selfie of michael with his son smiling

by Michael Pyette

I really wanted to be a father. I was looking for somebody with a beautiful spirit, a beautiful home, smarts and strength. I had to feel she would look after our kid to the best of her ability. The only way I could really gage this is by how she treated me and those around her. I loved her for the way she treated my feelings and the way she lit up when I entertained her to the best of my ability. I fell in love with her and the forest she brought me to on one of our first meetings. I had my heart broken previously by a woman with kids. All of my stars were telling me that I needed to start my own family and she was where I wanted to. I was strangely really open and upfront about wanting babies.

We loved spending time in the woods. When we did find out we were pregnant, we both happily remembered the time we knew it happened. Women are beautiful because they let a man know how welcome he is. So I was very welcome that time. In my eyes, she is a home and when I deserve and need her I get to be near her.

My energy was hers to accept and grow. All I could do was feed her, keep her safe, well loved and entertained. The first baby was way easier. The second pregnancy while having our year and a half year old is one of the hardest things in my life yet.

As a pregnant woman, she has the right to eat whatever she wants, see whoever she wants and do whatever she wants. I look out for what I see as best for her, but what she does is a different story. Now that we have our son some of the best help I can give is looking after him. I am here to look after her while she is pregnant when she needs me. I won’t judge her if all she wants is pizza and chicken wings. I encourage her to eat the best ish around, and I rub her feet. I have also realized that alone time is sometimes the best gift you can give someone.

I am a protective man. I am a flawed man. Teachings from all over Turtle Island tell me that women are divine. They are in tune with the Earth and the Moon. She is in tune with the Sun and her Son. When I’m not in her orbit, I am learning to leave.. quickly.

She is creating, so I create too. She makes a baby, I make a tikanagan, a cradleboard. When she has rhythm, I sing. When she is loud, I dance. Maybe there are two spirits in us both. Whatever brings the best for everyone is what’s important. Our life is a fine balance and constant juggle. I am a hardworking clown.

I pray to the Thunderbirds. I pray to the Phoenixes. As a man, I fly. I zoom.. or I drive my car lots. Sometimes I land to lie near my nest. Sometimes I roam to provide. Sometimes I groom to heal. I hear and feel and I act. Sometimes I’m too quick, sometimes too slow.

I really feel the Sun. Lately, I wake up before sunrise because I feel him stir. It’s a good time to be creative or to get ready to hunt. It’s a good time for mischief. Some Haudenosaunnee teachings say a man isn’t supposed to hunt while the woman he accompanies is pregnant. I didn’t listen to that one.

I still got the deer. But she wouldn’t eat it. So began a whole bunch of other disagreements. Wise men say that the women are always right. It’s true. I was about to explain why, then I backspaced. Us men have to be magicians to survive. We need our darkness and mystery. That’s where we find the gifts that we bring back to those we love. And women need that too.

We gender our 18 month old son by calling him our son. But he wears all colours and has all kinds of dolls. He learns to wrestle, sing, draw, sweep the floor and clean up after himself. Attachment parenting is intense and rewarding. We both cuddle him in bed and change his diapers.

What we both agree is that we want to raise our kids close to the land. We want them to speak Kanien’ke:ha and Anishinaabemowin, languages that weren’t passed on to us. We spent a part of our summer up at Nimkii Aazhibikong, an Ojibwe immersion camp near Serpent River First Nation. Our baby lived in a tent with us while everything was being built. He watched us work and was spoken lovingly to by Elders. He sat by the fire and ate and laughed with us all. He even took his first step in a wigwam!

We pow wowed, listened to the wolves, watched the stars, made art, peeled logs, put a roof on a kitchen. We went swimming in a waterhole and explored sacred sites. It was ace. Sometime after we got home we found out there was another baby on the way. Yeah we kinda knew. And then the fun wound down for caretaking time.

As a mixed Dietsch and Michif man, I loved it in the North. There were lots of aunties to help with the babe and kitchen and I was there to work hard to set things up. My warrior spirit grew strong. I am glad our babies were there. She is Haudenosaunnee, and she wanted to go home. I had to follow my babies.

So we are in her territory now, where things began. It’s a place where I walk lightly as a guest. I can’t wait to build a tiny home and take whoever wants to come back up North. For now, I am within calling distance because I never know when they will need me. My kids deserve to have a dad when they need me. For now, I work and putter and play to keep myself calm as dads tend to.

I was given my teachings for how to be a father by my Dad. His low-Germanic nature is loyal, providing, stern and steadfast. Gently absent from work and available for what matters. My Métis Mother and Uncle are vivaciously entertaining, nurturing and playful. Spontaneous and sparky. I am really glad to be alive and looked after by both sides of my family. Raising kids is intergenerational work. Grandparents are an essential backbone to tiny lives.

What I’ve learned about Haudenosaunnee society is that women are amazingly powerful, and mothers especially so. I am glad for this. I put tobacco down and am glad my son has almost always been near his mother while he is young. Sometimes I was jealous that he loved her so much. But I realize that this leaves me free to wander, to build good things around them, and to bring comfort when they need it.

My son loves to swim with me, to wrestle, climb things. He loves to sing and he loves to drum because I take him out to do these things. He loves to visit our dog and sometimes he pulls us in the stroller or toboggan. He spends time with his uncles as well, who watch over and teach him. One day I will hunt with my son too. For now, we go on walks together. Good men are needed to help raise kids. It is everyone’s job and I’m glad I’m not the only one.

I’m glad for every minute I get to spend with him. Everyday is hard and I think about him and the next one to come. Having kids is like weights that tie us to this Earth and make us care. Everything I do they inherit. Almost everything we do he copies. He is a funny, smart kid. I am full of love and gratitude. I’d write more, but it’s getting hard. If you met him in person he’d make you laugh.

I wish you all happy babies, if you want them. Happy, healthy sex lives. Cuddles. Fertility if you need it. Deer in your freezers. Strength if you’ve already got kids. A clear head if you don’t have any. Laughter and song if you’re stressed. Kids are part of our struggles. Miigwech to everyone who has welcomed ours in unconventional community spaces, at rallies and in music making. So many smiles make him know he is loved. Babies are village medicine meant to be shared.

Micheal Pyette
Michael Pyette is Dietsch from Saskatchewan and Michif from Manitowaning, Manidominis. Born and raised in Tkaronto, Onta:rio, he roams around the countryside and urban ravines learning to rewild and resist. Art and ceremony are essential healers that teach us how to be in the world. He is thankful for all influences, teachers, family and friends.

Geographic Location of Birth as Reconciliatory Reproductive Justice

by Alyssa Gagnon & Sara Mai Chitty

As Indigenous people in Canada, the act of simply existing makes our bodies inherently political. Subjected to many injustices and traumas since First Contact, autonomy over our identities and bodies has been stripped away in an effort to control resources on Turtle Island, at the expense of our health and wellbeing. Traditional practices that once defined our communities have been overlooked or forgotten, replaced by government policies that reinforce stereotypes and misrepresentation, and assert cognitive imperialism over traditional healthcare practices, privileging Western healthcare models over wholistic care. These systems perpetuate cycles of under-education, under-employment, and poverty, instead of looking at ways to incorporate traditional knowledge and practice into healthcare programs for Indigenous peoples.

