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‘Don’t be sorry for crying, for shouting’ – Zachi Brewster is the abortion doula holding space

Earlier this year, 29-year-old sex and pleasure educator Zachi Brewster set up Dopo, a support system aiming to give abortion education, care and community.

26 Mar 2021

photography courtesy of Dopo

Few interviews I’ve conducted have felt like a heart-to-heart. None have moved both parties to tears. The cry I shared with Zachi Brewster was a cathartic and heartening one. 

Zachi is an abortion doula and the founder of Dopo. Meaning “after” in Italian, Dopo is a community that supports women, men and non-binary individuals who have had an abortion. 

Originally from Croydon, Zachi started out studying gastronomy and food design before becoming a community manager for various sexual and reproductive health charities and startups. Now based in Puglia, Italy, the 29-year-old has found her calling as a sex and pleasure educator, abortion doula, and the founder of Dopo. 

It’s a community I wish had been around 10 years ago, when, thanks to social stigmatisation, I was deep in the pit of loneliness and shame that accompanied the termination of my own pregnancy.

Abortion continues to be a contentious issue around the world, with 24 countries banning it completely and a further 90 or so restricting it to life or health-threatening cases. In the remaining countries with less restrictive laws, silence on the subject persists. 

This, combined with the repeated failings of our mental and physical healthcare systems to cater to marginalised genders and people of colour, makes a community that listens and holds us through our abortion experiences all the more vital.

I caught up with Zachi over Zoom to discuss abortion aftercare, community and how Dopo could lead the way.

gal-dem: First of all, what is an abortion doula and how is it different to standard abortion care?

Zachi: A doula is someone who supports people around birth and the postpartum period. Traditional abortion care is very pregnancy-focused but the support that abortion doulas aim to provide is emotional, physical and mental. The focus is the person.

I should caveat this by saying that I’m not 100% okay with the word ‘doula’ because it’s the Greek word for female slave… But I started using the word before I knew this so watch this space for another way to describe it.

Your website features the quote: “Shouting self care at people who actually need community care is how we fail each other”. Tell me about Dopo as a community.

We’re human right? So we need each other. We need to be seen – not just in the moments of glory but also in our moments of grief. Community can be there for both. 

It’s also about changing things on a bigger level. How do I move this from me to us? How do I move from being a one-man-band to sharing the load in our community on a local level? Both in terms of providing care as a community but also receiving care as a community. 

I launched Dopo on March 1 and the response has been overwhelming. I’m collaborating with all kinds of people. From cooperatives to clinical abortion providers, to PRs. It’s wonderful. Although people are sharing their skills to support this, the main thing that connects us is that we’ve all had abortions and we’ve all felt the lack of care.

I hope that this community evolves to be strengthened, not by a lack but by an abundance of care. That’s the goal: when we’re not connected through lack anymore.

What role does love play in an abortion?

Regardless of the reason for the abortion, there’s little space to feel anything and for many of us, there was a rainbow of emotions around our abortions – from relief, joy and pride, to grief, anger and sadness. When you feel like you’re in a box or a hole, when society feeds you a narrative of shame, it is difficult to love yourself. 

But the discussion I often have with people – especially those for whom it was a choice – is that your abortion is an act of self-love. You knew what you wanted, what you needed and you respected that. You gave yourself something that, because of society, is often hard to accept. But prioritising yourself is a wonderful thing. I’ve spoken to people who are so proud of having an abortion. Those are the narratives that aren’t shared. There has to be space for everything we feel – especially love.

That’s really powerful, thank you. This is an emotional subject for me so I apologise for crying.

Never be sorry for what you feel. We already feel so much around this. This is why I enjoy having this role and not being a therapist: because I can be human. I remind people: don’t be sorry for crying, for shouting, for your anger. Because there are so few spaces to emote around abortion. And if this is the only space you can let this out in then I’ll meet you there.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to support a friend or a loved one after an abortion?

Don’t assume. Be open to every emotion, every thought. If your loved one is excited and joyous: be there. But also be there if they’re crying and don’t question the transition – it’s a ride. Also, the experience is not over when the pregnancy is over or when the bleeding stops. Keep checking in with them weeks later, check in a month later, especially nine months later when it suddenly might be triggering. They will feel it in waves. 

You also can’t provide the same care to different people. You just have to listen and you have to be led by the person and their needs, and then respond to that. 

Why did you become an abortion doula in the first place?

Around eight years ago I became pregnant and I just found the whole experience horrendous. Both physically but also emotionally. I just felt like I had no agency and no say. 

I moved back to London and fell into a depression. I didn’t know where to go for support. I remember calling a miscarriage charity one morning and as soon as someone answered I just put the phone down and cried. I just had no one to speak to.

I don’t know the moment when it clicked but I decided I wanted to become a midwife. I spoke to one and she said that you can actually affect more change outside of the system. That’s when I found out about doula-ing. 

It’s a really long story but I became an abortion doula because I listened to what I needed at the time. I think that’s the key to being a really good doula: listening. If you can listen, then you can be a doula. You can support anyone.

On Dopo’s website, there’s a ‘Leave a Note’ section. Looking back on your abortion, what kind of note do you feel you needed to read during that period of your life?

Now I’m going to cry… I guess the first note I needed to read was: “it’s okay that you don’t want to parent right now. You are more than becoming a mother”. And the second would have been: “You will make it out of this hole”.

What’s next for Dopo and what are you hoping to replace the term “doula” with?

My dream is that we don’t need doulas. My dream is that we become a society where care doesn’t fall on one person. That care comes from the community, that care comes from family.

I truly believe that anyone can be a doula and more people are doulas than they think they are. If you can hold a loved one, a friend or a colleague through an experience then you are doula-ing without even knowing it. So I don’t think that there should be really any word for it.