On being a radical doula


One more guest post from a NAPW panelist! Miriam Zoila Pérez is an Advocacy Associate at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.
For those of you who didn’t have the privilege of attending the recent National Advocates for Pregnant Women’s Summit, you missed out on an amazing and rather unique moment in the history of the women’s rights movement. I was lucky enough to be able to participate in a panel presentation about immigrant women’s experiences with pregnancy and childbirth, along with four other fantastic women. But rather than getting into the issues I discussed in my presentation, I want to talk about why this conference was so important—and unique for the women’s rights movement.
During the pre-conference training organized by Be Present, Inc, I stood up and introduced myself as a radical doula. This was a designation that I came to assume for myself through an understanding that my beliefs (which seemed to me completely logical and altogether natural) placed me apart from a large part of what I have come to call the “birth activist� community (midwives, doulas and advocates who work toward changing the standards of care for birthing women in the US). This conference highlighted many of the ways my politics are a seeming contradiction: I’m a doula and I’m a pro-choice abortion advocate. I’m a doula and I’m a lesbian. I’m a doula and I may never have children. I’m a doula and I’m Latina. I’m doula and I’m not entirely comfortable with the gender/sex binary.


What was so groundbreaking about this conference was that it brought together two of my worlds, the birth activists (midwives, doulas, academics) and the pro-choice activists (policy people, advocates, organizers). I can see now how these two groups, the former of which dedicates its time to supporting women as they bring children into the world, and the latter that fights for women’s rights to not bring children into the world, don’t necessarily go together. The irony is that I never understood the contradictions that exist between the them until Lynn Paltrow pointed it out to me—precisely because the two are really good about not mentioning the others issues. The midwifery conferences I have been to in the past never mentioned the issue of abortion—allowing me to erroneously assume that they were all pro-choice just like me. Likewise, the pro-choice conferences rarely mentioned the issues that face birthing women—so focused as they are on the rights of women fighting not to birth. So congratulations NAPW, you succeeded in beginning a dialogue between the two movements (as stilted and precarious as it may have been at times)—even just by creating a space where that dialogue was possible.
What this conference made entirely clear to me (and maybe what I already understood from my own dual roles) is that the activists from these two camps need to be in the same room, if not simply because the people whom we are fighting are one and the same. The people who want to take away women’s rights to abortion, contraception, and comprehensive sex education are the same ones who aren’t afraid to forcibly subject women to c-sections, limit the scope of women’s choices about how they birth or place the rights of an unborn fetus above the rights of a woman. So let’s keep the conversation going, and focus on how we can protect women’s choices throughout all the phases of their lives.

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14 Comments

  1. Posted February 20, 2007 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    I was shocked when I joined the midwifery community, and found that so many of them were anti-choice, even to the point of being against many types of birth control. I was even more shocked when I had another midwifery student tell me that she couldn’t believe anyone who was pro-choice would go into midwifery.
    I think it is an issue of advocacy. Also, it is an issue of promoting the best possible relationship of the person with her own fertility. That may include abortion, birth control, unwanted pregnancy, wanted pregnancy, unwanted infertility, and a whole gamut of other permutations I haven’t listed. I think ideal doulas and midwives will help all persons (regardless of gender) have the best experience they can with their reproductive possibilities.

  2. jane
    Posted February 20, 2007 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I disagree. Take John Edwards, for example. Strong pro-choice advocate, but doesn’t favor tort reform. And the high cost of malpractice insurance is responsible for the rise in C-sections.

  3. reba
    Posted February 20, 2007 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    As a future OB/gyn (starting residency this summer) who currently plans to practice as an obsterician and is fiercely pro-choice, I’ve encountered the same type of bias. I’ve been struck by how rare it is to find a doc who practices both OB and terminations; it seems many find a conflict in providing both. Here’s hoping I don’t, at some point, feel like I have to make that kind of choice…

  4. dhsredhead
    Posted February 20, 2007 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    Reba I think its awesome that you training as an OB and that your pro-choice…I hope you do decide to learn how to perform abortions, because more and more OB students are choosing not to.
    It’s awesome to know that the pro-choicers and the midwifes are joining forces. As someone who is pro-choice and just had a child, I know both sides face similar issues.