Illustration: The Supervolcano by Mia Ohki

In order to obtain reproductive justice for Indigenous childbearers living in Canada, it is crucial that people have access to services in their communities grounded in accurate culturally and trauma informed information, to make the best decision for their bodies and babies’ health and wellbeing. Let us also mention that the birth of our Indigenous babies and apprehensions are not mutually exclusive events; the latter of which happens far too often. It is an unfortunate truth and one that cannot be tackled in a single article

Midwifery is one such example of care that restores land-based birth practices that were eroded by Health Canada’s evacuation policy, introduced in the 1960s. Many childbearing people who were sent out of their communities to give birth at that time, under the assurance that they would be safer, lost their babies to the Sixties Scoop; were coerced into sterilization procedures in the 1970s 1.; and are to this day subjected to alienating and condescending treatment by uninformed healthcare providers, resulting in a perpetuation of mistrust and trauma surrounding Western medicinal practices 2.

Due to the inherently political nature of Indigenous bodies existing – colonial approaches to Indigenous healthcare have negatively affected the health and wellbeing of our People as well as the viability of communities to be able to provide culturally appropriate healthcare programs on site. The act of giving birth in remote fly-in First Nations is rare, despite the fact that Indigenous midwifery is a crucial component of healthcare in Canada where childbearing people should have the right to participate in and have access in their communities.

According to Indigenous midwife Stephanie MacDonald, there are numerous reserves in Canada, but the number of Indigenous midwives still not match that number. However, they [midwives] are working diligently to be recognized for their unique role in Canadian society 3.Through midwifery, Indigenous communities are reclaiming bodily autonomy, the right to give birth in their respective communities (rural and remote), and practice something that has happened since time immemorial – the ceremony of birth.

In Northern Ontario, many must travel away from their communities to give birth to their babies – often well before their due dates. The importance of geographic location and reclaiming birth has been addressed by several studies based in different parts of northern Canada. According to one study, successful birth in remote communities such as Nunavik, Quebec can be attributed to the knowledge and skill of Inuit midwives 4. A large number of people (91%) were evacuated outside of their communities to give birth before midwifery services were available. (4:235) Another study by Rachel Olson and Carol Couchie based out of northern Manitoba provides findings consistent with the importance of birth and its geographic location. The authors contend that place of birth is central to health care received by Indigenous communities in Canada5.

Karen Lawford and Audrey R. Giles’ literature review suggests that while the location of birth may seem trivial from a Euro-Canadian perspective, location of birth is a “component of identity for First Nations and invokes a responsibility and relationship to that land 6“. It is crucial that a community’s childbearing people have familial support in the perinatal period, which reflect qualities of culture and wellbeing, which is undoubtedly understood differently in the mainstream, biomedical model. Findings suggest that there is value in bringing birth back to northern Indigenous communities and should be supported by government policy.

1. Arsenault, Chris. Coerced sterilization of Canadian indigenous women in 70s widespread: researcher. Reuters [Internet]. 1 Sept 2015 [cited 19 Jan 2018].   Available from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-canada-women-health/coerced-sterilization-of-canadian-indigenous-women-in-70s-widespread-researcher-idUSKCN0R12QM20150901

2. Leyland, Andrew et al. Health and Health Care Implications of Systemic Racism on Indigenous Peoples in Canada.   Indigenous Health Working Group of the College of Family Physicians of Canada and Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada: 2016.

3. MacDonald S. A historical and cultural view of Aboriginal midwifery in Canada. Essentially MIDIRS 2015;6(4):24-28.

4. Van Wagner V, Osepchook C, Harney E, Crosbie C, Tulugak M. Remote midwifery in Nunavik, Quebec, Canada: Outcomes of perinatal care for the Inuulitsivik Health Centre, 2000-2007. Birth 2012;39(3):230-237

5. Olson R, Couchie C. Returning birth: The politics of midwifery implementation on First Nations reserves in Canada. Midwifery 2013;29(8):981-987 

Lawford and Giles highlight that the relationship between health and land has not been taken into account by Euro-Canadian biomedical models of health 6. Janet Smylie and Billie Allan provide evidence that Indigenous people greatly benefit from community-based health initiatives, which help mitigate racism and improve health 7. It can be said that the implementation of midwifery services cannot be seen as a separate entity in the context of broader political processes and governmental relations, and that land-based care is a path to health and well-being in our communities.

For example, birth and the act of breastfeeding/chestfeeding are vital teachings in Anishinaabe culture. Leanne Simpson writes in Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back that breastfeeding is the very first treaty 8. Simpson writes: “Nursing is ultimately about a relationship. Treaties are ultimately a relationship. One is a relationship based on sharing between a [parent] and child and the other based on sharing between two sovereign nations. Breastfeeding benefits both the [parent] and the child in terms of health and in terms of their relationship to each other. And treaties must benefit both sovereign and independent nations to be successful 8.

6. Lawford K, Giles A. An analysis of the evacuation policy for pregnant First Nations women in Canada. AlterNative: An Int J of Indigenous Peoples 2012;8(3):329-342.

7. Allan B, Smylie J. First Peoples, second-class treatment: The role of racism in the health and wellbeing of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Toronto, ON: The Wellesley Institute. 2015.

8. Simpson L. Dancing on our turtle’s back. ARP Books: 2011;106-108.

The correlation between the disappearance of birth from the land and the failed treaties and relationships between First Nations and the Canadian government cannot be overlooked in this context. By removing life givers from the land and disrupting cultural practices, the Canadian government effectively disconnected generations of Indigenous people from their ties with the land and their understanding of treaties, relationships to each other, animals, the government and resource-sharing.

Simpson explains that treaties are about commitment and compassion. “It’s about the love of the land and a love for the people. And it requires support of your family and your community. Treaties cannot be maintained without the support of your family, your community, and ultimately, your nation 8.”

Childbearers in Indigenous communities, rural or urban, that do not have culturally-appropriate and trauma-informed prenatal, birth and postpartum care, risk the health and wellbeing of themselves and their baby. The government of Canada denies reproductive justice to Indigenous childbearers through “good intentions,” but erodes the very relationships and treaties it claims to support in this act.

Obstacles that midwives and healthcare providers face in offering this kind of care are financial, continuity of care, ongoing education and transience of healthcare providers. Midwifery care is available in very few remote First Nations in Ontario. For example, Neepeeshowan Midwives was founded by Christine Roy in Attawapiskat in 2012 to provide midwifery care to the community, a grassroots organization committed to bringing birth back to the land 9. In addition to continuity of care, informed choice and choice of birthplace are two of the core tenets of midwifery care in Ontario where, “midwives support the… [client’s] right to choose where… [they] give birth [and] … recognize the client as the primary decision-maker and facilitate the collaborative process of informed choice by: [m]aking a best effort to ensure the client fully understands all relevant information prior to making a decision 10.

Midwives are trained in obstetrical emergencies. However, physicians in remote communities may still have a valid concern in the event of the need to perform surgery (emergency cesarean sections) or blood transfusions in the case of severe postpartum hemorrhage. In the event of such emergencies, clients are medevaced to more southern centres (weather permitting). Due to these, and other concerns, many people still deliver in hospitals hundreds of kilometers from home. The Non-Insured Health Benefits Program (NIHB), First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Health Canada and Ininew Patient Services (IPS) fund the flights for patients/midwifery clients for their confinement at around 36-38 weeks gestation 11.

