Near the end of my time in New York, I found myself illuminated by police lights, blocking traffic on a bridge. I was not alone; Michael Brown’s killer was let off that night and many of us, unsure what to do with our rage and despair, took to the streets. Back then my activism often took the form of direct action—I used my body as an interruption because that was the image most often portrayed. But on that bridge, I recognized the extent of my burnout. After that, I crash-landed back in Seattle, my hometown, and knew I had to redefine my movement work or risk leaving it altogether.
I took two social services jobs, figuring I could continue to serve without pounding the pavement as often. By the end of the year, I was still dragging. Then I happened upon Beacon Hill’s Open Arms Perinatal Services*. I had trained for birth work in Brooklyn, but in Seattle my practice flourished. I became a program coordinator at Open Arms and opened my own business.
I remember my births in glimpses. Wrapping my chador around a client’s shoulders at 3am as we paced the cold hallway, praying for enough dilation to admit her. Witnessing “the pearl.”** Getting used to every possible bodily fluid. Making intense eye contact with a parent while a provider called a code, our world shrinking down to the space between us.
As a doula, I use my body as a different kind of interruption. I put myself in the way—literally, metaphorically—to ensure that clients have the best information and support to make the health decisions they want. Oppression, especially medical racism, can show up in the birth room as insistence or negligence. A provider saying “Don’t you want what’s best for the baby?” can open the door to trample a client’s consent, whether to a cervical check or a medication. When I can remain present with my client while aware of the larger systems at play in this major life transition, I make an impact.
Whenever I feel my work is “too micro” and “not enough,” I return to the idea of concentric circles: As I do the deep work with myself and with clients, they turn to healing their relationships, and this radiates out finally to create systemic change. Such work is slow and essential. My relationships with my clients ultimately gave me the opportunity for my own healing. In the exhaustion of labor and the electric energy of birth, I learned there is power in witnessing—and a responsibility to communicate what we see.
*The organization provides free doula services across King County primarily
to people of color.
**A colloquial term for a baby born in the caul, where some part of the amniotic sac is still attached.