About Birthkeeper Herbalism
Birthkeeper Herbalism is the education project of birth worker and herbalist Emma O'Brien. After ten years of working in the overlaps of herbal medicine and perinatal care, Emma wanted to craft a way to build community between birth workers around herbalism, and to mentor newer birth workers who want to encorporate herbs into their practices.
While some doula training and certifying organizations actively discourage doulas from engaging about these topics with clients, we all know that hopeful, new and expecting parents are using herbal products and supplements from the internet. Often, they do this without consulting with any specific person or practitioner.
Birth workers have deep intimate contact with their clients and their families. They frequently have access to information about clients' histories, medical issues, allergies and care preferences. Herbalists, just like birth and postpartum doulas, do not give medical advice. Both birth workers and herbalists share information with their communities and clients, and they provide customized support based around the individual needs of their clients. Emma believes we can safely deepen the relationship between perinatal care providers and knowledge about herbal medicine in a way that actively supports these inquisitive families who desire holistic health care. Through Birthkeeper Herbalism, our goals are to reduce fear and misconceptions around herbal use in pregnancy, and to increase confidence with birth workers in using herbs as medicine in their own lives and also in support of their clients.
About Clinical Western Herbalism
Humans from all corners of the world have indigenous plant medicine traditions. People evolved alongside plants as complex multicellular beings since the beginnings of our lives on this planet. As an herbalist with ancestral roots to western Europe, whose family settled in the Boston-area for 3+ generations, Emma practices from a western herbal perspective. She teaches about herbs while prioritizing the plants that grow close to her home - some of these plants are native to this area, and some plants were brought by colonizers and settlers from many other places, particularly western European countries. For information about Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, Caribbean, African Diaspora herbalism, or other herbal traditions, we deeply encourage you to seek mentors with ancestral roots to those areas.
Having grown up with personal and familial chronic illness, Emma truly believes that bodies want to (and will!) heal themselves when given the conditions to do so. Acknowledging the complex and often medicalized lives people currently live, Emma's herbal perspective is decidedly clinical - learned in a clinic, practiced in a clinical way, and with a nod to the Vitalist traditions of many of her mentors. These workshops are inclusive of people who may be medically "high risk" but desire using herbal products alongside medications or medical procedures.
Emma is a queer perinatal support worker and clinical western herbalist. Her ancestors hail from Ireland, England and France, though the majority settled in the northeast of this continent, on indigenous Massachusett and Wompanoag land. Informed by growing up with chronically sick and disabled parents and personally developing several autoimmune diseases as a teenager, Emma decided to drop out of social work college in 2009 to become a Birthkeeper Herbalist instead. Knowing full-well that "staying the path" of modern American economic, medical and food systems was directly leading to her chronic illness state, Emma jumped on the opportunity to play with alternatives. She apprenticed with local clinical herbal practices, and began to balance her own chronic kidney disease and other health issues through cultivating relationships with plants, utilizing food as medicine and by learning how the human body works.
Throughout her ten years attending births, encapsulating placentas and providing postpartum support in her practice Lavandoula, supporting abortions and pregnancy loss with the fine folks of the Boston Abortion Support Collective, and providing herbal care for clients of many kinds, Emma has fielded countless inquiries from colleagues and other local birth workers who are looking for better resources around herbal use in pregnancy. She hopes to continue being a resource in solidifying relationships between plants, plant people and perinatal people in her community and beyond. Emma now lives by the Neponset river on ancestral Massachusett land in Boston, MA with her partner, two cats and pitbull/chihuahua mix pup.