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So what is a Radical Doula anyway?

March 12, 2013

Earlier today I looked over the language that had been on my Radical Doula??? page since 2009. I’m embarrassed that it took me so long to update it, but it was a good opportunity to revisit my definition of the term and how it’s changed over all these years blogging and working as a doula.

What’s there now is a long missive about this term, how I see it defined, and the context that has shaped my shifts in that regard. You can read the whole thing here, but a snippet to whet your appetite:

One thing that is really important to me is that I do not own the term Radical Doula. I might rent the domain radicaldoula.com, but I by no means see myself as the arbiter of what a Radical Doula is. It’s a term that very much popped out of my mouth in a surprising way–really it was a way to describe the alienation I felt within the doula community. Over the years as I’ve continued theRadical Doula Profile Series (a way to relinquish ownership of the term and highlight anyone who identifies with it) I’ve noticed that for some doulas, simply being a doula, trying to change the culture of birth, in and of itself is a radical act.

I understand that logic, but it is not what I meant when I started this blog. That does not make it wrong, it just makes it different than my original purpose.

This page used to include a laundry list of the identities and politics I hold that made me feel alienated. It included things like being “pro-choice” or supporting the right to abortion, the fact that I’m Latin@, that my parents are immigrants from Cuba, that I identify as queer and genderqueer, that I approach doula work as activism.

As the doula world has expanded, and as I’ve connected with more and more like-minded doulas through this blog, my definition of a radical doula has moved away from being centered on that laundry list of identities. Those still matter, don’t get me wrong, but I think what matters more is a political understanding of the role of the doula.

Being a Radical Doula, for me, is about understanding the politics of pregnancy and birth in the US, and working to use our role as doulas to interrupt this. I very much understand that our power to really change the balance of power is minuscule–but simply having a power analysis at all allows us to frame our work as doulas in a different way.

This different way means working hard to make our services as doulas accessible to people who wouldn’t otherwise have doula support. The mechanics of this will look different for everyone, from volunteering with a program in a public hospital, to offering a sliding scale or barter system for your fees. It could be getting trained on how to support pregnant people with disabilities, or people who speak another language, or are queer or trans or gender non-conforming. The how will vary for all of us, but the bottom line is this: we care about working with marginalized communities, about providing doula support to those who would not otherwise have it.

For me birth activism is about working to improve the pregnancy and birth experiences of those who are already suffering the most–not just improving the experiences of those who already have the best outcomes. It is not that those who already have the best outcomes (which, in most cases, could still be significantly improved) don’t deserve better–it’s that if we work to improve the experiences of the most marginalized, everyone’s experiences will improve. It doesn’t necessarily work the other way around.

To me, being a Radical Doula is committing to the hard work of facing issues of racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia head-on in our work with pregnant and parenting people. It means understanding birth as just one instance in a wide spectrum of pregnancy-related experiences that include abortion, miscarriage and adoption, and understanding why doula support across that spectrum makes sense. It’s about providing non-judgmental and unconditional support to pregnant and parenting people, ultimately in service of social justice.

As always, I invite you to explain why you identify as a Radical Doula by participating in the Radical Doula Profile series.

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Celebrating six years of Radical Doula

February 27, 2013

Cupcake with Yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of the day that I launched this blog. Each year that this date rolls around it feels like an incredible feat to have made it this far and to still have energy and desire and ideas for how to cultivate this space.

In blog years, particularly in the era of the million other platforms out there, six years feels ancient.

And while it’s true that every year feels like a major accomplishment, I’m particularly proud of this past one.

Publishing the Radical Doula Guide was a feat that I’m still not sure how I accomplished, but I continue to feel really proud that it is out in the world. I’ve sold about 750 copies so far, and I hope to sell many more in the years to come.

The conversation about how to improve doula trainings, how to expand the role of doulas, how to finally start talking about how race and class have a huge impact on birth outcomes is moving. It’s moving, and growing, but still has a long way to go. The Radical Doula Guide is my contribution to this conversation, my attempt at filling some of the gaps. I offer it with humility, knowing how much more there is to do and say. It’s just one step of the million we need to take before we see anything close to birth justice in our world.

I launched the fundraiser for the guide on this day last year, and I owe a tremendous thanks to all of you who generously donated and made that project happen.

In honor of my 6th anniversary, I’m offering $2 off The Radical Doula Guide. To get the discount use the code SIXYEARS when purchasing a copy in my online store. It will only work through the end of this week, so act now to get a copy for only $10 each.