9.National Aboriginal Council of Midwives. Aboriginal Midwifery Practices in Canada [Internet]. 2012 [cited 19 Jan 2018]. Available from: http://aboriginalmidwives.ca/aboriginal-midwifery/practices-in-Canada

10. The Ontario midwifery model of care. The College of Midwives of Ontario [Internet]. 25 Sept 2013 [cited 20 Jan 2018]. Available from: http://www.cmo.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/The-Ontario-Midwifery-Model-of-Care.pdf

11. National Aboriginal Health Organization. (2008) Celebrating Birth – Aboriginal Midwifery in Canada. Ottawa: National Aboriginal Health Organization.

12. Payne, E. The residential schools of medicine. The Ottawa Citizen [Internet]. 26 Nov 2010 [cited 20 Jan 2018]. Available from: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/health/residential+schools+medicine/3889424/story.html

13. Ministry of Health and Long-term Care. Ontario Improving Access to Aboriginal Midwifery Care. Ontario Newsroom [Internet]. 2017 [cited 19 Jan 2018]. Available from:


14. Indigenous midwifery. Association of Ontario Midwives [Internet]. 2018 [cited 20 Jan 2018]. Available from: https://www.on

Through this funding, clients are only allowed to bring one escort to attend the birth, and all others who want to attend must pay out of pocket, which is next to impossible considering how expensive it is. Despite any concern of risk factors, this policy removes choice of birthplace from clients, forces them to leave other family members, makes them have to strategically choose who will care for other children, if any, while they are gone, and it costs the federal government millions of dollars according to Elizabeth Payne’s The Residential Schools of Medicine 12. Let us not forget that these current government agencies responsible for the care of Indigenous peoples’ health on reserves still operates under the regulation of the Indian Act; a blatant piece of legislation that still erodes our existence.

Due to the hard work of Indigenous midwives, stakeholders, community members, and an increase in awareness, the Ontario government committed in 2017 to “improving access to culturally appropriate child and maternity care for more Indigenous people across the province 13.” Recently, centres able to provide culturally appropriate care in Ontario have been funded: Dilico Family Health Team Clinic in Fort William First Nation, K’Tigaaning Midwives on Nipissing First Nation Territory, Kenh:ke Midwives in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Onkwehon:we Midwives in Akwesasne, Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre in Sudbury, and the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre in London, Ontario 14.  In addition to health centres and midwifery practices providing culturally appropriate care, perhaps funding could also be allocated to develop more community-based Indigenous midwifery education programs as well as train more second attendants and doulas.

As there are more than 200 reserves and settlements in Ontario alone, many still do not have access to information about delivering babies with midwives, let alone the option. As well, educational and financial obstacles within remote communities prevent many Indigenous people from pursuing careers in these fields, strengthening and build capacity in their communities. Improving health outcomes of Indigenous communities is complex in the way that the systemic deficiencies in many programs and services offered by the Canadian government perpetuate these issues.

If a governing body such as the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) put out a policy statement in October 2017 that supports the return of birth to rural and remote Indigenous communities 15, then physicians and other stakeholders should support it so long as the client is considered low-risk and that proper risk assessment is followed through as on-going basis. In urban centres, research toward improving Indigenous maternal and infant is under way.  For example, researchers received

15. No-251-Returning birth to aboriginal, rural, and remote communities. J of Obstet & Gynec Can Oct 2017;(251):e395-e397

16. Whalen J. ‘We can’t do it alone’: Indigenous maternal health program aims to address inequality of health care. CBC News [Internet]. 25 May 2017 [cited 4 Feb 2018]. Available from: www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/toronto/indigenous-maternal-health-program-1.4130303

$2.6M grant to improve Indigenous maternal and infant is under way. For example, researchers received $2.6M grant to improve Indigenous maternal and infant health. Funded through Merck Canada’s Merck for Mothers program and based out of Toronto, “Kind Faces Sharing Places: An Action Research Project for Indigenous Families During and After Pregnancy and Birth” aims to improve the health care outcomes for Indigenous populations, for which the mortality rate is up to 4 times greater than the national average. (16) Places like the University of Toronto’s Waakibiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health, Seventh Generation Midwives Toronto, and Nishnawbe Homes have created a support network that is accessible to Indigenous families due to the program’s initiatives 16. A study by Angela Bowen titled ‘Bringing Birth Back: Improving Access to Culturally Safe Birth in Saskatchewan.

Indigenous people’s bodily health relies on the health of the land and positive relationships between folks responsible for their care. By fostering and maintaining relationships with the land through birth and breastfeeding/chestfeeding practices and teachings, Indigenous communities can improve health outcomes and treaty relationships with the government. This is where true reconciliation lies. The birth of our people is an overt opposition to all genocidal tactics historically and presently imposed upon us. With the support of our allies, interprofessional colleagues in urban centres, government funding, and our community members, we are slowly seeing a shift across the land. From coast to coast, reserves and off-reserve communities have slowly started receiving the care that they deserve. If Canada should want to uphold our treaty rights, let it begin with a fundamental piece of the puzzle – the birth of our People.

Alyssa Gagon
Alyssa’s spirit name is nipi (water). Her family is from the James Bay and she grew up on Taykwa Tagamou (New Post) territory. She is a First Nation Studies graduate from Western University, a third year student in the Midwifery Education Program here at Ryerson, an artist, and a mother to two young children.

Sara Mai Chitty
Sara Mai Chitty is an Anishinaabe journalist and a member of Alderville First Nation. She graduated with her master’s of journalism in 2015 and has worked for non-profit organizations training Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members in journalism practices in London, Webequie and Kasabonika Lake First Nation, Ontario. She is now freelancing out of London, ON.

Mia Ohki
Mia Ohki is a Metis Japanese-Canadian artist, born in Connecticut, USA, and raised in Alberta, Canada. She presently lives and works between Edmonton and Calgary, AB. Mia primarily illustrates with black pen on white paper to convey ideas surrounding the social, feminine and cultural influences in her life, however her art is mostly influenced by her background, with Japanese and Metis culture frequently appearing in the subject matter.

LGBTQI Family Planning 101

By Annonymous

I am currently working as a facilitator for the Sherbourne Family Planning Network, which is a network for 2SLGBTQI* and questioning people who are thinking about starting a family or figuring out ways to bring little or young people into their lives. It is important for resources to be available to us to create families for a variety of reasons, the biggest reason being that we deserve it.

Illustration by Eli WiPe 

Many of us go to western medicalized spaces where you should be able to go to a doctor and talk to them about their options of having a family, but this is not an option because of how homophobic and transphobic these spaces can be. It is hard for our communities to access not only good medical services but also supportive medical services.

That then leads us to not actually having the information we need to make really good choices about our own physical health and what is possible for us to start a family. When I say family, I don’t mean just the process of making and having a baby. I also mean the complex and complicated paths to parenthood around adoption and fostering or co-parenting, or supporting a young person that already exists in the world through all of the different ways that families come together. Families for queer people and trans people have always been different. And for myself anyways, I have always looked at how traditionally our communities (BIPOC communities in particular) have always been creating families in different ways that are not based in heteronormative, white-supremacist, nuclear family ways.

The conversation for queer and trans people around what it looks like to bring a baby into their community is a very different conversation than a heterosexual couple that sometimes have accidental pregnancies.   That’s really nice if that’s an option for you, but that’s not always the case for us. Even though many medical spaces say that they are queer and trans positive, that stops at a certain point and does not always include us starting a family. Places like the Sherbourne are important for knowing whatever our path looks like, whether that’s making a baby or supporting a child that’s already in our life.

