Thursday, July 26, 2012

Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere! The ROSE Summit, 2012: Reclaiming an African American Tradition (Video)

It was an honor to be asked to speak at the first ever ROSE Summit at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, GA, this year. To be among people who are committed to eradicating the disparities that plague our ‘sisters everywhere,’ and address the issues in breastfeeding rates, is necessary and inspiring. ROSE (Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere) organized the Summit in order to highlight the disparities that are directly related to lack of breastfeeding in Black and African American communities, and it’s founder, Kim Bugg, is passionate about this initiative.

Though there has been progress, according to various data sources, including recent federal and state reports, the overwhelming amount of information supports that African American women continue to rank low in breastfeeding initiation and duration, and the goal of this recent Summit was to highlight this discrepancy and bring together experts and advocates to find ways to improve access for mothers and help end these by “Reclaiming an African American Tradition” – the theme of the event, making breastfeeding the biological and social norm.

The Summit was held July 19-20, and brought together community organizers, healthcare professionals, and local and national advocates to present information on ways they work to counter these disparities and some projections for the future. Among them were David Satcher, M.D., PhD – the 16th U.S. Surgeon General and Director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine, who was also the keynote speaker and stressed breastfeeding as one of the most important contributors to infant health. Dr. Satcher underscored education as one of the main components in working to end the disproportionate amount of Black babies not receiving breastmilk, and also focused on the need to develop a diverse group of exceptional health leaders in order to combat this and reach our goals. He discussed what it means to draw this crowd in, and emphasized the need to create a strategy in order to pass the ideas of guidance and direction onto the next generation of leaders, making the necessary impact, which will be instrumental in effecting trans-generational change. There were also two panel discussion groups, whose ideas ranged from creating spaces specific to lactation in workplaces to educator and architects, as well as showing ways to engage new fathers on the importance of breastmilk and creative ways to support the women in their life. 

My presentation, Occupy the Bridge: Looking Past Protagonists and Re-Working the Center, focused on involving more community members. The main idea was to explore the historical, social and political aspects of Black breastfeeding support – what that has looked like and ways to change that perspective, and emphasized why we need to look beyond the normalized image of the mother-infant breastfeeding dyad, in order to bridge the gap in the overall community. I was really excited to present this information via an anthropological perspective for two reasons; one is I wholeheartedly believe anthropology is key to understanding and addressing many issues that face our society – and for me, having this viewpoint in the field of human lactation is rare, which is the main idea for my second reason for being excited: to use these tools to shine a much-needed light on the discipline and put this in a much more public arena – since for many people anthropology is still an enigma – something many simply do not understand, and making anthropology more public is the goal of many who practice the discipline.

Here is the complete list of speakers along with the titles of their presentations:

Yvonne Bronner, Sc.D - Engaging Fathers in Breastfeeding Promotion for African American Women

Joshua Johannson, MD - A Hospital’s Role In Breastfeeding The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative

Michal Young, MD - Saving Our Babies 

Kimarie Bugg, MSN, MPH (ROSE Founder) Reclaiming Our Breastfeeding Experience 

Jacqueline Grant, MD, MPH, MPA - Dougherty County: Centering Pregnancy

Acquanda Stanford - Occupy The Bridge: Looking Pasts Protagonists and Re-Working the Center

Terry Jo Curtis, IBCLC - Home Alone Impact of mPINC

Delvecchio Finley - UCLA Medical Center Baby Friendly Presentation

Andrea Serano - Using Online Resources to Improve Your Outreach

Y. Dera Baskin - The Community Aspect of Supporting Breastfeeding

Lorine Bizzell - Improve Your Loving Support: A Journey Together

Tenesha Turner - A Day in My life As A Peer Counselor 

Ursuline Singleton - It’s Only Natural: Mother’s Love Mother’s Milk

Jeretha McKinley - Illinois Breastfeeding: Blueprint, a Plan for Change

Panel One: 
Lavonia Nelson - The Miracles of Breast Milk 
Sojourner Marable-Grimmett - Table for Two 
Tammy Thompson - Lactation Design: Innovative Solutions for Breastfeeding 

Panel Two:
Jonathan Phillips - New Dads 101 Overview 
Kidatta Green - Black Mother's Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA)
Dalvery Blackwell - Normalizing Breastfeeding Thru Breastfeeding Community Gatherings
Flora Ukoli - International Baby Friendly Hospitals

That was day one.

