Radical Doula Profiles: Ashley Medley

This is a series highlighting folks who identify as Radical Doulas. Are you interested in being part of the series? Go here to provide your responses to the profile questions and I’ll include you!

Ashley sitting on the stairs in a white shirtAbout Ashley: I am a public health advocate and full-spectrum doula in the Washington DC area. I earned my BA from California Lutheran University in Sociology with minors in Women’s Studies and Religion and a Master’s in Public Policy from George Mason University. My background is in public health research and policy and gender rights advocacy. I have worked in community health activism, international maternal and child health programs and am currently practicing as a full-spectrum doula supporting people through everything from pregnancy termination to birth. With a passion for women’s & LGBTQ health and social policy, I also strongly believe sexual violence is a public health concern that affects every single member of a community and am on the Board of a local organization, Cultures of Consent.

What inspired you to become a doula?
I have a life long passion for women’s health, healthy communication, wellness and healthy families. I seek to provide support for diverse families, however they come to be. My personal background is in broader women’s health program development and policy. My undergraduate and graduate degrees have focused on social aspects of health: I earned my Bachelor’s degree from California Lutheran University in 2008 and my Master’s degree from George Mason University in 2010. How I came to doula work was by working in international maternal and newborn health and nutrition programs primarily in Africa. While my career developed in policy and programs, my personal interests were locked on maternal health here in the U.S.. Eventually I became trained and certified as a doula and continued to learn all I can on prenatal and maternal health. Now I work and volunteer providing support for birth and labor as well as abortion/termination support services to women in the Washington, DC area. I believe as a culture, we must trust women and their bodies.

Why do you identify with the term radical doula?
I originally came to doula work with the intention of being an abortion doula, only supporting terminations. Within a couple months I wanted more. I wanted to support birth, miscarriage, stillbirth, sexual assault survivors, everything. I watched people go through such intense moments and react in as many diverse ways as their were people! I watched them surprise themselves with strength, with tears, with panic, and learn what they were made of. And I wanted to do the same.

What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?
I believe as a culture, we must trust women and their bodies. I aim for a woman to feel supported and empowered throughout her pregnancy. Whether that is trying to become pregnant or ending a pregnancy. I feel so privileged to support people through the most intimate, vulnerable and powerful moments of their lives. I’ve seen first hand that people are desperate to start families and just as desperate to terminate their pregnancies. What is so lacking in our world is compassion for both (and everything in between). I strongly believe that as a society, we must work together to make the world a better place for ourselves and future generations. I see this play out in birth in that a woman can set the tone of her birth experience while the baby guides the journey.

What is your favorite thing about being a doula?
Every experience is unique. No two days in my life are the same. I have such intimate access to people – it truly is a tremendous honor. To help prepare and then support and watch people go through an experience physically and emotionally that shows them what they are made of – that’s unreal. There’s a quote “your contractions cannot be stronger than you, because it is all coming from you.” I say that to people and they will say, “Holy fuck. I’m strong.” And, “Yeah, you are.”

If you could change one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth, what would it be?
System-wide, in the U.S., I’m hopeful we can return to a time and place where it is standard that midwives are the assumed care providers for low risk pregnancies. So many unnecessary interventions can be avoided with this standard. Secondly, whether it is a midwife, OB, or nurse a vaginal exam should always come after permission and it should be phrased as a question. That is, “Is it okay with you if we do a vaginal exam?” No one should ever touch a vagina without asking.

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