Start with big questions

First of all, ask yourself: “How do I want to bring parenthood into my life? What does that look like?” think about what your family looks like, ideas about what it means to create a family and also think about your (our) trauma around parenthood and family. There are so many pathways to parenthood for us and with that comes more questions that you should ask yourself. Things like, “How do I wanna have kids?” “Do I wanna have a kid through my body?” “Do I want to support my partner to do that?” “What does this look like in a poly or open relationship?” “Are there are multiple people in my family right now with whom I want to raise a child with?” “Do we want to ask somebody else to carry a child?” “Are there people I am not in an intimate relationship with that I would want to co-parent with?” “Is there a child in my life that I would like to take a more serious role with?”

Get ready for the feels

Family is such a huge trigger point for so many of us because of how complicated our paths have been to becoming who we are. Think through the things you need to work on for yourself, what family brings up for you and how to support and love up yourself in the process.

It can get us thinking about how we weren’t parented or how we lacked parenting. How we wished for some other kind of parenting, or wish that we had more supportive parenting. Maybe we don’t have parents in our lives anymore in the same way that we would have wanted and starting a family is going to bring up all your shit. Prepare yourself! Even though there are so many decisions to make, the thing that I love about our community and about this process is that it is so different than a heteronormative couples; we get to choose how and what and when and why and we get to think through these things in a different way. We get to work through and process these things in ways that the rest of the world doesn’t get to unfortunately because they don’t have to (or think they should).


A co-parent is someone who you’re choosing to share parenting responsibilities with; so that can mean that this person is on the birth certificate of the child and maybe not. Now on birth certificates, we have things called “intending parents”. What that means is that if you have someone who maybe you’re partnering with in terms of raising a child whether it be your best friend, cousin, sister or whatever; basically a person in your community this is someone that you would consider to be a “co-parent”. By writing that they are an “intending parent” on the birth certificate you are formalizing that process. This provides us the opportunity to have it reflect what happens in a lot of communities, especially BIPOC communities. BIPOC communities have given us many examples of co-parenting before the term “co-parenting” even existed. A village raising our children is a great example of how co-parenting is a beautiful option!

Have an agreement

Having a formal agreement helps define who is going to be part of a kids life, why for how long and what it is going to look like. It can also set out what will happen if a relationship between you and other parent(s) breaks down. A lot of co-parents will make co-parenting agreements before they take on a child/baby so the terms in a co-parenting relationship are laid out. There can also be an agreement between a donor and the co-parents. It can be as long or short as you all collectively want but it is very important to make sure to develop an understanding of what you want this to look like. There is this great example of a co-parenting family where it was two couples; two gender-queer folks and two gay, cis men who came together to parent a child and so far it has been great for them but they had to set out what this would look like before they embarked on this journey together. You can find their story if you google it, it was featured in Toronto newspapers.

Parenting Collectives

Sometimes instead of co-parenting, parents will create “parenting collectives”. It is the same type of concept, where you’re sharing responsibility for littles with other people (in intimate relationships or not). Sometimes it could mean that you’re bringing in a group of people from the community. We see this in Toronto a lot. There is also different ways to create parenting collectives that are really manageable and amazing and because of the magic of queerness where we have tons of people in the community who we share time with once in a while. It means that this kid gets to grow up with so many different aunties and uncles. To make this work means having a really organized and structured way of getting everybody on the same page about the whole responsibility chart. It really depends again on what kind of situation you’re getting into and why. If you want more information about contracts and what they look like there are lots of drafts online as well as more details on collectives and co-parenting.

If someone in your family is going to have a baby:

Let’s say you have decided that someone in your family wants to make a baby through yours or their bodies. You need: an egg, sperm and a place to grow. There are so many different combinations of what you might need and how you might get them if you don’t have one or more of these ingredients. You need to figure out which one you need and what route you want to go.

Things to point out: There is a huge lack of donors in Canada, especially BIPOC donors. Think about cost (how much money are you willing to put into this process) , consider trauma and how it will impact your body and mental health as it can be a very intense physical process (make sure you have lots of support if possible). If you are finding yourself needing one or more of these things (eggs, sperm or place to grow), there are known and unknown donor options. Surrogacy is an option, as is sperm donors and egg donors. If you are BIPOC and are looking for a non-white donor it’s important to think about the community you are in and how you would want to approach someone in acquiring sperm from. This is an option as well as buying sperm from a cryobank, which costs a lot more than a known donor. There is a significant lack of donor sperm that is BIPOC, which is a huge issue for those looking for BIPOC sperm.   If you are unaware about your own fertility, it may be useful to go to your family doctor and ask if they can refer you to a fertility clinic or get blood and other tests done. There are a few really great LGBTQ positive and supportive fertility clinics in the GTA or Toronto. If you want to look into some of these there are links on the Sherbourne LGBTQ parenting website.

How will the Law impact our families?

There is actually some pretty important legislation that was recently passed that relates to co-parenting that I wanted to mention. As of January 1st 2017, the All Families Are Equal Act was passed which basically reduces the distinction between types of parents. A parent who gives birth will not have more legal rights than a parent who does not give birth and sperm donors are recognized as donors not as parents. A legal case has already been decided where a donor was recognized as a donor and not held responsible for child support. Multi-parent families no longer need to go to court in order to recognize that there can be many parents involved in a child’s life. The legislation is written in language that recognizes the range of gender identities in our communities. It is no longer necessary to go to court to recognize parents through surrogacy in most cases. When there is a surrogacy agreement in place, and all parents and the gestational carrier or surrogate agree, the parents and the carrier or surrogate can sign affidavits after the baby is at least 7 days old and the parent or parents will be able to register the birth. Additionally, adoptive parents now have inclusive titles to choose from including “Mother”, “Father” and “Parent.”


Lastly, there is also the option of adoption and fostering. When thinking about adoption and fostering it is important to remember that the systems that you have to go through in that process are complex and have a long history of being a mechanism of colonialism, genocide and anti-Black racism in this country. Although services carrying out these options have acknowledged this history, there are still disproportionately more Indigenous and Black young people in foster care and in CAS care. If you are going through this route it is important to think about how you are going to honour and not continue to be part of damage and harm to Black and Indigenous communities if you are not connected/from those communities. It’s important to think through what it means spiritually, emotional, mentally for a child to be literally taken away from their loved ones which then leads to you having a child in your life. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be an option, but I do think it’s important to understand the current implications of this system. Perhaps that means asking yourself, how do you instead support Indigenous and Black families that are asking for support, transforming the system instead of taking kids away as well as thinking of ways to support families that already exist.

This is just an overview of all of the pathways to parenthood and options that are available.

I would like to remind the reader that the ways that we imagine and can think of family is infinite. If you can imagine it, it can happen, and so remembering to not feel boxed in by how we understand family but knowing that family is whatever we create it to be. And that is the magic and brilliance of our communities; all things are possible because we’re not boxed-in, we don’t have to be boxed in, we get to choose who we want and how it happens. So, if you can imagine it, you can make it happen; and it does not have to be any other way than what you want it to be.

If you are reading this article and are looking for more resources the best place to go would be the Sherbourne LGBTQ parenting network, their website has so much information on it! They have lots of videos and info sheets that outline different pathways to parenthood.

Eli WiPe
Eli is queer artist residing in Toronto. They are an aspiring illustrator and writer. You can contact them at piscesprincx@gmail.com. Check out their bigcartel: piscesprincx, or their instagram, twitter and tumblr by the same names

How Organizers Can, and Do, Make Conferences Accessible for Parents and Caregivers

by Vikki Law

Originally Published by www.Rewire.News


I still remember the first Allied Media Conference (AMC) that my daughter and I attended. It was June 2008; I was in the final editing stages of my first book and wanted to start talking about resistance and organizing among women behind bars. My daughter, who was 7 years old and already experienced in children’s programming at various political events, was eager to check out the conference’s newly established “Kids’ Track” that offered a handful of age-appropriate workshops about different types of media.

