Tag Archives: abortion

Honoring the Experience, Holding Space: An Interview with an Abortion Doula

This article was originally published by HowToUse on December 14, 2017.

Understanding the role of a doula
Doulas, or female attendants that are present during a woman’s childbirth to assist and coach her through delivery, are becoming increasingly common within maternal health programs. Though popularly associated with labor and delivery, many doulas offer services that support the full spectrum of birth outcomes. One particular role within full spectrum work is the abortion doula.

As part of the shift towards full spectrum support, doulas are increasingly helping women navigate abortions, miscarriages, and stillbirths. The idea behind this role expansion is that all pregnancy outcomes and choices should be supported equally, and no single outcome (like birth) should be privileged over others.

The expanding role of abortion doulas
Formalized abortion doula collectives have only been in existence for about 10 years, starting in New York City with a group called The Doula Project. However, the concept of women providing support to other women through abortion procedures has a long history in many countries, not just the United States.

Given the newness of the phenomenon, statistics on abortion doulas are scarce. Stories from the reproductive rights field suggest that abortion doulas are active around the world, in both formal organizations and informal groups. For example, in Mexico, several “accompaniment” collectives have supported more than 5,000 women through medical abortions, often just by being physically present when women take their pills.

HowToUse spoke with a U.S.-based abortion doula, Jen Smith, of New Hampshire, to learn more about what it means to be an abortion doula and how doulas can help women safely and successfully make reproductive health choices. A slightly edited transcript of the interview is below.

Hi Jen, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us about your work as an abortion doula. Could you start by talking a little bit about what brought you into this work?

It was really the fact that I had personal experience with having an abortion and wanting to help other people who were going through same experience. When you have a medical abortion, you take the first pill in the doctor’s office and then the other pill at home. You’re supposed to have someone you trust with you when you take that second pill, and while I was fortunate to have a person like that, many people don’t.

I kept thinking about other people who don’t want to tell anyone they’re getting an abortion and have to go through it alone. That just isn’t right. I wanted to be that person for people—someone who is not part of their family or social network, but who can just be there to make them feel comfortable.

I see my role as honoring their experience, and importantly, I am also there to watch out for any medical complications that could arise from the procedure. I’ve been practicing as an abortion doula for about three years now, and it really is so rewarding. It’s not always easy, but at the end of the day I feel that I am making women safer, and providing a service that they otherwise might not have access to.

Did you take a class or training to become an abortion doula?

I took a training to become a doula for full-term births, and we talked a little about abortion doulas during that training. I don’t know of any trainings specifically for abortion doulas in my area, but I’ve had personal experiences with abortions and am very familiar with the process. I know a lot of people personally in my life who have been through it as well. My life experience allows me to be there for other women.

What exactly does an abortion doula do? How does the process work?

Some abortion doulas work through abortion clinics, but I don’t do that—I work directly with the patients. They come to me mostly by word of mouth; people pass my name along. I tell them upfront that everything is confidential, because it’s important that they trust me to keep their privacy.

Once a client contacts me, I like to meet face-to-face before the procedure to get a feel for who they are as well as their needs. Sometimes that’s not possible due to time constraints, but I try to establish a relationship beforehand.

My clients’ needs vary considerably. Some people need a lot of talking, coaching, and reassuring, while others just need me to be there and be the witness to their experience. Some people are grateful you’re there just to walk them into the clinic, past the protestors. I’m used to the protestors by now, but for women walking into an abortion procedure past people telling them they’re murderers, that experience is horrible. I’m glad to be walking beside them during those awful few moments.

Sometimes they want you there when they receive the first pill (during medical abortions). Lots of times I’m in the waiting room of the clinic, because in New Hampshire they don’t allow your support person to come into the surgical room. I also drive them home if they want. Sometimes clients want emotional support when they take the second dose of pills. So everyone has different needs, and it’s my job to fill whatever need they have.

You must see all kinds of emotions from your clients. What’s it like to deal with such a range of different feelings?

That’s totally true, I’ve seen all types of reactions, feelings, and emotions. But I would say that most often, women feel simply relieved after the procedure. Sometimes women take a little longer to get to that feeling of relief, but in my three years of practice I’ve never once heard someone say they regret it and wish they could take it back.

