Radical Doula Profiles: Mary Mahoney

This week I’m happy to have a profile of Mary Mahoney, one of the fantastic doulas who established the NYC Abortion Doula Project. Read more about that project here.

RD: Why did you become a doula?
MM: I became a doula because I’m dedicated to creating positive reproductive health experiences for all women, whether they choose to carry their pregnancies to term or not. I believe that by providing non-judgmental emotional support, resources, and education women can be empowered to have not only a positive birth or abortion experience, but also become advocates for their own reproductive health for the rest of their lives.

I also became a doula because I wanted to understand more fully the complexities and barriers pregnant women who choose to keep their pregnancies face. As Assistant Director of the Pro-Choice Public Education Project, my focus has often been more on unintended pregnancy, sex education and abortion. Since it is often the same women who have children and get abortions, it was important for me to understand the full span of reproductive health experiences women have, so that I could become a better advocate.

RD: How does that work fit into your broader political beliefs?

MM: As a doula and social justice activist, I see public education and individual awareness as the cornerstones of making the best reproductive health choices you can for yourself and on your terms. Doulas reinforce in women that they have the ability to do this and we can help them get there. However, often information and awareness are not enough. Many women do not have the resources to make their birth plan or positive abortion experience a reality. Some doulas offer low cost or free services to women who are not able to afford doula care on their own. Recently in NYC, Lauren Mitchell and I started a program, the Abortion Doula Project, that supports women who are having abortions, free of charge. We use the doula model of care to offer non-judgmental, compassionate emotional support before, during and after the abortion. In the next year, we hope to expand our service to lower-income women who choose to carry their pregnancy to term.

RD: What is one thing I would change about birth in the US?
MM: There are a lot of things to tackle here. I think the number one thing I would want for a woman in any challenging reproductive health experience is that she feels like she has a support system, that she is not alone, and that she has someone looking out for her best interests. One thing we come across in the Abortion Doula Project is the question of, what if a medical professional does something we do not approve of or do not think is in the best interest of the woman? We understand that we are limited in what we can actually say to this medical professional to get them to change their behaviors, but the one thing we can do is guide the woman to a better place through the doula model of care. I spoke with a doula recently who said to me “all you can control all the time is the level of care you give the woman.” And it’s really true. And it’s also important that we as doulas remember that women come to us with their own coping resources, that they know how to take care of themselves. We are there to remind them to do it and support them as they do.

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