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September Salon Series Summary: An Evening with Abortion Care Provider Dr. Shelley Sella

By: Lauren MacDonald

The snapshot of our last Salon Series: a living room full of learners looking up to and engaged with Dr. Shelley Sella’s humble and thorough accounts of her journey working with people in need of reproductive health services, specifically abortion.

Dr. Sella is an honored, awaited guest speaker to the Salon Series. She is one of the four late term abortion care providers working today in the United States.  She works at Southwestern Women’s Options Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, offering first, second and third trimester abortions.

Dr. Sella reports she has been interested in abortion work since even before her medical school journey began. After school and several years of practice as an OBGYN she went to work alongside Dr. Tiller in 2009. She was featured in, After Tiller, a documentary that follows the four remaining late term abortion providers in the United States.

The first question that she offered to explore with us was “Why does someone wait so long to have an abortion?” When answering that question, she differentiated between patients with fetal indications, those who are ending the pregnancy because there is something very wrong with their baby, and patients with maternal indications, those ending the pregnancy to preserve their own life and health.

Dr. Sella painted a realistic view of a clinic day in which three third trimester abortion patients were laboring.  One was an 18 year old victim of date rape, another, a 23 year old mother of three in an abusive relationship who left after being hit in the abdomen, and finally, a 12 year old victim of incest.

The outpatient center where Dr. Sella works serves an international cohort of people seeking reproductive health services including first, second and third trimester abortions. The stand out description of the services provided was the incorporation of counseling and supportive services with medical services.

Dr. Sella briefly described what an abortion looks like clinically, for each trimester. She emphasized the well roundedness of their program. She explained that counseling happens with a person during their first intake. The first visit with the doctor is always with the patient clothed. There is low lighting, calm music, continuity of care with counselor from intake to post procedure, a small staff and quiet interactions between staff, pain management support, and peer support groups.

With the hard and complex work that she does we inquired how Dr. Sella takes care of herself. She reports that the clinic staff is so supportive and they incorporate processing of cases into their weekly meetings. She also gave gratitude to her international abortion care community and providers as well as her home and personal friends and family including her wife, Julie who joined us at the salon.

Thank you Dr. Sella for the information you shared with us and the wisdom you imparted about your journey and the work you are doing.


My experience with a BADP doula

This blog post is written by a guest author, Teresa. 

Hi! My name's Teresa, I had an at-home (or in my case, in-hotel room) medical abortion in July with the help of BADP doula Christine. My experience was wonderful and I've been meaning to send in a testimonial of sorts since then. I've been kinda furiously memoing to myself since then about the emotions that came up for me, plus all the surrounding political influences around abortion. All my thoughts go back to feeling uber grateful I had the opportunity to meet Christine and share such an intimate experience with her.

My thoughts:
I found out I was pregnant when I was in Austria, daunted by the glaring "schwanger" confirmation on the two German-language pregnancy tests I took. I felt unnerved, though still in control of my experience. I had comprehensive medical insurance to cover costs and I calculated that I was at about 5 weeks, thus would have adequate time to procure a medical abortion upon my arrival home in the States. I knew immediately that I would request a doula from BADP, and I began picturing what I thought was the ideal abortion environment and experience. I wanted to be outside in nature as I began bleeding, and feel one with all womb-carrying people that had procured abortions before me! Although I had lofty goals of having the most idyllic and spiritually attuned abortion experience possible, I knew the most important element would be my accompaniment.

When I finally procured the Mifepristone and Misoprostol prescriptions, I wasn't apprehensive about my abortion, merely looking forward to no longer being pregnant. Even so, I had begun feeling the hormonal rumblings of my changing, 7-week pregnant body, and I felt as if I was at a crossroads. I ended up having my abortion experience in a hotel room, as my living situation would not have been a hospitable environment. Christine was an angelic presence. She brought snacks, which immediately endeared her to my heart. I was overwhelmed by a great deal of pain for the hours preceding the placental expulsion, and Christine always knew exactly what to say and do to comfort me. She massaged my arms and lower back, reminded me to vocalize and take deep, regular breaths, helped me move around, and engaged in pleasant conversation in between the cramp surges. I had wanted to journal and hold some kind of ceremonial space during my abortion, but it turned out that I was too focused on the physical sensations to think about anything else. And it was Christine who held space for me and encouraged me to step into my strength. My medical provider had given me prescription pain medication but had offered nothing in the way of emotional support. Having a professional, supportive presence to accompany me was infinitely more useful than hydrocodone.

Christine both supported my choice and understood the physical aspects of having an abortion; this intimate support was an incredible blessing. I believe all pregnant people should have access to doulas, regardless of what the outcome of their pregnancy is. My experience with Christine only corroborated this belief, and I extend the deepest, most heartfelt gratitude to both Christine and all of BADP.



