So what is a Radical Doula anyway?

Earlier today I looked over the language that had been on my Radical Doula??? page since 2009. I’m embarrassed that it took me so long to update it, but it was a good opportunity to revisit my definition of the term and how it’s changed over all these years blogging and working as a doula.

What’s there now is a long missive about this term, how I see it defined, and the context that has shaped my shifts in that regard. You can read the whole thing here, but a snippet to whet your appetite:

One thing that is really important to me is that I do not own the term Radical Doula. I might rent 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 theRadical 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.

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.

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.

As always, I invite you to explain why you identify as a Radical Doula by participating in the Radical Doula Profile series.

Radical Doula Profiles: Caitlin Caulfield

This is a series highlighting folks who identify as Radical Doulas. Are you interested in being part of the series? Go here to provide your responses to the profile questions and I’ll include you!

A photo of radical doula Caitlin Caulfield.

Caitlin was born and raised in Alaska where she grew up among the birch and spruce taiga forest of the Interior. She graduated from Smith College with a degree in Anthropology and Elementary Education in 2008, and since then has worked as a bookseller, a farmer, and a teacher.

Caitlin trained as a doula with Warm Welcome Birth Services in Western Massachusetts in January of 2011 and is now working as a doula while pursuing further studies in midwifery. As a queer femme, Caitlin has a particular interest in working with queer and trans families of all shapes and sizes. She believes that birth is always radical! You can learn more about her doula practice, Malia Kai Birth Services, at http://www.maliakaibirth.com or email her at maliakaibirth@gmail.com.

What inspired you to become a doula?

I have had a passion for birth and women’s health since my brother was born at our home in England when I was three. The midwife who attended his birth would bring child-size replicas of some of her equipment such as slings and thermometers, and I would faithfully follow along on my dolls as she did postpartum checks on my brother. Growing up, my interest in babies expanded as I learned about the importance of women’s health issues around the world and deepened as friends began having children.

I think that everyone giving birth deserves to have physical and emotional support from someone they trust and feel a personal connection with, who can help them articulate their needs and desires and advocate for themselves. Being a doula is phenomenally powerful because it means deeply listening to someone else.

Why do you identify with the term radical doula?

For me, radicalism has a lot to do with intersectionality. By which I mean: recognizing the many, many factors (race, culture, class, ability, age, gender, sexuality, religion, and more) that influence all of our lives, and attempting to keep them all in mind as we work to improve the world (slowly, surely…). It means connecting my birth work to my feminism. It means not talking about birth in the USA without talking about the wide disparity in birth outcomes between white women and women of color. It means approaching birth work from a reproductive justice perspective which equally validates the right to have an abortion, and the right to carry and raise your children (no matter how poor/young/brown/queer you are). And it means working in broader justice movements to create and sustain support networks that make all of this possible.

As a radical doula, I am always trying to make connections between ideas, communities, and people.

What is your favorite thing about being a doula?

The babies! I can’t lie. The babies are my favorite. Watching the transition within minutes from goopy, purple, vernix-covered little beings into small rosy people is incredible.

I also feel so honored to be present for such an intimate moment in a family’s life, and to see the immense love on the faces of friends or family members who are present.

If you could change one thing about birth, what would it be?

Just one thing? I would like all hospitals to start practicing evidence-based care around pregnancy and birth, with a lot fewer unnecessary interventions. And I would like all pregnant people to have easy (early) access to compassionate, quality, culturally appropriate prenatal care.

Radical Doula Profiles: Christy Hall

This is a series highlighting folks who identify as Radical Doulas. Are you interested in being part of the series? Go here to provide your responses to the profile questions and I’ll include you!

It’s very fitting for Christy to be the first Radical Doula profile of 2013. Christy was one of the first doulas I met who was also involved in the reproductive justice movement, and I remember clearly a conversation we had in 2006 about the doula community and the difficulties of finding room for our politics. We even talked for a while about starting a Radical Doula website together, so Christy is very much a part of the origin story of this work. Without further ado, the fabulous Christy Hall.

Christy Hall

Christy Hall has been a birth doula for over a decade. During that time, she has also held various other titles including pregnancy options counselor, abortion counselor, childbirth educator, postpartum doula, student, and mother. In 2001, she was co-founder of The Prison Doula Project, based in Olympia Washington and worked with the group for many years. She now lives in Portland, Oregon with her partner and two daughters where she has a private doula practice and works with Calyx Doulas, a collective that provides full spectrum support. Visit her website for more information.

What inspired you to become a doula?

It was my drive for social and cultural change that brought me into this work. I started off working with teen parents and pregnant people in prison out of my desire to make a positive impact in the lives of oppressed and invisible people. What I learned about pregnancy, birth and the emotional and informational needs of people through this time transformed me. I do doula work now because I truly believe it is my calling. I sincerely feel the importance of carrying the stories of so many people with me and aspire to be a positive force working for personal empowerment and and cultural change.

