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Radical Doula Profiles: Kaity Molé

May 28, 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!

Kaity wearing red shirt sitting in front of carAbout Kaity: Kaity sees herself today as a product of the struggle to accept and love despite the obstacles of conflict and despair. Kaity grew up as a military kid and moved around every 3 years, she doesn’t have roots and isn’t sure she wants them. She came face to face with numerous violent and abusive encounters throughout her life and has struggled deeply with depression, dissociation and the long path of healing from trauma. She speaks French and loves apples, safe spaces and her kooky queer community. She’s currently a nursing student at Hopkins in Baltimore, MD. She hopes to continue on to work in public health, nurse-midwifery and sexual assault/violence research. She’s learning to let the light in and to give back and pass onward all the good that comes her way.

What inspired you to become a doula?
I’ve always been interested in birth work, but probably in my late teens, as I was discovering feminism and intersectionality/race and class conflict in America and heard about being a doula, it seemed like such an important concept. Child-bearing people in America have a long history of being silenced and controlled. For there to be an advocate present, someone who can care for you and support you and help cultivate the space and experience you want for your birth…it sounds great! Haha. I wish I had a doula for everyday life….
I see it vitally important that all people feel safe, validated and cared for in their health experiences and like THEY are in control. I think that one of the biggest obstacles to good health and positive birth experiences is the wall that’s there between the medical institution and minority groups, whether it’s people of color, the poor, the queer or trans community etc.

Why do you identify with the term radical doula?
I identify with the term radical doula because I see being a doula/birth and repro work as an inherently political thing. The ideas and practice surrounding birth work (and other care) in hospitals needs a massive overhaul and a healthy dose of patient empowerment. I believe in giving doula care with all intersections of people’s lives taken into account, particularly trauma history, race/experiences of racism, gender experiences, sexuality, orientation, ableism, self-concept etc. Everyone who gives birth is going to have a different experience that they’re bringing to the table, not everyone even identifies as a “woman”. These are really important things for doulas to be aware of and to nurture! As a queer birth worker with a long trauma history, I want to be a safe space for child-bearing people and to help empower them and amplify their voice in their experience.

What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?
My doula philosophy definitely is grounded in empowerment. I kind of went into this above, but particularly with birth and the creation of another life: people should do whatever they want to do.  I’m pursuing nurse-midwifery licensure mainly for reasons of insurance/Medicaid covering CNMs and the populations that I want to be accessible to, but for larger issues of birth work/midwife licensure and legal restrictions put on childbearing people, I think it’s bullshit. People should give birth/not give birth/do whatever they want with their bodies! Medical control of all people and particularly marginalized bodies needs to STOP.

What is your favorite thing about being a doula?
Oh man. I still get tripped out when I see that little baby head come out and I still get all the endorphins, which is pretty great. I generally love everything about birth work. But probably the relationship that I create with the people/families I work with, it’s really something special. To be involved in such an intimate event, you become spiritual family. When I leave I’m just so honored and thankful that I got to witness such amazing badassery.

If you could change one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth, what would it be?
Definitely the limits and restrictions that are put on childbearing people. I would also really love to just annihilate all the crap that poor women, women of color and incarcerated women get for reproducing and how their motherhood and pregnant experience is shamed or devalued.

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Radical Doula Profiles: Kayla Q Frawley

May 14, 2014

Kayla smiling, lying on a bed with two other people

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 Kayla: Currently living in Austin Texas, Kayla is from South Minneapolis, and has attended births in Flores, Guatemala, El Paso, Texas, and Austin Texas. She is a yoga instructor, dancer, slam poet, and a student Midwife. She was raised by a social worker and a community developer in a progressive and segregated city. She spent her earlier years working with poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, collaborating with Philsbury House in Minneapolis as well as Kensington Welfare Rights Union in Kensington PA. After having had the opportunity to work with different communities in arenas of women’s health such as resource management, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and sex work she realized she wanted to be able to have more of an affect on women’s reproductive health. After doing her midwifery training in El Paso at Maternidad la Luz in 2012-2013 and attending dozens of clients she moved to Austin for a position at Austin Area Birth Center. She had the opportunity to co-facilitate the Cultural Competency class to the students of MLL Fall 2013. Behind her midwifery training and passion resides her devotion to addressing whiteness/white privilege/racism/oppressive practices in the medical and midwifery world. She is developing herself as an ally and desires to see more white women sharing dialogue about such issues.

