Thursday, January 24, 2013

Angela Davis's Advice on Breastfeeding Advocacy! Well, in a Former Black Panther, Social Justice Activist, Civil Rights Icon, prison abolitionist and once an FBI's top 10 most-wanted, MLK Celebration sort of way (Video)

Yes, that's my reflection taking the picture :O)

"Remain cognizant of the struggles which have carved out a place for you. Also, be willing, in turn, to add your own contribution to the ongoing quest for justice and equality." -Angela Y. Davis

I had the awesome experience of going to see Angela Davis last week. Twice! (If you are in the unfortunate situation and have gone this long unsure of who she is, please cancel out of this blog, Google her, and come back later once you've done a good amount of learning-up on this amazing and revolutionary woman. They don't make 'em like this anymore). Just a month earlier while at doula training, I was talking to a fellow student and telling her how I would love to see her -- a conversation I completely forgot about until the morning I was getting dressed and ready to go and see her. By a fluke just days before the event I found out she was coming to town to give a lecture at the Community College, and then the keynote at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration, so I attended both. Obviously! For as long as I can possibly remember I have wanted to see Dr. Davis, hear her speak and just vibe from her years of wisdom, political activism, resilience and resistance (in reality, I want to take her out for a drink and pick her brain.... but I guess I'll settle for hearing a lecture and a speech). The talk discussed the legacy of Dr. King -- where we were then and where we are now, recognizing even though we have made great strides, we still have a long way to go -- the ongoing struggle. This also encompasses community organization, and patience.

At the end of the lecture, during the Q&A (from my front row seat ;)), I got to ask the very last question. I asked Professor Davis what type of advice she has to activists and advocates to keep going. That when you just want to throw in the towel, what can people do to continue on? This is an area that I don't really see anyone talking about, and I think it needs more discussion; it's sort of like 'everyone wants to have dinner, but no one wants to talk about doing the dishes.' At least that's the way someone from the audience equated what I asked, when I was approached after the event about my question. I wanted to know from someone who has been on the front lines of political activism for decades, and has, no doubt been through it all -- how to go on?

I know I'm not alone and there are plenty others who feel this way and wonder the same. My question comes from a place where even though I love what I do, I've been looking for some type of inspiration. I know my frustrations often come from what I feel is so much general apathy and a lack of interest in social change – from too many -- you know, the ones who don't do anything at all, yet try to silence you?! I find the bulk of people aren't concerned with most things unless it directly affects them, and then are then only interested in 'saving' themselves. There are too many who can do something and don’t – to really challenge racism, class issues and white supremacy – and all other forms of oppression and domination. And recognize we are all to blame and can all do something. Confronting these types of sentiments from others while I'm in this 'struggle for justice and equality,' I sometimes feel these are overwhelming, and drain my energy and at times make me wonder why I even give a care.

I think her response was also something she talked about in her lecture on Dr. King's legacy. Professor Davis said that in addition to creating change in a way that does not wear us down and practicing self-care -- she does yoga three times per week, that we 'need a combination of urgency and patience' -- and to recognize what we're looking for won't happen overnight. When Dr. Davis was talking about activism in her lecture, she emphasized that the struggle is ongoing -- what we're wanting won't happen tomorrow, and we must 'imagine things beyond our immediate scope' and work with future generations in mind. She mentioned the latest Presidential election, and suggested there actually is organization and interest among the people. All of this really touched a soft spot for me. I think that often times I do work to 'get the message in our DNA' -- that will transcend generations – but I also know that there's definitely times I've found myself looking for a 'fast food' type of solution' that Ms. Davis referred to –  suggesting everyone wants things to be automatic. I think that plays a part in my frustration.

The messages from Angela Davis –  from the lecture and the keynote, and the sentiments of the MLK Holiday, reminds me that even though there were significant strides made then and that we are ‘living a reality we may not have imagined a generation ago,’ something else she emphasized, the focus is on continuing. A friend of mine said recently that we must understand that even though we want change and dedicate our time and energy, we may not see the fruit of that labor it in our lifetimes. That's something else to think about.

