Archive by Author

Mint-flavored Testosterone Coating (Yum!)

28 May

When the NY Times says there is a drug which may be as revolutionary for women as the introduction of the Pill back in the 60s, I read it.  I also assume there is more to the story than a Viagra rebranding to propagate the myth of the frigid woman and make some money for pharmaceuticals.  However, after conferring with my fellow Gangsters I believe this may in fact be exactly what we’re dealing with.

The frigid woman, if you are unfamiliar, is a concept that stems from our societal myth of women coming in two varieties hypersexual and non-sexual.  The photos in the article do a really good job of demonstrating this dichotomy, there is the grumpy, sad woman and the woman in ecstasy, with nothing in between. The frigid woman has no passion, is clearly in denial of her need for intercourse, and will probably die alone.   Many of the women depicted in this article seem to be embodying this myth.  They are broken because they no longer desire their partners the way they once did, and feel obligated to “fix” themselves for their partners.

Desire is a very tricky thing. To the journalist’s credit, he does write- off evolutionary psychology as nonsense, and admits that we don’t really know how physical attraction and lust change over time, because no one has studied it longitudinally.  What we do know is that women’s desire generally peaks around 30, about a decade after men’s.  We also know that desire often dissipates over shorter periods of time, but again this too is understudied.  The problem is, that’s not how the article framed it. It was framed as women’s diminishing desire specifically, what about men’s?

Men are completely missing from the conversation here.  Men too potentially have waning desire stemming from considerations outside their partner like jobs, and kids, and whatever else.  Why don’t they need a pill to fix their lust?  Viagra used by men, as it is discussed here, simply creates a physical response in the penis. It doesn’t affect desire.  The sweet, sweet irony being that what they are marketing as a new innovative drug for fostering women’s lust is essentially Viagra, with a mint coating.

So why sell drugs to women by convincing them their desire needs to be fixed?  Because women are clearly all crazy and recognize themselves to be.  Duh.  I mean, the man behind the drug cites his inspiration as being dumped in his 20s and wanting to spend the rest of his life studying the depths of the (crazy how could anyone ever dump me) female mind.  A man scorn hath no fury…or logic.

Perhaps, and heaven forbid I bring this up and try to be credible, not all people are happy being monogamous.  Maybe some people just get bored, male, female, or otherwise.  Maybe there are some people who can be really happy and monogamous for decades while there are other who cannot be for six months.  Sound like anybody you know?  The fact of the matter is the evidence to support any of these suppositions is just not there.  We don’t know.  Maybe in fact we are just like trumpeter swans and there is a reason people keep coming back to the idea of “happily ever after,” or perhaps it is a very cruel trick.  We just don’t know.  And how could we?  People barely have the space to choose their partners and create the relationships they want, with equality and trust.  But maybe there’s a pill for that?

Respect, strength and courage

2 Apr

“Life’s most difficult choices don’t always have easy answers. There are no free passes, no tap outs, and no do-overs. One thing’s for sure, the answers you’re looking for start with asking the tough questions. And you’re stronger than you think you are.” – From DifficultChoices.org

Though powerful, a quick dig into DifficultChoices.org reveals itself to be the work of a Colorado Springs based Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC).  The twist is it is couched as a forum for young people to share their reproductive health stories.  Now, the stories posted may indeed be real, but they most certainly don’t capture the scope of a young perople’s experiences, as in the land of CPC sponsored  adolescent abortion stories, no one actually has an abortion.

The site frames the stories through labels of respect, strength, or courage.  It’s not often such empowered language is used in respect to young people’s reproductive decisionmaking.  I liked it so much I thought that what they really needed was to expand the vision to the full true scope, including the respect, strength and courage it takes to have an abortion.  As such, I reached out to the Women’s Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder to see if they would put me in-touch with any young people willing to share their abortion stories, so that Colorado could be more adequately represented. Below are two abortion stories written by folks from Colorado who graciously shared a small part of themselves with us.  One older, one younger, both so incredibly honest and brave, perhaps Difficult Choices would like to recognize their strength and courage and add these stories to their website?

Strength

Dear Baby,

This is the week I gave you up. It’s been two years. You would have been a year and four months old. You would have been walking. You might even be calling me “Mom”. But Baby, as much as I yearn for those memories, I am so glad that I don’t have them. Rather I will have the memory of deciding to apply to the London School of Economics. Baby, if you had been here, I don’t think graduate school would have even crossed my mind. I probably would not be graduating in May. Yes, it is selfish to have let you go, but as I have told you many times, I have all the right to be selfish. If not now, when?