ROSE's goal for day two was to transform the ideas presented on the previous day into a 'Plan of Action,' by determining how individuals in each specialized area can contribute to the overall breastfeeding initiative and we were grouped together based on our professions, and used an "Action Planning Template' in order to identify objectives and ways to gauge their success. 

Some of those included:

  • Identify issues within communities that are related to breastfeeding disparities -- including access to education and resources
  • Establish goals
  • Create targets
  • Core consistencies
  • Allies/support groups
  • Opposition -- what types of opposition is expected and how to counter this.
  • Tactics, activities, organizational structure along w/staff and volunteers along with ways to gauge the success of the program

The goal was to find ways to spread the message of ROSE within our organizations and to help build their national database along with gathering ideas for future projects, helping to develop a work plan and other ways to support families. With so many participants, it is undeniable this will work towards increasing breastfeeding rates.

It was wonderful to see how so many presenters – whose careers fall under such varied categories, all have a common concern which is working on increasing the breastfeeding rates among Black women. Saving our babies. The organization plans to follow-up with those who made a commitment in order to see how we are progressing in finding ways to implement these strategies as well as get more people involved in joining the ROSE non-profit organization. They are also planning annual gatherings, and I plan on attending the ones I can.

Video footage from the ROSE Conference.

After watching this video, I recognized an error was made by the production company/producers. They attached the credential Dr. to my name, but this is a mistake. I am not Dr.  

Whoopi Goldberg, SITCHOASSDOWN! (Video)

Because I met breastfeeding advocate and author, Kimberly Seals Allers last week at the ROSE Breastfeeding Summit, I thought this was a great opportunity to post an article she had written a few months back, titled Dear Whoopi Goldberg: Please Stick To Blackface Not Breastfeeding. And Stop Obstructing "The View" For Women With MistruthsIn case you're unsure of the exact reasons behind Kimberly's post, she ridiculed actress and television show co-host of The View, Whoopi Goldberg, who was responding to New York Mayor, Mike Bloomberg offering incentives to hospitals who encourage new moms to breastfeed (because there's something wrong with encouraging new moms to breastfeed, of course). Goldberg told him to 'Back off' because 'not everybody can!'

Now, if you know anything about me, you'll know that when it comes to listening to celebrity advice/business I usually recommend pressing the mute button since I believe it's often coming from an angle of people who just can't identify with the overwhelming majority, and from those who are only icons of corporations strategically planted to advance a system that is responsible for countless inequalities, including breastfeeding disparities. I feel this way even when it seems as if the message is supporting breastfeeding. But this was good. So good, in fact, that I had been wanting to re-blog it for some time but couldn't find the right opportunity.

Needless to say Whoopi won first place for foolery and ignorance in numerous categories, which you'll understand if you know anything at all about Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiatives. But there's not really all that much I can say in response, as Ms. Seals Allers did a mighty fine job on her own, you'll agree, I'm sure. Watch the video, then read the post below in all of its unabridged glory -- that I've already filed under 'Best Of''.

