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Entries in Sarah Whedon (6)


Notes From The Salon: Situating Adoption in the Reproductive Justice Movement

 By Sarah Whedon, BADP doula and blogger

I was so moved by the vulnerable, honest storytelling around adoption at the Salon on Situating Adoption in the Reproductive Justice Movement.

The evening's discussions focused on the experiences of birth mothers, and framed adoption as a reproductive choice.  We heard from Susan Collins about the experience of relinquishing her eldest son; from Gretchen Sisson about her sociological research into birth mothers' experiences; and from Randie Bencannan about her work as Co-Director of Adoption Connection, a pro-choice, open adoption agency.


Gretchen opened the evening with a disclaimer that the topic was far too big to be covered in a short evening, and that language around adoption is often tricky.  Since the topic is new to me, I hope I'll be forgiven if I misstep with my language here.


Susan's story really brought home for me the intensely personal experience of birthing and relinquishing a baby.  I won't attempt to re-tell a story that belongs to her, but I'll share what she said were some things that that helped her on her path: she had a choice; she had good counseling including after placement; she was able to explore a lot of information; and her counselor strongly encouraged her not to make any final decisions until after the baby was born.
"My adoption experience is more than a moment in time. It's woven in to my life." - Susan
Gretchen then put Susan's story into historical and sociological context.  She said that pre-Roe adoptions were nearly all closed and coerced, and that these were traumatic experiences for the birth mothers. Before Roe about 20% of unplanned pregnancies resulted in this kind of adoption.


After Roe adoption numbers dropped a lot, but adoptions still remained closed. Adoption started shifting to semi-open in the mid 80s, and today most adoptions are at least partially open, generating new ways of thinking about family.


According to Gretchen, birth mothers considering relinquishing their babies are often in circumstances (money, age, relationship status) that will change later, so she raised the question: to what extent are these good reasons and to what extent should activists work to change the external factors so birth mothers can choose to parent? Most women Gretchen has spoken with said that under different circumstances they would have kept their babies.


Randie explained that her agency does 100% some form of open adoption. She said that, "It would be deceptive to say that open adoption takes away grief," but that it is generally better for parents and especially children to live with a sense of honesty and knowledge about where they came from.


Randie said coerced relinquishment is something they are very careful to steer away from, and she can sleep at night knowing that women don't give up their babies if it doesn't feel right to them.


I am grateful to the Salon organizers and presenters for creating a context where I could learn a great deal about adoption. For me, questions remain about how doulas can best bring compassionate care to all parties in an adoption. Have you done adoption doula work?




 Want to learn more? Check out Adoption Connection's Blog Post about the event.


Why full-spectrum?

By Sarah Whedon, BADP doula and blogger

The Bay Area Doula Project is a full-spectrum doula organization.  That means we support folks across the spectrum of their reproductive lives.  We want all people to have access to compassionate support through all the possible outcomes of pregnancy, as well as for sexual and reproductive health issues that don't involve pregnancy. 

But why does it make sense for us to bring these all together instead of forming an organization that focuses on a single issue? I see three major reasons: the people we serve, the volunteer energy we draw upon, and the issues involved.  Let me explain.

1. Clients. The population we aim to serve doesn't necessarily keep their reproductive experiences distinct.  A person giving birth is often a person who's had a miscarriage. A person seeking an abortion is often a parent who's experienced one or more births.  According to the Guttmacher Institute 60% of people seeking abortions are already mothers.  To a large extent, then, the abortion-seeking population is the birthing population. A full-spectrum organization can help to normalize that reality and to re-integrate a fragmented system.

2. Doulas. There are already so many great people who are bringing a practice of compassion and a knowledge of healthcare environments to their birth and postpartum doula work.  It makes sense to tap that pool of experienced doulas and support them in bringing their resources to other areas where support is needed, like abortion, miscarriage, and adoption.  Since there's already growing structural and cultural support in place for birth and postpartum doula training and work, we can build from that rather than reinventing the wheel. Many of the people who come to the BADP for abortion doula training already have vast experience as birth and/or postpartum doulas.

3. Interlocking issues.  Reproductive concerns which may at first blush appear to be separate are actually interlinked. When we take issues of reproductive justice in isolation, we can miss the bigger picture.  Here's an example: in certain cases a previous cesarean section can increase the risks of abortion, but nobody mentions that when a cesarean birth is being proposed.  In the U.S. we have "a current national cesarean section rate of over 30%, despite evidence that a rate of 5% to 10% would be optimal."  There's a movement to increase access to abortion and a movement to decease the cesarean rate, but the two movements rarely deliberately come together and see their common cause.  A full-spectrum doula movement can help to connect issues like this.

