Unconditional Support, No Questions Asked

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The Doula Project, headed by two Williamsburg women, provides a comforting, no-strings-attached aid to women undergoing abortions.

By Leah Finnegan

Quietly working at a Manhattan hospital is a small group of women doing what even those who advocate for abortion might wince at: guiding women through late-term abortions.

In the midst of yet another round of abortion wars in Congress, the Doula Project operates in purposeful obscurity to support women who choose to have abortions, when they have abortions.

Lauren Mitchell, a petite redhead from Williamsburg, is one such doula, a Greek term meaning a woman — in antiquated times, a servant — who provides non-medical assistance during childbirth. Mitchell performs the typical doula tasks with her patients: she holds women’s hands, strokes their hair; talks to them about nothing in particular. Those who come to this hospital “probably don’t have health insurance or don’t know they have options under the law,” Mitchell says (the doulas interviewed for this article requested that the hospital, which specializes in late-term abortions, remain undisclosed). Many of the women are under familial pressure. Many of them are forced to go through the procedure alone.

That’s where the abortion doulas step in, widening the scope of the doula world as they work. Traditionally, doula communities are largely devoid of controversy and provocation. Doula work is considered the business of birth, and most would never contemplate their jobs in the context of abortion. But Miriam Perez, 25, an editor at Feministing and author of the blog Radical Doula, found that some people like herself felt isolated in their doula communities because they were queer, pro-choice or uninterested in making a full-time career of doula work. For Perez, it was also an issue of reconciling her reproductive rights work with being a doula.

And so the Doula Project was imagined when Perez met the Mitchell and the project’s co-founder, Mary Mahoney, at a meeting of The New York Birth Coalition in 2007. The idea of installing a doula unit at a local hospital or clinic became a passion project that Mitchell and Mahoney eventually carried to fruition (Perez had relocated to Washington, D.C.). And it continues to grow. Besides the partnership with the Manhattan hospital, the project appoints abortion doulas on an individual basis to women undergoing abortions at other hospitals and adoption doulas to Spence Chapin Adoption Agency. It’s also set to open a chapter in Atlanta.

There are 20 active abortion doulas in New York, mostly women under 30, and they work in shifts on a volunteer basis, serving up to 25 patients a week. To become doulas, they must complete 20 hours of clinical training, but the bulk of the job is intuitive — being present with the patient before and after the abortion, responding to her cues and providing necessary support. The intimacy of the experience can be wrenching. “What you get very used to is this weird mix of tragedy and relief and sex and death — this wild variety of emotions,” Mitchell says. “There’s always this interesting mix of remorse and relief.”

Even with the success of the project, though, working radical doulas remain a rare breed. “A lot of people are interested in this politically, but don’t have the warmth,” Mitchell says. “You need more than just your conviction to do this.” Mitchell remembers feeling “sick with her own privilege” during her first abortion doula experience. “I was sitting between two women — one was a cashier at a 99-cent store and the other worked at a dry cleaner. Neither spoke English,” she says.

But it’s a strong sense of purpose and ardor that buoys doulas during the most intense situations. In one instance, Mitchell was with a woman undergoing a late-term procedure in which the woman’s fetus was given a shot of KCL, the same substance used in lethal injections. The woman, lying on a medical bed with her hands behind her head because her bottom half had to be kept sterile, could either look left and see an array of syringes or right and see the ultrasound monitor with her dead fetus on it. Mitchell, standing in the space behind the woman’s head, had met her only moments before. The woman turned her head and buried her face in Mitchell’s arms.

The project as a whole has assisted in 500 abortions. It is still in essence a side job for Mitchell and Mahoney — they both work; Mitchell as a health educator at the same hospital in which the doulas are stationed, Mahoney an assistant director at the Pro-Choice Public Education Project. But they spend a great deal of time with the project as it evolves, making sure to keep its foundation intact. They are doulas first, after all, to give women support that they might not otherwise get. “You’re not going to take this person’s pain away,” Mitchell says, “But you can help guide them through it.”

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18 Responses to “Unconditional Support, No Questions Asked”

  1. WM
    February 1, 2010 at 10:03 AM #

    Thanks for sharing this story and this aspect of being a doula. It’s incredibly moving, and I’m grateful that there are women willing to step-up and be there for these women who truly need support and love more than anything else.

  2. Shannon
    February 24, 2010 at 6:43 PM #

    Thank you – I wish you’d been around when I was too young and scared and ashamed. Though really, in your presence for others you are also present for me….

  3. Rhonda
    March 23, 2010 at 10:39 AM #

    I would like to train to become an abortion doula. Would I have be be a trained birth doula first?

    Thanks for all you do.

  4. Linda Ill
    March 23, 2010 at 10:33 PM #

    “weird mix of tragedy and relief, sex and death”…oh, how philosophical!

    How about the baby’s pain as she was wondering what that needle was doing being jabbed into her heart…or the baby who was burned to death by saline being injected into the amniotic fluid, causing him to inhale the acid poison into his lungs, burning up the lining of his lungs as he gasped for breath and thrashed around for hours as the salt solution burned like fire into his skin and respiratory tract until he finally succumbed to the intentionally injected lethal solution.

    Did the dying babies have a doula to comfort them as their mothers had them killed, like the mothers had doulas for their comfort? Did the dying babies have anyone just stroke their little heads as they felt their chests heaving and struggling for each breath on their way to their cruel death?

    Where will the doulas be when these mothers, who just paid top dollar to abortionists to slaughter their children, become depressed, suicidal, drug-addicted, filled with self-hate with the knowledge that they killed their own child? No doula, no boyfriend, no support.

