Insecure’s Christina Elmore
Talks Birthing with Courage, Nursing on Set & How Hollywood is Shifting Black Parenting Norms
Episode 2: Insecure’s Christina Elmore Talks Birthing with Courage, Nursing on Set & How Hollywood is Shifting Black Parenting Norms
Episode Description: In this week’s episode, Christina Elmore, actor (Twenties, HBO’s Insecure) and mother of two, takes us to her second birth for a ride through her expectations, fears, and A-ha moments as she found Black birthing joy in Los Angeles. In a hopeful and hilarious conversation with host Kimberly, along with insightful commentary from her midwife, we also explore how Hollywood (including her role as Condola) is helping rewrite the narrative of Black motherhood.
- Kimberly Durdin is a Licensed Midwife, Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Childbirth Educator, Doula Trainer and co-founder of Kindred Space LA, South LA’s only Black-owned Birth Center; where she and her team provide midwifery care, doula support and training, lactation consulting, education, a parenting support group, and more.
- Interested in having a doula and/or midwife for your pregnancy, birth or postpartum period? Here are resources for finding Black midwives, doulas, lactation consultants, and other perinatal specialists of color: Sista Midwife Directory, The Bridge, and National Black Doulas Association.
- Learn more about having a safe and empowered birth by downloading the free ebook: Birth with Irth: A Mini-Manual to Pregnancy and Childbirth for Black People
- For Black breastfeeding resources, visit Black Breastfeeding Week, Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA), and Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE).
- Get ready for the fifth anniversary of Black Maternal Health Week (BMHW) on April 11-17! Founded and led by Black Mamas matter Alliance, BMHW, which is officially recognized by the White House, is a week of awareness, activism, and community building.
- Catch up on episode extras from season 1 and 2 on BIRTHRIGHT’S YOUTUBE PAGE!
- Subscribe to be notified for new episode releases every Wednesday! Love Birthright? Leave a rating and review.
- Get full episode details and transcripts on www.BirthrightPodcast.com.
- Follow Kimberly Seals Allers on Twitter on Instagram: @iamKSealsAllers
- Birthright is funded by the California Health Care Foundation and the Commonwealth Fund.
Kimberly Seals Allers 00:01
Welcome the Birthright, a podcast about joy and healing in black birth, where we share positive birth stories of those who have lived out their birthright and help heal those who have been denied it. My name is Kimberly Seals Allerss, and I’m the founder of the Irth app, and your host. This is where we celebrate the ways we find joy in our birthing experiences. And ultimately, reclaim our birthright. You may have loved and or hated her as Condola on HBO’s hit series Insecure, or watch her as Marie on Twenties. But Christina Elmore is a beauty, a force, a Harvard graduate, and a mama of two boys. Her youngest Prince was the first birth at LA’s only black-owned birthing center, a joyful black birth premiere for the stars. In this episode, recorded on one of her giving birth day anniversaries, Christina and I talk about overcoming fears, Hollywood’s portrayal of black mothers and Insecure as a cultural shifting medium for black pregnancy, lactation, single parenting, and baby mama drama.
Christina Elmore 01:14
I am Christina Elmore. I am a mother of two wonderful little boys, five today, it’s my son’s fifth birthday, five and one. And they are just pure joy and also chaos. And this is my birthright.
Kimberly Seals Allers
First of all, happy giving birth day to you. I know about the birthday of our children, but you gave birth five years ago today. So happy giving birth day to you.
Thank you, I appreciate that. It’s a special day. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.
Kimberly Seals Allers
So take us back to, you know, five plus nine months ago, when you first found out you were pregnant. What was that like for you?
It was really exciting. I am a planner. So my babies were planned, hoped for, wanted. And I was excited about them coming. But it was also really nerve racking. So we found out or I found out and I had a dream the night before that I was pregnant. So I was still like six days from a missed period. And I was but I was like I know, I think I’m pregnant. In my dream, I was standing in my front yard looking at a pregnancy test and it’s positive. So then the next day, I was like, I’ve got to go get a pregnancy test. So I did and it was positive. And the first person I called was my sister. And I’m like standing in the bathroom, I’m freaking out. And then I was silly. I waited a whole day, went to the whole doctor, got confirmation of pregnancy, bought a card, bought like a baby on board sign to put on the back of my car to show my husband and be like, Look! And I’ve been all excited for this whole day and a half. And then he sees the sign. And he’s like, what, what’s going on? And he’s kind of excited, but more nervous than anything. And he kind of just shuts down. And I was like, Oh no. But within a few days, we were both just so overjoyed. And then pregnancy sort of hit me like a ton of bricks. So the joy kind of faded.The anticipation didn’t, but you know, there was a lot of long, sick days. And then he arrived.
Kimberly Seals Allers
Well, first of all, I just want to give a shout out to the dreams. I mean, the dreams. First of all the dreams of pregnancy are glorious, detailed. So you have had the, you know, the privilege to look back on two pregnancies. Tell us how they were the same, how they were different. How you perhaps cared for yourself differently. Tell us about what those two pregnancy journeys look like for you.