What inspired you to become a doula?
Health Disparities.

Why do you identify with the term radical doula?
I identify with the term radical doula because sometimes in the midst of midwives and doulas I feel like my language and passion need to be walking on egg shells. I identify with the term radical doula cause I am a white woman learning what is means to be a white midwife who wanted to become a midwife because of health disparities and the complexities of that identification. I consider myself a radical doula because I am always intersecting race/class/sexual orientation with birth experience because we can not be separated from our political bodies. I consider myself a radical doula because I see blatant racism practiced in all birthing environments I have worked in, in all institutions I have studied midwifery under and among preceptors, students, and myself throughout my pathway to midwifery-which in itself maybe isn’t radical-but realizing anti-racism work is just as important as contributing to decreasing health disparities and advoca ting for safe just birth. I also identify with being a radical doula in that I offer full-spectrum services with a main focus to meet individuals where they are in their reproductive health and offer the support they need with their individual care.

What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?
My doula/midwifery philosophy is looking at an individual wholely including her life experience, her political, sexual and spiritual identity as well as their desires, and needs so that they are met with the right support to give them the most control they can have over their pregnancy, birth, postpartum, miscarriage, abortion, and reproductive care. My doula/midwifery philosophy are not separate from my broader political beliefs.

What is your favorite thing about being a doula?
To be apart of individuals gaining more control or awareness of their bodies, minds and spirits, practicing anti-oppression work in the reproductive health arena and knowing that along everyone’s lineage there was always a midwife.

If you could change one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth, what would it be?
Free quality care for all women that need it in the full spectrum arena, and to enforce on-going white privilege conferences specific to midwifery and reproductive health to all white individuals who desire to go into reproductive health.


Ten years later, everyone you know is a doula

May 13, 2014

The crew at Feministing, where I was an Editor for four years, invited me to reflect on the past decade of any issue or movement in honor of their 10th anniversary. Obviously I picked doulas! An excerpt:

My first ever guest post on Feministing was about being a radical doula, and it predated myRadical Doula blog and almost all of the writing I’ve done. So it makes sense that when the Feministing crew asked me to reflect on the past decade, I would choose the doula movement.

I wrote that post in 2007, but 2004, when Feministing was in its infancy, was also when I was just beginning my journey toward doula work. I was a college student and I learned about the critiques of our maternity care system in a college course through the documentary Born in the USA. It was one of those rare moments when you know so clearly that something just changed your life forever. That’s how I felt walking out of that class, and how much of a fire the politics of pregnancy and birth lit in me.

I’ve explored a lot of different paths through this passion, from doula and midwifery work, to journalism and reporting on related topics, to non-profit organizing, advocacy and communications in the reproductive justice field. I even published a book for doulas last year. It’s been a decade with lots of experimentation and exploration. Alongside those explorations I’ve seen the doula movement flourish and grow. Ten years ago if you asked a room full of people if they knew what a doula was, maybe one or two people would raise their hands. More and more when I ask that question most of the people in the room do. And sometimes it really does feel like everyone you know is a doula.

Read the full thing here. Spoiler alert: I talk about my favorite development in these last ten years, which is not surprisingly full spectrum doulas.

And big congrats to awesome crew at Feministing that is keeping that space alive and kicking into its second decade! I’m grateful to have been part of it. If you want to support their continued rabble-rousing, consider a donation.


Radical Doula Profiles: Rachel Helfenstens

May 7, 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!

