It's generally accepted that childbirth is a stressful process. That’s why a woman in labor often opts to have a doula by her side—to nurture her during intense bouts of pain and emotion. But what about when a woman decides to terminate a pregnancy? Nearly three years ago, a small group of reproductive-rights activists came up with the concept of offering doula support for the “entire spectrum of pregnancy”—including abortion—and created The Doula Project to do so.
Currently working out of a public hospital in New York City, the diverse group of 20 volunteers keeps women company and provides relaxation techniques during abortion procedures for no cost. “To me, it seemed like a very intuitive idea,” says Lauren Mitchell, who co-founded the Project. “Why aren’t there doulas for abortions? It’s usually an un- comfortable procedure, it can be emotional, it encompasses a huge range—life, sex, death. It’s intense.” Sometimes the doula will hold a woman’s hand or rub her scalp to calm her; other times, she may crack corny jokes or trade dating stories. The doula also offers information on the procedure and can explain to the woman what is happening to her body. Mitchell, who works full-time as a health educator at the hos- pital, says not a single abortion patient has opted out of the doula service since it started, and all of them express grati- tude for it. Like Kristen, who was thankful to have the sup- port during her procedure. “At ﬁrst, I thought, ‘I don’t want to talk to this woman,’” she says. “But [the doula] calmed me down. She held my hand through the most painful thing I’ve ever gone through. I was pretty close to freaking out, but with Lauren there, I felt like I was in safe hands.” Often, just “being there” is the most important aspect, says Mary Mahoney, the assistant director of the Pro-Choice Public Education Project and one of the co-founders of The Doula Project. “We’re not there to poke them, or stick things in them, or to judge them. We’re there as friends, and we’re there as advocates.”
At this point, the service is very limited. Mitchell explains that it takes some doing to convince abortion clinics to allow an extra person in the room during a private procedure. Still, The Doula Project is working on expanding by installing doulas in two clinics in New York City, starting an afﬁ liate group in Atlanta, GA, and putting together a doula training kit in the hopes that the idea continues to spread. More information can be found at www.doulaproject.org. - Lisa Hix
[Illustration by Kim Scafuro]
This article originally appeared in BUST issue #61, February/March 2010. Subscribe today!