Leila Zainab Counihan is a pro-choice feminist, birth doula of color. She recently traveled to La Ceiba, Honduras to work as a birth doula in a public hospital. She is the Director of the Freedom Doula Project, a full spectrum pregnancy doula organization serving Boston, MA. Currently, she is an undergraduate at Clark University in Worcester, MA. Leila spends most of her free time collaging, meditating and honoring her Yoni. You can contact her or Freedom Doula Project at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out Freedom Doula Project on Facebook or at http://www.FreedomDoulas.org!
What inspired you to become a doula?
I was 18 when I was inspired to be a doula after reading “Half the Sky” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I read stories of women all over the world experiencing terrible sexual and reproductive injustices just because they became pregnant. This jump-started my obsession with reproductive justice and international public health. I knew I wanted to have a career as an advocate for women’s reproductive health, but I wanted hands-on experience as well. Becoming a birth doula was the perfect fit.
Why do you identify with the term radical doula?
When I became a birth doula, I quickly found that I was the only pro-choice, feminist doula of color in my circle, and in many other circles as well. I found that there were disconnects between these identities on many levels. First, the lack of diversity within the birthing community was staggering. I was surrounded by upper-middle class, white women. As a lower middle class, South Asian, immigrant woman, I felt utterly alone. Secondly, I naively assumed that because we were all for the freedom and movement of women, we would all be pro-choice. I soon learned that the topic of pro-choice was almost as taboo as it is anywhere else. In many ways, I am a radical because I chose not to leave my identities behind. Instead, I represent them with pride.
What is your favorite thing about being a doula?
My favorite thing about being a doula is having the honor of witnessing the inner wisdom, strength and stamina of women as they bring life to this Earth. I truly believe a woman’s highest power comes out in these moments, and I am always moved to tears to see her embrace her child with so much selflessness and bliss.
If you could change one thing about birth, what would it be?
I would change the rhetoric surrounding birth in this country as well as the lack of rhetoric on birthing in the Third World. In the U.S, we associate birthing with pain, epidurals, planned cesareans, and rushing rather than positive ideas like love, ease, pressure, acceptance and accomplishment. On the other end of the spectrum, in many Third World nations, talking about birth or anything involving female genitalia is taboo. Most of these women have never engaged in dialogue about their sexual health, so they do not have the skills or awareness on how to prepare or what to expect for birth and postpartum. I desire to spread empowering educational information for both women and men on sexual and reproductive health.