Why it’s time for us to reclaim “values”

I just got off the phone with a reporter working on an article about religion and spirituality in connection to home birth. Our conversation got me going, particularly when she told me of the Christian midwife who said that she doesn’t think pro-choice people should be doulas or midwives. That it’s a contradiction to work with birth and hold pro-choice beliefs. It makes my blood boil.

People often assume that radical politics go hand in hand with atheism, or a rejection of religious beliefs. The Religious Right in this country has furthered that idea by claiming the realm of religion, of God, of spirituality even, as their own. They promote the idea that being religious means certain things about your political beliefs and actions.

My doula work is about providing non-judgemental support to a person during pregnancy. Period. Just like I don’t bring my judgements about how the birth should happen, what tools should be used, or even how or when the pregnancy should happen, I don’t bring my judgements about the choices the pregnant person makes about their pregnancy.

I know that many of you who identify as radical doulas bring a sense of spirituality to your work, and I want us to claim that. I want us to reject the idea that radical politics (which, by the way, in an ideal world wouldn’t be so damn radical) are inherently atheist, or anti-religion, or anti-spiritual. Inherent in that rejection is that we get to claim, rightfully, that a belief in God or some sort of higher power doesn’t go hand in hand with anti-choice views. Anyone who studies the Bible, the Old Testament, knows that the beliefs that the Religious Right holds up as so clear, so self-evident, are not. It’s all about interpretation.

I want us to talk about values. I hold dearly the fact that my VALUES as a doula are based in the principle of non-judgmental support. My values are that I don’t know what is best for anyone but myself, and as a doula I serve folks during pregnancy by remembering that, always, and simply searching for the best way to validate and support someone’s experience.

I wholeheartedly reject the idea that family values are based in principles of hatred, discrimination, non-acceptance and judgement. Those are the anti-choice, anti-sex, anti-woman and anti-gay family values are being promoted in the US.

I’ve got my own version of family values—helping people build the families they want to create, however they define family, in the most loving and supportive environment possible. My family values include empowering every family member to make decisions about what’s best for them—whether those decisions are about how to dress, when and how to begin romantic relationships, how to be sexual, what to do when they are pregnant, what pronouns to use, damn even what food to eat every day. Again, I don’t know what’s best for anyone but myself. My values center on creating an environment where everyone can make the absolute best, educated and supported decisions about their lives.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a shit ton of opinions. I’m a blogger! But my opinions stop where your choices begin. I can express them from here til kingdom come, but YOU know what’s best for you. Period.

I’m sick of the left being painted as rational or logical but values-less. That’s complete and total bullshit. I’ve got an incredible set of values right here, and I think you do too. We just need to start talking about them.


42 volunteer doula programs and counting!

Every once in a while I do a significant update of the volunteer doula program page I’ve been maintaining on this site for a few years. Recently I added a few new full spectrum doula programs (yay!) and with the help of my friend Eleanor, made sure all of the links and such were working on the other programs listed.

We’re up to 42 programs in 15 states, the District of Columbia and two international programs. Pretty incredible.

That means there are likely thousands of you out there volunteering your time to support folks through pregnancy and childbirth. Amazing.

If you know of a volunteer program that is missing from my list, just send me an email with links or details and I’ll add it.

The list is not an endorsement of any of the programs, just a resource for people looking to volunteer their time.

So what is an abortion doula?

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.

Read the full interview over at Abortion Gang. And for more about my experiences as an abortion doula, check out my Abortion Doula Diaries series.

Got a few dollars to spare for The Doula Project?

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.

Exhale: Abortion doulas and providing non-judgmental support

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.

About Exhale:

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.

Chicago Doula Circle recruiting volunteers for new hospital-based abortion doula program

Another great full spectrum doula group to add to the growing national movement!

From the Chicago Doula Circle email announcement:

Dear Friends,

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.

New San Francisco Bay Area Doula Project launches

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.

All the info about their project is on their website, including an application for doulas who want to join.

Congrats to the BADP!

Help us shape a radical and full spectrum doula gathering!

