Veena Hampapur: In Part 1 of this series, we introduced you to Kim Durdin, a Black midwife in South LA. In this episode, her business partner, Allegra Hill, shares her story and journey into birth work.
Saba Waheed: From the UCLA Labor Center, we bring you Re:Work. I’m Saba Waheed.
Veena Hampapur: And I’m Veena Hampapur.
Allegra Hill: Each birth is a miracle, and I am fortunate to get to experience that miracle. So many times, birth continues to affect my life in the most wonderful way, because it helps me stay in gratitude and stay present and experience the magic that is the introduction of a new person on the planet.
Saba Waheed: There’s such a veiling around birth and labor, and how much people know or understand. There’s almost like a mystery around it.
Veena Hampapur: I feel like there’s so much we miss in terms of the work women do. Emotional labor, having a child. It’s literally called labor, right? Women are putting a lot into carrying, and having, and caring for a baby. These are things that are so invisible in the world. One thing that’s really beautiful in this story is the ties between women and the ties between generations. In Kim’s episode, we think a little bit about generations, right? The history of Black midwives and how Kim and Allegra and the people they work with are trying to reclaim this history. In Allegra’s story, we focus on the generations within her family. We don’t spend enough time focusing on these really special bonds between women.
Veena Hampapur: Allegra was born in Culver City, in Los Angeles. And her mom gave birth to her in the same birth center where her older sister Christina was born. Growing up, Allegra’s ideas of labor, birth, and delivery were really different from what we see in television and in the movies.
Allegra Hill: She said that she had me in the same room, in the same position she did as my sister. Standing up! When my head was born, my hand was up. I was crying and my mom, she said that she just asked me why I was crying. And she said, “Where did you come from? And where are you going? My dad, he always talks about rubbing in the vernix, which is like the coating that’s on a baby when it’s born. I just think that they were in the zone, they were all blissed out and in the zone. I have pictures from when I was probably less than an hour old and my mom just looked so happy. She’d had a really wonderful experience in birth. And so when I was growing up, that’s what I thought was normal. And I didn’t really realize until maybe college that my peers’ moms were not having those kinds of experiences in birth. And I think that it has a huge impact on how I live my life and the work that I do and also the way that I birth my own children.
Veena Hampapur: What’s the earliest you can remember back, Saba?
Saba Waheed: I was probably three or four years old, and I remember snow.
Veena Hampapur: I was really surprised to hear how early Allegra’s memories are. Most of us don’t remember anything before three, if that.
Allegra Hill: I actually have memories of being a baby, the feeling of being carried around before I was able to walk. My parents had a house in Mar Vista on Stewart Street and I have memories from being there. We had chickens in the backyard and we had a pigeon coop. There were three people that raised me: my mom and my dad and my paternal grandmother, Mamo.
Saba Waheed: Allegra’s maternal grandparents also lived in Los Angeles. One night they fell asleep and they had been smoking and the whole house ended up catching on fire.
Allegra Hill: They had brain damage from the smoke from the fire. When that happened they were going to need a lot more care than they needed before. My family moved into the house in Baldwin Hills with my grandmother.
Veena Hampapur: These were a lot of changes in Allegra’s life as a kid, and they just continued to add on.
Allegra Hill: During that time, my parents got divorced. So I actually have a period of my childhood where I don’t have memories. I think I just blocked it out because it was too hard.
Saba Waheed: There’s a lot of different ways that children cope when you’re facing hardships and traumas. For Allegra, you’re looking for grounding. You’re looking to get rooted some place. One of the spaces that turned out to be that for her was actually her school.
Allegra Hill: I was at that school, Play Mountain Place, that really helped support me. It’s really feelings-focused. So, if you’re having a feeling, you learn to have it and process through it instead of using other coping techniques. They teach that kids really process through play. And so instead of sitting in a class, I was climbing trees and digging and using my imagination and really playing. I was probably a little bit of a mess, but they were like, “That’s okay. She’ll just play it out or she’ll just cry it out.”
Veena Hampapur: Allegra describes Play Mountain Place as a school for hippies. It was really big on processing emotions, and play, and students had unique relationships with their teachers and their families.