So I didn’t sort of believe the idea that you know, as you get older pregnancy would be… I was like, Oh, my pregnancy will be just like the first one and my second one will be the and not realizing, no, I’m four years older, I’m different, we’re in a whole pandemic. So my first pregnancy was pretty tough in terms of sickness, so I didn’t get officially diagnosed with hyperemesis. But I probably should have. It was a lot of vomiting a lot of days until the very end. But I didn’t have major illnesses. I didn’t get on bed rest. I didn’t have preeclampsia, I didn’t have any sort of major issues like that. So I was very grateful. And during the course of pregnancy, I knew I had an idea about how I wanted to give birth and I had an idea about how I wanted to be cared for and how I wanted to care for myself during the course of the pregnancy. But I hadn’t done enough research beforehand. So I said I was a planner, but I didn’t plan that. So during the pregnancy is when I sort of started really thinking more about like, Oh, am I just doing something because this is the way I’ve seen it been done or am I doing it because this is actually how I want to give birth and so around 16 weeks I decided to switch from my OB to midwifery care. And I found a birthing center, I interviewed a few. And I found a birthing center that I liked and I bonded with the midwives and into that kind of care and got to be in like a room that felt like a bedroom every day for every week for my prenatal visits. And I was in the same room I would ultimately give birth. And so that felt really nice. And I felt supported by those women and those midwives. And I had, you know, a great experience. But then in my next pregnancy, it was 2020, we were in the middle of a pandemic, I was still very sick. I also had a three and a half year old at home with me every day, and not going to school. We’re all on edge. And so it was a big, different sort of emotional state. And then also physically, I was older. So I was, I thought I was sick my first one, I was really sick my second one. My body was like, oh, no, we can do better. Let’s show you more. So I was very ill. And I also started to care for another person I had not also – I don’t know how I didn’t think about that. I was thinking about oh, I’ll have another baby, it’ll be similar in the fact that I was not thinking that I had a whole other child I still have to care for I couldn’t just lay in the bed or take a nap or put my feet up or, you know, chill out at work. So it was tough. But it was also really great because in that pregnancy, I decided I wanted to do things differently again, that I did want midwifery care again, and that I did want to have a baby at a birth center. But that was really important to me that I have black midwives, and that the women in the room as I gave birth look like me and my cousins and my Aunties and my family and I just kind of wanted it to be different. Although I had wonderful midwives at first, I wanted to work with women who sort of, it felt like, I feel like black women have been midwives for so long. Like, back when we weren’t allowed to go into hospitals. I wanted something in that tradition. And I was grateful to find just the best midwives in all the land, like Allegra Hill and Kimberly Durdin, and then I ultimately was able to have a baby at their birth center at the start out. My baby was the first baby born in their birth center. So it was great. They cared for me in a way I couldn’t have imagined.
Kimberly Durdin 07:15
I’m Kimberly Durdin. I am a licensed midwife, and I’m a board certified lactation consultant. And I’m a mom and I’m a grand mom. And I’m so happy to be here with you. Kindred Space LA is a birth center that my business partner, Allegra Hill, and I opened in and were planning to open always. That was the long game, but actually was opened during the pandemic kind of in haste, because of the great need for having a birth center. And what I like to say, the community, which our community is South Los Angeles. And what we do at Kindred Space LA, we are a birth center, which means that we are a place where people actually come and give birth. Well we know that what I know is what people who are seeking services say to me, and I and my lately I’ve been saying if I could get a $5 for every time I hear the same story of disappointment, fear, lack of feeling supported, etc, etc. In the mainstream healthcare system, I would be a very rich woman and I wouldn’t have to work. People who are black and brown are indigenous, you know, queer, are experiencing the same extreme dissatisfaction with the medical care system, the birthing system, as it exists right now. And many people are seeking an alternative. Midwifery has always been you know, when people say they’re talking about hospital birth these days, and they say, Oh, if you go to a midwife, you know, or you go to an OB, I should say, if you go to a midwife, it’s like, you’re not doing it the traditional way. Because going to an OB was their traditional way. And I say wait a second. Oh, obstetrics gynecology has been around for a 100 something years. It ain’t traditional. It’s a new thing. And with midwifery is truly the traditional care, care that goes back to the beginning of time that, like, we really can’t find the origin of it.
Kimberly Seals Allers 09:51
Christina, it sounds like you had two shifts kind of in your thinking, right, that initial shift that said, I perhaps don’t want to be at a hospital, and then that secondary shift, which was the people in the room, I want them to look like me. Tell me, if you can, a little bit about what you think you attribute that kind of evolution of thinking to. Was it research or there’s something you saw, like, talk about those two kind of pivotal moments of awareness for you.
I think the first one, the deciding that I didn’t want to be in a hospital, had sort of been percolating for me for years. I don’t know why. But I had become sort of a bit of a birth nerd long before I’d had any children, or even considered pregnancy, I’d watched the business of being born. And I’d watched and I read Ina May Gaskin’s book, and I was into like birth videos, which was so weird for like a 20 something. But I would be like coming home from grad school, and watching business of being born. And maybe, I remember when I first started dating my husband, I was like, We got to watch this, because this is how I’m going to do it. And then I sort of put it out of my mind until years go by, I get married, and then we start to decide to have a baby. And I’m not even thinking about it. And I think until I get a little deeper into my pregnancy, like, oh, no, it came back to me sort of as a knowing like, I’ve been healthy most of my life and haven’t spent much at any time in hospital. The idea of a hospital, at least in my own mind, sort of made me think of sickness. And it made me think of illness and that I needed something. And I was like, Oh, I’m not sick. I’m pregnant. I’m about to give birth, but I’m not broken. I’m not sick, I don’t need it, I didn’t feel like I needed that level of care. But I was grateful for it to exist in case I did. Like a lot of women, we’ve been inundated with the idea that if you don’t get an epidural, you can’t have a baby, that you’re not going to be able to do it. It’s the worst pain of your life, you’ve never felt anything like this. There’s nothing. You have no point of reference. And so I think I had told myself that. And even after watching all those amazing documentaries, and reading all those books, I was like, Oh, I don’t know if I can do it. But I think going through the pregnancy and realizing how sick I was, in terms of like, morning sickness and nausea. And I was like, Oh, I can do this, I can probably do it. And millions of women have been doing it for millennia, I could, I could probably be one of them. And so I think I just got the courage to do it. And I realized that that’s what I wanted. I have a big fear of a keloid. So like I had a big fear of surgery. And I was like, I want to do as much as I can to maybe avoid a C section.
Kimberly Seals Allers
And I love that word around courage because to your point, you know, we have been giving birth, in fields and wherever with midwives since the beginning of time. And nobody thought of it as a courageous act, but certainly in our society. In a society where we are, we have been sold fear as part of the birthing experience, the ways that we’ve been taught to doubt our bodies and question ourselves. Now, it does require courage to step out of a medicalized system, when to your point, birth is not a medical event, right? This is a bit of what’s wrong with our society a little bit, a little bit, a little bit.