I am listening to the song that reminds me of you. “Las Simples Cosas” by Martirio. The singer says that one always says goodbye without much feeling to simple things. I want you to know that it hurt me to let you go. It was one of the hardest decisions of my life. This year I decided to stop loving who would have been your father. That was harder. Baby, he would have loved you so much. He is a great man. Unfortunately, he was not a great man to me. I always think of what could have been if you had been here. Maybe he wouldn’t have betrayed me like he did. Maybe he would have hurt me even more. I’m afraid he has forgotten about you. But that’s ok. You’ll always have me. I will always talk to you, even when I start to have…I guess, real children. You will hold a special place in my heart forever.

On Friday, I am going up to the mountains, where we buried what could have been. It’s beautiful and Orion is always so spectacular up there. I’ve told you before, but I think that’s where I fell in love with him. Last year, we went up there. We weren’t together, yet he took me up there, held me while I cried for you. I am so sorry Baby. I wish life had been different. I wish I could have been strong enough to have carried you and raised you. But Baby, you are in a wonderful place now. You are so much better there than here.

Baby, my world is crumbling around me. I feel so alone. I wouldn’t have wanted you to see me this way. I am trying so hard to keep it all together Baby. And it kills me to say this, but because you aren’t here I know I will be able to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. Because you aren’t here, I have the courage and strength to strive for more. Because you aren’t here, I will overcome.

I let go of you, and you will never know how much pain that caused me. Be assured that I will never forget you. I keep telling myself that I never loved you, but a bit of me did. I loved you enough to let you go. You were not a simple thing Baby, no you made me love life more, you allowed me to choose what I wanted and respect who I am, you gave me the power to see how valuable I am. I hope you understand that you gave me so much more than I lost. Baby, do me a favor, look at the star he gave me, the one left of Orion’s belt and ask it to twinkle a little brighter on Friday. Baby, I hope you are happy up there with all those magnificent lights and I hope one day you can forgive me. Know that instead of giving you life, I gave you an eternity up in the skies.

Courage

My name is Katherine and I am 41 years old. A year and a half ago, newly married, I had an abortion. It would have been a shot gun wedding, had I known I was pregnant, but because I was unaware it was a simple elopement in a junkyard.

I believe strongly in adoption and my first husband had a vasectomy during a time when I was angered by life and by myself. The idea of creating more children angered me. Many children of divorce don’t want the burden of creating a healthy outcome. But what is healthy? I was not ashamed of my abortion nor do I now feel the need to keep it private, a dirty secret. Let us call out the stigma that damages women in an irrevocable way.

I was 10 weeks pregnant when I was finally able to make it to the clinic. My breasts were magnificent, my belly plump and my alcohol consumption continued at a steady pace, an attempt at killing whatever joy could have come from this growing baby. My husband and I were married just four months after meeting, and along with my husband came a lovely 7 year old boy. Knowing that we were going to be caring for this child with the help of his mother for the rest our lives is the harsh reality we live with everyday. My stepson’s autism paired with our cynicism left no room for a new child, and I had accepted this.

I never wanted to be 40 and pregnant. However, as a caregiver of children, I was saddened to miss this opportunity to have my own child because in the face of a fucked up world there stares back the faces of justice. I often thought of my mother, long deceased and yet I ached for her and I to care for this baby together.

On the day of the procedure, I cried uncontrollably because my husband could not be there to support me. He had to care for his son at a time when no one else could be there, and so I pushed away everyone’s offers to take his place and went alone. I chose to rely on memories, the stories of close friends rowing the same boat, and the gracious, utterly kind women at the clinic.

What I had needed most was to cease being pregnant and return to my life again. As I write this, the beautiful 4 month old baby girl of my dearest friend plays next to me. I held her legs during the birth and have started working as her child’s caregiver giving her much needed support and friendship at a wonderful and challenging time in her life. This child makes me calm and insanely happy.

As women, it can still feel as if we are alone, certainly we are still victimized and subjugated, but as women we are fierce and capable as well. I do not shy away from the choice I made to be a mother to others peoples children, to help mother my stepson and to now love and help care for the child next to me. I fight everyday to be as strong as my mother and to keep strong the women in my life through honesty and compassion. And I am fortunate to have men in my life who give me hope and who fight for us, for a healthy future. Erasing the stigma of abortion or any of the choices we make as women is a healthy beginning.

