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My Story - an Interview with Joanna

Updated: Aug 15, 2022

Get to know my story with this interview, diving into my background, my pivotal experiences, and what I am most proud of in my life so far.

How would you describe your identity and your cultural background? What stands out to you about your upbringing and background?

Before my mother gave birth to my sister and I, she had declared that she wanted to raise “women of tomorrow”. As a strong willed and determined London business woman in the 70s, she was hellbent on making the world a more inclusive and accepting place for women to feel safe and empowered. I think I inherited this same dream, or perhaps it's just in our DNA.

She met my father on a blind date and was engaged after knowing him for 10 days on two separate visits to the UK. Confidence and fearlessness were her crowning attributes that still live in her legacy through me. She sold her flat, left her country, and embarked on a new life in the US with her new husband who she had just barely met. Although I was raised in the US, I inherited my British culture through her, especially in the sense of hospitality, public presentation, manners, and eloquence.

Through the Sullivan side of my family, my father was a tough and courageous Boston Irishman who served the US homeland security for 45 years. His sense of humor, thick skinned nature and belief in the greater good (as well as a keen eye for the evil doers) has served me in being generous as well as discerning. Boisterous, humorous, hard-working, light-hearted and heavy-handed are qualities that I inherited from my father.

Growing up in Annapolis, Maryland, half an hour from the nation’s capital and surrounded by the influence of the Naval Academy and many military families, I learned the value of discipline and service to the community. However, in my rebellious teenage years, I set forth in my quest to find ways to bring people together and spark a new way forward that prioritized peace, harmony, love and understanding.

I would describe my identity as a hopeful optimist and a change-believer, a multi-cultural citizen who values the complete spectrum of the human experience and completely believes that incredible things are possible with one big, collective, heart-centered purpose.

What have been the Top 3 most pivotal experiences in your life? How do they contribute to your purpose and motivation for building a community? 

When I was 22, my partner at the time and I would have big awful arguments. I was coming out of an abusive relationship when we met as roommates in college and despite the glaring need for me to focus on myself, our proximity in living arrangements brought us together. My communication style was volatile and we were not mature enough navigate our insecurities. One day, in a big explosive fight that happened in the stressful final week of college, he pushed me from behind with books in my arms and I went face first into the pavement. My front teeth smashed and crumbled. Over the next months I had to have multiple surgeries and complicated dental work done to be able to look and feel “normal” again, although I was forever changed by the experience. It was humbling, to know that I was so vulnerable and could be hurt so badly by the person I loved the most, as well as set off alarms at the impact that stress and conflict play on our health and personal safety.

Only three years later, when I was 25, my father passed away shortly after we discovered he had cancer (eight weeks from diagnosis to death). I was close with my dad, but we had our differences. I was barely considered an adult and I was faced with one of life’s biggest ruptures - loss of a parent. Our western culture does very little to prepare us for loss of a loved one, so I left to travel overseas on a three month trip across India and Thailand with my best friend. The stark contrast of the vibrant subcontinent of India with their temples, rituals, and cultural vibrancy set forth in me a spiritual renaissance which led me to study meditation, sound healing, astrology, and Ayurvedic health.

Ten years later, after moving to San Francisco, opening a sound healing business, becoming a Doula, and celebrating many successes and failures, I accidentally (nonconsensually) became pregnant with a man who I learned afterwards was angry, unreliable, unsafe, and untrustworthy. This was at a time when I was supporting multiple other families with welcoming their new babies into the world. I wanted to become a mother so badly, but more importantly I wanted a family. I longed for my child to have the kind of father than I was raised with, a man of integrity who was supportive and kind. I made the heartbreaking decision to terminate the pregnancy and went through the procedure alone, ashamed, and in shock. This was not my first time having an abortion, but when I was 18 it was a much easier and justifiable decision.

I painstakingly had to take this decision when the baby was already 10 weeks since I had missed the signs of early pregnancy with a totally normal menstrual cycle at 4 weeks (yes, you can have a normal period even when you are pregnant. No, I didn’t know that. Total body disillusionment and deception!) I continued to attend births, support postpartum mothers in breastfeeding as well as night Doula work, without any of them ever knowing what I was going through internally. I trusted deeply that this was the right decision, although I was privately processing the grief of my loss. Little did I know, that just 9 months later, I would shockingly experience the death of my other parent. My beautiful mum died suddenly from pancreatitis, or medical malpractice, or both. I would have had a 2 month old newborn and been a single mum had I carried out the pregnancy. I had named her Grace, as there was grace in the knowing that I hadn’t had to expose her to that level of loss at such a fragile age.

In all of these experiences, although I struggled deeply, I grew tremendously in my capacity for understanding and holding the human experience. I learned that grief, anger, loss, betrayal, and other “less savory” emotions are actually portals to higher levels of compassion for others. I learned the importance of emotional maturity and self-care when faced with stress and outside pressure. I learned that we don’t always know why or how, but we do always know to trust our hearts. That sometimes, there are no rights or wrongs, and that you just have to know that you're on the path, and to just keep going. That wisdom is different than knowledge, and sometimes not knowing is OK too. And most importantly, that kindness and love from others are the balms that hold us together when it feels like everything else is falling apart.

What are your Top 3 proudest achievements? How have these motivated you to create a community? How do these help you guide a community?  

I am most proud of my ability to support families through birth and postpartum. Becoming a Doula was like a light going off over my head of what my purpose was here on this earth. That my very presence in such a personal experience could bring ease to someone else’s struggle, that my hands and voice could somehow play a role in the most mysterious and magical process of human function, that I could soothe someone’s concern, doubt, fear, and anxiety by consistently showing up and sharing information was extremely life affirming. I will never cease to be amazed at the power of the female body.

I am also extremely proud of my decision to leave the Bay Area and move to Mexico with my dog, my cat, and my brand new relationship. Immigration is an act of courage and I have learned to respect that much more my mother’s decision to relocate and immigrate to another country with my father. I am constantly learning, growing, and humbling myself to all that I don’t know and might never know, but am seeking to understand about Mexico, the culture, the language, and best of all, the people.

And I am proud of the time that I spent traveling, being single, taking time to learn about myself before choosing to start a family. I was lucky enough to be able to volunteer overseas and work with kids who have very little by ways of material needs, and share with them in different ways that tremendously enriched my life as well as theirs. I have found time after time, that one of the most valuable ways to spend your time is spending it giving back to others.

When you think of the people you’ve been proudest to help or serve, who are they? What have you been able to do with the people you’ve brought together professionally, personally, or around the topics that are most important to you?

The people I was proudest to serve have always been moms. Before becoming a Doula, I was a nanny and a beloved babysitter for many families. The trust they showed by having me in their homes, caring for their most valued little people, time and time again, to me it meant the world. It also meant that they were prioritizing themselves, taking a date night, giving themselves some alone time, calling in support and knowing that they don’t have to do everything alone. I especially loved supporting the single moms who were brave enough to enter into motherhood solo and strong enough to know that they needed help. I will never forget the impact that these families have had on me and my ability to know that I can make a big difference through small acts of consistently showing up. I'm continuously impressed by the moms who show up, everyday in every way, doing the single most important, and yet by FAR most under-valued job in society. Deep respect!

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