Regan Williams (18) represents the rise of young people who are demanding strong and sensible stewardship of the planet. A student and trained doula, she spoke on two occasions at the Climate Change Conference (COP), and is part of a number of women-and-earth health programs.
impactmania spoke with Regan about moving from Green School, Bali, Indonesia to New School, New York City and about how the global social movements all come down to a disconnection between each other and a disconnection with the earth.
A lot of young women are not thinking about babies and birth experiences. What led you to become a doula?
A lot of young women aren’t really thinking about birth or children, that’s true, but we’re all dealing with our cycles and periods and navigating the waters of our sexual health-however that may look. This impacts our emotions, our hormones, and our lives. It didn’t feel far-fetched to be involved in another process of the reproductive cycle.
When it came time for me to pick my senior project at Green School in Bali, I wanted it to be something that involved women’s health and how to improve the lives of women. It helps that I’ve always loved babies and wanted to be involved in such a sacred process.
Is there anything particular about your own birth?
My mom wanted a boy, partly because she knew the challenges of being a woman in the world. I’m more familiar with my brother’s birth. It was a lot more traumatic for sure. The doctor was not kind at all—she wouldn’t even look at my brother who was born with Treacher Collins. She wouldn’t look my mom in the eye. I now realize that though this is an awful personal experience that my mom had, this kind of treatment of birthing people and babies is not uncommon, as it is a systemic issue faced globally.
I think it unconsciously influenced my desire to create a more gentle space for women to give birth in, rather than a traumatic one, as so many women describe the births of their children.
What was an important thing that you learned from the doula trainings and attending over half a dozen births?
Every single birth that I’ve attended has taught me a different lesson because each birth is so unique. Even this morning, I got a text from this beautiful woman who I doula’d for…She can’t leave the hospital because she can’t afford to pay for the C-section she ended up having. Luckily, we were able to get a generous donation and she took her baby home!
The lessons learned through situations like that have not all been fun, because birth is this microcosm of the patriarchy and all the systematic obstacles patriarchy entails. Bringing life into this world is such a transformational event, and there can be so many obstacles preventing it from being sacred, special, and beautiful. Luckily, there are lots of ways to counteract those obstacles with educational, emotional, physical, and spiritual support—which doulas can help provide. The bottom line is that women need to take back birth, our bodies, and our reproductive power. This means starting at our roots. Anyone who identifies as a woman or who is gender non-conforming will recognize the importance of reclaiming ownership of yourself.
Have you seen a difference between how we treat pregnancies and births in the United States versus where you are now in Indonesia? Are pregnant women treated as patients around the globe?
There is a universal issue with maternal and infant mortality and the way women and babies are being treated. When birth is taken out of the home, or out of the birth center, and into a hospital that does not support the natural processes of the female body when there is no emergency or no vocalized desire for intervention as has generally been the case since the medicalization of birth a few centuries ago, we have a broken system. Informed choice and informed consent are so important, and there is a huge push for that right now. Women deserve a safe, empowered experience however they choose.
Even within the U.S., there are huge differences. If you’re an African-American woman, you are three times more likely to die in childbirth than a white woman. That jumps to twelve times as likely in New York. The disparity is overwhelming.
What needs to happen here? Do you have any insights on the steps to return to a more holistic model?
There are so many organizations that are working tirelessly to recreate the childbirth experience in to something much more holistic and much more empowering. They are trying to give the autonomy back to women.
A huge part of that is looking at how the countries in the world that have the lowest rate of maternal mortality are doing it such as Finland, Sweden, and Iceland. Those countries usually have midwives as the standard. A feminist approach, really, that demonstrates trust in the capability of the female body You have an OB/GYN or doctor, but they only come into the picture if there is a medical necessity.
A big reason why medicalization of birth happened is the huge fear of childbirth. All of the grunts and moans and yells and screams of women were seen as something that was very undesirable and wrong and it needed to be fixed.
Instead of understanding that the hormones are working for you and the guttural groans are actually allowing you to open. I think that trusting a woman’s body and women harnessing that power to believe that everything that they need is inside of them already will change everything. You know those people you meet once in a while who ask why we even need feminism anymore? Well, this is an obvious reason why.
How about maybe the infant and women mortality rates have lowered because we have brought birth into the hospital?
