The Model and Musician Livestreaming Her Birth in the Middle of a Pandemic

As the due date of model and musician Marz Lovejoy’s son approached, she received a text from a friend. “So are we going to livestream the birth?” it read. Lovejoy figured the friend must have heard from her husband that she had been thinking about just that—a minute-to-minute, no-filter livestream of her delivering her second child.

But no—just a moment of coincidental clairvoyance. For Lovejoy, it was a sign: “That solidified it for me.”

In March, as the coronavirus began to explode in America, Lovejoy and her husband had begun to make plans for her home birth via virtual meetings with midwives in Minnesota, where Lovejoy—the culture editor at Office Magazine (and sometimes muse of Savage x Fenty)—is from. But there were other preparations to think about too: What cameras would they need to set up? What streaming platforms were most user-friendly?

When Lovejoy and her husband decided to share their son’s arrival, a typically private experience, a sturdy tripod became as important as a birthing pool. “Sure, there are going to be some nosy people and I might get a few trolls,” she says, “but overall I think the people who are going to be tuning in are going to be bringing really good energy. They’re going to be coming to learn, to see what a home birth is like.”

Lovejoy was already seven months pregnant and on vacation in Mexico with her husband and toddler when the pandemic began to take hold. The couple didn’t initially wanted to risk traveling home to New York. “There was nothing to really rush back to,” Lovejoy says, so she met with a midwife in Mexico and began making plans to have the baby there. But that same day the U.S. State Department announced that borders would be closing indefinitely and that Americans should either come home or stay where they were. Suddenly the couple was faced with a tough choice.

“I went from having my birth team in New York—two midwives and a doula—to [potentially] having a baby in Tulum,” she says. “They always tell you that birth is so spontaneous. I’m glad this isn’t my first rodeo.” Quickly, her family unit shifted their plans: They got their things together and headed not back to New York, but Saint Paul. She had already been planning to have a home birth, as she had with her first child, but now she was holding virtual meetings with midwives in Minnesota and recalibrating her expectations—again. “Once I got to Minnesota, I was a bit discouraged with the anxiety of traveling and being pregnant during this time,” she says.

As soon as plans were in place, though, her anxiety began to ease. That’s partially because the house where she is planning to give birth to her son, who is due on May 4 (but hasn’t arrived as of publication time), is on the same land where her great-grandmother raised her grandmother. “I feel so protected here,” she says. “I'm surrounded by my family and my ancestors.”

Now that she was settled on what Lovejoy describes as sacred land, she started to think about how other pregnant women might be feeling right now. “What would it be like to have a baby in the hospital during this time?” she says. “Especially as a woman of color, especially as a black woman.” How could she make this experience easier for them? What could she do to show she understood and shared their anxiety?

The answer came to her pretty easily. We’re living in virtual times. We’re livestreaming some sort of content every day. Confined to our homes, we’re more online than ever. Why should birth be any different?

Lovejoy’s decision was motivated by a desire to present home births and doulas as accessible, alternative options to hospitals, where Lovejoy says she has rarely felt safe. “As long as you're healthy, and you're already low-risk, home birth can be such a beautiful experience,” she explains. Lovejoy recognizes that “home” doesn’t look the same for everybody, but she wants to present her choice as a possibility to those who might not have considered it. (People who are pregnant should make decisions about how to deliver in consultation with their doctors.)

“When you're young and you come from a disenfranchised community, you may not even be thinking about home birth or having a doula,” she tells me. “But doctors don't always listen. Even superstars like Serena Williams and Beyoncé talk about their birthing experiences and how there were times when they had to advocate for themselves. I want women to know that there are resources.”

Given the sobering statistics about maternal mortality for black women—they are about three times more likely to die during childbirth than white women—Lovejoy says making decisions around childbirth for black women can be the difference between “life and death.” (When Serena Williams gave birth to her daughter, Olympia, she had to ask to be given a computed tomography (C.T.) scan when she feared she was having another pulmonary embolism. Instead, a nurse dismissed her request, suggesting the meds were making her confused, and a doctor gave her legs an ultrasound instead.)

Research increasingly shows that access to doulas—companions who aren’t health care professionals but who advocate for and support women during their birthing experiences—can help lower those odds, in whatever birthing scenario a mother chooses. The American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology released a consensus statement in 2014, saying, “Published data indicate that one of the most effective tools to improve labor and delivery outcomes is the continuous presence of support personnel, such as a doula, specifically in cases of women of color.” Mounting research suggests that having access to a doula can improve the health and well-being of women of color during pregnancy and childbirth.

But in most states doulas are not covered by health insurance and can cost anywhere from $1,000 or more, depending on the state, which is one of the reasons Lovejoy set up a GoFundMe to raise money for people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ to employ women-of-color doulas for their births. The fund will also provide scholarships to two women of color in their midwife or doula training. Lovejoy is working with Roots Community Birth Center to allocate donations.

So far, Lovejoy has raised nearly $22,775 of her $30,000 goal. Donations above $100 will receive a notification on the day of Lovejoy’s labor, as well as an additional notification one hour prior to the delivery. Figuring out how to stream the experience was a bit of a challenge, Lovejoy says, because most platforms either have streaming time limits or come with prohibitive fees, but in the end, the stream will live on Crowdcast, with a minimum donation of $3 to tune in. “Labor can be long, so we'll start a couple hours before and just go from there,” Lovejoy says. “Birth can be super unpredictable, so I'm hoping this baby doesn't come early and the whole thing is a bust.”

In the meantime, she’s getting support from her network of notable friends, like musicians Kehlani, Sza, and Diana Gordon, and model Ebonee Davis. Erykah Badu will be performing the role of “virtual doula,” by offering Lovejoy words of encouragement and blessing the birth beforehand. “This is one of the ways I feel that I can help in a crisis,” Lovejoy says. “It's so unfortunate to me that so many women throughout history have had miserable birthing experiences. You created life. I don't care whatever vehicle or device or building you build. Nothing compares to creating a life.”

Dayna Evans is a freelance writer based in France.

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