GB Khalsa

by Jodi Egerton • Photography by Jote Khalsa

On a crisp morning, midwife GB Khalsa and I sit together over steaming mugs of chai at Radio Coffee & Beer in South Austin. We’re interrupted constantly. A woman comes over to give her a quick hug. Then, GB turns to smile and giggle with a 5-month-old baby—one of almost 2,000 she’s helped into this world, including my own son. 

The baby’s mother and I share a knowing smile. We find each other often, GB’s mamas, and never cease to marvel at her magical caretaking: the way she’d sit and hum quietly, braiding her hair, and how that softened the room as we labored; or when she’d pull out her knitting, or start piecing together a quilt, and we knew we were safe to dive into the depths of our birth work; or the tender way she cradled our newborns and helped them unfold from life in the womb and the journey of birth.

GB has been a midwife in Austin for 35 years, but her craft and impact go well beyond the experience of labor and birth. Talking with her about midwifery means eventually joining her in the kitchen, because to her, they involve interwoven disciplines. “Food is medicine,” she says with a smile. “And preparing food is meditative—it’s grounding. I think food is a lot more than we give it credit for; it does a lot more than just give us fuel and keep us from getting sick.” 

Now in her cozy house in South Austin, where prayer flags flutter across a lush backyard and the air smells of frankincense and cardamom, GB stands at her stove—stirring a pot of bubbling, rich golden liquid. She’s clad in a simple white linen tunic and her long hair is pulled back into two low braids. Her dog Tallulah, part German Shepherd and part timber wolf, snoozes at her feet. GB is cooking the turmeric paste that forms the base of golden milk, a tonic to reduce inflammation throughout the body. In ayurvedic tradition, heating the turmeric releases its medicinal properties. She advises all of her clients, pregnant or not, to make a batch of turmeric paste and add a teaspoon of it a day to one cup of nut, coconut, soy or hemp milk (GB likes a combo of half almond/half soy, or just all hemp milk), along with a bit of sesame or coconut oil and honey, to taste. It should be served hot. In India, golden milk is traditionally made with unpasteurized, non-homogenized buffalo milk, but that’s not readily available here. No matter, though—made without buffalo milk the elixir is still a potent anti-inflammatory and touted for its immune-boosting qualities, as well. GB recommends it as a means to detox some of the harsher elements of our diet.

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GB’s connection to ayurvedic tradition stems from her years in a yoga ashram. “I grew up a punk on the streets in Chicago,” she shares, smiling at my surprise. “I was raised in a scrappy Irish-Catholic neighborhood—big families, a fair amount of chaos. At nineteen, I moved into a yoga ashram in Tucson, and it all just went uphill.” 

Her years in the ashram still influence her daily life and health. At least twice a year, she eats only kitcheree—seasoned mung beans cooked with basmati rice—for 40 days. “My yoga teacher’s father was an ayurvedic physician,” she says. “My teacher said if you eat kitcheree for forty days, you’ll turn into an angel. So I believed him.” Her eyes sparkle as she speaks of this ancient recipe for healing the gut. Kitcheree is a complete protein, but gentle and cooling. It gives the inflamed digestive tract a rest while still supplying the body with adequate nutrition. She prepares her kitcheree with ginger, garam masala, curry powder and a variety of chutneys and pickles, and always accompanies it with homemade chai, which simmers on her stove throughout the day. GB recommends that anyone interested in giving their system a rest begin with three days of kitcheree, spiced to taste. “It stabilizes your blood sugar in a way that nothing else can, and your body just feels so good.” For her pregnant clients struggling with nausea, GB suggests a simple, bland kitcheree that’s soothing to the body and easy to digest, prepared with just a splash of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos and some ghee and ginger.

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GB’s first child was born at home in 1973, at the beginning of what she calls “the homebirth renaissance.” But her introduction to midwifery as a career happened by accident. When a laboring friend’s doctor overslept and missed the birth, GB ended up catching the baby. “And that’s all she wrote,” she says with a laugh. Soon, she started apprenticing with midwives in Austin. “These were the cowgirl midwives—the ones who had the cojones to help their friends have babies at home back when nobody was doing it.” 

Even with many years under her belt, GB’s passion for the world of childbirth hasn’t waned one bit. “In order to be in a body, birth is a necessity,” she says. “Birth is a soul journey, and I think because we don’t have to do many soul journeys, it’s shocking to people. It’s one hundred percent unconditionally transformative. To me, it’s the absolute juiciest part of life.” Many, many grateful parents in and around Austin wholeheartedly agree.