By Sophie Hayes
The Eastside Women’s Health Center bears little resemblance to a typical health center or doctor’s office.
The space is quiet, small and feels familiar. It’s bright with natural lighting, comfortable and somehow calming. Staff greets clients almost immediately.
Jennifer Jimenez and Kristina Chamberlain opened the center in Kirkland in September. Both certified nurse midwives, they were looking to expand their practices in Washington, and found each other through the same midwife. The two were surprised by how well their interests and goals aligned; they both wanted to return their focus to insemination and family building for the LGBTQ community.
“We’re a strong community that has not necessarily one united voice, but just like everyone else has a united need for high quality care,” Jimenez said.
After having negative experiences with some women’s health-care clinics, Jimenez wanted to build a place where lesbian women who want to start a family aren’t treated as if they’re different. Because fertility clinics are designed for those who have fertility problems, many practices are not welcoming to lesbians or single parents by choice.
Jimenez went through insemination with her partner several years ago and now has twin daughters. “Going through the process was very cold and unfriendly. The providers didn’t know how to approach us or how to discuss our family dynamics,” she said. “At first I thought it was that practice, but it wasn’t. Unfortunately it was kind of widespread.”
Their practice goes far beyond pregnancy services for the LGBTQ community and single parents by choice. Chamberlain specializes in lactation consulting, and the center staffs two other female providers who specialize in massage and acupuncture. The center also offers gynecology, transgender health care and Chinese medicine.
They say their unique combination of services and blend of Eastern and Western perspectives, makes the center a one-stop shop for women’s health care.
“We see women through the whole lifespan. We have clients who have seen all of us for different reasons,” Chamberlain said. “Our goal is to always be able to provide the whole person care.”
The center’s massage therapist provides cranial sacral therapy, which uses light touch and pressure on the skull to benefit the central nervous system.
Tamar Kelley-Druxman, a regular patient at the center, says she was hooked after her first session. “You can literally feel the energy moving through your body. She can shift energy, it’s amazing. I call her my crack person,” she said. Kelley-Druxman’s kids are just as addicted as she is, she said. “I’ve never encountered a women’s health center like this. It’s like going home. Absolutely comfortable.”
Another regular patient, Anna Stein, wanted to have a child with her partner and was referred to the center by a midwife. “She treated us like we were a lesbian couple who wanted to have a baby. They’re super inclusive of everyone and ask important questions about gender identity and things that aren’t even on the radar of a typical practitioner,” she said.
The center also offers transgender health care for females who have transitioned into males but still have female anatomy.
Jimenez and Chamberlain want to make clear their acceptance of the transgender and nongender-conforming communities, understanding the fear these communities often face in health care settings. Forty-eight percent of transgender report postponing or avoiding preventative health care because they fear discrimination, according to a report released in July 2015 by the World Health Organization. The Eastside Women’s Health Center doesn’t offer hormone supplementation for those transitioning from female to male, but does offer hormone-level screening and management, in addition to routine exams for transgender men.
The center staffs four female providers, but the center isn’t women-only. Acupuncture and massage are offered to men, and in addition to serving transgender men, the center indirectly serves gay men by caring for their surrogates throughout a pregnancy. The staff is wholly female, but Chamberlain and Jimenez aren’t opposed to having men on their team. “We have interviewed male providers,” said Chamberlain. “The people we felt were most aligned with our goals just happened to be women.”
Establishing their presence in the LGBTQ community hasn’t been easy. “It’s been a real challenge to find and speak to the LGBTQ community. I know we’re here, I know individuals, but it’s hard to find that repository where you can just put information out and it gets disseminated into the community,” Jimenez said.
“We do think we have a lot of unique things to offer and we want people to know that,” Chamberlain said.
Chamberlain and Jimenez are thinking about opening another practice space in Renton.
More than being a place where women can receive health care, Jimenez and Chamberlain want to provide a place where their patients can let go, be honest and feel basic comfort and acceptance in a non-judgmental environment.
“Our clients just want to be heard,” Jimenez said. It’s meaningful when patients finally have a space where they can cry out their emotions and not feel guilty about it, Jimenez said. “Allowing them that space to just get it all out and validate their experience so they can feel that much stronger about their path,” she said.
According to Chamberlain: “We welcome tears.”