Kimberly Durdin 13:02
So one thing I will say about pain is that our culture in general has only one word for all the different sensations. And I mean, we have lots of words, but when we think about pain, you know, we kind of put that with, like, attach it to toothache pain, we attach it to headache pain, we attach it to labor pain, and they’re all so very different. And, you know, one of the things is that we work with educating our clients, we have a strong education program so that they can start to prepare their mind and wrap their head around, you know, their ideas of pain. What is the fear around it, and how to move through it. But when you really break down labor, there are certain sensations that your body, almost everybody has. And we can say that you’re probably going to feel at some point, you know, pressure, and you’re probably going to feel some cramping or some, you know, cramping, right? Or expansion is another word. Sometimes people like to say expanding as opposed to contracting, right? And you’re going to feel some, maybe some tingling or burning sensations at some point, you know, when you’re pushing your baby out. And so sometimes when we kind of break it down to actually what it is, we can take away all that other stuff that gets attached to labor, like horrible, excruciating that, you know, those are like descriptive words, but they’re not really talking about what actually is it, right? What are the functions? What are the mechanisms? What you know, like when we talk about the letdown, you know, or the milk ejection reflex in the breast, right, you know, we say like, it feels like tingling. It could feel like pins and needles. And so it kind of like oh demystifies it and people can kind of be curious about it as opposed to being scared about it and maybe more willing to let it move through them.
Christina Elmore 14:58
I think that I’ve you know, hospital births can be beautiful and amazing and all those things. I just think you have to think about the reason to do anything. Are you going because you’ve been sold this fear that you can’t do it any other way without an epidural? Are you getting epidural because you want and you feel empowered by one, and you want to be able to take a nap during birth? And that’s also fine. And they’re all I just, I think we need to really be empowered in our choices. And I felt that going into the midwifery model, my appointments were an hour long. I saw the difference immediately. I was leaving my 10 minute OB appointment. And when I started having my midwife appointments, they’re an hour long and they were talking about my nutrition and my mental health and if I’ve gotten enough sleep and what my relationship with my mom is like, and felt sort of really holistic. And I was willing to risk that it was going to be a much harder person, like more painful labor, in order to get that kind of care on the front end. And I was like, I think I can do this. And I’m willing to try because I want, I love being in this room with these women and building this kind of support.
Kimberly Durdin 16:10
Midwifery care is, you know, we follow typically the same schedule as your OB would follow. So we’re seeing folks monthly for their first 28 weeks of their pregnancy, then we begin to see our clients every two weeks up until 36 weeks, and then every week from 36 weeks until birth. And then we attend and deliver the baby but we don’t use the terminology deliver, that we deliver because we know words are important. And we know that the birthing individual is pushing out a baby. And we’re helping, we’re assisting with that. So we do all the care for the birth and the immediate postpartum. And then we do really give great postpartum care, which I think is another huge benefit is just being able to see new parents three to four times in their postpartum in their first six weeks. Because when we think about maternal mortality and morbidity, postpartum and early postpartum is still a very special time where people, folks need to have someone that’s checking in on them to make sure that they’re staying in a healthy range. Because we can have blood pressure, high blood pressure after birth, we can have bleeding after birth, while you’re already home recovering all those things. If you are someone that wants to birth in a hospital, or needs to birth in a hospital, midwifery care can lovingly coexist alongside mainstream care that you would be getting from an OB. The benefit of that, for instance, with our hybrid program that we do have is you’re still getting, as a matter of fact, our hybrid care program. And that’s for folks that birth in the hospital for whatever reason, they have longer appointments, and they meet as a group prenatal in fashion. We have two hours with two midwives to go over vitals, but also give that social support and resources and things of that nature. And then those folks will birth in the hospital. And then they come back for two additional individual pre postpartum appointments with one of the midwives in that program. And it’s so beneficial because the midwives can address things like helping them find doulas, writing their birth plan, how to advocate for themselves once they’re in that hospital care system and things of that nature. For some low risk people, they would, they can use the hybrid care program as their prenatal and postpartum care and just kind of roll into the hospital and labor. Because we do have a lovely, wonderful relationship with our midwives that are in and out of California Hospital and MLK. Then, but if they’re higher risk, they’re usually needing some additional testing, and they need to kind of have their care overseen by a physician, they would do something called, it’s almost like concurrent care. So they’re seeing their physician but they’re coming in for these additional prenatal visits that give them more meat, more bang for their buck. And so the other option is to have a home birth. And I mean, we were always in the home, before we had a birth center. But now we’re like really enjoying not always being somewhere in LA, setting up shop. Because it’s really nice to have a home base with the birth center, you know, where all your stuff is. I do still offer home births. That is something that sometimes people want and that’s great. And home births can be amazing. And it’s similar prenatal postpartum schedule, the same actually. Our clients will meet us still at our birth center for their appointments, but we will have one appointment in their home soon before they birth. So we can figure out where we’re going to put the birth tub and where we’re going to park. Right. But so, yeah, so that is another option. And so in terms of price points, You know, home birth is actually the most expensive. It’s honestly the most concierge type of care. And we’re talking, you know, $7,500. And birth at a birth center is currently between $4,500 for folks that are maybe lower income. And up to $6,500, for folks that this is workable and doable. The good news is that insurance, you know, insurance does do some reimbursement, despite the superlative care, especially for low risk mothers and infants.
Kimberly Seals Allers 20:30
In the US, only about 8% of births are attended by midwives. And black women currently represent less than 2% of the nation’s reported 15,000 midwives.
Christina Elmore 20:48
That second shift in terms of wanting a Black team happened in a way that I didn’t think, I think could not have happened had I not had a first baby. So had I not experienced my first birth with wonderful midwives at a graceful birthing center who cared for me immaculately, but I remember being in the room, and I saw my mom and my beautiful Black mama. And I saw my husband who happens to be white. And I looked around and I saw my midwives, and they were lovely. And I was in the middle of a contraction, and I looked up and I realized that first birth, I was like, Oh, wait, I’m the only one in this room in pain, because at first I felt like we’re all in this together. Look at us. We’re all getting this baby out. And I had sort of an epiphany. I was like, no, no, I’m getting this baby out. It’s me. Nobody else. I looked up at my, I think my mom and midwife were both having a cup of tea. And I was like, Whoa, y’all have tea time? And I’m doing the hardest thing I’ve ever done? And something about that shift, I was like, oh, okay, I was surrounded by white women. When my baby, and I were the only black people in the room. And we would go to these things. And I was like, I know that there are black women doing this. I know that there are black women who are going back to sort of old school approaches and supporting each other and I just got to find them. And I was like, I can’t blame that nobody else but my own sort of ignition to go find them. And so I decided to find them. Was it hard? You know, it was not as hard as I thought it would be. So I had assumed. I told myself I was like they’re not because there were no birth centers owned by black women and operated with black midwives. I was like, Oh, they’re not here.
