Valerie Wetlaufer is a birth doula, poet and doctoral fellow in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Utah. You can find out more about her at her business website Blooming Within and her personal website.
RD: What inspired you to become a doula?
VW: I’ve always been fascinated with pregnancy and birth as well as the full spectrum of women’s reproductive health, but I didn’t seriously consider becoming a doula myself until I met my ex-wife, also a doula. She got me over my remaining fears of pregnacy and my fascination grew into activism. Since I am not in a position to parent right now, I love that being a doula allows me to contribute to motherhood in a meaningful way.
RD: Why do you identify with the term radical doula?
VW: When we were starting the process of trying to conceive, I was frustrated as the potential non-bio mom, at the heteronormativity of pregnancy and birth-related information. It didn’t feel like there was a place for me. I was also surprised that, while our friends and family were supportive of our potential parenthood, they were extremely against our plans for a natural homebirth. That seemed so strange to me, that the most natural part of a process that would begin with artificial insemination was the part that everyone reacted against as “so radical.” I started to see birth as a great way to connect parents who give birth across the spectrum of genders and sexualities. Initially, I hoped to work especially with the queer community, but I live in Salt Lake City right now, so, interestingly enough, my clients are mostly LDS. A lesbian doula in SLC is most definitely radical, since family is predominantly the purview of the Church.
RD: What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?
VW: Pretty simply, I believe that everyone who gives birth deserves a doula, no matter their background or parenting decisions or birth plans. I am especially interested in working with birth parents who intend to place their children for adoption as well as teen parents. It happened that I started out working with a few clients for whom birth was not a happy, exciting, hopeful experience for whatever reason, and that has gotten me interested in helping people find peace and empowerment through the process. More broadly I am a champion of having control over your own body–making the decisions about how your own body is treated and having those decisions honored. In college I acted as a sort of unofficial abortion doula for some friends, and I seem to always be the go-to gal for questions on sexuality and sexual health. As a lesbian and a person of size, I had to do a lot of the legwork on my own finding out about how to be healthy, how to advocate for myself, how to make my decisions understood and respected by the medical community and being a doula allows me to extend my knowledge to my clients.
RD: What is your favorite thing about being a doula?
VW: Well, I think getting to be there while babies are born is my ultimate favorite part, but beyond that, it’s just generally being invited into these sacred experiences, getting to create a space for a woman where she can tell her story, her backstory, her fears and also where she can claim her birthstory and really be empowered by what her body can do. I love watching that transformation from “I can’t do this!” to “Yes, I did this.” I love being a college writing teacher, but nothing I’ve done in that job compares to witnessing this direct empowerment I get to see through birth.