Of course doulas and activists can do a lot of good by focusing on a single issue, and everybody has to start somewhere.  The BADP started with a focus on abortion support.  However, as an organization it's always been situated within the full-spectrum framework, and that gives us a special kind of power to create larger change in reproductive health.



Review: The Radical Doula Guide

By Sarah Whedon

When it arrived in the mail, I devoured Miriam Zoila Pérez's new work, The Radical Doula Guide. It's accessible without being dumbed down, as it deftly places doula work in its social context.

This 50 page booklet won't teach you the skills a doula needs or how to set up practice, but it will make you think differently about doula work.  It introduces the pieces of doula training that are missing because, "Issues of race, class, and sexual orientation were rarely discussed - the unspoken assumption seemed to be that we were working with heterosexual, wealthy, White women."

One of the more interesting themes throughout the book is the tension between the politicization and the private nature of providing support for reproductive experiences. Pérez argues that "doula work can never be apolitical because people rarely live apolitical lives." But she also admonishes doulas to check their assumptions and their politics at the door when they arrive to work with a pregnant person -- "unconditional and non-judgmental support. That is the essence of doula work." 

The paradox of doula work always being activism, because "Doulas are an intervention into the gaps left by our current maternity care system" and never being activism because one's political agenda "has little place in the birthing or procedure room" is one that I think full spectrum doulas will have to continue to engage.

In fact, my only real complaint about The Radical Doula Guide is how it alludes to so much left unsaid. The topics covered include abortion, miscarriage, adoption, certification, body differences, immigration, incarceration, and more. With only 50 pages to work with, Pérez often seems backed into disclaimers such as this one: "It's almost impossible to address a topic as important and far reaching as race in a space as limited as this." 

I don't know what's next on her agenda, but I want some publisher to give Pérez a hefty advance check so she can turn this work, which sometimes feels like an extended outline, into a full book with enough space to really unpack the issues and illustrate how she's seen them at work in her doulaing experience. In the meantime, I'm grateful for the work she's done to put this guide together, and I think every doula should read it. 

I'll end with Pérez's own words from her final page: "Let's be doulas who want to help not only those who know how to seek our support, but also those who might not even know doulas exist."



Notes from the Salon: Spirituality and Reproductive Experience

-By Kelly N., BADP Doula and Blogger

Last week, on Wednesday, August 29th, BADP held our Salon Series event, “Spirituality and Reproductive Experience,” featuring Dr. Sarah Whedon and Reverend Darcy Baxter. Darcy brought not only her background as a Unitarian Universalist minister but also her experiences as a volunteer with Exhale's after-abortion talkline, an abortion counselor, and a chaplain on the labor and delivery floor of a hospital. Sarah is a BADP-trained abortion doula (and co-manager of our blog) as well as a birth doula, and teaches in the Department of Theology and Religious History at Cherry Hill Seminary. Lots of wisdom and experience was brought to the event from both speakers, and overall the discussion proved to be interesting, unique, and pertinent in the face of today's often religiously-charged dialogue around reproductive health issues.

Darcy and Sarah started the event by asking everyone in the audience to share a question they had regarding the topic at hand. Questions ranged from wanting to hear about queer/trans experiences of religion and birth to how to use spiritual practices you might not share as a comfort measure when working as a labor or abortion doula. Attendees then discussed their personal definitions of religion and spirituality with a partner. While a variety of definitions arose, religion was seen to be something more public and defined in tradition and texts, while spirituality is something more private and personal which is often difficult to describe.

Sarah offered a prayer before talking about her personal experience as a pagan and a reproductive person. She defined paganism as an umbrella term with a variety of beliefs and practices but the following general themes: pantheism, panenthesim, or animism; polytheism; reverence toward nature and the body; trust in personal experience as divine experience; magic; and pluralism. During her first pregnancy Sarah found herself without wisdom and guidance for the experience from her pagan tradition, despite the fact that paganism often emphasizes goddess spirituality and the sacred manifesting itself in cycles, nature, and the body. So, to fill what she saw as a need for the pagan community she founded a website called Pagan Families, a place for folks to talk about paganism in the childbearing year. In addition, she wrote an eBook called Birth on the Labyrinth Path which serves as a sort of map for the childbearing year based on the labyrinth archetype. Sarah discussed how walking a labyrinth consists of three stages: purgation, or the walk in; illumination, or reaching the center; and union/integration, or the walk out. These three stages can be transcribed onto the experiences of pregnancy resulting in a birth as well as abortion, miscarriage, and stillbirth and can serve as a model for letting go of expectations and understanding new roles and experiences.