So I pulled her out of school and we headed for Detroit to spend three days among media makers from across the country. While I attended a training for women of colour, she and the other kids learned about the basics of block printing. While I participated in a panel discussion about incarcerated women’s voices, she learned how to design and cut out stencils, then spray paint them safely wearing a respirator and latex gloves. In between these workshops, she and the other kids (and adults) had a chance to play and have unstructured fun. She cried when it was time to leave; she had made new friends, learned new skills, and had an amazing time.

We returned the next year and were amazed to see that the Kids’ Track had ballooned from three children (and an occasional baby) to nearly two dozen. Since then, the Kids’ Track has grown even more into the “Kids’ Practice Space,” with several workshops specifically for children.

The AMC isn’t the only conference working to ensure that people with children can attend. Though conference policies—and the conversations around them—continue to evolve, many recognize the importance of ensuring accessibility for parents, caregivers, and children, especially when organizing for social change. When this happens, it not only enables caregivers and kids to attend a conference, but sends the message that they are valued members of and contributors to larger movements.

The annual Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) conference, entitled “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom,” is in its 31st year and has always provided child care.

“It’s not any harder than any other aspect of event planning,” Lucy Trainor, CLPP’s associate director, told Rewire. “It takes time and money to plan catering, it takes time and money to plan events, and it takes time and money to plan child care.” CLPP views accessibility as integral to its mission to fight for reproductive justice; thus, the conference not only offers child care, but also pays for speakers to travel with their children and, if necessary, pay for another adult to attend and help care for those children. “For us, it’s part of a larger commitment to access,” said Trainor, noting that the conference also provides financial support for speakers with disabilities to travel with their personal care attendants and language interpretation.

CLPP’s conference costs $285,000 to plan and produce. It takes place each year at Hampshire College in western Massachusetts, which provides in-kind support, such as classrooms and lecture halls for the conference, as well as year-round office space. The college also allows conference organizers to draw on students for child care, which limits those expenses to only a few hundred dollars for supplies. But, said Trainor, “even if you do have to pay for child care, you budget for it.”

Facing Race, a three-day biannual conference dedicated to racial justice, does just that. Organizers have made sure to include child care in their budget since the 2010 conference in Chicago.

“A huge number of people in Facing Race are parents and caregivers,” explained Rosana Cruz, the organization’s leadership action network director. As the conference grew from 1,000 attendees in 2010 to more than 2,000 in 2016 (plus a waiting list of 500), organizers have pondered how to grow to accommodate families and caregivers. “After each conference, we think, ‘That was great, but we can do better,’” reflected Cruz.

For instance, she recalled that the 2014 conference did not have a room for nursing or pumping. As any parent who has ever breastfed can tell you, nursing or pumping requires a space that is quiet; a refrigerator is needed to store breast milk. This year’s conference included a breastfeeding and pumping room. “We also bought screens for privacy and rented refrigerators,” added Cruz. For the 2018 conference, organizers are thinking about expanding to offer programming for children and youth similar to the AMC’s Kids’ Practice Space.

The challenge for Facing Race, which takes place at a hotel in a different city every two years, is ensuring that accommodations work for children and caregivers. “We need to secure a space in a hotel room that’s big enough,” explained Cruz. The size of that space dictates how many children can be in child care. Child-care costs also include paying licensed and insured child-care providers as well as renting cribs and a projector to screen movies when a quieter activity is needed. But organizers see these efforts as integral to building their movement: “What makes it accessible is what makes it a great conference,” Cruz said.

“It’s a little extra brainwork for people who have never had to think about this,” Cruz, who is the parent of a teenager, reflected. “But if you’re determined, this is just a given. Just like you’d value amplified sound or a keynote speaker.” Plus, when put into the context of the entire conference, child-care costs are negligible; for Facing Race, organizers say paying child-care workers and buying supplies makes up less than half of 1 percent of the total conference.

AMC, meanwhile, costs more than $400,000 each year. Child care and the Kids’ Practice Space are only a fraction of that price tag, costing $1,400 and $2,500, respectively. The value of not only accessibility, but creating relationships with future media makers and movement builders, goes far beyond that fraction, Morgan Willis, the conference’s program director, said.

“The money comes next,” said Willis. “Once you figure out what you want to do, then you figure out the money.”

The AMC has never encountered hesitation from funders about child care and kids’ programming costs, which are explicit budget lines. Willis noted that, when seeking funding, AMC organizers explicitly talk about how accessibility—whether for people with disabilities or people traveling with children—can be expensive. “We articulate to grant makers what we’re asking for and why,” she explained. “We’ve never had pushback around accessibility. Funders have responded extremely well to that.”

When the Allied Media Conference began, she said, “none of us had kids. We weren’t thinking of ways to include kids; we were in our 20s.” While the conference has always offered child care, she recalled that the parents and caregivers in attendance pushed them to do more to include the youngest attendees in conference goings-on.

As the years went on and the Kids’ Track evolved into the Kids’ Practice Space, conference organizers, in turn, challenged presenters to make their content more accessible. “What does it look like when someone with very little experience is in your space?” mused Willis. “That’s where we received the greatest amount of pushback, from people used to traditional forms of presentation.” The pushback didn’t last long; instead, what ended up happening is that considering the presence of younger attendees encouraged speakers to present information more clearly, making it more accessible to everyone who attended, regardless of age.

Unlike CLPP, the AMC is not connected to the university where it takes place each year. But, Willis said, Wayne State University has never balked at having child care or kids’ programming on site. Of course, there were questions and concerns about liability, reflecting what Willis described as “a conception of kids exclusively as a liability,” but the conference and university administrators worked through it.

It’s not just conferences centered on social justice that make accommodations for caregivers and children. When Natalie DeYoung Ricci was asked to read her essay about death at this year’s BlogHer, a conference for women in social media, she was pregnant and expecting her first baby to be born the day of the conference. Knowing that first babies often arrive later than expected, she said yes with the caveat that she might not be able to attend. Rather than write her off, the conference organizers agreed to include her. Furthermore, they offered to have her Skype in from the hospital if she gave birth earlier.

Ricci’s son was born a week early. She contacted the organizers and asked if she could bring him. Not only were organizers willing to accommodate the new mother and infant, but they encouraged her to take as many breaks as she needed, bring him on stage with her, and bring her husband to take the baby from her if needed.

Exhausted from giving birth four days earlier, Ricci only stayed for her session. She said that not only organizers, but attendees welcomed her and her young son. The experience inspired her. “This is my first baby,” she told Rewire. “To know that I could still have a professional life outside of being a mother meant a lot to me.”

The experience also set her expectation that other conferences will be as flexible. “It demonstrates goodwill towards inclusivity of families,” she said. “Many writers struggle. Child care is not always affordable, or even an option.”

BlogHer does offer child care for attendees. “It’s very key for us,” Jenni Ottum, the public relations director of BlogHer’s parent company SheKnows Media, wrote in an email to Rewire. “We actually have a digital storytelling and a media literacy program called Hatch that takes place live during our conferences so kids have a place to go where they learn while their moms do the same thing.”

Some conferences are already seeing children return as teens and young adults ready to participate in the larger conference goings-on. Trainor has seen people who initially came to CLPP as children with their caregivers returning to participate in the larger conference as adults.

