What movement are you married to?

Marry the Movement from Southerners on New Ground (SONG) on Vimeo.

Closed Captioning Available
[Producer] Southerners On New Ground [Director, Cinematographer, Editor, GFX] Sowjanya Kudva #marrythemovement

This is a video Southerners On New Ground (SONG) made as a love letter to the LGBTQ movement and our allies. We want to encourage the promise and commitment of love for each other as LGBTQ people, beyond any one issue or win.

What a week.

This video made by SONG did a lot to bring me back to the essence of all this media, rulings, celebrations, explanations. What movement am I married to? Whose movement is it? Who is funding that movement?

The marriage wins at the Supreme Court this week feel big. But I’m not sure that they feel like mine. Marriage is not an institution that I personally am particularly interested in joining, nor do I think inclusive marriage will be the site of our collective liberation. Gay marriage means there are now benefits available to me if I’m willing to join this particular vision of a legal contract for my romantic partnership. And don’t get it twisted−these benefits are huge and vastly important in our world. They are difficult to survive without.

In the context in which we understand marriage as a fundamentally conservative value or entity, in that it encourages the formation of families and romantic partnerships in a particular way that benefits a particular view of society, of family, of economics and capitalism, then it’s not so hard to understand how these marriage rulings came down from the same court that also gutted the Voting Rights Act, dissolved a Native man’s legal rights to his biological child, and refused to make a ruling regarding Affirmative Action.

Radical Doula, over these almost 7 years I’ve been posting here, has morphed many times. In the last few years I’ve written almost exclusively about things that are birth activism related, mostly because other writing I did went elsewhere−often places that paid me for my writing. But that has meant that this space no longer truly encapsulates the breadth of my political perspective–the picture of my true movement–because I’ve limited myself to one box.

No longer. After four years as a self-employed writer, consultant and speaker I’ve accepted a full-time job beginning in September. You can read more about that journey and decision here. That means a lot of things for my life, but what it means for this space, and for Radical Doula, is that it can once again be a home for all of my political writing, not just what fits into the “birth activism” box, or more honestly, fits into the “no one is going to pay me for this so I’ll publish it at RD.”

While getting paid to write has done much for my ability to pay my rent, and has also given me access to audiences broader than this one, it’s also limited me in different ways that I’m excited to let go of.

So, dear Radical Doula readers, I hope you’ll indulge me in my political musings beyond birth activism exclusively. It’s all, however loosely, tied to this bigger vision, this bigger movement that I’m searching for and craving and waiting for−one that won’t ask me to choose or prioritize or wait for my turn.


From crisis comes opportunity

I feel like this is such a time of change, transition, crisis, closure. In my life, in the world, all around me. It’s incredible how I can’t imagine a time when this wasn’t the case, and when I look back at before, when I was so unaware of all of it, I think how narrow my perspective was, how I didn’t even know how good I had it in some ways. It’s difficult to imagine these times of transition and it is such a struggle to keep my mental state in check.

I’ve struggled with anxiety most of my life, with a significant peak in the last few years. The realities of adulthood, figuring out how to live in healthy ways, how to build community, sustain adult relationships, it’s all really brought my issues to the fore.

The period we are in now has heightened things. I don’t actually think I’m more anxious, I may in many ways actually be less anxious than a number of other points in my life, but in many ways my anxiety feels so much more rational and logical these days. Listen to the news, read any blog or newspaper and there is an overwhelming sense of doomsday lately.

In many ways it’s justified. Institutions (financial, political, journalistic) are crumbling around us. The status quo is shifting, like an earthquake, and it’s difficult to see what will be rebuilt from the ashes. I struggle to keep myself from going down the slippery slope of anxiety and catastrophe on a regular basis, and then the media and general political sentiment echoes these feelings and it’s even harder.

But I feel like I’ve turned a corner. After six months of closing down, holding my breath, retracting and steeling myself against each piece of news and each change that has come my way, I think I can breathe again.

