Radical Doula is a blog and resource that focuses on the connections between social justice and birth activism, founded and run by Miriam Zoila Pérez.
One thing that is really important to me is that I do not own the term Radical Doula. I might own the domain radicaldoula.com, but I by no means see myself as the arbiter of what a Radical Doula is. It’s a term that very much popped out of my mouth in a surprising way–really it was a way to describe the alienation I felt within the doula community. Over the years as I’ve continued the Radical Doula Profile Series (a way to relinquish ownership of the term and highlight anyone who identifies with it) I’ve noticed that for some doulas, simply being a doula, trying to change the culture of birth, in and of itself is a radical act.
I understand that logic, but it is not what I meant when I started this blog. That does not make it wrong, it just makes it different than my original purpose.
This page used to include a laundry list of the identities and politics I hold that made me feel alienated. It included things like being “pro-choice” or supporting the right to abortion, the fact that I’m Latin@, that my parents are immigrants from Cuba, that I identify as queer and genderqueer, that I approach doula work as activism.
As the doula world has expanded, and as I’ve connected with more and more like-minded doulas through this blog, my definition of a radical doula has moved away from being centered on that laundry list of identities. Those still matter, don’t get me wrong, but I think what matters more is a political understanding of the role of the doula.
It’s what I tried to articulate in The Radical Doula Guide, where I tried to lay the foundation for an understanding of doula work within the political context in which we live. That’s a context that is highly racialized, stratified by class, where pregnancy and birth for most people cannot be divorced from their lived reality of oppression and marginalization. This education is a distinct departure from what is taught in most doula trainings–in many ways, Radical Doula is about filling the gaps in doula education and conversation.
Being a Radical Doula, for me, is about understanding the politics of pregnancy and birth in the US, and working to use our role as doulas to interrupt this. I very much understand that our power to really change the balance of power is minuscule–but simply having a power analysis at all allows us to frame our work as doulas in a different way.
This different way means working hard to make our services as doulas accessible to people who wouldn’t otherwise have doula support. The mechanics of this will look different for everyone, from volunteering with a program in a public hospital, to offering a sliding scale or barter system for your fees. It could be getting trained on how to support pregnant people with disabilities, or people who speak another language, or are queer or trans or gender non-conforming. The how will vary for all of us, but the bottom line is this: we care about working with marginalized communities, about providing doula support to those who would not otherwise have it.
For me birth activism is about working to improve the pregnancy and birth experiences of those who are already suffering the most–not just improving the experiences of those who already have the best outcomes. It is not that those who already have the best outcomes (which, in most cases, could still be significantly improved) don’t deserve better–it’s that if we work to improve the experiences of the most marginalized, everyone’s experiences will improve. It doesn’t necessarily work the other way around.
Right now, with the state of maternity care in the US, that means that we must focus on efforts on improving pregnancy and birth experiences of pregnant people of color. (You’ll note I avoid using the word “women” in an effort to be inclusive of trans and gender non-conforming pregnant people). I’ve written more about why that is here, and I take the time to iterate it on this page because of how race-blind the birth activist movement in the US often is. Many of the efforts to revive midwifery care and improve birth focus on solutions that only help those who are already doing okay (middle class and wealthy white women), and ignores those who are suffering the most, mainly people of color. This is just one manifestation of racism, and how it gets perpetuated and reinforced by those who are well-meaning.
To me, being a Radical Doula is committing to the hard work of facing issues of racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia head-on in our work with pregnant and parenting people. It means understanding birth as just one instance in a wide spectrum of pregnancy-related experiences that include abortion, miscarriage and adoption, and understanding why doula support across that spectrum makes sense. It’s about providing non-judgmental and unconditional support to pregnant and parenting people, ultimately in service of social justice.
But that’s just me. What about you? You can check out all of the other Radical Doulas I’ve profiled here, and see how they define it. I also invite you to join the series by filling out this form.
You can also learn more about how my doula work connects to my social justice philosophy in my TEDx talk here.
To learn more about me and my work outside Radical Doula, check out my website.