What I've also thought about is that 'ongoing reservoir of inspirations' for me, means surrounding myself with people who have the same vision -- or a similar one, who are also working towards a similar goal. I've been giving this a lot of thought, and I will continue to do so. I'm not one who is quick with letting people off the hook and not holding them accountable for creating change I know is possible, but I'm slightly less frustrated, somewhat - at least for the moment anyway. But I'd love to hear from you all out there, who work to create positive social change and radical transformation. What happens when you feel this way, because I know you do. What's your opinion? I'd love to hear your take.

"It's not going to happen tomorrow. But act as if it were possible."

Here is the video from the lecture at Edmonds Community College. You can see the back of my head in much of it. LOL. I wish there were one also from the keynote address at the Convention Center later that night. If I happen to come across it, I'll post it.

An MLK Commemoration with Angela Davis

"As part of the community's Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration feminist and writer Angela Davis speaks on campus. Through her activism and scholarship over the last decades, Davis has been deeply involved in our nation's quest for social justice. Her work as an educator both at the university level and in the larger public sphere has always emphasized the importance of building communities of struggle for economic, racial, and gender justice. Davis has lectured throughout the United States as well as in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America. In recent years a persistent theme of her work has been the range of social problems associated with incarceration and the generalized criminalization of those communities that are most affected by poverty and racial discrimination."

'Breastfeeding: It's More Than About Nutrition' – Especially for Black People #RealTalk (Video)

When I was a guest on the Queen Ifama Show a few weeks ago, she and I discussed the politics of Black breastfeeding, and why it is so important for our community to take a special note on the reasons we need to support each other. They are countless, of course, but she and I focused more on the political aspects. Throughout that hour she continued to mention the 'psychological bond' that is built between a woman and her child, and said she wanted to 'keep re-iterating that!' I mentioned that a friend of mine who spent time as a social worker and interacting with women and their children, said while visiting these clients a pattern emerged among Black and Native women --  that they did not want to breastfeed because they didn't want to get 'attached' to their baby.

I have always looked beyond the practical and mechanical aspects of breastfeeding to delve deeper into the social issues, but I hadn't explored the areas that Queen Ifama discusses in bonding to this extent. I asked her if she wouldn't mind sharing her thoughts on this through a video, which is the one she made below, and even though all of it is supportive of this tradition, my emphasis is on the second half -- after the practical aspects. Queen Ifama says there is a complete lack of information on nursing -- beyond nutrition -- and that the comfort that is experienced between mother and child can act as protection throughout our lives. She emphasizes that everything 'starts at the breast,' and suggests that bonding is a way to 'incubate our children,' and can serve as an agent in helping to restore centuries of psychological damage and other remnants of slavery -- like that 'fear of attachment,' which I'm sure stems from this era, and I'm just as certain was used as a self-preservation method in the face of being indiscriminately bought and sold. This is all very significant for Black people given our history, and the fact that we continue to live in this racist and oppressive society.

Keep Calm And Read :: Birth and Reproduction Texts by Black Women Anthropologists (Video)

I recently updated my bookshelf with texts I'm currently reading, plan on reading, what I recommend, and I even put a few that are on my wishlist from on the page. I just finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks -- about a woman I think every living soul should learn about because we have all been impacted by her and her immortal cells that were taken without her knowledge and transformed the medical field -- and has saved many of our lives. Also, because I'm working towards Doula Certification, I just started The Doula Guide to Birth,  in order to give a report/review, which I'll post here once I'm finished and I'm also flipping through The Radical Doula Guide.

I try and find as many texts as I can that are written by Black women anthropologists, to add to my library, and to highlight their work. I believe the tools of this discipline provide ways of viewing culture and society and are phenomenal in exploring new ideas and possibilities. For example, because anthropology means 'the study of humankind in all places and all times,' and is concerned with all aspects of humanity now and in the past, it offers a holistic perspective and goes below the surface of what many are used to seeing. Also, because one the primary tools of cultural anth is ethnography (writing culture), it usually means living among or deeply interacting with a group for a specified amount of time, participating in their ways of living (participant observation) and learning the intricate details. Much more in-depth than a regular study. It adds another dimension.