For sure, when I talk about the medicalization of childbirth, I really mean the over-medicalization.
Obviously, fewer women are dying and fewer babies are dying with some incredible technology that has been introduced for childbirth emergencies. But the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world while we spend more on maternal healthcare than many other countries.
I definitely think that there’s a sweet spot and that we’ve just kind of overshot it. Now interventions are often being used in a way that is actually doing a lot of harm.
The other thing is about choice, about giving women all of the options and all of the knowledge. Even talking to my mom about unmedicated birth support, she said, “Wow, I wish that I had known I had other options. I wish that I knew that I could be comfortable and I wouldn’t lay on my back again and have all those interventions that I didn’t necessarily need.”
These are highly educated, privileged women who have all the resources. But, they’re not made aware of other options, because it’s seen as a silly alternative to the medical model. It is branded as dangerous. If not dangerous, it’s something only for hippies. [Laughs.] If even the people most likely to have access to evidence-based care don’t receive it, just think about marginalized members of society, or those who can barely afford to receive the most basic level of care. It really amplifies every social justice issue there is.
Tell me a bit about the Menstruation Mission project. I love technology, especially technology that solves a problem and not adding a problem, which a lot of technology does. You are 3D printing menstrual cups?
We’re about to launch that project. We have some prototypes of menstrual cups, because menstrual cups are one of the most sustainable options that women have when they’re on their periods.
The amount of pads and tampons that a woman goes through in her lifetime, and that ends up in landfills is astronomical. Most of the leading brands have products that do not biodegrade or are very expensive.
At the Green School, a lot of the girls are thinking about sustainability in every aspect of our lives.
How are you going to roll this out? Do you have a test group from the community who will work with you?
In most places in the world, there are a lot of taboos around periods. It’s really hard to get that conversation started. That’s a huge part of the Menstruation Mission—starting that conversation, so we’re working with the local students as well. That needs to remain a priority.
I interviewed a former Nike designer. She helps a non-profit producing colorful textile options. It has a nice design and print so when you wash and dry it outside, people have no idea these are menstrual pads. Have you done some research on similar options?
The 3D menstrual cup is just one element in the Menstruation Mission. Another thing that we’re doing is making reusable pads. That sounds like the textiles you mentioned. We’re using mostly naturally dyed fabric, so there are no chemicals in it.
We’re hosting some stitching circles where we’ll bring in recycled fabric. Then we’ll all sit and sew them and usually talk about different aspects of menstruation. The first stitching circle we did was a fundraiser to bring some products to Lombok, an island in Indonesia. While we’re all stitching, we’re watching Period. End of Sentence (2018).
The women in the documentary are manufacturing pads and taking them around to women in India. They’re dealing with the same taboos. How we can have a conversation about something that almost every woman experiences every single month? It’s something that is so common, so normal, and so natural.
When I first got my period, I struggled so much with putting a tampon in. It was so shameful and so scary to me. This is from someone in a privileged position, where I had the Internet, my friends, and my mom. I could ask any woman, but it was still covered in shame and secrecy. Most women live their entire lives without being able to talk about it and the consequences are detrimental.
There are places in Africa where girls have to stay indoors and sit on a cardboard and miss school for a week a month.
Yes, it is really up to women to start breaking those barriers and talking about it even if it’s uncomfortable. Because for some women it’s actually dangerous. So if you can-do. Bringing up your period to your male friends, your fathers, and your brothers. Even something as simple as not fully wrapping up your tampon or pad when you throw it in the trash can.
You’re making it a little bit more visible.
Yes, it’s crazy the effect this can have.
I loved discussing these things with my brother. When we were creating Menstruation Mission, the Instagram guidelines wouldn’t let us put menstruation in the name, because it was “inappropriate for some users”. You mean the ones who weren’t given life because of a period? They don’t exist! I had to text my brother in the U.S. and say, “Here are the login details for Instagram. Will you change it? Because we can’t do it here.”
Another passion of yours is climate change. You were so gutsy by calling out a company, PepsiCo, for their negative impact on our environment. The organization at COP didn’t allow you to shame any organization, right? You did it anyway. How do you feel about COP and other venues where we focus on these global social issues, but we’re not really talking about it?
It’s such a loaded question, I was on that youth panel with my close friends and we’re all trying to figure out what we were going on say. What was the most important message that we had to share after being at the COP for those three weeks? At that point it really didn’t feel gutsy.