  5. Mina
    Posted February 20, 2007 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    “I was shocked when I joined the midwifery community, and found that so many of them were anti-choice, even to the point of being against many types of birth control.”
    Now I’m wondering how many of them like midwifery because they believe in having a range of choices including childbirth at home and how many of them like midwifery because they dislike modern medicine including childbirth in hopsitals and effective contraception…

  6. Posted February 20, 2007 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    “And the high cost of malpractice insurance is responsible for the rise in C-sections.”
    Well that’s only part of the reason; see women as inherently broken and as in a less powerful relationship with a mostly male medical community has a lot to do w/ it too; births moved into hospitals long before malpractice costs took off.

  7. maggie
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    mad props miriam!

  8. rachelthedoula
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    yay radical doula! i’m also a doula and being bisexual, single, childless, pro-choice, i too feel disconnected from the predominantly hetero, married, breeding, and often conservative doula community. i was surprised to learn that many in my local doula community are anti-choice when it comes to terminating or keeping a pregnancy while on the other hand they support choice for fertility, and place and process of birth. we talk a lot in doula work about protecting the fourth stage of birth, creating a gentle atmosphere for the baby etc. we also talk a lot about the aware baby, that even before birth baby recognizes parents’ voices etc… it seems a slippery slope for some in the birth movement from acknowledging a full or near term baby’s consciousness to assuming a 1st trimester fetus is also a fully formed human.
    you are right – we absolutely need to see that threats to women’s choices in reproduction and in birth are coming from the same places. thank you for making that connection for those of us with our feet in contradictory communities!!

  9. Doulababe
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    Hi there! Delurking to just say that it’s wonderful to hear about all these wonderful birth professionals who are also radical. I have trouble understanding how someone who is all about freedom to birth isn’t REALLY all about freedom to birth…but then again, I don’t understand war, either. It’s just awesome to hear about people who are. Someone should start a community of prochoice birth advocates!

  10. sarahday
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    I am also glad to read this; I’m 27 weeks pregnant with my first kid and while I have been interested in finding a doula, I am a broke-ass student and I am also afraid I won’t be able to find one I can like/trust. And I think it’s because the resources I’ve been perusing are all pro-childbirth in a creepy sort of way; like, more pro-childbirth than pro-woman. I am not a magical-goddess-woman type person, I just want to be able to make my own decisions related to this birth without pushy doctors and their “instruments” lurking over me. At the same time, I don’t want some strange birth assistant spouting pseudo-spiritual woman magic crap all over me. I just want a cool-headed, assertive helper to give me good advice and firm support, and help ease the burden on my partner while I’m in labor. The whole point, to me, is than women in labor are not wounded animals pushing out spiritually pure beings, but rather we are reasonable, competent individuals going through a natural process that requires preparation and accurate info. Anyway – sorry to rant, but I am glad to hear about radical doulas existing.

  11. Jenny G.
    Posted February 24, 2007 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    thank you for doing what you do and being who you are! keep it up.

  12. Mina
    Posted February 24, 2007 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    Sarahday, by any chance do you live near more than one hospital with a maternity ward?
    I heard that when more than one maternity ward is in the same city sometimes they offer more options in order to compete with each other and that one of these options is kinda like home birth except the woman’s in what looks like a hotel room instead of her own home or an antiseptic-looking hospital room, the instruments are down the hall (in case of emergency) instead of in the room or a long ambulance ride away, and pain medication is optional. If that’s actually true (is it? anyone know?) then it might be another option instead of lurking doctors or faith healers.

  13. Posted March 1, 2007 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    In case you all are interested–I started a blog to further discuss these issues. Thanks for all the positive feedback!
    http://radicaldoula.wordpress.com/

  14. GamesOnline
    Posted November 8, 2009 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I disagree. Take John Edwards, for example. Strong pro-choice advocate, but doesn’t favor tort reform. And the high cost of malpractice insurance is responsible for the rise in C-sections.free online games

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