Kimberly Seals Allers 22:32
Did you know that less than 15 minutes of your time can help make black birth safer for us all? Irth as in the word birth, but we dropped the b for bias is the first of its kind nonprofit rating and recommendation platform for black and brown women and birthing people to find and leave reviews of their OBGYN birthing, hospitals and pediatricians. My name is Kimberly Seals Allers, and I created the Irth app because I wish I had it when I gave birth. I learned the hard way that reading the doctor and hospital reviews at mainstream sites, which were overwhelmingly from white parents, was just not helpful to me as a black single mother at the time. Irth is by us and for us, in less than 15 minutes, you can complete the structured review of your birthing experience. Also, tell us about your prenatal postpartum and newborn care, so we can inform and protect each other. We turn Irth anonymous reviews into meaningful data to work directly with hospitals, payers and providers to improve our care now, when it comes to safe, respectful and dignified care, we got us. Download the free Irth app now. And leave your reviews. Follow the Irth app on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Kimberly Seals Allers
So take us back to the day you gave birth to your youngest baby.
Christina Elmore 24:01
So I think having had my first son, I just was like, oh, it’s gonna be like that again. And his labor was long. It was 27 hours. And I didn’t dilate past seven and a half and I had a cervical lip. And my it was, it was a lot. And so I was like, oh, it’s gonna be like that again. So I’ve kind of prepared myself and that’s not the worst. I wasn’t preparing myself for the worst. I was just preparing myself for another, another kind of icky, long meandering road. And so my first son came a week early, 39 weeks. And so I also thought, okay, this baby will come a week early too. And I was wrong. He came 38 weeks. And I was grateful because sort of leading from between 36 and 38 weeks, my blood pressure started to inch up. And it wasn’t alarming yet but it was getting there. And if I had gotten any higher, and if I gotten into preeclampsia range, I would not have been able to have the birth center birth I wanted. So my midwives sort of jumped into action and I was on all these herbs and they were coming over twice a day to check my blood pressure because they were unsure if my machine was faulty or dadada. They jumped into care in a way that I couldn’t imagine. They were literally coming over my house twice a day and sent me to an acupuncturist to try to help bring things down. And so I’ve gone to an acupuncturist. I’m on the herbs, I’m getting my blood pressure checked, I’m still very stressed and nervous that this means my plan is not going to go as planned. And so then my mom came into town. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic. My mom lives in South Africa. So she came, had to quarantine elsewhere. Then she’s finally at my house, I was so grateful. And then a couple of days later, we’re trying to get my hair, we’re doing like faux locs. I’m trying to do some faux locs in my hair, so I have a birth style and don’t have to do my hair. And I’m sitting and I said, Mommy, I don’t think I can do any more tonight. And I was like, but I think I need to go to bed. And I had not with my first birth experience much pre labor, I sort of went right into active labor. And my contractions being, you know, two minutes apart three minutes apart. And so I was confused as to whether I was having cramps or contractions as I was sitting there trying to put in these faux locs. And I was like, oh, no, this is just cramps because they’re not coming close together. It’s just a little cramp. And I’m just gonna go lay down. I lay down for just a few minutes. And within an hour, I was like, oh, no, this is labor. This is real contractions. I got three faux locs and that’s it. So I’m trying to take them out because I don’t want to like a whole mess. Tie a scarf on my head. And I go, and I don’t want to wake anyone up. So I go to the bathroom. I remember that in my first labor taking a bath. And I think this one, I have hours. I’m like, I know I have days until this baby’s coming. It’s fine. I’ll just go take this bath. And they’re like, oh, boy, I can’t take this bath. They’re coming so fast. This is not happening. I gotta do something. So I wake up my husband. We call the midwife and she’s like, Oh, I’ll just come over. And I’m like, you don’t have to come over. She’s like, no, I hear you, it sounds like they’re closer than you think, I’m just gonna come over and see where you’re at. And so she comes over. And she says, and I think at this point, it’s maybe 2am or 1am. And she’s like, yeah, let’s go. I’m like, I’m not ready to go. I’ve only had these contractions for like an hour and a half. And she’s like, no, it’s time, let’s go to the birth center. And I still am in the sort of the thought process that this is going to be like my first birth and it’s going to be 30 more hours until this baby comes. I’m like, I don’t want to be there for 30 hours, I’ll be at home. And she says, Christina it’s time to go. So I get into the car. And on the way, the birth center, iis literally six minutes from my house. And I can’t even, I have to stop twice to vomit to get there in the six minutes. But we finally get there. And I just go into my zone. And I remembered from my first labor is that I really, I don’t want a lot of noise around me but I want to be able to make as much noise as I want. So I feel like I kind of go into my cave. And I just start roaring and for me getting through the contractions is like holding onto my back and really like uttering some like guttural sounds to get through each one. And, my husband, he gives me a lot of counter pressure and he’s sort of there rocking with me. And I love being in the shower. So my first baby was actually born in the shower. So I’m in the shower, I got the water on my back. But I really was excited this time about trying out to maybe have a water birth and maybe have the baby in the tub. And I got back in that tub and I just can’t get my grip in there. I felt like I was trying to push into nothing. At the certain point of time to push, I was like I don’t know I don’t know how people in the water. It felt like I was just floating around. So I couldn’t do that. Get out. And I’m thinking still, eight hours in, that we have hours to go. And thankfully my midwives I’d ask them to check me but not really tell me where we’re at. I didn’t need to know numbers and centimeters. I just knew that would make me in my head. But even though I’d asked them not to, I’m assuming that I’m like four centimeters dilated the whole time. And that was not true. Because soon enough after the worst back labor ever. I’m feeling like literally, I had not experienced any back labor before. So I was like what is this new sensation and something wrong with me? But it wasn’t and it was getting my baby down and by 10am he was here.
