booknotes: the radical doula guide

I don't actually remember how I first happened upon Miriam Zoila Perez' blog Radical Doula, but it must have been fairly early on in the site's existence since she and I have been active in the feminist blogosphere for about the same amount of time (since 2007). I've been a virtual observer/admirer as Miriam has taken her radical doula journalism from its earliest personal musings to a much more high-profile presence in such spaces as Feministing and RhRealityCheck -- although I still have particular place in my heart for her earliest, most personal, internet home.

It's with a great deal of affection and feminist pride, then, that I've followed updates these past few months concerning Miriam's first book: The Radical Doula Guide: A Political Primer (self-published, 2012). I was able to support its creation in a modest way by contributing to the kickstarter campaign at IndieGoGo which raised over $4,000 in seed money for the project, and as a thank you gift for that contribution I received an advance review copy of the finished publication in the mail last week.


And it did not disappoint. Miriam's 52-page "political primer" discusses the political nature of what she terms "full spectrum pregnancy and childbirth support" -- a concept that covers not only childbirth and postpartum doula work, but also abortion and miscarriage doula care, a relatively new service some trained doulas are offering. There are books and training workshops available for learning doula techniques, and The Radical Doula Guide doesn't seek to replicate those resources. Instead, Miriam offers some reflections on how doula work intersects with political systems: "a starting point to understanding the social justice issues that interface with doula and birth activism" (4).

In four brief sections, Miriam acts as a tour guide through different aspects of full-spectrum doula care and brief analyses of three broad categories of intersection between pregnancy and politics: "bodies" (race, gender, sexual orientation, size, age, and HIV/AIDS), "systems" (immigration and incarceration), and "power" (class and intimate violence/abuse). Using these broad categories with the more familiar nodes of inequality as sub-categories draws our attention back from specific issues to think in more expansive terms about the ways our bodies and lives are policed within society in both informal and formal ways. And specifically, how those constraints shape the experience of pregnancy and parenting.

Miriam is particularly eloquent on the difference between politics and personal agendas. For as she points out, to practice as a doula means leaving one's own agenda at the door -- but it should not mean leaving behind one's mindfulness of how political circumstances shape the experience of the pregnant person you're working with. You may believe, for example, that having a C-section is unnecessary while the person you're supporting wishes to have one. It's not your job to convince the pregnant person not to have a Cesarean -- but it is appropriate to suggest resources for informed decision-making (especially if you're concerned about pushy medical staff).

This guide would be a great starting point for further discussion in a reading group or classroom setting; I definitely felt like the brevity -- a definite strength in many respects -- bordered on too brief at times. I imagine that folks new to social justice terms and concepts, or skeptics who need convincing that these issues matter might be frustrated. However, that is not Miriam's main audience. As a "primer" pointing outward to further exploration, The Radical Doula Guide is lovingly crafted and inspirational. It's definitely a must-have for any (personal or institutional) collection with a focus on reproductive justice issues.

The Radical Doula Guide is available to order online at WePay for $12.00 per copy (and discounted rates for orders of 10+).

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