About one-third of the children and youth who attend the AMC return the following years. And now, conference organizers are beginning to read workshop proposals from people who first came as young children.

“We reached an interesting challenge in 2015 where the content for the Kids’ Practice Space was so good that the adults were knocking down the door,” recalled Willis. The number of adults crowded out children from attending two of the kids’ sessions. Another conference organizer asked, “Can we ask some of the adults to leave so kids can get in?”

Recalling that particular scenario, Willis added, “With over 350 sessions, you’d think you’d find something that wasn’t for kids!” But the popularity of the workshops indicated the quality of the programming offered to children and youth.

“I’m sure that there will be a very short time before we’ll be seeing people say, ‘I was 12 at the conference in Baltimore or Dallas and now I want to present my own workshop,’” reflected Facing Race’s Cruz.

The organizers of Facing Race, AMC, and CLPP see accessibility for families with children not only as essential, but, as Cruz puts it, an act that “pushes back against the rugged individualism that is a hallmark of white supremacy. So it’s not, ‘I don’t have kids’ or ‘I don’t need translation,’ so why should I pay for this? It’s ‘I love this conference because people who are monolingual, people who are deaf, people who have kids can come here.’”

They also note that, while child care is offered, none of the conferences require children to stay sequestered in separate spaces. “We think children deserve to be in these [conference] spaces,” said Trainor. “It’s positive to have younger members participating in these discussions. Children are not a distraction.”


Vikki Law
Victoria Law is a freelance journalist focusing on intersections of incarceration, gender and resistance and the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women. Her next book, Your Home is Your Prison, critically examines proposed “alternatives” to incarceration and explores creative solutions that truly end mass incarceration.

Coming Home: An Interview With Tina Reynolds

by Savannah Taylor

I had the privilege of chatting with Tina for the second time for The Peak about her work with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women in the state of New York. My intention upon interviewing her was to chat on what has led her to where she is today. Admittedly, I expected a play-by-play account of all the brilliant advocacy work she has done. However, what ensued touched on something much more beautiful and something many of us can relate to… Family and sisterhood.

Do you wanna introduce yourself and what you do?

Tina: I am the co-founder and chair of WORTH (Women On the Rise Telling Her Story), which is a volunteer organization that is led and run by currently and formerly justice-involved women. We’ve been around since 2008, and we’ve done some phenomenal things, like changing legislation and policy and bringing about laws that impact women who have experienced incarceration. Two years ago, I began working at The Child Center of NY to develop and implement A Vision for Tele-Visiting (AVTV), a program that offers the logistical, emotional, and wraparound support to assists families in maintaining meaningful relationships during a parent’s incarceration and preparing for a successful reentry into family and community life. We provide reentry support, family support along with youth activities, leadership development and tele-visits, as well as mental health support and wraparound services, such as job placement assistance and benefits counseling. The Child Center has a powerful community presence, reaching more than 26,000 children a year. It’s located in Queens, NY, which includes neighborhoods where the numbers of children impacted by parental incarceration are among the highest.   What better place to offer services to children with justice-involved mothers?

So WORTH, from what I remember from the last time we chatted, came out of your own experiences from being incarcerated, correct?

Tina: Yes! WORTH came out of the experiences that I had and many other women had from our incarceration. We came out of prison with a feeling that there was not much ready for us to become successful and remain out in the free world. So, we began by having conversations amongst ourselves to see how we could support each other and support our sisters coming home.

Did you wanna touch more on your new program that WORTH is focusing on now?

Tina: We are focused on our partnership with The Child Center to provide services through AVTV, which in turn focuses on mothers and children within New York State Facilities, for women in NYC who are housed in Bedford and Taconic correctional facilities. We also offer tele-visiting services within Rikers Island’s Rose M. Singer Center for women, where we offer services to families, youth, and mothers with children. There is this tele-visiting boom happening within the nation, and not all programs are thinking about the relationship between the child or family member and the justice-involved person. Here in New York, there are organizations like The Osborne Association, Hour Children, and The Child Center who always put the child first, and honour the relationship between the child and his or her parent.

It is important to offer supplemental services to physical visits–although it is very important for children to see, feel, and touch their parent through physical visits–in addition to offering families a safe space to heal and move forward with their lives. We have three sites in Queens and a tele-visit can basically be done every day. We facilitate visits in Bedford Hills and Taconic Correctional Facilities, as well as Rose M. Singer centre in Rikers Island 1.

1. Westchester, Bedford, Taconic and Rikers Island are all prisons located in the Tri-State Area

It’s interesting because the program originally started out with the focus on just the state facilities, but after talking with the CEO of The Child Center, Traci Donnelly, she agreed we should offer tele-visiting to women with children because there was the possibility of continuation of services if Mom was transferred up state. She also envisioned us working with youth and opening visits up to families.

Before you were with WORTH and before you started organizing, who was Tina? What was Tina up to?

Tina: (laughs) well that’s a long time ago. I really did not know who I was; I knew who I wanted to be, though. I knew I wanted to help women and children. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, so I became involved in an organization and began sharing my story about my experience as an incarcerated woman. I had been home for about 12 months? I began pursuing an undergraduate degree and raising my last two children and reuniting with my other children, changing my life through the love of others and being really grateful for being out. So my primary focus was on my family because I have seven children and I’d been out of their lives for so long. In the first 5 years, my efforts were to basically reunify with my own children. To establish a relationship with them or assist them with establishing a relationship with each other. They were raised by various family members throughout the tri-state area…so they were pretty much dispersed throughout New York and New Jersey. Reunification is difficult and challenging. I had to swallow my pride, be strong, give voice to my emotions, and remain humble. My main focus was for my children to have a relationship with each other, grow and live happy lives. I am happy my family stepped in and supported them through my incarcerations.

It sounds like you had a very solid foundation of focusing on your family unit. Did that carry over to your advocacy work and WORTH?

Tina: It certainly carried over. My family experiences through my incarceration and the unification process with my children certainly intersected with my work. I often found myself speaking with sisters who had experienced the same situations and the challenges of unification with their own families and children. They were facing the challenges of the choices their family members had made who were taking care of their children in their absence. So, I always wanted to make sure I focused on those issues in regard to reproductive health but also family stability once Mom came home. Because it’s so important! Mothers tend to think about their children during their incarceration. They think and wonder about their safety and who their friends are and whether they’re faring well and things that they have missed as far as conversations–as well as, the “firsts” in any child’s life; regardless of how old they are, there are always “firsts” that happen in your child’s life that you are definitely missing if you are incarcerated and you can’t get those times back. So, I’ve always been about doing the work but also realizing that there are challenges around re-establishing relationships with those you love. And continuing to strengthen those relationships as you are out, being true to yourself and asking your children to be true to themselves and coming up with some specific guidelines of how you would engage with them and how to be with them. Since you being there physically is such a big missing in their lives during incarceration, even if you see them regularly, speak with them regularly during your incarceration, you are still not there. Each one of my children are different people and each one of them have/had different needs. While they wanted me in their lives, there were certain things that they wanted from me and I had to realize my own limitations. Not always monetarily, but emotionally, because as I was growing through my process of being home, I was also growing through my process emotionally   of being the person who I am today. I hadn’t really spent that much time learning who I was, and so I could do things but I wasn’t attached to the emotion behind the things I did.   I wanted to be attached to the emotion; those were the most difficult challenges because I had spent so much time without feelings in order to survive in a very selfish and selfless world.

