Individuals who choose to have children and individuals who choose to terminate their pregnancies are both making difficult, carefully-weighed decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, only the former is accustomed to receiving educational and emotional support, and only the former typically feels welcome to openly discuss the experience.
To offset this imbalance, Baltimore Doulas for Choice strives to train volunteers to provide excellent service to people who decide to undergo abortions in Baltimore. A doula is traditionally thought of as a person who provides assistance and emotional support during pregnancy and birth, but it is vital to also consider the similar needs experienced by women and other people who choose to have abortions. The services offered by abortion doulas include, but are not limited to, advocacy and facilitation of communication between the doctor and patient, educating clients by competently fielding their questions, and providing emotional support and pain management.
Baltimore Doulas for Choice (baltimoredoulasforchoice.wordpress.com) was founded in July of 2014 with guidance and mentorship from other similar organizations such as the DC Doulas for Choice Collective and The Doula Project in NYC. It's in the process of expanding so it can provide doula care to more of the people who need it in Baltimore City.
Projects such as this are sorely needed because everyone deserves respect, support and accurate information when accessing abortion and other reproductive health services. The organization endeavors to be inclusive for low-income people, LGBTQI-identified people, youth and people of color. This is an important approach to take because some clients who require abortion services do not identify as women, and it is important to provide them with the same level of respect and care even though the majority of those who access such services are women-identified. It is just as vital to be inclusive of the youth population because data from the Baltimore City Health Department shows that the city of Baltimore has a teen pregnancy rate that is more than twice as high as the state average: In 2012 there were 46.9 births per 1,000 teenage females aged 15 to 19 as opposed to 22.1 statewide. People of color as well as pregnant teenagers face numerous social and economic obstacles when it comes to accessing contraceptives and quality reproductive care, which makes the organization's goal of training doulas in Baltimore to provide inclusive and respectful services imperative.
One of the other most powerful services a doula can offer is the ability to listen without judgment. It is not the doula's role to question or confront the feelings or beliefs held by the client. Instead, the doula seeks to meet the client where they are and provide support that is absolutely lacking in judgment for the entirety of their short association. The experience of having an abortion can be varied for different people who choose to undergo it. Some may have a positive outlook and experience a sense of relief over a burden that has been divested. Some may harbor negative emotions and feel that they are violating their belief system. Although the doula may possess beliefs which are very different from the ones being expressed by a client, the doula does not attempt to persuade or convince the client to feel a different way.
One of the volunteer doulas in the program recently described an impactful encounter with a woman who expressed the belief that she was a bad person for getting an abortion, and that she was certain to regret her decision later. "It was personally difficult for me to not contradict her, and tell her that she wasn't a bad person. However, I didn't want to drown out her feelings so instead I listened and tried to emphasize that she was doing a good job of using the resources available to her, both in going through with a procedure she felt she needed and in reaching out for support."
In the end, the volunteer provided a very valuable service. The woman was relieved to talk and receive comfort during and after the procedure. The doula made the experience much more bearable just by being there.
Miriam Doyle is a volunteer doula and student at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.