Micky: Measurable impact on birth outcomes because someone sat in the corner of the room and witnessed. And what I learned after training doulas, after being a doula for a decade was that my heart and my hands were my two most important tools.
Alida: Welcome to the care work podcast. I’m your host, Alida Miranda-Wolff and for the last ten years as a diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging practitioner I focused on providing care to other people for a living. This is a podcast about people like me, care workers. I explore with a host of guests what it means to offer care and to take care of ourselves in the process.
Micky Scottbey Jones, also known as the Justice Doula is a black queer woman, who accompanies people as they birth more love, justice, and belonging into our world. Micky is a womanist, contemplative activist, multi-phased movement chaplain, writer, certified enneagram teacher and coach, compassionate facilitator, and non-violence practitioner.
In our conversation today, Micky and I spend time talking about what it means to help people in laboring processes, whether that labor is actually giving birth to a human life, to an idea, to justice. We end with a contemplation of what it means to be a witness, and to accompany people in the hardest moments of their lives.
Micky, I am so excited to have you here today. I’m really looking forward to our conversation. I can say that this is actually one of the episodes I’ve most been looking forward to recording because I feel like any time, we’ve gotten to talking there has always been something new I learn about you, and about the amazing things that you have done in the world and continue doing in the world. So, I know we are going to have a lot to talk about and I know part of that is because of just all of the things that you’ve done in your career. And I think it might help to start a little bit more broadly. So, I would love for you in your own words to describe yourself as a care worker. When you think about yourself in the context of offering care to others, who are you?
Micky: Well, thanks Alida. I’m really honored to be a part of this podcast and this vision you have to bring a conversation about care work to the world. It’s a vision that inspires me because care work has been a part of my life for so long. Even as a little girl, being a babysitter. The second I was older than other children [laugh] and able to be a babysitter I was caring for other people.
So, I would say that care is something that is pretty much woven through me. I just have one of those personalities that’s like that mama bear personality, where I’m going to care for everybody. I know we are going to talk about enneagram a little bit later, but my kind of driving instinct is the social instinct which is all about how our [networks ? 00:03:14] together as human beings, and so I’m really driven by that need to know how we are all connected and be thinking about how to keep us all connected. And so, I think that’s a big part of who makes me who I am. And then that has connected to this idea of womanism. When I found out what womanism was, especially for me, as I was in seminary and learned about womanist theology, and at that point I was already a huge fan of the work of Alice Walker, who coined the term womanism, and I felt at home when I heard that term.
I was like: “Oh! That’s who I am!” And it is largely driven by care. Yes, care in connection to others and community. A womanist loves women and men, and other people and loves herself. And so, that kind of drive, that focus, that way of seeing the world, the “we must care for ourselves and care for each other”, that is what drives my care work. Yes, I want to care for other people, but I will not neglect myself in the process. So, how do I develop a way of caring that includes myself?
Alida: It’s so interesting that you bring up womanism and like I said, I learn something new about you every time we talk because I didn’t know about this connection before. What comes up for me is the simple fact that you spent most of your working life as a doula, caring for people giving birth, but also caring for the people who were facilitating the birthing experience. And I would love to just know more about how this philosophy around womanism and that doula work connected.
Mickey: Well, you know, one of the other kind of parts of the womanism definition is this idea of womanish and that was often applied or is often applied to little black girls who are maybe not quite being little girlish, that are womanish, that are a little serious and are up in grown folks’ business, right? And that has always been me. I was an only child for a very long time. I have a little brother that’s twenty-one years younger than me, so, and we never lived in the same house [laugh].
So, I was in grown folks’ business. And I’ve always been a little serious and concerned about the world. And into what’s happening in the world, and with other people. And in doula work it’s like: “I want to be up in your business!”
