Whispers of Solace: My Journey as an Abortion Doula

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Post by Claudia Sofía Rivera Barbeito
2024 Building Trust Essay Contest Winner

I rearranged the consult documents on my desk for the hundredth time as I waited for a call from an unknown number. When it rang, I took a deep breath and answered, greeting my first consult as an abortion doula. We were both nervous to be speaking to one another, yet in our vulnerability we found solace. I was a 21-year-old medical student, and she was a 40-year-old single mother of two facing an impossible decision. 

I could sense her fear from the very beginning. Her current pregnancy was unplanned, and although unexpected, she decided to carry it to term because she couldn’t bear the idea of a termination. Yet, on her fourth prenatal visit she was informed of a genetic defect that would result in the demise of her fetus. After countless doctor visits in search of a second opinion and enduring isolating sly remarks of some family members, she reached out to our team of doulas.

At its core, the role of an abortion doula is to offer support in a way that honors a patient’s experience and preserves their dignity. I have had the privilege of working in the field of reproductive health, which has allowed me to understand what an abortion implies. Nevertheless, I know that is not the experience for most Puerto Rican women. Therefore, ensuring a safe space for her to entrust in me what is surely one of her most difficult life experiences demanded insurmountable sensitivity, patience, and comprehension. 

Establishing a rapport with patients is difficult, and having to do this over the phone during a pandemic made it even harder. To me, an abortion offers security, control, and freedom but to her the concept of abortion was riddled with shame and fear. Most of these negative emotions stem from the secrecy that surrounds reproductive health and the lack of agency she has had over her own body throughout her life. 

So, as a means of preserving her autonomy during our conversation I adopted the language she used to describe her situation. Throughout our calls we spoke about the “baby” instead of a “fetus” and a “procedure” or “God’s will” instead of an “abortion” or “termination.” This simple adjustment to my selection of words created a space for her to share her experience without tainting it with my personal beliefs. 

Forty-five minutes into the phone call I knew we had transcended past the trepidation of our initial greeting when she asked if she could read me a poem she wrote after her last doctor’s appointment. What followed was proof of the power of thoughtful listening. After her reading I confessed that I also write poetry and so we spent the last fifteen minutes of our call sharing our poems with one another. It is not often that we get to witness the sheer vulnerability of another human being, yet if we are willing to learn and be receptive to the experiences of others, we find ourselves able to achieve extraordinary connections.

It is difficult to overcome the stigmatization and misinformation that holds reproductive and sexual health care hostage. For this reason, cultivating a multifaceted approach that is founded on a genuine selfless interest for our patient’s wellbeing can make a difference in every interaction. I’m grateful for the opportunity of being a doula, as it has given me the chance to deconstruct the barriers people face when seeking such health care services and improving the ways in which I can connect with others to provide excellent care to those that need it most.

Claudia Sofía Rivera Barbeito is a third-year medical student at the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine. Her interests include reproductive justice, maternal fetal medicine, and health care policy. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, painting, taking photographs, and playing tennis.