'They Don't Have To Carry It Alone' Working As An Abortion Doula
To conclude our three part series on abortion, we spoke to Taylce Ketura. Ketura is a full spectrum doula, which includes providing support for women and birthing people as the navigate the decision to have an abortion. We spoke to her about what an abortion doula does, the shame Black people carry around the decision, and why you need support after an abortion. See what she had to say below.
How did you first get into the abortion doula work?
My journey with gestational care began some time around 2017, when I first decided I wanted to be a doula. I took my training through Dona International. I felt there was a lot missing from the training. A lot of the content was centered around providing in-hospital support for often times, affluent, white women. I felt that the intersections of gestational care weren’t really addressed in that training and so in 2018, I did my training through Full Circle Doula and we had a whole three week period of diving into how to support someone who is grieving the loss of a child, how to support someone postpartum and how to support someone through their abortion, both in person and virtually.
Some of my first experiences providing support to my clients have been with abortion support and grief support.
How do people generally find you?
I don’t really advertise my services on Instagram and part of that is intentional because a lot of the work that I do is oftentimes stigmatized to the point where it can actually become dangerous as a provider. Aborton providers and abortion doulas we are at greater risk now than ever. A lot of my clients come through word of mouth. One client told me she Googled abortion doula and my name popped up.
What services do you provide as an abortion doula?
It’s all reproductive wellness and all essential. I can speak for myself, no matter the experiences that are happening in my body, it feels really affirming to have someone who is by my side, to be able to affirm my experiences and serve as a resource that I can reach out to.
Usually, I’ll do an hour-long consultation where we just talk about their feelings, what they’re going through, how they’re feeling about their decision. I’m just holding space and listening. Then they will tell me what kind of support they need. So I will oftentimes drive them to their appointments, if they don’t have support with that. I’ll also crowdsource money for people who exist in redline states and need access to things like the pill, which costs anywhere from $150-$350 if the clinic isn’t providing it.
I also give aftercare packages, kind of educating the people that I serve about the ways they can care for themselves and ask for support from their people.
Care packages include things like heating pads, warm socks, herbs. I’ve prepared teas that help build the blood and nourish the system. After an abortion, you lose quite a bit of blood and it can be really energetically draining. You need to nourish your system.
I also provide at-home support. If someone decides to take the pill at home, it’s always recommended to have a buddy or someone who can be there to support. The body is going through so many hormonal shifts and that can result in nausea, dizziness. Just these in and out states that require some extra care and support.
My in-person visits will look like me just assessing needs in the moment. Do they need some shoulder squeezes? Do they need a hot or cold pack? Do they need someone to hold their hair while they’re throwing up in the toilet? The way that I show up is really specific to what the person needs, whether it’s virtually or in person.
I’m just holding space and listening.
Did you have specific training about what to say and what not to say while you’re offering this support to people?
Definitely. There’s a scope of practice that I work within. I’m very specific about not prescribing things to people. I make suggestions based on what I have done or referring to what people have done historically. That gives my clients the agency and autonomy to be able to decide for themselves whether or not they want to use herbs for after care or whether or not they want to have an at-home abortion vs an in-clinic aboriton. Really, it’s just allowing my clients to be aware of their options and aware of what’s available and they make the choice.
There is this notion that after an abortion you should feel ashamed or you should be punished for the choice you’ve made, specifically when it comes to Black and brown birth givers. We don’t talk about seeking support when it comes to abortion.
Can you speak to the idea that after you have an abortion, it’s not time for you to be shunned or isolated. It’s time for you to be in community with other people?
The media, our society, even the billboards driving down the street. I live in a very so-called liberal city and there are still pro-life signs that produce this shame. A lot of people come to me with that inevitable feeling of “what if?” What if I kept this child? What if I kept this life that’s growing inside of me?
That is so valid. I validate those feelings.
And there’s the other side where a lot of people are so relieved. It actually brings them more peace knowing that they don’t have to carry this responsibility that they didn’t ask for, that they weren’t ready for. Those feelings are totally valid as well. I think that whoever decides to follow through with an abortion, it’s not a black or white conversation about why someone would choose that for themselves.
