Feministing at 10: it seems like everyone you know is a doula

Cover of The Radical Doula Guide, a political primer for full spectrum pregnancy and childbirth support by Miriam Zoila PerezEd. note: In celebration of Feministing’s 10-year anniversary, current and former members of the Feministing crew are offering their reflections on the changes of the last decade. Here is a take on the growth of the doula movement from editor emeritus Miriam Perez. Read the whole series here. And consider giving us a birthday donation to ensure Feministing is around for another 10 years. 

My first ever guest post on Feministing was about being a radical doula, and it predated my Radical Doula blog and almost all of the writing I’ve done. So it makes sense that when the Feministing crew asked me to reflect on the past decade, I would choose the doula movement.

I wrote that post in 2007, but 2004, when Feministing was in its infancy, was also when I was just beginning my journey toward doula work. I was a college student and I learned about the critiques of our maternity care system in a college course through the documentary Born in the USA. It was one of those rare moments when you know so clearly that something just changed your life forever. That’s how I felt walking out of that class, and how much of a fire the politics of pregnancy and birth lit in me.

I’ve explored a lot of different paths through this passion, from doula and midwifery work, to journalism and reporting on related topics, to non-profit organizing, advocacy and communications in the reproductive justice field. I even published a book for doulas last year. It’s been a decade with lots of experimentation and exploration. Alongside those explorations I’ve seen the doula movement flourish and grow. Ten years ago if you asked a room full of people if they knew what a doula was, maybe one or two people would raise their hands. More and more when I ask that question most of the people in the room do. And sometimes it really does feel like everyone you know is a doula.

We obviously have Ricci Lake to thank for that, at least in part. Also the rising awareness of c-section rates, maternal and fetal mortality, and growing dissatisfaction with maternity care options in general. But the growth in the doula movement that has impressed me most has been the full-spectrum doula movement, basically an entirely new concept born and blossoming in just the last seven years. It’s a concept and a role that I think is pretty amazing for a few reasons; full-spectrum doulas provide support across the spectrum of pregnancy–from birth to abortion, miscarriage to adoption — it’s a doula for every phase of our reproductive lives. There are now a significant number (upwards of 15) of groups in the US dedicated to this kind of doula work, and countless numbers of people become doulas all the time with a commitment to providing full-spectrum support.

I love the concept of full-spectrum doulas because it’s radical in its simplicity. Why shouldn’t we support people regardless of the outcome of their pregnancy? Why does a person choosing to give birth and parent deserve the support of a doula more than one choosing adoption, experiencing miscarriage, or choosing abortion? While the skills that a doula uses vary based on procedure and setting, the core of the philosophy remains the same: non-judgmental and unconditional support for pregnant and parenting folks. I also love it because in today’s political climate, it’s a radical act to provide non-judgmental support. I’ve seen how that kind of support can really make a difference to someone, particularly in today’s world where we are constantly being told who we should be and how we should act.

I’m excited to see where the movement goes next, and can only hope that the values of radical and full-spectrum doulas start to seep into our culture outside of birthing rooms–we could all use a little more support, affirmation and comfort in our lives.

Miriam Zoila Perez is a writer, speaker and consultant focused on race, health and gender. She’s a former editor at Feministing.com and the author of The Radical Doula Guide: A Political Primer for Full-Spectrum Pregnancy and Birth Support. Find her @miriamzperez and miriamzperez.com.

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