The awesome thing that's been happening for me, is that not only do I notice more and more texts by Black women anthropologists, but I'm finding more and more who have produced work on breastfeeding and birth -- well, at least birth, but breastfeeding comes up at some point in the conversation, of course. I know I'm newer to exploring the reproductive realm than many, but from the looks of things it doesn't appear to be a lengthy history of us writing on the topic. And I have yet to find a text dedicated exclusively to breastfeeding -- except for the one I'm working on. I've mentioned before that the last time I heard there are only about 600 practicing Black anthropologists in this country. And a Black woman anthropologist is rare. So I'm so happy to come upon whatever I can. 

The first two are ones I'll be reviewing on this blog in the near future and the last two are on my wishlist. They're not focused on mechanics, but look at underlying areas of culture, reproduction, health and politics, and are, well. . . . ethnographic. The first is written by a local right in this town, who I had no idea even existed until more recently when someone named her a 'Shero'. I think it's the craziest thing that I can search high and low for Black women in this discipline, and someone else points to one who's practically my neighbor. How does that happen?

Family Secrets: Risking Reproduction in Central Mozambique, is the ethnography of Rachel Chapman, PhD, from her research site, and one I'm so excited about. Dr. Chapman is a Sociocultural Anthropologist and professor at the University of Washington, who focuses on medical anthropology, racial and ethnic disparities in reproduction along with others -- and who also teaches Global Health. I spoke with her recently, and talked about breastfeeding, anti-racism, anthropology, and about some thoughts I have about my work in this field, and had a fascinating time discussing these topics with her. And from someone whose work is closely aligned with mine, and who understands what it's like being only one of a handful in this discipline, she was very encouraging, and of course I savored the many things she said.

I took a peek inside of Family Secrets, and read a small, fascinating section: "When My daughter, Solea, was born seven months earlier in a clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe, the two Shona midwives assisting my birth had gently tried to dissuade me from putting her immediately to my breast to nurse. They advised me to have a shower first because I was "dirty" from the birth. By 'dirty' they meant unclean not so much from the bodily fluids of my exertion as from the liminal, potentially dangerous journey to motherhood I had just come through. I was "hot" from this sacred and highly charged rite of childbirth and might pass that heat through my milk to my infant, making her sick."

Here's the excerpt from Amazon:
Behind a thatched hut, a birthing woman bleeds to death only minutes from "life-saving" maternity care. Chapman begins with the deceptively simple question, "Why don't women in Mozambique use existing prenatal and maternity services?" then widens her analysis to include a whole universe of cultural, political, and economic forces. Fusing cultural anthropology with political economy, Chapman vividly demonstrates how neoliberalism and the increasing importance of the market have led to changing sexual and reproductive strategies for women. 
Pregnant herself during her research, Chapman interviewed 83 women during pregnancy and postpartum. She discovered that the social relations surrounding traditional Shona practices, Christian faith healing, and Western biomedical treatments are as important to women's choices as the efficacy of the therapies.
I'm filled with anticipation.

Next, is another ethnography by Spelman Alum, Khiara M. Bridges, who just so happened to also be valedictorian of the university (after she finished a four-year degree in only three, that is). She is also an anthropologist and lawyer -- Associate Professor of both, a professional classical ballet dancer, and speaks fluent Spanish and some Arabic. Yep. Wow! I just happened upon this book recently, along with a video that provided the details above about Dr. Bridges, while researching and I'm so glad I did.

Reproducing Race: An Ethnography of Pregnancy as a Site of Racialization was published in 2011, and her research site was here in the U.S. -- in New York at an 'Obstetrics clinic in a public hospital in Manhattan.' Dr. Bridges says the issues around reproduction and race are far more complex than simply focusing on skin color. Here is the blurb from Amazon:

"Reproducing Race, an ethnography of pregnancy and birth at a large New York City public hospital, explores the role of race in the medical setting. Khiara M. Bridges investigates how race--commonly seen as biological in the medical world--is socially constructed among women dependent on the public healthcare system for prenatal care and childbirth. Bridges argues that race carries powerful material consequences for these women even when it is not explicitly named, showing how they are marginalized by the practices and assumptions of the clinic staff. Deftly weaving ethnographic evidence into broader discussions of Medicaid and racial disparities in infant and maternal mortality, Bridges shines new light on the politics of healthcare for the poor, demonstrating how the "medicalization" of social problems reproduces racial stereotypes and governs the bodies of poor women of color."