Updated March 12, 2013
I am so happy you put this up! I too am a radical doula/midwife in training. I work in a county hospital in the midwest with all-low-income mothers, 99% of whom are of color. Latina, East African, West African, incarcerated mothers, addicts and well, all the other low-income moms of color who are deemed difficult, at risk, and less than, for more reasons than any of us can or should count. Though I work with some other amazing doulas I am frequently ( read:always) the only woman of color ( I am African American) in the room, let alone the bi, pro-choice woman in the room. I have one child and another on the way and as my journey of motherhood and birth professional continues I find my self though personally further from the place in my life where I might need to utilize my choice to terminate a pregnancy, more deeply pro-choice than ever before in my life, the idea that anyone would have to embark on this journey from government coercion, makes me dizzy with outrage. More deeply though I find that the link between the anti-choice anti-birth trends so insulting. For me the deep intuitive understanding of the conciousness of my baby as he approaches his birth clarifies for me that only women understand the choices they make, that they HAVE to make and to remove this from them in any aspect of their reproductive lives seems to fly in the face the precious gifts of sentience and spirit and the amazing power which we have.
Now I am not saying this to knock you but I was a doula before I had children and the experience of pregnancy and birth for me was a humbling one which gave me great insight I never would have had otherwise. For me it has completely changed my experience of birth support. ( I can share my birth story in another forum), but I have much more respect and room in my life for others experiences ad contributions to the “struggle” everywhere.
Keep up the great posts and thanks for putting it out there!
Hi, I love the site; and I love what you’re saying here…mostly.
I just want to caution you about putting people in a box that you yourself are trying to avoid,
Being a radical doula is also about wanting to work with a very particular group of birthing women–not the yuppie upper-middle class moms who think that having a midwife and a doula is trendy–but the women who really need the support.
And I completely respect your desire to work with women who need your services the most. I am a doula who does lots of volunteer work with women of every lovely shade. I am currently working pro bono with a wonderful mommy who just immigrated from the Philippians. But I find it condescending the way you assume that white upper/middle class women only hire doulas and midwives to be trendy. These women seek mother-friendly aternity care for the same reason all women do; because they have educate
Why would you draw lines to seperate yourself from any woman who is essencially ust like you…trying to protect her reproductive freedome and do what is in the best interest of her baby.
Oooops! My toddler just hit “submit” before I was ready! I’m still not used to his reach! Eeek, now you can see how bad my spelling is!
Anyway, I wanted to say, “These women seek mother-friendly maternity care for the same reason all women do; because they have educated themselves and have made a choice about what is in the best interest of their health and the health of their children.
Why would you draw lines to separate yourself from any woman who is essentially just like you…trying to protect her reproductive freedom and do what is right for her birth and her baby.
I agree that more needs to be done so that EVERY woman has the same opportunities for childbirth education, support, and other services. But can’t we do it in a way that unites us as women, not divides us by race and class.
Another Rebecca, I couldn’t agree more, I feel we should all come together as a group of *women* and not let race, gender or social status separate us.
Thanks for the comments Rebecca. I agree with much of what you say–and really just seek to push the doula community to make efforts to extend their care to different communities. In an ideal world, ALL women would have the support they need. But the reality is that resources are limited, and I for one want to try and give that support to women who lack it in many areas of their lives.
You’re right, its not just about race and class, but unfortunately due to the institutional and structural racism in our society, those two things can have an HUGE impact on women’s access to services, particularly when it comes to “luxuries” like midwifery and doula care.
I’m white and I’m broke as hell lol. I would like to have the opportunity to recieve my care through a doula/midwife but I can’t afford it on my own and my state insurance doesn’t cover midwifery services. I am looking into getting training to become a Doula however. I am fascinated with the work you do and I also believe that EVERY woman deserves to have a choice about how her child/children are brought into this world!
So wrong that midwifery and doula services are seen as luxuries — when, in fact, they are much less expensive than “traditional” prenatal care, with its epidurals, inductions, c-sections, three-day postpartum hospitalizations, etc.
Our insurance plan doesn’t have *any* midwives “in network”, and they’re going to be hearing a lot from me when my wife is pregnant again (hopefully in a few months).
I came across your blog through Google and when I read this post I was so moved. I’m studying to become a doula and lactation consultant and I intend to work with women who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, woman who are incarcerated, young single mothers and women who are or have been in abusive relationships simply because I see a greater need in these women. I feel my efforts can best be used to aid women such as these rather than women who might have more intact support systems. I have seen firsthand how these women can fall between the cracks and their children fall with them. I know that when I am done training and begin to gain experience I will be providing them with the care and support they need to feel empowered and capable.