I’m really excited to share that I’m involved with a group of doulas who are trying to organize a radical and full spectrum doula gathering! This was born out of conversations with other doulas around the country who have been working to provide full spectrum doula support, and the realization that we could get a lot out of connecting with each other in real

Just three years ago, the idea of an “abortion doula” felt totally new and novel. Now we’re at a place where there is a true movement behind doulas who are providing this kind of support. It’s incredible.

From starting this blog almost four years ago because I felt alone in my work as a doula with my politics, to feeling the need to bring together all the amazing people involved in this work! It’s been an incredible journey.

The organizing of this gathering, meet-up of sorts, is still in its infancy. What we do know is that we want to bring together the folks who are doing this work, so that we can share strategies, struggles and build relationships with one another.

What we don’t know is how, when, where, what and why.

That’s where you come in! We’d love it if you’d take a few minutes to fill out this survey to let us know what you might like to see at a gathering like this.

Thanks in advance for your support, and I look forward to meeting many of you at the gathering.

Erykah Badu is planning on becoming a midwife

Erykah Badu wearing a tall white hatI used to write a lot more about celebrities and birth (hello Caroline in the City post from 2007!) but have since gotten sidetracked with other things.

But this was too good not to post! Erykah Badu, who has been a doula for years, is now training to become a midwife.

This is was the best part:

Badu, who provides all of her services for free, has since become a spokeswoman for the International Center for Traditional Childbearing and she is now aiming to get her professional certification so she can open birthing centres in inner cities in the future.

She reveals patients call her “Erykah Badoula” and insists “nothing gives me more pleasure” than assisting in anaesthesia-free births.

Erykah Badoula! Love it.

Via Toronto Sun

Guest post: Why doulas are important in Native American communities

This is a guest post from Raeanne Madison, who was profiled a few weeks ago in the Radical Doula profile series. This post was originally published on her blog. Her perspective, and the perspectives of other Native American and Indigenous folks, is crucial in this fight for reproductive justice. I’m inspired by her words and her spirit, and honored to be able to feature them here.
Ondaadiziike. The Ojibwe phrase for giving birth. When I was writing this article, I was hoping to combine ondaadiziike with the Ojibwe words for safety and comfort. I was surprised that the dictionaries I consulted didn’t include these words. So I was left with just ondaadiziike. No safety, no comfort to accompany it. This is reflective of modern birth culture in Native American communities, I think. Women (and girls) are giving birth without the accompaniment of safety and comfort. Modern day pre, ante, and post natal care for brown women in the United States is at times unsafe, and usually uncomfortable. Racism, sexism, poverty, and isolation have left women and their babies in desperate need for support, love, and compassion.

It wasn’t always this way. Native women were long respected as life givers. Our ancestors had mysterious, spirited reproductive powers. Women were forbidden to enter the dance arena during their moon time (a practice still respected in modern Powwow culture); not because they were viewed as dirty or hysterical, but because these women were so powerful during this time in the life cycle that they could take away power from anyone in the circle. So they stayed out in respect to their community members. Women took care of each other, Aunties, Grannies, Mothers, and Sisters. But women were also independent, knowledgeable, and assertive in their bodily rights. Reproductive culture varied from tribe to tribe but one thing was constant: women’s powers were sacred.

Enter Western patriarchy. Native women were subjected to horrors manifested in all aspects of bodily harm. Our ancestors were kidnapped, gang raped, and fed to war dogs. Eaten for entertainment in circus like manner. Forced to marry white men and birth babies alone, without the help of their beloved Sisters. Traditional knowledge of menstruation, pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding were lost, and Native women today still pay the price. Of all the ethnicities in the US, Native women suffer the most when it comes to birth. We have some of the highest teenage pregnancy rates, pre-term birth rates, maternal and neonatal morbidity rates, and some of the lowest breastfeeding rates. Reproduction in our community has become dangerous and unpredictable at worst, and casual at best as women forget just how powerful their bodies can be. Studies have proved that these racial disparities exist because of poverty and racism.

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