Allegra Hill: One of the teachers there, that was the first person that I knew who was going to have a baby at home. I was friends with some of the kids from that family. If I went to their house, they’d be like, “Oh, that’s where Cedar was born.” It was just very normal, a thing that happened in their house. The teacher brought the baby with her to school. Part of my time at the school was just being with her baby. Holding him a lot and getting him to sleep and figuring out what he likes. And so that felt like part of my curriculum. That was when I got really into babies, when I was a kid at that school.
Saba Waheed: The school had become such a place of safety and support for Allegra that it was actually quite hard for her to think about moving on from it.
Allegra Hill: I pretty much stayed until I got my period. And then I was like, “oh my God, I have got to get out of this school, it is for kids.” So I actually left halfway through seventh grade and I went into SMASH in Santa Monica, and then Samuel High. I know a lot of kids didn’t like high school, but I liked it. I had nerdy friends and I was very involved in extracurricular activities.
And then one summer, we went to a race summit. We were talking a lot about racism and then, we decided that we wanted to bring something like that to our school. We started this program called Racial Harmony. We had all of these workshops and we had all of these different racial and ethnic groups. There were conversations that we would have in our own racial groups and then conversations that we would have in the whole group. It was really powerful, and…Stephen Miller went to my high school and he hated racial harmony. My husband laughs that my little Racial Harmony program pissed Stephen Miller off.
Saba Waheed: I did Google it, and it turns out that Stephen Miller really did hate Racial Harmony.
Veena Hampapur: Allegra decided to go up North for college. She wanted to be a casting director and found work after graduation in LA.
Saba Waheed: Meanwhile, Allegra’s sister was pregnant and was planning on giving birth at a birth center in Berkeley. Allegra decided to head back up North to help her sister out.
Allegra Hill: I learned so much about pregnancy from my sister. She would kind of give me the greatest hits of interesting things that she was learning about her pregnancy. And it was blowing my mind.
I was there for a week and woke up to really really loud music playing. And I exited the room and my sister’s husband was like, ”Hey, Christina is in labor.” She called the midwife, who said “it’s not time for her to go to the birth center yet.” So she got in the hot tub that lifted her belly up so it felt better, it was like less pressure. And then, she starts to have the baby in the hot tub. Her husband calls 911. I opened the door for the fire department and I moved the coffee table so they could bring the gurney in. But then by the time we got to the backyard, the baby was already born and I’ll just never forget my sister. She was wearing a sports bra and that’s it. And she was kind of standing up in shock. And her husband was behind her holding the baby above the water in the hot tub. I could see the umbilical cord going from my sister to my niece.
So actually my niece’s birth was my first birth I ever attended. She’s 15 and a half now. I just love my niece so much. She’s like my first favorite baby. Being there at that accidental, unassisted home birth, it really clicked for me. I was like, if the mom’s body knows what to do and the baby’s body knows what to do, and if they can figure out how to work it out together, why does that need to happen with a doctor? And so that’s what really got me thinking about home birth and midwifery.
Veena Hampapur: Something really clicked for Allegra in this experience. But at this point, Allegra wanted a job that would pay the bills and provide some stability. She went the whole “ad agency route.” After doing that for a while, she realized it wasn’t the right fit for her.
Allegra Hill: I also started having this real nag to do birth work. I actually watched the movie, “The Business of Being Born,” with my husband when we were dating. And he had no idea that I wanted to be a midwife. He was just watching this movie. You know, you see Ricki Lake give birth in a bathtub. And he was like, Oh no, Allegra wants to have a baby. And he was like all freaking out. And then I told him that there’s no way I wanted to have a baby with him. I actually wanted to be a midwife. He was shocked and relieved because I think at that point he was probably like maybe 24 years old or something.
I took a doula training in July and I quit my job in August. And I was like, I’m just going to see if I can make it work.
Saba Waheed: It was a big step for Allegra to get trained up as a doula. And then she had to take on the next steps of building it into a career. Whether it was building up her experience in the field, building relationships and a clientele.
