Soy Poderosa!

Latina Week of Action logo

This year I once again have the pleasure of working with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health on their annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice.

They are an organization close to my heart–it’s the first place I worked when I graduated from college, and I’ve stuck around in one capacity or another ever since.

For this year’s Week of Action, the theme is Soy Poderosa (I am powerful). It’s about claiming power and space for the Latina community–about elevating the ways in which we are already working to shape our lives and our futures.

Why am I a Poderosa?

Because I believe in the power of my community. Because I know that even with few resources and little institutional power we are doing incredible things to secure our right to livelihood.

I’m powerful because I choose to have a voice, I choose to put my ideas and thoughts out into the world.

I’m powerful because I know that the arc of history bends toward justice, and that while my community has suffered greatly, we have also persevered, survived and even thrived.

Want to join the Week of Action? Check out these ways to get involved.

How doula skills translate

I just ran across this blog post from a doula-turned-lawyer, about how her skills as a birth doula have helped her be a better lawyer:

As a doula, I was required to listen more than I talked.  I learned to encourage women to ask questions and get information rather than doing it for her.  I learned that I couldn’t possibly understand all the circumstance of another woman’s life that drive her to make the decisions she does, but that I should do everything in my power to hear her and help her achieve those choices.  I learned to work behind the scenes, providing valuable skills and resources when needed, but never taking the spotlight away from those who really mattered: the woman, her family, and supporters.  Outside of the birthing room, I advocated for changes in a complex system of institutions, laws, and circumstances that make it difficult for women to have the birth they knew was best for them.

It’s great to see something that so reflects the way I think of my role as a doula, and to think more about how our skills as a doula can translate to other areas of life and work.

Because my doula work over the years has been infrequent (once a month at best), I often think about how what I’ve learned from being in this role influences everything else I do on a daily basis.

It definitely has, in big ways.

I like what she talks about in the post about not being the expert. So much of our society’s value is based on expertise–claiming it, selling it, being praised for it. As a writer, consultant and speaker so much of what I get paid to do is about the expertise I claim.

But I also think much of that expertise is actually really just intuition. Intuition about the world around me, about what makes sense in organizing, about observing and putting together bits and pieces into a coherent whole.

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from my doula work has been to trust my intuition. That without much information, I can intuit what might be helpful to someone that I am supporting. That I’m not an expert in doula care, but that I’m following my gut and letting the person I’m working with show me what they need.

Prison Birth Project in Western MA looking for new volunteer doulas

A fabulous organization in Western Massachusetts is looking for new volunteer birth doulas. They work with folks who are incarcerated at a local prison, work that I think is among the most important we can do as a doulas.

More information:

Our organization follows a reproductive justice model of care, which recognizes that multiple oppressions are at play in creating a lack of access to healthcare and rights and furthers reproductive oppression. We see reproductive healthcare, rights and justice as inherently connected to human rights and social justice and seek to provide care in align with those beliefs. The model we provide is holistic and centered on the whole experience, body and mind of the people we work with.

The nature of the work we do is sensitive. You will encounter situations both medical and personal experiences that you may not have encountered within your practice before, because of this we are selective about our doulas and seek to provide a high level of care (DON’T let this intimidate you!). You do not need to be a certified Doula, just have some solid birth or abortion doula experience. You must be open and committed to learning new ideas and concepts as well as medical information and researching on your own at times. Once we receive applications we will select candidates, we will set up a time to have a 15 min phone interview with you and invite you to an upcoming training for PBP doulas. You will be required to complete a application at the correctional facility and will have a criminal background check (you may have a previous criminal record, but can not have any open cases/warrants/parking tickets or violations), you will attend a 2 hour orientation at the jail and then be able to attend births, classes and groups with PBP.

We ask for a volunteer commitment of at least 1 yr. This does not mean you are oncall 24/7, you can either take individual clients or volunteer shifts to be oncall, but you must attend one on one appointments with clients at times throughout the year. The facility we work in is located in Chicopee, Ma and the hospital that most clients are transfered to is in Springfield, you are required to be at the facility or hospital within 1.5 hrs or being called. Some clients may be released before they deliver (which is the best case scenario) in these situations we still provide Doula care to clients and are able to refer them to other medical providers if they wish to change bc of medical conditions (we have homebirth midwives and other hospitals to refer clients with certain situations).