I was so fed up, I was just so past the point…
That was my second COP and my second COY, which is a Conference of Youth that takes place right beforehand. Honestly, I don’t know. I will probably never go back to a COP and be on the inside. I don’t want us to waste our breath on governments and corporations who aren’t listening. Let’s focus on the ones who are and go directly to them.
For example, I think it’s really important that we lend our voices to the movements like the #schoolstrike. [Swedish Greta Thunberg started the global Friday school strikes to draw the public’s attention on climate change.]
We’re all responsible, but the companies/governments definitely have the power to do something about this right now, and they had the power 50 years ago. When they knew about climate change and paid scientists not to say anything about it. Looking at you, Exxon.
[Activist] Greta [Thunberg] has said this in her speeches, trying to plead with the companies is wasting our power and giving them our energy and our youth. The youth are talking about real solutions, and these corporate leaders and government are not. They better get on our wavelength fast.
People are so overwhelmed with all these world issues, what are some simple steps people can incorporate in their everyday lives and feel it makes a difference?
It’s easy to get overwhelmed making sure you’re doing everything right. At the same time, sometimes that can turn into a lot of guilt.
Right now, I’m doing a permaculture class at school. Permaculture is one of the most amazing things that anyone can incorporate into their life.
A lot of agriculture is what has brought us into this mess. Permaculture is solving problems by getting as close to the Earth’s system as possible. There are principles that are usually applied to farming or gardening, but are also applicable to your everyday life and social issues, too.
It’s about taking an approach of using waste as a solution. Yesterday we started talking about how we can create a permaculture kind of system in our house even as I move to an apartment in New York City.
I’m going to grow citrus trees and use them as shade instead of using air conditioning, and use menstrual blood as a fertilizer! It creates a little permaculture oasis in my apartment, in the middle of the City.
Even if you just grew mint and basil and some tomatoes, rather than going to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s and buying the produce that’s covered in plastic.
When people think about climate change, people talk a lot about sacrifice. Giving up plastic and giving up your car or giving up your easy way of life. I feel I’ve gained so much. I gained knowledge, and not eating meat has given me a much closer relationship with animals and the earth, as well as a much healthier body.
You are part of many youth organizations. What do the young people wish to see happen on a macro level? In advising governments, organizations, and companies, what kind of thoughts and ideas have the youth organizers come forth with?
On a macro level, we want to see everyone caring about this issue. That people are aware that their lives are connected with the earth and connected with every person on this planet. It is taking ourselves into a collective consciousness that realizes that every single thing we do has an impact.
COP should not be once a year for three weeks and nothing happening afterwards. It should be every single day that world leaders wake up in the morning and saying, “What can we do today that is going to benefit future generations?”
In every decision that every world leader makes, and every decision that every corporation makes, they need to be thinking about climate change. It’s not just the warming of the planet and the changing weather systems. Climate change affects everything. Gender justice, reproductive justice, all the social movements that are happening all come down to a disconnection between each other and a disconnection with the earth.
It is to create more than we consume. When we consume, we want to do so very consciously, so that what we create makes a much bigger impact than what we’re consuming.
You mentioned that Green School allowed you to participate in the real world instead of preparing for one version of it. What’s the version of the world you are preparing for?
In a more traditional school system, I was being prepared for one path, one track, and one kind of life. It put ‘me’ at the forefront of everything..
I think Green School is preparing us for a world that is ever changing, that is going to present some huge challenges for us individually and collectively. So we really focus on thinking critically. We look at the different systems that the world operates in. Then we analyze and deconstruct them through many different lenses, whether it is through the lens of gender or sustainability, or the lens of race, class, or religion. Green School gives you many, many, many more perspectives. How could it not with 35 different countries in one school!
My favorite thing is that it’s so international and people have lived such different lives from you. There’s no way you can have the same perspective as another person. It’s about a collective group of people coming up with the solution together and many different voices being represented.
Parents in the U.S. are all stressed about the outdated education system, one that is not preparing our children for the future. What is an important lesson you learned that prepares you for the future?
I’ve learnt that I don’t have to wait to join the world.
I think knowing that whatever you’re interested in, whatever you truly care about is something that you can start doing now. That if you love what you do everyday you can use that passion to benefit the earth and others.