______________________________

Clearly evidenced from these powerful stories, emotional resilience among people who have abortions is no small feat. In fact, I would go so far to say that these women display respect AND courage AND strength.

Dear North Dakota Governor

15 Mar

Dear Gov. Dalrymple,

As someone who has lived in and loves North Dakota, I am appalled that the state legislature would approve such barbaric legislation and I can only hope that you will see that so severely limiting access to abortion not only hurts women and their families but their communities and your state as a whole.

One in three American women have an abortion in there lifetime. In North Dakota that’s over 115,000 women. To be fair North Dakota has has a slightly lower rate of abortions than the rest of the US, so it would be a bit fewer but we are still talking 100,000 voters in a state of not even 700,000 people and that is something to think about.

Women in North Dakota must already go to the ONE abortion provider in the entire state and undergo a 24-hour waiting period before seeking an abortion. It is not easy to get an abortion in North Dakota as it is, and yet the legislature wants to restrict it further.

Remember Ohio’s heartbeat bill last year? Remember how it failed, and the reaction? Do you really want to be that historic first who for years will be haunted as a political heretic?

As women start having their families later they are at greater risk of fetal anomalies, and we know this change is no hurry to be reversed, it is medically inappropriate to limit access to abortions in case of fetal anomaly or birth defect. It should not be up to a legislature but clinicians, namely the one abortion provider in all of North Dakota.

Now, I want you to think about your four daughters. I want to return to the fact that one in three American women will have an abortion in their lifetime. That includes, in all likelihood one of your daughters. What would happen if she discovered a pregnancy after five weeks? Do you want her to have to travel out of state? Would that maybe be more traumatic for her?

Think about it.

Sincerely,

Nicole

If you’d like to share your own letter with Gov. feel free to crib any of my language above, you can reach him at @DalrympleforGov, 701-328-220, or here.

Able of Mind and Body: Why Reproductive Justice Needs to Address Mental Health in Pregnancy

11 Sep

“An estimated 500,000 pregnancies in the United States each year involve women who have or who will develop psychiatric illness during the pregnancy.”

Think about that. Half a million women each year.

We know about 1 in 4 Americans suffer from mental disorders, 15-20% of American women suffer from depressive symptoms DURING pregnancy, and that depression during pregnancy is a global issue. Clearly, psychiatric disorders during pregnancy are common, and in my experience are not acknowledged nearly often enough.

Depression is a symptom of pregnancy seen all over the globe, and most moms do just fine. Is it fun? No, but that’s why it’s called depression. It is the opposite of fun. Does that preclude you from carrying a pregnancy to term? No. Can we connect the dots to say that if women who experience temporary mental illness shouldn’t be stopped than women who experience semi-permanent mental illness shouldn’t be impeded from carrying to term? Yes, yes we can. [President Obama gets a shout out after all the women’s health love at the DNC. Though I’m pretty sure he would still be afraid to have one of us AGers go up on stage.]

“Mental competence” in pregnancy is surely often an excuse stemming from socially unjust motivations to prevent a pregnancy from going to term. Its more socially acceptable for some people to be a parent than others. Poor people, shouldn’t parent. Rich people, should parent. Some folks have too few kids, others too many. Women contending with mental illness shouldn’t. Not because they are inherently incapable, but because they are disenfranchised. These cases are not about mental capabilities, but about privilege. Social injustice is the determining factor here. This is just another realm where we see the same patterns replicated, only with different excuses.

What is perhaps most strange to me, is that there is a cultural dialogue about postpartum depression, see: Gwyneth Paltrow’s confession, but almost no external discussion of depression during pregnancy. We are all so beholden to the image of the glowing orb of sunshine pregnant person, there is no space for an alternative leaving women without models and information. We need to create this space, and we need to make sure to discuss mental health at-large.

The two major stories I’ve seen make their way through the reproductive health circuits (which does not mean there are not more) are one of a young schizophrenic woman was who ruled mentally incompetent, and her parents forced her to have an abortion and be sterilized against her will. The ruling was made on the basis that if the young woman, Mary Moe, were “mentally competent” she would have sought an abortion. The other is thankfully slightly more uplifting. Here a woman pro-actively chooses to stop taking her mental health medication to pursue a pregnancy to term and paid a full-time babysitter to keep her from hurting herself. We need to hear more of these stories, or really the half a million women grappling with mental illness (in a wide range of forms), each year during pregnancy need to hear these stories. They need to know they are not alone. That there are women in situations more difficult than themselves, and women who have made conscious choices after considering their options (and that this is something they can be empowered to do too). We especially need models for dealing with depression during pregnancy, which is the most common illness faced.

