Doulas aren't simply assisting with births these days.
Traditionally, a doula offers non-medical support to women before, throughout, and sometimes after the birthing process. But a new, local Radical Doula Collective is a network for those who offer support to pregnant women in everything from birth to miscarriage to abortion.
"A radical doula is a full-spectrum doula, whether the doula is serving as an abortion doula, a doula for miscarriage, or a perinatal or neo-natal loss, or stillborn. They can even provide support throughout the adoption process or surrogacy," said Leslie Salama, who in August founded the Radical Doula Collective at Choices Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, where she works as a volunteer coordinator.
Choices was founded as an abortion clinic in the 1970s, but it has since grown into a full-service sexual health clinic, offering birth control, HIV testing, fertility services to both straight and gay couples, health care for transgender people, and other services.
Volunteer "patient advocates" at the clinic assist women receiving first trimester abortions, essentially acting as radical doulas. But Salama saw a need for more training for those volunteers, and she wanted to branch out and welcome doulas who don't have an affiliation with Choices. She also noticed a lack of abortion doulas in the city.
"I felt like our patient advocates needed to have a forum where they could be more connected with each other and see other peers in a nonclinical environment," Salama said. "They can share their stories and debrief and share tips and training and best practices. We want birth doulas to learn how to be abortion doulas and patient advocates to learn more about being birth doulas."
Doulas differ from midwives in that they don't need medical training. Rather than actually delivering a baby like a midwife, a traditional birth doula offers emotional and psychological support. She may offer tips on comfortable birthing positions or assist by providing aromatherapy or breathing techniques.
An abortion doula provides emotional support to women going through the process, and she may even be with a woman at her home during a medication termination, which is typically done at home by taking prescribed pills to induce abortion.
"There is no licensing for doulas, and there is no certification for abortion or radical doulas at all. A lot of organizations don't even acknowledge abortion doula care," Salama said.
As their primer, the collective is using The Radical Doula Guide by Miriam Zoila Pérez, a zine that addresses the political context of supporting people during pregnancy, childbirth, and other related issues.
At their first meeting in August, collective members discussed their desire to offer free services to women whenever possible, so low-income women aren't left out.
"We're looking at starting crowd-sourced fund-raising to allow doulas to offer services for free, so we'll have a pool of funds to draw from," Salama said.
The collective is open to active doulas from all spectrums, as well as anyone interested in becoming a doula. The next meeting will be held at Choices on Sunday, September 21st, at 2 p.m.