Join us at the Massachusetts State House for lunch, speaking program and lobby day on Wednesday, May 9th, 2018.
It’s been a long time since a book has hit the scene that really resonated with me to the point of wanting to discuss or promote it. The Big Letdown: How Medicine, Big Business, and Feminism Undermine Breastfeeding, by Kimberly Seals Allers, is the first book in a while that not only chronicles the path taken to where we are, but also lays out a plan for next steps.
The first part of the book covers history, politics, and science and is well researched. The middle of the book really gets to the heart of structural barriers, racial disparities and lack of meaningful support for breastfeeding.
I find it interesting that some of the negative reaction to the book I have seen is rooted in the notion that being a feminist means that you are not allowed to look at how women are approaching issues of equity and decide that there are new ways to approach it. Women need to continue to demand the same opportunities, pay and influence as men have. Of course we need and want more and better and longer paid family leave in the US so that (all) parents can take time off to care for a new baby or a sick relative or themselves if they have an unexpected health issue. This would most definitely ease the burden on those who have just experienced childbirth, or adopted, breastfeeding or not. Addressing policy is the first point that Ms. Sears Allers invites us to focus on next. Yet at the same time, we need to push the needle forward on valuing things such as breastfeeding and mothering.
Valuing mothering does not mean devaluing fathering or parenting or grandparenting or dictating a strict set of rules for how to parent. This passage from Chapter 5, Nipple-omics and the Value of Motherhood, sums it up: “In a world where we are fixated on time and overwhelmed with overscheduling, breastfeeding is framed as confining and restrictive because it works best unscheduled. Instead, we should challenge why we have no freedom to be temporarily unstructured or unscheduled or made to feel like less of a woman for exercising this freedom.” I agree. Not everyone wants to choose an unstructured and unscheduled path, but as a person who supports new parents, I sure can’t keep up with the inquiries from new mothers who wish they did not have to return to work so soon or would like to relax and slow down as they adjust to parenthood but just don’t know if it is ok to do that.
The book challenges whether or not aspects of the feminist movement have helped mothers. It’s a fair question. Is choice really choice as far as breastfeeding goes when there are so many obstacles? Just like with health care, is it really impossible to have health care for everyone or does America just not value that? Is it really impossible to make breastfeeding easier for people or are we just not willing to ask the questions or have the conversations that seek to support the idea that breastfeeding is really valuable. Not just nutritionally, but societally.
Ms. Sears Allers outlines a set of seven starting points for taking action. The time is right for moving the needle forward and these areas to focus on are clear and well articulated. No doubt the task at hand is a challenging one, and complicated! There is a lot to consider in discussing how society, politics, and women themselves, intersect to create the current lactation landscape. Yet I am inspired and motivated by reading her perspective and I urge you to get a hold of a copy and consider how you might be able to incorporate some of her ideas on the way forward into your work.
If you are in the Boston North Shore area, here is your chance to attend one of the world premiere screenings of the documentary MicroBirth. Birth Philosophy is hosting a showing of the film at the awesome Cinema Salem (voted best theatre on the North Shore!) in Salem, Massachusetts on September 20, 2014 at 10am.
How the human microbiome is formed and/or compromised is, without a doubt, a huge HOT TOPIC these days. Toni Harmon and her husband Alex Wakeford are the filmmakers at One World Birth are are exploring questions about how birth affects the microbiome seeding of a newborn baby. The way a child is born and whether or not they are breastfed or have skin to skin contact immediately with their mother all play significant roles in this highly complex process. A person’s immune system is either helped or hindered based on all of these factors. The documentary features a large number of experts from around the world who share some really fascinating information and opinions about an incredibly important topic for public health.
I invite you to come on over to the theatre to watch this extremely interesting film. More information and ticketing link here. And if you are not in the area check out the trailer and website to see if there is a screening near you!
I had the pleasure of participating as a teller in the first Birth Story Slam which was held last spring in Jamaica Plain. It was amazing to hear all of the accounts that ranged from touching to inspiring to hilarious! This article in the Cambridge Day has a link to the trailer for this event featuring clips of some of the stories from last year. Take a look!
Advance tickets are available here and tickets will also be available at the door. People of all ages are welcome, including babies of course!
The description of what the Birth Story Slam is all about from the BSS Facebook Page reads as follows:
“This event aims to highlight stories that too often remain hidden in hospital rooms, to challenge the stereotypes of those who seek an alternative, to bring together women, men and their community to realize the shared experience of childbirth.
We strive to unpack the joyful, ordinary, and devastating experiences that define childbirth in the U.S., to open up the conversation, and serve as a launch point for action.
A story slam is a contest of words held in a supportive space featuring both known and undiscovered talent. All are welcome.”
This is a unique event in a comfortable and fun setting. There will be table service so that audience members can have a drink or a bite to eat while they listen to the stories (each 5 minutes). Men, women and children enjoyed the experience of sharing some incredible stories of birth. We all have a birth story to tell! Taking the spoken word story or poetry slam model and applying it to this theme is a brilliant idea. Audience members will vote for their favorite teller and prizes will be awarded. While both of the Birth Story Slam events have been based in Boston, event organizers hope to expand to other cities in the future.
