About these ads
 

Radical Doula Profiles: Stephanie Gentry-Fernandez

August 29, 2014

This is a series highlighting folks who identify as Radical Doulas. Are you interested in being part of the series? Go here to provide your responses to the profile questions and I’ll include you!

Stephanie smiling in black tank top

Stephanie Gentry-Fernandez is a bilingual (Spanish/English) ICTC-certified Full Circle Doula. As a registered nurse, health educator, artist, and organizer, she has long advocated for the use of trauma-informed, holistic, and culturally sensitive frameworks that use harm reduction to be inclusive to all people seeking healthier lives. Using evidence-based practice, Stephanie incorporates emotional, spiritual, and physical support during pregnancies by honoring traditional birthing customs and promoting breastfeeding. Stephanie is a native life-long resident of Chicago’s South Side and is committed to providing services to all Chicago-area residents, particularly those living in the south side and south suburbs.

For the past 15 years, Stephanie has been a source of support to people in crisis through venues as diverse as juvenile detention centers, domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, homeless drop in centers, rape and domestic violence crisis hotlines, and community empowerment and faith-based organizations. Over the years, Stephanie has learned it is imperative to meet people where they are at, provide education and advocacy, and support their decisions in making healthier choices, which are all important components of harm reduction and trauma-informed frameworks.

Contact Stephanie at stephanie.gentry@gmail.com, or visit Stephanie’s website if you are interested in having her be your doula.

What inspired you to become a doula?
I have been supporting all kinds of people with their reproductive choices since high school, but it wasn’t until my nephew was born in 2011 that I realized how amazing witnessing childbirth is, and how my personality type can be supportive and useful for people laboring.

Why do you identify with the term radical doula?
As a native of the South Side of Chicago, ensuring people from my community also have access to doulas is in itself radical. I use gender-neutral language as much as possible as a nurse and as a doula, which is rare, especially in Labor&Delivery/prenatal care. I’m also deeply committed to supporting people’s choices when it comes to their health, pregnancy, termination, and safer sex options.

What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?
My philosophy is to support people in their reproductive choices by educating, informing, and listening. All too often, people of color, women, transgender, genderqueer and queer people, low-income people, disabled people, people of size, and immigrants are informed by their providers how their plan of care will be rather than it being a mutual and informed decision among both patient and provider. I’m also deeply committed to normalizing birth and improving birth outcomes, particularly among Black/African-American communities. I find it interesting that while sterilization abuse is no longer the norm, C-sections increasingly are. At the same time, access to birth control seems to be decreased more every day. Child birth has become extremely pathologized, and I’m excited to be working at Illinois’ first stand-alone birthing center to continue normalizing childbirth and labor.

I truly believe everyone has the right to having their birth plan followed as much as humanly possible. Lastly, I also believe everyone should have access to organic food, holistic care, and indigenous birthing customs.

What is your favorite thing about being a doula?
Seeing babies get born :)

If you could change one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth, what would it be?
The attitudes of nurses and providers in hospitals.

About these ads

New report takes maternal mortality concerns to the UN

August 28, 2014

It’s a problem we all know about, and one that just keeps getting worse. A new shadow report, written for the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, examines the ongoing crisis of maternal mortality for African-American women, which I wrote about in my latest article for Colorlines.

“Over the last 40 years, the rate of black women dying in childbirth has been three to four times the rate of their white counterparts. For example, in Fulton County, Georgia, which includes Atlanta, there are 94 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births for black women—three times the national average. The white maternal mortality rate in the same county is essentially zero—too insignificant to report. In Chicksaw County, Mississippi, the maternal mortality rate is higher than those in countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya and Rwanda.”

It’s so upsetting to see this crisis worsen, and wonder whether there is any political will to really address it. The report also includes anecdotal evidence from two focus groups conducted in Mississippi and Georgia by Sistersong, where black women shared their experiences with health care. Unsurprisingly, there were many accounts of racism, miseducation and disrespect experienced.

One woman from Jackson, Mississippi, shared that her doctor had assumed she wouldn’t be able to use birth control effectively: “After I had the baby, and I went back for my checkup…[the doctor] told me, ‘I’ll see you in six weeks.’ I said, ‘Why?’ He said I’d be pregnant again.” Others described prenatal and labor experiences where they didn’t feel their providers adequately informed them of their options. Another woman from Jackson had this to say: “We really don’t have a lot of good experiences when it comes to having childbirth, especially because we’re poor…Why are all these women having caesareans? Was it really necessary for me?…You have more black women having caesareans. Now I’m questioning.”

I didn’t include this in the article, but Monica Raye Simpson, Executive Director of Sistersong, told me that doulas and midwives were brought up in both focus groups. While we may not be able to solve maternal mortality on our own, we may be able to improve individual women’s health care experiences by providing support and resources.

The report also addressed lack of access to health care because of immigration status for Latina women living in South Texas.

My only hope is that the more we raise the alarm about this problem, the more likely we are to see steps taken to address it.

Read the full article here, and the full report here.