Sometimes women feel a little sad too, and many just want to get back to “normal” life. They feel confident in their decision, though, because often times it just wasn’t the right moment in their lives to have a baby. They know it’s the right choice as hard as it might be. Sometimes they have questions about what will happen to them physically after the procedure, and that’s when it’s helpful for me to share my knowledge to help ease their fears.

What do you want people to know about abortion doulas?

I would want people to know you don’t have to be alone if you don’t want to be and that there are people you can reach out to for support. It can be important to have someone there for you, especially if you need help processing what you’re going through.

Abortion doulas can also be really helpful to watch out for anything that could go wrong physically, even though that very rarely happens. But it can be useful just to have someone be there to reassure you that everything you’re experiencing – both physically and emotionally – is normal and OK. Abortion doulas can hold space and honor what the patient is going through. We want to be there for women.

How do you see the work of abortion doulas fitting in with the broader reproductive rights movement?

I see the work of an abortion doula as a direct action in support of furthering the goal of increasing women’s autonomy, rights, and decision-making power over their own bodies. It’s the most direct action you can possibly take, because deciding when to be pregnant and birth a child is so fundamental to women’s independence.

I’m encouraged to see more women than ever speaking up about things that have been happening to women forever. We’re coming into our own in a lot of ways, and I think people are starting to realize women are smart enough to make our own decisions.

We know our bodies, ourselves, and what’s right for our lives, and we should tune into that more and trust our bodies and minds. I hope society catches up to that soon, and I see my work as helping to further that idea and empower women to make their own choices.

Abortion pill reaches women in restrictive countries

I’m so excited to announce my article publication in Herizons Magazine. This piece profiles a global reproductive health organization, How To Use The Abortion Pill. The group is doing cutting edge work in the field, and is providing much-needed information (in more than 20 different languages!) to women seeking medical abortions. While the abortion pill is widely available in some parts of the world, reliable information about how to use the pill safely is severely lacking. How To Use The Abortion Pill helps fill this gap, making medical abortions safer for women around the world.

Generation Protest: In the Wake of Trump’s Election, a New Wave of Political Activists Rises Across the State

This article was originally published in Connecticut Magazine’s March issue. It is available online here.

Donald Trump’s election and his subsequent actions as president have spawned a wave of political dissent across the U.S. and abroad. The day after Trump’s inauguration, millions of women and male allies marched in cities all over the country and the world, protesting Trump’s treatment of women and sending the message that women’s rights are human rights. After Trump issued an executive order banning refugees and travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, groups of citizens denounced the move in demonstrations outside capitol buildings and at airports across the nation.

Acts of political dissent are happening in Connecticut, too, where the Hartford Women’s March drew 10,000 participants and hundreds rallied at Bradley International Airport to protest Trump’s travel ban. And while the participants of these protests and marches have included people of all ages, many of them are youthful citizens — millennials and members of the younger Generation Z. In fact, some media outlets are already giving a new name to these political activists: Generation Protest.

Connecticut members of Generation Protest have a reason to be disaffected — 63 percent of them voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in November’s election, compared to only 30 percent of voters under age 35 who voted for Republican Trump. Many of them say Trump’s shocking victory was a “wake-up call” to be more politically active than they might have been previously.

Brenna Doyle, 31, operations coordinator for NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut, says the fear she felt after Trump’s election is what motivated her to get more involved with politics. “After the election, I feared for those who would be immediately affected and whose lives would be put in danger by this new regime,” the Vernon resident says. “That’s what drives me to keep showing up, to stay involved, and to not back down.”

Alicia Hernandez Strong, who identifies as black, Latina and Muslim and is a Muslim community organizer, says the people she works with are “scared, very scared.” The 20-year-old activist from New Britain works to educate the Muslim community about political issues. She says that while many Muslims opposed Trump, they were shocked by his travel ban. “I think Trump was very underestimated and people didn’t expect him to keep his campaign promises,” Strong says. “So it’s waking more people up. I have people emailing and messaging me asking how they can support Muslims and resist Trump’s policies.”

Others say they are resisting Trump’s policies because they are antithetical to their core values and what young people today care about. Dorian Lockett, 32, a black man and president of Connecticut Young Democrats, says Trump’s refugee ban and his call to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico demonstrate that the president does not reflect Lockett’s values. Lockett calls Trump’s policies “attacks” on what makes America great. “Trump’s attacks on what makes this country great is what has re-energized me; his lack of understanding that our diversity is our strength and by knowing and understanding our neighbors is how we make our country safer,” the East Hartford resident says.

