Meet Jo

After Jo Zasloff led our ODDOgathering last month, we became obsessed with her warmth and wisdom. 

 

meet jo

 

In a recent interview, we chatted with Jo about how she came to midwifery, and learned more about her BedStuy-based practice, Nettle Wellness.

s.w

When and how did you become aware of your body as a child? Do you remember your mother ever being involved in this education?

jo

Honestly, I don’t remember my mom talking to me specifically about my body. I do remember, though, that she took me to a diner near my school the morning after I got my first period. I was in 7th grade. She read me feminist poems and talked to me about being a woman. I’m pretty sure she cried. I was so mortified, I wanted to die! It’s funny, now I have my own daughters who I will probably do the same for when they get their periods. And embarrass them in the exact same way. 

s.w

Where and how do you think you learned the most about your body as a young girl?

jo

My parents sent me and my sisters to a hippy-dippy socialist summer camp, where people ran around naked and the girls would shower in a giant room with 10 shower heads. I started going there when I was 11, so it definitely informed the way I saw and understood bodies. It was my introduction to how everyone comes in different forms. The coolest counselors didn’t wear bras, had armpit hair and played guitar. 

s.w

So, then, how did your education or body-perception influence you as a young woman and then as a mother? Why did you decide to go into women’s health? Did your upbringing influence that decision?

jo

I grew up listening to “Free to Be You and Me” and Cat Stevens. My mom is an old-school feminist and my dad is a doctor and a scientist and his area of expertise is the innate immune system. When I was young, my dad would mess around with different types of probiotics for us. You couldn’t buy them in the store back then! He would give us different kinds of yeast for breakfast to boost our immune system (it was so gross!), and we were rarely given antibiotics. When I would get sick he would just say,  “Jo, it’s a sign your body is working to fight the illness.” As a kid that’s not exactly what you want to hear from your dad when you’re sick. But as an adult I understand and appreciate his viewpoint. 

In 1989, My mom brought me and my sisters to the Pro-Choice march in DC. I was so little, I had no idea what an abortion was, but I knew it was something important for women. Even being so young, it was a really influential and powerful experience for me. 

When I was in college, I studied film, women’s studies, and medical anthropology. I studied abroad in Ghana and wanted to learn about the women who care for other women, and what their medicine looked like. I ended up living with a midwife in Ghana for two months. I photographed her, learned about the herbs she used to treat her patients and attended my first births!  

s.w

Amazing.

jo

Yeah! It was exciting and overwhelming and a little scary!  I didn’t think I was going to be a midwife at the time, but I definitely knew that what she was doing was amazing. At the end of that  experience I was like, wait, do midwives exist in the United States? And then I realized that midwives do exist in the US and that you can go to school to become one. What is exciting to me about midwifery is that you can be a rebel and a feminist and a healthcare provider with a license to prescribe medication all at the same time.

s.w

This is a great time to talk a little bit about Nettle Wellness.

jo

Nettle Wellness is my midwifery practice.  I do holistic gynecology and prenatal care. People with a uterus come to me for all things health. They come for their pap smears, to talk about contraception, fertility, and for their pregnancy and delivery. I do home postpartum visits too. All of my patients deliver in a hospital in Manhattan. I like to think of myself as a bridge between the homebirth world and the hospital world. A lot of my patients love the idea of homebirth, but for whatever reason it’s not the right choice for them. I’m here to facilitate and create a safe and empowering experience for all of my patients in the hospital setting.

When I designed the space, I wanted the energy of the actual physical space to be reflective of the care I was giving. I think so often we don’t even realize how our doctor’s office is affecting how we feel at our visits. I wanted to make your pap smear feel like a good experience, like self-care, not like a dreaded chore! I have good music playing, pretty textiles, healthy snack and vintage feminist books in the waiting room. It always smells nice. You wear really soft gowns during your exam, i don’t use stirrups, and we spend most of the visit talking on a couch. 

s.w

You also have two girls. how do you think that’s informed your own experience as a mother, if at all?

jo

Part of my job is to be comfortable talking about uncomfortable topics. People come to me with sexual pain, yeast infections, you name it. I’m pretty good at making an uncomfortable conversation seem normal and safe.  With that said, I’ve never been afraid of talking about things like sex and body parts with my kids. When my daughter asked us how babies were made, we told her. We’ve always use proper anatomy vocabulary for her body parts.