Allegra Hill: And it took me a really long time to get hired as a doula, but I was able to make a little money doing childcare for some midwives. I was volunteering at a birth center called The Sanctuary. And finally I attended my first birth. It was so hard. It was probably one of the longest births I’ve ever been to still to date. And I loved it. Once I had the experience, it became a lot easier for me to have more experiences. I think I had a confidence issue because I was so young. I was like 27 and I wasn’t a mom. And I had almost seen my niece born, but not really. I wasn’t sure that I had anything to offer yet. And so once I started doing it, I started feeling more confident. And then with the help of my grandmother, Mamo, she helped me with my deposit for midwifery school. So I was able to enroll in midwifery school and start on that path to becoming a midwife.
Veena Hampapur: One thing that was really interesting is how Allegra’s early education at Play Mountain Place actually ended up being an asset for birth work so many years later.
Allegra Hill: I really got very good at supporting people through heavy emotional things. And I think that the school I went to and the childhood I had, it really has set me up for handling intense experiences or being, not comfortable, but stable in tough experiences like that. Now, that’s kind of how I practice a lot, it’s a lot of feeling work and it’s a lot of trauma work, and it’s a lot of helping people live happy lives in spite of what experiences they’ve had in the past or in their birth. Sometimes it’s a lot of processing through that kind of stuff.
There’s so much I love about birth work. In the beginning I was just happy to be there. I was just in love with birth in general. I was a hundred percent in it for the parents. I was there to offer them education and resources and reassurance.
Saba Waheed: So Allegra had settled into her career as a birth worker, and then meanwhile, there were other changes that were happening in her own personal life.
Allegra Hill: I got married while in midwifery school. Maybe two years after that, I wanted to be a mom, but I really didn’t want to be a student midwife and pregnant. You know, it’s unpaid work. It’s an unpaid apprenticeship. I actually found out that I was pregnant maybe a week after I passed my licensing exam. I just did a few births and I worked up until I was about 32 weeks pregnant.
Saba Waheed: We’re at this point where Allegra is now past her due date. She’s hit 41 weeks.
Veena Hampapur: And she’s starting to get worried that she’s never gonna have this baby.
Allegra Hill: I went into Kaiser that day and I thought that they were going to try to pressure me into an induction that day, and they were going to be mean to me or say that I shouldn’t try to have the baby at home, so I really had my armor all the way up. I got there and it was the nicest nurse. She was super supportive and really encouraging. And like, she’d had a baby at home and she thought it was so great. I was just so relieved by that.
Saba Waheed: I mean, what are you supposed to do at that point? When you’re this close, but the baby hasn’t come. You go to your niece’s birthday party, of course.
Veena Hampapur: That’s right! You meet up with your family.
Allegra Hill: I was just there feeling kind of crampy, having contractions. Everybody was there and they were like, “When do you think the baby’s going to come?” And I was like, “I have no idea.” I texted my midwife at 11:00 at night, and I told her that I was having some contractions and we were going to try to get some sleep. I pretty much went in the bathroom and tried to see if I could check myself and I popped my cervix open. Then I was pretty much immediately in active labor. I told my husband and the look on his face was hilarious. He was like, “Why did you do that?” I was like, “I don’t know.” We started talking to the midwife more and I wanted them to come because I was having a hard time coping with how intense it was. I actually started fake moaning in the background so that she would come over. So she said that she would come and so my midwife, she actually stopped to pick up Kim on the way and I was teasing them because I was like, “I was having the baby and you made a pit stop!”
By the time they got to my house, the baby was coming out and I was so out of it, I was talking to the baby and I was saying like, “Slow down, baby, slow down.” In my crazy hormone flooded brain, I thought that I was having a uterine prolapse, it didn’t occur to me that the baby was being born. So I put my hand there and I tried to hold it in, and right then is when my midwives arrived. And I just looked at her with panic and I was like, “I can’t stop this from happening. I don’t know how to stop it.” She was like, “Oh, the baby’s coming,” and I remember she kicked this big metal bowl and made this huge sound. I pretty much waddled from the toilet around the corner to the bed. Then I pushed three times and my daughter came out and she also came out with her hand up, just like I did. My husband caught her. It was just a whirlwind. I went into shock after just because so much happened in a short amount of time. And I tore really badly. It was my first baby so you expect that it’s going to take a really long time, but like my sister and like my mom before me, I am a very efficient birther.