We really have to start letting children know and putting it into the education system that it is okay not to have all the answers. We never will for the future. All you can do is think critically in the moment and look at how the world is right now.
What you shift now is going to produce the future. Honestly the education system and parents and teachers don’t have any idea what it’s going to be like. With the rate in which technology is moving and the pace of our world, we’re just ever changing so quickly.
The biggest disservice we do to young people is to say that they are not enough right now. “You will be after you get this degree or this accomplishment.” We’ll always have more to learn, but we are enough right now.
Allow them to see how they can use what they already care about to benefit the world and others.
We often ask our interviewees who’s made an impact on them. There are probably so many people that come to mind, but if you would have to name one or two people who helped form you, who would that be?
One of them, for sure, would be my mentor Alana Kaye. She runs a non-profit in Haiti, on La Gonâve [island]. She inspired me, because when she looks at someone, she looks at them through God’s eyes. She uses human connection as her main force of good in the world.
Angela Davis is one of my huge role models, especially because of her quote: “Self-care and healing and attention to the body and the spiritual dimension—all of this is now a part of radical social justice struggles.” and “Self-care has to be incorporated in all of our efforts. And this is something new. This holistic approach to organizing is, I think, what is going to eventually move us along the trajectory that may lead to some victories.”
I love that because I truly think that you have to start with yourself. There are a lot of powerful forces that don’t want you to love yourself, partly because they benefit monetarily off of it-and you’re much easier to control by conforming That’s the biggest myth that insecurity perpetuates as it is systematically fed to us, that loving yourself and embracing imperfection is wrong.
There are contemporaries of yours who may read this and think, how do I start giving my life more meaning? What is the first step?
Attract and surround yourself with people who help you and guide you into what you are most passionate about. But at the same time, I think you have everything you need within yourself already.
If you want to find what you care about the most, it’s taking time to spend with yourself. When you look back at your life, what do you want to say that you did?
There are so many things you could get involved with or you could do. But if you jump on the first thing you see, you might lose energy really quickly. So choose what you care about and stick to that. Don’t be distracted by what you should do, should say, how you should be.
Tell me how Show Some Respect got on paper.
A lot of the words in there are not exaggerated!
I was in a small school in Texas for a couple months. It was, wow—it was a huge test of the spirit. I think I’m so peaceful and loving, it was a huge test to be faced with people I didn’t agree with on anything
My AP English teacher was talking to us about how she was so upset that all these boys were getting falsely accused with the rise of the #metoo movement, which obviously is a problem. But then she started talking to the girls about how we flaunt it, and we’re asking of it, asking to get raped…
I was so choked up sitting in my seat. I was almost shaking. I was so upset, but words would not come out of my mouth. It wasn’t until I was at Green School about six months later that I finally sat down and let go of this.
I got to perform it at Green School Voices Performance, and at another place in Bali. And yes, it was fun to put on the Southern accent and mock what she said. But it is a serious issue and it still affects me. I feel so upset that girls are being shamed into dimming themselves, and being told that [when a man assaults her] it is her fault. This female teacher should be giving these girls wisdom and hope and love. And guiding young men in growing into emotionally intelligent people who will work alongside women to stop pervasive sexual violence.
Show Some Respect
By Regan Williams
Said in a thick southern accent by an AP English teacher in Kerrville, Texas
Now to the girls in the room.
Ya’ll don’t seem to understand that you’re the prey and men are the predators.
It’s biological, they’re the hunters, you’re the deer.
You’re not a fisherman, so why lure them in?
Sweetheart what goes through your mind when you choose to wear a skirt six inches above your knee, that hugs your curves for all to see?
What compels you to walk to his room late at night, brazenly expect’n he knows his wrongs from right?
What in the world makes you challenge school rules, baring your shoulders, despite the focus boys’ll lose?
Would you rather the world be fair or safe? Darlin be prepared for the consequences you’ll face.
For being stupid, not giving a fuck, acting recklessly and test’n your luck.
Don’t start witch hunts because of your failure to ask modestly. Don’t #believewomen because women are witches themselves.
You know, it’s just sad. These poor boys with futures ahead of them, being punished for ‘a few minutes of action’.
My advice? Suck it up ‘hon. You were created from the rib of a man after all.
Show some respect.