I sometimes forget that these topics are sensitive for families and for other parents. When my daughter was three, her teachers sent us a concerning note telling us that [my daughter] was telling the other kids at school how babies were  made--that you need a sperm and an egg, [both laugh]. Maybe some parents would have been ashamed by this situation and scolded their kids for that, but we were so proud! She was actually listening! Haha.

s.w

What are you most worried about with your daughters becoming women in today’s society?

jo

I want them to be good people, who are smart and excited about learning and can say, “thank you” and can also stand up for themselves at the same time. I just want them to stay awesome. 

s.w

They will.

jo

And it’s okay, you know? They can and probably will go through weird stages, we all went through them, right? You have to evolve at your own pace and figure out who you are and what your identity is, and sometimes that looks pretty ugly for a moment, but hopefully you come out the other end being confident and comfortable in your own shoes. 

s.w

That’s something that I think about with Lee. How do you prevent--and it’s so much the mission of ODDO, right?--how do you prevent that awfully painful period of just being confused? Some of it is just inevitable, I guess.

jo

I have no idea! I think all you can do is live by example for your kids, right? If you’re feeling good about yourself, and if you’re doing something that you think is meaningful, and you’re treating the world and the people around you respectfully, then I think it’s reflected to your kids. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.  


Learn more about Jo, or Nettle Wellness, here

14   

"i took it off"

so, it was like 2012. i was in williamsburg, just walking around. i was HOT. it was, like, august?  and this kid hits me up. he’s like — bloop! — and i was like, what’s up? and he was like, do you want to meet up? and i was like, sure! because you know what “meet up” means..

 

I go to the bathroom to prepare, and im like, wait, this shit smells. So right before he pulls up, im like, i don’t need underwear — even though underwear is also great — i don’t need this underwear. i took it off, threw it in the garbage, and I moved on with my life and had a great night.

13   

"my lucky underwear" 

so a couple of weeks ago, i had, like, given up all hope of getting this pop up space. I was wandering around soho, wondering what my next step in life would be, and the broker called me and asked me if I still wanted it [because] something had fallen through with the long term renters. i was like, “yes! yes! i’ll take it!”

as soon as I got off the phone, i realized i was wearing my oddobody underwear — it must have been good luck! i texted the girls, and i was like, “im pretty sure this is my lucky underwear.”

12    Fredgy

"people have been doing this forever"

I’m so used to just throwing panties in a laundry machine. but these [oddobody], i was hand washing them, and i remembered when i was a kid i would hand wash all my panties. that was a very sacred time. you would hang them all up, and they would dry and that’s just how i did it for years. and now im like why have i been washing my underwear in a laundry machine? it’s like, so rough.
[and then you said you went to your grandma’s?]
oh, so then i went home and i’m thinking about hand washing. and then i notice that there’s just panties all over her bathroom! and it was like, other people have been doing this forever! what happened to make me stop?

10    Kalindi

"I'm never wearing a thong again"

 

I remember in college when thongs was the thing to wear. And so I tried on lots of different kinds of thongs, and realized that only the string kind was comfortable for me. (the kind that was like an inch thick was painful.) And, yknow, that liberation of finding a thong that was comfortable and being to wear thongs all the time. But I remember once I got out of that head set, that thongs are the thing to wear, I realized that thongs are not comfortable, and I am never wearing a thong again.

 

09    Nayara

"i've definitely upped my game since"

I massively disappointed this ex-boyfriend of mine with a nice pair of granny panties. So it happened that I grew up in a more conservative town, and sexy lavey underwear was just not a thing. I had just moved to the US from Brazil, I was in my early 20s, and yea, the poor guy was so disappointed. He didn’t even try to hide it, so it didn’t make me feel bad or anything, because I just thought it was really funny. I still think it’s really funny. I’ve definitely upped my game since.