Photo of Rachel with long dark hairAbout Rachel: I’m a DONA trained & certified Birth Doula CD(DONA), Full Circle trained & certified independent placenta encapsulation specialist CIES(FCP), and currently working on my Postpartum Doula & CBE certifications through BAI. I’m also the Main Coordinator for the Jacksonville, Florida chapter of Improving Birth, Leader of the Northeast Florida chapter of the Peaceful Parenting Network, and a Co-Director of Intact Florida. I also volunteer with Operation Special Delivery & The Inn Ministry. I service the Jacksonville area & surrounding areas (St. Augustine, Middleburg,Orange Park, the very south of Georgia, etc.) and sometimes Volusia County as well. Se habla español, falo português. Email: ilithyiaslove@gmail.com website, Facebook page.  Areas Served: Jacksonville, FL & surrounding areas

What inspired you to become a doula?
My journey on becoming a Doula began with my personal birth & postpartum experiences. I was completely alone and uneducated with my first and had a horrible traumatizing birth. Having a Doula with my second made me feel empowered & in control even though I wound up with an emergency cesarean. Soon after I realized the passion I have for birth and now strive to give women an empowering birth experience!

Why do you identify with the term radical doula?
I identify with the term radical for the pure fact that I am behind my clients, their choices, and their beliefs 100%. I witness for them, I advocate for them. It is THEIR moment, and no one else’s. I treat no client different regardless of WHO they are. Race, sexual orientation, body type, religious views, etc…there is NO reason to treat them differently for it. Does a transgender [person] need to be treated differently and receive different medical care as compared to a cis woman? NO! Does an LGBTQ couple require different medical care during L&D compared to a cis couple? NO! Do pagan couples deserve no respect compared to Christian couples? Or Muslims? Or Jews? Or anyone else for that matter? NO! Every client deserves the same treatment, the same respect, and the same knowledge of their options & legal rights & strength.

What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?
My philosophy in life, not just Doula work, is that everyone deserves to be treated with respect & basic human rights. I respect everyone’s religious views, right to bodily autonomy, freedom, right to religious freedom, right to live whomever they choose, etc. Not everyone requires, wants, or winds up with the same type of birth. Each birth is unique, as is each child, each pregnancy….each person.

What is your favorite thing about being a doula?
My favorite thing about being a Doula by far is being there to watch such a BEAUTIFUL moment! The birth of a child is nothing short of miraculous! And the fact that these families have graciously allowed me to be there and WITNESS such a POWERFUL and INTIMATE moment makes me feel blessed. I am able to witness the POWER women have. It’s simply amazing!

If you could change one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth, what would it be?
If I could change one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth, it would be that every pregnant woman is aware of ALL her options, all the pros/con’s/benefits/risks of each option, and of her rights. So in then each woman feels more in control of her birth and in turn is EMPOWERED by this most powerful and sacred experience…the birth of her child(ren).


Ten things to consider when choosing a birth doula

May 6, 2014

I often get questions from friends or readers who are looking for a doula, and unsure of how to go about finding and choosing one. So here are a few things to consider.

1) What kind of support are you looking for? You may not know exactly, but it is important to envision your ideal pregnancy and birth experience, and think about what role you see a doula playing. While there are certain things that doulas cannot do (anything medically-related to the pregnancy, for example) there is a lot of flexibility when it comes to the doula’s role, and what you might want to look for when it comes to choosing the doula. For example, if you’re really interested in massage as a technique for relieving contractions, you’d want to look for a doula who has experience with those techniques. Or maybe you have a really engaged partner, and you want a doula who is experienced at working with partners to help them be involved in the birth process. Do your best to envision what kind of support you might want, and then ask questions of the doulas you meet that are specific to those things. You’ll likely change your mind along the course of the pregnancy, or during the birth itself, but it’s a good starting point and helps evaluate the skills of the doula you choose.