Now we got that out of the way, what about the women who decide to continue using medications for mental disorder during their pregnancy? Though the scientific evidence is still limited, the results are tentatively promising, but women still need to be educated about the risks of drugs on themselves and the fetus, and enabled to make decisions for themselves. But there is a clear need for more research, especially studies longer periods of over time. In the interim, if you decide not to go off your medication, you are not without alternatives to care. However, many women are faced with slightly more complicated medical circumstances and often run from doctors who either says your only choices are to go off/not start medication or have an abortion, which happens. It is very common for women with mental illness to be untreated because they are pregnant, not just untreated with medication, but unable to get a spot at a psychiatric hospital. So everything I said about alternative care is true, to the point you can actually access it. Which without access, it all goes out with the baby and the bath water and we are left back where we began with disenfranchisement through social injustice.

Remember the 500,000 pregnancies are affected each year, in the US. It could easily be you one day sitting across from a doctor leaving you a choice between an abortion or your necessary medication, and simply ignoring your choice to carry to term in the best way you deem fit.

South Dakota: Where We Don’t Practice Science

27 Jul

In 2005, South Dakota passed a law which at the time was the pinnacle of crazy anti-abortion laws.  It contained a wide range of provisions which ended up going back and forth in the courts for the past several years.  Ultimately, the biological disclosure and “all known medical risks” disclosure stayed on the books, but the decision on a suicide advisory remained divided in the courts.  It became its own spin-off case, and only this week did a decision come down.

Though you may have already read how the 8th circuit ruled , 7-4, with the majority in favor of keeping the suicide advisory, i.e. doctors must tell women seeking abortions that they have an increased risk of suicide if they seek an abortion, on the grounds that is not misleading and irrelevant.

Some things you should know about the case before we dive into this:

  1. The parties are two crisis pregnancy centers versus Planned Parenthood.
  2.  The “friends of the court” of the crisis pregnancy centers include: Christian Medical & Dental Associations; American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians & Gynecologists; Catholic Medical Association; Physicians for Life; National Association of Pro-Life Nurses; Family Research Council; Care Net; Heartbeat International, Incorporated; National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, Incorporated; Eagle Forum Education and Legal Defense Fund; and the American College of Pediatricians.  Yes, you read that last one right.  Who knew?
  3.  The author most cited in the majority opinion for the “evidence” of an increased risk of suicide and suicidal ideation among women who had an abortion might have her major paper on the topic retracted because it is not scientifically sound.  Said author, Coleman, is referenced 14 times by name in the majority opinion.

But what stood out to me was the bizarre argument throughout the majority opinion about relative risk, increased risk, and causation.  Anyone who has taken epidemiology 101 can parrot that correlation is not causation.  Essentially, science is all about theories and making your way as close to the “truth” as possible.  But will we ever know an absolute truth?  No, we wouldn’t.  This is 7th grade science people.  Stay with me.

The majority opinion states how the suicide disclosure cannot be misleading or irrelevant only if there is “medical and scientific uncertainty,” then goes on to say “in order to render the suicide advisory unconstitutionally misleading or irrelevant, Planned Parenthood would have to show that abortion has been ruled out, to a degree of scientifically accepted certainty, as a statistically significance causal factor in post-abortion suicides.”

So for example let’s say I have a theory that doughnuts cure cancer and I go out there and find some evidence of this and get published, but someone retorts saying this is blatantly false.  We now have medical and scientific uncertainty.  Fine.  But then according to the 8thcircuit the only reason I can’t force pediatricians to tell children to eat doughnuts is if I can show that doughnuts don’t cure cancer.   Doughnuts for everyone?

Now let’s return to 7th grade.   You can’t prove something is not a causal factor.  You can no less prove it is a causal factor.  You can be very sure one thing leads to another, e.g. smoking and cancer.  But proving that the doughnuts do not cure cancer is impossible, so it would be impossible to fulfill this alleged requirement.  Then what does the evidence tell us?