By Vanessa Norton

Recently, I was having dinner with a friend I've known since we were eight. Her name is Jenn. She brought up an interesting question: does the coat hanger still hold power as a chilling symbol of pre-Roe v. Wade? Now that there are other methods of "back alley" abortions, what symbolic power do these hold? 

Jenn and I are 40. Our mothers' generation, and the feminists who influenced us as girls, lived their most fertile years pre-Roe. As teenagers in the early 1990s, Jenn and I felt very close to that history.     

During our senior year of high school, the anti-abortion terrorist organization, Operation Rescue, invaded our home city of Buffalo, NY with the intenion of closing down our clinics. Jenn and I drove her parents' car every morning at 4am to defend the clinics (a couple of which were conveniently located just blocks from our downtown high school!) The coat hanger was ubiquitous as an image on placards or struck high in the air. I remember feeling something deep and fearful whenever I saw one. 

The OR people used their typically grusome posters of fetal body parts. So, Jenn made a sign of a woman who bled to death in a motel room, an image she copied from a black and white photo in Our Bodies, Ourselves. 

Today, if a person wants to terminate a pregnancy and can not access abortion, she may try some of the same methods women utilized pre-Roe: herbs, vitamin C, parseley, and the like. But if her pregnancy is later than 6 weeks, those are not likely to work. She may be able to access Misoprostol and Mifepritone online (, or in some countries, at a pharmacy. These non-descript white little pills work the majority of the time if a pregnancy is 9 weeks or less. But that still leaves later-term pregnancies, which get more expensive and dangerous to abort.  

What symbolic power could packets of pills carry, especially compared with coat hangers?

Does the movement to defend and expand access to legal abortion need symbols?  


Supporting an Adoption Birth

By Vanessa Norton

In October, I had the opportunity to support a woman planning to adopted her baby out. This was the first and only time I'd doulaed an adoption birth. I knew there was a basic contradiction in what I felt should happen with Mama and Baby the first days after birth, and adoption. I would have to handle my feelings right. This was part of what appealed to me.  

The birth mother is an extraordinary person. As she told me the story of her pregnancy, including her own birth family preassuring her to move back "home" and raise her baby in their community, I thought she was going to tell me she'd changed her mind. Instead, she told me that she'd come over 1000 miles to San Francisco with dreams of a different life. She didn't do this so she could end up with the exact life she had worked so hard to leave. I admired her intelligence and will immensely.

We spoke so frankly about our intimate lives, I felt that we were meant to come together like this. I told her this at the meeting.

The adoption was open, meaning that Mama's information would be shared with Baby, Mama chose the couple herself, they had met many times, gone out to dinner, and Mama would see Baby at least a few times a year. These are the basics, I'm sure there is a lot more to it.

The adoptive Dads attended the second prenatal meeting. They wanted to be involved in the birth as much as possible. I had my hesitations about so many people attending the birth, because I didn't want Mama's experience and feelings to be overwhelmed by the setting. It would be: me, Mama's boyfriend, plus the two adoptive dads. I felt I stated this, but it was the Mama's birth, and so everyone would be there. 

The day of the birth, I arrived at Mama's apartment and rubbed her back and gave her counter sacral pressure through some of her labor. Later, the Dads drove Mama and her boyfriend to the hospital (as they'd really wanted to) and the next day, baby was born. I felt very aware of the way the Dads would tell Baby his birth story, later in life. I imagined them telling him, "then we drove your Mom to the hospital..."

During the pushing stage, the Dads supported Mama's legs and I stayed by her face, giving her sniffs of orange oil and spoonfuls of honey and the usual water. 

Mama had told me initially that they were not avoiding bonding. She planned to pump breastmilk for three months, if all went well. I so admired her strength in doing this. She held Baby and nursed him at the hospital. After she returned home without him, things were tough. The little I heard from her and her boyfriend was excrutiating. Yet, if it weren't excrutiating, there might be something worse happening. Extreme sadness was a healthy response (albeit there are many "healthy" responses) to such profound loss.

Part of me is not crazy about adoption, about taking a baby who is biologically connected to his mother and interrupting that early bonding, especially under the cluelessly bright lights of a hospital setting. But I know in some situations it is probably the right thing, and as always, it is Mama's choice. It can and did also show human beings at their most loving and supportive, too. Everyone was trying their best to make Mama and Baby feel supported and loved through this experience.

I know women who adopted out their babies in the 1960s and their stories are a stark contrast to this one.

But I was only a supportive witness. I really don't know how any of this feels to her.    




