Sex Positive, Inclusive, Next Level: Chatting with Erica Chidi Cohen About LOOM, a Center for Reproductive Empowerment

Never did I think I would walk into a reproductive wellness center to be met with rooms named after visionary women like Bell Hooks, Frida Kahlo, Coretta Scott King, and Ruth Bader Giensburg. However, LOOM happily is changing the game with their inclusive, evidence-based approach to reproductive health.

Founded by Erica Chidi Cohen, a doula, health educator, and author; and Quinn Lundberg, a mother and policy advocate, LOOM has become a hub for those considering, expecting, and parenting. Offering everything from period coaching and sex-positive reproductive empowerment classes to parenting, yoga, and meditation classes.

Erica, who first dipped her toes into doula work through volunteering with pregnant inmates in San Francisco, is young, successful, mindful, and has an even-keeled nature about her. When you speak, she really listens. She isn’t afraid to share her opinion, but she also is gifted with a deep sensitivity that allows her to read a situation easily. At the same time, the work she feel is doing feels visionary. It is breaking into the sphere of what sexuality and reproduction often looks like in popular culture (white, straight, heterosexual) and creating space for everyone. I had the pleasure of chatting about this and more with Erica – read up below.

Q&A

LF: Erica, you’ve had an extensive career as a doula and entered the field at a young age. What led you to become a doula?

EC: What drew me to become a doula at a young age was sheer curiosity and the fact that I would be able to support people from an objective place. I, myself, do not have children and (because of that) I knew that I would not be bringing that emotional load or specific vision to others’ birthing experiences. And to be honest, I think that’s why a lot of people enjoy working with me because my approach is quantitative. I’m looking at hundreds of women who I’ve worked with and applying my opinion based on what I’ve seen, not on what I’ve personally experienced which ultimately allows for non-judgment and flexibility in how a client wants to operate.

LF: When and how did the idea for LOOM transpire?

EC: It was through my previous business, Mama Circle, that I met LOOM’s cofounder, Quinn Lundberg. She had attended my classes and I ended up working as her doula and through that time we cultivated not only a friendship, but this business idea of wanting to grow the services I was providing to serve more people. So, from there we mutually tackled re-branding and expanding programming. I think the initial conversation happened when I was sitting on her bed while she was holding her baby.

LF: With the opening of LOOM has come a major transition for you – the shift from working as a doula to hustling as a CEO. What has this felt like for you?

EC: I am still working as a doula, however, I like to take on births seasonally now. The reason for that is to stay close to the epicenter of the action. There’s constant innovation happening within the birthing space, particularly in the hospital, so it’s nice to have a touchpoint there. But I am doing far fewer births. I used to do thirty births or more a year, whereas now I maybe do four of five. Now through LOOM, if I’m not available, I do offer up alternatives from our doula co-op of forty women.

I’ve gone from supporting people one-on-one versus now as a CEO managing various teams, however, my skills as a doula are completely transferable to a managerial leadership role. The shift to taking care of people and supporting  them in a work environment hasn’t been a big leap, but what has been a big leap is the kind of constant need of a big business. The pace is very different. But I have a great team, so the transition has been much easier. I don’t know where I would be without them, to be honest.

LF: What advice do you have for women who are experiencing a career shift?

EC: That it’s going to be hard (laughs). And that sometimes you’re going to feel like you don’t know what you are doing. But you will also experience pure moments of doing the work that are joyous and times when it doesn’t actually feel like work. If that happens, then keep at it. Typically, what is the least enjoyable around a career shift is all the administrative work, not the work itself. So, if the work feels good, stick with it.

LF: LOOM’s Roadmaps: Periods class is perfect for women who are not expecting. What are the top three misconceptions surrounding feminine wellness that you most often hear?

EC: Yes, Roadmap: Periods is a perfect class for anyone that wants to feel more empowered about their period.

The most common misconceptions that I see are that most women think that their menstrual cycle merely consists of the days that they are bleeding. It’s not. A full cycle is actually bleed to bleed (so it’s the whole 20 or 30 odd days). Secondly, most women don’t really know that they have two orifices through which fluid leaves the vagina. There is your actual vagina (which is for sex with yourself and others and where your period flows from) and there is your urethra, which releases urine. And lastly, there is a tendency to think that birth control is the only option to managing heavy or uncomfortable periods. There are a lot lifestyle, dietary, and supplemental changes that can be accessed and are available now through LOOM’s Period Coaching program to help mitigate a lot of physical and emotional discomfort people have during their periods.

LF: Despite your background as a doula, you aren’t all about babies and motherhood – you’re also passionate about sex education. How do you think a modern approach to sex education can improve sex lives?

EC: Yes, I am all about sex education and sex positivity! In fact, I am super excited about LOOM’s newest offering (also available summer 2018), called Roadmap: Sex. I’m really passionate about it. It’s all about shame-free, pleasure-centered sex. Look, the United States is a fairly puritanical culture and there is not a lot of healthy discussion about sex, and sex is a normal part of life. So, we need to find a way to discuss sex that is not loaded, brutally honest, and not afraid of looking at bodily fluids and functioning. For example I think we should be able to say “vagina,” and “wet,” and “coming” without shrinking or feeling small. I think we need to help women and people feel more confident in asking for what they need in their sexual lives. Your sexual wellness is connected to your overall well-being. Especially in the wake of #MeToo, you know, it is important for women to have containment and to feel empowered around consent, but I think “consent” needs to move beyond saying “yes” or “no” and move into actively asking for what you want. So, the better education we have and building skills around body literacy will help women be able to engage all types of sexual consent and pleasure.

LF: LOOM is making reproductive empowerment, pregnancy, and parenting accessible for all, something that is evident from the company’s mission and values. What is your vision for LOOM in a year from now? Five years from now?

EC: Our short and long-term vision is to get LOOM’s approach to as many people as possible. So, that really means going digital [with programming]. Also, figuring out engaging, impactful ways of delivering health education and community to the people who need it. At the core we are really an education and community brand. So, yes that looks like offering digital classes. It’s LOOM living on the web. It’s about accessibility above all else.

LF: What’s the narrative around reproductive health, birth, and motherhood that you are actively working to change?

EC: I think what I’m trying to shift is that we need to push back on the [birthing] hierarchy that is present and let people just have their experiences without judgment. We need to give people – give women space. In terms of reproductive health, I’m trying to change the narrative that people don’t know what’s happening with their bodies. I want people to be able to advocate for themselves, get the best possible care, and make life decisions from an informed place.

I’d also like to demystify pregnancy. Pregnancy is hard. It’s not an easy thing. I think that if more women were being open about how hard it was – it would be impactful.

LF: How fast do you live?

EC: I live pretty fast because I choose to. However, I have different settings and when I do feel like the pace is too much – I have no trouble slowing down. I really don’t. Self care is essential. My approach is to be intentional with it and build it into my week (at least twice) – whether that’s carving out time for a visit to my acupuncturist or taking a long magnesium bath. There’s no way I could continue to work at the pace I do without it.

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