A Call for “Full Spectrum” Doulas
By Maryann Colella
On January 24th, 2014 I walked into a room of 25 awesome ladies and 2 trainers from the Bay Area Doula Project. We would spend the next two days being trained as abortion doulas, and forming the founding group that would become The Boston Doula Project. During the training we talked about different abortion procedures, did roleplaying, massaged one another, drank tea, laughed, squeezed each other’s hips, learned aboutand discussed the political climate for abortion in this country through the lens of Reproductive Justice.
Reproductive Justice is more encompassing than the realms of reproductive health and reproductive rights because it’s an intersectional framework. Unfortunately, our reproductive lives are not separate from right-wing politics, institutionalized discrimination, societal stigma, and environmental racism. Reproductive Justice is defined by Sister Song Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective as “the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments.”
Being “full spectrum” means that we, as doulas, offer support through various passages in our reproductive lives, not limited to perinatal care, but also therapeutic or spontaneous pregnancy termination, stillbirth, menarche, queer family planning, adoption, and the issues surrounding cessation of fertility. Caring for all of these and other lived transitions is a valuable and necessary part of doula care.
The first formal collective of abortion doulas in the US started in NYC in 2007 and continues to train new doulas and provide free abortion support in the city, as well as organize public events on themes of Reproductive Justice. The New York and Bay Area projects spurred inspiration across the nation and last year we founded a national network called The Full Spectrum Reproductive Support Network, which has 11 groups as members. More and more communities are requesting trainings to start their own collectives.
Since my training, I have been a volunteer member of the Boston Doula Project, now a collective 30 people strong. Being a full Spectrum doula has not only given me an amazing community of reproductive activists, but has also informed my work as a birth doula. In our quarterly meetings we explore different themes surrounding privilege, and bring in trainers from other awesome organizations such as The Prison Birth Project and the Cambridge Needle Exchange, to learn more about supporting pregnant people from all walks of life.
As birth-workers it’s important to address privilege, remembering that the white mother is celebrated, and the mother of color is often more applauded in her decision to have an abortion than if she decides to parent. The white mother’s child is more likely to thrive and the mother of color’s child more likely to be incarcerated. Our work doesn’t end when we leave the birth room or the clinic; the full spectrum doula practices seeing the bigger picture. Furthermore, doing volunteer doula work helps to offset the possibility that doulas have unwittingly contributed to the commodification of the birth process.
I find many doulas are afraid to be political when they are not in the birth room. I find this strange because, whether we like it or not, reproduction is currently tied up in politics across the globe. I am happy that we who do full spectrum work identify as “doulas,” because I am shocked by how many birth workers are anti-choice. For me, doula care is inextricably linked to feminism, and feminism means trusting and supporting pregnant people in their own health care decisions.
If you want to read more about full spectrum work, each issue of Squat Birth Journal features a column called “The Other Side of the Coin,” which focuses on full spectrum doula and midwifery care.
Maryann Colella of Wild Grace Doula is a full spectrum doula and reproductive activist living and working in the Boston area. She is an active volunteer member of The Boston Doula Project, which provides free abortion and miscarriage support. She also supports younger parents as a volunteer birth doula with Brigham and Women’s Adolescent Reproductive Health Services. Maryann is a student of Birth Arts International and an aspiring midwife. In her free time she is a puppeteer, mask-maker, stilt dancer, and living statue in the Boston Public Garden.