Poonam traveled to Amherst, MA this past April to speak on the opening plenary at the 28th Annual Reproductive Justice Conference, hosted by Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) program at Hampshire College. CLPP aims to “inspire, educate, train and support new activists and leadership to secure reproductive freedom, justice and sexual rights for everyone.”
Poonam’s plenary speech touches on her work in reducing abortion stigma, in building and nurturing BADP, and how the full-spectrum doula movement is spreading to cities around the US. To boot, it is damn inspiring.
If you need a little pep in your workday as a full-spectrum doula, (and, yes, it’s a workday even when it doesn’t look like it to most people), do yourself a favor and watch this. And if you don’t need the encouargement, watch it anyway. It’ll reaffirm that you are doing exactly what you should be.
Way to represent, Poonam!
Click here to watch the video (transcript below).
Hi everyone, my name is Poonam Dreyfus-Pai, and I am co-director of the Bay Area Doula Project, and I’m here from Oakland, CA. I am so excited to be here among all of you amazing activists, organizers, and scholars, talking about work that is very near and dear to my heart. Thank you for having me here.
Bay Area Doula Project is committed to increasing access to compassionate support for folks having abortions or experiencing pregnancy loss in the Bay Area. Though our focus is limited to abortion and pregnancy loss at the moment, we are full-spectrum doulas: we believe that all pregnant people deserve respect and support, regardless of the outcome of their pregnancy, and we work to make that possible.
I was asked to share some of my work on abortion stigma and full-spectrum doulas, so I will give you some more background about me. I’m about to graduate from a dual masters program, where I’ve spent the better part of 3 years researching abortion stigma. The idea that people who are associated with abortions — either because they’ve had abortions, they provide abortions, or they are connected to folks who have abortions — this idea that they are tainted by that experience and deserve discrimination? It’s not new. But it’s been getting a lot of attention recently. What we know about abortion stigma is simple: that people who worry about judgment and condemnation for their abortion experiences, and who are treated poorly because of them, often retreat into isolation, secrecy, shame, and guilt. No one should have to experience that.
One of the things that we know can help to reduce abortion stigma is positive disclosure, or being able to tell someone about the experience and have that story met with compassion and understanding. But this puts a lot of burden on people who’ve had abortions — we ask them to talk about their experiences publicly, but we don’t always make spaces that feel safe for them to do so. And we risk creating spaces where people feel defined solely by their abortion experiences, separating that identity from the rest of their multifaceted and complex lives.
As a public health researcher, I’ve been trained to think of things in terms of root causes, in terms of the “problem.” And I’m here to say that abortion stigma isn’t a root cause. It isn’t the main problem. We all know this. It is all reproductive oppression, of which abortion stigma is one specific symptom.
The root cause here is that we are not a society that values all bodies, all experiences.
We are a society rooted in shame.
So when we silo different sexual and reproductive experiences from each other, and we focus on one type of stigma, we forget that people encounter discrimination and judgment as a result of the intersection of sex or pregnancy with their other identities. And these experiences of stigma are linked, creating a complex web of people who are shamed, policed, and silenced. For some folks, it’s their abortion experience. For others, it’s their decision to become pregnant, or to parent. For others, it’s their decision to have sex or not to have sex. For a lot of folks, it’s all of these things, just at different points in their lives.
My other professional identity, that of a social worker, helps me balance this emphasis on “the problem.” Social workers care about connection, about support. And I came to these two fields — public health and social work — because of my work as a full-spectrum doula.
Because that is what I think the true value of full-spectrum work is: the ability to understand that all experiences are valid and are connected. To recognize that they are shaped by systemic, institutionalized racism, classism, ableism, xenophobia, cissexism and heteronormativity. True full-spectrum work recognizes the problem at a macro-level, but also works to provide individualized care. The folks that we support identify their own needs, and we honor their inherent resilience. We offer to hold people’s hands and to breathe with them. We offer information if it’s wanted. We provide a listening ear. We offer a ride to a clinic, or a place to stay.We create and hold space for them to share their stories if they want to, and continue to hold that space if they decide not to. We work to build more bridges across these silo-ed spheres. We work to see people in all of their nuance, and provide nonjudgmental, unconditional support.
To me, that’s what stigma reduction is all about: creating more opportunities and spaces for all people to feel safe, heard, and supported. This is what full-spectrum work has the potential to do. It has the potential not only to reduce stigma, but to increase support and compassion across all experiences and identities.
And as I’m sure you might know, the full-spectrum movement is growing, y’all! So much so that 9 groups in 8 states are now in the process of building a national network, the Full-Spectrum Reproductive Support Network.
Many groups represented in the network are here today, so thank you for acknowledging them. And we are so excited for it to keep growing.
Creating a national network is our way of reaching more people, while also supporting each other in doing this work. Because it is only by creating a culture of support that we can really start to dismantle the systems that enable abortion stigma and reproductive oppression to thrive. It is only by working together across silos that we can shift the way we talk about and create love, sex, family, and community.