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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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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.


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.


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.


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.


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