Kimberly Seals Allers
Wow. So like, what do you remember? And some of that moment when you saw your baby boy for that first time?
We decided not to find out his sex during the pregnancy, but I knew that he was a boy. I don’t think I had a dream that time. I just think I just knew and so when it came out I I think everyone was like, what is he? And I already knew I was just like, oh, come here, my sweet boy. And I remember looking at him and I said, Oh my gosh, and we still call him mush. He just looked so mushy and cute, and his little lips and, and he looks like his brother, but not like his brother, like his own person. And I was just so proud of him for all the work he had done that day. And the work we’d done together. And he just came and he laid right on me. And I thought, Oh, this feels, I didn’t believe that it was possible to do it in nine or eight and a half hours. I was like, we did it. He was here already. I couldn’t believe he was there. But I’m so excited to meet him. And he was just the cutest little bean. And I looked up and I was literally surrounded by two midwives and my husband. We had a birth photographer who was also a doula. And I just was surrounded by people who had been cheering me on and telling me I could do it. But who had been doing it in a quiet, subtle way. They didn’t, I wasn’t like, yeah, you. I just knew by looking at their faces and their smiles and their encouragement that I could do it. And they were right. And I was so grateful that they were in the room and that it was that crew. And the student midwife Sierra, it was such a good crew.
Kimberly Durdin 31:29
So beautiful to have Christina be our first birth. And I’ll never forget that because it was a very rainy night. And you know, we don’t have a lot of those in LA. So it’s just like you already felt like something special was in the air. So yeah, they were.
Kimberly Seals Allers 31:46
Speaking of something special in the air, so many black women and birthing people believe or perceive that the care that they get from black midwives, or black doulas or black lactation consultants is somehow different. Do you think that is true? And is it the care? Or is it the feeling of comfort? So is there something different here?
Kimberly Durdin 32:10
The answer lies in the person who’s receiving the care, right? Because that may be true for some black women or women of color. But I don’t think it’s, you know, universal. But you know, you kind of expect that. And I think it’s just, what I’ve heard, and Christina has said this, too, I think she said this in one of her articles, or one of her interviews, that she felt like she was being taken care of by her aunties. And that’s, I think what that’s part of feeling safe, right is like, oh, this person reminds me of the person in my family who cared for me, or who was a nurturer. Oh, they were you know, and, you know, so you can take a sigh hmm. And we often work in spaces that are much more non clinical. So if folks come into the birth center, they just come in, you know, because our street itself is pretty nondescript, but when they walk in, they’re like ,ah, it feels like a home. It feels like oh, it feels like, wow, you know. They’re just kind of like, ah, or they come sit in the garden. And this is where they receive their care.
Kimberly Seals Allers 33:23
So what did that feel like for you to actually have this first birth in this space that you yourself have been birthing for some time? What was that like for you?
Kimberly Durdin 33:34
Wow, thank you for asking these questions. I feel like I’m in therapy right now. That is such a great question. I feel like at any birth, what’s so special about birth in the way that we attend birth is that it can keep you always in the present moment. And you know, especially as women, we can often be multi-triple tasking, quadruple tasking, all those things, but in birth, it, you know, it’s like, it’s slow, right? It’s slow, it could be fast, it could be whatever, you have to be ready for anything. So you actually have to stay incredibly present. And that’s what it was with Christina’s birth, and what’s challenging sometimes, when you have, you know, we’re in LA, so we have lots of people who are in the industry, and things of that nature. And it can be challenging, you know, it’s a very, if you have a very public persona, to also have the privacy and intimacy you need, even if you don’t think you need it, but that you need as a mammal to birth physiologically, you know. And so I’m always conscious with, in particular with my clients who have this public persona, to discard that. And I mean, I’m not really one that watches a lot of, I just watch documentaries. I don’t watch a lot of like regular TV and most of the time, as people will know, I do not know who, if someone is like has a public persona, often I have no idea who they are. And I love that because it protects, it helps me have a very clear, clean and intimate, you know. I can get intimate in that way with a person without all that other stuff. And so, but I did know of her work, but I still was able to kind of like, not fan girl, Christina to death. Because why wouldn’t you? She’s freaking amazing. She’s absolutely beautiful. She’s just, but at the end of the day, what I really plugged into is just really that how much of a joy it was to be in her presence and to care for her, and to be invited into her family. And so for me, you know, it’s such a big trust piece that you’re building over the course of your care with someone and, and especially with folks in her position. So by the time you come to the birth, there’s this piece in my heart, that’s just like, of course, wanting everything to go well. So I think we get kind of, I get kind of quiet, you know, quiet in my spirit, and just hold space. And I’m just there to, to do what I’m there to do, which is to monitor the baby and monitor mommy and offer suggestions if needed and make sure that we’re ready for whatever, we need to be ready for it. And it’s just so beautiful. And Christina’s birth was just wonderful. So I can almost not even remember it point by point because it’s almost, you know, for me, it’s a little bit of a dream space, when I’m supporting families and birth.
Kimberly Seals Allers 36:47
And when you look back now at you know, kind of like the hesitations, the concerns, the fear, you know, how did that? How did you look back on all of that, all the pre thoughts that you had about this experience?
Christina Elmore 37:01
Yeah, I look back and I say, I really I’m just I’m always so mad at myself like, girl, why are you worrying? You say you trust God, you say you trust your body, you say you trust the baby. And I always tell myself, I’m like, worrying is not helping. It’s making it worse, right? But I don’t believe myself. And I keep worrying. And so, I’m so grateful that though my midwives had been concerned about my blood pressure, they never brought panic energy. And though I knew things might not go as planned, they weren’t stressed about it. They were so confident that baby was going to come in the exact way he needed to come. But I was so glad to have their sort of unflappable confidence even when I was shaken.
Kimberly Seals Allers
Wow, what a beautiful birthing story. What a beautiful birthing story. You know, I’m really just blown away by the ways that we as black women are learning about alternatives, which statistically help us have better outcomes, emotionally, help us seem to feel very differently about how we enter into motherhood. And I’m curious, I mean, how do you feel like these positive birth experiences even in your first birth, impacted your motherhood journey, right? You kind of entering motherhood in this way.
