transparent about where their raw materials come from. They even use the scraps from previous designs and weave them into fabric for new designs.

Rent the Runway - A huge selection of designer clothing available to rent. They have several subscription options so you can wear something “new” every day.

The Real Real - A luxury consignment retailer.

1st Dibs - An amazing designer vintage and home pieces.

Accompany - An ethical fashion online retailer that stocks artisan made goods.

Ecocult - An eco fashion blog with tons of great information and a comprehensive list of eco and sustainable fashion and lifestyle brands.

Fashion Revolution - A global movement and organization. From their mission statement: “We want to unite people and organisations to work together towards radically changing the way our clothes are sourced, produced and consumed, so that our clothing is made in a safe, clean and fair way.”

Fashion Transparency Index - Created from research done by the Fashion Revolution, it highlights the business practices of the top 100 fashion brands. Definitely worth looking into brands you shop - some of the results are shocking.

Philadelphia Fashion Incubator - I am currently a Designer-In-Residence in this Philadelphia based program aimed at fostering small business in the Philadelphia area.