Why do you identify with the term radical doula?

I love the term Radical Doula because it says so much in two short words. It suggests that we need to break out of the extremely limiting framework that is currently being used to discuss Reproductive Health and Justice AND it explains that my purpose is to play a supportive role in people’s lives as they explore their own truths, and the experiences they seek. I believe humans have had the stories of our lives highjacked and retold to us in terms that do not make us feel powerful or fully expressed. The experience of having a baby is PART of the story of a person’s life and what makes me a radical doula is that I think each person should allow their whole truth to be a part of how they make their choices. That means that abortion and adoption and all matters of reproductive health need to be honored and supported so that we don’t allow this splintering of our selves and our experiences. It is this splintering that has allowed these topics to become so political when truly, they are deeply personal and complex. I am a radical doula because I believe there is no universal truth and that people can and should be trusted to find their path, held up by professionals and loved ones, free from fear, shame and coercion. Under these conditions, the full spectrum of choices become legitimate and the power of the individual to live their own authentic life and tell their own story is restored.

What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?

At the core of my doula philosophy is the belief that people make great choices for themselves when provided with accurate information, and appropriate support. Having a doula at your birth protects the agency of the parent/s to hold themselves at the center of their experience and make choices about their care that feel safe, confident and real. The more people we have recalling their birth stories positively, the easier it will be for future birthers to be free of the fears that so many people currently bring with them into pregnancy. The same is true for abortion and adoption. We need to prevent the harm of the past from having too much control over our perception and our future choices.

What is your favorite thing about being a doula?

I love how each client gives me an opportunity to grow through building the connection that becomes so useful when the “real work” starts. People are fascinating and coming into people’s lives during a time of change is both a privilege and a pleasure. I love to help my clients to decipher concerns and understand the personal and logistical landscape into which they are embarking. My work is never dull, and I love knowing that I have helped people to have more satisfying and empowering experiences.

Los Angeles Radical Doula Guide Release Party

The Radical Doula Tour continues! In January I’ll be co-hosting parties in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, and plans are in the works for a Washington DC party in February.

I’m excited to co-host the Los Angeles party with the Shodhini Institute and California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, as well as the Doulas Association of Southern California–three fabulous groups dedicated to improving the health and wellness of our communities.

Details:

Sunday January 6
4pm-7pm
Feminist Majority Foundation
433 S. Beverly Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

There will be guides for sale, a raffle benefiting the Shodhini Institute, a live DJ and much more. Should be a great time, hope to see you there!

Facebook event here.

The Bay Area party will be January 10th–details coming soon.

Radical Doula Profiles: Ynanna Djehuty

This is a series highlighting folks who identify as Radical Doulas. Are you interested in being part of the series? Go here to provide your responses to the profile questions and I’ll include you!

Ynanna DjehutyYnanna Djehuty is an Afro-Dominican woman born and raised in the Bronx. She is a writer and certified birth doula. She is a member of the International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC), and a sister of Mu Sigma Upsilon Sorority, Inc. The focus of her work is the empowerment of women and people of the African Diaspora, specifically discussing the Afro-Latina Identity. She utilizes her experience as a birth doula to raise awareness on maternal and infant health for women, highlighting the disparities in the healthcare system in the United States for women of color. She is studying to become a midwife to continue to advocate for women and their overall well-being. Contact her at ynanna@thesewatersrundeep.com.

What inspired you to become a doula?

I was inspired to be a doula after I began to learn more about my reproductive health. My interest grew into maternal and infant health, and I decided to explore a profession helping women. I wanted to provide my therapeutic healing skills to women at a time they need it most.
Why do you identify with the term radical doula?
When I look at the world “radical”, I think of the Latin word it is derived from, radix meaning “root”. In my work as a doula and writer, I am interested in helping those around me set down strong and healthy roots while examining what historical precedence has led to our modern day society. I identify as a radical doula because of my passion to return back to the foundation of traditional and earth medicine to heal my self and women.

What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?

Birth is a natural part of life. It is a very important moment for a woman and her family. In a matter of moments, a new being is brought into the world and a mother is born. I believe in natural birth. I have my own personal views that I only share with the women I serve, but to put it briefly, I am against unnecessary interventions. I believe in compassionate use of epidurals but encourage women to trust and work with the pain. I believe that if the mother and child are truly in danger, a medical team should absolutely do everything they can to ensure a safe delivery. I am against unnecessary Cesarean sections and believe they should occur in emergency situations, as there are more risks involved that the mother only finds out after the fact.

