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Entries in full spectrum doula (14)


Notes From The Salon: What is a Full-Spectrum Doula Anyway?

- Sarah W., BADP Doula and Blogger

The third BADP salon focused on what full-spectrum doulas do and why they do it.  The presenters were full-spectrum doulas Poonam Pai and Signy Toquinto as well as Ziska West who is working to complete a dissertation on the integration of mental health services in gynecological and women's primary care.

Photo by Mary Franck, Million Fishes Art Collective

Ziska opened the night’s presentations by discussing her own background, including working as the only onsite mental health provider at the Women’s Community Clinic.  She also shared some distressing statistics on the state of women’s health in both the U.S. generally and San Francisco specifically:

  • In 2010 the National Women’s Law Center report, Making the Grade on Women’s Health: A National and State-by-State Report Card, concluded that women’s healthcare needs are inadequately addressed in the United States in general, and in every state. 
  • According to 2010 US Census data, women in the US, and specifically those in San Francisco, were more likely than men to be below the poverty line.
  • In San Francisco, women head 92% of low income single parent households, which make up 48% of all low-income households in the city (DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, & Smith, 2011). 
  • In California, 45% of nonelderly adult women are uninsured (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2009). 
  • On an annual basis, women pay more than men for overall healthcare, including primary care, specialty care, emergency services, and diagnostic screenings (Bertakis, Azari, Helms, Callahan, & Robbins, 1999).


Next, Signy talked about her experience as a birth doula, focusing on issues of access to the proven value of doula support.  Birth doulas provide various non-medical types of continuous support for someone giving birth.   As she described it, “As a birth doula you are there to support this individual no matter what.”  That means even if the birth doula doesn’t personally like choices the birthing mom is making, or would have made different choices herself, she continues to offer unconditional support.

The importance of this kinds of support can be measured in several different ways.  Signy shared statistics published by DONA indicating that doula support decreases likelihood of cesarean section, use of vacuum extractor or forceps, use of analgesia or anesthesia, and dissatisfaction with a birth experience.

Signy argued that access to this kind of support should be available to all birthing women.  The volunteer doula program at San Francisco General Hospital is an example of one way that doulas are working to bring their services to underserved populations. 


Poonam then talked about her work with the Doula Project in New York, a group which started in 2007 with just two doulas in one hospital and has grown to now encompass 40 doulas working in four abortion clinics, as well as providing support for other pregnancy outcomes. 

The group in New York chose to call themselves “abortion doulas” deliberately in order to begin to bridge the gap between the birth community and the reproductive justice community.

Because women seeking abortions are often not permitted to bring a partner or loved one with them into the procedure room, abortion doulas can fill an especially critical support role when they are given access to those spaces.  Poonam described how her work involved everything from holding hands, wiping tears, and offering calming breathing techniques, to telling jokes, fetching hot pads, and making distracting small talk.

According to Poonam, full-spectrum doula work is about providing support for all pregnancy outcomes.


Ziska wrapped up the formal presentations by pointing out some ways in which different kinds of reproductive health workers can collaborate to provide increasingly better support for people seeking reproductive health care.  As a mental health worker she is aware of mental health issues that commonly present during unplanned or difficult pregnancy experiences, and she wants to work together with doulas and others to share knowledge. Ziska is available for consultation with doulas and other women's health providers. Email her at

In light of this call for collaboration, it was therefore fitting that this salon featured a lengthy audience participation period, during which questions were raised and discussed about supporting people throughout the gender spectrum, the availability of doulas nationally, support for making the decision whether to choose an abortion, support for medical abortions at home, working with communities of color, and more.

It’s clear that all of us interested in women's reproductive health – full-spectrum doulas, mental health workers, clinicians, patients… - have a lot to teach each other.  There was some mention of the possibility of the BADP salon series continuing beyond its initial four weeks.  Do you have knowledge to share at a future salon?  Or questions you want answered at one?  The BADP wants to know. 

And do be as generous as you can when we pass the hat.  Donations go directly to a tiny budget which enables the organization to maintain this website, print flyers, run the salons, and offer training for doulas who can’t afford it themselves. 

For now, there’s one more Salon planned.  Please join us:


All about the Placenta: The Science, Art, and Eating of the Placenta.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The title says it all! Come learn and play with us as we discover the beauty and science of the amazing placenta and the role it plays in women’s heath pre- and post- natal.

Barby Zeldovich has a PhD in Cell & Molecular Biology from UCSF where she researched placental infection in preterm labor. She will talk about the science of how the placenta is formed by the developing fetus, how it functions, and the role it plays in pregnancy complications.

Amber Dawn Hallet of Moon Belly Doula will present on the process of raw placental encapsulation. Amber is a birth doula and who studied Traditional Chinese Medicine in graduate school who offers placental encapsulation services to women in the Bay Area.

Kelly Gray of Nine Moons Doula will show a short film about the birth of a placenta and the creation of placenta prints. She will also display her own recent exploration of the creative process of placenta printing and will have reproductions of placenta prints for sale.

