Radical Doula Profiles: Jessica Shaw

This is a series highlighting folks who identify as Radical Doulas. Are you interested in being part of the series? Email me.

Jessica Shaw smiling in a white dressAbout Jessica: Described by Chatelaine magazine as, “emblematic of the new breed of pro-choice activist,” Jessica is both an abortion rights activist and a radical birth doula. As the research coordinator at Canadians for Choice (CFC), she produced the internationally recognized report, Reality Check: a Close Look at Accessing Abortion Services in Canadian Hospitals, and subsequently helped develop a 24/7 national, toll-free hotline, through which people can gain information about abortion services in Canada. Jessica completed a graduate project entitled A feminist discourse on how the concepts of choice, informed consent and empowerment are constructed in medical birthing literature, and more recently completed a study called Labour of love: Women’s experiences giving birth with a doula in Winnipeg. As a doula, Jessica has always offered her services voluntarily with the belief that any woman who wants to have a doula should be able to have one. Currently, Jessica is a doctoral student with the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary. Her research and passion remains focused on women’s reproductive justice.

Jessica lives in Toronto, Ontario Canada and can be reached at jcashaw104@gmail.com

What inspired you to become a doula?

My sister-in-law invited me to be at her birth during a time when I was already becoming more involved in sexual and reproductive health and rights. I was blown away by the power of the female body, and inspired by her strength. Being there to watch my niece be born changed me forever, and lead me to look into becoming a doula.

Why do you identify with the term radical doula?

To me, being a radical doula is about supporting women, in all of their reproductive needs. I identify as a sex-positive, feminist reproductive justice activist, who works on both abortion rights and birth activism issues. Reproductive justice is about making sure that every woman is able to control her body and her reproduction, and feel empowered by her choices. I reject the gender binary that society has placed on people (female/male) and think it is important to consider how the imposed social structures that we live under can affect our experiences. I also think that it is so important to consider how people’s different intersecting identities can impact their reproductive health experiences (ethnicity, ability, marital status, age, sexual orientation, place of residence, socioeconomic status and more). This means recognizing that the majority of the women who use doulas will likely be white, educated, wealthy women. As radical doulas, it is our responsibility to challenge this norm by offering some, or all, of our services voluntarily; by collaborating with communities who tend to have few social supports; and by working to create change in the way women and other minorities are discriminated against in society.

What is your favorite thing about being a doula?

Being invited to be with a family during one of the most transformational moments of their lives is such an honour. After being with someone during such an emotionally and physically intense experience, you can’t help but also feel transformed, and deeply connected. There are families that I will probably never see again, but whose strength, beauty, and love I will never forget.

If you could change one thing about birth in your country, what would it be?

I would want to change the way that birth is talked about. Currently, it is so common to turn on the television, read an “expectant mother’s” book, or talk with family and friends who will tell you that birth is something that is painful and to be feared. The positive birthing stories of our mothers, aunties, sisters, and friends are too often pushed aside in favour of the more shocking stories of medicalized births. Women can give birth. We’ve been doing it for millions of years, and we do it well. I would love to return to a place where the norm is that birth stories are shared amongst women, and the knowledge and support that comes with the presence of other women during labour and birth is honoured.


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