With all that said, my opinions do not matter when it comes to caring for the woman. I honor and respect all the mother’s views and decisions – it’s not about me, it’s all about her. I believe in working as a team with the mother and partner/family so that they are her familiar face and I am the objective, nurturing and continuous non-medical support in the room. My focus prenatally is asking the mother questions about her mental and emotional state of being. True preparation for birth is moreso understanding a woman’s fears, concerns, hopes and dreams than whether or not she knows all the medical parts of what is going on. I believe the mother should be as informed as possible about the medical and physiological part of birth, but also have witnessed all that information and all that she learned in classes fly right out the window when the most important thing becomes focusing on delivering a child and getting in tune with herself, managing her contractions and breathing.

This level of respect carries over into all my work, where I recognize the disenfranchisement of marginalized groups such as women, Afro-descendants and impoverish people. Basic human rights, access to information and self-determination is often obstructed by de jure (by law) and de facto (by fact) discrimination. Oppression such as this for generations has an impact on the holistic health of our communities, and thus respecting the humanity of people, their right to choose and determine their life outcomes is the platform of all my political beliefs. Furthermore, as it relates to women and within that, marginalized women, having sovereignty over their lives is a radical and revolutionary act in a world that seeks to silence us.

What is your favorite thing about being a doula?

I love being able to share such an important moment in the life of a family. It is a life affirming charge that fills me with hope every time I assist a women in empowering herself.

If you could change one thing about birth, what would it be?

My biggest gripe with the state of birthing is the overmedicalization of it. I would love to reduce the amount of medical interventions that occur to just necessary and emergency situations.

Radical Doula Profiles: Poonam Dreyfus-Pai

This is a series highlighting folks who identify as Radical Doulas. Are you interested in being part of the series? Go here to provide your responses to the profile questions and I’ll include you!

I’m really excited about this week’s Radical Doula, because I had the pleasure of working with Poonam when she was part of the leadership circle of the NYC-based Doula Project. Poonam is an incredibly warm person, an fabulous doula, and a dedicated social justice leader.

Photo of Poonam smiling

Poonam Dreyfus-Pai is a researcher, advocate, and full-spectrum doula. She is the co-director of the Bay Area Doula Project, and came to the organization after volunteering for 2 years as an abortion doula with its sister NYC-based organization, The Doula Project. She is currently a graduate student in the concurrent MPH/MSW program at UC Berkeley, with concentrations in Maternal and Child Health, and Management and Planning of Social Welfare Services. Since February 2012, she has been an intern in the Sea Change program at ANSIRH (of UCSF’s Bixby Center), where she researches women’s disclosures of pregnancy experiences and abortion stigma. Poonam is grateful to be a part of the Bay Area’s vast network of organizations dedicated to reproductive justice. She works to cultivate a social environment that is supportive of all people’s sexual health choices and experiences, and is honored to continue her work as a full-spectrum doula with the BADP. Check out the BADP here.

What inspired you to become a doula?

I didn’t known anything about doulas until I came across The Doula Project (then The Abortion Doula Project) in late 2008. When I learned about the support that doulas offer in birth, it seemed obvious and natural to extend that compassionate, continuous presence to people having abortions. I was excited about the possibility of being that supportive presence, and of bearing witness to people’s strength and wisdom during their abortion experiences. Joining The Doula Project in 2009 opened me up to the amazing world of full-spectrum doulas, and remains one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Why do you identify with the term radical doula?

“Radical” work, to me, means work that is built around justice and inclusivity. I think of radical doulas as working to expand the system, to help all people have empowered and supported pregnancy experiences, regardless of pregnancy outcome, individual income, immigrant status, incarceration status, language capacity, gender, etc — the list is endless. My work as a full-spectrum doula feels radical and transformative because in each individual act as a doula, I am helping people understand that they deserve to be met with compassion, and to receive the highest quality of care, regardless of where they land on the spectrum of pregnancy. We are not only bearing witness to people’s pregnancy experiences; we are learning from their stories. We are creating changes in how people think of these experiences and how they see themselves as empowered agents within them.

What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?

What I find so incredible about full-spectrum work is its potential to break down stigma. Stigma and silence exist across all pregnancy experiences, and there are so many niche services that exist out there to provide support: for people choosing adoption, people who have miscarried or experienced fetal loss, people who’ve experience adverse birth experiences, and people who have had abortions. The work that these organizations do on a regular basis is amazing and vital, but I would love to see this care taken one step further. If we can recognize that a person may experience many different pregnancy outcomes throughout one lifetime, then why should these services be separated or different from one another? Why can’t people expect the same quality of care from the same support providers each time they experience a pregnancy? When we treat these experiences as though they are not related or relevant to one another, we (consciously or not) create hierarchies, signifying that some experiences are more important and/or more deserving of support than others. Full-spectrum doulas work to eliminate the silos that exist around these experiences, and bring them together under one umbrella. I see this work as vital to changing our reproductive health culture, and want it to be replicated, not just through the ever-expanding network of full-spectrum organizations (whoo hoo!), but among all health care providers.

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