I think I hadn’t really thought about for a long time, the sort of the connection about the way you enter motherhood and the way you end up mothering or the way you end up thinking about your mothering. And I am really grateful that…birth is such…you don’t know what’s going to happen. You can plan, you can do all the things that you think are going to help prepare you for that. And you should. You should take the classes. You should get the acupuncture. You should go to the chiropractor. You should eat well. All those things if you can. But then, the day that your baby arrives is going to be the day that your baby arrives. And one way or the or the other, you don’t really have control over that. And I realized too as a parent, I do as much as I can. I read the books. I pray over my kid. I try to feed them okay. I try to make sure they get enough sleep. I try to limit that screen time but give them a little and make sure they have social interaction, that I pick the right schools. But they are their own person and they are going to have their own experiences and I have very little control over that. I can do what I can but I can’t control it. And I think that’s the way it was with my births and that’s the way it is with parenting. And that’s the way it is with all of our interactions with other humans. You do what you can. You give what you got. You try to be the best version of yourself you can for others.
Kimberly Durdin 39:56
But I do often joke with my clients that you know, I know you want your Instagram birth, but you know, you got to work for it. You’ve got, yeah, don’t come in here telling me you had hot cheetos.
Kimberly Seals Allers 40:11
With your ring light and your tripod.
Kimberly Durdin 40:14
But also, no, but beyond that, you have to, Instagram birth is just as bad a message as a TV show, if people don’t understand that that little clip that you saw for a minute is not the whole story. And then also, you have to prepare yourself for the experience, like you have to do the work. In order to be a low risk person and continue to receive this care, you’ve got to do what you got to do, the eating right. And yes, I know we’re in a food desert. And I have some kale out here in the garden. And I’ll give you a bunch every time you come in here. But are you gonna eat it? You know what I’m saying? It’s like, I know, it’s hot outside, but you need to walk, or I know your neighborhoods are not safe., but you can pull a yoga video up on your YouTube, you know, right? That’s very true, really helping people. Because, again, sometimes we over-vilify, I mean, some of these systems need to be vilified, but at the end, it’s not as black and white. And I think that what people also want to do, and when they come into care with us, we’re going to help them take ownership of the things that they have control over, so that they can create a good outcome for themselves.
Christina Elmore 41:33
You know, I think particularly as black women, because our motherhood feels so much like the stakes are higher, right? Like, we have to get this right, we have to keep our children safe, we have to, that’s a little bit harder for us, you know. So, you know, I think that as much as we can say that it is harder for us because we know that our parenting and our mothering. And the children that we’re raising have a very different journey in the world. And we want them to be prepared, and resilient, and all the other things that really no one really teaches you how to manifest, you know, there’s no real guide, but, and all of the. My sister’s a child psychologist who works with a lot with parents and with families of color, especially. And we talked a lot about how there’s all this sort of new way of parenting and which gentle parenting respect, okay, peaceful parenting, which are all beautiful, and wonderful ways. But they don’t always feel accessible to us, as black parents. They don’t, they’re not there. Sometimes in a language that sounds too permissive for us, or a language that doesn’t sound like we’re going to teach our kids to be respectful or teach our kids how to deal with the racism that’s coming their way truly, and the unknown. And that as much as I want to do sort of these new ideas in these ways of parenting, I’m also nervous for my kids, and I’m bringing my own fear and my own nerves and my own stress into it. And I think that so many of those tools can be useful for helping us to realize that they can learn from modeling that, they can learn from authoritative without authoritarian models. But it’s such a hard sort of balance to find, yeah, especially young black men. And I don’t have it right all the time. But I’m trying to find it. I think it is amazing for us to be able to have a different type of black parenting that allows us to choose something different instead of just repeating patterns, which are things that I think are for parents who didn’t really have the ability or capacity to do, you know, some did, but as a group. And so I’m excited about what this means for our black children and the next generation. And so it gives me a lot of hope. You know, yeah, I think we’re building toolkits that work for our individual families. But that also worked for us culturally, sort of, as in general, with black families that we can say, oh, no, you’re gonna put a handle on Miss so and so’s name or auntie so and so. But also, you don’t have to give her a hug if you’re not quite ready for that. So there’s that, like, you have body autonomy, but you gone respect her by calling her auntie so and so.
Kimberly Seals Allers
I want to go back to how we talked a little bit about the fear of pain, which is something that I think, as you know, American women and people with the capacity for birth that everyone has, it’s kind of sold to us. It’s how they got us out of homes and midwifery models into hospitals. But I think, as you know, a fear of pain is very different than what black women feel, which is a fear of death. Right? And, you know, the fear of death, which is very different than a fear of pain and a fear of near death. And so, I’m curious, you know, where it felt like for you, and how did you balance, you know, this vision, this beautiful vision that you had for your birth, with the, you know, I’m sure the fear of knowing what Black women’s birth statistics are like, what our outcomes are like, what you’re hearing? How did you balance that for yourself? Please.
I think that I had such a strong fear about it, knowing about the ways in which we aren’t necessarily listened to. The way in which our pain isn’t heard, the ways in which we were taught to just sort of be strong person machines. And so then, so many doctors aren’t looking out for signs from us, or, oh, you know, black women are at risk for all these things. So it’s fine if you have a little touch of that, because you guys are at high risk for those. And so we’re not quite heard, seen, cared for in the same way. And so for me, that fear landed me on the side of I was more interested in midwifery care. As a result of my fear, I was more afraid of going to a traditional OB or traditional doctor or hospital where I thought I might not be heard. And so the idea of having these hour long appointments with black women who looked like me, had bodies like mine, had birthed children like mine, made me even though it was less of a medical model. And they don’t have as many interventions available to them at the birth center. I was more, I felt more safe and at ease there than I thought I might feel in a hospital. I thought people might be coming in and out a lot and not hearing me. Or not seeing my charts and seeing the machines and seeing the sounds and the beeps and the ooze but not necessarily seeing me. And I know that that is not the experience of all hospitals. I know that so many people have wonderful experiences at the hospital. I think that for me, though I did have knowledge about the statistics and knowing about sort of the weathering of ourselves as a result of racism. I was just so afraid. And I wish I hadn’t operated in fear. But I think that fear kind of led me to a model of care that worked for me, but I hate that it had to come from feeling that. I think for the first six weeks after giving birth, I was afraid of like, what if I’m hemorrhaging? I don’t know, what if I’m bleeding? And I don’t know what if this is happening, and I don’t have the signs and my blood pressure doesn’t go back down or, and that sort of anxiety was real? Because you, we hear so much about black women, especially who unfortunately have bad outcomes after giving birth, during giving birth, pre and postpartum.