What we do know is that most scientists agree that risk of suicide does not increase with abortion.  There is some shaky evidence of a possible association between abortion and suicide due outside underlying factors, i.e. if you have poor mental health you are more likely to seek an abortion and more likely to be suicidal.   But it is a spurious relationship, it is the outside factor that connects them, the connection between the two is completely unfounded.

What is most upsetting is that the four dissenting justices even say how the majority recognizes that there is no proof in the literature that abortion causes suicide and that telling women that abortion causes an increased risk of suicide is untruthful.  They know this, they recognize it, and yet here we are.  Women across South Dakota will now be forced to listen to these lies before obtaining an abortion.   How is that not misleading and irrelevant?

A vagina by any other name

20 Jun

“Finally Mr. Speaker I’m all so flattered you’re interested in my vagina, but no means no.” -State Representative Lisa Brown

Speaking on the floor of the Michigan State House, State Representative Brown responded to discussion of HB 5711 , a bill that has since passed with an overwhelming majority that bans abortions after 20 weeks with no exceptions and includes targeted regulations against abortion providers (TRAP) provisions including specifications like how to dispose of “fetal remains.”  Because clearly legislators would have a superior understanding of this than medical providers.

Representative Brown was barred from the last day of discussion of the bill on the floor of the Michigan House.  No official reason has been given, but the Speaker did say State Representative Brown “failed to maintain the decorum of the House of Representatives,”  because she used the word vagina in reference to a bill about abortion… a procedure only needed if you have a vagina.

I am so thankful that up to 5,000 people had the good sense to get to the Michigan State Capitol steps to watch a presentation of the Vagina Monologues.  I also would have paid to join the crowd chanting C-U-N-T (which if you are not familiar with the “Reclaiming Cunt” monologue,  you should make a point to see live one day).  Watching thousands reclaim the word vagina and with it their dignity as women (and men), accepting their humanity and biology, I can only imagine how powerful it can be.

In an interview about the performance, Eve Ensler said, “language is so important, it is the pathway to freedom.”

Thinking about Ms. Ensler’s words and the implications of language brought me back to the most recent Gallup polland the use of “pro-choice.”

I will not bore you with the tired dialogue on that phrase not resonating (though Kush did an excellent job discussing this).  What I will bore you with is the conundrum that faces us, the one that theoretically prompted Nancy Keenan to step down for her post as President of NARAL.  If we are no longer represented by vestiges of the second wave, whether it be their words or leaders, where are our new leaders and language?  Jessica Valenti wrote beautifully about a new generation at the helm of reproductive justice organizations, that so many people have consistently have overlooked.  Despite this, I still think we have a serious language problem that is not being addressed.

Define Reproductive Justice in onr sentence.  In a two second sound bite?  Can’t?  Well, honestly I don’t think you should be able to.  The beauty of intersectionalities is that they are complex.  They address multiple facets of the human experience SIMULTANEOUSLY.  This is not about simplicity people.  Or bowing to a culture whose collective attention span is being reduced by the day. We have to find a way to embrace complexity and wordiness and make it accessible as at the end of the day we all know access is the key.

We were recently discussing the difference between using trans and trans* on the AG listserv, and taking a step back it becomes astonishing how much meaning is conveyed in a simple asterisk.  But to me that is a clear example of language evolving, becoming more inclusive and specific, a model we may be able to follow as we evolve more specific language for reproductive justice.

So where does this leave the vagina phobic in Michigan?  We are clearly seeing a retrogression as a means to block the “path to freedom,” as Ms. Ensler so eloquently put it.  But you can’t erase words.  At least it is very difficult to do so in a country where dictionaries operate independently and there is no council in operation like the Académie française. As Ensler said at the end of the same interview, vaginas are here to stay.

Have you heard about the swingles?

10 Apr

Have you heard about the swingles? I didn’t until a week or two ago at a wonderful lecture at the 92nd Street Y called Running in Heels: Where are the Women Candidates for 2012–and how can we get more of them? Swingles are the single women voters who are poised to make or break this election season. We know that women more often stray from party lines than men. We know that women are more likely to vote for Democrats. Forget the swing states, bring on the swingles.

Eager to learn from a powerful and knowledgeable group of women, I listened intently to graceful and witty moderator Chelsea Clinton and the panelists, who captured a wide swath of society engaged in this issue from the captain of a rogue PR mission to a woman brought into the limelight from Rush Limbaugh’s latest idiocy. And learn from them I did.

