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

07    Maria

"so cute on the rack"

A friend and I were wandering around the streets of paris and we stumbled upon this lingerie store and I picked up this pair of the most uncomfortable purple mesh underwear I have ever seen in my entire life -- and a matching bra too. The underwear were so cute on the rack, and I obviously couldn’t try them on, so I just bought the size that would fit and took them home. The first time I wore them on a date they were so uncomfortable, because they were just chafey and gross, that I actually ended up taking them off in the bathroom in the middle of the date and putting them in my purse. I literally never worse them again. My experience with sexy underwear began and ended then. I now just wear underwear that’s comfortable because sexy underwear is not comfortable -- most sexy underwear is not comfortable.

06    Mariana

"the thong song"

I credit the late...no...90s early 2000s for introducing me to the thong.  So first Brittany Spears, Christinia Agulaira, and Sisco. When Siscos started singing the Thong Song it was like empowering, i’m gonna buy myself a thong, and it was a black one at that. And the reason it was black was because in the late 90s,10 Things I Hate About You came out and there was this scene in the movie where Cat’s sister, Bianca, and her friend Cameron start rummaging through her underwear and Bianca picks up her underwear and she says “look black panties” and he’s like “what does it matter” and she was like “it means she wants to have sex one day.” So now I always associate black thongs with sex and women’s empowerment.

04    Latasha

“the enemy”

**sings**Memories I have with panties. So I think dealing with a really strict Latin mom forced me to buy a thong underwear by myself because...you know what she wasn’t having it...but i bought it anyway and in high school wore my first thong underwear senior class spanish and you know i think it was like green and this guy in the back was like “yo green...yo green” and I was like “why does he keep calling me green?” Then I realized low-rise jeans are the enemy...but also...not the enemy you know? ;)

03    Lara

“naughty little extra”

My first memory of underwear is being about 6 or 7 years old in school in England. And it occuring to me to be a really sassy idea to dare all the kids (all of my friends to come in with no underwear on, I guess we’d call it commando now. The head mistress found out and called me to her office and asked why I would do such a thing and if I actually understood what underwear was for...what the purpose was. To which I remember being completely flummoxed, I had zero idea. She explained to me that underwear was designed to keep a person warm in these areas, it was a protective garment. This was news to me--I thought it was a naughty little extra.

02    Abigail

“WHITE. White. white”

Ok so my most vivid memory of a piece of underwear was...I was at belk with my mom back home in Virginia and my sister and I had just both gone through the birth of our first child and I go...but it's impossible to find cotton underwear which is what you want after you’ve gone through that body trauma. So we went into belk and I come upon the Jockey section and there are these huge, high-waist cotton underwear and I’m sooooo pumped that I call my sister immediately

“Jenny, how many pairs do you want?”

And I come home with a bag full of high-waisted jockeys.

What color were they?

White. White. white.

01    Shira

“whale tale”

I guess the first time I remember caring about my underwear, I was probably 13 or 14 and I was at the mall with my mom in a store called Mandees. There were this really sexy, leopard print thong...synthetic pair that caught my eye from across the room. Somehow, I convinced my mom that it was okay to buy even though she only let me buy 100% cotton underwear. I really wanted to wear them sitting in front of this really hot, kind of morose but smart wrestler in calculus class and lean over so that they would be peeking out that back...which I believe is called a whale tail.