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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.

 

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Asheville, NC full spectrum doula group looking for new volunteer doulas

February 13, 2013

Check them out and apply if you are interested.

We are looking for people interested in training as abortion doulas to work with clients in the clinic. Doulas will be present and provide emotional support to clients before, during and after abortions. We are looking for people who can work at least 2 days a month as well as complete the required training, provided by the Open Umbrella Collective in September of 2012. Trained birth doulas are particularly encouraged to apply, though we are excited to bring on reproductive health and justice activists who have no prior doula training.

Details here.


Bay Area Doula Project launches at home medication abortion support

February 12, 2013

I absolutely love seeing how the different full-spectrum doula groups around the country are developing their models. At this point, the majority are working to support people having abortions by partnering directly with clinics, so that everyone who comes to that clinic for a procedure has the option of doula support.

BADP just announced yesterday that they’ll be beginning to offer medication abortion support directly to people having abortions.

While providing the obvious benefits of privacy, confidentiality, and comfort, medication abortions pose some challenges to patients who may require extra support during their experience. Our doulas are prepared to offer in-home physical, emotional, educational, and spiritual support during the medication abortion experience. BADP has created a comprehensive model for providing in-home support after months of careful planning and training. To do this, we have consulted with medical experts, home-birth professional doula groups, and abortion access communities to ensure that it has responded to various practical concerns: for example, client contracts will be used to address issues of doula and client safety and legality of practice. The BADP has also created internal procedures to provide on-going guidance to volunteer doulas as they provide in-home support to clients.

Medication abortions are done through a series of pills that the person takes at home (sometimes the first dose is taken at the clinic) and then goes home where they will experience cramping and bleeding for a few days. BADP will send their volunteer doulas to support folks at home while they deal with the after-effects of the medication.

It’s possible there are other doulas out there who have already been providing this kind of support, but I’m excited to see a group organize volunteer care in this model. They’ve also created a training so that the doulas are adequately prepared. I can imagine a lot of the techniques we use during pregnancy and labor could be useful for dealing with the possible discomfort caused by the cramping and bleeding.


Remembering those still waiting for the promise of Roe

January 29, 2013

Last week marked the 40th anniversary of the historic Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision that opened the door for legal access to abortion in the US.
Every year the anniversary rolls around to different activities, commemorations, reflections. It’s my 7th anniversary as an active member of the broader reproductive justice community and I’m tired. Particularly as things play out in the media, as the different organizations put out their media initiatives, press releases, blog carnivals, I feel tired.

Tired of the same fights, tired of the old dynamics, tired of the fact that we’re losing. Generally, around the country, in those seven years since I’ve been part of this movement with a capital M, access to abortion has only gotten harder. More restrictions, more laws, more hurdles and barriers.

It’s tiring to fight a fight that we’re losing. From my latest column:

Each year, as the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade rolls around, I respond with a sigh. Each year comes the reminder that one complicated court case, hung on the premise of privacy, has wholly framed this movement I call home. The reminder that the conversation about Roe is usually uncomfortably celebratory. The reminder that the anti-choice movement almost always host rallies that outnumber ours by thousands on that day. The reminder that the media conversation tends to be dominated by white women who praise Roe, or questions of where the young people, like me, are in the “pro-choice” movement.

The reminder that the promise of Roe has yet to be achieved for many, and that hundreds of dedicated activists, my peers, use their spare time to raise money for those for whom Roe is a hypothetical promise when the bank account sum doesn’t add up and the state programs say no. Each year, the celebration feels even less celebratory, as the laws and restrictions pile onto themselves. The legal concept of doctor/patient privacy may protect the procedure, but it doesn’t protect against forced misinformation, ultrasounds, waiting periods, public shame and financial barriers.

But. But there is always that little inkling of hope, there are always those moments of change, of shifting, of opening that make you believe that maybe we are heading in the right direction. Full-spectrum doulas, and the movement we’re apart of, give me hope. The internet and the community it builds gives me hope. The Strong Families media series I helped promote this year that centered voices of people of color gives me hope. The video above, produced by an organization I’ve worked with for the last seven years (and just transitioned out of) gives me hope. It’s that hope the keeps me pushing even when I’m tired, even when I’m frustrated. You all give me hope.

You can read more about the media series in my latest column at RH Reality Check. I also had the fabulous opportunity to record a radio segment with Pati Garcia, aka Chula Doula, about the doula movement in honor of the Roe anniversary on a Los Angeles based show called Feministing Magazine on KPFK. Listen here!