Million Fishes Art Gallery

2501 Bryant Street, San Francisco, CA

$10-20 suggested donation. No one turned away for lack of funds.  All proceeds go to the Bay Area Doula Project


Notes From the Salon: Orgasm Outside the Box

- Sarah W., BADP Doula and Blogger

The theme of last week's Salon was officially "Orgasm Outside the Box" but it could also have been something like Women Coming Together for Greater Pleasure.

Erotic fiction author Shelby Devlin-Hailey spoke about "How Letting Go of Labels Can Improve Your Orgasms" and hypnotherapist with experience in hypnobirthing Carrie Fleming spoke about "Illuminating the Intersections Between Passion, Sexuality & Birth."

Shelby based her presentation on personal observations and a few key recent studies, to argue that women are generally more fluid in their sexuality than men are.  A critical idea in her presentation was "erotic plasticity" which describes how a person's sexuality can be shaped and changed over time by varying social forces. 

Shelby was very influenced by a study by Meredith Chivers which showed that women's erotic response is typically more widely ranging than men's. 

She showed the "lesbian" kiss scene from Cruel Intentions as an illustration of the type of women's sexual fluidity she was trying to describe.

Shelby concluded that women can learn a lot from each other about their sexual pleasure, even if they primarily identify as heterosexual.  Her final PowerPoint slide declared, "A Modest Proposal: Women Become Sexual Allies."

Shelby recommended Sex At Dawn and Scarleteen as resources for women who want to better understand their own sexuality.

Carrie, who presented next, was interested in linking together various intritguing tidbits she's found about sexuality and sensuality in the context of childbirth.

The audience seemed to particularly respond to film clips that she showed, one of an unassisted water birth and one from Orgasmic Birth, which both depicted calm, pleasurable, and even sexual birthing -- a world apart from the standard media images of women birthing in the hospital under bright lights with nurses strenuously urging, "push, push!"

Carrie also offered an experiential exercise during which she invited the audience to relax into a light meditative state, feel into the experience of an imagined great kiss, and then listen to a quote:

People who are in denial about the possibility of sexual feelings during labor forget what happens in the body during a good kiss.  Blood rushes from the thinking part of the brain, the neocortex, to the vaginal tissues, and this is precisely what causes the swelling that enlarges the vaginal opening enough to make painless penetration possible.  Oxytocin and beta-endorphin levels soar.  When a woman gives birth, she has, -- if anything -- an even greater need for such swelling to take place.  When her labor can proceed in a way that allows the release of high levels of oxytocin and beta-endorphins, the optimal swelling of her vaginal tissues can then take place.  As mentioned earlier, the release of these hormones explains why some women -- as strange as this may seem to anyone who hasn't seen or experienced it -- experience orgasm during labor or birth. -- Ina May Gaskin in Birth Matters

Carrie also mentioned several other ways that sexual stimulation can aid in easing labor.  For people wanting to explore the topic further, she handed out a long list of women-centered birth resources including Laura Shanley's website on Sensual Pregnancy & Birth.

When Liz, the Bay Area Doula Project fundraising coordinator, passed the hat at the end of the evening, she stressed that the BADP wants women to get the support they need across the reproductive spectrum, including pregnancy that has birth as an outcome, pregnancy that has adoption as an outcome, pregnancy that is terminated, and sex that doesn't have pregnancy as an outcome.  Tomorrow night's Salon will feature information on how full-spectrum doulas provide this range of support.

What is a Full Spectrum Doula Anyway?

March 21st @7pm

Full-spectrum doula organizations are cropping up all over the country. What does it means to be a full-spectrum doula? How have the birth doula and abortion doula movements influenced each other and the care we provide for pregnant individuals? These and other topics will be explored by Poonam Pai and Signy Toquinto, practicing full-spectrum doulas and Ziska West will also add the perspective of a mental healthcare provider specializing in integrative women's health.

Poonam Pai is a student in the concurrent Masters in Public Health and Masters in Social Welfare program at UC Berkeley. Prior to graduate study, she spent two years volunteering as an abortion doula with the NY Doula Project, and is now a leader in the Bay Area Doula Project. Currently, she interns with ANSIRH's Social and Emotional Aspects of Abortion Program, and is the new Training and Engagement Intern at Exhale. She is extremely grateful to the Bay Area for having an amazing network of organizations dedicated to providing quality care and support for women who have abortions.

Signy Toquinto has been a practicing birth doula in the Bay Area for just over four years and volunteers with the San Francisco General Hospital Volunteer Doula Program. In addition to her doula work, she teaches childbirth preparation classes at Marin General Hospital and works with a prenatal teen clinic through UCSF. In Fall 2011, Signy was among the first group of women trained to become an abortion doula with the Bay Area Doula Project. She is also actively involved with the Birth Justice Project, Women's Community Clinic, and the Bay Area Birth Association, all of which are non-profit organizations that aim to improve the holistic health of marginalized women and girls.

