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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