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LA Doula

Until I started working with abortion, I never knew exactly how to articulate what I love about birth—what pulls me to keep these crazy hours, spend 36 hours straight in a hospital, stay surgically attached to my phone.I pursued a doula career for several years, but when people asked about my motivation, I could only vaguely describe my very real, life-long fascination with pregnancy and birth.At the time I hadn’t yet connected it to my other very real, life-long fascination with abortion.Learning, talking, reading and thinking about both filled hundreds of fascinated hours throughout my life—usually in very different settings and conversations—and while I had become a doula with the intention of doing full-spectrum work, I never realized how naturally these seeming-opposites connected in my mind.

Each doula comes to this work for a different reason.Our ideas about pregnancy, childbearing and childrearing, our interpretation of the process, our thoughts on how best to support women are as varied, unique and different as our life experience, our politics, our religious traditions, our upbringing.There’s a reason why the best doula for one person is not automatically the best doula for another.So what’s my magic answer now?What connection did I find?Why do I do this work and how has abortion deepened my ability to serve birth?

My client is pregnant.She is 19, 22, 29, 35, 38, 42 years of age.She has no children, she is a mother already, she plans to be one someday.She’s wealthy enough to pay me a couple hundred dollars, she lives in poverty.She is scared of what she’s about to undergo, she’s matter-of-factly confident, she’s defiant.She’s terrified of needles, she watches her blood fill the little tubes with fascination.She bosses her doctors and nurses around.She’s intimidated by doctors who barely speak her language.She speaks quietly and worries that the medical staff think she’s being “difficult.”She seems genuinely surprised when I tell her to find her strength and focus and relax.Has no one told her that she’s strong before?She cries.We laugh and talk about Kanye West, her children, where she gave birth.She wants to know how long does it take, how much longer?She holds my hand, she hugs me, she barely acknowledges my presence.She’s spiritual, she’s atheist.She believes it’s a mass of cells, she calls it a baby.She tells me her sign, she tells me her friend told her that the Bible says that God will strike down her son if she goes through with this.(I tell her it doesn’t say that anywhere in the Bible.)She holds her slippery, vernix-covered baby to her chest, staring at him in joyful bewilderment, mouth open.She asks to see the ultrasound of her 22-week fetus one last time before digoxin is injected into her uterus.She wants to breastfeed, she wants to use bottles of formula.She doesn’t know she has a choice about her baby being bathed, about when to come to the hospital, about how she wants her pregnancy to end.

So much is always different and one thing that never changes:no matter if I’m supporting a pregnant person through an abortion or a birth, I am simply standing with a fellow human being as close to the fuzzy line as most of us come in this life.So close to the threshold of being and not being.It’s not a place many modern humans want to be without company.This is my job.I’m helping her find her strength there, a hand to hold as she walks the line.I’m helping her across.

~ Janna, LA Doula Project (janna@ladoulaproject.org)

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