When the role of the doula was created in the ‘70s, it was designed as a way to support people through childbirth. When I became a trained doula in childbirth, it was clear to me and other doulas that we should also be able to help people with miscarriages and abortions. This work led to many other opportunities. The Doula ProjectA whole new generation of full-spectrum doulas was born.
It was practical work in many aspects. People were often left alone due to policies in hospitals and clinics that provided abortion services. We could be hand-holding and support persons as official volunteers for the hospital or clinic. We could be there to help them get through the pain and then spend time with them while they recover.
It was also political work. Many birth activist circles were uncomfortable with a prochoice doula. There were many conservative Christian midwives and doulas who didn’t think doulas should support people during abortions. The political nature of this work is now even clearer, since the same conservative Christians have been able to remove the right to abortion access nationwide.
After being exposed to the ways that the U.S. has over-medicalized childbirth care and created an environment that is often hostile and risky, I had trained as doula in college. I was pro-choice even before I became doula. I believe it is natural to support people throughout their entire reproductive lives.
My father, a conservative Cuban man, was very passionate about the right to abortion. I don’t even know where my viewpoint came from, but from a really young age I understood that people should be able to choose whether to be pregnant.
My first (and only) pregnancies scare was at 17. It was more anxiety than anything else — my boyfriend and I always used condoms. I knew that nothing is perfect so I searched furiously for information while I waited for my period. My stress only increased because the symptoms of early premenstrual syndrome are very similar to those of premenstrual syndrome.
In the few hours between Googling about my symptoms at the Duke University lab where I had a summer internship and getting the negative pregnancy test at my friend’s house, I knew only one thing: I was not going to have a baby. Growing up in North Carolina in the ’80s and ’90s, accessing an abortion wouldn’t have been an easy thing to make happen, but it wouldn’t have been insurmountable. Even though I’m in the liberal region of the state, if I were 17 years old, my plan would involve hundreds of miles.
I did basic activism in college by taping up flyers in bathrooms that contained statistics about abortion access. I helped lead the college delegation to the 2004 March for Women’s Lives. When I graduated, I went into employment for the organization I had seen on the Washington Mall. I was thrilled to see their Spanish/English signs. I didn’t know there were Latinx groups working in these areas. Now known as the National Latina Institute for Reproductive JusticeThat organization taught me a lot about the political framework. It took me from an intuitive sense of whether everyone should be allowed to choose whether or not they were pregnant to a full-blown analysis of political issues that helped me understand the complicated things that are required for someone to have the right to choose.
Reproductive justice, which was led by Black women and other women from color, helped me to understand the connections between autonomy and pregnancy and my many political concerns. It wasn’t just about abortion. It was about the rights to have a child if you choose, the right and ability to live in a home, the right at clean water, and the right to nutritious food. That framework crystalized my interest in improving people’s birth experiences and also people’s access to abortion, which underpinned my writing and organizing through Radical Doula.
I was part this movement in some way or another until 2017. I was very burned out by that time. The Trump win had flattened me and made me feel a depth of despair I hadn’t really known up until that point. I was writing about race, gender, and sexuality. Colorlines, a role that I loved, but once I had to cover the news in the Trump era, I couldn’t handle more than a year. I couldn’t get up every morning and search the headlines for the latest setback to cover. I made a huge step back from political writing, and from the reproductive justice movement work.
It is demoralizing to be part of a losing movement. This is one of the most devastating losses I have ever experienced in my life. We knew it was coming for weeks and years, but I was still stunned when I read the official news. Roe being overturned. I was thrown to the ground.
To understand the current attack on abortion rights, we need to understand that the right-wing attack on abortion is connected to the right-wing push against pandemic precautions, the advance of gun rights, the lack of access to health care, housing and clean water — it’s all connected. This isn’t the first major blow to our communities in this far right era, and it definitely won’t be the last.
I’m not personally impacted by this decision. I came out as queer in college, and have rarely had sex that could lead into pregnancy. I’m in a phase of my life where more of my peers are trying to get pregnant than trying to prevent it. I live in Washington, D.C., where it is unlikely that abortion will ever be banned (although Congress has the power of meddling). But I’ve always known that this work was about way more than my individual situation.
In many ways, this moment is a backlash against the fact we elected Barack Obama to lead our country in 2008. While he wasn’t a progressive politician at all, the election of the first Black president was a significant milestone in a country that was founded on slaved African people and the genocide against Indigenous communities. Seeing the current activation of the far right as part of a cultural response to Obama’s election is not a hard leap to make considering that the anti-abortion stance of the religious right actually resulted from a desire to protect segregated schools. According to Politico, the religious right didn’t decide to take up abortion as a major political issue until 1979, when they needed a more palatable issue than segregation with which to campaign against President Jimmy Carter’s second term.
I think this is the point in this essay where I’m supposed to come up with some inspiring argument about how the arc of history bends towards justice. But the honest truth is I don’t have a lot of hope to offer right now. Since Trump’s election, I have tried to cultivate optimism. It is not a big political practice, but it helps me get through each day without fear. It’s not easy to be hopeful in times like the current.
Volunteering as an abortion doula was one of my favorite things. I could see how even a few hours could make a difference. I did very little. I was there. I was only there to help them. I had no agenda. I learned more about the patients’ stories and was often able to express my gratitude for being there. It’s work that many more people are now engaged in, with groups around the countryWe are working to provide this type of full-spectrum support.
It’s so overwhelming when we learn again and again that large political institutions are not on our side, that they are not designed to protect us or support us, and that a document written two hundred years ago by white slave owners is a good foundation for our human rights – it’s not. I try to remember the power of small acts or kindness when I feel helpless. We will do the same thing we have always done in order to survive. We are open to each other. We build and strengthen networks. mutual aid and care. We share with one another. We share our knowledge and create communities and families that can buffer against the effects of the next disaster.