Between the colonization of sexuality, the westernization of childbirth, and the patriarchal restriction of body and pleasure, there is a lot of work for Daniela Montoya-Barthelemy to do.
She is a full-spectrum doula, which includes pre- and post- partum services, and support around abortion and loss. She offers workshops on reproductive and sexual health, Cesarean recovery, and sex after a birth. Her sexual and reproductive health classes offer beginning to advanced levels for birth workers and leaders in sexual and reproductive health.
All of this is in contrast to the way Montoya-Barthelemy was raised in her small New Mexico town. Catholic shame around sexuality ran so deep that after her mother found a lump on her breast, she waited years to be seen by a medical professional. By then, it was too late. Her mother died when she was nine.
Montoya-Barthelemy internalized shame about sex when she was young and has spent much of her adult life pushing back. She encourages her two children to use the correct words for their body parts. She creates opportunities for her son to be himself — rough and tumble sometimes, and sequins and glitter other times.
It was the birth of her children, in fact, that led to Montoya- Barthelemy’s career path. She and her partner had researched birth options. She discovered Indigenous practices about birthing with few interventions, which contrasted with the common wisdom she was taught growing up — that C-section deliveries were the safest birth, hospitals were the best place to deliver, and formula was the best form of baby food.
Montoya-Barthelemy committed to a home birth. She found a doula and midwife she connected with.
In her 37th week of pregnancy, she developed a persistent pain in her right shoulder. Her partner convinced her to call the midwife, who sent her to Walgreen’s to get a blood pressure test. Her blood pressure was dangerously high.
With her midwife and partner at the hospital, tests revealed she had developed Hemolysis Elevated Liver Enzymes and Low Platelet Count (HELLP) Syndrome. This life-threatening development meant that she needed an emergency C-section.
While healing from a Cesarean delivery, Montoya- Barthelemy battled the post-partum letdown of hormones and the isolation of having a baby in a city she had lived in for only a year. A friend brought her to a workshop by Panquetzani of the holistic care business Indigemama. There, Montoya-Barthelemy found her community: queer, mixed, people of color, Indigenous, Chicana — all radical and interested in healing.
She found birth workers who were re-incorporating traditional medical practices into current birthing methods and advocating for better access to doulas and midwives.
After completing training in a cerrar las caderas — a traditional Mexican post-partum practice intended to last 40 days — Montoya-Barthelemy had her second child. She intended to complete the 40-day ritual with her community. After another surprise medical issue, and another emergency Cesarean delivery, her second child spent 20 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
While she jokes that each time she committed to a particular training in birth work it went sideways in her own pregnancy, the result was to deepen her conviction to reintegrate traditional approaches to birth that complement western practices.
Her current work reflects that commitment. Although she cannot be present for 40 days after birth for every client, she offers the intention of a cerrar las caderas through a series of rituals that include nourishing teas, vaginal steaming, massage, and traditional rebozos (long woven garments often worn by Mexican women to carry babies). The intent is to show a new parent that they are not alone and that they have “done this huge amount of work to bring this new life into the world. Together, we will get [them] on the path to this new life,” she says.
Montoya-Barthelemy also works as a sexuality and reproductive health educator, focused partly on decolonizing sexual health and sexuality education — acknowledging the history of education about pregnancy prevention above all else, and a legacy of forced sterilizations for women of color.
She says colonialism brought with it a wave of Christianization, specifically Catholicism, in South and Central America. The Catholic church has so removed pleasure and the sensual from womanhood, she points out, that the highest form of womanhood — Our Lady of Guadalupe — is a virgin.
She dedicates part of her time to working in an intergenerational setting with her Latinx community. In her sex-after-baby workshops, she encourages people to define sex more broadly so new parents can deepen their physical connection during a time of major transition.
In her decolonization workshops, Montoya-Barthelemy incorporates both the pleasure and the power of those who have vulvas and wombs. Instead of defining sex as penetration of a vagina, and completed sex as penile orgasm, a decolonized view encourages the people engaging in sex to create their own definition.
She feels this decolonizing work “is especially critical for Indigenous people, Black people, and all people of color, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer folks.
“Ancestral knowledge can serve to build resilience and resistance to the daily violence and oppression that is encountered by these populations.”
Montoya-Barthelemy is passionate about helping communities find a holistic approach to sexual and reproductive health. As she puts it, “Sexual health is life force.”
If you are looking for other resources about sexual and reproductive health, or are interested in doulas and doula training (birth, postpartum, and abortion/loss), Daniela Montoya-Barthelemy recommends Indigemama, The JJ Way, The Spiral Collective, and The Artemis School.