Intimate photos of babies and beaming parents symbolize the joy and struggle of birth, but they have other meanings, too. Who is represented in those pictures? Are the mothers and children black or brown, or perhaps parents of the same gender?
Cheyenne Varner, a Richmond birth doula with a background in photography and graphic design, has created Everyday Birth magazine, which focuses attention on "families that don't look alike," she says.
In its three issues since spring 2018, the magazine has featured photos of black, Asian and Latino moms and dads, as well as a lesbian couple, and uses gender-neutral language. The publication also has stories and advice from midwives, doctors and doulas from many cultures, who answer common questions about home births, postpartum recovery, breastfeeding and many other issues.
- Scott Elmquist
- Cheyenne Varner is a Richmond doula with a background in photography and graphic design who created Everyday Birth magazine, which focuses attention on “families that don’t look alike.”
"A lot of the feedback has been, 'Wow, I've never seen anything like this,'" says Varner, who serves as editor in chief and does most of the other tasks, from finding advertisers to distributing copies. Everyday Birth has a web presence but is primarily a print magazine, a decision in which Varner takes great pride. "One of the graces of print is there aren't any comment sections. Social media makes people siloed."
She prints about 1,000 copies of each issue, which go to birth conferences and subscribers across the country and even in the United Kingdom. Varner hopes soon to place copies in doctors' waiting rooms, a key point of contact for expectant parents.
A self-described visionary person, Varner says that she uses her experience as a former graphic designer and photographer to create the magazine and has been able to recoup her expenses and earn a bit more, enough to begin paying writers.
Varner started Everyday Birth, which comes out twice a year, to educate families expecting children about the array of birth options, including having a baby in a hospital, a birth center or at home. Earlier this year, Varner took her cameras and recording device to Minneapolis to document a woman giving birth at a birth center for "Life's Work," a multimedia project that shows the step-by-step process, featured on her website.
"Awareness, representation and education are really important," Varner says, and also, the understanding that "birth is just one element of the whole scope of reproductive care."
Dr. Nicole Rankins, a Richmond obstetrician who delivers infants at St. Mary's Hospital and Henrico Doctors' Hospital, contributed to the fall-winter 2018 issue of the magazine, telling the story of a mom whose labor was induced but wanted to have a vaginal birth.
"I think it's important to highlight different birth experiences," says Rankins, who also hosts a podcast, "All About Pregnancy & Birth."
Because of higher maternal mortality rates among mothers of color in the United States — particularly black women, who die at the rate of 40 per 100,000, nearly four times the rate of white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — representation and information is important so women can advocate for themselves, Rankins says.
"The way OB-GYNs are trained, I'm embarrassed to say, we don't always center patients," she says. "I'm getting better at it." As for the magazine, Rankins says it is a good source of information for parents who don't see themselves reflected in the mostly white world of parenting publications.
"It's nice to see people who look like you and get their experiences," says Rankins, who is black.
Varner, too, says that her personal experience — as a black woman working in the birth field and often feeling isolated — prompted her to start her publication to make a difference. "I feel very heavily the racialization of medicine," she says. "Add gender and LGBTQ to that."
In coming issues, Varner hopes to include more people of different races, ethnicities, religions and disabilities and to focus on matters surrounding reproduction, including breast-feeding and contraception. "People are starting to reach out to me more about being in the magazine, especially birth stories."
To read Everyday Birth magazine or to contribute a story, visit everydaybirth.com.