Statement on where we've been, where we're going, and how it shapes us.
This is a statement we read in some iteration at the beginning of our yearly training. We share it with you all to give an understanding of our values and how we intend to live them and impart them on rising doulas with The Doula Project.
We know that everyone enters this training at a different starting point and that while some of you are probably already very familiar with a lot of the concepts we will be discussing; we also know that some of this will be totally new for some of you – and that is okay.
But the reason we are all here, and the commitment we are asking of you as a Doula Project volunteer, is that you do the best you can for the pregnant people we support. And you cannot support the people we work with effectively without learning how to challenge things like racism, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, classism, ableism, and a whole host of other forms of oppression that directly impact patients' ability to access quality medical care.
This is not a learning process that ends with the readings you did or the training this weekend, but is one we ask and expect all of our volunteers, including ourselves, to continually engage with while they are with the Doula Project and hopefully beyond.
Advancing reproductive justice demands continual learning, and it requires that we allow others an on-ramp to the revolution we’re all building towards. In that spirit, we want to acknowledge the history of the Doula Project and the work and learning we have had to do, and continue to do, to challenge oppression within our own organization and the spaces we’re a part of.
We are going to take some time to provide history of where we are, have been, and are working to get to. Some of this will be covered later in group work, but we felt it was important to impart a baseline acknowledgement of our collective checkered history:
· First off, we are doing this work on land stolen from indigenous people – primarily the Lenape – in a city whose buildings were constructed in ways that harm our environment and pollute water, earth, and air necessary for all life.
o Lenape tribes still exist and are recognized in Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada. Unrecognized Lenape tribes – meaning they get less state support and fewer rights to uphold their communities and traditions – exist in nearby New Jersey, Virginia, Idaho, Maryland, Kansas, and Delaware.
o Indigenous people are often left out of conversations about reproductive health, rights, and justice, or filed under “people of color” though their community needs are often vastly different. We encourage everyone to take the time to check out resources from the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center, or NAWHERC, to learn more.
· Many advancements in gynecology, birth control, and reproductive health were borne on the unwitting sacrifice of Black, Indigenous, and other women of color, and in many ways has served eugenicist and even genocidal purposes of racial control and erasure of people with disabilities.
· This is true for some of our institutional partners like Planned Parenthood, and we continue to struggle with finding balance in maintaining our vision for reproductive justice and ensuring we reach patients navigating the institutions with mixed histories of oppression and healthcare.
· Our city has a Black maternal mortality rate 12 times that of their White counterparts, a statistic that can be directly linked to racism entrenched in the very medical system we are a part of.
· New York institutions have played an outsized role in the criminalization of Black motherhood for decades, with Bellevue hospital – another institutional partner – being ground zero for the racist “crack baby” myth that put Black birthing parents behind bars and spearheaded our country’s long-running family separation crisis.
· One of the largest birthing centers in NYC was originally founded by J Marion Sims, who also until last year had a statue in the city honoring him as “the father of gynecology” despite his heinous experimentation on enslaved African women to conduct his research.
· At The Doula Project specifically, we were founded as an organization primarily composed of white cisgender women, and our leadership still largely reflects that, though we are proud of the significant strides we’ve made to ensure this collective is a space where queer, nonbinary and trans doulas and those of color and those from othered identities can feel safe and equitably involved in the work. That said, our demographic make-up still does not reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of New York City.
· We were founded by people who were primarily nondisabled, and we did not have an accessibility policy when we first started. We have worked hard to develop and improve these policies over the years, which now support a wider range of access needs.
· We began paying stipends as a way to acknowledge the work our volunteers put in and to try to overcome some of the barriers that prevent lower-income people from being able to do volunteer work.
· We have worked to try to increase them over time but we also recognize that our stipends are not yet large enough to truly overcome those barriers for people who cannot afford to commit the time required to volunteer.
· It has taken a lot of time, work, and very difficult and uncomfortable conversations and moments of reflection to get us to where we are today and we know that we still have more to do to become the organization we aspire to be.
· We want to ask all of you to commit to doing that work with us this weekend and throughout your time as a doula.
And we say this all not as a box to check or token to cash in but as a reminder of what and who are in the room, and who isn't.
Some of you may know that today is the anniversary of Dr. George Tiller's death. He was murdered in his church by an-anti abortion terrorist who among others had made attempts on the doctor’s life several times before they killed him. But through that, Dr. Tiller found resolve, he found resilience, joy, love, and radical empathy from his faith, from patients, his staff, his family and friends. We hope we all take from this space a remembrance of the abundance in our lives and think about who isn't in this room whether it’s because they haven’t been reached, haven’t been given a seat at the table, or have been lost.
We should hold that when we think of who we can bring along this journey with us. Every last one of us has Community we can share the burden with, the joy with, and the compassion as well. And it's only when we tap those plentiful resources that we win. I believe that we will win and I expect by the end of this training, you will too. So thank you for letting me have this time to affirm that.