The Caretakers of SPIRAL Collective

SPIRAL Collective teammates in front of the now-closed Cafe SouthSide, where they first held meetings: Alison Goldsmith, Corenia Smith, Rowan Emmanuel, cheré bergeron. Not pictured is Nafeesa Dawoodbhoy. (photo by Sarah Whiting)

In 2012, the Twin Cities had one of the highest per-capita populations of doulas in the country. Most of them focused on birth work. The financially sustainable ones tended to work with a homogenous group: white, wealthy, cis, and able-bodied. The SPIRAL (Supporting People in Reproduction, Abortion, and Loss) Collective started in November 2012 to help fill the gaps in reproductive services.

SPIRAL Collective’s mission is to broaden the spectrum of who gets support during their pregnancy outcome, whether that’s birth, abortion, or miscarriage. The organization offers birth planning, emotional support for miscarriage, and referrals to support groups. They also provide in-home pregnancy tests, pregnancy options counseling, transportation to and from abortion appointments, abortion support at home and in-clinic, and abortion aftercare kits. 

“It can be such a minefield trying to figure out who you can even disclose information to about your pregnancy status, or what you’re thinking about [as options]. A big thing we provide is just the entry point,” says co-director cheré suzette bergeron, who uses lower case letters.

One of SPIRAL Collective’s most popular offerings is its annual abortion doula training program, which trained 307 abortion doulas and reproductive justice advocates between 2013 and 2017. The curriculum covers the anatomy and physiology of abortion, comfort measures for medical and surgical abortions, and emotional support strategies. The training also encourages participants to identify their own privileges and biases, and the stigmas surrounding reproductive healthcare. After the two-day training, participants can connect with Planned Parenthood to volunteer abortion doula support on a shift basis. 

When SPIRAL Collective started, many white cis-gendered doulas were eager to add abortion support to their repertoire of paid services. But the organization identified more as a grassroots project that emphasized leadership from marginalized communities — like trans people, people of color, and people with disabilities. That’s why the training is open to anyone on a sliding fee scale, with scholarships available for marginalized people. 

If this were an ideal world, bergeron says, there might be a future in which clients don’t have to rely on an organization like SPIRAL Collective for support — where they can turn instead to family members or friends to provide abortion doula care. “We recognize that may not ever be a reality for some people,” bergeron adds, “nor will it be what everyone wants for themselves and their experience.”

The advocates pride themselves on sharing what they know, and admitting what they don’t, in conversation with clients. “We try to not sugar-coat it with people, and just be real with them,” bergeron says. “Sometimes we end up being the messengers of really shitty news, like, ‘Sorry, there isn’t a clinic we can refer you to that we can guarantee will respect your pronouns.’”

SPIRAL Collective has supported more than 700 clients since its inception. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of clients it served quadrupled. 

bergeron recalls their first transportation assistance client, who spoke Spanish. bergeron picked her up, answered her questions, and informed her about what to expect. They stayed with the client during the appointment and gave the client a ride home. The client asked bergeron to take the condoms she had been given at the clinic because no one at her home knew where she’d been that day. She offered bergeron $100 cash for gas. bergeron refused it, but the client insisted. “Money isn’t the ultimate quantifier, but that [gesture] told me a lot about what that support meant to that person,” bergeron says.

SPIRAL Collective is a completely volunteer-run organization. It received a 2017 grant from the Trans Justice Funding Project and the Abortion Conversation Projects, does its own fundraising, earns training fees, and accepts individual donations through a PayPal account. On the leadership’s wish list are more funding sources, becoming a non-profit, increasing visibility, and training specifically for people of color.

The leadership keeps a low profile — their names and pictures are purposely not on the organization’s website. They want SPIRAL Collective to be about the work, not the leadership’s personalities. But they can’t help but be affected by the work they do. 

“This work makes me a better person,” says co-director Corenia Smith, who is a birth doula and nursing student. “It brings out what your true values are — your core. It makes you more critical and analytical of the society that we live in and how we’ve become complacent to it, but also how you don’t have to be complacent.”

“SPIRAL gives my life such deep meaning,” echoes bergeron, who is a nursing student, herbalist, and body worker. “It feels like a really, really special, sacred space — the work we do and the relationships we cultivate with each other and the culture that we create.”