Erica Chidi Cohen | Apiece Apart
Los Angeles-based Erica Chidi Cohen is a doula, health educator and author; she is also the founder of LOOM, a center providing education and community for reproductive empowerment, pregnancy, and parenting for everyone. Erica began her work in San Francisco, volunteering within the prison system working with pregnant inmates. Today her work at LOOM centers around widening the circle of inclusivity, non-judgment, and confidence. “Joy and pleasure are our birthrights,” she explains. We visited Erica at the beautiful LOOM space in LA to learn more.
Can you share more about yourself, your upbringing, and background — how have you become the woman you are today?
My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria in the 1970s. My father studied to become a doctor and my mother was a nurse. Their strong work ethic and internal drive deeply affected me: they raised me to believe that anything is possible, but you need to work at it. They also freely shared information about health and the body, which gave me a rich shorthand and insatiable curiosity.
I was born in the U.S. but moved to South Africa as an adolescent with my father. He was involved in HIV and AIDS research there — it was only a few years after Apartheid broke. It was a formative time for me. Although the law of Apartheid was being dismantled, de facto division between races was largely the norm. As a black, non-native African, who also happened to be American, I battled to find my comfort zone. However, the multicultural influence of black South African and European cultures shaped me indelibly.
All of this influenced my trajectory: culinary school, followed by college with a focus on visual art theory and communications, a brief stint in the art and public relations world, and, finally, rerouting my way back to my parents' health and wellbeing roots through doula and health education work.
Tell us more about your mission at LOOM. What does it mean to "disrupt the status quo of reproductive awareness”?
To me, it means providing nonjudgmental and inclusive information about reproduction. For the longest time, our patriarchal culture has denied women insight about fundamental processes like our periods and sex — that fog permeates our understanding of childbirth, and even menopause. The backlash to that culture has traditionally been femme-centric movements exemplified by (beautiful) texts like Anita Diamant’s "The Red Tent." However, as much I value and treasure the power of this kind of expression, I think also need straightforward education, correct verbiage, and self-advocacy. We need to be able to speak with authority to our communities and medical providers with confidence about our bodies and their physiological processes — refer to body parts with confidence and no euphemisms. That’s how we can reclaim our power. The esoteric, the empirical, the communal, and academic all need commingling — that’s what LOOM is trying to do.
In what ways might all women embrace more nurturance in their lives?
As women we often feel that we need to be contained, organized, and need to subdue our needs and emotions for the betterment of others. We need to lean into our deepest, most “inconvenient” needs and seek ways to sate them without feeling and guilt or shame. Joy and pleasure are our birthrights.
Let's talk about resiliency: Where and how does this concept land for you?
To me resiliency is about flexibility. When you’re beat down, disregarded, or disrespected by someone you love or a stranger, you find the inner wherewithal to flow around it and keep pushing forward. That ability to manage and compartmentalize discomfort is critical in our current climate, when a myriad of things can interrupt your process or make you believe that all is lost.
How do you embrace your own femininity?
Intentionally tapping into my body as often as possible. Whether that’s through taking a long, magnesium-rich bath, being in nature, sex, self-massage, slowly cooking and then eating a meal that I love, a night of dancing, talking about my period with levity and awareness. All of these things make me feel deeply feminine.
Me Too stories – both spoken and unspoken in us collectively – have opened new pathways for healing. What has your own work illuminated about the ways in which we can (re)connect with with ourselves and one another?
It’s shown me that there is always space for empathy and curiosity. We can become conditioned around how we see the world through our family of origin and our individuated experience. Even if our own choices are firm, we should be anchored enough to give space to others to share their experiences and opinions without feeling triggered or judged. That’s how we can really connect: by creating more space for shame-free sharing.
Describe a moment in your recent past that filled you with wonder.
I spent a month in India on my own a few years ago and stayed on a nature reserve in Mysore. One evening, I went on a long walk and sat on the edge of a riverbed and watched the sunset, seemingly by myself. I had never traveled alone before. The complete solitude of that moment and the promise of what could come next is still with me.
What is a favorite quotation of yours?
“To achieve greatness, start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” — Arthur Ashe
What are you reading now (or perhaps a few recent reads that have stuck with you)?
I’m currently reading "Radical Candor" by Kim Scott, which is all about humanity and leadership. I’ve also been loving Kathleen Collin’s “Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?”