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The First BADP Training - a Volunteer's Thoughts

The First BADP Training

- Sarah W., BADP Doula and Blogger

On the third weekend in November, 2011 the Bay Area Doula Project held its first abortion doula training. The excitement was palpable as the approximately 30 eager volunteers packed into one cozy room to begin the weekend. Our training facilitators included two pioneering abortion doulas from the Doula Project in New York as well as presentations from people already working in doula or abortion fields in the Bay area.

In two days the training managed to cover a lot of ground: what abortion doulas do; details of different relevant surgical procedures, medical situations, and clinical sites; strategies for communicating and connecting with clients who are choosing abortions; practical exercises in both counseling and offering physical support; and more.

Barby, one of the newly trained abortion doulas reflected afterward that,

...the training went above my expectations. We got so much information about abortion-specific concerns and issues that come up for people - I previously hadn't appreciated how many different perspectives and backgrounds people can bring to the procedure. I really appreciated hearing the experiences of the ladies from the New York Doula Project - that was invaluable.

Barby went on to talk about the ways in which some aspects of abortion doula training constitute training for being a better person in relationships beyond the clinical setting:

I think what was most surprising for me was how much I feel I will use the training outside of being an abortion doula - in being a good friend and a competent support person for people in all kinds of difficult situations... I have come to realize that most of the time, people in crisis (or just upset) simply need someone to give them permission to feel the way they feel, someone to bear witness to their experience and validate it. As simple as that is, this has been eye- opening for me and has changed the dynamics in my relationships.

Even with all the topics that were covered that weekend, the BADP leadership circle recognizes that our growth as abortion doulas is an ongoing process and has planned continuing education segments as part of quarterly volunteer meet-ups for the volunteers, the first of which took place this past weekend.

---Thanks to Sarah W. and Barby Z. for their time and effort! 


So What Do Abortion Doulas Actually Do?

Maybe you've read that abortion doulas provide physical, emotional, and informational support for people choosing abortions, but you're having a hard time imagining that theory put into practice.  Nicole at Abortion Gang recently interviewed Kathleen Reutter of The Doula Project in New York City who also happens to have been one of the training facilitators for the Bay Area Doula Project, to see how she answers So What Is An Abortion Doula?  Here's a short excerpt:

What does a day’s work for an abortion doula look like?

Depending on the site, our doulas work with between four and 15 abortion clients per day.  When I work with an abortion client, I try to help her feel safe and at ease. Any medical procedure can be scary, but facing an abortion can be especially frightening for some because of the wealth of inaccurate information and the stigma surrounding the procedure. Before the abortion begins I try to help my client feel comfortable by answering her questions and chatting. I’m usually with her as she meets the doctor and the nursing staff.

Being awake during an abortion is very doable but is sometimes painful. During the procedure I may help her breathe through uncomfortable moments, explain what’s happening, squeeze her hand, stroke her forehead, and distract her with conversation about her favorite TV show or her weekend plans. Afterwards I help her get settled in the recovery room. I may give her a hot pack to place on her abdomen to help with cramps and put cool cloths on her forehead and back of her neck if she’s overheated. Some of my clients want to talk a lot in the recovery room, others are quieter. If my client is settled and seems to be feeling okay, I often sit quietly in a chair close by, ready to engage if and when she chooses.


Read the full interview at Abortion Gang. Thanks to Miriam Zoila Perez at Radical Doula for tipping us off about this interview.


Abortion Doulas

Hello From The Bay Area Doula Project! 

Yay for our inaugural blog post! The following is an article written by Miriam Zoila Perez in which she interviews one of our leaders - Holly Carpenter, along with other members of the ProVoice Community in the Bay Area about supporting people through abortion experiences. We are hugely grateful to Ms. Zoila Perez for writing the article, Exhale for hosting it, and to both for contributing to the momentum we needed to found the Bay Area Doula Project!

"Abortion Doulas: Providing non-judgmental support throughout the full spectrum of pregnancy

When I became a doula, I was pro-choice and an activist. In college, I put up fliers in campus bathroom stalls with information about how difficult it was for some women to get abortions —facts like only 87% of counties have no abortion provider. I believed that all pregnant women should have lots of options, including abortion.

My life changed after I watched a documentary in an anthropology class. It opened my eyes to a whole range of choices being denied to pregnant women.  I learned that mothers were being denied the choice around how and where to give birth; and denied birth experiences that were centered on their needs.  My passion was activated.  I was driven to become a doula—a person trained to provide emotional and psychological support to women during childbirth.

