02/20/18 | share:
Interviewed by Natalie Pattillo
When I spoke to Walda Laurenceau, a 45-year-old acupuncturist and tea maker, I learned that she is no stranger to pushing away self-doubt. Her Brooklyn apartment was decorated with splashes of vibrant colors, artwork with positive affirmations, and photos of her Haitian family members. On her dining table, there were cups of warm tea ready for us to sip on—a ritual that Walda enjoys practicing with friends and family.
After pursuing a Bachelor's in English at Rutgers University, she created her own bi-annual magazine called Everything Goes. She was 23, passionate, and armed with a "really old Mac computer." To get submissions that covered art, politics, and culture, she put out ads in the Village Voice, a New York City local newspaper. The poems, stories, and art came flooding in. Ads from local businesses funded her printing and publishing costs. Walda published three issues and eventually moved on from the magazine to work towards a Master's in Publishing at Pace University. Clearly, Walda has always had an entrepreneurial spirit and a knack for creativity.
Looking back, Walda says she had no idea that a career in acupuncture would be in her future. She did, however, always have an affinity towards herbs, health, and wellness. At 27, Walda was listening to her body more because she was living with fibroids, which are noncancerous growths in the uterus that can develop during a woman's childbearing years.
"As I got older, I realized how not listening and not paying attention to the signs or messages from my mind and body impacted me and my health," she said.
In 2008, after freelancing on and off in public relations and publishing, Walda landed an administrative desk job with the city. "It was just a job," she explained. "I was just filling a space at a desk and paying the bills."
Walda’s father encouraged her to study herbs and medicine while working. But, with two degrees already under her belt, she was hesitant. Then, one day while riding the bus, Walda met a woman in her 60s who described herself as a traveling acupuncturist. The woman shared her phone number and encouraged Walda to make an appointment with her for a treatment. Walda, sensing there was a reason for meeting this woman, called her up. It was Walda’s first acupuncture treatment and she’ll never forget how calm she felt afterwards.
“I remember having my eyes closed and just seeing the sky so clearly after the treatment,” she shared. "From there, I felt like I had to learn more.”
Shortly after that, Walda enrolled in Pacific College of Oriental Medicine for a Master’s of Science degree in Acupuncture, and kept her desk job for financial stability. Around that time, Walda also had dreams of starting her own tea-making business, where she would hand-select various herbs and create personalized mixes for people.
Walda inherited the love for herbs and healing from her great-grandmother, a formidable medicine woman in Haiti who helped women with reproductive health. Walda never met her great-grandmother, but it was important that her tea brand paid homage to her roots.
“It was in my spiritual and emotional makeup the whole time,” she shared with excitement. “Depending on what you're doing and what inspires you, those past family members that you may not have ever known, they have a connection to you."
In Creole, “fey” means “plant” or “medicine.” Suddenly the name came to her. “TeaFèy!” Then, the self-doubt crept into her inner dialogue. “Who am I to think that I’m going to compete with major tea brands? Am I good enough? What is this going to lead to?” were thoughts that kept her from following her gut. Eventually, she pushed those fears to the wayside.
“This is my ancestors and spirit working through me,” she said. “The herbs were all about connection—brewing it, smelling it, feeling it in my hands, and seeing how it actually made me feel a few minutes after drinking it. It's like this internal alchemy that I wanted people to experience.”
In 2011, Walda was thrilled to launch TeaFèy. Single and 41, Walda still yearned to be a mother. With health insurance from her job with the city, Walda started IUI treatments. She was hopeful despite her issues with fibroids. But suddenly, life got rocky for Walda. In 2013, she was forced to move out of her apartment because of a rodent infestation, she lost her job because her contract was shortened, and her grandmother passed away, and she had trouble getting pregnant.
“It was a lot emotionally and I just felt like I was being squeezed,” she said. “I needed a break to get through everything.”
Shortly after that, at 42, Walda booked a one-way ticket to Phoenix, Arizona for a 3-month long road trip. She dipped into her 401k savings to fund her 3-month long adventure. It was either saving money or saving sanity, she said. It was hugely important for her to find respite away from the stress of New York and her reproductive health issues.
“For the first time, I felt like I created a piece of freedom for myself. I was on schedule for school, work, and the doctor...but not myself,” she explained while letting out a sigh of relief. “I just didn't want anymore of that. I wanted to breathe.”
While road tripping, Walda stayed in Airbnbs and travelled all over America. She never really knew where she was staying up until three days before she arrived at places like Las Vegas, Mount Rushmore, and Colorado. Letting go of the day-to-day demands she had in New York was healing.
“I drove and drove and drove. I cried. I listened to music. When I was on the road, it was a cathartic experience. I would yell in my car,” she shared. “I was pissed at God. I was just so angry at myself. I was hurt. But going on that trip allowed me to release and let go.”
When Walda returned to New York City, she was rejuvenated. She hit the ground running with TeaFèy and her education in acupuncture and herbal medicine. Today, Walda has her own acupuncture private practice called Root and Essence. She's enthusiastic about helping people and seeing how much better she can become.
As a woman and healer, Walda wants women to reclaim the respect they deserve. She doesn’t understand why our society sometimes ignores women, their pain, and health needs.
“How can you think it's OK to disregard or control a body that pushed you into this life?" she asked rhetorically. "I think women are one of the highest level spiritual beings. We take in so much. We process. We push forth for our lives, ideas, and our communities."
Walda encourages for women of all ages to reject other people's expectations and toxicity.
"Often, people choose to decide who you are and you have to remind them, you don't decide who I am. I decide who I am, not you." 🔥
Photos by: Bridget Collins