Founded in 2013, the Wesleyan Doula Project began as a small group of students passionate about reproductive health and dedicated to extending their passion and impact beyond Wesleyan’s walls. After teaching a student-run forum on the politics of birth in America and seeing the widespread interest in reproductive rights on campus, two Wesleyan students began contacting local clinics about the possibility of having students volunteer as abortion doulas. WDP’s founders recognized that college students are well situated to provide abortion care – unlike birth work, weekly shifts fit well into a student schedule, and the campus setting fosters both support and innovation around thoughtful work in the wider community.
After establishing a partnership with a local clinic, the WDP officially began operating, training our first doula cohort during the 2012/13 school year. Since then, the WDP has trained almost 70 students and 10 community members to work as abortion doulas. The project has expanded and professionalized its operations, partnering with an additional clinic, winning a seed grant award from the Wesleyan Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, and cultivating relationships with reproductive rights organizations and activists throughout the country.
History of the Full Spectrum Doula Movement
Doulas have been around for centuries, but the conversation around doula care in this country has gone through major shifts in the past ten 10 years. Since the founding of Doulas of North America (DONA), an international birth doula organization, in 1992, the presence of birth doulas in mainstream consciousness has increased, particularly in liberal and affluent communities.
However, about 10 years ago, some birth doulas and reproductive rights activists began asking two critical questions about who was receiving doula care and on what terms:
1. Why are we only providing birth doula care for people who can afford it and feel comfortable asking for it? The typical birth doula model is client-based – a pregnant person will seek out a doula of their own accord and hire a doula to attend their birth and/or work with them postpartum. This model works very well for pregnant people who have the means to hire doulas and live in communities that speak about and support doula care. But what about people who don’t?
2. If we are acknowledging that the experience of birth in this country calls for the additional support and advocacy provided by a doula, why are we only providing this care to one pregnancy outcome? What about abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, and birth for adoption? Don’t these experiences, often ridden with additional levels of stigma and emotion, also call for the increased support?
Out of this thinking came the Full-Spectrum Doula Movement, made up of doulas committed to providing free, accessible, and non-judgmental support to people throughout the spectrum of pregnancy and its potential outcomes. As the first full-spectrum organization, the Doula Project in NYC outlines, “Full-Spectrum Doulas strive to foster a culture that trusts people and their inherent strength to make the best reproductive decisions for themselves. We believe that all individuals deserve access to supportive services along the full spectrum of pregnancy experiences and outcomes.” The Full-Spectrum movement is still fairly new, but has been actively growing throughout the country.