 


New efforts to criminalize substance use and pregnancy repeat racist history

July 21, 2014

My latest article for Colorlines is about the new efforts to criminalize pregnant women for substance abuse. Sadly these kinds of efforts are not new, nor are they actually helping moms or kids.

The main problem with these kinds of stories, and prosecutions, is they do nothing to address the very real substance abuse and addiction issues facing many people in the United States today. Despite decades of incredible spending and increased incarceration in response to the war on drugs, addiction and substance abuse continue. Some policy makers have acknowledged this reality and begun looking for a different ways to address substance abuse. “We’ve really tried to reframe drug policy not as a crime but as a public health-related issue, and that our response on the national level is that we not criminalize addiction,” said Michael Botticelli, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. “We want to make sure our response and our national strategy is based on the fact that addiction is a disease.”

There is no evidence that incarcerating women who use drugs during pregnancy will do anything to improve their health, or their children’s health. In fact, these criminalizations actually worsen the health of the newborn, and make access to appropriate drug treatment for the mom unlikely. Mallory Loyola, the woman charged under the Tennessee law, was in jail for at least three days before being released on bond, just two days after giving birth, during which her child was in custody of Child Protective Services. Kylee Sunderlin of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), an organization that works closely with women charged under these types of laws, explained that when a baby is diagnosed with what’s called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome—or, the constellation of symptoms that reflects substance exposure inutero—established treatments for it include skin to skin contact with the mother and breastfeeding. That treatment is next to impossible if the mother is incarcerated and her child is in state custody.

Read the full thing here.


A new way to fight health disparities?

July 15, 2014

I have another article up at Colorlines today, this time about a new movement in medical education to address health disparities: structural competency training.

For the past few decades, issues of health disparities and race have been approached in medical education by way of cultural competency training. The idea behind cultural competency initially, says Hansen, was listening to the patient and learning about their world view. Instead, she recounted her own cultural competency training during medical school: “Chinese patients tend to like the color red so you might want to prescribe them red tablets. Mexican families like to be together so let them all come into the exam room.” In short, cultural competency training can actually serve to reinforce racial stereotyping by making providers believe they are the experts on a certain community. Instead of approaching someone from a race or culture different than their own with a desire to listen and learn about their world view, the provider might come with a set of predetermined ideas about what that person might need or want. Even if cultural competency training wasn’t reinforcing racial stereotypes, after decades of integration into medical school curricula, there is little evidence that it is effectively addressing the issues it was created to solve.

As an alternative, Hansen and Metzl are proposing that medical students train in structural competency instead. At its core, this training would be a crash course in the social determinants of health, an area that Hansen says has historically been seen as the domain of public health, not medicine. But she and Metzl are out to change that, and Hansen thinks the increased focus on holding providers (and insurance companies) responsible for the outcomes of their patients may help to push this effort along. In a Social Science & Medicine Journal article last year they argue: “clinical training must shift its gaze from an exclusive focus on the individual encounter to include the organization of institutions and policies, as well as of neighborhoods and cities, if clinicians are to impact stigma-related health inequalities.”

The Radical Doula Guide, although I didn’t know of the terminology yet (it was coined by Hansen and Metzl) is in many ways a structural competency primer for doulas. We can’t understand someone’s lived experience without first understanding the social and political systems that influence their lives and their health. The idea of cultural competency has always seemed a bit narrow to me, and I think an education in how racism, poverty, sexism, etc impacts health will be way more useful.

I’ve been obsessed with talking about the extreme disparities faced by women of color when it comes to pregnancy and birth, and I’m trying to spend my time looking at potential solutions to the problem, rather than simply the problem itself.

Here’s to hoping this kind of education becomes the norm for all types of providers–midwives, doctors–and doulas too.

Read the full article here.


Three reasons the Hobby Lobby decision is worse for women of color

July 2, 2014

I put together some analysis yesterday for Colorlines about the Hobby Lobby decision. It’s bad news all around, but the impacts are potentially worse for women of color. An excerpt:

While much proverbial ink has been spilled speculating about the impact this will have, few have talked about how women of color might fare under this ruling. On its face there is nothing about this ruling that singles out women of color. But because of our political and economic realities, women of color often bare the brunt of the negative impacts of restrictions on women’s health anyway.

Check out the full article here.


NYTimes: Abortion and Birth, Together

June 25, 2014

In case you missed this article from two weeks ago, I was interviewed by journalist Alissa Quart for an article about full spectrum reproductive justice work.

These doulas partner with clinics directly and accompany women to their operations, helping to alleviate pain through techniques like massage, acupressure and breathing. One of them is Ms. Pérez. When I met her in a Lower Manhattan cafe, she explained how she and others like her volunteered for years at hospitals and clinics, accompanying many women whom they met in waiting rooms for their abortions. Ms. Pérez speaks Spanish, and sometimes she would translate as well. “I want to push back against the idea that birth is over here in this corner and abortion is over there in that one,” she says.