Saba Waheed: There’s an intimacy that Allegra has had through her whole life when it comes to this process of birthing.
Veena Hampapur: She talks about her mom’s positive experience and she discovers her love for babies at a young age when her teacher brings her child to school. She was there when her niece was born.
Saba Waheed: It’s so unique to have had so many birth experiences and birth memories.
Veena Hampapur: I just thought it was so beautiful – the connections across the generations, the parallels that you see in their stories. Now she’s a mom herself, which adds a whole other layer.
Allegra Hill: When I became a mom, I was so different on a cellular level that all of a sudden I just got really connected to the babies. I was trying to help the babies by helping their parents, but my motivation for helping the parents was so that they could take better care of the babies.
My postpartum time was very, very hard. It helped me have so much empathy for my clients, because it’s such a big, full experience, it’s uncontrollable. There was a train inside of my body and there was no way to stop it and it did feel scary. That experience has really shaped how I support other people because sometimes it’s just too much. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel safe to feel something so big and scary and out of control, and so that’s where home birth is not for everybody, and neither is natural birth. That’s where when people have other life experiences or they have experience with trauma, I’m so thankful for the epidural because the intensity will break you.
Veena Hampapur: While Allegra is on this journey to become a birth worker and become a mom herself, she meets Kimberly Durdin. You can hear Kim’s story in part 1 of this series. Kim and Allegra have a business partnership, but their relationship is so much more deep than that.
Allegra Hill: I actually encountered her early in my path to birth work, and I really looked up to her and she had five kids and she was so graceful. When she got pregnant with her sixth child, by some miracle, the midwife that was going to take care of her wanted to bring an assistant and Kim said “yeah,” she would like for me to come.
And I was there when her eldest daughter, Jani, gave birth to her first child. So I was there when Kim became a grandmother and I snapped a little picture of her holding her baby, Zuri, who was one at the time and just crying, watching her eldest become a mom. It’s like our path is so windy and it’s so long.
When I got pregnant with my daughter, I took Kim’s training workshop so that’s really when she became my official breastfeeding mentor, and she was a student with my midwife so she was kind of helping me along the way with my pregnancy. And then we’d just been like sister friends ever since, I guess.
There’s something to be said for sharing a birth space with each other and supporting each other in labor and in the postpartum time. So we have so much trust for each other and so much history for each other in a way that we’ll probably never be able to replicate this kind of partnership. We’re just bonded for life
Saba Waheed: Allegra and Kim shared a vision for birthwork. They started the Birthing People Foundation to bring in more birth workers of color and address disparities. They also built a birth center called Kindred Space LA. A lot of it you can hear in Kim’s episode.
Allegra Hill: There’s been an element of magic in all of this work that we do. We’re just going with the flow, but it feels like we’re on a wave of magic that’s just moving us all across.
The main reason that we wanted to build this birth center is so that clients with Medi-Cal can come here and they can receive services from us and have their babies, and they don’t have to pay us anything. The plan is when we’re able to accept Medi-Cal, we’ll bring another midwife on. So it’s expanding our staff and offering our services to more families.
When I started 10 years ago, there was only one Black licensed midwife in Southern California. When you think about how many black people there are in our city, it’s not enough options. I think I know seven Black midwives in Los Angeles and that’s amazing, but it’s still not enough. Especially now with so much information around how horrible the statistics are for Black women birthing in this country. Black women want to be cared for by other Black women. They want a Black midwife, a Black doula, a Black lactation consultant, a Black anesthesiologist, a Black OB-GYN, a Black maternal-fetal medicine. They want to be cared for by people who see value in their life. And there are not enough options. There are not enough providers. So that’s why we are doing this work with what we can do, right? We can’t really make more OB-GYNs. That’s kind of outside of our scope or control, but we can help people get the information they need to be culturally competent birth workers to understand how to care for Black people in an institution. And that is what the hospital setting is. It’s an institution that doesn’t serve Black people well. And we can help support more aspiring Black midwives to do what they need to do in order to practice midwifery legally and safely in this state.
Veena Hampapur: As you know, when COVID hit, it impacted everybody, every industry. It was no different in the world of birthwork.