Much of the unity among the panelists came from encouraging women to run for office as a public service, as serving others is generally very appealing to women. Though Sandra Fluke voiced the dangers of using this framework, it was generally accepted. And so I thought to myself is this why more women don’t run?

Only Sandra Fluke brought up structural barriers to women running for office to the table. A woman who wasn’t even supposed to sit on the panel originally, as two months ago we wouldn’t have known her by name. And so I thought, if the players aren’t addressing structural barriers, who is?

One fact from the Rutgers Report that folks across the panel kept coming back to was how women need to be encouraged to run for office repeatedly. Stephanie Schriock of Emily’s List followed this with a great anecdote of how she has mothers with young children who are contemplating running for office call Kristen Gillibrand or Debbie Wasserman Schultz to talk out the real life feasibility of governing and mothering. Now there’s a conversation I would like to a be a fly on the wall for. Maybe we need to take these conversations to a more public forum? If it can encourage one or two women to run, why couldn’t it encourage more?

But it was the declaration at the very end of the panel that really taught me something. The panelists agreed that it is the “peacemakers” who are to be celebrated. Those who compromise in politics are the ones that get things done. Now, I can understand the resident politician falling in line with this, but there was only one on the stage. Heads simply bobbled as “culture warriors” specifically working on issues like abortion were called out. This was brief at the very end, and the only time abortion was mentioned. It made my heart sink. One panelist went so far to say that women wanted to be “more than their ovaries.” Umm yes, we know! But they do have ovaries and should be able to do whatever they want with them, and actively need to defend that, thank you very much.

How can these prominent political players not see that compromise is important but not always the answer? Maybe they do but are afraid to talk about it? Is that why there are so few women in office? Maybe it’s that we’re not all compromisers. There are things one cannot compromise on, and those issues must be defended. How did we get stuck with Hyde again?

If you’re interested in Chelsea Clinton and Sandra Fluke girl crush material check out this great clip from the lecture as they discuss Rush Limbaugh as a common enemy. Want even more? You can watch the whole talk here.

So what is an Abortion Doula?

4 Jan

The Doula Project of New York City is a non-profit providing support to people across the spectrum of pregnancy. It is volunteer-run and all of its services are free of charge. Since 2008, its 50 trained abortion and birth doulas have provided services to over 5,000 people in the New York City area. I talked with Kathleen, who has been a doula with the Project since 2009 and a member of the Leadership Circle for the past year and a half.

To start-off, could you first describe a little about what an abortion doula is?

An abortion doula provides emotional, physical, and informational support to people choosing abortion. As part of the Doula Project, our doulas also support people facing miscarriage, stillbirth, and fetal anomaly and provide birth doula services to low-income people and to people choosing adoption. All in all, our mission is to offer care and compassion to pregnant people making a variety of choices regarding their pregnancy and/or birth.

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.

Would you mind sharing a little of the history behind the conception of an abortion doula?

Mary Mahoney, Lauren Mitchell, and Miriam Perez, all birth doulas and reproductive justice activists in New York City, founded the Doula Project (then called the Abortion Doula Project) in 2007. They wanted to bring the level of support provided by birth doulas during labor and delivery – natural pain management and relaxation techniques, emotional support and compassion, and education about pregnancy – to clients terminating their pregnancies.

It is important to note that many people have filled the role of abortion doula over the years. Compassionate counselors, escorts, nurses, and doctors working in the abortion setting have long provided the sort of reassurance and kindness that we strive to offer. But in volunteering our services as abortion doulas we have formalized this role and have the time to devote ourselves entirely to supporting our clients.

Can you talk a little more about how reproductive justice fits in?

I see the concept of an abortion doula springing most directly from a confluence of reproductive justice ideology and natural birth philosophies. As reproductive justice activists remind us, the choices most of us are able to make about our reproductive health are greatly affected by our circumstances, which are constrained by socioeconomic status, race, gender, sexuality, nationality, legal status, etc. The Doula Project’s conception of “spectrum of choice” is very much aligned with the reproductive justice movement’s notion that we must support all reproductive health choices, including whether to use contraception, to have an abortion, to decline contraception or sterilization, and to choose to parent.

I’m sure most, if not all, your experiences volunteering as a doula need to be kept confidential, but would you be able to share some typical or composite experiences from working with different clients?