The other major Radical Doula related accomplishment I’ll take a moment to pat myself on the shoulder for was my TEDx talk: Transforming Empathy. Doing that talk was an incredible opportunity to try and translate the work we do as full spectrum doulas to an audience who I couldn’t assume knew anything about doula work, and I’m really glad I had that challenge. Our work has many universal applications, and it’s taught me so much about how to approach social change work. If you haven’t already, you can watch the talk here.

This coming year is going to be about improving on what I’m already doing, which mainly these days is providing a resource, a platform and a point of connection for all the radical doulas out there. I’m constantly working on my resource pages, and trying to promote all the opportunities for engaging in radical doula work here. And of course, I’d love to feature you if you identify as a radical doula. I’m also starting to do more speaking engagements related to my work here, so please be in touch if you’re interested in organizing something (radicaldoula@gmail.com).

And as always, Radical Doula is just one slice of what I spend my time on. The best way to keep up with the rest of what I do is to follow me on twitter, subscribe to/follow my public updates on facebook, or join my email list.

Thanks for your support! Here’s to many more anniversaries and many more radical doulas in our movement.


A few updates

May 23, 2012

I’ve been quieter than usual these past few months, focusing on a lot of behind the scenes things.

A few updates, for those of you paying real close attention:

Radical Doula Guide!

It’s in production, moving along, although not as quickly as my ambitious self had hoped. My launch date has been moved back a few months–when I have a definite timeline, I will let everyone know! If you pre-ordered the guide through my fundraiser, you’ll get a copy as soon as they are available. If you didn’t, you’ll have an opportunity to order one once they are printed. Stay tuned.

Ads

You may have noticed that there are new ads on the blog. It’s something I’ve considered trying for years–although I personally don’t love them, they are a sad fact of life on the internet these days. This blog has been a labor of love for over five years, and I’m trying out the ads to see if I can at least cover my costs with them. If you have feedback about them, you can email me. This particular set-up doesn’t allow me to reject individual ads, so I’d like to know if there are offensive ones.

Donations

Lastly, I’ve gotten a few requests about this, so FYI: if you ever want to send some monetary love my way, to support this site and the work that goes into it, you can always send donations via paypal (email address: miriamzperez@gmail.com).

Radical Doula Profiles

I’m always looking for new doulas to profile. It might take me a while to get back to you, or to post your interview, but rest assured it will happen eventually! If you want to be part of the series (and I’ve heard doulas have gotten referrals and such through being part of it), email me and I’ll send you the instructions.

New column at RH Reality Check

I published my first column at RH Reality Check yesterday, where I’ll be publishing biweekly.

Email list!

Just a reminder that you can sign up here. It will likely be sent just a few times per year.


Five years of Radical Doula

February 27, 2012

Number five candle on a cupcake

Yesterday was my fifth anniversary of starting this blog, and writing the post, “a new blog is born…” I’m still embarrassed that I used a birth pun, but well, there you have it. I had so little idea what this site would become when I started it in 2007–I had so little idea what a blog was even.

The inspiration came from a conference that Lynn Paltrow and the National Advocates for Pregnant Women hosted in 2007, which brought together birth activists (doulas, midwives, consumers) and pro-choice advocates. It was groundbreaking for me and my career, and deserves credit for much of what I do now.

During that conference I introduced myself as a “radical doula.” Through that gathering I also met a few women who had small feminist blogs, as well as Jessica Valenti from Feministing. That led to a guestpost at Feministing about being a radical doula. The comments on that post inspired me to start this blog.

472 posts and 914 comments later, I feel so much gratitude for everyone who has contributed to making this community what it is. The many many readers, commenters, people who email me to say they like what I do. The 33 (!) doulas in my radical doula profile series.

I didn’t start this blog because I wanted a career as a writer or public speaker (although I’m beyond psyched that that is what occurred). I started this blog because I felt alone in the doula world. I felt alienated in the birth activist community because of my identity and my politics.

Today what I am grateful for is that I no longer feel alone. I actually feel surrounded, both online and off, with people who have a similar passion for doula work and birth activism, and have the politics to bring alongside it.

So thank you, sincerely. We’re an amazing community.

I’m using my anniversary year to get some Radical Doula related projects going that have been neglected for a long time, so stay tuned. Later this week I’ll be launching a really exciting first step.

If you want the details first, you can join my email list.


Join my email list

February 23, 2012

A new way for you to stay in touch with my work, on and off Radical Doula. I’m launching an email list, which I will use to sparingly update folks about my work–recent articles, blog posts I want to highlight, and events. I’ll email no more than twice a month, and promise not to sell, rent or otherwise share your email.

