Doula care is now available for all people seeking an in-center abortion thanks to a new program launched in July. Below is a Q&A with Care Coordination Manager, Tessa Hemmi, who worked with staff over the last 4 months to create a program that further elevates the patient experience at Planned Parenthood.
Q: What is an abortion doula?
A: Typically, when someone hears of a doula, they think of birthing, and that's absolutely one of the biggest use cases. But there's also been a movement the past several years around full-spectrum doulas, and so you'll see folks providing this service not only during the birthing process, but during pregnancy loss and during abortion care.
An abortion doula provides physical and emotional support to a patient during their abortion process. It's an added level of care outside of the actual medical care where providers are attuning to whatever the patients' needs are, to make them as comfortable as possible during the process. That can look like making sure they're warm enough or making sure that they have food or drinks or just whatever is going to make them feel supported. The doula can step in and advocate for the patient and offer the patient options. This also looks like some level of physical support with breathing exercises or visualization exercises to help take the patient's mind off any pain or discomfort that they may be experiencing because, sadly, with any medical procedure, there can be some level of discomfort. The abortion doula is there to really walk them through that.
And then there's also the trauma-informed care piece and emotional support that comes along with abortion doula work. Many of our patients, and people in general, have experiences of trauma. Our providers strive to create a safe environment, avoid triggering past traumas, and take into account each patient’s prior experiences. Really, the abortion doula training is formalized education on how to address any needs or difficult emotions that might come up during the abortion process. I want to acknowledge not everyone experiences difficult emotions, but for some folks — they absolutely do. And we want to validate those feelings, let them know that we're here to support them, and take the patients' lead for whatever is going to work best for them.
Q: How do abortion doulas fit into Planned Parenthood's existing abortion care?
A: Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest is not just here to meet your sexual and reproductive health care needs in the medical sense. We're here to support you as a human being and abortion doula support really aligns with that. And I'm so glad we're doing it now because I think it will really help our patients and ensure that folks are comfortable when they're receiving medical care at our health centers.
Our staff were already providing some of this type of support and now they have a formal training with tools they can rely on to give this extra layer of emotional support and physical care. LA Abortion Support Collective is a leader in this space and they helped us build our abortion doula program by sharing their wealth of knowledge on the subject.
Q: Where did the need for abortion doulas arise?
A: We're adding doula training around in-center abortion care because those are typically some of our longer, and sometimes more invasive, medical procedures. But this support can be offered when someone is getting an IUD inserted or getting a pelvic exam for example. Our agency acknowledged that patients come in carrying their life experiences with them and have other needs in addition to sexual reproductive health care. They need emotional support; they need connection to resources. They may come in hungry; they may come in carrying past trauma from their life experiences.
The other piece I want to lift up is that doula work, in general, is incredibly important to communities that have historically been marginalized, so pregnant people of color, trans and non-binary people — when they have someone there to provide that additional layer of support, the physical and emotional outcomes can be so much better because they oftentimes experience biases in health care.
It was time for these trauma-informed care and abortion doula skills to be taught and implemented so that we can meet not only patients' medical needs, but really make sure that we are going above and beyond to take care of the whole person.