Ziska West, M.A. is a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, CA. She has provided psychotherapy to children in East Oakland, women at the Women's Community Clinic, and currently at Mills College in Oakland, CA. She is working to complete a dissertation on the integration of mental health services in gynecological and women's primary care which specifically addresses issues around identity, social inequity, and access to comprehensive, quality, affordable care.
Poonam Pai is a concurrent student in the Masters in Public Health and Masters in Social Welfare programs at UC Berkeley.

Million Fishes Art Gallery

2501 Bryant Street, San Francisco, CA

$10-20 suggested donation. No one turned away for lack of funds.  All proceeds go to the Bay Area Doula Project


Notes From the Salon: This Hormonal Life

- Sarah W., BADP Doula and Blogger

Did you know that a woman’s hormonal cycle can affect her productivity at work, skin health, sexual response, and much, much more?  If you attended “This Hormonal Life” last Wednesday then you know all that.

The event, which comfortably filled the Million Fishes Art Collective on Bryant Street in San Francisco’s Mission district, was the first of four salons celebrating Women’s History Month and raising much needed funds for the volunteer-run Bay Area Doula Project.Million Fishes Art Collective

Tatiana Josephy and Amber Dawn Hallet teamed up to create the fantastic multimedia presentation on women’s amazing hormonal cycles and how we can work with them when we educate ourselves about how our bodies work.

Tatiana, who founded TrueCycle and recently released the free iPhone app Hormone Horoscope talked about her own history of feeling disconnected from her body and how much it changed her life when she learned about how her hormones worked in her own cycle. 

Amber, a full-spectrum doula, had a similar sort of story of feeling disconnected from her own cycles while she was on the pill, and coming back to herself as she learned to experience those cycles.

So what happens during a woman’s hormonal cycle?  Many of us think of PMS and menses as the primary events, but both presenters encouraged women to think of ovulation as the central event. 

Amber discusses cervical fluidThe changing quality of cervical fluid is one of the best indicators we have to observe when ovulation is taking place, but most of us are never taught how to notice these or any other signs of ovulation.  Amber said that learning to read the signs “make[s] it possible for you to become very body-literate.”

Tatiana focused more on the effects of estrogen and progesterone, about which there is a lot of new research.  Sexual desire, pain threshold, productivity, creativity, metabolic rate, skin health, sleep cycles, and more are linked to these changes in hormonal levels.

 Tatiana said that it’s valuable to be able to live with an understanding of all these cycles and that she’s “able to see the world in a different way” now that she recognizes what’s happening. 

Tatiana and Amber described the information they shared as having both personal and political power.  The huge number of women who have spent at least part of their reproductive years on hormonal birth control have also spent that time disconnected from some of the valuable experiences of a fully functioning cycle, such as periods of pronounced extroversion and sexual desire.  Because of this disconnect, Tatiana questioned the narrative that links women’s liberation with the development of the pill, and she thinks there’s a movement coming that will reconnect women with their bodily cycles.The presenters recommended Taking Charge of Your Fertility

Amber stated, “I wish that women had more education, more body-literacy.”  The technologically savvy can get more information from True Cycle or Hormone Horoscope.  Both presenters also recommended the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility, for information on how to track cycles and use that knowledge for contraception or pregnancy achievement.

The next three salons on women’s reproductive health are also a great way to gain more knowledge about our own bodies.  Join us this week on March 14th @ 7pm for:


Orgasm Outside the Box

How do our preconceptions, relationships and emotional experiences influence our sexual and sensual experiences? Join us for engaging presentations and lively discussion on how two women are uncovering orgasms in unexpected spaces.

Shelby Devlin-Hailey is an erotic-fiction author with a background in Human Sexuality. She is currently researching the importance of sexual play in female communities as well as the emergence of bi-sexuality in heterosexual women. How Letting Go of Labels Can Improve Your Orgasms is an informal conversation about her current explorations.

Carrie Flemming is a hypnotherapist with a background in HypnoBirthing and reproductive justice, and an interest in expanding our perceptions of how we birth our humans. Illuminating the Intersections between Passion, Sexuality & Birth is an experiential talk bringing together women-centered birth wisdom, sensual birth stories and a deep relaxation experience to facilitate dialogue around the sensual and sexual possibilities of birth.

 Million Fishes Art Gallery

2501 Bryant Street, San Francisco, CA

$10-20 suggested donation. No one turned away for lack of funds.  All proceeds go to the Bay Area Doula Project 




Join us for a salon series on reproductive health

Here's a great way to meet some of the BADP doulas, support our organization's work, and celebrate Women's History Month:

Join us for a Salon series in honor of Women's History Month -- a month of thought-provoking, playful discussions on sex and the reproductive experience. Please share this with all your networks!

Million Fishes Art CollectiveEvery Wednesday night in March @7pm

Million Fishes Art Gallery,

2501 Bryant Street SF


March 7th: This Hormonal Life

March 14th: Orgasm Outside the Box

March 21st: What is a Full Spectrum Doula Anyway?

March 28th: The Science, Art and Eating of the Placenta


$10-20 suggested donation. 
No one turned away for lack of funds. 

All proceeds go to the Bay Area Doula Project.

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