Twelve Years of Radical Doula

It’s been so many years (three to be exact) since I’ve written an actual blog post that I almost don’t know how to do it. I wanted to start this the way I would start an email newsletter, because that’s the closest approximation to this kind of writing in my life these days.

But today is exactly twelve years since I launched this little site, and so I felt like it was time for some reflection, and maybe a few updates about what I’m up to and where this project is headed.

Twelve years! It’s hard to wrap my mind around that amount of time, and where I am now. Also where the movement for birth activism is now. Things have changed so much, mostly in really really great ways.

I say this often when I speak, but the reason that I started Radical Doula is now obsolete. I started this site because I felt really alone in the birth activist community because of my identity and my politics–as a pro-choice, Latinx, queer, genderqueer, activist doula. I felt alienated and hungry to connect with other people who saw doula work fitting into broader social justice work, and who didn’t think you had to look or be a certain way to be a doula.

It’s been many years (maybe like ten?) since I’ve felt alone as a doula for any of the reasons above. There are so many doulas and birth activists who share my identities and my politics. I think that’s partially true because the doula world has grown so much–there are just exponentially more doulas now than there were back in 2005 when I did my training. And many of those folks are activists, and queer and trans and people of color and reproductive justice supporters.

So pretty quickly this project became something else–less about my own identity, and about breaking isolation, and more about articulating a way of thinking about doula work. What makes a doula radical? For many simply being a doula–simply offering support to people during pregnancy and childbirth–is radical. But for me this has always gone beyond that, to really pushing at the edges of what doula work can and should be.

That’s why I was involved with The Doula Project, bringing doulas into abortion care support roles. That’s why I wrote The Radical Doula Guide–to push doula curriculum to be more political, and recognize that for some people, politics will always influence their experiences of pregnancy and parenting. And that’s why, especially in the last few years, I’ve focused on bringing attention to the ways racism impacts pregnancy, but also health more broadly. That’s why I did this TED talk, and this NYT article, and this series of reporting. I don’t think you can be a birth activist and not be constantly actively thinking about how racism impacts what you do, and what you can do to intervene or ameliorate the impacts of it on the people you work with.

And now, in many ways, this blog is less of a blog and more of a resource, an archive. We all know blogging has shifted dramatically since this project started, and I’ve followed those shifts. More posts on social media that ten years ago would have been a blog post. The Radical Doula facebook page is the only social media that I update regularly with you all in mind. And then many of the ideas I would have explored here I now explore in my writing, in features and opinion pieces for other outlets. That’s both to expand my audience and to support my career, and I really love that part of my work.

The broader work that Radical Doula is connected to, of course, continues. There is still so much to be done to build a world where everyone can create the family that they want to create–where everyone has the resources and support to do so. In some ways the political climate has gotten much worse in these last twelve years. The crisis of maternal health for women of color–especially Black women–continues, and worsens in many places. Our current government is actively making things worse, not better.

But there are also things that give me hope. The conversation about racism and maternal health is finally in the mainstream. The idea of trans and gender non-conforming people being pregnant and giving birth is sometimes normalized. Making the connections between abortion and birth, arguing for respecting the full-spectrum of pregnancy decisions, isn’t so out there any more. I used to feel like I was one of a few trying to lift up these topics, and now I am one of many.

In terms of where this project might go in the future, the honest answer is I’m not sure. I spend more time these days asking if I’m the right person for a particular story or opportunity, because there are many others who are doing this work and bring perspectives that I don’t bring–either because of who they are or the work they do. For now, I plan to continue to maintain this resource and look for other ways to plug in and support the incredibly important work that continues in this arena.

I feel particularly proud of The Radical Doula Guide–a book that feels like the grown-up child of this blog, and one that has way exceeded my expectations. I’ve sold over 3000 copies, a number I couldn’t even have dreamed of when I first printed it. Seriously, I only printed 500 copies originally because I couldn’t imagine selling more than that. Now, seven years after that first printing, I’m down to my last three hundred copies. If you’ve been meaning to get one, now is definitely the time. Once the printed versions run out, I’m not going to print anymore, but I will create a digital-only version that I will continue to sell. While there are gaps in that book, of course, I’m proud that it still feels like a decent starting place for understanding the political context of pregnancy and birth in the U.S. Thank you to everyone who supported it by donating to my fundraisers or buying a copy. You are seriously the best.

Such deep thanks and appreciation to everyone who has supported my work over the years, read my writing, followed this blog, invited me to speak, written me an email telling me how my work has impacted you. I feel blessed to have been a part of your journey, and hope to find ways to support it in the future. Check out all the links above to stay in the loop.

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