Kimberly Seals Allers
Yeah, yeah. It’s like you survived the birth. And then you think and you’re okay. And then many of those deaths have occurred, you know, to your point in the weeks postpartum. I really think it’s interesting and beautiful to feel like the fear drove you to safety. Right. And so, but to think that actually, that is what, you know, drove you to think, well, maybe I need to be someplace else, which, for me, would be the point. Right? That would be the most beautiful point of it all, for us to realize that, you know, there are better models for us out there, and how do we make sure that they’re accessible to everyone? You know, that’s the next hurdle.
Yeah, I felt like such a privileged place to be able to choose that and to be able to choose to go outside of my insurance and to be able to pay for it and have access to it and live in a city where there are multiple birth centers at our disposal, and that there are black midwives with a birth center. That is not heard of in most cities. And it was such a privilege. And the fact that it is, the fact that it’s not available for all women, it makes me sad.
Kimberly Seals Allers 48:45
It’s definitely sad. And our society consistently fails mothers, and also working parents. As a working actor, Christina, what was it like for you balancing work and motherhood?
Christina Elmore 48:58
It has been a ride. I think that from the start, when we first started thinking about having kids. In most of the country, and especially most of the world, I’m not a young mother. Like, my first baby was born when I was 29. I was a full adult, but in LA and as an actor in LA, I was, none of my friends who were also actors were having babies, except for one, we did it sort of together. I was like, sort of an outlier. I was like, right in the middle of your career? Right when things are on the rise, you’re on the show, you’re doing this, you’re going to have a baby. And I’ve always been sort of intentional about I love my work. I’m so grateful to have this career. It’s such a blessing to be able to do the thing I dreamed of and get paid for it. But I’m going to constantly and consistently choose my life over my career. My career is one part of my life that I love. But my full life is more important. So I knew that we were ready to have kids. That’s what I wanted. And I didn’t know how it would sort of fit into the timing of my work. But I looked up and I realized, oh, wait, there’s never going to be a right time. I’m always going to be pushed, no matter what career you have in life, it’s never a right time. Something is going to shift, your life will shift, because that’s what happens. And so I was on a show that I was grateful for. We were going into our fourth and fifth season, and I was pregnant, and I called them and I told them, the producers, and they were kind and they said congratulations. But it made it so that I had to miss out on a story. It was an action and adventure show. So a Navy show. And I was going to have to miss out on the storyline, because I just could not do it pregnant. And that was fine. And then when the show was coming to a close, I was newly postpartum, and I had to go back to work a lot earlier than I had expected to. And while that was hard, that was also fine. And I was grateful that it was able to sort of, that I was able make it work. And the next round, we were in a pandemic. So I thought, well, we’re sitting at home anyway, let me see if I can get pregnant real quick. It wasn’t real quick, but it happened. And, and so I didn’t know how, I was on two shows. I was on Insecure and Twenties. I didn’t know when or if they were coming back in terms of when we’d be shooting or filming or how the pregnancy would fit in. And I already knew Condola, the character was pregnant. But our pregnancies weren’t going to match up in terms of time. I didn’t know how it worked, but I thought, I’m prioritizing my life. I’d love to have another baby. And we did. And God is kind and that when I was about six or eight weeks postpartum, I went back to work at Insecure. And they had started long before and they sort of made it work for me that I could have time home with my baby. And what was a blessing that I never expected is Condola and I’d be in very similar positions, that she would be recently postpartum and so would I. And that her boobs were big, and her belly was big, and her bags under her eyes were big and so were mine. It all meshed up in a way that I was like, this is the dream because you know, you have – I had a lot of insecurities about the way that I looked. Not in my personal life, but I’m playing characters who often aren’t, you know, lining up with my own life’s journey. And so far Condola and I to be on the same path, it was a blessing. And it’s not easy. It’s not easy to balance it. But it’s worth it to me. And it’s been working out. I have a husband who has, who owns his own business, so it’s flexible. My mom came and helped me in the most beautiful way. And my in-laws come down and we just make it work. And it’s, and if I miss out on some work and that’s okay. And it also means sometimes I miss out on things at home and that’s also okay.
Kimberly Seals Allers
How did you manage your infant feeding plan?
Yes, I was breastfeeding and I was pumping. And I was grateful that the second time around, I found it to be easier to figure out our lap situation and get a groove going. And I was so grateful for that because I needed it to be able to be back at work and work as much as I was going to be. And I also was really blessed in that my supply, I usually have an oversupply rather than sort of lacking in health. And so I was just in there pumping and nursing and pumping and nursing and baby was able to take both the bottle and the breast which was a blessing too. I don’t know how, you know, you just don’t know what’s going to happen. So it happened to work out in that way. But yeah, at work they knew, they called it, what did they say? I think one of the PA’s would say, It’s Christina’s unicorn time. And they would call it unicorn. They’d say unicorn, unicorn on the headsets. And I would go every two hours and go pump real quick in my trailer, then pop back into work. And then as soon as I got home. I’d go nurse my baby and at night, I was nursing all night, and then wake up to have 4am Call times at work. I truly don’t know how I survived and didn’t like, I’m so grateful I didn’t get in the car accident because I was so tired. But God provided and it worked out.
Kimberly Seals Allers
When Codola mentioned the lactation consultant, I was just over the moon. You know, and I’m curious knowing that writers write. And actors act, you know. Were there any moments for you as a mother to add context or words or language to some of the things that the writers did? Or did you guys just have an incredibly aware writers’ room?
