Bianca made this video blog about being an abortion with the NYC based Doula project. She’s awesome, and her experience very much mirrors mine. Also, her earrings rock.
Obviously this is a topic much discussed on this blog, but it is also a role that is ever evolving. The Doula Project of NYC has had a major role is shaping this work, so I’d thought I’d share a recent interview published by Abortion Gang with Leadership Circle member Kathleen Reutter.
The Doula Project of New York City is a non-profit providing support to people across the spectrum of pregnancy. It is volunteer-run and all of its services are free of charge. Since 2008, its 50 trained abortion and birth doulas have provided services to over 5,000 people in the New York City area. I talked with Kathleen, who has been a doula with the Project since 2009 and a member of the Leadership Circle for the past year and a half.
To start-off, could you first describe a little about what an abortion doula is?
An abortion doula provides emotional, physical, and informational support to people choosing abortion. As part of the Doula Project, our doulas also support people facing miscarriage, stillbirth, and fetal anomaly and provide birth doula services to low-income people and to people choosing adoption. All in all, our mission is to offer care and compassion to pregnant people making a variety of choices regarding their pregnancy and/or birth.
What does a day’s work for an abortion doula look like?
Depending on the site, our doulas work with between four and 15 abortion clients per day. When I work with an abortion client, I try to help her feel safe and at ease. Any medical procedure can be scary, but facing an abortion can be especially frightening for some because of the wealth of inaccurate information and the stigma surrounding the procedure. Before the abortion begins I try to help my client feel comfortable by answering her questions and chatting. I’m usually with her as she meets the doctor and the nursing staff.
Being awake during an abortion is very doable but is sometimes painful. During the procedure I may help her breathe through uncomfortable moments, explain what’s happening, squeeze her hand, stroke her forehead, and distract her with conversation about her favorite TV show or her weekend plans. Afterwards I help her get settled in the recovery room. I may give her a hot pack to place on her abdomen to help with cramps and put cool cloths on her forehead and back of her neck if she’s overheated. Some of my clients want to talk a lot in the recovery room, others are quieter. If my client is settled and seems to be feeling okay, I often sit quietly in a chair close by, ready to engage if and when she chooses.
There was a post on Jezebel last week that tackled the question of how to help a friend through an abortion. It was a follow-up to a similar post about helping a friend through a miscarriage. Both posts are worth checking out, as they give good advice to friends and support people.
The main takeaway from both, which happens to be my main tactic as an abortion doula, is listen and don’t assume.
Most of the time people looking for support really just want to be heard and to have their feelings validated. They don’t want to be told they should feel differently than they do, or even necessarily helped to cheer up. Think about it next time you are struggling–what do you really need?
Because pregnancy, and especially abortion, are such hot-button political issues, we’ve all got an opinion about it. We’ve all got the latest anti-abortion injustice on our minds.
People are often surprised when I tell them that my work as an abortion doula is mostly about listening, and hand-holding. Not a lot of talking, or educating, or even really doing. A lot of smiling, a lot of encouragement to breath and relax, and a whole lot of listening.
With friends and family members the temptation to give advice is really strong, because we know them and their life and might think that means we know what is best for them. But unless someone is asking us for advice, or asking questions, the best thing we can do is listen and validate how they are feeling. The reality is we don’t know what’s best for anyone other than ourselves.
This is something I’m working hard to apply to my everyday life, but it definitely applies in the context of abortion or miscarriage support.
The only correction I’ll provide to the Jezebel post is to this part:
Baumgardner notes that abortion doulas can offer support to women going through the procedure — you can help her figure out if a doula is right for her, or help her locate one.
While abortion doulas do obviously exist, I know of no programs where individual people can seek out and bring a doula along with them to a clinic. Most of the abortion doula programs partner with clinics directly, so if you went to one of those clinics, you’d most likely encounter a doula there who would accompany you.
What the article references is more like a birth doula situation. It’s possible that abortion doulas will shift to that model some day, but for now it’s primarily clinic partnerships. If there is an abortion doula group in your area (I have a list here, any programs with asterisks) you could get in touch with them to see what clinics they serve, and choose your provider that way.
An organization near and dear to my heart is doing it’s first big end of the year fundraising push. The Doula Project, a group I helped to found, which provides full spectrum doula care to people around New York City.
I know I’m biased, since I’ve been involved since the beginning, but I think the Doula Project is really rad.
