Thoughts from an Activist Doula in Training

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

I've always talked about wanting to get more involved with healing work - psychological, physical, and spiritual. These past few months, I've been diving in.

I am naturally drawn to characters who make it their focus to care for others and provide resources. They create change in ways that aren't as visible as putting a banner in the air, and are often too busy to write about their work in Tweets and comment sections. But even if the healing work is labeled as stereotypically feminine (think "soft" and "maternal"), there can be no doubt that the spaces I've entered are kicking major ass in their approach to patriarchal and racialized systems.

The most openly radical space I'm in is doula training - in short: a birth companion who doesn't provide medical attention, but provides emotional care and information (click the link for more!). Reproductive healthcare work in general is awash in politics: whether you are an obstetrician, a midwife, a doula, an abortion provider, or a parent, there's always someone telling you what you should be doing and how. And the norms stated by the media are perpetuated in what resources are funneled dollars. Greater research on the effects of medical intervention? Nah, the medical system is great as it is. Resulting fear around birth? Discredit the midwives, or make it harder for them to get certified training. Try to have support people present? No, they're just getting in the way. And of course: gender roles, gender roles, gender roles.

The focus of a doula is to listen first and provide resources rather than imposing a particular view on the person they are caring for. Funny how that simple act can be revolutionary. But half of our training has been to learn about where we fit into (and sometimes challenge) a medical system that doesn't want us in it. And that can mean everything from providing low- or no-cost services to folks that are uninsured, undocumented, or just have financial hardship. Or that can mean not passing judgment on a pregnant teen or assuming the gender identity of a person asking for services. Or simpler even than that: in our healthcare system today, just having a consistent support behind your choices in birth, labor, abortion/termination, adoption, etc. is radical. And that's something I'm very very drawn to. (Check out Radical Doula for more info on folks that work at this intersection.)

It gives me hope to see how many people are on call literally round the clock to do this work. In their ideal world and mine, mothering is not "soft" or "women's work" with all of its connotations. Mothering can be a form of radical resistance that is not limited by gender and subverts mainstream expectations around care providers. We are part of an ongoing movement, and I am glad to be swept up in its flow.

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