Allegra Hill: More people are looking towards having home births. They feel like they have more control by choosing a team who they can trust and they know who will be there, and you have a general idea of their COVID policies. I think just the prolonged stress of COVID is affecting people’s pregnancies. We’re having more complications that we maybe will not see at all in our career. And now it’s like we’re having them multiple times.
But the silver lining is that we’re here now and we’re really where we are with having this new birth center and opening it because of some really dark things that have happened in our world and in our country. And we are a silver lining, just being here, having this conversation sitting here in the birth room. I don’t think that we would be here if COVID never happened or if George Floyd never got murdered or… It’s like all of that is a really important part of our story at this point. I feel like it is impacting me as a person and a woman and a mom. And I had another baby last year so I’m riding that wave with people, and it has been harder holding space for people as they process more intense things, and I’ve just been really leaning into finding my support system and leaning into that. And all this stuff that I’m talking to my clients about, I’m trying to do it myself because it’s like we keep needing to do more and to cope more with the more that we have to handle. So I’m really trying to walk the talk and take care of myself and my family and check in and take breaks. It’s unending. The coping is unending. We just keep doing it. So that’s happening for my clients and that’s happening for myself too.
Veena Hampapur: This interview was about Allegra’s work as a midwife in LA. What came up organically in that, is her own personal connections to birth. I think that says a lot about her ability to bring in her own personal experiences to hold space for her clients and do the emotional work, the energy work to bring in empathy.
Saba Waheed: We have a lot to learn from the way Allegra comes to this work. It’s not about seeing birth work as one part of the journey but seeing it in the wholeness of the person, their family, the community, their networks, and conditions of their life. That’s a model of birth work and beyond that we should be thinking about.
Allegra Hill: So it’s really not one-size-fits-all, but it’s a lot of space-holding and listening and support and encouragement and love around birth before and after. You know midwifery care we kind of straddle the holistic and the medical role. So it’s like I can give stitches and suture and IVs, and I can also do energy work and I can feel somebody’s belly and know where the baby’s positioning is and help the parents understand what they can do to help the baby get in a better position for birth. The care that I provide, it changes based on how pregnant a person is or what their goals and desires are. So it really is individualized care.
I kind of thought that I would work in advertising and then I would retire and then I would get to be a midwife. And I’m just really grateful that I didn’t go that route and that I was able to do it sooner because I just love it so much.
And I feel like I’m great at it and I can really get with all the what we call the woo-woo spiritual, energy work. I’ve seen really phenomenal things. Also just the straight up biology of it. The design of the human body and the reproductive system is just like, it’s just magic, and getting to experience that over and over again and getting to share what I have learned along the way, even beginning with the things that my sister once told me that she was learning about in her childbirth education class. It feels like midwifery care is the perfect use of all of my parts. And I believe that this is exactly what I’m here to do, and I’m so happy that I can do it.
Saba Waheed: If you look at birth with a narrow medical lens, then we’re just talking about body and physical process.
Veena Hampapur: There is the magic of birth, especially in a time period that has been very difficult across the world.
Saba Waheed: There’s some really magical moments in the way that birth happens. But at the same time , knowing that there’s disparities and there’s struggles and there’s method, there’s medicine, there’s advocacy and all of those things. If you let birth work be the many layered things that it is, it is about connection. I think that that is the magic sauce in this story.
Veena Hampapur: I agree with you. There are so many different types of connections in this story. Within her own family, generationally. This deep bond that she’s developed with Kim, which is really unique – their story. Then there’s also the connections with her clients which includes the parents, but then also the babies. The connections between the women and generations in this story is really magical. I hope this episode is a celebration of that.
A special thanks to Allegra Hill for sharing her story. If you want to learn more about Kindred Space LA or the Birthing People Foundation, you can find them at kindredspacela.com. You’re listening to Re:Work, which is a production of the UCLA Labor Center. This episode was produced by Veena Hampapur and Saba Waheed. Subscribe to Re:Work radio on your favorite podcasting platform and find us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Check out our new website reworkradio.labor.ucla.edu.
Saba Waheed: Till next time, rethink, rework.