Risking Reproduction and Reproducing Race are highlights of this month for me. If you're considering looking into these, reading ethnographies are usually very accessible, and an in-depth knowledge or social science background is not necessary at all. I'll be super excited if you decide to read along, so let me know if you will be doing so. I am looking forward to exploring these, and can't wait to publish their reviews.

These are on my wishlist.

African American Midwifery in the South: Dialogues of Birth, Race and Memory by Gertrude Fraser, says that "Starting at the turn of the century, most African American midwives in the South were gradually excluded from reproductive health care. Gertrude Fraser shows how physicians, public health personnel, and state legislators mounted a campaign ostensibly to improve maternal and infant health, especially in rural areas. They brought traditional midwives under the control of a supervisory body, and eventually eliminated them. In the writings and programs produced by these physicians and public health officials, Fraser finds a universe of ideas about race, gender, the relationship of medicine to society, and the status of the South in the national political and social economies."

Stress And Resilience: The Social Context of Reproduction in Central Harlem is by Columbia Professor, Leith Mullingsand is a 'ground-breaking volume [that] chronicles the unique experiences of black women that place them at higher risk for morbidity and mortality - especially during pregnancy.' I won't go too much into this work of critical medical anthropology, because Leith Mullings appears in the video below speaking at the Scholar and Feminist Conference at Barnard College about 'Race and Stratified Reproduction'. It is only a a short one, but if you follow the YouTube link you can find more on her work about Stress And Resilience, and others.
                                                                                A short video by Dr. Mullings

Far from being anywhere excited about hearing of even more inequity among Black women, I am happy that these will undoubtedly provide information that will allow for a new way to see things, and add an additional tool to use in challenging social issues that weigh heaviest on Black women and communities of color, and once I get them, I will be sure to let you know.

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Book Review :: Motherwit: An Alabama Midwife's Story: Onnie Lee Logan as told by Katherine Clark

In 1984, Onnie Lee Logan gives the oral account of her life of nearly 40 years as a traditional midwife, to an Alabama University English professor named Katherine Clark. Thankfully, for anyone who is interested in learning about the historical account of a woman whose family lived a relatively comfortable economic life despite others around them, at a time when racism and legal segregation remained overt, Motherwit provides an exceptional account.

Motherwit: An Alabama Midwife's Story, is not so far unlike other historical accounts of lay midwifery in the 20th century, when the practice was on the cusp of banishment. But unique in its own right, it is the voice of a woman who had a desire to share her story because she 'don't want to bury em' -- the decades of vast amounts of knowledge and experience that comes form catching hundreds of babies, because 'There's too much that I don't want to die with.' This inspirational story tells the exceptional account of Ms. Onnie Lee's Beginning, Tradition, Vocation and Motherwit. Through an excellent recapture of the Southern drawl and sentiments of this of this midwife, by Katherine Clark, Onnie Lee's story begins by telling of her life growing up in Sweetwater, Alabama, in the early 20th century, the 14th of 16 children, born and raised on a farm, living a relatively comfortable life, despite the conditions of the community around her who lived in the throws of poverty.

Traditional midwifery had already come under scrutiny when Onnie Lee began practicing, due to the high rate of maternal and infant mortality in the U.S., which Black women and Black babies were not the ones largely affected from this. Black midwives had exceptional success with birth. Onnie Lee herself, only saw one stillbirth, yet midwives were required to carry permits, until the practice was officially outlawed in the state in 1976. Onnie Lee continued to practice until the early 80s. Within this time, she delivered countless babies, to mostly poor women, as well as assisted medical professionals.

Like the majority of other granny midwives from the South, a major theme of Motherwit, is the role religion played in molding her, and was the central component in guiding and shaping Onnie Lee. This tradition is underscored in her everyday life from childhood on. God remained the central guiding force and she's "just using the hands God gave me." Onnie Lee says her skills came from her 'motherwit,' which was common sense she received from God, and gives me the impression that without the level of faith, there may not exist a granny midwife or a text about her life.

