I’m not afraid to say it. Hell, isn’t anger kind of a prerequisite for activism work? As a birth worker I get to watch abuse after abuse, injustice after injustice – over and over again. I mean, really, what spurs the need for activism work if not injustice? And injustice stirs up indignant anger.
We have this huge deficit with the word, “anger.” Somehow, whenever it is said, we cling to this connotation that it – the word, the feeling – is inherently BAD. It took me a lot of years to come to the understanding that there are no “bad” or “good” feelings – that emotions just are. They are states of being which reflect either met or unmet needs.
Anger is usually a catalyst emotion. Meaning, if we really examine our anger, we’ll find a deeper, stronger, more meaningful emotion lying under the gravely surface. If you identify as an Angry Activist, sit in that anger for a moment and see what bubbles up – what is pushing that anger to the surface to get your attention? When I do this, I find feelings of frustration, helplessness, fear, broken-heartedness, disappointment, confusion, and deep concern.
Let’s be clear – being angry about injustice; being traumatized by a birth; being hostile, resentful, and bitter and then sitting and stewing in those feelings does not equate to being an activist (though many of those things do precede activism work.) We need to let go of this idiotic misconception that birth activists are bunch of hysterical women who simply have too much baggage to work through. Give me a break. Activists have made a conscious choice to tap into our anger – to allow our anger a trajectory – an aim at a target.
It takes a special person to be an activist. We are passionate people. We are people who just CAN NOT sit and let it be. Who can not leave it to others to (hopefully) do the work. Who are willing and able to set aside paying work for non-paying, emotionally intensive labor.
And birth workers make amazing activists – it is intrinsic to our nature and our work. We are used to exhaustive, sometimes seemingly endless work. We stay with a woman and support her all night and then some; we catch the vomit, wipe the sweat, and hold a woman up when she just can’t do it anymore.
Activists are birthing change, and like birth, this is painful work. Messy work. Intense and overwhelming work. The most rewarding and important work we will ever do.
Doulas have a unique ability to be on the front lines of this birth revolution. But too many are being brainwashed by this kind of sermon that teaches us that:
- We must “play nice” and morph our services into some sort of extension of the hospital’s.
- If we identify as activists, we’ve somehow crossed a line – entered into some sort of conflict of interest that compromises our ability to serve women well.
- Insists that we are incapable of traversing more than one role in our lives; unable to keep “angry activism” from spilling over into every area of our work and service.
- We don’t know how to channel our anger “properly.”
This kind of rhetoric is stigmatic and divisive.
Here’s the reality. Activism attracts a unique portion of the population – birth world population, included. It is not something everyone feels called to, or even capable of. Some feel most comfortable and confident working quietly and exclusively within the system – and that’s okay.
But, a dogma that insists that ALL doulas work ONLY as agents of change WITHIN the system – by playing nice and building bridges with in-hospital care providers – is either an ignorant, utopian ideology or a sinister investment in the present system that wants only to keep women in line – including the ones that serve laboring women.
And I’m not buying it.
So rock on, activists. I believe in your ability and commitment to channel your anger into compassionate and loving support to the birthing women you serve AND to simultaneously – angrily, assertively, subversively – act as agents of change for birthing women everywhere!