The full application is here.

My TEDx Talk: Transforming Empathy

I’m really excited to be able to share the video from my TEDx DePaul University talk from April.

It’s about three lessons I’ve learned from my work as a doula.

This was a such an amazing opportunity, and such an incredible challenge for me. I had to think about how to talk about my work, in this field that is so marginal in many ways, in a way that would reach people everywhere.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how to talk about this work without making assumptions about people’s knowledge, and what makes doula work universal. In the end, I talked about empathy and how it connects to our work for social justice.

I hope you’ll take the time to watch it. Thanks to the TEDx DePaul U crew who made this happen, an extremely dedicated group of student volunteers.

Reflections from the Strong Families Summit

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Strong Families Summit, hosted by Forward Together, a group I’ve worked with as a consultant over the last year or so.

My role with their work has been strategy and media outreach for their mama’s day campaigns. I’ve written about those two efforts here and here, but this last one was a particularly fulfilling success, the e-card tool we created was used almost 5000 times.

The summit was my first chance to be in person with their coalition partners, a vast group of organizations who have signed on to be part of the Strong Families initiative.

What I like about their work is the attempt to build a big tent that can hold all of the issues that impact the health and well-being of families. While centered on a reproductive justice frame, the work goes even broader than that, encompassing many issues that I feel are central to my political vision. Everything from birth activism to LGBT families to environmental concerns to racial justice. Reproductive justice can hold all of this as well, but something about using language that seems even bigger is powerful to me. We need a big tent–we need a broad vision for how we’re going to achieve our goals.

The organization also relies on a practice called Forward Stance, which in very simple terms is a mind/body practice that grounds their work as organizers and advocates. The video below explains the practice in more detail.

In my work as a doula, and in our work as support people, I’ve been thinking a lot about the integration of mind and body. I know for me, as a writer, it can be a struggle to leave the realm of thinking and be more connected to the realm of feeling. But I also know that in my work as a doula, it’s not often that thinking really guides my work. It’s often something much less mental, and more intuitive. It’s also often more about presence and physically being there with someone than it is about intellect and thinking. I’m excited by the potential to bring the physical and spiritual into our work in social justice, to bring us closer to ourselves and each other. Last week was my first time trying the practice.

For more about Forward Together and the Strong Families Initiative, go here.

Repoliticizing Mother’s Day

The flowers are lovely, but I'd prefer a revolution on a card with a mom and baby with fist in the air.
Art by Veronica Bayetti Flores

For the second year in a row I’ve had the pleasure of working with the Strong Families Initiative on their Mama’s Day campaign. The goal is to bring attention and love to the moms who are often marginalized by traditional mother’s day celebrations–young moms, queer moms, immigrant moms, moms of color, disabled moms.

Last year they created a music video, this year it’s a e-card generator. We worked with a group of fantastic artists who created the art for the cards, and you can add a custom message to send to a mama in your life–or simply spread a message via social media.

It’s also about bringing the politics back to a holiday that often gets commercialized and depoliticized. What do mother’s really need? How can we fight for a world that supports all moms? Mothers and parents are at the root of all our communities, and any agenda that ignores them risks a lot.

There are lots of lovely images to make cards with, including one for midwives:

I also wrote a post for the Strong Families blog about Bei Bei Shuai, who sadly is still in prison.

Another great mother’s day initiative is the one from the Prison Birth Project. They will send a card on your behalf to one of their incarcerated members, or anyone of your choosing, in exchange for a donation to their group.

NYC, DC and Chicago full spectrum doula program recruitment!

It’s gonna be a busy summer for all you aspiring full spectrum doulas!

Volunteer programs in NYC, DC and Chicago are all accepting applications for summer trainings.

More details after the jump!

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Take one step today to stop the state from criminalizing pregnant women

I know we all work on many important issues, but this one is really important, and deserves five minutes of your time and attention.

