Emily Varnam

Emily Varnam - 2016 Nominee
Position: Birth control doula
Organization: The Fifth Vital Sign
In 2016, Emily Varnam and Kelsey Knight, a doula and labor and delivery nurse, embarked on a cross country road trip to provide free female reproductive health workshops, emphasizing body literacy. – Nominator
Describe your contributions to and achievements in family planning.

I developed a concept called a ‘birth control doula’. Someone who would assist in making decisions about which birth control to be on, especially in times of transitioning from one form to another. This person would provide support, resources and unbiased information. This concept came from my experience as a birth doula and was inspired by the need for more education around reproductive health and the idea of advocating for oneself and ones choices early on so that when the time to choose whether or not to become a parent was presented. I also co founded a project called the fifth vital sign. Framing the menstrual cycle as a vital sign and giving free reproductive health classes focusing on menstrual cycle awareness, feminine hygiene, contraception and more.

What sparked your passion for family planning?

Birth Doula work highlighted a need for more and better reproductive health education. Education is the most powerful tool we have and I saw that by bringing their own information about their bodies individual needs people were able to get better and more in depth care and information. I could see the long term and continued affect of introducing simple, unbiased information that could be easily shared.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your family planning efforts, and what have you done to overcome it?

Lack of unbiased but culturally sensitive, non judgmental reproductive health education.

We have created a core curriculum which can be adapted for different audiences and what stage they are at in their reproductive health but is based upon information and not advice or opinion.

What is your (country/region/city)’s biggest challenge in family planning, and how can it be addressed?

Lack of resources has been a big barrier in some communities. For example in choosing a non hormonal form of birth control many people lack access to the tools they need to use barrier or fertility awareness methods. Providers in many places have not had access to training on such methods so they are not better informed than their patients in some cases.

What do you want to accomplish in the next 5 years?

Training more birth control doulas and providing more one on one support for people making these critical choices about how they manage their fertility and sexual health. Forming a non profit that can continue to inform people about their options,the mechanics of their reproductive systems and the risks and benefits accociated with hormonal birth control. I would like for our curriculum to be available internationally as well as being used inside of major institutions such as clinics and schools

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