You know, it takes a certain kind of person to say: “I’m going to be with you when you are panting and laboring, and maybe throwing up, and you know, you need to get up and move around and I’m going to help you remember to eat and go to the bathroom”. You know, some intimate moments. That, you know, womanist philosophy that starts with my own need for care and knowing what I need in who I am, I’m able to then trust that other people know who they are and what they need, and then come along beside them and help them. I’m not trying to make their choices for them or change the choices that they would make. People often will refer to me as a midwife, especially when I was doing doula work. They would just kind of interchange doula and midwife, and no, no, no. Midwives make sure everybody makes it out alive. Like, I’m not trying to do all that. [Laugh]. That’s a lot of responsibility. But I will be there with you no matter what happens. Because, again, I appreciate my own autonomy, my own needs, and I want to come alongside others as they are you know, making their own decisions and touching into their own needs. And remind them that they have the space and the capability to do those things. And so, I think it really is deeply connected to how I understand myself as a black woman, a black queer woman, and as a womanist.
Alida: What comes up for me is as you know, I recently gave birth, and I had a traumatic birth experience. And the whole way I was thinking that I was going to hire a doula and ultimately, I had decided I’m not going to have a doula while I’m laboring, but I am going to have a post-partum doula. That’s what I want to focus on because I’m thinking that my recovery period is when I’ll most need that person. And what occurs to me is that when I was actually in the hospital. I was in labor for five days, and actively for over nineteen hours, it was so hard to push for what I wanted for myself. And my husband and I had been prepared for push back, and we had this birth plan in place, and if it wasn’t for one of the nurses who was there, I would have felt completely shadowed, out of the space because I did not feel heard. And I wanted someone to say: “Well, she doesn’t want the Pitocin”. So, actually we are not even going to talk about it right now. As opposed to the insistence and insistence and insistence, where both you and your partner are exhausted. And so, what that brings up for me is all the ways in which my friends who had doulas were able to relax about holding up their boundaries in a time when it was really hard to manage boundaries. And I wonder for you what your experience has been around boundaries and doula work, both for the folks that you advocate for, but also for yourself, being in that high stress situation.
Micky: Yeah, I was a birth and a post-partum doula for many years and then transitioned into a more of a justice space, fake workspace, and I feel like a lot of those doula skills and techniques I have transferred into kind of helping people birth different things into the world that aren’t a sweet little human, that are more justice, more love, more belonging, whatever that is. And whatever it is you are trying to birth, whatever new thing you are creating, or letting come through you, it takes boundaries to make that happen. It takes a boundaried self, you know, knowing what’s mine and what’s yours, right? Because I think I have seen over and over again in the birthing room people expecting the birthing person to take responsibility for the feelings or thoughts or whatever of other people, right? Like: “I’m the doctor and I’m responsible for this, this, and this”. Like that is supposed to sway you as a birthing person, right? And you are not here to take care of the doctor or the midwife’s needs. You are here to birth your baby. Or even with partners, getting confused about boundaries and needs, and those kinds of things. When you are trying to birth a new project into the world, right? People getting confused about emotional and work boundaries. You know, people will often talk about doulas as coaches, birth coaches, right? And so, coaches don’t tell you what to do. Coaches offer you questions to help you get clear on what you want, including your boundaries. So, you said when we came in, you know, we’ve been talking for months that you don’t want an epidural. “Is that where you are right now? What do you need right now? You need relief right now? Let’s talk about what your options are”. The matter what we decided before, the matter what you thought you were going to do, what do you want right now? That’s the only thing that matters is what you want right now, right?
So, whether that’s that moment in a birthing room or whether it’s a project it’s like: “I know you said you wanted to have this [unintelligible word 00:11:29] next week. What do you need right now? How are we doing right now? You need to go take a nap? Go take a nap. We’ll push it back a week”. All that happens with the company men or being a doula, or a coach is that you help people hutch into what’s really important in that moment instead of some ideal. And then that frees them up to really make the choice they need to make in that moment.
Alida: It brings me to this first conversation you and I ever had which was about the work that you do helping people come into their own as people, and that’s been very literal, that’s been through spirituality, that’s been through the enneagram. You’ve essentially built this rule for yourself as an ultimate guide. That’s how I see you. You’ve been a guide in pretty much every way that you’ve lived your life, and I remember talking to you about it, and asking what’s the weight of that? Because there is a lot of pressure that comes into that.
Alida: And one of the things that you said is that you used to coach doulas to keep snacks with them. To make sure that they were fed when their clients were laboring or you’ve talked about how in the faith community you’ve held space for folks who are having a really, really hard time, and reminding them: “You take care of other people. You need to take care of yourself”. And I’d love to hear from you how do you take care of yourself?