Bei Bei Shuai.

While the details of her case are super important, the reason this deserves your attention right now is that these cases set a really dangerous precedent of punishing women who fail to guarantee a healthy pregnancy outcome. (h/t to Lynn Paltrow)

Now as birth activists we know how dangerous this is, and how it can (and is) being used against women who try to refuse c-sections and other maternity related care. NO ONE can guarantee a healthy pregnancy outcome. It’s impossible. This is about fighting for autonomy in health care, and to prevent the state from criminalizing pregnant women.

Here is Bei Bei’s story:

In 2010, Bei Bei Shuai, a pregnant woman living in Indiana became so depressed that she attempted to end her own life. With help from friends who intervened, however, she survived. Although Ms. Shuai did everything she could, including undergoing cesarean surgery, to ensure that her baby survived, her newborn died shortly after birth.

Ms. Shuai was arrested for the crime of murder (defined to include viable fetuses) and feticide (defined to include ending a human pregnancy at any stage). The sentence for murder can be the death penalty or 45 years-to-life. The sentence for attempted feticide is up to 20 years. Both of these kinds of laws are promoted and supported by “pro-life” organizations.

Bei Bei’s own mental health struggles add another layer of questions of disability rights to this case.

Criminalizing pregnant women does nothing but harm. Bei Bei should not be in prison. No pregnant woman should go to prison because of the outcome of her pregnancy. Ever.

Sign this petition in support of Bei Bei. This is seriously scary shit people.

Via National Advocates for Pregnant Women

Florida becomes the first Southeastern state to pass anti-shackling legislation

Last week, a bill banning the shackling of incarcerated women during childbirth passed through the Florida legislature.

The Miami-based group Mobile Midwife did a lot of advocacy to get the bill through all it’s phases of votes and committees, and the co-director Jamarah Abdullah Amani has a piece in the Huffington Post about the practice of shackling:

As a Black woman, this both infuriates and saddens me. As a midwife, health educator and mother of three, I have given birth, as well as helped many families welcome their babies into loving arms. It baffles me that we, as a society, allow the horrific practice of shackling to continue without more outrage. Anyone who has had a baby, or has been a witness to the experience, knows that in labor and birth, we must walk through the fire of who we are to become who we will be as mothers and parents. This journey is challenging and fulfilling, scary and exhilarating. It means different things to different families, but what it should not signify is torture and humiliation.

Although the passage of this bill in Florida was a definite win, the fight continues in the rest of the states where no such bans exist:

As we, birth activists, kept late nights and early mornings working on this bill from Miami, Fl, a colleague who is also one of my dearest friends, Paris Hatcher, Executive Director of SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW, was working on a similar bill in Atlanta, Ga. It became kind of a race between the two of us to see which of our states could secure this basic human right for women first. Of course, we had hoped that both of our bills would pass this session.

Florida’s bill is now set to become law this week, while Georgia’s bill is still struggling to get out of committee. “We are excited about this victory in Florida and the potential this action means for Georgia,” states Hatcher. “But what is truly exciting is building a regional movement for Reproductive Justice based on principles of relationship building and amplifying the voices of those who are often forgotten in public policy.”

Although it’s unfortunate that it takes such a horrific practice to get positive support for a birth and reproductive justice issue, I’m beyond delighted to have wins to celebrate in today’s political climate.

Updated doula trainings and volunteer programs pages

These resources are in constant development and improvement! Thanks to everyone who has emailed with new program and training links.

I updated the Doula Trainings page recently, added a few new programs and improved the formatting. This page is just meant as a one stop quick overview of the doula training programs out there, so soon to be doulas can start their research. If you know of trainings I haven’t included, email me! Also if you have experience with one of the programs listed, and want to talk about your experience in a guest post, I’d love that. Email me.

The Volunteer Programs page is meant as a resource for doulas looking for volunteer opportunities. A few people emailed me to say they themselves offer low-fee or volunteer doula services, which is awesome, but this page is meant for volunteer programs that doulas can join in order to provide volunteer doula services.

Thanks to everyone for their help in maintaining these resources!