These are composites of clients and the names are pseudonyms.

Marina wants to keep this pregnancy but has an eight-month-old daughter at home and just started a new job. She tells me she’s certain she can’t be a good mom to her daughter, financially or emotionally, if she has another baby so soon. She cries during and after the procedure. She tells me that she knows she “has to do this” for her daughter, but it hurts a lot. She naps a little in the recovery room and I give her my phone number when she leaves.

Leslie, who is trying to escape an abusive partner, tells me that she fears that bringing this pregnancy to term would keep her forever tied to him. She has a warm smile and is very open with me as she describes the shelter where she is staying with her two young children and the restraining order she has against her husband. She flinches a few times during the procedure but is able to talk through it and is surprised when it’s done. She tells me it was much quicker and easier than she thought it would be. The social worker who did her counseling prior to the procedure gave her a lot of resources and I make sure she has a chance to speak to the social worker a second time before she leaves.

Deana emphatically refuses my proffered hand and snarls at the nurse. Later, in the recovery room, she apologizes, telling me, through tears, that these last few weeks have been really stressful. She loves the hot pack I’ve given her and we talk about how to make one at home by filling a large sock with rice, tying off the end, and sticking it in the microwave. She assures me that she is going to go home and sleep this afternoon and will make sure her partner pampers her.

Would you mind also sharing some of your own feelings from doing this work?

Being an abortion doula is an incredible privilege. I’m stepping into a person’s life for just a brief moment – an hour or two, sometimes less, for first trimester procedures, or several hours over two or three days for second trimester procedures.  And yet, during this short time period, the client and I share a very intimate experience. I have the opportunity to ease her pain, to listen to her, to validate her choices, to hold her hand. I often find myself humbled by our clients’ strength and so grateful that I can be a part of this experience. Many of our clients have difficult stories to tell and bearing witness to these experiences can take its toll emotionally. But more times than not as I leave a site after a full day, I feel uplifted.

 So how does one actually become an abortion doula?

For those living in the New York City area, we recruit new doulas once a year and provide an intensive two-day abortion doula training for our new volunteers. To receive the application when it’s next posted, you can join our mailing list by visiting our website.

I’m excited to say that a lot of other full-spectrum doula groups are springing up across the country (Check the list at the end of the post).  If you live in an area with no current abortion doula service and are interested in starting your own (please do!), we would love to support you in any way we can. Please visit our website for more information about how to set up a training with us and join our networking circle. We also provide trainings for hospitals, clinics, medical schools, and more.

If readers want to learn more about the work of abortion doulas, what resources can they access?

Our website and the websites I referenced below provide a lot of additional information. Readers can also check out this article in Women’s eNews for more details about the work The Doula Project does.

List of Local Doula Projects

Bay Area Doula Project in Northern California

Chicago Doula Circle

Doula Project in New York City

Full Spectrum Doulas in the Pacific Northwest

LA Doula Project

Open Umbrella Collective in Asheville, NC

Philadelphia Advocates for Reproductive Justice

Spectrum Doula Collective in Piedmont Triad, NC

And soon the DC Doulas for Choice Collective!

Call and Response: Occupy Wall Street and Reproductive Justice

10 Nov

Everything I ever thought I knew about organizing may now be irrelevant, thanks to the demonstrators in Zuccotti Park.

Like many of you, I marched alongside a million women in DC in 2004, like less of you I helped organize a 500,000 person march against the RNC invading New York City that same year.  Both massively attended and well-organized and they only ended up in the papers for next few days.  Yes, those moments remain dear to me and others who participated, and I do believe they brought unity and helped encourage individuals on the ground but they didn’t necessarily “do” anything.  So how were a few hundred unorganized folks camping in a park going to?

Well, I was wrong.  Maybe it is simply being at the right place at the right time, but I believe Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has changed the organizing game forever.

Non-hierarchical, egalitarian models of conversation and decision-making are now the model, not the exception.  As strange as it may be to wave one’s spirit fingers in agreement like a sorority sister, it is such a clear and powerful visual of group agreement. Many folks naturally don’t send out any visual cues of agreement at all.  So how do you know if the group is on board?  Well, you don’t unless someone interjects which doesn’t make a lot of sense if you’re supposedly representing a collective.