Micky: Well, taking care of myself has definitely been something I have had to commit to and recommit to over and over again because I have a really hard time showing up for myself. I think it’s also why I am so compelled, called maybe even to teach this stuff. Because for me, I find it difficult to continually talk about it, teach about it if I am not doing it myself. So, it is something that I have to just continually come back to because I’m just really good at piling way too much on my plate [laugh], and then feeling completely overwhelmed. So, I have to do a lot of planning. I have to plan out how I’m going to incorporate care for myself. That includes things like ordering meal kits. So, you know, picking the meals on the little app, ordering the meal kits [laugh] uh, picking what weeks it needs to show up. Calendaring out my year, my quarter, whatever, so that I have time on the calendar that I’m going to get away, that I’m going to spend the week writing, that I’m going to whatever it is, you know, actually have those times on my calendar so that I essentially make, you know, plans with myself. And with loved ones, or partners. Whoever I’m going to be with. And then, it’s the daily things. Making sure that I get out of bed in enough time. I actually, so, I do a writing group most mornings and the writing group is at 8 a.m. I actually try to get up between 6 and 7 in order to make that writing group at 8 [laugh] because I just need a lot of read time. And my goal is also to move my body before that starts. So, if I want to get up and have my tea and fiddle around the house a bit and maybe do a thing or two and move my body for any length of time, even if it’s just ten minutes. And still be butt in seat by 8:00 o’clock, I have to get up at six. So, it’s those kinds of things where it’s like, some of it is daily, some of it is year plan, some of it’s like: “Oh, how do I arrange my life”? Those are the things that I’m understanding that I need in order to create enough resource within myself to be able to show up for the work that I know I’m called to do.
Alida: I resonate so much with what you are saying and part of what you are talking about in terms of creating that space for yourself reminds me of a practice that I recently adopted which is, I’m reading the incredible book What My Bones Know by Stephanie Foo and it’s a memoir of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, complex PTSD and one of the sections is on how gratitude actually supported her and she reminds herself that gratitude reminds you that what you have is enough and you have to remind yourself to be grateful, and so she adopted this practice of creating a two column layout in her journal, and in one side it is the joy she experienced that day and on the other side is the pride that she experienced at bringing others joy. And that’s a practice that she has to commit time to, and I think it’s a beautiful practice, so I’ve started doing it myself and it’s very much the same thing Micky, where I’ve had to be almost cut-throat about my morning schedule to make sure that I can do my thirty minutes of journaling because I plan my day, I have my prompts, I write my year-end goals, I write my core desire feelings, I write all these different pieces. And I can see a dramatic difference when I don’t get that time, and I don’t have my sort of thirty minutes journaling block. But I feel compelled to compromise it because of all these other things that are happening in the background and all these other demands coming from people. And it’s why I admire one of your practices so much, which is you have an autoresponder on your email and in that email, you make it clear that you’ve got some boundaries about responsiveness, and you’ve got a link to what it means to count your spoons. So, I would love for you to talk a little bit more about that.
Micky: Yeah. Well, I have gotten a great response from that auto responder from lots of people about it who are curious about it, who are inspired. Some people I think who feel guilty. [Laugh] One person was like: I feel bad about emailing you. I was like: “No, no. That’s probably some internal stuff for you, so you need to go deal with that”. [Laugh] But, you know, there’s been a range. But most people have been just in awe, like I want to go back to the computer lab situation. [Laugh]. It’s like, I mean when I was in college, I had to go to the computer lab, you know, sit down, log in, get my little email. You responded like once a week, twice a week tops, right? And now it’s like because we all have a full computer in our pockets, in our hand most of the time we feel like we have to reply to the email that just came in, and we don’t. We actually could all just agree that we are not going to do that. That we are not going to live life at that pace. And so, for me this is just, essentially a necessity thing. I cannot live like that anymore. I do refer to spoons because I experience chronic pain and I ignored it for as long as I humanly possibly could, and it just didn’t work anymore. My body as all of our bodies will do, will keep sounding the alarm until we listen. And my body did that and I was under some intense stress but even without that a pandemic, you know, loss, all of those kinds of things can do that to us. And it’s not because we are weak, it’s because our bodies are just really smart and trying to communicate with us. But I spent a long time trying to repress those body signals because I was trying to just be the good girl who can handle it all. The exceptional worker, the exceptional mother, the person who could just do all the work and take care of all the things and try not to be a bother for anyone and so I just repressed, repressed, repressed. And it has shown up in my body as chronic pain. So, I have to do a lot to kind of stay with my body and know what my limits are because I often can’t quite hear it early on. I can’t feel it early on. And so, in order to not, you know, push pass, and end up chronically tired and chronically in more pain, in an unmanageable state of pain I have to understand that I only show up each day with a certain amount of spoons, a certain amount of energy and so, when those spoons are all in the sink, they are all in the sink. [Laugh] They are dirty, and I cannot use them anymore. I cannot go to the store and get more spoons. They are gone. So, it has helped me to put some boundaries around my work.
