As part of my work with the Reproductive Health Access Project, I am a doula for women undergoing reproductive health procedures like colposcopies, IUD or implant insertions or manual vacuum aspiration. A doula, in essence, is someone who provides emotional support. At first, I was not sure how I was going to be able to do that. What do I say or do in this in this type of situation? How was I going to help? Quickly, I realized my role. To put it simply, removing all labels and fancy language, I am a friend. And this concept was not foreign to me all. It is skill we have all been developing and honing since kindergarten or for those of us with older sibling the moment we were brought home from the hospital. We meet someone. We introduce ourselves. We find common ground.
Over the past two months, I have been able to support many women. I have met mothers, lawyers, nurses, authors, students, and teenagers. The list goes on and on. All of whom I felt comfortable with as I fulfilled my role as their friend.
A few months after joining RHAP I started to feel relatively settled. I knew what to expect, how to read situations and act accordingly. Some women like to be distracted by conversation. They immediately open up and the discussion flows freely as we talk about work, family, travel, fashion, food, and often the one thing we know for sure to have in common, living in New York City. Other times I walk into the room and can sense that a woman just wants to sit in silence. I smile and reiterate that I am there purely to support her need. I ask if she would like to talk and if it looks like she needs it, I offer my hand to squeeze. In every procedure I find myself breathing in unison with the woman I am supporting, helping to steady her breath and relax.
What to do often comes naturally. My initial nerves dissipated and were replaced by an eagerness to be present in as many procedures as possible, knowing the difference it makes to each woman. At this point I am sure you have noticed a common thread throughout these experiences. Women. Women supporting women. So, recently when one of the doctors I work with asked me if I would doula for a vasectomy, I felt hesitant to say the least. In my head that was a totally different ball game. What should I say to a man in that situation? Is he going to be okay that I am there? Would it be awkward for him? The patient was a young man, just a few years older than me. I don’t carry the title of doctor and my title of friend all of a sudden did not seem official enough. All these thoughts and emotions were clearly painted across my face because the doctor laughed and told me I had time to think.
When she came back I was about to let her know that I was going to sit this one out but she said, “Come on it is the same thing. Give it a try!”
I walked into the room and introduced myself. It was clear that both the patient and I were both a little nervous, this being a first for us both. I am fairly certain he had never had a doula before. So, I started to make small talk. Slowly small talked turned into a casual conversation about his kids, New York, and even why he was getting the vasectomy. He was chatting away and fully engaged with everyone in the room, from me to the doctor and the resident. I could tell that having me there to get the conversation going put him at ease. I am not a doctor. I was just there to talk and open up that line of communication. By the end of the session he was sitting up watching the whole procedure!
Afterwards, I was glad I didn’t shy away from the experience. Working in women’s health, it is easy to become very female focused. Taking care of a person’s reproductive health can be scary at times, especially undergoing a procedure alone. That goes for men and women. We all get nervous. And friendship is not gender specific.