February 11, 2013
Something happened. Other things were already happening that were making today stand out; I am giving a workshop tonight with some peers that I work with through Calyx Doulas, a collective of Full Spectrum Doulas, so I was giving considerable thought to the intersections that create the Reproductive Justice Framework before IT happened. Because really, some like it is happening all the time.
The stories of Reproductive Health and Justice are the stories of people’s lives. Complex. Emotional. Rooted in our other truths.
(trigger warning for those with infant loss in their background)
Here it is: A friend of my sisters’ who was 8 months pregnant died a few days ago. While I did not know her, my sister called me immediately to help her understand how something like this could happen. Her friend had chosen this pregnancy carefully, (her mother has shared that this was a named baby; a very longed-for baby,) and couldn’t wait to put all of her self into raising her child. She learned just a few weeks before her death that her baby had some brain development issues and that the severity of the issues would not be known until the baby was born. The next thing my sister heard was that she had lost the baby. A few days later, she learned that her friend had died on the operating table.
This morning I heard from my sister again. This time, she was directing me to an article on a pro-life news source highlighting her death as a botched 3rd trimester abortion, condemning the doctor who provided this surgical intervention and lifting this up as a reason to ban the procedure. Details of her story were shared in depth, including her name, and the perceived events that led up to her death.
I do not grant this irresponsible new source the authority to define this person’s experience. I do not grant them the authority to claim her death as evidence for the dangerous and one-dimensional viewpoint. I wish only to mention her story as a means to reclaim the complicated meaning of a tragic loss.
We really do not know what happened to my sister’s friend. But, I am sure that I inherently trust her. In the end, I believe whatever story she would have wanted me to believe because it is the only one that is true. I know she very deeply wanted to be a mother. I know her baby was very sick. I now know that her life was in danger. I do NOT know where she experienced moments of ‘choice’ and where she experienced terrifying moments of ‘medically necessity’. I am confident that she loved her baby and that she loved her life. I am worried that we could have done more to protect her life. But, I will never fault the doctor who tried to save her life and I will never question her motives in any moments where she had options.
What this story highlights for me, today, the day I will talk to a group of birth doulas about abortion, is the inherent complexity in abortion and who owns the stories. Someone took this horrible story of maternal and infant loss and turned it into a battlefield. We can’t let this happen anymore. For the sake of her family, for the sake of people who will come after her who are carrying pregnancies that put their lives in danger, and for the sake of people who need to voluntarily terminate pregnancies for non-medical reasons.
The story is all that remains, when all is said is done. This story makes me deeply sad. And the way the story is being retold makes me sick. The story I believe that this young mother would tell makes me yearn for a better, safer world for all pregnant people… but I can not stand idly by while she is demonized and misunderstood. She has lost her voice and I still have mine. Every time that a person has an experience of pregnancy, they are labeled. Assumptions are made, and almost always some choice she made gets judged by someone else.
Today is the day, I declare out loud, on my blog (associated with my business) that I am a doula who understands how complicated pregnancy experiences can be. I support every decision that brings forth our truths and I grieve each time that our experiences get labeled in ways that misrepresent our intelligence and complexity, and take away our power.
This is the part of being a doula that doesn’t get talked about enough, and tonight I am going to talk about it with tears in my eyes. I need every client, and every pregnant person I meet to know that I trust them. I believe them. And, most importantly, their life and their story matters.