Dear Whoopi Goldberg, 
It’s time to get your (sister) act together. 
As an African American woman, my association with you is already tenuous given how I am still healing, or perhaps reeling, from the infamous incident of you dressing your then-boyfriend Ted Danson in black face for a roast and then later admitting to helping him write the racist script. This of course, is after you adopted a Jewish name to get ahead but yet pick up the African American mantle when it’s convenient. 
But your recent rants on The View which can only be categorized as anti-breastfeeding and anti-truth don’t help any women at all, instead they only fuel the misplaced anger and hostility that unfortunately already cloud an important public health issue-an issue that could save millions of infant lives and bolster the health of millions of mothers. 
Most importantly, you have a powerful and influential position yet you show negligent disrespect for that with your utter disregard for the facts before one of your riffs. Now, I strongly believe and agree that a mother should choose which first food is best for her and her baby. But supporting breastfeeding is not about removing choice, it’s about leveling the playing field which has, for decades, been tilted in favor of the big pharmaceutical companies that produce infant formula and then make back-door deals with hospitals and fund pediatricians, and undermine women in the process. 
To make matters worse, it is very hard for women to actually “choose” when they are inundated with false information masquerading as facts. Particularly when those mistruths are being promulgated by movie stars masquerading as news agents. And as a seasoned journalist, that really gets my goat. 
So, to the facts, Ms. Goldberg. 
Whoopi Lie #1: In late April, when you told NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg to “back off” with “his initiative” called Baby Friendly Hospitals, you couldn’t have been more wrong. 
The Truth: The Baby Friendly Hospital initiative (BFHI), is an international effort, launched in 1991 by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, and is NOT of Mayor Bloomberg’s doing. Perhaps your producers could have Googled that to spare you the embarrassment. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative works to ensure that all maternity wards provide evidence-based breastfeeding support. 
FYI, support is not pressure. 
There are over 19,000 baby-friendly hospitals in the world, and 140 in America. BFHI works to prevent thousands of infants in the United States from suffering from the ill effects suboptimal feeding practices. Breastfed babies have a decreased risk of diarrhea, respiratory and ear infections, and allergic skin disorders. Do you really have a problem with that? 
Considering the health benefits of breast milk, and the cost of thousands of ER visits by infants suffering from diarrhea and ear infections, infant health IS the mayor’s business. 
In fact, New York City currently only has one Baby Friendly hospital—Harlem Hospital, which is very good news because, while you have been singing Motown tunes in Nun costumes and talking to Ghosts, black babies have been dying at twice the rate of white babies—a health disparity that could be significantly reduced by more breastfeeding among black mothers, according to the CDC. Meanwhile, black women have significantly lagged in breastfeeding initiation and duration for over 40 years. Yet a recent report shows that racial disparity narrows at Baby Friendly hospitals. 
Whoopi Lie #2: “Not everybody can breastfeed…If 90% of women could breastfeed, they probably would.” 
Truth: Well, actually over 90% of women CAN breastfeed. In fact, there are very few conditions where a mother and her child are truly unable to breastfeed. Estimates on how many women actually can’t breastfeed vary from 1-5%, depending on how this is defined, but that means that more than 90% of women can breastfeed if they want to. 
I find this mistruth particularly troubling coming from you because I’m sure that if someone said a young black girl from the projects, daughter of a teenage mother, who became one herself at 18-years-old, a former drug addict who decided to take on a Jewish name to pursue her acting dream in Hollywood, CAN’T become a success, I assume you would be very upset. If someone said a black woman who doesn’t play the “beauty” game CAN’T be a blockbuster movie star you would whip out the long line of expletives in a heartbeat. And rightly so. 
Yet, with all the “Can’t” that you have overcome in your life, you seem so quick to surmise what most women can’t do. And be wrong and strong about it. Shame on you. 
All of that leads me to believe that there is something more personal going on with your ardent fervor against supporting women who want to breastfeed and making sure that decision isn’t clouded by commercial interests. Because, is that really so wrong? 
Did something painful happen to you during your birth experience as an 18-year-old mother? Because your “my daughter was born with a tooth” story just doesn’t cut it—if you have gone through childbirth you know that enduring some temporary discomfort for the sake of your child is often par for the course of motherhood. And womanhood, for that matter. Some of us would choose short-term discomfort (when done correctly breastfeeding doesn’t hurt) for the sake of our baby’s health and my baby cut teeth at four months and continued to breastfeed until he was one year. 
Perhaps some of the same racial and cultural mistruths and barriers to breastfeeding that have kept black women from breastfeeding for the past 40 years have affected (or infected) your thinking too. Perhaps you are not as progressive and empowered as you think you are but just responding to years of media stereotypes and aggressive formula marketing, and “Booby Traps ™”, and generations of disconnect from our African American breastfeeding heritage. 
Or your Jewish one. 
Either way, it’s time for you to get your View corrected because black babies, in particular, need more breastfeeding mothers to reduce infant mortality and improve infant health and make sure more black infants make it to their first birthday. So if you want to damage the black community please stick to encouraging racist stereotypes like minstrel-like blackface, because our babies deserve better.
Perhaps you could also adjust your signature glasses just slightly above the bridge of your nose for a change, to clearly see the capitalist machine and misguided culture that has sold women the marketing line that infant formula meant empowerment and freedom (much like they sold us on shiny new appliances in the 1950′s and called us professional housewives), and then brainwashed us to believe that something made in a factory is just as good as what nature provides. But until then, your blinders and inaccuracies make you unqualified to offer any sort of “view” at all. 
Kimberly Seals Allers 
P.S.. I did love you in The Color Purple 
“Until you do right by me, everything you even think about gonna fail!”–Celie
And these, my good people, are my sentiments exactly.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Now THAT'S A Hero (Video)

