Radical doulas

I’ve been in Italy for the last two weeks, spending time with family and reflecting on the past year. Some of the best moments for me were spent with families in Boston hospitals, being present to birth. The births that I attended were powerful, exciting, emotionally overwhelming, grinding, and joyful, all with a unique velocity of their own. In June I watched one of my oldest, best friends give birth to her daughter, which was something like a slow, expanding tidal wave that bowled us over with this sweet little baby’s birth. She hadn’t been bound to a natural birth, “we’ll see how it goes…”, but it was entirely unaugmented and I was full of pride for a person I still remember as my coltish best friend growing up as she gave herself over to her labor. At another birth this year, I watched as what was intended to be a fully-committed unmedicated birth spiraled out of her control, and the three of us were swept along into some of the darker places where births can go, though ultimately everyone was thrilled with the healthy little boy born via cesarean. I’ve learned that I’m not there to ‘fix’ anything, or to make things ‘right’ or ‘good,’ as much as I want to. I’m there to share the space, to relieve some of the pressure, to comfort, to remind people to breathe, to let them know that they’re not alone, to get them moving, to remind them of their choices, to give them room to cry, to give them permission to question (sometimes we need to be reminded!), to let off steam, to pray for them before, during, and after their births, and just to walk with them through the fire of the experience.

The more I do this work, the more that I understand how valuable it is, and how necessary. Miriam Zoila Perez writes in her new book, The Radical Doula Guide: A Political Primer (which I am jonesing to read):

“Doulas are an intervention to the gap left by our current maternity care system. These gaps aren’t always due to negligence; sometimes they are simply an issue of capacity. Labor and delivery nurses now manage multiple patients at a time. Continuous and uninterrupted support is literally impossible for most nurses, doctors, and even midwives working in hospital settings… The appeal of doula work is that I hope it can interrupt these statistics and politics… Positive experiences, simply feeling validated by another person, can shift things in our minds and hearts such that everything moving forward is different.”

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