Symbolism in demonstration, which was once a matter of screaming in front of the guilty party’s front door, is now all the more essential.  Organizers need to be more than strategic with location and think about a location that resonates globally.  This not only encourages global media coverage, but sets the framework of understanding to the wider scope of individuals paying attention who are ready and willing to engage for your demo whether it is a tweet or a status update.

Most importantly, OWS demonstrates intersectionalities in action.  As part of one organizing meeting a gentleman brought up how occupying any park was worth it just to show that New Yorkers should have 24-7 access to the parks, public or private. To be honest, I almost laughed.  I thought the point was demonstrating against the banks?  I thought this was about capitalism gone horribly astray?  How could something like that be relevant?  One issue at a time buddy.  And that’s when it came to me. Theoretically and in practice we are way beyond one issue at a time—we just haven’t seen intersectionalities in the streets until now.

Like OWS, reproductive justice is clearly beyond grappling with one issue at a time, as perhaps all “movements” are.  We are in need of the recognition that taking to the streets to keep Planned Parenthood’s doors open is not enough.  At the same time we need to discuss AND protest the cultural conscience targeting poor women and the cultural discomfort with women’s sexuality. Theory has linked issues like these for years.  Practice has begun to effectively connect people to a wider range of services to attack the many facets of reproductive injustice. But to my knowledge, the progress of incorporating the complexity of intersectionalities in these other realms is not being seen in demonstrations.  We have been so reactionary with the egregious seemingly unending attacks that we have not tackled this gap. It is time reproductive justice advocates looked to the OWS model and heeded its call for intersectional demonstration.  Whose streets?  Our streets!

How to find a job in reproductive health

19 Aug

I have been lucky enough to have never had a real job. Yes I spent many a summer among six year olds, but I have never worked for a for-profit company, never stood behind a counter, never taken someone’s order.   Over the past five years I have been even luckier to almost exclusively work for organizations dedicated to reproductive health and rights.  Now after landing my first job out of grad school, the first gig I plan to stay in for more than two years, it seemed about time to put all the knowledge I have garnered to work for someone else.

1. Don’t be afraid of networking.  Just because you’re a self-righteous crusader doesn’t mean a job will magically fall into your lap.  Lots of people do lots of incredible things.  It’s who you know AND what you know.  Possibly in that order, but you need both.

2. Know what you’re talking about.  And I don’t mean be able to recite Gonorrhea symptoms or what TRAP stands for.  I mean stay on top of the organizations and issues you love EVERY DAY.  Get on Twitter and Facebook and RHReality Check and set-up a Google Reader to guide you through the rest of that internet thing.  Perhaps most importantly read feminist theory, old and new.  It’ll inspire you.  Don’t forget books.

3. Find a mentor, or two.  Sometimes it takes someone else believing you for you to believe in yourself.  Sometimes you just need to talk to someone older and wiser who understands how badly you want to change the world.  And when you find a mentor, don’t let them go.

4. Keep your activist friends and make new ones.  Not everyone you love is going to care about vaginas the way you do, but there will be days when you’ll want to pick-up the phone and cry over a Governor’s veto override or celebrate the IOM. It’s essential to have people on speed dial for these pivotal moments.

5. Grapple with and respect the complexities of reproductive health, justice, and rights.  Analyze yourself and where you fit into these intersections.  Where you are an ally, an activist, and perhaps most importantly inapplicable?

6. Obtain marketable skills.  Bleeding heart activist does not go on a resume but is still a requirement for the job.  Find hard skills like communications, development, clinical, legal, and research that excite you and pursue them.  Volunteering is a great way to do this, and can often lead to a job.  Remember, there needs to be a reason to hire you.

7. Judge what you’re up against.  Sex is, well, sexy.  Lots of people leave undergrad thinking they are the first to bring condoms or Take Back the Night to their campus.  You’re not.

8. Be nice.  If I could give anyone one piece of advice it would be this.  This planet is small, your city/town is smaller, our universe, minuscule.  People will remember you and they will show-up when you least expect them, so be nice.

9. Fear not grunt work.   If you do a good job with copying they will give you fun stuff to do, I promise.  It just might take a year or three… but we all must suffer through maintaining calendars and wrangling space phones, no matter how smart or passionate or deserving you are.  At least one day you might take pity on an intern and order a shredding truck instead of making her/him do it by hand.

10. Remember the economy sucks and do not give-up!  I too worked outside of reproductive health but I came back to it within two years and you can too!  Do not forget that there are relevant skills that you can gather outside the field to help you land that perfect position.