Paula Goldstein does a lot. She's a maternal health activist, founder, mother, former fashion editor, director, writer and producer. It's definitive. She's the coolest. We caught up with Paula to chat about her winding (and impressive) career, the imbalanced realities of healthcare for women, and why she decided to make her first documentary film.
Tell us a little about you.
I hate answering this question, particularly as someone who has asked it myself thousands of times as both a magazine editor and filmmaker but here it goes.
I grew up in suburban Essex in England, though I now call the United States home despite us currently living nomadically in Airbnbs. Home is a very abstract concept right now. I'm a mother of an incredible four year old daughter Luna, an accidental maternal health activist and founder member of Mother Lovers, a recovering fashion editor, director, writer, producer. I just finished my first feature documentary called "Born Free".
We want to hear more about your time as a fashion editor. What was that like?
Wow. Reflecting on this in 2021 feels like reflecting on someone else's life. After my father died when I was 19, I decided I had to get a job. So I quit school and started as an assistant at British magazine called Dazed and Confused. It was an interesting time to start as magazines were starting to build websites, but it was like a second-tier job. At the time, social media hadn't really got a foothold yet, so no one exactly had experience in it. They gave me the role of digital development as I was a kid basically, and in all honesty, it wasn't seen as all that important at the time.
By the time I was 23 or 24—this being my first out the gate experience— I became the digital director of the French magazine Purple and there I truly lived out the last days of a very sordid fashion disco, before Instagram and accountability really took hold. I look on the whole experience fondly even if with a slightly complicated box of feelings attached to it. I was young, given a pretty free rein to be very creative, and saw a lot. I also got tough fast.
At 27, I started as the Fashion Director of Refinery29, which really was a very different experience for me. I'd never really existed inside the corporate American version of "Fashion" before. It was a time of growing consciousness of both myself, the industry and realization that honestly there might be more. I left to set up a project of my own called Voyage D'etudes with the aim to tell the under-shared stories of women across the globe. I actually sold a print edition in Barnes and Noble across the U.S., but the same week it came out I found out I was pregnant. My world view was totally up-ended by that.
You're currently editing your first documentary, Born Free. Tell us about what inspired you to make this film.
Before I was pregnant, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of my body and issues pertaining to women's rights. Yet, when I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant I had no clue what I was supposed to do. It was like learning to drive after the car had already started rolling out of the lot.
I also honestly did not understand, as a Brit who had been lucky enough to never have to seek medical care in my first few years in the U.S., how it worked here. I ended up going to see an OBGYN at the best hospital near me because that's what Dr. Google told me to do. It was an odd experience where I just would make an appointment, do what I was told, and have a nice four-minute chat with my OB. But the closer it got to birth, the more I realized how many rules my birth would have in the hospital system. I started to freak out.
Then, at about 34 weeks pregnant of a 40 week pregnancy, my OB suggested we induce 10 days early as she'd be out of town on my due date and I'd be fed up of being pregnant by then anyway. On reflection, I actually think she was trying to protect me from a bad OB by knowing she'd be there.
Anyway, after that appointment I was like I'm done with the whole thing, and through some magic I found a space at a birth center in LA under midwife care that would take me that late [in my pregnancy]. Long story short—Luna came early on her own in the end but I had the chillest birth and went home after two cups of tea.
It took A LOT of privilege to get the care I got. I lived in a major, progressive city (LA). I could afford to pay for my midwife care in cold hard cash (the insurance company didn't cover it), and I had a European upbringing so there is less cultural fear around birth and midwifery. I was also used to asking questions in my career as an editor.
I should also mention the white privilege I was conscious of—there was an expectation of being listened to. At the same time, as I had this empowering birth, a friend without the same advantages had an induction she didn't really want but she didn't feel like she had a choice in. She ended up bleeding out and almost dying. In my postpartum haze, I couldn't get the disparity of our two experiences out of my head. Was it just luck?
I needed to understand more and what I did find horrified me. The U.S. is the only country in the developed world with a rising maternal mortality rate. In fact we are 50% more likely to die from childbirth related causes than our own mothers. Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die than white women. I asked my husband, why didn't know? Why isn't it a national conversation? What could I do? So I went and made a movie.
You're also the founder of Mother Lover, a non-profit for maternal rights in the U.S. Tell us more about that.
Basically, we wanted to use our experience and voices in the arts and media to rally around education and change for maternal health. We are planning some bigger awareness activations with artists in a post-Covid world and my dream is to turn that awareness into cash to provide scholarships and grants to community-based organizations.
What can women expect from your (soon to launch) community Space in Diem?
When I was pregnant, the first thing I realized was that I didn't know anything at all. The second thing I realized was that a lot of the advice we are given is judgmental, paternalistic and fear-based.
I would love to create a Space where women and birthing people can access evidence-based facts, have non-judgmental conversations with their peer, and go on to make choices about their own pregnancy and birth with informed consent. And generally have real and open dialogue about how tough mothering is right now.
What's one thing you wish you could change overnight?
Universal healthcare for all. Look—I completely understand that it is not going to magically fix baked-in systemic racism or misogyny within the medical system. But I think the equality and safety net of a starting point where every person, no matter who they are, can see a doctor and have access to the treatment they need without having to set up a GoFundMe is a pretty good starting point. Healthcare is a human right.
As you know, community is everything to us. How has your community helped you, personally or professionally.
Community is everything. I would have never been able to make this film without the strong female team who fought so hard for it (the crew was all female). I honestly didn't know what I was doing when I started but people were so gracious, sharing their stories, contacts and knowledge to help me learn about maternal health. Then I had a whole other community sharing stories, contacts and knowledge to help me learn about film. I don't think I'll ever stop being in awe of the support that was so kindly and fiercely extended and I hope to repay it tenfold.