How do you feel like your communication/unification process has changed since you started your advocacy work to now?

Tina: Well, basically, so much has happened in my advocacy work in relation to my children. I’ve been an editor in an anthology, Interrupted Lives: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States, where I shared a story about my last daughter and reuniting when she was 20 years old. Now, some 9 years later, she is in my life and she has three children and is married. My other children have gotten married. My daughters were married first and have strong and stable relationships with their husbands. My sons are not married yet. My children and I have always communicated, and my communication is unique to each child. I speak with some more than others. However, we have always communicated. It has transformed over the years into a relationship of dignity and respect and love. My advocacy work is all my children see and know I do, they observe my commitment and dedication to others.   They are an integral part of my growth. Advocacy is an integral part of my growth, sisterhood is a big part of who I am.

Do you feel like WORTH is a place for women to come and rebuild things that have been lost or forgotten while they were incarcerated?

Tina: So even WORTH has transitioned and transformed into something different. We closed our office in Manhattan a few years back and now we’ve been working specifically on this tele-visiting. . Our mantra has always been “once you’re a member of WORTH you’re always a member of WORTH” because it’s a volunteer organization. Women were inspired and moved towards gaining employment and seeking a higher education while volunteering at WORTH. It’s always been a volunteer program and because of our movement women have gone on and done different phenomenal things for themselves in their lives. They come back and touch base and we end up being in certain spaces together. We were able to join as a group of women to the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls and the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples Movement. It is always inspiring to meet so many women across the nation who have been impacted by incarceration and gone on to do phenomenal things. So, WORTH has grown as I have grown, and it hasn’t looked like something that I wanted in the beginning, but when things transform, it’s just like relationships with your children. You have this idea of how this relationship is going to be. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s gonna turn out like that. So, how do you adjust to the ways in which it does turn out and how can you keep moving forward knowing that that’s your position in the world and that’s the purpose you’ve been placed here for? So, through the transition of WORTH, in many ways, it’s not where we were before, but what can we look like in the future? So working within the prison now, we’re looking at it from a perspective of having leadership coming out of the facilities we are offering services in. Having the women come in and join us in this process and guide us from that place (because we’ve been home a lot longer) where they see the impacts of incarceration on themselves and their families being different within this world of social media and technology. We have to give folks that are coming out a safe space and a chance to be fully self-expressed.

How would you describe WORTH now then? Is it still a sisterhood?

Tina: It is still a sisterhood! It is always and will always be a sisterhood of women. There are so many women who have been a part of WORTH that it will never not be a sisterhood. Because of our experiences–some of us have experienced incarceration together, gone through education together or organized together. So, it will never not be a sisterhood… We are continuing the work moving forward, we’re just doing it differently. It’s sort of transformed into something else.

Tina Reynolds
Tina Reynolds is Co-Founder and Chair of Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH). WORTH is an association of formerly and currently incarcerated women who have been empowered by their own experiences while involved in the criminal justice system and beyond.  Reynolds has received a Master in Social Work from Hunter College and is currently an adjunct professor at York, CUNY in the Behavioral Sciences Department teaching “Impact of Incarceration on Families, Communities and Children” and Human Development.

A Single Question

by Najla Nubyanluv

About 8 or 9 years ago, Yvette* arrived at a hospital to support Miranda*, a doula client who had given birth earlier that day. When Yvette knocked on Miranda’s hospital room door, Miranda called for Yvette to enter. A nurse was in the room questioning Miranda about the absence of their partner throughout the birth and postpartum. What the nurse did not know, was that Miranda was a newcomer refugee, who had fled to Canada from her partner due to domestic violence. She had arrived pregnant during the winter. It was her first time outside of a tropical climate and she did not have friends or family in the country. The conversation was triggering and Miranda was in shock. In that moment, Yvette was glad that she had arrived in time to support Miranda in advocating for her own care and respect. What in the world was going on?

Illustration above: Guiding by Mia Ohki


I wanted it to be the first and last experience of that sort that I had heard of but it was not. I had supported many single people and partnered people choosing to birth without their partners, who had faced some form of dismissive or disrespectful behaviour from institutions that were supposed to offer quality prenatal services to ALL people and family structures.

I wanted it to be the first and last experience of that sort that I had heard of but it was not. I had supported many single people and partnered people choosing to birth without their partners, who had faced some form of dismissive or disrespectful behaviour from institutions that were supposed to offer quality prenatal services to ALL people and family structures.

Fast forward to 2018. In some ways, many things have changed. In other ways, we are still dropping the ball on supports for single parents. Are we going to play this game of hetero-2.5 kids-with-a-dog-and-a-picket-fence forever? Unfortunately, at the rate that Toronto is going, many millennials will only be able to afford 2.5% of a picket fence from the money they save from their second job as a nanny to someone’s dog, so let us get right into this brief discussion on some of the experiences of single parents in Toronto.

Single parents are not new to our communities. Many of us grew up with friends or in families where parents were remarried, single or separated. There are many, many family structures and somehow our society is not as inclusive as it could, and should be. With people having children later in life, and opting more and more for fertility options that do not require a partner, there will be many more single biological and adoptive parents to come. Yesterday, I filled out an intake form at a medical appointment that asked if my mother and father lived together while I was growing up. Who promised them that I had two parents? How were they sure that having two parents meant that one of them identified as a mother, while the other identified as a father? This is basic. Regardless of the reason for lone parenthood, these parents are real and should not be treated as an afterthought and family services should consistently be provided to address their family needs.

Many families choose to hire a doula to support their family through a pregnancy transition. A doula is a birth companion who is skilled in offering support to birthing parents before (prenatal), during and/or after birth (perinatal). Doulas are amazing resources and support systems. They can soothe concerns and support in birth preparation, and provide a care after baby arrive. Families of all structures choose to use doula services. Doulas have been proven to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates, while also reducing the rates of emergency cesareans. While many single parents hire doulas and there has been an increase in programs that offer free or affordable doulas, cost is still a barrier. The Ontario Health Insurance Plan does not cover doulas and prices can range from hundreds of dollars to thousands, depending on the nature of the individual services. Increased access to doulas provide a more companion style support with phone calls and appointments leading up to birth but what about more intimate companion supports?

My initial searches for single parent services brought up a lot of dating sites. I rejigged my search and I could not quite find what I was looking for. I was searching for professional prenatal intimacy or cuddle support. Doulas are reliable companions but cuddlers are a completely different service. I am a snuggler. Not professionally yet. I am snuggler because it makes me feel warm and comfortable. I love tucking my feet under thighs for warmth when I sit next to someone on a couch (beware!) and my favorite time of day is snuggle o’clock. Are you seeing the pattern here? Research has proven that cuddling releases oxytocin, resulting in a lower risk of postpartum depression. People who live with depression before pregnancy may experience ongoing calming support that can intervene in their elevated risk of postpartum depression. Cuddling can significantly decrease stress levels and it can help to abate anxiety around birthing and rearing a child alone. Where the cuddle supports for expectant parents?

I have been researching professional cuddlers for a couple of years now, diversity in body types and races is lacking, and the ones that exist do not focus specifically on prenatal care. Many single parents would benefit from intermittent non-sexual intimacy options. These services can provide those soothing intimate moments like an arm over a belly, or someone to lay next to when discomfort wards off sleep. That relaxation can be helpful with preparing the body for birth. Hiring a cuddler is an opportunity a professional intimate relationship that completely respects the client’s boundaries. There is a lot of stigma around single pregnant people dating, but pregnant people are still people with desires, so why not? Some expectant people would prefer not to engage in negotiating romantic relationships or are the risk of recovering from a potential breakup while they are pregnant. Either way, lone pregnancy does not result in an immediate loss of romantic or sexual desire. For those who are looking for more than a non-sexual intimate option,  People can/should still educate themselves about sex workers’ services and other sex positive services. Sex during pregnancy may provide a number of health benefits such as stress reduction, release of oxytocin and pleasure. Therefore, I will still mention sexual intimate options even though it is not the focus of this article.

