A Doula for All Seasons: Women's Shifting Healthcare Landscape

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Labor of (Self) Love

From fertility and childbirth to end-of-life care, women are supporting women to take charge of their health.

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FAM can be utilized as natural birth control (Soloviev notes studies show it can be up to 96 percent effective and, unlike many religious-based rhythm practices, encourages tandem methods of birth control during ovulation) or as a first step for women trying to conceive. "We live in a very demanding and stressful culture, and our reproductive hormones are in a delicate balance with our cortisol [stress hormones]. We are hardwired for baby making, but we can actually steal from our healthy reproductive hormones when we are in high cortisol production," Soloviev explains. "Certainly, FAM is not a fix-all if there are deeper fertility issues, but oftentimes somebody who is having trouble conceiving can bring themselves back to health and conceive naturally."

Turning inward and gaining a deeper understanding of the natural ebb and flow of human hormones is not just a means of natural contraception or conception—it's a profound way for people to reclaim and understand their own bodies. This connection, and way of learning the language of the body, is valuable throughout one's lifespan. "My primary motivation for sharing this work is that there is an unfortunate trajectory of confusing the healthy rhythms of the reproduction cycle with craziness," Soloviev explains. For example, she continues, "premenstrual hormonal shifts have gotten medicalized as a syndrome. While certainly some extreme symptoms of discomfort can be signs of hormonal imbalances, a lot of our issues with it are really lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with us, but there's something wrong with the culture that doesn't let us do what we need to make changes day to day."

While Soloviev teaches body literacy throughout the Hudson Valley and to people throughout all stages of their reproductive cycle, she has found teaching body literacy to young people especially powerful. "I love working with teenagers. FAM is an amazing skill to have as they're coming into cycling and their reproductive journey." FAM does not have any religious association; it's open to all people and meets them wherever they are. The key, explains Soloviev is trust. "We've learned to not trust ourselves. This is a tool to trust ourselves again."

Healing Circles and Radical Doula-ing

A kind of magic can happen when women support other women on the journey of self-trust. That's why Cutler and Conway have increased their scope beyond the prenatal and birth sphere to additional services for the community at large. "There seemed to be a lot of need in this community for women and female-identifying people for space to get together, talk, and learn," Cutler remembers. Before opening Wyld Womyn, the two began conducting full moon women's healing circles, renting various spaces in the area in an attempt to help tear down "the competitive boundary relationship between women," explains Conway. Held on the Friday after every full moon, the healing circles offer a theme from the Farmer's Almanac or current events, and open with each participant lighting a candle and calling down their "maternal line" for guidance and support. Next comes a chance for participants to share, without judgment or crosstalk, and then Cutler and Conway close with a ritual or meditation that participants can incorporate into daily life. These monthly gatherings quickly became very popular, attended by people from across the Hudson Valley. "The more we did them, the more we realized we could better serve this need if we had our own space," remembers Culter. The storefront in Beacon soon presented itself and the two jumped on it, opening the doors of Wyld Womyn in May 2018.

Since then, the pair has expanded its range of doula services to address a broad gamut of human needs, offering assistance and bearing witness to beginnings and endings, as well as many parts in between. They offer a variety of classes and support groups, and also sell herbal health remedies as well as vegan personal lubricant and massage oil. Soon after opening, Wyld Womyn joined forces with Sarah Capua, an end-of-life doula rooted in the Zen Buddhist tradition, who helps people and families with the practicalities and transition around death. "There are so many parallels between birth and death," says Conway. "It's another big transition for people. Having someone to hold space for you and your family can be essential to your progress and ability to move forward." With the assistance of therapist Dorinda Cataldo, they began a weekly "survivor circle" for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Always open to female-identifying and gender-nonconforming individuals, they've also expanded their education and support to work with LBGTQ communities and youth, and are planning to begin support groups for men in need of a safe space to process current events or just get in touch with their feminine side. "Recently, we've been noticing how people are flocking to us and the space. They need it to figure out what the next steps are for themselves personally, as a community, and even bigger than that," explains Cutler.

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