Alida: It’s really interesting to hear you talk about this because you started this conversation by essentially framing yourself as a care worker, someone understanding the value of people’s inherent humanity, and existing to really foster social and humanity connections. And in order to fulfill that space, you have to one, acknowledge your own humanity and it’s also a struggle. So, it’s really interesting to hear that play out because I will say that from the womanism perspective there is this gender norm of as a woman you give, and give, and give and you don’t ask, and you don’t receive. And I go back to Rachel Vorona Cote’s book Too Much, which is about how Victorian ideals shape what it means to be a woman today. And one of the things that comes up is that this obsession with our weight is rooted in Victorian ideals for two reasons. The first being that it was a status symbol to have a wife who literally could not work because she was frail during the Industrial Revolution. So, to have a wife who would faint after a few steps meant that you really had made it, that you were wealthy. And then there was also this ideal of the woman who gives everything to the point of diminishing herself. So, the idea of a woman who would feed her father and her husband, and her children before herself and there wouldn’t be any food left over. And that’s why she was so thin, and so there is this interesting dynamic happening because it’s a woman’s role to give and nurture, and to be undernourished at the same time. I think I’d like to end our conversation on probably the hardest and heaviest question I had. This is something that has come up in two different conversations where I’ve shared with you that I see myself in this diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging role constantly in a state of talking to someone on the absolute worst day of their professional life. If they are coming to me as an individual, as an individual worker often times something has happened and I’m there to support them and I’ve asked in the past: “Why did you feel you could come to me?” And part of it is that I tend to narrativize my own life, so I talk about my life as a story, and that may encourage others to do the same. But the other part is I’ve been told that I’m non-threatening. And if I take that in the most positive way possible, I see that as non-judgmental. You don’t think that I’m going to think worse of you for whatever it is you told me. And I know you very much have that characteristic. So, can you talk to me a little bit more about how you work with people on the worst day of their lives, and in what context?
Micky: Well, I do that work largely as a coach. I mean, of course, a lot of that is informal. You know? My network, my friends, people know they can come to me as someone who has fairly recently experienced kind of a big professional mistake, right? It is public and known. What I find is that people are now coming to me and confessing something similar that they went through. Even if they are not ashamed anymore, they worked through everything, it’s like, they just, there’s nowhere to talk about when you mess up, right? Like, people who are just accused of something and it was really a conflict not harm, but they don’t know how to talk about it because the conflict just got out of hand and everybody just parted ways and nobody wants to talk. Like a revelation I’ve had recently is that we talk about integrity largely in an aspirational sense. This is like a theory that I’m working with in my head. We largely talk about it aspirationally. We don’t really talk about what integrity means practically, right? We essentially talk about it as like always making the right choice or making the same choice in private you would in public. Or, you know, doing what’s right when no one is watching. And it’s like, okay! So, that’s when you are always doing the right thing. But what about when you actually make a bad choice? Or you don’t show up that day. Or you make a mistake. You make a bad call. And I made a bad call. So, I understand what that’s like. And what I’m finding is that people don’t know really how to talk about what it would look like to walk in integrity when you have to clean up, when you have to come back in alignment with your values. And so, I find that people want space to talk about that. They want both in the theoretical, what if I make a mistake? Even though most people have made a mistake, they just haven’t been caught for it. And so, a lot of people are running around out here scared that something either a bad tweet from, you know, from the early 2000s or you know, messing up a budget, or whatever it is, is going to somehow show up in the future. I think there is a lot of this like angst, so, part of it is like publicly talking about these kinds of things so that we can diffuse that a little bit and we can start thinking about a different way we can relate to each other. I mean, I think we are very early on in this conversation in most spheres. And so, I have been a part of conversations and negotiations with people where they are trying to practice another way sometimes both sides of the conflict or the issue. Sometimes one side, sometimes informally, right? Like they are not going to admit it publicly when it’s like an organization and a person who has been accused of harm or at the center of the conflict. But just being a part of those conversations kind of stepping in as like a coach or even a chaplain or a witness to those conversations and being a coach or an accountability prod person to someone who is going through those things, there is just, the accompaniment of that, I come back to accompaniment again and again. It’s like people need other people to witness them. And so, if we are going to open up new ways of handling people on their worst day, of handling how conflict goes down, how mistakes are dealt with, we have to at least start by just, the lowest level is: “I will accompany you. I will not make you go through this alone”.
