*Guest Post by Lauren Guy-McAlpin*
I’m a coordinator for the Spectrum Doula Collective, a central-NC based project that offers free, compassionate care to women across the spectrum of pregnancy. This includes birth, adoption, miscarriage, stillbirth, fetal anomaly, and of course, abortion. Founded in the vein of the NY-based Doula Project, SDC is a forming coalition of reproductive justice advocates who believe all pregnant persons’ thoughts, experiences, and memories are valid and should be honored.
Honoring a pregnant person’s experiences is integral to embodying a pro-voice ideology. We can identify as “pro-choice” in our personal lives all we want; we can engage in those formulaic arguments about when life begins, advocate for public policy regarding abortion access, and take to the streets when we feel reproductive rights on the whole are being violated. But when we’re one-on-one with a person or family that’s experiencing abortion (or any pregnancy outcome) themselves, all personal biases must be left at the door. At the crux of doula work, and abortion doula’ing is no different, is personal advocacy. If that means supporting a woman who believes an abortion took the life of her baby, so be it.
It’s a minefield to negotiate; we will obviously get backlash from the anti-choice community, but what is most frustrating is the push-back we’ve already begun to receive from our own. I got this email in the Spectrum Doula Collective inbox earlier this week:
I know you think you’re doing good, but you are not. You are doing a grave disservice to the pro-choice movement by believing the lies from the anti-choicers. Please email me back, we can talk more about this, but please consider what you are doing before you proceed any further.
Wow. What, exactly, are we doing wrong? What sort of disservice do we do by believing pregnant people need compassionate care while undergoing surgical procedures? Or, at the very least, that they might want a bit more emotional and informational support while they undergo a highly mystified and generally misunderstood surgery?
How are we “believing the lies from the anti-choicers” by recognizing all reproductive experiences (and the emotions surrounding them) and believing that they are valid?
Moreover, what kind of “pro-choice” movement wants to restrict women from feeling the way they want (or have) to feel following a miscarriage, an abortion, a stillbirth, or a birth that results in adoption? What kind of movement would tell a grieving mother, following the miscarriage of a wanted pregnancy, that she shouldn’t be sad because it wasn’t a baby anyway? What kind of pro-choice movement would disallow a woman who was experiencing regret from an abortion from being open and honest about her feelings, from healing instead of just hiding the way women have for decades?
I’ll tell you what kind of movement. The kind of movement that seeks to uphold only the legislative right to first term abortion and hope women shut up about the negative feelings they may experience for fear it may “embolden the enemy.” The kind of movement that has lost heaps of public support due to their shallow outlook on abortion, the kind that has laid down and taken blow after blow from anti-choice talking points without challenging society to think about things in more than just simplistic, black-and-white terms. The kind of movement that’s failing countless women on the ground, women who just wish their personal health care decisions didn’t necessarily have to be political acts.
The kind of movement that is ceasing to exist, because my generation sees things differently. Because we take into account the fact that some unintended pregnancies become wanted, and that despite positive feelings about the pregnancy, some women must choose abortion any way for a variety of reasons. We recognize that people of color have a very different history with abortion and birth control. We understand that sometimes abortion causes regret and sadness, while knowing those feelings don’t make the procedure an inherent evil. We recognize the voices of pregnant people instead of legislative rights and politicians’ definitions of what our movement is about.
That’s what kind of movement we are, and while we honor and respect the principles of our foremothers that brought us to where we are today, we see the need to evolve and continue bettering reproductive health care on all levels.
Understand that we are not trying to devalue the work of each and every abortion provider, clinic nurse, and options counselor. We honor and appreciate the work they do, the enormous sacrifices they make to be able to provide people with the choice to terminate a pregnancy. We believe, staunchly, that clinics and hospitals that work with pregnant people deserve respect and protection. We know, however, that we may very well be perceived as intruders; in the same way many labor and delivery nurses feel as though birth doulas might “encroach” on their duties, we understand clinic staff might take our interest to mean we don’t believe they are capable of providing adequate emotional and informational support. Such a belief, however, could not be further from the truth.
We recognize, more than most I think, that the failure of many clinics to provide adequate support to their patients does not come from their disinterest. We know that clinics across the nation are under-staffed, under-funded, and over-worked. However, we also believe that, even if every clinic could provide a more suitable environment for women to experience abortion, that some patients would still want more. That there may be a sense of loss, even if it’s almost completely inconsequential, but that we should address, embrace, and support her 100% of the way. This is the intended work of the abortion doula: we do not seek to replace the integral work of compassionate clinic staff, but instead to supplement that work to ensure every woman has access to the kind of support she needs as she experiences whatever pregnancy outcome she faces.
Make no mistakes: acknowledging that there might be a grief period following abortion is a minefield for us pro-choice people to negotiate, but not acknowledging those less-than-pretty emotions will only harm us in the end. Throughout the decades of legal abortion, the anti-choice camp has co-opted the experiences of unsupported women who have felt regret and sadness following abortion. That they have been successful in doing so has at least partially been due to the pro-choice movement’s inability to address such a complex issue. Honoring and respecting post-abortion experiences and emotions is the most important work advocates for abortion rights can do today; indeed, the reproductive autonomy of countless women depends on our ability to be open and honest about what we are fighting for.
Lauren Guy-McAlpin lives in Greensboro, NC. She a founding member of the Spectrum Doula Collective and is currently pursuing her birth doula certification with DONA International.