2) I think the most important thing, above all the details about a particular doula, is chemistry. Do you feel comfortable with this person? Do you feel at ease? Do you have any connection with them, do you get along? Do you feel comfortable communicating openly and honestly with them? These characteristics are less tangible than other factors you might consider, but I think it’s the most important, and why I recommend meeting potential doulas in person (you might consider a phone call first with a few potential doulas, and then meeting in person with the top one or two). Some doula collaboratives have regular meet and greets where you can talk to a number of potential doulas at once–another good option that is also less time-consuming than one on one outreach.

3) Ask for referrals from friends. There are lots of places to find potential doulas, but I think referrals are the best place to start. If you know people who’ve worked with doulas before, ask them for recommendations. It’s likely you may even have doulas in your social or professional network. I wouldn’t pick someone solely because of another’s positive recommendation because what one person needs in terms of birth support is really different than another, but it’s a great place to start, and then you can explore more in depth with others.

4) Check out local birth and baby expos or fairs. Another place you can meet a number of potential doulas at once, which can be a great way to explore options. Bonus: you might meet prenatal massage therapists or birth photographers as well!

5) What’s your budget? The vast majority of doulas are paid for by the clients, out of pocket. A few insurance companies are starting to reimburse, but it’s rare. The doula you work with may be able to give you more information about potential insurance reimbursement, but it’s a good idea to be prepared to pay out of pocket. What can you afford? Doula services range widely in terms of cost–anywhere from free or barter if a doula is in training, or has a sliding scale for low-income clients–to up to $3000 for a really experienced doula in an expensive metropolitan area like NYC. The fees also depend on what services the doula offers. Consider your budget and what you’re able to afford when exploring potential doulas.

6) How important is it to you to have a doula whose identity or experiences mirror your own? While diversity in the doula community is still a struggle, there’s a growing number of doulas from diverse backgrounds. Does it feel really important to work with a queer doula, a doula whose race or ethnic background matches yours, a doula of color, a doula who is an immigrant, who speaks a language other than English? There are two things to consider here: whether it’s important that they come from the same community as you, or that they simply have experience working with people from that community. You may find that having a straight doula is fine even if you are queer, as long as they have experience working with other queer clients.

7) Do you have any specific pregnancy or birth experiences you want the doula to have experience or expertise in? For example, if you’re pregnant with multiples, it might be important to find a doula who has worked with other clients with twins before. Or if you’re having a second birth, and your first was a c-section, maybe you want a doula who has worked with a VBAC client before (vaginal birth after cesarean). If you’re considering an epidural, you may want a doula who has worked with epidurals before. Or if you’re giving birth at a birth center, or at home, you may want to ask potential doulas if they have worked with people in those settings.

8) Is political alignment important? Do you want a doula whose political perspectives or values match your own? If you’re a solidly pro-choice atheist, for example, would you be okay working with a doula who was very religious and pro-life? Many doulas wouldn’t let their personal beliefs interfere with their doula work, but it’s worth considering how you feel, and assessing this when you meet with potential doulas.

9) Ask for references. Just like when considering hiring anyone, you might want to ask for references of other people who’ve worked with that doula. It can give you a sense of what they are like in practice, and give you an opportunity to ask questions of someone who worked with them.

10) A few other places to look for doulas: I have many radical doula profiles you can browse here (with the caveat that these are not endorsements, simply a series for anyone who self-identifies as a radical doula), and you can also look at any number of doula training organizations for doula listings in your area (DONA for example has a directory of doulas by location). You can also use google to browse doulas with their own websites, or find doula collaboratives. Also consider asking your provider (OB, midwife, primary care provider, massage therapist, etc) for recommendations.

Other doulas or people who’ve worked with doulas, are there things you would add to this list? Add them in the comments.


Radical Doula Profiles: Carlyn Mast

April 30, 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!

Photo of Carlyn, sitting cross-legged in the grassAbout Carlyn: I am a birth doula serving women in the Baltimore City area. In addition to my doula endeavors, I am also a graduate student focusing on maternal and infant health at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. Similar to how I approach my role as a social worker, I value empathy, informed consent, social justice, self determination and respect in my doula practice. My email is carlyn.mast@umaryland.edu.

