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Tuesday
Oct282014

My Response to the Slate Article, "My Year as an Abortion Doula"

By Vanessa Norton

The week of September 15, Slate, an online current affairs magazine, reprinted an article, “My Year as an Abortion Doula,” by Alex Ronan, an abortion doula volunteer with the Doula Project in NYC. Several folks forwarded it to me, but I only skimmed it because I was unexpectedly pregnant myself and in the midst of considering my own upcoming abortion (which was fabulous). Now that enough time has passed to really think about the article, I have to say that I found much of it sensationalized and misrepresented abortion doula work and abortion in general.

Here's why this article troubled me, in a nutshell:

The article begins with a second-trimester abortion concluding in an emergency hysterectomy. This is dramatic on a TV-level because it is an outlier. As the lady who did my ultrasound at SFGH's Women's Options Center commented, “you can work in a clinic 30 years and never see anything close to that.”

I understand a writer's desire to tell her most intense stories, but as a writer and abortion doula myself, I look at the mythology surrounding abortion and ask myself if opening up with a bloody emergency hysterectomy will do anyone any good. The alleged danger of abortion is inaccurate, yet abundant, in both cultural mythology and legislation. For example, in Texas, the “reason” given for the TRAP laws (which, among other things, require abortion providers have admitting priviledges to local hospitals, and have shut down dozens of clinics across the US) is that it is “safer” for those getting abortions. 

Secondly, at several points in the article, Ronan's language paints clinic staff negatively, the patients passively, and almost romanticizes fetal remains. The attending doctor "barks commands," a nurse "shoves a bucket," a patient "stares blankly," or even worse, when reconsidering her abortion, doesn't know what she wants. Meanwhile, the fetus "sleeps like me," looks like a "doll arm."   

It isn't that all these things can't be true, but they are well-worn cliches--the stuff that people who haven't worked in abortion or as an abortion doula bring to the discourse. 

The real question is: after a year of abortion doulaing, what can you tell me that the media won't?  

 

What is never touched upon in the article is what I see as the most important piece of this abortion doula work--why do it?

It can be emotionally and physically taxing, it doesn't pay, it's sometimes hard, it's sometimes boring.

So why?

I only know why I do it, but after reading "My Year as an Abortion Doula" several times, I still don't have a sense of why Alex Ronan does it.

I know that doing this work teaches me, every time, that I have no clue what I would do if I found myself in someone else's life. 

I do not have the words to express why this is such a big deal, but it goes something like this: so much of the argumentation around abortion is steeped in the notion that someone other than the person having the abortion knows what it best for that person and that pregnancy. After having two abortions myself, witnessing several abortions, and touching just as many festus--babies--products of conceptions, I have never felt closer to the fact that no matter what choice is made, it is forever for that pregnant person. 

Isn't this enough? Doesn't such responsibility warrant more respect?

My friend/doula who witnessed my abortion said to me, "you can love your baby and also kill it." It was closest to what I felt when I decided to have an abortion. What a relief to hear someone articulate this. (I wish she'd written the article!)

There is a moment in Ronan's article where she recalls a woman who reconsiders getting a second-trimester abortion after her laminaria is inserted. The doctor explains that the baby could be born totally normal, or with developmental delays. The patient nods her head and decides to continue with the abortion, saying, “I wouldn’t want it to be born in pain or anything." Ronan's response is: "I'm struck by how her words don’t make sense, and also do." I feel like Ronan is getting it here. But then she follows with: "...I don’t know what she wants and I don’t know that she does, either." 

Actually, maybe this woman does know what she wants. But when no one else is talking about this--in a real way--publicly--it's not easy to come up with the perfect articulation of what that is. 

If you've read Ronan's article, please comment. We would love to hear your thoughts. 

Tuesday
Oct212014

It’s Not Your fault

This post is written in light of the fact it is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“It’s your fault.”

“You brought this on yourself.”

“If only you’d kept your mouth shut.”

The above are all common words of an abuser. An abuser does not take responsibility for their own actions.

I’m not a psychologist, so I can only guess that if they could or did take such responsibility, they might not be able to live with themselves.

But it’s not your fault.

I’ve heard those words, from parents and a partner. I remember the black pit of despair day after day when someone acted out their anger on me. 

I also know how limited the resources and help can be. A call to a domestic violence shelter, to a stranger who can't offer anything other than words, or to the police, especially if you are in a situation where you are financially dependent on another person, worse yet if you have a dependent child. You don't know how you will survive. You fear the unknown.

