Doulas are trained professionals who provide personal assistance during maternity, childbirth, and newborn care, and abortion doulas can also be someone to help you understand abortion restrictions and new rules.
[By Johanna Ochoa Luna; Photos by Carla Hernández Ramírez]
While abortion is now illegal or subject to many restrictions in some surrounding states, supporting abortion doulas has become even more important.
You may have heard of doulas – trained professionals who provide personal assistance during pregnancy, childbirth and newborn care. But these professionals are also trained as abortion doulas and are a support system and companion for people who have made the decision to have an abortion, no matter the situation.
“They are women who have been through the same thing at times and made the decision of their own volition and wholeheartedly to train to be a doula,” said a 28-year-old patient who attended Doulas Telar, a group that provides abortion treatment support to Spanish-speaking women in San Francisco and the surrounding area. “You are the support you need, that neutral friend who has the right words for you and the ability and knowledge to support you through this very difficult time.”
Cera Merrick (pronoun she/they) is an Oakland-based professional who provides abortion doula services.
“Providing compassionate care feels like holding space, really being a space for people to tell their story, because abortion is too often stigmatized or quiet in people’s family structures, so I just make space to listen, sometimes I’m the only person people are able to talk to them about their abortions and just not judge and be open,” said Merrick, who has been providing services for five years. “Beyond that, I really help prepare people for what they’re going to experience, whether they’re having a medical abortion, a clinical abortion, or a herbal abortion.”
Since the US Supreme Court overturned the federal constitutional right to abortion in late June 2022, laws and regulations on the subject have changed rapidly across the country.
“I think one of the worst things on the long list of bad things that has happened since Roe v. Wade is that people don’t know what’s going on,” Merrick said. “People who are in places where abortion is still legal don’t know that because they hear a little bit on the news or on social media. And the laws change back and forth so quickly too, even if it’s a shorter period of time where abortions are blocked, in that period there are still people who are pregnant who are affected and children who are in born during this period will be affected.”
Martha Franco, director of Doulas Telar, said the country is going through a “very difficult time with tremendous misinformation and fear” but that abortion doulas are taking action there, as friendly non-judgmental companions.
“The person’s decision is respected, we listen to them and guide them to get through this situation in the best possible way,” Franco said. “We fill out a questionnaire because we want to know her story and little by little we achieve a level of trust, every conversation that’s had is confidential, it’s part of our commitment and it doesn’t matter if it’s a deal a relative or a friend approaching us, no information can be revealed.”
Abortion doulas can also be someone to help you understand abortion restrictions and new rules.
“All these women and girls need support, but what they also need is information, so doulas offer that information based on science and statistics so that the person can make a better decision based on their own biases,” Maya said Herrera, doula and head of Doulas Telar’s training committee. “We as doulas have a tremendous ability to be compassionate, to listen, to inform, and to infuse that person with the necessary resources.”
Between all the disinformation and doubts, having a professional connecting you to the right resources can be a great relief.
“I think a big part for me is connecting people with resources on where you can look for legitimate abortion clinics because unfortunately there are a lot of fake abortion clinics out there that are actually like right across the street from a legitimate abortion clinic, so Confusing people and going to the wrong place,” Merrick said.
Abortion doulas in California, where abortion is still legal, are seeing an increase in their work.
“I think my work has quadrupled a lot more than before. Because abortion is not only restricted now, but the emotional distress and shame that was there before is being amplified now because the government is saying it’s not ‘okay’ and the government is allowing people to have forced births be,” Merrick said. “And so I think the emotional part is amplified. This is where the role of the doulas comes in, to provide that emotional support.”
Now groups like Doulas Telar are preparing to train more people as the demand for their services increases.
“We are about to inaugurate our new training center, Casa Doulas,” said Franco. “It took us two years to carry out this project, here we will be able to have a large space for more mothers and women who want to be trained or receive our personalized services.”
This new facility in the Mission District will be the first of its kind in the state, with services for mothers such as nutrition, yoga, meditation and family training before and after childbirth; as well as conferences and certified training for future doulas.
Franco asserts that meetings involving people from the medical group and representatives from major universities in the country will be held to discuss the possibility of a doula career.
“We are looking for a new profession for the doula in the future, just like the nurse and the midwife,” said Franco. “We’ve said at these meetings that it won’t be easy, but we believe this will help us gain more recognition.”
Doula services will be available with Medi-Cal
Effective on the first day of 2023, the three-year Medi-Cal pilot program will offer doula care as an insured benefit for pregnant and postpartum women in California.
“We are at the moment where we are starting to be recognized both by society and by the hospitals, thanks to them who are also concerned about how we are going to join their team,” Franco said.
Any person under Medi-Cal can request doula services as part of their insurance, meaning more mothers have access to a doula and the doulas are fully compensated for their work.
This program is intended to be a pilot project for other states to take the same action on behalf of doulas and pregnant women.
If you are interested in training or need doula services, you can contact Doulas Telar at doulastelar.org and Cera Merrick at ceramerrick.com and on Instagram @ceramerrick.
Courtesy of Cera Merrick
Exhale Pro-Voice: https://exhaleprovoice.org/, pro-abortion support line (Spanish available)