Thirty-two-year-old State Rep. James Albis, D-East Haven, says he has been struck by the number of young people who have come to him since the election asking how they can get involved in politics. Albis, who is the deputy majority leader of the Connecticut General Assembly, believes much of this inspiration is coming from young people’s sharp disagreement with Trump’s policies and what he stands for: “I think young people want to engage politically right now because they see proposed policies and recent executive orders that are the opposite of what they want — an increasingly connected global society that works together to solve major problems affecting us all, like climate change. The drum of progress is now muted.”

While protests may get the lion’s share of media attention, young people in Connecticut aren’t just holding up signs in the streets. They’re also engaging in what might be thought of as old-fashioned activism, like calling their representatives. Indeed, Christina Cerillo, 27, of Branford, says that since the election, she’s “never called my representatives more in my life!” Cerillo also started a social media-based group called Feminist Connecticut, which aims to be a central location for local news that is specific to women and women’s issues. The group also publicizes feminist events across the state. For Cerillo, part of her activism is rooted in a desire to bring people together. “My main focus with Feminist Connecticut post-election is to make sure that Connecticut’s women and their allies know that they are not alone, and that there are many ways to get involved and stand up and be counted in a political climate that really just wants all dissenters to sit down and shut up,” she says.

Cerillo draws her strength and energy from her connections with other activists fighting for the same causes. “Personally, I find it very comforting to see folks out and protesting, calling, gathering and fighting for our country.”

For some young activists, Trump’s policies have had a very personal effect. Eric Cruz Lopez, 21, of Bridgeport, is an undocumented immigrant who came to the U.S. with his family at age 7 from Oaxaca, Mexico. Lopez is a student at the University of Connecticut, where he studies secondary math education, and hopes to one day teach algebra and geometry at the high school level. Lopez is an organizer for CT Students for a Dream, a group that advocates for the rights and interests of undocumented students in Connecticut. Lopez says Trump’s election has made people like himself realize that his rights are not guaranteed. “This election has activated people who wouldn’t otherwise get involved,” he says. “People who have thought that things were OK are now beginning to realize that our communities are under attack. The blatant attacks on our community have awakened people’s political consciousness.”

While Lopez says he is encouraged so many young people have mobilized against Trump’s policies, he hopes this wave of activism continues long term so that “solid, concrete and sustainable wins” on immigration issues are possible.

Rep. Josh Elliott, 32, D-Hamden, also hopes the wave of activism is here to stay. “I am hopeful that a new generation of people will become aware that being engaged is not like a week-long diet fad,” he says.

He speculates that Trump’s administration will roll back civil liberties “just enough to get a wave of active participants who will take these next four years as a lesson.”

But not all younger Connecticut residents have been swept up in the anti-Trump wave of resistance. As of this writing, the Connecticut Young Republicans Facebook page had 649 “likes,” which is half the number of the Connecticut Young Democrats, but still shows sizeable support. And Connecticut Right to Life, an anti-abortion advocacy group, reportedly sent five buses to the March for Life event in Washington in late January.

John Waite, president of Connecticut Right to Life, says many of the participants were young. Waite told the Hartford Courant that seeing the passion of young people is what inspires him. “Seeing all those kids down there so on fire for this issue, it energizes you for the whole year,” he says.

Other younger Trump supporters don’t feel it’s necessary to attend counter protests and believe Trump won’t be swayed by the demands of the left. For this Trump faithful, the strategy is “wait and see” and hope that Americans will give Trump an opportunity to prove himself before they write him off. A Trump supporter in his early 30s who declined to be named in this article said, “I think that everyone deserves a chance. Trump might be the one thing this country needs to pull itself out of the hole that past presidents have put us in.”

Some could argue that it is not so much Trump’s election, but the characteristics of millennials and Generation Z themselves that have sparked this surge of political activism. In this sense, Trump’s election provided the context for generations already known for their brazen confidence and belief they can solve the world’s problems by figuring out innovative and new solutions. And the ubiquitous use of technology among these generations has also made it easier to connect with each other, communicate and organize.

But perhaps more than anything, it is the unabashed trust in themselves that drives Generation Protest. For Lopez, it is the confidence that he is doing the right thing that makes him fearless. “I want to do this and I will fight for this because I am undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic about my status, my class, my race and my vision,” he says.