Sunday, November 20, 2011

I am officially an Abortion Doula!

The following is a post about my experience with the training for the Bay Area Doula Project, a brand new volunteer organization that is building up a solid crew of abortion doulas to offer support for pregnant people throughout their abortion experiences.  Trigger warning for talk of abortion, trauma, rape.

I've only been home for a couple hours from a two day weekend training workshop, so I feel that it's bit premature to write this post.  I am going to be dissecting my thoughts and emotions for days and weeks to come, but I do want to write a bit about my experience while the feelings are fresh in my mind.

I walked into the training session at the beautiful Zen Center in San Francisco and was greeted by a kaleidoscope of people of various races, ages, and gender identification.  I was nervous, because I'd only recently within the past few months become acquainted with the idea of an abortion doula, and I had plenty of reservations about whether I'm strong enough.  I still do, I'm not going to lie.  However, I felt an instant rapport with all of the people in the room.  All of us were there seeking knowledge, seeking strength, and wanting to know everything we could about how to help people navigate the challenging choice of abortion.

The training was multifaceted.  We discussed the actual medical details of a variety of procedures, going into first and second trimester abortions and the information that no one really talks about.  We talked about the types of anesthesia, the patient's experience, the surgical instruments used, the actual processes of removing the products of conception, all the blunt details about what is really going on during the procedure and what it could look like.  No one in the room was completely comfortable with these details, you could tell from the squirming and the questions.  However, we all knew that the abortion doula knowing what actually happens is beneficial to the patient and also beneficial to us so that we are not confronted with unexpected imagery once we are in the clinics.  No one could say it was an easy conversation, but it was an important one.

I learned about the real stories behind abortion. We talked about the difficult scenarios that may arise, such as parents who have chosen to terminate a pregnancy because the fetus has a disability such as Down syndrome.  We also talked about the complicated aspects of fetal anomalies -- in which highly desired pregnancies are terminated because the fetus has a disorder or disfigurement that is incompatible with life. We talked about the struggle some women have in their first trimester finding an abortion provider (due to financial or other restrictions) and how more-complicated second trimester abortions occur because of this lack of access.  We talked about teen pregnancy and how supporting those teenagers might be done differently.  We talked about cases of abuse, rape, and trauma and about how to navigate those situations. These are the stories that define us.

We talked for hours about the emotional aspect of abortion, which is an immense layer of complexity to navigate.  We learned about what kind of conversation we can expect, what kind of difficult questions we will have to answer and uncomfortable statements we will endure.  We challenged our own morals and our own values and took the conversation to deep places, but did so together in a way that made us all feel empowered by the end.  We learned about what the experience can feel like emotionally for the patient who has chosen abortion.

We learned quite a bit about self care, and how we can best support ourselves so that we can continue doing this challenging work despite emotional stress.  We meditated, we did yoga, we practiced staring into each other's eyes and holding the space.  We learned about loving ourselves and becoming a community of trained abortion doulas.  We were one.

We were so fortunate to have Lauren and Kathleen from the New York Doula Project to come train us.  The NY Doula Project started this all out, this entire beautiful and radical full spectrum idea to support those who have chosen abortion as their pregnancy outcome.  I feel like our Bay Area chapter will be following in their footsteps, learning from them and from each other.  One amazing aspect of this training was that it was totally trans inclusive.  We made sure to refer not to 'women' but to 'people'.  Not just women become pregnant, and it was fantastic that we adopted that language from the day 1 of training.

So that's it.  I'm now able to begin my abortion doula work and I am equipped with the internal strength and the practical knowledge that I need to support pregnant people.  I know it will be a challenge and I know it will be emotional and at times I may want to break down and cry.  However, I feel more strongly pro-abortion now than I ever have.  Hearing these true stories and knowing that both the pro-choice and anti-choice world have a 'spin' on the conversations in the media regarding abortion makes me want to write my own stories.  There is powerful work to be done out there.  Hard work.  Work that needs to be done, and I am so happy that there is a wonderfully revolutionary volunteer group right here in the Bay Area.

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