What inspired you to become a doula?
After graduating from college, I began working for a nonprofit women’s health clinic in Baltimore. During the two years that I worked in the clinic, I saw how factors such as race, gender and socioeconomic status effect women’s ability to access quality healthcare. The role that doulas play in addressing inequalities in prenatal care and the birthing experience is a powerful step in the right direction.

Why do you identify with the term radical doula?
I consider myself a ‘radical doula’ because I view doula work as a form of activism and empowerment. I have found that there is a disturbing disparity in access to doula care based on income in Baltimore City. As a doula, I volunteer my services to women who wouldn’t otherwise have access. Throughout my career, I also plan to infuse my clinical social practice with my work as a doula.

What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?
I believe that all women should have equal access to quality healthcare, including doula care. In Baltimore City, the neighborhood where you live is in effective indicator of maternal and infant mortality. I believe that this in unacceptable. There is a fairly large volume of research supporting the benefits of doula care and I do not believe that factors such as race and socio economic factors, amongst others, should impede women’s ability to access care.

If you could change one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth, what would it be?
I would change the whole system! To give a more specific answer, I would make it mandatory that medicaid and private insurance reimburse for doula care.


On the 10th Anniversary of the March for Women’s Lives

April 25, 2014

Via NLIRH facebook page

Today marks ten years since the major March for Women’s Lives, held in Washington DC on April 25, 2004. While I wasn’t yet part of the reproductive rights/justice movement in any paid capacity, I was at that March, and my presence there set in motion much of what I’ve done in the ten years since.

I attended along with a group of maybe 100 students from my college in Pennsylvania. That semester I was super involved with feminist and pro-choice organizing on campus, helping to lead two groups, one of which coordinated a school bus full of Swatties (the nickname for students from Swarthmore College) to head down to DC for the march.

It was my first big political rally or march, and it had a huge impact on me. I remember reaching the mall and seeing the hundreds of thousands (reportedly close to a million people attended that day) of people there, and being overtaken by the fact of being surrounded by so many likeminded people. I even ran into a high school friend who I didn’t know would be there, but had come up from North Carolina for the march as well. It was one of the first times I palpably felt like I was part of something approximating a movement–something that was much bigger than me and my small campus organizing.

But the biggest thing about the March that shaped the last decade of my life were the bilingual signs that I saw dotting the crowd. I was so excited to discover a Latina presence, and to see signs in both my native languages. I had never heard of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health before, but I was glad to know that someone represented the cross-section of my identities and interests. I bought a bright yellow t-shirt that day that read “salud, dignidad, justicia.” Two years later I would move to New York City and start my first post-college job working with them as an organizer–and if it weren’t for that March I’m not sure I ever would have known they existed.

Learning about NLIRH led to more than just a job–it led to learning about a movement, and a framework, that felt like home. Reproductive justice has helped me connect the dots between all of my identities and the issues I care about. It’s helped me see what it means to center the experiences of the people in my communities, and other communities who are most impacted by the struggles we face. It helped me see that there was a world beyond my own campus organizing, which I eventually left after just one semester, partially because of burn out, but also because most of those involved were white and straight, and it just didn’t feel like the right place for me.

Years after the March I learned that behind the scenes, the organizing was fraught with what I’ve come to know as typical battles: struggles between the groups with the most resources and visibility, usually white led, and the smaller groups with less resources, usually led by women of color. While I felt a sense of unity and collective power at attending the March, I know now that the dynamics we’re often working to confront show up within our organizing as well. It’s been tough to see so much of that firsthand in the last ten years, but it’s also simply a testament to the ways power and privilege operate as incredibly entrenched dynamics even within progressive organizing.

While it’s been a challenging place to call home, I remain grateful for discovering this community, this framework, this vision for what might be possible. It’s hard to imagine where I’d be without it.


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