It’s my belief that whatever one chooses for their body, it’s their business. And that’s that. People get abortions for so many different reasons. There are so many different circumstances. I’m just here to witness and hold space for that, without judgment. That’s the point of an abortion doula. To be a non-judgmental and compassionate support person.
Those feelings of shame and grief, post-abortion. They’re so, so real. I have witnessed that these feelings are a result of a society that doesn’t support someone’s own autonomous choice to do what they want with their bodies and make those decisions for themselves. And I’ve also seen people who wonder “what if” and that is separate from the shame of the outside voice. It’s more of the inner voice. All of it is valid, every experience.
Whatever one chooses for their body, it’s their business.
At what point do people reach out to you? Does anyone reach out to you after they’ve already had an abortion?
I’ve had someone reach out to me at the two year anniversary of their abortion, wanting to do some kind of closing. So that’s something I also offer, closing rituals. Those rites of passage into a shedding of the skin and becoming an integration into whatever abortion story the person carries. That could look like doing a ritual bath.
My elders are from Mexico and also Taino. So the Indigenous practices that I incorporate into my closing rituals are centered around earth-based wisdom. Tuning into the body, tuning into the stories that we carry in our body and finding somatic ways we can integrate through herbs, through movement, though bath rituals, lighting copal, lighting smoke to clear the energy.
And also through witnessing. Sometimes all that someone may need is just to be witnessed because they’ve held this story in their body for so long and it just needs somewhere to go. So I serve as a vessel, a container to hold that story for them so it doesn’t have to live within them and they don’t have to carry it alone.
Have you observed that there is a specific type of shame that Black and brown people carry about abortion?
Absolutely. The Black community, our people are more likely to get an aboriton, statistically speaking because of lack of access to contraceptives, lack of access to family planning services, all around environmental things. There are so many different reasons why we have not only some of the highest maternal mortality rates but also the highest abortion rates.
These abortion bans are directly impacting the Black and Indigenous communities because we are the ones most on the front lines, fighting for bodily autonomy, fighting for our rights. And we have been before white women decided that it was their problem too.
These abortion bans are directly impacting the Black and Indigenous communities.
The kind of shame that we carry, it is, in my experience, intergenerational. A lot of our families come from a religious background. I can speak for myself being Afro-Caribbean, coming from a strong Christian background and that assimilation into that predominantly white-led religious based system that has condemned and patronized women and birthing people for living our lives and making autonomous decisions.
There’s a lot of historical implications in the ways that the Black community have been involved in the abortion movement, in the movement to legalize accessible contraceptives. Because contraceptives were something that was heavily pushed as a part of the eugenics movement. It became legal under the precedent that the government or the system could control who did and who didn’t have a baby.
And the people that they wanted to suppress in reproduction were people of color. Societally our genes were seen as “unfit.”
There was a split in the Black community where some people were really for pro-choice and the use of these contraceptives. And others who were against it because they were afraid that it was a tool for some sort of ethnic cleansing.
The way that epigenetics works and intergenerational trauma, there is still that fear and that shame that can live in the body when we make the decision not to birth our kin, when we make the decision not to have a child.
That’s just my theory.
And there’s so much more. It’s really dense and a lot to unpack and process about the ways we carry grief and shame in our body when we’re making a decision that is right for ourselves.
Have clients expressed fear or concern given everything that’s happening with the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade?
Definitely. I’ve had a couple clients from red line states before Roe v. Wade was overturned that needed access. Now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, there’s a lot of people coming to me wanting more education, mostly around fertility awareness and natural means of contraception. Because there’s the potentiality that contraceptives can become regulated as well. And that’s something that’s not really being talked about because there’s so much going on.
Abortion isn’t the only way that the government and the Supreme Court are trying to hinder our reproductive freedom. A lot of people who recognize that and have gone through the abortion process or are going through the abortion process come to me as a resource.
Taylce Ketura is a full spectrum doula herbalist, student midwife, community organizer based in Portland, Oregon. Her work is based on racial equity and reproductive education. You can learn more about her work, here.