If you’re interested, you can sign up here. I’ve got some exciting new projects in the works. Trust me, you want to be in the loop!

Note: This is distinct from the tool in the sidebar of Radical Doula that allows you to sign up for every new blog post to be emailed to you. Both are great, just different!


2010: What a year it has been

December 30, 2010

Hi folks!

I have not been blogging as much as I’d like here. It’s the sad result of my recent realization that to stay afloat, I need to focus more on my paid work and less on my unpaid work. I have at least two posts in the works (including one about the film that made me a birth activist and one about my first day as an abortion doula) which I will be getting up soon.

But in the meantime I was inspired by my friend Sinclair Sexsmith to do a post reflecting back on 2010, what I’ve done, and maybe a bit about what I hope to make happen next year.

Read the rest of this entry »


MORE Magazine features young feminists

November 15, 2010

Photo of some of the young feminists featured in More Magazine article

More Magazine, whose tagline is “For Women of Style and Substance” had a spread about the “new feminists” in their November issue. The picture above accompanied the piece.

I was included in the group of 15 women featured (although not pictured above). Why was I included? Probably because I know (and am friends with) Courtney E. Martin, Editor at Feministing.com, also included in the feature and who helped the Editor at MORE recruit participants. The selection of women included in this spread wasn’t selected by any particularly rigorous process (that I know of), and it was probably more about who knows who than a real cross-section of young feminism.

There are many, many folks who are really key parts of the feminist movement who were left out of the feature. There are some serious representation gaps, too. Only four of the 15 folks featured are people of color. Most of them reside in NYC. There appears to be little to no representation of folks with disabilities. I might be the only queer person included. There were no trans folks in the group. Almost everyone is college educated. The list of people and groups missing could go on and on.

As flattered as I am to be featured in a national magazine for my work, I don’t think this group of folks (many of whom I love and respect) are truly representative of feminism’s future.

Two of the women included in the feature are conservative women. Their politics don’t fit within my definition of feminism (Jessica Valenti agrees).

A panel discussion last week that came out of the magazine feature replicated these problems live and on stage. Jessica has a round-up of responses written by others, but I was there and it was a tense evening, to say the least.

I’ve been speaking a lot lately about what I see as feminism’s identity crisis. This crisis has many faces, and almost all of them were represented during the panel last week, and by the MORE Magazine feature. It was honestly really difficult to watch.

Why is feminism in crisis?

Feminism is in crisis because we don’t know who our allies are. Can anyone be a feminist? The debate about whether conservative women, particularly far right-wing women who often oppose most of the policies of the feminist movement so far (abortion rights, equal pay legislation, etc), are feminists is raging. Are we willing to say folks with certain views can’t be feminists?

Feminism is in crisis because we don’t know what our agenda is. Some feminists (myself included) want to push for prioritizing an intersectional feminism that brings a gender analysis across issues and movements. That means environmental justice work can be feminist, immigration work, racial justice work, economic justice work. It can all be feminist, as long as we bring a gender lens and understand how gender impacts those issues. Others argue that only certain issues (usually those most narrowly impacting privileged white women) are feminist.

Feminism is in crisis because mainstream leaders and organizations consistently neglect the needs of people of color, queer folks, immigrants, disabled folks, low-income folks. The mainstream agenda remains too narrow and too focused on the needs of privileged white women. This despite the fact that feminists from all backgrounds have been pushing and pushing, creating their own feminism(s) to rectify this problem. A quick look at the demographics of feminist leadership might shed some light on why this is an ongoing problem.

Feminism is in crisis because we’re not sure what to do with the “women’s movement” in an era where gender categories, binaries and roles are being questioned. What’s the role of men in feminism? What about trans and gender non-conforming folks? Is a movement centered around the identity of woman the most useful and effective today? How do we move forward without perpetuating harmful ideas about gender difference, and include folks of all genders in the fight for gender justice?

I have strong feelings about the answers to most of these questions. But the reality remains that these fundamental identity questions, and our ability to resolve them, is going to shape where feminism goes from here.

Again, I’m flattered that my work (particularly since they highlighted Radical Doula and the full-spectrum doula movement) was featured in a mainstream magazine. I’m excited that a whole slate of older women readers (MORE’s primary audience) will see the names and soundbites of a number of younger women they’ve never heard of.

But the article does a better job representing the challenges of the feminist movement than representing a broad view of it’s leaders. Everyone included is a leader in their work, in their movements, in their world. But there are way more people out there who make feminism the diverse, vibrant and thriving movement that it is today. Let’s not forget that.


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