This is by no means the first article I’ve been interviewed for over the years, and not even the first that was maybe going to be in the NYTimes. That kind of media coverage comes with the territory of being easily found by googling “abortion doula”–mostly a product of how long this blog has been around (7.5 years!). Also in the interest of full disclosure on how the media world works, Alissa and I have a mutual friend who also suggested she talk to me.

But it’s clear that the work of full spectrum doulas is gaining some momentum, and some media recognition. This NYT article is a big one, simply because of the level of visibility that such a publication has. And I won’t lie, there was a thrill in picking up an actual physical newspaper and seeing my name, and quote, in print.

Just a few days after the NYT article went live, another article about abortion doulas, this one featuring the work of Lauren Mitchell, a co-founder of the NYC Doula Project, was published.

And there are more to come (I’ve already gotten another interview request from a journalist wanting to write about the topic). I always offer additional suggestions of people in this work to talk to, usually suggesting other doulas of color, and I’ll continue to do that. This movement has been fueled by the labor (pun intended) of many, and it’s important to me that my blog, and writing, don’t overshadow the many people who’ve contributed and led this work.

It’s exciting to see the fruits of so many years of work from so many of you turning it to legitimate attention. I do think the connections between abortion and birth highlighted in the NYT article are radical and affirming and have the potential to counter a really damaging political environment that tries to drive a wedge between experiences that are part of our lives.

I got one question from a midwife after the article was published, in reference to this quote:

“Midwives didn’t talk about abortion, really,” says Miriam Zoila Pérez, a doula and author of “The Radical Doula Guide.” And, she said, “some people in the midwife community are anti-choice.”

She wrote to ask if I was misquoted, and talked about the many midwives (herself included) who are indeed pro-choice. I know, and am really happy to know, that there are many in the midwifery community who are supportive of all reproductive choices, including abortion. Midwives are abortion providers in many places of the world, including in California now that legislation allowing midwives to provide some abortions passed last year.

What the first half of my quote was referencing was my experience in the birth activist community, particularly in 2005-2009, where I never heard abortion referenced overtly, particularly in birth activist writings or at the MANA conference I attended in 2005 or 2006. While the political orientation of midwives when it comes to abortion varies widely, there has been a history of silence on the topic, I assume in an effort to avoid conflict and focus on common ground between politically disparate groups. There is a contingency of midwives and doulas with strong religious views that are anti-choice. I in no means want to minimize the amazing work of pro-choice and full-spectrum midwives, but much of what lead me to start this blog was that silence on issues like abortion (as well as race, sexuality, immigration, gender and more).

I’m excited to see these topics being addressed in a more overt fashion across the birth activist world, and hope we’re moving closer to providing truly comprehensive and non-judgmental support to folks throughout their reproductive lives.

 


Radical Doula Profiles: Amy Haaf

June 4, 2014

This is a series highlighting folks who identify as Radical Doulas. Are you interested in being part of the series? Go here to provide your responses to the profile questions and I’ll include you!

About Amy: Hi. My name is Amy. I’m a newly trained postpartum doula. I have three children ages 4, 16 and 18 years old. Besides being a busy mom and wife with children with a vastly varying age span. I am also passionate about many things such as breastfeeding and a positive birth experience for all women. I practice attachment parenting and believe in Waldorf and other natural teaching styles. I hold many hats as an elimination communication mentor through Diaper free Baby, a Certified Lactation Counselor and a WIC peer counselor. I practiced self weaning and baby led solids with all my children. I can be reached via email @ amysppdoula@aol.com. I am listed through Birth Columbia and also have an individual website. I also have a Facebook page called Amy’s Postpartum and Lactation Services. I offer a bevy of services to women through pregnancy as well as postpartum. Areas served: Columbia County, NY and Western MA.

What inspired you to become a doula?
I have always felt drawn to birth and motherhood. I enjoy being able to empower women through helping them before and after their babies are born. Working with families is what I have always liked doing. I had positive birth experiences and help after my first son was born. I feel that I would have benefited greatly from a postpartum doula after my second and third children were born.

Why do you identify with the term radical doula?
I feel that even with my first child I was drawn to very natural approaches despite what my peers believed in. Even at twenty two as a mom I believed in natural parenting, breastfeeding, no pacifiers, no bottles, baby wearing, co sleeping, baby led solids, elimination communication and much more.

What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?
I believe in all woman having a positive birth experience and have been particularly following the prison birth project and the different states that are passing anti shackling laws. I am a very caring and non judgemental person, much like my political beliefs.

What is your favorite thing about being a doula?
I enjoy helping whole families adapt and well one new babies into their families.

If you could change one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth, what would it be?
I think that women need to always remember that it is their birth and their baby. Practicing skin to skin after baby’s birth and to let baby’s natural instincts and bonds help her with breastfeeding and closeness. I would say that the moments and hours after birth need to be handled with the utmost respect with as little medical intervention ( unless faced with an emergency situation) as possible to let the fourth trimester unfold naturally to ensure mom, baby and family are savoring these precious moments as baby is introduced to the world outside mom’s womb.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,818 other followers

%d bloggers like this: