Tiny & Brave

IMG_20170419_035924_583.jpg

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

IMG_1434.JPG

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 the 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.

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.

In what ways has motherhood changed your approach to your work?

Motherhood is what my work is centered around. My daughter is my number one fan. How can we demand for our children to live their best lives and pursue their dreams if we ourselves are not doing that? Our children are watching us everyday and I do not want to live a life where my daughter witnesses me unfulfilled, like I did with my parents. It was when I became pregnant I propelled myself to complete my master’s degree and pack up and move to Texas. I did this without any family and friends. It is as if God is physically with me everyday holding me accountable and in turn I revere my daughter’s holy innocence to live her wildest dreams as she goes through this thing called life. I want her to know there are no barriers without a solution.

What’s next for Tiny & Brave Holistic Services?

Finding a new apprenticeship/preceptor to learn from and see where that takes me next. Most likely moving again which is the beauty and barrier of becoming a professional certified midwife through the Portfolio Evaluation Process (PEP) route. This path has shown me so much about myself-sanctifying; and I have met so many amazing people doing tremendous work. But it also can be very discouraging as a single mother who faces racial and financial barriers which is the very thing I’m fighting against. I meet people who are still in disbelief that black women’s lives are at the helm of life or death when giving birth here in the United States and that the black family is specifically being targeted. So for the remaining of this year and into 2019, my focus is to finish my studies so I can help to break down the discrimination in the midst of becoming a black midwife and the attack on the black body and family as a whole.

I will be conducting workshops and events in Austin, TX, collaborating with Doula Training International while also continuing to document my journey of becoming a midwife through my social media platforms and videos, all while still providing doula services here in Austin, TX, and the surrounding areas.



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

IMG_6149.jpg

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