Both, truly. So, I think the episode you’re referring to is written by Jason Lew. And he at the time was a new dad too. So his baby I think was one or not even. And maybe not even when they were writing that episode, so he just knew what the what was and had it all in there. But there’s also and that episode was directed by a woman whose wife at the time was pregnant when they were expecting so there was just babies all around. And Jay Ellis who plays Lawrence on the show was a newish dad. So we were all – so much of the script felt so authentic to that time right after a baby comes, and then but they’re also very collaborative. And we would be like, no, that doesn’t ring true for me. Or like, I would say, I just talked about the lactation consultant, why am I making this bottle of formula? I probably would be showing that I’m pumping. We would be talking about all kinds of things like that and everyone was really open to that kind of collaboration. So I think that’s what made it feel more authentic, that there were just a lot of parents on the set.
Kimberly Durdin 55:24
I think that we are seeing a shift and more people that work in Hollywood, because I have plenty of clients and plenty of you know, folks who’ve taken childbirth education from me in the past, you know, 17 years I’ve been here in LA that are, you know, they’re the writers there. As a matter of fact, and I don’t watch TV, like so much, but I remember one time, my boyfriend showed me some show, and I swear, it was like verbatim my childbirth class in this particular TV show. And I’m like, okay, which writer was in my childbirth class?
Kimberly Seals Allers 55:55
They definitely need to give the credit.
Kimberly Durdin 55:58
So, you know, we, you know, but that’s culture, right? We’re influenced.
Kimberly Seals Allers 56:04
Issa, not being a parent herself, but I mean, the ways that we saw parenting and motherhood reflected through many seasons. I mean, I’m thinking about Lawrence, when you guys were at the party and he was wearing the baby, I was like, yes, have the man with the infant carrier and the baby facing out. Like, I notice all of the things. I did. And you had the baby. I was like skin to skin, yes! you know, so. But these, like, our culture shifts these small ways, right? It’s about normalizing. Right? It’s about normalizing the language of lactation consultant, normalizing the language of or just the visual of seeing a man with the infant carrier and carrying his baby. And, you know, like this, this is, this is how we shift culture, right? It seems small, but it’s not small.
Christina Elmore 56:53
And I was so grateful. I was like, as much as my own insecurity started to flare up, I was like, I’m so glad my body looks the way it looks now. It looks like I had a baby, because I did. And so we see so many shows where a woman has a baby. And then the next day her tummy is flat, and her boobs look totally normal, and she has no acne and her hair is gorgeous. And it doesn’t make sense. And I was like, you know, I’ve never been more grateful for this body of mine to look like she does. And to show what it truly is authentically like to have a baby. And you don’t bounce back. You bounce forward, you learn to accept and embrace the ways your body has shifted as it provided a home for an infant. And so I was so grateful. And I think Prentice Penny, the showrunner of Insecure, who has three kids himself. That show felt so authentic in so many ways and I think when it came to birth, and babies and parenting, they wanted it to have that same sort of authenticity. And it did.
Kimberly Seals Allers 57:54
Absolutely. And I know Condola was a character, but I also appreciated the way the writers handled single pregnancy and navigating co parenting and Condola saying to Lawerence, I want you to be happy. And then ultimately, you and Issa having a conversation, like that was huge, because you know what goes down. And so even I don’t know the ways that he showed how it could be possible for you know, the quote, unquote, baby mama, and the ex to be friends and to center the child and the child’s best interest, which means the father needs to be happy, even if it’s not with you, like that is huge. Did you get that that was huge?
Christina Elmore 58:33
I think that we didn’t get how huge it would be. But I, I think we were all really grateful just as actors who are parents or aunties, or to see that the kids were the focus. And I think on so much TV, especially television that takes place in South LA, and television that takes place with young black people, we see the messy, but we don’t get to see it sort of being cleaned up and letting the child become the focus. And so as much as I love the drama of it all, I loved the end of the series and with Elijah with his father and his father’s wonderful partner, and him being taken care of in a way that makes sense and loved. And it can mean that he gets just more love as opposed to the mess, it means that this child gets to be embraced by more people. What a blessing that is.
Kimberly Seals Allers
What a blessing. I’m telling you goosebumps, seriously. Because for that to be a demonstration for our culture, it is incredibly powerful, incredibly powerful. Because so many times people do want to show the mess and I think that there is a commercialization of the mess, which perpetuates that as normal. And it’s like no, this can be our normal too, right? And so not to trade in those types of stereotypes around you know what our families can look like, what having extra love could be, was just tremendous. So very grateful to all the ways that Insecure is a cultural contribution. But the ways that you all, what you all did for mothering, co parenting relationships, and the possibility of that, was just incredible. And I just want to say thank you.
Oh, thank you so much. I’m so grateful to have been a part of telling that story. Truly.
Kimberly Seals Allers 1:00:26
I close every episode by asking, what is our birthright?
Kimberly Durdin 1:00:32
And a very broad way is informed consent, that’s our birthright, to be able to access information that you need as an individual to make the choices that you want to make in your life.
Christina Elmore 1:00:50
Our birthright is the ability to choose for ourselves, what works for us. That goes for birth, that goes for pregnancy, that goes for parenting, and it’s the access to the resources to make the best choices for us, so that we’re not doing what we necessarily saw done or prescribed to us. That we’re choosing our path. And that’s our Birthright.
Kimberly Seals Allers 1:01:26
Season Two of Birthright is funded by the California Health Care Foundation and the Commonwealth Fund. Birthright is produced by Motor City Woman Studios in Detroit, with Kimberly Seals Allers as executive producer, and Alexa Imani Spencer as researcher and assistant producer. Our music is by Dantrel Robinson and we dedicate this season in his memory. And don’t forget to subscribe to Birthright wherever you get your podcasts. Give us a rating and review if you like what you hear. Find episode notes and learn more at www.BirthrightPodcast.com. And don’t forget to like and follow the Birthright podcast YouTube page for exclusive videos and extras. Follow at @iAmKSealsAllers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and please support our patreon account. Together, we are reclaiming our birthright, one story at a time.
Christina Elmore is an actress known for her role as Condola on HBO’s “Insecure.” She’s also appeared on “Twenties” as Marie and “The Last Ship” as Lt. Alisha Granderson. In 2013, Christina landed her film debut at “Ashae” in Ryan Cooper’s directorial debut “Fruitvale Station.” Successful on and off the big screen, the Harvard University and American Conservatory Theater graduate is a proud mother of two boys who’s helped to shift the narrative of motherhood in Hollywood. IG handle: @christina.elmore