What I need to understand, to believe, is that from crisis comes opportunity. That what we had before, what we are SO tightly holding onto now, while it feels safe, wasn’t that great either. And that now we have the potential to build something new and better than we could ever have imagined. Maybe one day we will look back on those things whose loss we are mourning and feel grateful for what came out of it all.

We’re so afraid of change, so afraid to adapt, to conform to a new reality. Yet haven’t we all been working toward just that: a new reality, a revolution?

We can’t expect to transform the world without some of the old structures crumbling. There are lots of ways to make change, and I think we’ve all been focusing so much on change from within existing institutions and structures. This is the chance to rebuild them from the ground up. We’ve all been doing this work together, chipping away at the foundations of institutions that haven’t served us, and now we are seeing the result of much of this work. The institutions are crumbling.

Now the work begins. Brick by brick we must rebuild with the vision of what we want to see. What did we want when all we could see was what we didn’t like about existing institutions?

I want to embrace the opportunity in crisis, the opportunity to rebuild the world according to our wildest dreams.

Lost in translation

My inspiration for this post.

I’m bilingual. I spoke Spanish before I spoke English because I grew up with two Cuban immigrant parents. My mom likes to joke about how she dropped me off at my preschool in my mostly White Southern town and handed the teacher a Spanish/English dictionary so she could communicate with me.

Being bilingual gives you an interesting lens on the world. Mine is particularly interesting because although I am Latina, you wouldn’t necessarily know by looking at me. I pass, most of the time, as white. That means a lot of things, some of which I may some day tackle here, but in this context it means I get to hear things, in both languages, that other people don’t.

As a doula this was particularly enlightening/challenging because I got to hear and understand everything a doctor was saying but not communicating to their patient when she didn’t speak English. I got to witness the jokes between doctors, the decisions about care that were being made without consultation, the idle chatter and conversation that they carried on in her presence. Then I had to make a decision. Do I tell her what they are saying?

I was taught that a doula shouldn’t be a translator. My doula trainer explained, with the best of intentions, that those roles should be separate. Just like a doula doesn’t replace a partner, they can’t replace a translator.

That’s great in an ideal world, where everyone has exactly what they need. But let’s remember where we live: planet not so ideal. On this planet, translators are only brought in when there is paperwork to be signed. On this planet, doctors/medical students/nurses with a working knowlege of Spanish get to communicate with the patient when and if they want to. On this planet, a Spanish speaking doula may be the only thing helping a Spanish speaking mom/family/partner feel safe.

So I had to make decisions. Constantly. Decisions about when to translate, what to translate, how to translate. Having to be a filter never felt good, even when I felt like I was protecting her from hearing something she wouldn’t want to hear.  I didn’t want to be the only one in the room who could communicate her needs/questions/concerns to her providers. I didn’t want that power.

What would my ideal world look like? Well, first of all, women would get treated exactly the same regardless of what language they spoke. Doctors/nurses/people wouldn’t talk about a patient in a language she didn’t understand in front of her. They would get consent for everything they did, before they did, and explain every step along the way. 

And that’s just the beginning.

Radical Doula Revs Up

Dear Radical Doula readers,

First, an apology. Over the last six months or so I’ve been neglecting Radical Doula. Thanks to all of you who stuck around! I promise to make it worth your while.

Luckily for this blog, there have been some major changes in the last few weeks. First, I left my full-time job with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. NLIRH will always feel like my movement home, and if it wasn’t for that amazing group of young Latina women dedicated to reproductive justice this blog would not exist.

But my passions have pulled me in a different direction. I’ve left my position at NLIRH and now I will be spending about half my time blogging, writing, freelancing and speaking. What that means for you all is way more radical doula content! I hope to post a few times a week (at least) and continue to add content and features to the site. While I don’t currently make any money from Radical Doula, it’s my baby (pun intended!) and my activist passion, so I fully intend to continue to work on it.