Pro-choice pregnancy and the politics of language

December 13, 2012

I was inspired to write my latest column for RH Reality Check because of a number of emails I’ve gotten over the years with various questions about the issue of the language we use to talk about pregnancy and it’s impact on pro-choice politics.

From the column:

As a blogger and a doula, I think about this question of language a lot. What language to use when talking with people I’m supporting during their abortions? What about when supporting someone with a miscarriage? Should I use different language in one scenario over the other? How about when I write about these issues? If we call it a baby at only eight weeks, does that compromise our right to access abortion?

For me the answer is no. The reason that abortion is a decision best left to individuals who are pregnant is because it’s a complicated ethical and personal choice that one can only make for themselves. While there may be a lot of science regarding fetal development, when hearts beat and nervous systems are developed, there is no right answer when it comes to when life begins. It’s a question and a choice that every individual person has to grapple with for themselves. The same is true for the language of pregnancy and birth.

I do my best to mirror the language of the people I’m working with. If they call it a baby, I’ll call it a baby. If they call it a pregnancy, or a fetus, or a itty-bitty bundle of joy, I’ll do the same. Nothing about these language choices denotes anything about what choices should be available to pregnant people—it simply denotes how that individual person sees themselves and their pregnancy.

Read the full piece here.


Why the public funding debate could end abortion access all together

October 3, 2012

My latest column is up at RH Reality Check, reflecting on this 36th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, and why our movement’s decision not to go to battle for public funding for abortion is leading us down a slippery slope that could result in a total ban on abortion.

Sunday was the kind of anniversary you wish you didn’t have to celebrate: specifically, the 36th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, one of the most restrictive reproductive rights laws in recent history. It restricts the use of federal funds for abortion services, meaning that people on publicly-funded insurance programs like Medicaid and Medicare (the low-income and the disabled) have to pay for abortion services out of pocket. The vast majority of the women affected by this ban are low-income, and if you are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, you aren’t likely to be able to shell out anywhere from $300 to $3000 for an abortion procedure.

Efforts to repeal the Hyde amendment are more often than not seen as unrealistic, and advocates work instead to maintain the status quo—low-income women denied access to abortion. Often the argument is that if we try and fight the public funding battle, we might lose ground in overall access to abortion. But I think that the exact opposite is true. If we don’t fight the public funding debate, we’re going to lose altogether.

Even though the real reason to fight these policies is that no one should be restricted access to a medical procedure just because they are poor–sometimes it’s also important to demonstrate how these policies actually put everyone’s access at risk, low-income or not. The reason is because we live in a classist society, and low-income people’s needs are not always represented in the agenda of big movements. So their needs get sold out in an effort to preserve access overall, but what I’m arguing is that overall access is being put at risk because of these concessions.

Read the whole thing here.


Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion

September 28, 2012

Thanks to Steph Herold on twitter, I found out that today is the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. A little more poking around and I learned that it’s a day that was inspired by activists in Latin America:

Spanish logo for 28th of september

September 28 Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion has its origin in Latin America and the Caribbean where women’s groups have been mobilizing around September 28 the last two decades to demand their governments to decriminalize abortion, to provide access to safe and affordable abortion services and to end stigma and discrimination towards women who choose to have an abortion. The original name of the campaign in Latin America and the Caribbean is Campaña 28 de Septiember por la Despenalización del Aborto, which continues up to this day growing in force and commitment on the part of women’s rights activists in the region. The date – September 28 – was chosen in commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Brazil which is now remembered as the day of the “free womb” demanding for safe and legal abortion for all women.

While we face our own serious battles in the US, particularly around issues of access to abortion, it’s good to be reminded that internationally, in many countries, the situation is much worse. Countries where abortion is completely criminalized, where women who arrive at the hospital with bleeding or a miscarriage can be turned into the police.

We’re not so far from that reality in the US, either historically or in the potential future, but the struggles are distinct. Thinking globally reminds of us this fact, and encourages us to understand this is a worldwide struggle.

For me the battle for access to safe and legal abortion is indicative of a much larger struggle that goes way beyond this one procedure. It’s a struggle for autonomy, for respect, for trust in each of us as individuals to make the best choices for us. It’s a struggle against doctrine, politics and ideology that limits how we live our lives.

Check out actions for today’s event here.


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