As Mother’s Day approaches, Diva is using the occasion to explore underrepresented perspectives about birth and parenthood. Here, we chat with Anna Balagtas (she/her) about broadening conceptions of the family unit beyond the gender binary. Anna is a Queer + Pinay radical birthworker and educator, and the founder of Pocket Doula. She supports emerging birthworkers in radicalizing their practice through mentorships and community organizing. Anna is also a recipient of Diva’s inaugural BIPOC Creator Fund.

Marissa Neave: Can you talk about what gender-affirming birth work is, and why it is so important?

Anna Balagtas: Gender-affirming birthwork is essentially practicing birthwork while centering that reproductive care belongs to all folks, no matter their intersections and positionalities. Whether that be queer, trans, non-binary, gender non-confirming, cis, straight, etc. It means that we’re normalizing the use of gender-affirming and gender-neutral language. It also means we’re moving away from calling all pregnant people “mom”, “mother”, or any gendered term unless we know for sure that they identify as a mom. The fact is, dads get pregnant. Non-binary folks get pregnant. Or, sometimes people just don’t want to be called “mama.” That should be respected.

Birthwork is so much more than just the process of fertility, birth, and postpartum. Full-spectrum birthwork also deals with abortion, miscarriage, end-of-life care, and so much more. Literally any transition we go through in our reproductive lives is part of birthwork. So, when we practice gender-affirming birthwork, we are making sure we include all folks as part of our care.

Gender-affirming birthwork is necessary, it saves lives, and it’s non-negotiable. Hard stop. I hear folks saying that gender-affirming language erases the experiences of women. When I tell folks to say “pregnant people” instead of “mom” when speaking generally about pregnancy, I sometimes hear that I’m erasing “the woman’s journey.” No, I’m not. You can call it a woman’s journey, but only if you know that the person you’re talking about identifies as a woman. But again, not all pregnant folks are women. Including queer and trans folks within the narrative does not erase a cis woman’s narrative. There’s only ever expansion.

Filling in the gaps of reproductive care

MN: Family units have a long history of being gendered. But recently we’ve seen a much broader range of what constitutes a family. How do we redefine the family away from gendered conceptions?

AB: To be frank, we’re not going to be able to redefine family away from gendered conceptions unless we talk about it. Today’s reproductive education literacy is so rooted within cis-heteroism, that unless folks are actively looking into different ways of conception not involving a cis man and cis women, this information will not be easily accessible.

Care providers (especially reproductive care providers) must look into training, education, and extra information regarding queer and trans conception. Most times, this is the curriculum missing from the education they receive to be in their position of care and so the onus is on them to fill the gap. There are QTBIPGM educators (Queer and Trans, Black, Indigenous, and People of the Global Majority) who share knowledge on queer care and queer conception. Listen to us. Learn from us. And most of all, make sure to pay us for our teachings.

Unfortunately, for the general public, when it comes to queer and trans healthcare and reproduction, we will not be given access to the information we need so easily. Things we can do to combat this is to teach ourselves and to uplift the teachings of the QTBIPGM educators we are learning from. Thankfully, because of social media, it’s easier to engage with topics and find information. So, whether you are straight, cis, queer, trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming, or everything in between, read up on queer and trans care and familiarize yourself with it to the same extent that you are familiarized with cis-hetero care.

Queer families also look more than sperm and egg conception—there are surrogate families, single queer parents, polyamorous parents, communal parents, adoptive parents, chosen families, IVF families, and more! There are so many beautiful ways to be family!

MN: What are some of the issues that non-binary, gender-non-conforming, and trans parents face?

AB: Many things! Though, the ones I will name are most often the biggest barriers and these are access to care, equitable care, violence, and demand for free labour by means of education.

Let’s break this down: non-binary, gender non-conforming, and trans parents will need healthcare for themselves and for their children. However, many times access to queer and trans healthcare is neither safe nor is it even accessible. Many folks will opt not being able to find proper care for themselves because of these hoops.

When it comes to equitable healthcare, there are many instances that queer and trans parents will not receive proper care in birth, postpartum, and other parts of their reproductive journeys. That’s because the folks responsible for their care are not queer trauma-informed or gender- affirming. When it comes to equitable and safe care, this is the bare minimum. Most times, queer and trans parents won’t even be able to access this.

Additionally, queer and trans parents do a lot of educating for the general public. Whether it’s their neighbours asking about their queer lives, or others questioning the make-up of their families—as if questioning folks are entitled to an answer. All of this free education is constant labour, and sometimes even triggering when parents don’t want to explain their queer lives.

You might ask, “Why don’t queer and trans folks just tell people to go away and mind their own business?” Well, because we face violent attacks if crossed by the wrong people. We know that answering is often a better solution than ignoring certain people. Just remember that no one is owed any education, information, and access to others’ lives.

How do we make commemoration more inclusive?

MN: Holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day leave a lot of folks out. What does commemoration and celebration look like when it isn’t so exclusive/patriarchal?

AB: Incredibly beautiful. There are different commemoration days for parents including Non-Binary Parents Day, Single Queer Parents Week, Queer Parents Day, though these days aren’t as commercialized as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

I will say, though, that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be inclusive, though the media portrayal we see for these days still center cis-hetero nuclear families. We can have queer and trans folks be part of the narrative too.