There are also exciting projects in the works:

  • I’m helping to organize a doula training for genderqueer/trans folks (more to come about this!)
  • I also have some other ideas for continuing to build a community of radical doulas, including ways to better connect all of you out there doing birth activist work.
  • More Radical Doula profiles!
  • The “in search of” posts. I want to keep using this site as a way to connect birthing people with doulas who share their values and politics.
  • I’m also hoping to make some visual and technical improvements to Radical Doula as well. Speaking of which, I’m in search of a logo/banner or designer to help create one. Email me if you have thoughts.

If you have ideas of things you would like to see on this site, please email me at radicaldoulaATgmailDOTcom.

In solidarity,

Radical Doula

Some thoughts on doula certification and DONA inspired by maia

Maia from Guerrilla Mama Medicine has some greats thought up from the International Center on Traditional Childbearing Conference. She also talks about her own experience with DONA, the primary organization that trains and certifies doulas:

but i never finished getting my DONA certification.  something about DONA rubbed me wrong when i was in my 3-day workshop.  i guess, it was the protocal.  the protocal that says i am not supposed to contradict the doctor or midwife or nurse.  the code of ethics and the scope of practice that describes ways to communicate that are presented as ideals of respect when they are really white culture-centered forms of respectful expression.  also the workshop and training programs never require for doulas to deal with issues such as race, class, sexuality, etc.

but i kept convincing myself that i needed to complete my DONA certification because i had already invested so much money and time and energy into DONA.  even if i did feel a little dirty inside about it all.


i have been having dreams of birth sisters…women who support women through birth, no matter what. revolutionary sisters.  women who will go to jail for a birthing person.  someone who will support you as much or as little as you need.  through an herbal abortion. a miscarriage. on the phone during an unassisted birth.  without insurance.

when i told midwives while i was preggers that i wanted an unassisted birth, they thought that it was because i didnt have the money to afford a home birth.  it wasnt that at all.  i wasnt desperate.  i was confident in my body.  and the level of racist and classist condescension i received from midwives in minneapolis (which is supposed to be such a mecca midwifery in the states) makes me cringe for the future of professional legal midwifery.

help me think of a name…and we can start a fire that burns all of the pretentious midwives who go to mexico as midwife students, but then return to the first world and finance their upper middle class lifestyle by giving birth to upper middle class women’s babies with the skills that they learned from the bodies and strength of brown women whom they only see now washing dishes and pushing strollers.  brown women who usually cannot afford such professional expertise birthing professionals.

I have had similar thoughts and feelings about DONA over the years. I did my training with a DONA certified trainer (the now famous orgasmic birth advocate Debra Pascali-Bonaro). I really like Debra, and I think she is a great birth advocate. But what Maia says is true. We never talked about race, class or other issues that impact the women we might work with. There was also a focus on the “business” side of doula-ing. I never had any interest in being a professional doula, in making money from the work. For me, it’s a form of activism, a way to support and accompany women through their labor. Women who are in need, immigrant women, young women, low-income women, incarcerated women. I think that all the doulas out there who work for professional women, with class privilege and the ability to really choose their birthing environment are great. Necessary. Important. All women deserve to be supported during their births.

But I, like Maia, yearn for a community of radical doulas who want to use their doula work as a way to impact the larger systems that oppress us. Who want to empower women of color, young women, incarcerated women. Who want to talk about systems of racial oppression, sexual oppression. Who want to support and be supported by radical queer, trans and gender non-comforming doulas. Who want to re-center our medical system around the needs and wants of the people in our community, who have historically been abused, marginalized, manipulated.

I did my DONA training, but I never completed my certification. This process takes a few years, a significant amount of money and A LOT of paperwork. The paper work was my biggest deterrent. The only doula work I have ever done was as a volunteer. After offering my services to women in a public hospital, I felt that it was unfair of me to then ask them to fill out paperwork about my role as a doula. I didn’t want to do my doula work in a way that was self-serving. It wasn’t about me, it was about them. So I never became certified, and I hope that the day I begin my work as a doula again, this will not stand in my way.