Alida: There is so much there and what is leaving me with is this idea of what it means to be a good companion and to accompany somebody the way that they need to be accompanied. I think there is a lot of nuance to it, but you have presented it really beautifully, which is the first stop is to show up, to be a witness and not necessarily to do, but to be, which I think it’s harder in practice than in theory for a lot of us who are ingrained in a culture of productivity and expressing our present through an action rather than by holding that space for someone.
Micky: Yeah, well and you asked me earlier what kind of the through line was in the work that I’ve done over the years, and I think it is that accompaniment piece when the original studies were done on doulas in the 80s, they literally just had a woman sit in the room with the birthing person. They didn’t rub their back, they didn’t suggest position changes, they didn’t talk to the doctor, nothing. They sat in the room and witnessed, and they literally could see and impact on birth outcomes. Measurable impact on birth outcomes because someone sat in the corner of the room and witnessed. And what I learned after training doulas, after being a doula for a decade was that my heart and my hands were my two most important tools. Not all the books I read, most of the times the books stayed in my bag. Not all the tools I brought, the peanut birth ball and the [laugh] and the cold pack, none of that. None of that was as important as my own heart and my heart being resourced enough for me to show up for that person and for their people that were there with them, and my hands just being an extra set of hands. Someone to just be there in the room. And I noticed that all along. All of the work I’ve done is about that accompaniment and how can I be with you, not ahead of you, not behind you, not separating myself from you when it gets tough, but just accompanying you. None of us need special knowledge or training to accompany one another. We just need to be human and be there. But what you will hopefully learn from those of us with that special training and education is that accompaniment is what really helps the other person, it’s what helps us through the thing that we are birthing, the thing that we are going through. And that’s what’s going to get us to the other side.
Alida: Thank you so much Micky for that inspiring message and for all of your time today. Before we go, I just want to ask, where can people find you?
Micky: Sure, my website is: mickyscottbeyjones.com
I’m the only Micky Scottbey Jones that exists in the world, so I’m easy to find if you can, I mean, it’s easy but Google works too. I’m on YouTube. I have a little channel with some enneagram videos, and I have a really lovely compassion meditation that’s based on the work of Rosemarie Freeney Harding, who is a brilliant black mystic woman who was a part of the Civil Rights movement and I’m on all the socials: Instagram, Facebook, Tweeter, so you can find me anywhere.
Alida: And if there is one thing that you would like people to do after listening to your story today, what’s that one thing?
Micky: Spend a moment in gratitude for someone who has accompanied them in their lives. And just hold that person in their minds and in their heart and send them well wishes. You don’t even have to tell them you did it, but just hold that person who has accompanied you at some point in your life, in your heart for a few moments.
Alida: This podcast is a collaboration between Ethos and Alida Miranda-Wolff.
Episodes are available anywhere podcasts are found. Your host is Alida Miranda-Wolff. The opening theme Vibing Introspectively was written and recorded by Logan Snodgrass. Production assistant was provided by Sonni Conway and Miera Garcia. All sound editing and production was provided by Corey Winter.