Much of what you said resonates with me… I’ll be proud to some day consider myself a radical doula!
Stumbled to your site.
I have felt drawn to become a midwife for a while, but I haven’t felt secure about my identities and goals. I am glad to know that there are “D: None of the above” in this field. Might just be the push I need.
Just wanted to say hey, stumbled across your blog today and clicked around and found this post. I have been kicking around the idea of studying to be a doula or midwife for a while now, and I kind of wondered if there were other lesbians out there working in the field….I suppose there would have to be but having never met one, I had to wonder.
Great blog, thanks!
Very nice blog, I’m actually with my wife in the hospital now waiting for induction to take hold, wishing I’d found your site sooner. I am very for having a doula for our second child.
Yea for queer, radical doulas! My partner gave birth at home with 2 awesome midwives on April 9th and I’m always glad to meet someone else spreading the word about how empowering and positive birth can be…
I love your blog! Keep the honesty coming. I’m down to motivate for a movement in the birthing world.
Many blessings Radical Doula ! ! !
I have been a doula for over two decades and have always been a “radical” voice within the birthing community. So much so, that I struggle with whether or not I should “shift” my perspective.
Try as I might, I always comeback to the “root of the thing”, which is the definition of radical, after all .
Accurate, evidence based information and practices tempered with the ability to
hold the space for individual beliefs has been paramount in my work.
The issues you speak of have always been apart of the philosophy I am compelled to abide by.
Some years ago I spearheaded a leaderless, cooperative group that was going to be referred to as “The Radical Doula Group ” – what else – but knew that I did not want to create a sharp division between the doulas. The Metropolitan Doula Group had just been formed and I envisioned working toward edifying the doula community not breaking it apart yet always found myself the “black sheep” amongst them.
As we continued to think out the idea of a radical doula group, we realized the issues we wanted to bring to the fore were not only birth related topics.
The idea then became broader in its scope.
Now having decided birth would not be the only issue, I felt comfortable launching plans for the group to move forward.
One of our first meetings concerned itself with “Fertility Awareness” and “Menstrual Extraction”, others were “Sex and Sexuality” others planned were Body Image, Healing Abuse/Molestation, Death and Dying.
We spoke of death doulas and abortion doulas, I had experienced providing support during both events and saw the use in providing support such as this.
Our group was known as the “Coalition Upholding Natural Teachings” aka CUNT.
As you can see, what you are moving towards resonates deeply with me.
Work such as you are embarking upon is of great importance and inspires me not to struggle against myself in that which soulfully moves me to uphold.
Mid-comment I contacted another of the core “CUNT” members, who by the way has a very similar doula ” bio” to yours !
I shall , indeed, look forward the unfolding of this endeavor.
Peace, Playful Mischief & Joyful Chaos To You ;o)
these discussions are so great — thank you!
Radical Doula, Rebecca and Graveflower, you give me so much confidence in setting high goals for my own path as a doula, and maybe-one-day-midwife.
I love the things you are posting, both here and over at feministing. When I became pregnant I immediately began looking for a midwife and/or doula, whom sadly it seems in my state are dying arts. Also found that NEITHER insurance plan I am covered under will foot even a portion of the bill, making midwifery truly a luxury for me, as you have noted. And maybe I’m just not finding the right sites, but seriously, most pregnancy/birthing sites are annoying and frivolous IMHO. But here, I’m finding useful, thought-provoking issues. I need all the support I can get, as being a pregnant, pro-choice, gay-affirming, anti-war voice in a military town is not the easiest road. 🙂 thanks.
Wow! So glad to have found your blog and be sharing the doula community with your boldness and commitment to pushing class, racial, and gender boundaries. Anything dividing us must dissolve. I really enjoyed the posts, and constructive feedback. Great feedback! This is what it is all about, Woman coming together to talk about our health and rights. I wanted to invite you to check out a blog I am going to be heading up a “holistic hood” column in. I am a multiracial doula, herbal practitioner, and mama, so ALot! of pertinent issues will be discussed.
Namaste ~ keep shining sisters.