    At least there’s Rachel’s Vineyard, who ministers to grieving mothers who were lied to and deceived by the multi-billion dollar abortion industry. You can fill abortion clinics with “doulas”, stroking mothers as their babies are dismembered and born dead- mutilated little corpses- but you can NEVER erase the knowledge seared into the consciences of mothers that they are brutally ending the life of their own offspring.

  5. Zee
    April 21, 2010 at 6:08 PM #

    Linda,

    First, I think you need to do some research on how abortion is carried out, and not just read your propaganda.

    Not all women who have had abortions turn to drugs, become depressed, or anything else you said happens. Nearly 43% of women in the US will require this service at some point in their lives.

    Honestly, how dare you judge people on this?

    Leah, thank you SO MUCH for all you do. What an inspiration you are, and the other women who choose this highly controversial career. For being brave and compassionate, you will certainly always have MY unconditional support. Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart.

  6. Payton Butler
    May 25, 2010 at 2:31 PM #

    I am always against abortion because it is a sin to kill an innocent child.`*’

  7. Teri
    August 19, 2010 at 12:43 PM #

    “The project as a whole has assisted in 500 abortions. ”

    You mean it has assisted in the killing of 500 unborn babies…so sad….for both the babies and their moms

  8. be
    August 21, 2010 at 7:48 PM #

    i so agree with zee! this is not something that’s done lightly. i had an abortion a long time ago. i was young and in college. do i hate myself? absolutely not. am i a drug addict? absolutely not. i have 3 wonderful healthy children now. and my children are all pro choice. i donate money to planned parenthood when i can. thank you leah; great job!

  9. Liv
    September 2, 2010 at 12:20 PM #

    This is tragic.

  10. r
    September 9, 2010 at 5:31 PM #

    What a nice article. The Doula Project is finally organizing its offshoot here in Atlanta and I am thrilled, since the need is great here too: some clinics have staff who serve as “patient advocates” during the day of the appointment, but not all do. I’m looking forward to being part of the DP’s group of volunteer doulas, and hopefully being a birth doula as well someday.

  11. michelle -Georgia
    September 11, 2010 at 8:16 PM #

    Wow I can’t even fathom this idea and btw Zee , Linda never judged anyone! It is interesting how you took her statement to be judgement. That would be your CONSCIENCE talking to you Zee. How one could even think about being both a birth doula and an abortion doula is even more staggering. Perhaps when those of you who are in favor of this and actually help the mothers terminate their viable children, and come face to face with the reality of the actual dead child, you will change your mind. If you are willing to sign up for this be prepared to deliver a dead baby in the middle of the night in a dirty motel room. This is what happens quite often here in the Atlanta area. If you have the stomach to do that, you must be a very hardened person.

  12. Mrs. F.
    September 12, 2010 at 3:37 AM #

    Disgusting. I noticed that they were “afraid” to name the abortion clinic. Late term abortion is an atrocity. It is murder plain and simple. How can these women “help” these murderers!

  13. Sad and Angry
    September 12, 2010 at 3:42 AM #

    Positively sickening! Did anyone read the comments below the article. One person asked how they could train to be an “abortion doula”. What’s next training to be an “executioners assistant” although it’s really one and the same.

  14. Marie
    September 12, 2010 at 10:09 AM #

    Wow, I am speechless at the amount of comments of people praising this! This is not merciful and compassionate. This is people trying to make abortions ok. Those are babies, those are lives. Many, many women who have undergone abortion DO suffer afterwards and what Linda was saying on how abortions are done is correct. It’s not propaganda, it’s TRUTH. I think many of you should look at pictures of aborted babies and research what is done to achieve this and then really think about what this is really about. I’m astounded that they are bragging that 500 lives have been lost. Very, very sad. What these women need is the COMPASSION of those who are willing to stand by them when they have their child and a society that values children and doesn’t respond selfishly towards pregnancy and motherhood.

  15. Beth
    September 24, 2010 at 9:52 PM #

    Satan masquerades as an Angel of Light.
    His name, “Devil”, credits him as the Ultimate Deceiver.
    Abortion is one of his tools of destruction.
    I challenge those of you who think this is compassionate, to take the time to research Planned Parenthood’s roots–steeped in eugenics. It should shock you.

    The good news is that for those of you who have suffered from abortion, Jesus Christ offers you forgiveness and the hope that one day you can see the child that you lost. Believe it!

  16. Kristi
    September 29, 2010 at 1:45 AM #

    What IS sickening are the women who go on this site to guilt trip others and make them feel bad about their choice to terminate their pregnancy. Ah, far better to bring to life a child who may never be loved, cared for, or even coached into adulthood due to varying degrees of danger present in the home of the hypothetical child. By nature, the decision to become pregnant instead of adopting an existing child is inherently selfish, so don’t go around pulling the “selfish” card on women who are NOT ready for motherhood and are simultaneously already part of a marginalized minority.

    Now, before I get attacked by other mothers for saying natural child birthing is selfish, please note that I have carried full-term, birthed, and am currently raising my biological daughter. I was illustrating a point that most decisions can be boiled down to selfishness (and that one shouldn’t judge others on a hypocritical basis), not attempting to degrade the choice to have biological children.

    Three cheers for abortion doulas! Hardest job in the world, in my opinion! I would have given my life to see my daughter born healthy, it must be heart wrenching to see on a consistent basis the other side of that decision!

    <3s to all of you.

  17. Dolly Katos
    February 7, 2011 at 4:40 PM #

    Useful site, where did you come up with the information in this post? Im happy I found it though, ill be checking back soon to see what other articles you have.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Making the radical a reality « Radical Doula - February 1, 2010

    [...] There is another great article about the Doula Project in the Brooklyn Link. Possibly related posts: (automatically [...]

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