Toronto Public Health offers a wide range of prenatal and parenting services but many of them can definitely more inclusive program. Check their resources. The information provided can be useful, but they continue to refer to a partner or a support person. Ask for referrals and resources from community health centres, midwifery practices, doulas, friends and family members. Advocacy is such a key part of supporting single parent families. Offer feedback about programs and services that are needed at your local community health centre. Services are continuing to try to be inclusive but single parents already exist now. The experiences of single parenthood are vast and diverse and the programs to support them should be too.

*Names changed for privacy

Najla Nubyanluv
Najla Nubyanluv is a queer black playwright, actor, author and doula who loves belly laughter. She is the author & illustrator of “I Love Being Black”, a clay illustrated children’s book published by Sorplusi Press. Most recently, her afrofuturistic shero drama about black women’s magic and mental health entitled I Cannot Lose My Mind saw its World Premiere at Crow’s Theatre in Toronto, On, Canada.

Mia Ohki
Mia Ohki is a Metis Japanese-Canadian artist, born in Connecticut, USA, and raised in Alberta, Canada. She presently lives and works between Edmonton and Calgary, AB. Mia primarily illustrates with black pen on white paper to convey ideas surrounding the social, feminine and cultural influences in her life, however, her art is mostly influenced by her background, with Japanese and Metis culture frequently appearing in the subject matter.

Rites of Passage

by kahsenniyo williams

She came running in the room frantic and doubtful. She said, “Mom I think I got my period.” Despite me giving her teachings on this day, this moment since she was little, I could hear the insecurities in her voice. Her words echoed in ancestral tones. “Mom, I think I got my period,” she repeated. These words began a continental movement in my life. It was like the earth cracked and shifted for us to reveal the new road, the new path and journey for us. Womanhood. It is important for me to acknowledge that her muttering these words meant a change not just for my daughter and I, but for our community, the aunties, her sisters, the grandmothers and all of the women in our lives. I certainly did not raise this child alone. Numerous wonderful, powerful and loving women worked together with me and my husband to create this little girl that was standing in front of me. This meant change for all of us.

Illustration above: Quiet girls are seeds 2 by Mia Ohki 

I had been preparing for this beautiful moment for a long time. I stayed up nights wondering to myself and the ancestors “how do I as an Indigenous mother in 2017 bring my daughter into womanhood given everything my people have lost”? I knew that we as Haudenosaunee had to have some sort of ceremony or way of doing this, prior to contact. Unfortunately, it had, for the most part been lost in the dust and avalanche of colonization. Stripped from our way of life during the residential school era. If you take a child from their home to colonize them, you remove child rearing practices. Fundamental to those practices is the ways in which we transition our young people into adulthood. The ceremony, the process. At some point the sacredness of this time was gone. The residential school era forced shame and humiliation on us as a whole. It turned this once beautiful time in development into an secretive embarrassing time. This presented huge challenges for me as a mother. It felt as if my daughter was in front of me, her arms extended with a basket in her hands, waiting for me to fill it. And I was standing in front of her empty handed, with nothing to offer her. Not only was it necessary for me to do the work of overcoming the colonial shame of my womanhood and body, but I also had to overcome the shame of not having the cultural knowledge. The reality of being a mother with no tools or knowledge given to me of how to do this thing was often at times overwhelming. I often reflected on how young people are transitioned into adulthood today and was bothered. Today the first drink, the first time having sex, the first-time smoking weed. I didn’t know much other than I didn’t want any of these as the marker for my daughter’s transition into womanhood.

I spent time exploring and seeking answers on how to do this, in a way that felt good for me, my daughter, our family and our community. I spoke to knowledge holders, grandmothers, men and women. I talked to kids and I had countless conversations with the women in my life. I even went to Akwesasne (a Mohawk territory) to learn from them.

Here are some key points I learned.

This time in a person’s life is crucial to their development. It is a time that we as caretakers of these beings (not just parents) should hold our young people the closest. Today our youth hit a certain age and we often let them go. Off to explore and develop on their own, with very little supervision or guidance. This colonial mentality goes against all logic. We must intentionally and lovingly bring our sons and daughters into adulthood. We must put intentional lessons in front of them to shape them, to give them guiding principles and values. We must give them challenges and healthy obstacles to overcome.

Just because I did not receive these teachings does not make me an inadequate mother. The shame I felt around this was not mine to carry. It is far more beneficial to do somethings instead of nothing. We need to be brave and we need to make space for our own knowledge and intuition in transitioning our young people. We need to call upon the knowledge in our circles. To hold up mothers, fathers and community. We need to collectively put these young people at the centre of community during this time in their lives.

Culture that is alive grows and changes to meet the needs of the people. This concept is necessary for the revitalization of Indigenous child rearing. It requires the openness to make mistakes and create somethings new out of the old. It requires being bold and prioritizing the children here today over our own trauma and egos. If we continue to function from a place of fear and secrecy we will lose the little that we have and ultimately our children will miss out.

Her birth into this world was my birth into motherhood. A process that is never ending. With winding roads up mountains, through valleys and flat lands.

My daughter was the first woman in my family in generations to get some sort of intentional community-based transition into womanhood. Being that this was the first time in generations and that my daughter has struggled with self-esteem we had a big celebration. There were women from all corners of the world who attended. We had a full moon ceremony in her honour. This was an inter-generational affair. We ate, sang songs, shared stories of womanhood, gave words of encouragement and wrapped her in our love. This was true healing, for all of us. All of these women who in their own ways had been robbed of a similar experience. Although we were there for her, we healed parts of ourselves. On this night she would start her berry fast. A yearlong ritual fasting. To teach her about commitment. So that she would experience the satisfaction of following through. To teach her about self-regulation and temptation. So that she could have the experience of dealing with wanting something but knowing that it’s not the best decision for her. How to say NO. To teach her to listen to her body and what she is craving. For her to know that her body belongs to her. To teach her about sacrifice. To give her the security of knowing that a community is surrounding her and keeping her accountable. To give her a sense that her decisions should be purposeful. So that she knows the moon and berries are there for her.

It is yet to be seen the long terms effects this will have on her. But I know as the person who is teaching and guiding her that I have reference points of times she learned all of these different teachings. I keep bringing her back to those moments and have a feeling that I will throughout the next several years. This journey is just beginning. She has more process and challenges that will intentionally be put in her path before we can fully welcome her into the circle of women. But it is comforting to know that we are on our way.

Kahsenniyo Williams
Kahsenniyo Williams is a mother, poet, spoken word artist, and community organizer. She is from the mohawk nation and the wolf clan based in Six Nations.

Mia Ohki
Mia Ohki is a Metis Japanese-Canadian artist, born in Connecticut, USA, and raised in Alberta, Canada. She presently lives and works between Edmonton and Calgary, AB. Mia primarily illustrates with black pen on white paper to convey ideas surrounding the social, feminine and cultural influences in her life, however her art is mostly influenced by her background, with Japanese and Metis culture frequently appearing in the subject matter.