I don’t have all of the answers for you, because I didn’t have them for myself either. But please don’t live in silence. Tell your friends, your family, anyone you can trust. Find a way out, give yourself hope. Because it's not your fault. 

 

 

Wednesday
Sep242014

What Do You Do When Everyone Disappears?

The baby is a few weeks old.  For the last few weeks, friends and family have come to visit, meals have been provided.  But the glow has soon worn off, and everyone leaves the new parent or parents alone to tend to their child.

 

There are often things that are forgotten in the afterglow of a healthy baby’s birth.  It seems rare that people ask how mom is, or how their partner is doing.  From personal experience with a difficult birth and recovery, a social worker did come to check on me in the hospital.  She noted that I was coping well.  I was also in a hospital where I was surrounded by people helping me, and also on rather powerful painkillers as well.  Anyone looks ok when they are on enough Vicodin.

 

But at some point, you aren’t at the hospital and people stop coming.  That’s when the real stress and difficulty of parenting begins.  There are rarely people coming by or even calling to check in on you anymore.  Social isolation often sets in.  Depression.  Loss of identity.  That’s just if you stay home and have a way to stay home with the baby.  Otherwise, you are working on little to no sleep and still recovering from the baby and go home to take care of a newborn.  There is no time for you anymore.  

 

There are often cursory mentions of these things in the news media or on blogs: postpartum depression is a serious problem, yes, and yes, the United States should provide better maternity leave. However, nothing new seems to be done but talk.

 

I don’t have any clear suggestions for large government policy here, because there is enough written about that.  In the reproductive justice and birth space, there are things we can do to ameliorate this. Don’t downplay the potential difficulties of a new child, especially if it’s a first one.   Talk seriously about the changes to one’s life and how hard the adjustment will be with expectant parents. Hospitals should avail the opportunity to make centering groups turn into new parents’ groups.  Do not make all of the support just be about breastfeeding the child.  Turn part of that support around for the mother’s well-being instead of just feeding her stats about how breastfeeding and bonding are good for her health.  Remind her that she is still a person and that her needs matter, too.

 

Finally, if you have a friend with a new child, if you really want to be a friend, hang out with them.  Be ok that you guys probably aren’t going out to party anymore, but maybe just sitting at someone’s house for a few hours.  Talk to them about their baby if they want, but remember there’s more, especially to a new mom, than the baby.  Remind her that she is still a person beyond the diapers, the laundry, and the current monotony of life.  Trust me, such a simple thing might be the best thing you can do.


 

Tuesday
Sep092014

Salon Series: Managing HSV and HPV with Nutritional Therapies and Herbal Plant Medicine

Join Jamie Starzyk for an evening of tasty handcrafted herbal tea, nutrition education, and a lesson in herbal medicine making. (See below for bio)

This salon series is open to all who want to learn more about herbal and nutritional treatment to ease and manage the symptoms of all strains of Herpes Simplex Virus and Human Papilloma Virus. We will also discuss the role herbal plant medicine has as an effective supplemental treatment in a clinical setting. Whether you work with people during pregnancy, in a medical setting, or simply want to learn more about caring for yourself and your community, it is never too early or too late to learn how nutritional therapy and diet can be a tool! 

 

Join us for a discussion and workshop!


Date: Thursday, September 18
Time: 7:00 to 9:00pm
Location: Langton Labs
32 Langton St. SF, CA 94103
Just three blocks from Civic Center BART!
As always, light refreshments will be served. 

Cost: Free ($5-$15 suggested donation for BADP, no one will be turned away for lack of funds)
 
Accessibility: The space is wheelchair accessible (but the restroom does not have grab bars). Babes in arms are welcome. Please email salon_fund [at] bayareadoulaproject [dot] org or send us a note on facebook if you have any questions about accessibility.
Wednesday
Sep032014

Meet the Doulas: Megan Messinger

Who are the doulas who volunteer with the Bay Area Doula Project?  They're amazing, diverse people, doing so much great work in the world, it's hard to believe any of them has time to volunteer with us. We've been using this space to introduce you to many of the BADP doulas.  This week, meet Megan Messinger.

Megan Messinger is a fourth-generation native San Franciscan (whose mother crossed the Bay Bridge with great determination to give birth to her in the city!), who recently returned to Berkeley after several years out East. Megan studied English and Women's Studies at Barnard College. After graduating, Megan worked in digital marketing until she figured out that neither "digital" nor "marketing" were her ideal job descriptors. Now, a babysitter by day and post-bacc student by night, Megan is applying to medical school and hopes to bring the amazing energy of BADP and partners with her when she goes. Megan enjoys reading, green tea, and the separation of church and state.