Who you are affects how you care

by Anna Balagtas

​​I have a confession to make: I used to be an incredibly judgmental doula. And no, before you ask, I would never judge my clients out loud and outright, but no one was stopping me from thinking about my judgments. I also would never go as far as to insert my own personal opinions in my clients’ decision making, but knew that had I been the person making the decisions, it would look a whole lot differently than theirs.

An example of this would be when I silently cried over my clients throwing out a dozen bags of frozen pumped milk because they wanted to clear out their freezer for more storage. At this point, they were no longer offering (human) milk to their little one as they transitioned to eating solids. Though I suggested donating their milk, the couple ultimately decided they would rather just dump it. I would be lying if I said this didn’t bother me. Especially after knowing and working with so many other clients who had trouble producing milk and would have appreciated a link to surplus milk, it broke my heart that this couple didn’t want to donate theirs.

Of course, I respected their decision and personally thawed out the milk and dumped it for them during a postpartum visit, but dang did I feel a way about it. See, I come from a low-income immigrant family where growing up, we didn’t believe in wasting food. Every leftover would be reheated until it was eaten, every cookie tin cleaned out to the crumb, and when my sister was born, every bag of pumped milk used – even if it meant putting it in our coffee so that it wouldn’t go to waste. So, when I learned this couple just wanted to throw away theirs, it stirred something up inside of me.

Being an immigrant and coming from a low-income family are part of my positionalities and intersections and my reaction to my clients were all a product of me growing up being an immigrant coming from a low-income family where we were taught that nothing went to waste.

I know what you’re thinking…”Okay, Anna. That was a great story. But, how does this have anything to do with being a doula?” Great question. Read on I’ll tell you exactly how. First, we’ll dive into the basics of positionalities and intersections, why they’re important to know, how to map your identity, and how to apply your positionalities and intersections to your practice in 5 simple steps. You ready? Let’s go!

Introducing positionalities and intersections:

Positionalities and intersections are the social, political, and lived values that make up your identity. They also directly affect your doula practice. Doula work is person-centered work. You, a whole being with many lived experiences and differing values are caring for and supporting other individuals who are whole beings with many lived experiences differing values. Your identity is weaved with every interaction, every conversation, and every space you share with other people. It’s important to know and understand your positionalities and intersectionalities so that you better understand who you are as a careworker and how you affect the people around you.

So, why is it important to take stock of your positionalities and intersections?

Because it informs you of where you sit in proximity to power and privilege. Your proximity to power and privilege (or lack of) informs how you approach your practice, which then affects the way you support other people. In other words, knowing and exploring your positionalities and intersections can help you identify internal and external biases you might have of others, attending to ego work, or furthering self-exploration all by being curious of your own social identity.

Naming your intersections:

Using this list below, name how you identify in each category. Note, this list is not extensive and there are many nuances to intersectionality that may not be reflected in this list. If you feel there are pieces missing or would like to add on to what is provided for you, please do so!

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender Identity
  • Class
  • Language
  • Religion
  • Ability
  • Sexuality
  • Mental Health
  • Age
  • Education
  • Body Size
  • Citizenship/Status
  • Neurodiversity
  • Housing
  • Wealth
Rainbow coloured wheel which shows all the intersectionality's and how they intersect
Mapping your positionalities using the Wheel of Power/Privilege:

After naming your intersections, map your positionalities in the chart provided below. The circle is divided into pies of different intersections. The closer you are to the middle of the circle, the closer your proximity to power. The further your proximity to the middle, the more marginalized.

Again, you’ll find that this chart is non-extensive, but is a great first stepping stone. If you find there are nuances to your positionalities that are not reflected in this chart, make note of them!  For most people, you’ll find that your map will look all over the place. This is a great tool to visually see areas you hold power vs. areas you lack privilege.

Rainbow coloured wheel which shows all the points of power and privilege.

Both images are the work of @sylviaduckworth.

How do I apply my positionalities and intersections to my doula practice?

Use these 5 steps: Identify, Map, Take stock, Explore, Reassess.

  1. Identify your positionalities and intersections
  2. Map your proximity to power and privilege (or lack of)
  3. Take stock of the people you primarily work with and what their positionalities and intersections are
  4. Explore what comes up for you in terms of biases, ego, and general curiosity when working with folks of different or similar positionalities
  5. Reassess who you feel best with and have capacity to continue working, supporting, and collaborating with

Take for example my story with my clients earlier, let’s use the 5 steps to apply my positionalities and intersections to my practice and explore my options within my work.

  1. Identify: While working with those clients these were my positionalities: queer, able-bodied, Asian, young, low income, housed, etc.
  2. Map: Using the identities above, I map myself to be have many privileges though being queer, racialized and low-income bring me closer to marginalization.
  3. Take stock: My clients were white, wealthy, heterosexual, housed, able bodied, middle-aged. All of their noted identities bring them closer to power and privilege.
  4. Explore: When working with my clients, I feel out of place. They’re unaware of their privileges and it sometimes makes me uncomfortable. They are great people and I care for them, but ultimately, I wish I were caring for folks closer to my intersections instead.
  5. Reassess: Though I don’t mind supporting white and wealthy families, I realize that I wish to support more of my own community who shares similar positionalities as me as a queer and racialized person and will continue to find clients and collaborators who reflect these same identities.
I’ve done all of these steps, what now?

Now, you do them over and over and over again. There is no end to this work of self-exploration. You’ll find in your lifetime that your positionalities will shift and transition. Though there may be fixed attributes of yourself like your race or ethnicity, many of these identities are fluid. At any time, your sexuality, wealth, status, or ability can change. Which is why, I always say it’s a great time to revisit your positionalities once or twice a year! It’s never a bad time to take stock of who you are and what you stand for!

Lastly, I’d like to reiterate the reason why we use these methods of self-exploration. Yes, being a doula means putting your whole self into your practice. But, more importantly, being a doula means finding yourself within a community of people who will love, care, and uplift you. Knowing yourself is a tool that will help you exploring the connections with people that make you feel safer, more loved, and more held.

To know yourself is to know the community being reflected back to you – and you deserve every ounce of love your community has to offer you.

 Bonus questions to explore when reassessing your practice:
  • If you are a cis straight birthworker, are you really the best person to be supporting a queer family?
  • If you are not Indigenous to the rebozo, should you really be offering this as a service?
  • If you are more financially privileged, are you able to open up your offerings on a sliding scale or low-cost scale?
  • How can you wield your privileges so you may uplift those who are disadvantaged?
  • What are blank spots in your work or in your positionalities? Who do you refer to or learn from to engage with your blank spots?  
  • What are the positionalities and intersections of the community you surround yourself with? Do you find there are a variety or voices and lived experiences of the folks around you?

Written By Anna Balagtas

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We work and live on the unceded and occupied territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations. Since time immemorial, the original peoples of these lands have cared for their families and communities. We are committed to honouring their teachings, legacy and their sovereignty.


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