Thoughts from an Abortion Doula
In 2008 I became an abortion doula in New York City. After I completed my doula training, I became incredibly apprehensive about my role during the procedure. I was worried that I would say the wrong thing, that I would be awkward, and that, as a college-educated, white genderqueer, I would not be able to relate to my clients at the clinic, who are mostly lower-income women of color and immigrants.
What I found after my first few shifts of work was that I had worried way too much about saying the right thing. With most of my clients, I barely speak at all. In the waiting room, I sit next to her as I hold her hand. During the procedure, I try to be a solid presence- I plant my feet squarely next to the table and I face her; I try to make our dynamic her focus- whether its letting her squeeze my hand or looking her in the eye with absolute confidence that she is going to be ok. Afterward, we mostly sit in silence together, only really speaking if I sense that she wants to talk. This is a huge departure from my normal way of being in the world. I live mostly in my head; I over-think everything; my 9-5 job is working as a research scientist. Being an abortion doula is my one much-needed chance to be embodied emotion with another person.
I live in New Haven, so I have to take the train back to Connecticut after these brief, intense encounters. Usually, I spend the hour and forty-five minutes on the train decompressing. I always need to, even if the procedure is “easy” and the patient is asleep throughout. Sometimes I will replay something a client said to me, ruminating on its meaning. Frequently I wonder if she got home okay, I worry about how she’s feeling. Every time, I wonder about what her life was like before and what it will be like now. I think of the women who, groggy after the procedure, smile and dreamily tell me what they want to do next- that they want to enroll in college, or finish school, become a teacher or a counselor, or have kids someday. Frequently they tell me about a child at home, and how much they love their son or daughter. So on the ride home, I like to think that, because I was there, whatever they decide to do next will be a little easier.
Before I became a doula, I was pro-choice because I grew up in the rural Midwest and saw how abstinence only education, coupled with limited access to abortion, exacerbated class disparities in my hometown. Since I’ve become a doula, my views on abortion have become more immediate and nuanced. The decision to have an abortion is never an easy one. No one makes choices about their reproduction on a whim; I trust the decisions that women make because they are hard-fought. I hope that my continuing work as a doula and as a reproductive justice organizer honors each of the women that I have met in the hospital waiting room.