There are many types of heroes out there. Often times, I see people commend military personnel for their work -- the ones who invade foreign countries, waging war on other armed forces service members and civilian people, and whose actions cause years of economic, social, mental, environmental and physical turmoil -- and countless deaths, all while fighting for our 'freedom'. But I don't!

I came across this video and it almost made me cry. It's from 2008 and highlights the story of Jiang Xiaojuan who has been called a 'Breastfeeding Hero" when she was called to emergency duty after an earthquake in Jianyou, China. While there, she found several hungry babies and since she was currently nursing her six month old, decided to help these other hungry babies out -- by breastfeeding all of them. Nine at one point. And once a few babies were reunited with their mothers, she continued to nurse others, even when this video was made.

I'm not excited about the circumstances that made Jiang Xiaojuan have to feed these babies -- the natural disaster that devastated the land and life of many of these residents, but I absolutely admire her initiative and bravery. I'm happy this story made the front page.

Breastfeeding and Anti-Racism? Yes, please!

I just joined an anti-racism committee, organized by the Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington. I was sent some information along with an invitation to join this group, whose primary goal is to "Learn about and look at how privilege and institutionalized racism impact breastfeeding promotion, support in hospitals, primary care, worksites and within our own coalition, and determine how we can incorporate equity issues into the work we are already doing." Needless to say there wasn't much hesitation on my part to accept the offer.

More and more as I continue to venture on this lactation journey, the reasons the universe drew me here are becoming more and more clear. It is wonderful to see people committed to social justice work, and to know there are those out there who want to have a hand at proactively engaging in discourse to find ways to end racism and the damaging effects it causes in breastfeeding outcomes. I'm happy to be doing the work that I do. And I'm thrilled that when people think of anti-racism, justice and equality I come to mind.

Certified Lactation Educator, and the White Breastfeeding Policy

Last week, I glanced at a PowerPoint slide and mistook "Write Breastfeeding Policy" for "White Breastfeeding Policy," while sitting through a lecture on the 10 steps towards a Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative -- and we were on step one. But when I think of it believe the second title may seem more fitting since not too long after class began -- on the first day, in fact, is when I realized the actuality of the course.