Darcy began her segment of the night by telling a couple stories from her work as a chaplain that pointed to the similarities of birth and death and her understanding of the complexity and contradictions of reproductive realities. One theme that she has seen in her work with pregnant people is a fixation on the ideas of punishment and sin, deriving from Christian ideas of the pains of childbirth being the “curse of Eve” and the conflict of not being able to control our bodies. Darcy described abortion as something which taps into the roots of fundamental issues about here and now vs. the afterlife as well as a male anxiety about the inability to create life. However, something she has said in her work with people who are seeking an abortion or who have previously terminated a pregnancy is that abortion doesn't have to be in conflict with, and can in fact be part of, a mothering experience. Going through the potentially hard choice to have an abortion is practice for the constantly difficult decisions which define parenting. She talked a lot about the complex realities faced by many people, from the internalized guilt and acceptance of suffering by people raised in a predominantly Christian society to those who have protested outside abortion clinics but then have an abortion themselves.

Sarah and Darcy concluded the event by discussing the need to rethink traditional ideas of theology and ritual in order to have something different to offer people who are seeking spiritual and/or religious guidance and community outside more restrictive traditions. Paganism, Unitarian Universalism, and the works of feminist theologians are some of the more progressive reinterpretations of religion they cited. One takeaway from the event was that overall the intention behind a spiritual offering is what's important, and everyone has a different label for their spiritual beliefs, be it energy, goddess, Jesus Christ, etc. This Salon Series event was a refreshing and inspiring discussion, tying together reproductive experiences and spirituality in a non-judgmental, humble, and respectful way.

Thank you very much to both Rev. Darcy Baxter and Dr. Sarah Whedon, as well as those in attendance and the amazing BADP volunteers who helped to organize this awesome event!


Salon Series: Spirituality and Reproductive Experience

Join us for another amazing Bay Area Doula Project Salon Series event!

Bay Area Doula Project Salon Series Presents: 
Spirituality and Reproductive Experience


Wednesday, August 29, 2012, 7:00pm until 8:30pm
Cost: Free, $5-$15 Suggested Donation for Bay Area Doula Project, no one will be turned away for lack of funds


Can religion, spirituality, abortion, and pregnancy co-exist peacefully? 

Join the conversation! Come out to Bay Area Doula Project's August Salon Series event:

Rev. Baxter and Dr. Sarah Whedon (Bios below) discuss a spectrum of reproductive experiences through the lens of religious beliefs including Christianity and Paganism. 

Light refreshments will be provided for your snacking and mingling pleasure :). 

Sarah W. Whedon earned her Ph.D. in Religious Studies with an emphasis in Women's Studies from UCSB and she teaches in the Department of Theology and Religious History at Cherry Hill Seminary. She is the founding editor of Pagan Families: Resources for Pagan Pregnancy and Birth and the author of Birth on the Labyrinth Path: Sacred Embodiment in the Childbearing Year. Sarah is an ALACE-trained birth doula and BADP-trained abortion doula. Sarah's teaching, research, and advocacy work center around topics of spirituality, feminism, and reproduction. She makes her home in San Francisco with her partner and their children. 

Reverend Darcy Baxter is a Unitarian Universalist Minister, currently serving as Director of Family and Youth Ministries at Starr King Unitarian Universalist Church in Hayward, CA. In addition to her congregationally-based work, she is a teacher, facilitator, and public speaker in the broader community on issues of reproductive justice, faith and religion, movement vitality, and the moral/theological legitimacy of progressive politics. Reproductive justice has been the soil of her theological work, starting from the human suffering that is revealed and addressed (or not addressed) through abortion provision. Prior to pursuing liberal religious ministry, she worked at the National Abortion Federation and Howard University. Rev. Baxter currently serves on the board of directors of the Abortion Conversation Project, is a member of the Center for American Progress’ Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute, and a member of the Reproductive Health Technologies’ Project Speaker Bureau on Abortion Access and Reproductive Equity.