By Holly Carpenter

I never really fully understood “Put your money where your mouth is” until today. A little background -- two months ago, I graduated from a masters program and passed my board exam to become a certified nurse midwife. Soon after, I accepted a full time job at a hospital in Anchorage, Alaska. The job is full time, but doesn’t involve any gynecology - just prenatal, labor and birth care. So I applied to Planned Parenthood as well to work per diem as a gyn provider: birth control, STI treatment, abortion care, etc. All the services that round out a full spectrum midwife.

I had my interview this morning, felt pretty good about it, and set off to buy a celebratory mattress. Understandably, you might be confused by the term “celebratory mattress”. Let me explain. For the past decade or so, I have had series of comically horrible mattresses: one made of cardboard in my college dorm, another that I found while dumpster diving in Colorado, a series of mattresses that were passed down from the former renter of whatever room I happened to be living in, a real winner that I found in the basement of a hipster commune in Haight-Ashbury, and for a while, a sleeping pad while I lived in a tent. I have gotten fleas from a mattress in Ecuador, and bed bugs from the mattress of a former boyfriend. You get the picture.

This montage of truly disgusting sleeping arrangements was not by choice. Between graduating from college at the exact moment the economy went into a deep, dark recession, lots of low wage/volunteer jobs, and graduate school, I haven’t had an extra cent to buy a decent mattress. So this was a celebration of financial solvency, an affirmation that I could finally afford to sleep comfortably.

I set off on my afternoon of mattress hunting. With Milky Chance blasting the base in my car and a hot chai revving up my energy, I went into store after store, trying out all sorts of mattresses, chatting with sales people (usually dudes), and listening with increasing bewilderment as they described “surrounded inner coils” and “memory gel foam contour European splendor sleep”. What? Finally, I found The One. It was reasonably priced, extra firm, did NOT feel like it came from a dumpster, and included free delivery.

The salesman and I worked it out after a wee bit of bargaining back and forth, and a lot of flirting from him. He started with “you couldn’t be 29! You look like you’re 20!” and continued by asking where I went to grad school “San Francisco! All the people there are so… gay!” and gradually devolved to telling me that “women like it when you hit on them at the bar - how else do they feel pretty?” and “you didn’t TURN gay down there, did you?” I tried to keep my cool, explaining that people don’t “turn gay” and that women can feel confidently sexy without affirmation from hicks in bars.

However, the ignorance continued to spew. Desperate to leave, I handed over my credit card and told him I needed to get going. As I did so, I noticed a baby bottle full of coins on the counter. Ever the nosy midwife, I stepped over to read the label on the bottle, expecting a fund for a local kid with cancer, or a store employee announcing a pregnancy. Nope. It was a donation site for Stanton Healthcare, a pregnancy crisis center (PCC) in Boise that rents the building right next to the local Planned Parenthood, and operates in the usual manner of PCCs - providing medically inaccurate, biased, manipulative “services” to folks who have the misfortune to stumble through their doors.

My breath stopped. I couldn’t. His chatter faded into the background as I realized that this was a decisive moment. I had to put my money where my mouth was. I took a deep breath and declared “I can’t buy a mattress from you. Your blatant homophobia is epically offensive and ridiculous in this day and age. Additionally, I believe strongly in everyone’s right to determine their reproductive choices and have unbiased access to continue a pregnancy, put a child up for adoption, or get an abortion. Stanton Healthcare represents everything that is contrary to my convictions, and I can’t support a store that supports them.”

Or, that’s what I wish I’d said. It was more of a blushing bright red and squeakily apologizing several times for having “...wasted his time but I really couldn’t buy a mattress from him because the bottle was against my beliefs and being homophobic was really lame, and, and…” type of situation as I backed out of the store and fled to my car.

I was shaking by the time I put on my seatbelt. I felt so rude, and unsure of whether I had just made a huge deal out of nothing. As I sat there, my phone rang. It was Planned Parenthood. I had gotten the job. I let out a huge sigh of relief and let the irony of the situation sink in. It was slightly ridiculous, but for the first time, I felt a kind of power in everyday decision making. I realize how privileged I am to have that kind of choice and power, and I’m grateful. And I’m going to keep using it.

Later that day, I bought a mattress from a woman named Lena, who told me about her childhood with an abusive father and a mother who moved her children every 3-4 months to escape “every time he found them”. She told me she had found a good guy to marry, and they had had two kids, both pregnancies affected by horrible hyperemesis gravidarum (a condition in which women vomit so frequently that they need tons of medication, IV hydration, and are often hospitalized). She said that she had asked for a hysterectomy after the first pregnancy, but had been told by her doctor that she had to have another baby (and be married) before he would perform one. I signed the credit card receipt, gave her a warm smile and a firm handshake, and said with complete honesty “It was such a pleasure doing business with you”.

Holly Carpenter, RN, CNM, is a full-spectrum midwife recently graduated from the University of California, San Francisco. She is a founder and former co-director of the Bay Area Doula Project.