Radical Doula Profiles: Rivka Cymbalist

Rivka Cymbalist wearing colorful scarfThis is a series highlighting folks who identify as Radical Doulas. Are you interested in being part of the series? Email me at radicaldoulaATgmailDOTcom.

Rivka Cymbalist CD(DONA) has been working as a doula since 1997, and has witnessed hundreds of babies coming into the world. Of these, fewer than twenty have been c-sections, several have been twin births, and 95% of them have taken place in the hospital. She is director of Montreal Birth Companions, which is a volunteer organization that provides free doula services to refugee and immigrant women. She has been training doulas since 2004, and regularly accepts apprentices in her practice. Her book, The Birth Conspiracy, Natural Birth, Hospitals, and Doulas: A Guide was released by Curioso Books in November, 2011.

What inspired you to become a doula?

I have always been involved in women’s health, and when I started having my own children I became more passionate about the injustices inherent in our modern obstetrical practice. I wanted to attend women in childbirth and attempted to provide a gentler, more respectful space for them.

Why do you identify with the term radical doula?

A radical doula understands what is at the root of the issues surrounding birth. All the prejudices and failures in a society can be magnified during an important life event. This is nowhere more clear than during pregnancy and birth. I try to break down barriers, dispel prejudices and misconceptions, and respect where respect is due.

What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?

I believe that all women know how to give birth. I see our culture destructive to this innate knowledge. Our culture is based upon fear – fear of enemies, of attack (even yogurt commercials talk about defense), of failure. It also places a high value on experts, so we are trained to need an expert to advise us on every aspect of our lives. If we all gave birth, raised our kids, and lived our lives instinctively and without experts’ advice, the society as we know it would crumble. I believe it would become a better place, where intelligence, kindness, and justice lead the way instead of fear, ignorance, and greed.

What is your favorite thing about being a doula?

I love listening to people’s stories, and I love meeting women from all sorts of different backgrounds. I love that labor space where honesty reigns.

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

I would make it a real option for women to give birth at home. Many women choose a doula because they feel they have no other choices. If home birth was presented as a valid, safe choice, women would make that choice.

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