First of all, it’s mission is pretty amazing: provide volunteer doula care to people across the spectrum of pregnancy: from abortions and miscarriages to adoptions and births. All of it is done at no cost to the pregnant person–it’s a volunteer operation that is now a 501-C3 (hence the fundraiser!).
I’ve chronicled some of my experiences working with the project in my Abortion Doula Diaries series. In short I think it’s pretty rad, and has helped spark a national movement of similar organizations around the country providing this type of comprehensive doula support.
Some official language from the project:
We are a volunteer led and run non-profit organization offering free doula care to women across the full spectrum of pregnancy options. The Doula Project works to connect the choices, needs, and experiences of people across this spectrum and to provide on-site support for our clients no matter what their choices may be. Since 2008, our 50 trained abortion and birth doulas have provided physical, emotional, and informational support to more than 5,000 women in New York City who have faced birth, abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth induction, and adoption.
5,000 people! That’s incredible.
If you’re feeling generous, your support would be appreciated. Funds will go to expanding services to serve more people, as well as further training and expansion of this really amazing model. Donate here.
I wrote an article for the new Exhale website about the awesome work of abortion doulas. Exhale is an organization whose mission I believe connects closely to what we do as abortion doulas: providing support to all people who’ve had abortions, without judgement.
Exhale creates a social climate where each person’s unique experience with abortion is supported, respected, and free from stigma. Exhale provides services, training, and education to empower individuals, families, and communities to achieve post-abortion health and wellbeing.
In the article I talk about how I became a doula, how I made the connection to abortion work and why I started this blog.
My job as an activist – whether for abortion, reproductive justice or birth, is to make sure people have as many options as possible, and my job as a doula is to make sure they get the emotional support they need along the way. It was time to bring these two passions of mine together in a way that could improve the lives of pregnant women. I started a blog and started calling myself a radical doula.
I also interviewed a few doulas who have been involved with Exhale’s work.
There are a lot of assumptions about the personal experience of abortion, but what an abortion doula will tell you, though, is that no two people’s experiences are alike. Emotional responses vary widely. Laura shared,
“Being pregnant is significant, however a person a politically identifies or however she acknowledges the process. We’re not trying to be behind the politics of it. Her voice, her experience gets validated on her terms.”
Read the rest of the article here.
Update: It failed! Big victory for health and autonomy. Also proof that even those with more moderate or conservative politics are skeptical of such far reaching legislation. The fight is far from over though, as these efforts are bound to continue.
It’s a scary time for women’s health and autonomy. The political movement to limit access to abortion, as well as pregnant people’s rights to make decisions about their bodies and medical choices, is stronger than ever.
In the absence of any strategies to address the actual problems plaguing our economy (unemployment, for example) the ultra right wing in control of many of our state governments (and the House of Reps too) have decided to focus instead on debilitating budget cuts and bills that damage women and pregnant people’s health and human rights.
As I’ve said over and over on this blog–bills that limit access to abortion also limit the choices of pregnant people who want to parent. NAPW has a video explaining exactly what is at stake with Prop 26:
Irin Carmon, reporting for Salon, wrote about how this initiative would limit access to even birth control. These efforts are serious, and want to turn back the clock on reproductive health almost fifty years. All of these extreme efforts are poised to take judicial challenges all the way to the Supreme Court.
The vote on the initiative could go either way, which is even more frightening. Polling shows voters split evenly.
If you’re in Mississippi, please make it out to the polls tomorrow and vote NO on 26. This is serious.
Another great full spectrum doula group to add to the growing national movement!
From the Chicago Doula Circle email announcement:
We are excited to announce that the Chicago Doula Circle is currently recruiting volunteers for our new hospital-based abortion doula program! We are looking for a diverse group of volunteers to provide direct-service support to people during their abortions here in Chicago. Volunteers are asked to commit to a two-day weekend training as well as two shifts per month and one monthly volunteer support meeting. For more information about our organization, abortion doulas, and to view the volunteer application, please visit chicagodoulacircle.com. A direct link to the volunteer application can be found at http://bit.ly/chicagoabortiondoula. To be considered for the 2011 training, all applications are due no later than October 31, 2011.Please spread the word! Thank you for supporting Chicago Doula Circle.
With excitement & gratitude,
Kate Palmer & Kristen Ethier, Co-Founders/Co-Directors
My running list of volunteer doula programs is here.
