It’s time for “Backline Love,” where we post Q&As with some of the people in the movement we love most. This month we introduce Rachel Herndon, who is Director of Birthparent Services at Adoption Connection and a regular participant and presenter in our Bay Area Pregnancy Options Workshops.
Can you describe your work (paid, volunteer, life) for us? Give us the what, where, why, and how.
I am the Director of Birthparent Services at Adoption Connection, a nonprofit,
pro-choice, open adoption agency in San Francisco, California. I work with women and their families who are experiencing unintended pregnancies and are considering placing their babies for adoption. I provide case management, counseling services, referrals and liaison services between birth and prospective adoptive families. I also run workshops to help prospective adoptive parents learn about ethical adoption practices, build empathy for birth families and adoptees, and prepare for the bureaucratic and emotional requirements of the adoption process. I enjoy the delicate work of building bridges between disparate groups and communities to forge adoption plans that benefit the identity needs of the adopted child. I also advocate for abortion and parenting services for women who decide not to make an adoption plan.
I also moonlight as an on-call social worker for Oakland Children’s Hospital, the safety net trauma center for all children in Northern California. I love the fast pace of emergency room social work and the slower pace of helping grieving families cope with long term illness and treatment. The majority of families this hospital treats are MediCal eligible and from underserved communities. Working with these families in emergent situations gives me a new perspective when working with my birth and adoptive parent clients.
In my off hours I am a board member of the Seachange Program, a reproductive stigma reduction organization that aims to change the cultural conversation around abortion and improve access to all women seeking reproductive choice. I am also on the advisory board of Health Through Art, a community wide project providing the public with artistic expressions of mental health and creativity to counteract substance abuse, racism, violence and sexism, as it is taught and reinforced through unhealthy and pervasive media imagery.
To clear my head after all of this work I run trail ultra marathons, cook huge crockpots of New Mexican food, camp at hot springs, run off to Burning Man with my husband, play drums at pro union protests with BoomShake women and trans folks’ drum collective, read The Sun magazine and make stone fruit and yogurt smoothies to drink on my balcony.
What four words would you use to describe your role in the movement?
Evolving, compassionate, outraged and passionate.
Backline’s mission is to promote unconditional and judgment-free support for the full spectrum of decisions, feelings, and experiences with pregnancy, parenting, adoption, and abortion. How does our work resonate with you and relate to the work that you do?
I am so impressed and inspired by Backline. One of the truest statements I ever heard on the subject was in a Pregnancy Options Workshop Backline held, that it is the same women who choose to terminate pregnancies, parent their babies, and make adoption plans, depending on the timing and circumstances of their pregnancy. I see this over and over in my work – most pregnant women who call my agency have had experiences with abortion and/or with parenting. They happen to have a set of circumstances with this particular pregnancy leading them toward a particular choice, but that choice does not preclude them from being excellent mothers when they choose, or from obtaining abortions when they need to. Each client already has the right answer for her circumstance, but often needs the nonjudgmental support of a skilled listener to reach her decision with her mental health and sense of self intact. There are so many stigmas and pressures at play around each woman and her sense of choice, and I love Backline for providing the space for women to unpack their emotional knapsacks.
How do you see Backline as a contributor to your work and the work of the movement as a whole?
Backline provides such a great resource for all people struggling with reproductive choices and feelings, and also for counselors and therapists who attend their amazing trainings. I also wholeheartedly support the All Options Pregnancy Resource Center Backline is developing in the Midwest. There is a great need for pregnancy resource centers that provide a range of services and do not mislead and lie to women about their bodies, due dates, contraception and other pregnancy related issues. So many of my pregnant clients have gone to “pro-life” pregnancy crisis centers believing them to be medical facilities and have been given erroneous information about how abortion works and how far along they were.
What are your top three must-read blogs/sites/publications?
If I am totally honest here:
1. Facebook – I have some really smart, well read friends who do amazing work and post links to the best articles of the day and then hold spirited debates in the comments section. People make fun of my FB addiction but I learn a lot from the people I respect (and the people I don’t).
2. Bitch Magazine – a feminist response to pop culture. Smart off hours reading.
3. Salon.com – Great progressive investigative journalism, long form pieces, personal essays.
You are now a superhero! What is your name, power, and outfit?
IUD LADY! I have the power to blink once and provide instant IUD insertion for any person who requests it (with full informed consent, of course). My outfit is a red and black corset with an IUD chest shield, red cape, fishnets and black Fluevog boots because boots.
Thank you Rachel!!