After becoming a doula, I exchanged the days of pro-choice flyering for days and nights of birth balls and massage techniques.  I loved having personal contact with women; and I loved being invited to participate in this incredible moment in a woman’s life. It is a blessing.

As I did more advocacy for more birthing options – including attending conferences with others doulas and midwives to grow my skills –I was surprised to find that the personal experiences my patients/clients had with abortion was being ignored.  Most women who have abortions are already mothers and as a doula, I knew that many of the women I assisted through birth may have already had abortions, or would have one in the future.


I am a Radical Doula

My job as an activist – whether for abortion, reproductive justice or birth, is to make sure people have as many options as possible, and my job as a doula is to make sure they get the emotional support they need along the way. It was time to bring these two passions of mine together in a way that could improve the lives of pregnant women.  I started a blog and started calling myself a radical doula.

It turns out, others shared my experience and my passion for activism and supporting women. Holly, an Exhale volunteer, birth doula and now co-founder of the Bay Area Doula Project working to provide abortion doula support, addressed this issue of how abortion was addressed at her birth doula training: “I know that some birth doulas are not pro-choice and it can be a divisive factor in the doula community,” she explained. “The only time that it came up was when they talked about trauma with women in labor—previous pregnancies that ended in miscarriage and abortion.”

Radical Doula is a place for people like me, Holly and other doulas to talk about all the issues that affect the pregnant women we work with.  I write about LGBTQ issues, race and immigration too because pregnant people can be queer or immigrants and are people of color. Within a year of founding my blog I heard about the idea of an abortion doulas from a Boston-area doctor who provided abortion.  She was working with the doulas already at work at her hospital, to provide support to women having second trimester abortions. It clicked! I knew a doula model of support could really work for women having abortions, and their families.  

The Abortion Doula Movement is Born

Three years later there is now a growing movement of doulas doing exactly that. Under the banner of “full-spectrum”, doulas provide support to women across the spectrum of pregnancy—from miscarriage and abortion to childbirth and even adoption. There are active programs in at least five cities nationally where volunteer doulas are partnering with health clinics and abortion providers to support their patients.

One of the first volunteer abortion doula programs is The Doula Project in New York City, an organization I helped found alongside Mary Mahoney and Lauren Mitchell. After just three years, the Doula Project already works in three clinics in the New York City area, and is quickly expanding into new ones. Over 50 doulas have been trained through the project, and the leadership team has been instrumental in helping other projects—in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Asheville North Carolina—get off the ground.

Full spectrum doula work centers the experiences of pregnant people, and puts the focus where it belongs: on providing them non-judgmental support. It the current political climate of hostility, this kind of support can be even more important. Holly explained,

“Doulas can fill a needed gap when well intentioned providers just don’t have the time to provide them with the physical and emotional support they need.” In addition to filling a gap in our health care system, doulas who have had abortions have the unique opportunity of sharing that experience in a more private way.

“I think that it’s a way for women who have had an abortion to give back to other women without having to be super public,” Holly outlined. “This is a way to support the community of women going through this experience without having to go outside the boundaries that they have for themselves.”

Most of the active abortion doula programs around the country begin by finding clinics and providers who are interested in partnering with them. Then the groups train people, some with birth doula experience and others without it, on the specifics of providing support to people during abortions. The volunteers then set up shifts so that when procedures are being done, the doulas are there to accompany each patient, in-person. What the doula actually does during the procedure varies from doula to doula, and patient to patient, but Holly explained the benefit of having a doula in the room:

“Having been in a lot of procedures as a medical assistant, the hardest part was having to let go of their hand to do vitals. The doula is the chance to completely separate yourself from that role. To be able to not let go. It’s such a unique place to be.”

Providing Support through Birth and Abortion

This is often an explanation of the role of a birth doula—the one person in the room who is solely focused on the emotional and psychological needs of the person giving birth. Not a medical provider, or a nurse, or even a mother or a partner. Just a supporter. That essence crosses over into abortion care as well. Laura Perez, doula and co-founder of Exhale, explained her role this way: “I want to hold your hand and let you know you’re not alone, you’re okay. I’m with you and I’m going to stay with you. You’re going to be able to get through this.”

There are a lot of assumptions about the personal experience of abortion, but what an abortion doula will tell you, though, is that no two people’s experiences are alike. Emotional responses vary widely. Laura shared,

“Being pregnant is significant, however a person a politically identifies or however she acknowledges the process. We’re not trying to be behind the politics of it. Her voice, her experience gets validated on her terms.”


Editors Note: An earlier version of this article stated that 86% of counties have no abortion provider.  The statistic is actually 87% and the article has been corrected and there is now a link to the report, from the Guttmacher Institute.  (12/20/11)"

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