Thursday, October 13, 2011

Meeting the SFGH Doulas, an awesome experience

Last night, I had my first meeting with the San Francisco General Hospital volunteer doula program.  It was inspiring.  It was transformational, powerful, and intense.  And we didn't even interact with mothers. Just talking to people who share your same values about women and pregnancy is fascinating.

I found out a lot more about the program, and about what I can expect going forward. It is going to be everything that I had ever hoped for.  The room was filled with a variety of women from different walks of life, each one unique and passionate about what we're all here to do.  We started out the meeting by choosing one word that describes us, one word that explains why we are (or will be) a great doula.  My word was "acceptance", because I strongly believe in accepting whatever choice a mother is making for herself.  That is going to affect all of my volunteer doula work, and so I think it's a very big part of what makes me a great doula-to-be.  Everyone had great words to describe themselves, and it was obvious why everyone was there.

We talked about the SF General, and what makes it unique from other hospitals. To start, it has one of the most diverse patient population of any hospital.  It is over 50% Mexican, with people from all over the country coming due to the exemplary service it provides.  It is a public hospital, and sees the majority of the city's low income population, meaning that the people who come there are often desperate for care.  We will be supporting women who have suffered through domestic violence, torture, drug addictions, homelessness, incarceration, and more.  It is also the only level 1 trauma center in all of San Francisco and northern San Mateo County, so it has a high volume of patients at all times.  It's a baby-friendly hospital, one of the only ones around.  And it has a unique midwifery program that has existed for over 30 years.

The San Francisco General Hospital is also one of the only hospitals left in the West Coast (and maybe the country) who still provides late-term abortions.  These cases are all run by an ethics committee and are not taken lightly.  They are offered in the case of fetuses that have conditions that are incompatible with life.  As a rule, SF General will perform late-term abortions up to 6 months of age.  As a result, many of these women will be going through the birth process to terminate their pregnancies. Many of them have come from all over the country, with little or no support systems.  Some of them come up with heavy burdens and large amounts of judgement from their family, friends, and even their regular medical providers.  These women need doulas, badly.  They will be going through induction, and contractions,and will be delivering a dead fetus.  If that isn't an intense moment for all involved, I don't know what is.

As volunteer doulas, I found out that we will also be able to go to the neonatal nursery and hold babies if we do not have any women to give labor support to.  Many of the babies in the nursery are drug addicted or waiting on their foster parents to pick them up. We can also go into the waiting room and talk with prenatal patients about our doula program, or about breastfeeding.  It sounds fascinating.

I also talked to the woman who is part of the organizing team of the Bay Area Doula Project, which offers abortion doula support to women in various abortion clinics in addition to the SF General Hospital.  I am so eager to get started with that particular program, because it's completely aligned with what my vision of being a radical full-spectrum doula.

This isn't going to be an easy volunteer position.  For 12 hours a month (occasionally overnight) at a minimum, I will be helping women who truly need assistance.  They might be emotionally battered, physically hurt, have disabilities, non-English speaking, have no support, homeless, poor, underprivileged.  It's going to be intense and emotional, and I do wonder if I have the strength to give them the support they need. I seriously hope so, because this program is truly unique and I really want it to be a part of my life.  I'm hoping to get into the next orientation in November so that I can start as soon as possible.

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