Lauren Guy-McAlpin is a DONA-trained birth doula pursuing certification. Originally from Atlanta, Lauren moved to Greensboro, North Carolina at 18 to study dance at UNC-Greensboro, where she also earned a degree in Women’s and Gender Studies in 2008. In addition to doula’ing, Lauren is a longtime reproductive justice advocate, writer, and blogger for ChoiceUSA. She is the co-founder and project coordinator of CPC Watch, a web-based pregnancy options resource that focuses primarily on “crisis pregnancy centers” that give women false and misleading information about abortion, contraception, and sexuality. Lauren is also in the process of developing a full-spectrum doula collective to serve NC Triad women undergoing abortion, miscarriage, and birthing for adoption. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What inspired you to become a doula?
Unlike many doulas, the decision to become a doula came to me before I ever experienced pregnancy and childbirth myself. About a year ago, when soul-searching for a career path, I realized doula work was my calling. It happened quite organically; I’ve identified as a feminist since middle school and have been a committed reproductive rights activist since early college. For me, doula’ing is merely turning those activities inward, to take my passion from the public sphere of politics and social justice to the private sector of the birthing room.
Why do you identify with the term radical doula?
I just love the word radical! Sociopolitical implications aside, radical means “at the roots.” Giving birth is, in essence, one of the most radical things the female body is capable of. Meaning of course, if women are not free to make informed decisions regarding if, when, where, how, and with whom they give birth, they are not and cannot ever be completely liberated from the shackles of patriarchal restriction.
Politically speaking, I suppose I fall squarely in the “radical” category. While this term has become loaded with negative connotations over the years, I see nothing wrong with advocating for radical change where radical change is needed. Consider, for example, how the Roe v. Wade decision did anything but allow women to take charge of our reproductive lives: the legal framework for abortion was indeed secured, but we continue to see financial, legislative, and cultural barriers to abortion (and contraception, birthing options, etc), especially when it comes to women of color and working class women. We see this trend in all matters reproductive, from abortion rights to the right to have children, from access to contraception to the right to birth where and how we please.
What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?
My philosophy of doula care is simple: I trust women, I trust their bodies, and I trust their choices. It’s not my job to make or even influence their decisions. It’s my job to help them be informed enough to make their own. One question that came up at my doula training was whether or not we would support a woman who wanted a planned cesarean for convenience purposes. I was shocked at the number of point-blank “no” responses! While I certainly wouldn’t choose that course for myself, I would gladly be a supportive doula for that woman’s birth, and do everything in my power to make her experience a fulfilling one. Which is not to say I wouldn’t present her with information on cesarean delivery, the risks, etc, but leaving such a woman out in the cold simply because I didn’t agree with her decision just does not fit into my philosophy.
That philosophy is a direct reflection of my political beliefs. I do not believe there is a “right” way to live, a “right” way to give birth, or a “right” way to experience womanhood. I’ve heard doulas and other childbirth professionals talk about how women who choose never to have children are “missing out” on an “integral part” of being a woman. This attitude smacks of regressive politics about what women “inherently” want, what we were “created” to do, and a wealth of other ideas that have shaped the patriarchal society us feminists work tirelessly to combat. These ideas don’t just restrict the choices of non-reproducing women, but also the ones who are trying to forge their own path into motherhood. In my experience, regardless of what women choose to do with their bodies, be it the decision to remain childless, to have an abortion, or have many children, some facet of society will find something “wrong” with it. It’s that systematic.
If you could change one thing about birth in the US, what would it be?
Our health care system is flawed to the core, and I do not believe the so-called “reform” bill will do a thing for reproductive health care in general (which is not to say the bill won’t somewhat improve the system, but it won’t begin to fix the inherent problems). We exist so deeply inside a for-profit system that the very natural process of childbirth becomes a medical event by necessity. Women are consistently scared into “choosing” induction, augmentation, and even cesarean surgery just so their caregivers can move them through the system as quickly as possible. Hospital birth feels very much like an assembly line, and birth center and home births just aren’t accessible for many women.
I’m one of those crazies who thinks that health care is a basic human right, that women should not just accept the major flaws in our health care system just because they “chose” to birth in a hospital. Additionally, the language we use around birth is generally negative: we remove a woman’s agency from the situation by allowing OBs and midwives to say they “deliver” babies, and we dehumanize the mother by saying she was “sectioned” by cesarean. Women enter the labor process so frightened and sure it’s going to be terrible and unbearable (thanks, What to Expect series…) that it’s no wonder so many birthing women joke about wanting the epidural in the parking lot!