The Doula Project, cofounded in 2007 as The Abortion Doula Project by Mary Mahoney, Lauren Mitchell, and Miriam Zoila Perez, is a nonprofit organization of full-spectrum doulas based in New York City, New York, and is one of the first organizations to provide free full-spectrum doula care to pregnant people. Full-spectrum doulas provide non-medical physical, emotional, and informational support to pregnant people through a wide range of pregnancy experiences, including birth, miscarriage, stillbirth, fetal anomalies, and abortion. Since 2007, The Doula Project has trained doulas to provide emotional and informational comfort to those experiencing fetal loss in support of its goal to create a society in which all pregnant people have access to care and support for both their emotional and physical, regardless of their pregnancy outcome.
James Young Simpson was one of the first obstetricians to administer anesthesia during childbirth in nineteenth century Scotland. Before his work in the 1800s, physicians had few ways to reduce the pain of childbirth. Simpson experimented with the use of ether and chloroform, both gaseous chemicals, to temporarily relieve pain. He found that those chemicals both successfully inhibited the pain women felt during childbirth and pain during other surgeries. Patients under the influence of chloroform fell asleep and were unaware of the intense pain of childbirth. Simpson’s work was not popular for a variety of reasons, and the major claim against his practice being that pregnant women should not receive a form of pain relief during labor and childbirth. Against common beliefs at the time, Simpson advocated in favor of using anesthetics for pain-free labor, which later became the standard for surgical procedures and childbirth.
In 1920, Joseph Bolivar DeLee published the article, “The Prophylactic Forceps Operation,” in which he describes how physicians can manually remove a neonate from a laboring woman’s vagina with the use of sedating drugs and forceps. The procedure, according to DeLee, resulted in decreased rates of complications and mortality for both the woman and neonate. DeLee claimed the procedure could reduce damage to the woman such as prolapse, or when internal pelvic organs push down and sometimes protrude from the vagina, and fatal infant brain bleeding. He also suggested that physicians make an incision from the woman’s anus to vagina to accommodate the use of forceps, a procedure later known as an episiotomy. In “The Prophylactic Forceps Operation,” DeLee proposed the technique and use of his procedure, adding to the growing debate in the early twentieth century on the best way to medically assist women during delivery.
In 2008, Barranca Productions released a documentary called The Business of Being Born, detailing the topic of childbirth. Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein produced and directed the documentary. The documentary explores pregnancy related healthcare in the US, including the history of midwives and obstetrics. The film also discusses potential consequences of medicalized childbirth common in the twenty-first century. The Business of Being Born provides viewers with information about home-births, midwives, and the positive and negative aspects of going to the hospital for childbirth.
In 1992, five maternal-infant health researchers founded Doulas of North America, later renamed DONA International to train certified birth attendants called doulas to provide care to pregnant women both before and after the birthing process. Annie Kennedy, John Kennell, Marshall Klaus, Phyllis Klaus, and Penny Simkin used the term doula, derived from the Greek word for woman servant, to describe a female birthing aide who provides non-medical emotional and physical support to laboring pregnant women. Eventually renamed DONA International, the organization has certified over 12,000 doulas as of 2017. Though the organization aims to provide a doula to everyone who wants one, there have been controversies surrounding the accessibility, affordability, and necessity of pregnant women using a doula before and after birth. DONA International is the largest doula-certifying program in the world and has created global awareness of the risks and benefits associated with using a doula during the birthing process.
Ina May Gaskin is a certified professional midwife, or CPM, in the US during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. She worked at the Farm Midwifery Center in Summertown, Tennessee, a center well known for its low rates of intervention, which contributed to low rates of maternal and fetal mortality. One technique Gaskin used when assisting women with delivery helped resolve a complication called shoulder dystocia, which is when a part of the infant’s body is delivered, but the rest of the body is stuck in the birth canal. Her work served as an example for midwives and obstetricians, physicians who specialize in a woman’s reproductive system, childbirth, and pregnancy, to use a low-intervention approach without medication or a cesarean section. Through her work in developing different birthing techniques, Gaskin provided women with alternative ways to deliver infants without the need for hospitals, medication, or surgical intervention, even in the case of complicated births.