It’s about time the Bay Area had a full spectrum doula project! I was very excited to get the notice in my inbox yesterday that the Bay Area now has a doula project. I had heard rumors that it was in the works.
Founded in 2011, the Bay Area Doula Project is the first doula project offering ‘full-spectrum’ doula care in Northern California. We are an emerging group of doulas in the Bay Area who are committed to supporting pregnant women who are choosing abortion, and other pregnancy outcomes. Most of us are birth doulas, many of us are postpartum doulas as well. All of us are abortion doulas. We trust women to make their own decisions regarding their pregnancies, and offer unconditional support to women in need.
Congrats to the BADP!
So, unlike being a birth doula, there isn’t a standard way to become an abortion doula.
I, and most of the abortion doulas I know, have started groups in our cities that then work on finding clinics to partner with as a team, offering to provide doula support to the clients the clinics serve.
The individual doula/client model that works for birth doesn’t really work in this context, especially since most folks wouldn’t think to reach out to a doula for an abortion or miscarriage. So instead we partner with clients directly, and set up volunteer shifts so that there is a doula for (ideally) every person they serve. To the people getting services at the clinic, we seem like clinic volunteers, even though really we’re an independent group partnering with the clinic or hospital practice.
Step one is to find a few other doulas in your community who are interested in this. Then, once you’ve established your group, you can work on reaching out to clinics like Planned Parenthood and others, to see if you can provide your doula services there. You’ll have to consider things like training on abortion doula support for your doulas, volunteer screening and other policies to comply with the clinic needs.
Don’t get discouraged if this takes a while! It can be a long process to build trust among the doulas, and trust with clinics. Some may at first not be interested in your services, but don’t get discouraged there either. Just keep trying until you find a provider who is interested. Others may come on board once they hear about the wonderful things your group is doing with other clinics.
Probably the best resource out there to help you with this is the Doula Project in NYC. They provide support, training and assistance to groups around the country trying to start similar projects in their cities.
More information is available here.
This was a question I received via email that I thought others might be curious about. Got other burning questions? Email me at radicaldoulaATgmailDOTcom.
Two of the three women at the clinic last week who were having “abortions,” were actually having D&C’s (the medical name for the procedure used during most first trimester abortions) to deal with incomplete miscarriages.
Both were wanted pregnancies, and both had been experiencing vaginal bleeding for a number of weeks. Both basically had their pregnancies terminated via natural causes, aka a miscarriage. Miscarriages are very common, and physicians estimate that between 10-15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage during the first 8 weeks. Some women may never know they are pregnant, but simply have a late period that could actually be a miscarriage.
Some miscarriages complete on their own, requiring no medical intervention. But some miscarriages might not complete fully (aka the contents of the uterus may remain) and necessitate medical intervention. The medical procedure for a miscarriage is basically the same as for a first trimester abortion.
A good percentage of the women I’ve supported in my abortion doula work aren’t actually choosing to terminate pregnancies–they are having medical procedures to treat their already-in-process miscarriages. These women are often ignored by the abortion debates which assume anyone getting what we call an “abortion” procedure is actually choosing to terminate.
Often the women who are having miscarriages in some ways need more support than those choosing to terminate. Like one woman I worked with last week, the pregnancy was very much wanted, and she was very sad to have lost it. While a woman choosing to terminate might feel relief once the procedure is over, a woman with a miscarriage might instead feel the immense sadness that comes from the reality that she is no longer pregnant.
A question remains about what would happen to these women if abortion were outlawed, or made inaccessible. Even if there were miscarriage exceptions in the law, it’s very possible that due to the burden to “prove” a miscarriage, plus the risk involved in providing the procedure, these women would be unable to get the procedure they need.
We saw the beginnings of this impact in Nebraska, where a woman was forced to carry a pregnancy to term despite the fact that they knew the child would die upon being born. For women who don’t want to go through the waiting and delivery with an unviable pregnancy, this is tantamount to torture.
In the case of early miscarriages that don’t complete on their own, we’re talking putting the mother’s life at risk–particularly if the limitations on abortion mean that doctors aren’t even learning to do these procedures.
I’ve talked before about the impacts of anti-abortion legislation on women who want to parent, and every time I work with someone at the clinic who is having an “abortion” to resolve an incomplete miscarriage, I’m reminded of this fact.