My brain is a little fried from the news lately. It’s easy to get worked up and feel like there’s nothing we can do but scream. The word “hysterical” comes from the Greek word “hyster” or uterus. It translates into “wandering uterus.” In the days of Antigone, it was thought that women were empty save for a brain (generous) and a uterus. When they were being “hysterical,” it was because their uterus floated up to their brains and was causing mayhem. The cure for this was to tie a very tight rope around a woman’s waist in the hopes it would keep her stray womb at bay. Misogynist (also a Greek word), yes, but also sort of fantastical and cute compared to the resent assaults and misunderstandings about the internal machinations of womb-owning in our current medical and political bodies.
I rewatched the second season of Handmaid’s Tale, finishing up just before the news coming out of Alabama and Missouri a few days ago. When that show first premiered, half of the people I knew wanted me to watch it to get a doula’s take on it. It felt all to familiar, was my response. I watch women (and other pregnant folx) being told that they’re not good enough to take care of their own bodies or their babies constantly. The scene in the second season where June picks up Hannah from the hospital and is grilled about not being a “good mom” sounds like half of the concerns coming from the lips of the parents I work with in postpartum.
Pregnant people over the age of 35 are considered “geriatric” like their uteri are going to collapse in on their precious cargo just for having a fucking birthday. AJOG released research in 2011 outlining how 2/3 of OBGYN practice in the US is not based on high level evidence, but on doctor opinion. No shit. And it’s clear that those opinions can be racists, misogynist, and just downright wrong. So if the people supposedly in charge of understanding our changing bodies can be so brazen, can it be so shocking that 25 white men (and some particularly vitriolic women) who are convinced women are vessels and murderers don’t understand ectopic pregnancy? Or that you don’t need to cut into a uterus to remove 12 weeks of dividing cells?
We are an increasingly unscientific nation. I see that in how parents talk about research they come across (usually poorly digested in mommy blogs and the hellscape of Facebook) and feeling shamed into doing something against their intuition.
For those of us who work with folks in the childbearing year, the burden often falls on us to calm the storm, find and present valid information, and to fight diligently. And we do it as grossly unpaid and structurally unsupported persons in the shadows. Compassion fatigue is high. Burn out is fast and furious.
I’m reclaiming the word Hysterical.
And yeah, this is a shameless plug for the things I’m trying to do with Rosewood. My mission in birth work was always structural. It was always to support the people who support reproductive health and I’m finally carving out more than a marginal space in my life to do so. I want to do more to help doulas collectivize. I want to do more to help prepare birth workers with high level research. I want to help them make their businesses succeed so that they can be sages at 6 years, 9 years, 25 years of practice and not have to walk away from their passion after 2 years of begging to get paid for sleepless nights and combating structural injustices. I want to help birth workers get paid decent incomes so they can take on more volunteer and sliding scale work and serve those who need support most. I want other birth workers to feel that they can move into a position of policy and profit because they have done the groundwork and are ready to create larger platforms for others doing this essential care work.
I don’t have every answer to what’s going on politically. I shouldn’t and won’t be the voice that starts a revolution or changes the world. I had that vision of myself at some point when I was younger and working in non-profits and teaching myself international law in college. Then I was confronted with how much ego gets in the way of progress. Now, after a decade of being in birth work in many different communities, I see how being shamed into retreating too far away from ego, my fellow birth workers are setting themselves up to be taken advantage of (even if not maliciously) and why our profession stays in the margins. I believe that there can be individual triumphs, revolutions in our solo practices, and teamwork across our small communities to create incredible change for ourselves, the families in our care, those not wanting to create families who need our support and guidance, and on a much much bigger scale by showing up for ourselves and each other.
My place in this whole thing will be to help doulas set better expectations for themselves and their clients through their contracts and professional presentation. I will take my experiences of building sustainable non-profits to as many doula groups as I can in hopes that they can great organic, productive, and structurally sound collectives to protect and promote themselves and their colleagues. I will mirror these approaches in the workshops I give to parents and caregivers so they can understand and start to dismantle the influences that want to convince them their not good enough and connect with the passionate care providers who know that they are. I will do my best to listen more, allow my own biases to be dismantled, and to not shut up.
My goal for this year is to be in at least 10 different cities with these classes and consultations. I’m also writing a book on contract writing that focuses heavily on sustainable birth work and joining forces in our communities and country to make changes. If you would like to work with me, please reach out. This work can be exhausting and isolating and it’s not possible to do on your own.
Head on over to my Doula Trainings page to see what workshops I can bring to you. If you’d like me to come to your city this year, please fill out the form on my Contact page with details about you and your doula community and let’s get the ball rolling together. I offer a trade deal for anyone offering to host my workshops in their town. It’s a great way to collaborate, keep this momentum organic and unique to your particular area, and to connect with one another. Plus, you get to take my classes FOR FREE! Looking forward to working together.