Hi Radical Doula –
I am just getting into doulaing, and I have been disappointed with the overall lack of understanding of laboring and birthing as an issue of social justice (in the birthing community of Southern CA). Everything you wrote above, and some of the comments here really resonate with my beliefs. I would love to meet with other like minded birth community folks in Southern Calfornia or perhaps longer term, meeting up at a conference. Please email me if you think this is something you or your colleagues would be interested in. firstname.lastname@example.org
thanks so much for the blog.
I had the blessing of a free doula for my first birthing experience. As it did not follow my *birth plan* HAH her attendance and assistance was greatly appreciated. She was *re-upping* her certification, plus doing some training- therefore I was free… she helped me save myself from an unneeded *emergency* c-section… she also helped my husband learn to trust in himself- he was an awesome birth partner for our second grrl…
Thank you, Miriam! Your words have transformed my fear into hope and, hopefully, action. I am a woman-centered women’s reproductive rights activist. I am pro-choice, have had an abortion, and volunteered as an abortion patient advocate. Now, I am in the process of adopting my first child and training to become a volunteer birth doula. I hope to study midwifery in the future as well.
I have kept most of what is seemingly conflicting inside and not shared my midwifery/doula plans with my pro-choice friends and vice versa. I have allowed fear of the conflict to silence my wholeness, but you are not silent and for that I thank you.
Also, as a woman of color, I am so proud and happy to find that there are other Radical Doulas out there. Perhaps, our community will grow. With each one of us, we do. Thank you for all that you have written. Keep it up.
You’re amazing! Keep spreading your positive love and the nay-sayers will come around eventually (begging for you to take them in LOL)!
Dear Radical Doula,
I thank you so much for all you have written, and inspired others to write. I am particularly impressed with your well taken and well articulated response to the other Rebecca–such grace and maturity, which is good for me to remember is still radical. Thanks for putting this honesty and energy out into the world.
Having just ‘discovered’ your site I am totally in awe and inspired by you as a fellow Doula. Here in NZ midwives are predominantly our Lead Maternity Carers, working autonomously. This leaves little room for Doulas but there are gaps in the system where I can see that I will be of use. I consider myself to be an anti-doula Doula – I support both breast/bottle feeding, I cater for women who have homebirths, hospital birth or c-sections, if they want drugs then they can gosh darned well have them. Having given birth twice myself it’s no walk in the park going through 4 days of labour and to me, it’s the womans choice – and I’m there to support that.
Keep up the great work!
Thanks so much blossomingbabesdoula! I really appreciate the kind words.
I hear what you are saying about your doula work–but I don’t think that’s anti-doula! Doula’s are meant to support women in figuring out what kind of birth THEY want, and then making sure they have that. It doesn’t include judgements or ideology about what a good birth looks like. Keep it up!
I am too a radical feminist doula living in South America. I work with women of all social strata and also see how they are discriminated, not only and always for skin color, but definetely for what they can financially offer. I am starting a community doula program and I hope to involve as many women of all ages. Ideally becoming a doula will teach us all to gain our commmunity back. I`d love to keep in touch with you and learn more about your work.
All the best,
I just found this site via feministing, and it is great! I’m a college student working on figuring out what path to pursue after graduation. I’ve felt myself torn between pursuing a more “traditional” kind of activism and training to be a doula/midwife. I hadn’t thought about offering doula services as a kind of activism, but that idea really resonates with me. Thank you for offering your insights to the blogosphere!
hey there! i am 30 years old a mother of two (pregnant with third). bi but have been in an open and commited relationship with my man ray for 13 years. i was trained in minneapolis minnesota by dona in a special program to serve urban teenage native american mothers. the training was beautiful and empowering but the program itself never materialzed. shortly after the training i moved away.i really need an opportunity to use my training.i am hoping your website can help me connect with folks who can use my experience and training. i too am pro choice,free thinking,nontradirional in every way.had both my kids at home the 2nd with no midwife just me and ray.i would love an opportunity to bring more homebirth to folks who might otherwise never do it-young mothers,old mother disabled mothers any mother with issues that make her feel like she cant do it does not deserve to try it,has been told she cannot do it.they can do it! more often than not our limitations are only mental.and of course if its just not safe a good homebirth midwife would never deliver at home.
