Turtle Tales: Catching Babies and Advocating for Women

Sara Shirrell'02 Photo courtesy of Sara Shirrell

BRIAN SHOBE, Turtle Tales Columnist

Two weeks ago she was fighting to maintain federal funding for women’s cancer screenings. Last week she was fighting for federal funding for birth control. Since I interviewed Sara Shirrell’02 on Feb. 10, she may have also delivered a newborn child. You never know with Sara.

On top of being the vice president of public affairs and communication for one of the two Planned Parenthood affiliates in Los Angeles, she is a doula (a person trained to provide informational, emotional and physical support before, during and after childbirth), and is training to become a midwife.

Sara has “always dreamed of catching babies,” she says.

In a somewhat indirect pursuit of that dream, Sara enrolled at Beloit and studied creative writing, women’s and gender studies, and a little bit of political science, anthropology, theatre and dance. She lived in the Arts Co-op, was active in the Womyn’s Center, and organized the first Take Back the Night event at Beloit.

Between writing and activism, Sara was clearly setting herself up for a career in women’s advocacy. But she adds, “Beloit prepared me in ways I didn’t even realize at the time.”

Her junior year she took an anthropology course that caught her interest. “It was all about cults–these really fringe religious groups that centered around the end of the world. It was an incredible class… learning about all these different places that [my classmates] grew up in, their experiences with religion and their experiences with hate… I was exposed to things I never would have been to otherwise, which really enhanced my ability to think about individuals who come from a myriad of different walks of life.”

That insight is key, she says, for working with Planned Parenthood’s clients, supporters, opposition, and the media. “Reflecting back on that class in my work–dealing with people with extreme religious beliefs and people who are against Planned Parenthood–I’m much more patient,” she says. “I have a sense that this isn’t black and white; it’s not right or wrong. I don’t think I would have had that perspective had it not been for Beloit…”

Furthermore, Beloit helped Sara see how women’s health issues intersect with multiple disciplines, from biology to economics to sociology.

Sara’s understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of women’s health, her ability to approach people from various walks of life and her strong writing and communication skills are vital to her work. She uses them on a daily basis, training staff and volunteers, monitoring local, state and national legislation, lobbying representatives and organizing at a grassroots level.

“Both my [Planned Parenthood and doula] jobs are full time, on the call jobs,” she says. “At some point one will probably have to give. You know, babies really like to be born in the middle of the night. And that’s not conducive to going to work the next day.”

For now, she’s going to continue living her dream doing both–catching babies and advocating for women.



One thought on “Turtle Tales: Catching Babies and Advocating for Women

  1. That is a very insightful and interesting interview. Sara has always had the ability to capture essential feelings from people that they themselves may have difficulty expressing, and she has a big, humanistic heart. Your interviewer has shown us the essential Sara, a passionate idealist who is totally practical at the same time. I have always admired her and been delighted by her rich mixture of humor, purpose, and empathy. I’ve known her all her life–I am her grandmother–and have watched with awe and confidence as she has become the fabulously productive, responsible, and responsive member of society she was determined to be.

    Posted by Jean S. Gottlieb | February 22, 2012, 3:19 pm

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