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.
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