Hey there Radical Doula,
I am a doula from MA and I just started an Abortion Doula Project branch here. I am ultra excited. I wonder if there are other projects going on other than the one in NY. Is that one still running?
Anyway, it would be fantastic if you could let your followers know there is one in MA.
Thanks and much love to you,
Awesome! Yes the NYC Doula Project is very much running and there are groups around the country that have started as well.
If you email me (radicaldoulaATgmailDOTcom) the info about your group I can add it to the volunteer doula programs page.
And you should get in touch with the Doula Project folks to see if they can support your efforts!
I have so much in common with you, Thank You for creating this space for all of us. With Love………
Your Cuban, Lesbian, Radical, Feminist, Doula, Abortion Working Hermana
I am so glad I stumbled upon your blog. Your goals as a Doula and an activists are awesome and all so inspiring. I relate in so many ways! I will begin my Doula certification process next month and I am so excited to begin. I finished my undergraduate degree in Sociology in 2007 and was contemplating becoming a Doula during that time but decided to go to graduate school instead. I graduated May 2010 with a Masters degree in Public Administration and Policy Analysis, but at the end of my first year of grad school I got a boring job working as a Research Analyst for the State of Missouri. March 2011 I found out I was getting laid off and the same week I found out I am pregnant. So I decided to go on a quest to find the right health care provider and a Doula. In the meantime and lots of inspiration I decided to do what I have aspired for years -to become a Doula! In addition, I have been trying to find a non profit to start up and I think I may have found a topic-Doula services for those in need. In addition, I am also Hispanic and was a teen mom who supports women health care policies and Pro-choice. I will continue to follow your blog and hope one day to follow in your footsteps.
Lety I would love to connect email@example.com
This is fantastic! I’m so thrilled I found you!
Wow, its like I found home! I am a doula from Chicago that works through a social service agency serving teen moms in low income neighborhoods. At my DONA workshop, my coworker and I were the only ones that were not going to be private doulas and were going to be providing our services free of charge. I felt very alienated and believed they did not understand my background or that of women of color who have constantly been fighting for the right to control our bodies (hello sterilazation of Puerto Rican woman!!!!). I luckly now work with an agency that helps unite doulas from the state of illinois through trainings and workshops. I am very happy to see that people across the country can push the limit on what it means to be a doula. We often find ourselves saying that when you go into a home where there are financial issues, drug abuse, domestic violence, lack of education etc.. you really end up “doula-ing” the entire family. I am so excited that I can use this blog as a resource to keep up to date on the scoop and provided the best info for my girls!
Welcome Cindy! So glad to connect with you, and congrats on the important work you’re doing in Chicago.
Looking for doula of color for couple of clients having financial difficulty affording it. Please contact me at your earliest as my clients are due September/October.
I am so glad I found your blog. Let me tell you about Seattle, yes, Seattle. I am a Latina woman, I recently became a doula, I thought It would be easy to find other doulas of color here. WRONG, How dissapointing, I would like to network with other doulas, that care about the things I care about, social justice, anti-racism. I am a feminist, reproductive justice advocate, and immigrant rights activist soon to be abortion doula. Where are my people at!!!! Not in Seattle 😦 With the exception of Open Arms, which i love….. Nearly not enough doulas of color that fight for the things I care about not here. If you are like me PLEASE contact me, before i lose my sanity. Radical doula I need you, If i had the money i would pay so you could give a training down here….If you live in seattle contact me, and even if you dont live here please contact me and help me believe that theres others like me…
You’re not alone. I’m a doula, also identify as queer, also staunchly pro choice. I’d offer abortion doula services if the women in my community HAD access to abortion IN our community (despite being the home to a regional hospital, women here are forced to travel 3 hours away to have an abortion). I’m really happy to have discovered you 🙂
I cant believe how relevant this blog post is after 5 years! I was kinda shocked when I found out the feminist movement is not as supportive of minorities as it should be. Embarrassingly, I didn’t even realize how ‘white’ and exclusive the feminist movement was. I think that’s what the blog post is getting at – That doula care is a bit more ‘white’ than it should be and should include an equal representation of all people. Interesting insight and again, I didn’t even realize. Thanks for making me aware. Racism sucks.