I just completed the required hours for the CLE Credential, so now I am a Certified Lactation Educator! I learned some interesting and practical information from the course -- lots of things I didn't know, which will only make me more effective, and I am definitely ready to share this with the public. Also, taking this course has cleared up any doubt I had on becoming a Lactation Consultant, and has made me realize that I absolutely do not want to do that! I repeat. I have realized that the clinical aspect of breastfeeding is not my passion -- AT ALL! Before, I thought becoming certified through the IBCLE was necessary in order to advocate and help end disparities -- to know as much as I can about the practical aspects in order to help out. And having the highest credential in the field of lactation would give me clout, while working towards the cause. But that's not necessary. At least not for what I want to do. And I'd be cheating myself and the community members I want to serve if I remained on that path, since I now recognize that is not where I feel called, nor is it how I believe I can make the biggest impact. I want to work in the background -- the politics and history, and examine the bio-cultural and socio-political areas -- as an anthropologist! I want to explore cultural ideas on breastfeeding in society, and produce radical theories about the tradition and the role of domination, that complicate our thinking and challenge the many implications behind it -- and change the way we practice and participate -- and get more people involved. I don't want to work in a clinic or in any type of hospital setting, or teach classes on just the hands-on and practical aspects. So sitting through countless slides and looking at all of this information made things crystal clear. And perhaps this epiphany will lessen my anger about the whole thing -- the exclusivity of it all, on paying for a course that cost me more than I have in my savings account.

Apparently, years of experience -- at least three decades in fact, working in breastfeeding and infant care doesn't let on to a 70ish-year-old lady that breastfeeding is not something only white women do. There were hundreds of slides throughout this course, as you can imagine. And though there were a few from the instructors trips to the Philippines and a couple of other countries. There was also a slide or two of a Black woman and a few Asians -- and of course the recent Venezuelan image that everyone has been rightfully raving about. But I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that less than 1% of the images contained someone from a community of color -- and the information didn't even even began to discuss how breastfeeding is experienced in various racial and cultural contexts. The class was centered around white culture, and apparently I wasn't the only one who noticed.

One of the students -- a white neonatal nurse, when we were discussing Hyperbilirubinemia (or, Jaundice), expressed the difficulties she sometimes faces recognizing this in some of her "clients of other ethnicities," and wanted a better understanding of how to do this. The instructor told her to look at all of the features and not just the skin. OK. Good explanation, I guess, but one that came only after the fact since it does not involve us as regular participants. Another white woman expressed much of the information (on work and taking time off postpartum, etc.) was hardly relevant to the populations she serves -- many Black teenagers. And in other cases -- like when it comes to Raynaud's Syndrome for example, we just don't exist at all. At least not when the instructor explained a clear indication of this condition comes from white nipples. I raised my hand because I wanted to ask if Raynaud's is exclusive to white women since I can speak for myself and numerous other Women Of Color who won't have that problem -- and whose nipples only get darker with hormones from pregnancy and childbirth. But there were several hands during that session and I wasn't picked. Too bad.

I couldn't keep my mouth closed. And when I saw the director of the school asked her if she's ever taken the course. She hadn't. But I told her how upsetting this is, and she was very receptive to what I had to say and told me they have been implementing programs and working on finding ways to de-center whiteness at the university, and suggested we schedule a meeting to discuss all of this -- one that I'm going to take her up on as soon as the dust settles around my schedule. And I'm going to fill out the feedback form, too.

I am happy I can now call myself a Certified Lactation Educator. I can rightfully place myself in spaces where I can combine some practical breastfeeding knowledge along with other ways to show resistance to this selected-group type of representation, and be as mindful as I can. I was really looking forward to this course, but in actuality during its sessions I was absolutely infuriated, since that type of setting creates more issues than it seems to address; it not only overlooks the experiences of countless women by portraying the entire breastfeeding experience -- including the complications that come along with it, as something central to the white body, but it breeds a brand new generation of healthcare professionals who remain clueless on the health and well-being of a certain percentage of the population they serve. It normalizes whiteness and dehumanizes us. And even of the two Black women in class -- myself and one other, it doesn't even provide information that would be relevant to our own experiences or the people in our community, which for me is the reason I'm even here. I imagine the other Women Of Color who felt the same -- that's some kind of B.S.! Disparities start in classrooms.