Birth Junkies: Labor Support and Resistance in American Birth

In 2009, I graduated from Drew University with Honors in Anthropology and French. For my undergraduate thesis, I decided to do an ethnographic study of doulas in the New York metropolitan area, focusing on a feminist analysis of how their presence in the delivery room — or lack thereof — affected the childbirth experience.

After completing my degree, I continued to conduct research. I wanted to include doulas from more diverse backgrounds, including doulas who provided volunteer services, who worked with women making adoption plans or terminating their pregnancy, doulas of color, LGBTQ doulas, and others. While I never completed my research in this area, I did have the opportunity to speak with many, many amazing childbirth/reproductive rights activists to whom I’m very grateful for their time and work.

Despite the gaps in my research, I still think it’s worthwhile to put my reflections and experiences with doulas out there. I hope you find Birth Junkies of value.

Download Birth Junkies: Labor Support and Resistance in American Birth.


  • Dave Clements

    While I don’t have time to read your whole paper (you know why), this is a subject very close to my heart. My wife and I had a midwife and doula assisted home birth last summer. We’re kind of alarmed by the manner in which birth is treated in this country and there’s no way we were going to involve hospitals or traditional medicine in the birth of our daughter.

    We couldn’t have been happier with our decision: it was an incredibly intimate and special experience and we wouldn’t have changed any part of it for anything.

    Since then, and since educating ourselves on what the status quo surrounding hospital births is, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to educate and empower people (mostly women) in our circle of influence and that has only ever had a positive effect on those women, who felt more empowered about their own births, whether they ultimately decided to proceed with a hospital birth, or not. We’ve definitely been huge proponents of doulas, and my wife is considering becoming a part-time doula.

    I look forward to reading your paper in depth later, and discussing this with you in person some day.

    • evarlese

      Thanks Dave, that’s so cool to hear! It’s a bit of a tome (a small one, but a tome nonetheless). I love chatting about it any time. 🙂

  • ZigomaD

    😶 Amazing writing, so clear and intense (I went up to page 8 without realizing it, but then I really needed to give you my two cents), a big wave of reading and learning is coming at me : uh yes! Thank you ; )

  • ZigomaD

    There is a light that is never blown away. Some kind of invisible magic, natural shazam. Exist, resist. Think. As we breath air and drink water we dream, we hope, we create, thus there is always room for trying and doing our best.

    These are just a few of the wonderful thoughts that came to me after reading your book. And it belongs as a tale or a song to the world, thanks to you. Great work!

    Again this writing of yours😌, you’ve made it so intriguing and easy to follow your researches and analysis that the obvious had to happen : it was a real pleasure to read and learn more about Birth, and about us all, with you.


    • Erica

      What wonderful words. Thank you so much – for sharing your thoughts, but really for taking the time to read this. I’m so, so happy you did and even happier that you enjoyed it 🙂

  • staciaruth

    I so much appreciated reading this Birth Junkies paper! I am a physiologist who initiated a course called Biology of Women that I taught for many years at WSU. I wanted to reach non-science students who would be motivated to learn some science related to their bodies because it was so pertinent to their lives. It was the most rewarding teaching experience I had, and I learned so much, both researching the topics and from my students. We looked at the anatomy and physiology of the topics, but also the cultural contexts for menstruation, menopause and childbirth. I wish you could have come and addressed my class! I enjoyed the fact that you included the story of Martha Ballard’s work, an essentially sad book, considering how her days ended, but such a revelation both about practices and female grit! One of the things I wish could have been shared with more women was the strong scientific evidence for how important for the health of the baby an un-medicated vaginal birth is! — It is well established that the “trauma” is so important for triggering transitions that help the baby prepare for life on its own, and to get the respiratory, digestive, endocrine and immune systems working optimally. Such a travesty that along with this knowledge has come the increasing numbers of C-sections for convenience and because women just don’t know what they are getting signed up for, and what they are missing!

    • Erica

      That sounds like a wonderful class and I’m so glad you enjoyed my paper! I agree that we’ve “lost” so much knowledge around these topics (menstruation, childbirth, pregnancy) as they’ve grown more medicalized – so it’s exciting to hear of a course exploring these topics with students in particular. Thank you for sharing!

      • staciaruth

        Erica — I also could relate to your poems and your “about” post — the musings on how, and under what conditions, we “go home.” I am in the process of completing a book about an imaginary 12-year old girl that has taken me “home” in significant ways, whereas the reality of going home is long defeated by so many changes in the people and the place….which is Tennessee.

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