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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.

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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.


Radical Doula Profiles: Iresha Picot

April 23, 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!

Iresha wearing a dress, holding a babyIresha Picot is a birth and full-spectrum doula and peer breastfeeding counselor in Philadelphia, by way of Virginia. Iresha has been doing doula work for a few years now, training with Birth Arts International and works with the North Philadelphia Doula Co-op program that provides Doulas to Black, Puerto Rican and Dominican Women in what is considered the “bad lands” of North Philadelphia. She is also an hand-holder with Planned Parenthood, where she was trained with the Doula Project out of New York. Outside of providing Doula services, Iresha is a Behavior Specialist and Therapist in Philadelphia and Community Activist. working against the Prison Industrial Complex. Contact: Iresha.Picot@gmail.com

What inspired you to become a doula?
I am a supporter of Women; especially Mamas and what greater way to do that, than in their process of pregnancy; whether its an pregnancy for termination or for birth. Mamas need support and as a community we can tend to forget that due to preconceived notions of Women, particularly Black Women as being pillars of overt strength, who do not emotionally crumble or become tired. I grew up with a overworked single mother who at some points in her life, had no support in raising four children, so I understand firsthand how that strain can affect ones sensibilities in their parenting. Also, I wanted to combat in some way, the high cesarean sections rates for young black women.

Why do you identify with the term radical doula?
When the word “radical” pops up in my head, I think of go-getters. Someone who is not dormant about their struggles and takes action. That lays at the root of all of my work. As a Black Woman, I face oppression on many fronts. I know this. But, I am also out here making noise for change. Being able to provide doula services to women who have never heard of that term, is radical in more ways than one. I am a radical doula.

What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?
My Doula philosophy is to treat Mamas with a lot of love, empathy and less judgement. I want to assist Mamas in finding their fire to advocate for themselves.

What is your favorite thing about being a doula?
Knowing that I helped another Mama–another sister, and also knowing that the very act of assisting and working with other women defies all types of patriarchal notions that women cannot be supportive of each other.

If you could change one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth, what would it be?
I want all Mamas to feel secure and confident in their choice to give birth or not to give birth and feel good about that choice without judgement from the world. If she wants to have five babies all alone, she should feel empowered to do so. If she wants to have an abortion, that’s all good too. I would also create alternatives to birthing; creating more birth centers in economic isolated neighborhoods, or if a Mama wants to have a hospital birth, she can move around and not always give birth on her back. Oh, and every Mama will have a Doula to support and advocate for her in that process. <3


Only 300 copies of the Radical Doula Guide left

April 7, 2014

Cover of Radical Doula Guide

About a month back I had to set up a new online store for the Radical Doula Guide, as my old one decided to no longer offer the service. You can now order copies of the guide here. Same deal, similar credit card processing, new look and URL!

I’ve sold over 1100 copies since it published a year and a half ago. I’ve been blown away by the interest and support for it–so a major thank you to everyone who has bought a copy, or suggested it as a resource. I sincerely hope it’s been of use.

I have about 300 copies left. Haven’t decided what I’ll do when they run out–whether I’ll order a new run to keep selling print copies, create a digital version for download, etc. But if you have been wanting to get a copy, now is a good time to order one.

If you have links to the old Radical Doula Guide store on your website, consider updating them. This page is a good reference as it will always be updated with the most recent information.


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