If you are out of the area and miss this event, go to the Birth Story Slam YouTube channel to listen to the stories from the first event.
One of the goals of Birth Philosophy is to seek out and highlight young voices who are taking the initiative to learn and share about birth related issues. Many have always been interested or fascinated by birth. Others are questioning some of our systems and cultural beliefs and hope to be social change agents. Not surprisingly, some end up planning careers that will allow them to continue this work into the future. Today I would like to introduce you to one of those people. Enjoy the following guest post from Randi McCallian (and read her bio at the end of the post).
I will have my babies at home. I have known this for many years. I have had ample time, experience, and education to know what my birth choices are – and where and with whom I feel the most comfortable giving birth. I learned about birth far in advance of embarking on such a monumental journey… giving birth and becoming a mother. I believe every woman needs to know more about birth BEFORE she becomes pregnant!
I first began researching my birth options when I overheard a close relative discussing her elective cesarean delivery. In her first pregnancy her doctor had determined that her pelvis was too small to deliver vaginally…then he said, ‘once a cesarean, always a cesarean’; and she eventually had 3 scheduled cesareans. Being a petite woman myself, and knowing very strongly that I wanted to be a mother one day, I was terrified about having to deliver my babies surgically. I was determined to understand the physiology of birth and how to have my future babies vaginally.
We all need to take responsibility for our reproductive health and our reproductive rights, and the perfect time to begin is a lot earlier than most might think. We need to support young women and men learning about their body, hormones, desires, pleasures, sexual organs, and the process of reproduction. We need to have access to family planning methods and the knowledge of how to use them. It is unrealistic to expect a girl to become a woman if she is not given the capability to make decisions about her reproductive health, and for that woman to become a responsible mother if she is not trusted with the ability to make informed decisions about her body, baby, and delivery.
Culturally, our current expectation of women is that they learn about pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and infant care in the few short months between discovering the pregnancy and delivering the baby. This is unrealistic and it has led to a great majority of women (and men!) who don’t know what to expect from birth and new motherhood and then they are completely lost and disappointed by their birth and postpartum experience. This puts mothers and babies at a disadvantage. We can change this.
We should encourage women to become familiar with pregnancy and birth physiology; the various choices in childbirth location, provider, and labor management techniques; hospital and provider practices in their area and how to advocate for their best birth… and much of this can and should be considered well BEFORE a woman is pregnant. If a woman enters pregnancy and new motherhood with ample information and knowledge in her ‘toolbox’, then she enters this new journey with the confidence to make decisions for herself and her new family. She becomes an empowered mother.
As a sister, daughter, friend, peer, community member, and MCH professional, I strive to inform those around me about the current state of the maternity care system and what this may mean for their birth, or chosen birth environment. I encourage everyone to research and ask questions about the practices that interest them the most and to follow their gut when something doesn’t feel right, even if it means changing providers! I encourage all women to understand the common delivery practices of their hospital and provider; and I always recommend a doula.
We need to support the process of women becoming mothers, and long before they are pregnant. We can do this by fostering a culture of open-communication and shared ideas around motherhood and birth. Ideally a young woman will take responsibility for her family, long before she intends to have one; a young woman who is educated about her body, family planning, and the resources that are available in order to make the best choices for her situation.
As an emerging public health professional I have been charged with the mission to prevent. Whatever the circumstance, when it comes to health, prevention is key to a healthier and happier society. Right now there are large numbers of uninformed women who are unjustly more vulnerable to a disempowering birth and postpartum experience. I would like to prevent that. All women deserve the knowledge, opportunities, and resources necessary to make empowered decisions and to advocate for herself and her family. Young women who are supported and empowered very early on to be responsible for their reproductive health will become responsible mothers who own their body, their birth, and their family!
Randi McCallian has been an advocate for mothers, babies, and families for almost 10 years and is completing her Master’s degree in public health, with a concentration in maternal and child health at the University of South Florida. Her background includes in-home therapy with children on the Autism Spectrum, in-home parent education for low-income families, certification as a labor doula and lactation counselor, and a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, with a minor in Biology, from Drake University. Randi currently works for the Florida Perinatal Quality Collaborative as a research assistant on a project to eliminate non-medically indicated deliveries before 39 weeks of gestation in the State of Florida, as well as being an intern with the Hillsborough County REACHUP where she leads community support groups and improves maternal and infant health in her community through action and advocacy. She has been awarded the Maternal and Child Health Leadership Trainee Scholarship at USF and is a former President elect of the Maternal and Child Health Student Organization. Check out Randi’s blog at Wisdom and Birth.
I suppose it is fitting that the Birth Philosophy website is about to be ‘born’ just as Mother’s Day is being celebrated this year. Helping people to develop a personal birth philosophy at an earlier age and stage than is typical is something I hope to be able to encourage and promote here.
So much in childbirth education is centered around the baby and how exactly the tiny new person is born. And, isn’t that what it is all about? Well, yes, but there is more. Each time a women gives birth, a mother is also born. Motherhood is defined as ‘a state of being a mother’, and how a woman gets to that state is important.
I look forward to highlighting not only the work of many famous Birth Philosophers (authors, advocates and experts) who have supported women having healthy and positive birth experiences, but also young voices who are engaged and interested in learning, sharing and effecting change.
So Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there, past, present and future.