Although Motherwit is not necessarily a text geared directly towards discussing racial politics specifically, racism and state-sanctioned legal segregation that denied Black women access to white hospitals, was the reality in this U.S. region, and where Onnie Lee 'Never saw a white doctor deliver a Black baby.' Embedded, however, are the issues of economy, racial segregation and class division, in this story that speaks of life in a rural village and the implications of Blackness for the the protagonist, who isn't exactly sure of her birth because 'in those days they didn't really keep an accurate record for black people.' Moreso, it provides the practical account of this third-generation midwife -- after her mother and paternal grandmother, and tells of her service, patience and sacrifice.

In addition to providing 70 years of remarkable story-line on childhood, womanhood, being a birth companion, and subsequently a professional, what makes Motherwit exceptional is that this account of Onnie Lee's life and career, told through this first-hand account, is absent of elitist attitudes on questioning if the use of her (in) 'proper language,' should be used in the text, or left as is -- like many other authors who narrate texts. Instead, Katherine Clark excellently conveyed her mannerisms and Southern Alabama drawl to such an extent, where I often felt as if I were listening to my grandma.

It is not possible to understand the current state of contemporary childbearing, without having a knowledge the history and the implications behind what led to the current state where hospital births surpass traditional home births. Motherwit is an exceptional addition to lay and professional midwives and other birth and healthcare professionals, for those who wants to learn practical methods of birthing, or more simply what life was like in the South, as well as anyone who is interested in history and the conversation of race and racism and the embedded politics surrounding those issues. In my opinion, everyone should read Motherwit, because we are all in some way impacted and this history is just as important to all of us as it was to Onnie Lee.

Onnie Lee's remarkable story is one that I know is inspiring countless people today. It is remarkable not only because of her wisdom and insight, but because of the passion she brings with it, and the rich account of history she offers. 

I wish she would have talked more about breastfeeding as a custom. The only mention was in the initial chapter when she discussed the co-nursing relationship between her mother and the white neighbor when one needed to run into town. But even with that absent, Motherwit is  remarkable reading.

AuthorOnnie Lee Logan as told by Katherine Clark
Publisher: E.P. Dutton
Year: 1989
Genre: History/Midwifery
Pages: 177
ISBN: 978-0-525-247517

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This text was not provided by the publisher to review on my site. It was purchased with my own funds, as part of Doula Certification, which requires a written review and submission of birth and midwifery texts. This post is here simply to share this report/review with my audience. 

Book Review :: In the Way of Our Grandmothers: A Cultural View of Twentieth-Century Midwifery in Florida

To capture the stories of traditional midwives in Florida State, from 1981-1984, Debra Anne Susie conducted interviews with the last generation of lay midwives who were all affected by the intervention of the state, which outlawed the practice. In The Way of Our Grandmothers: A Cultural View of Twentieth-Century Midwifery in Florida, highlights the stories of women who practiced this sacred tradition before the spawn of laws and before industry replaced this long-established custom.

Through mostly first-hand interviews, the midwives (and in a couple of occasions their patients or a close family member) recounted their stories of practicing in Florida. Their accounts largely paralleled other parts of the country, regarding the tradition being outlawed. Debra Anne Susie interviews nearly 10 granny midwives, who spoke about their experience birthing babies and being a charismatic figure in the community.

The initial chapters examine this practice and shows us the progression of movement from tradition to industry, as she explains the 'Community's View of the Midwife,' through her disenfranchisement, the State's view, and the pressure from the state.

The maternal-infant mortality that was part of this larger social issues, and is what originally drew scrutiny to this practice, was not something experienced by Black women. Black lay midwives had very successful healthy birth rates, yet, via state-sanctioned disenfranchisement, the state's view of  these practitioners was that they were a nuisance, and slowly ridded the region of these women, and subsequently passed the first midwifery law in the state in 1931.

Debra Anne Susie wonderfully explains the relationship arrangements in birth, and examined how the practice moved far beyond the idea of new life. Traditional midwifery was a sacred practice rooted in community involvement and engagement. The generations-long and often inter-generational relationships were so strong, that mostly it was only due to a midwife's death that a woman found herself going to a hospital -- since it was seen preferable than replacing a long-standing midwife of the community. Susie continues to explain the various roles midwives held, including parental figures and spiritual guides, where birth was not only an event which brought forth new life, but the midwife, along with the birthing practice served as a site of empowerment for women, that cultivated female solidarity and strength.' The stat's intervention challenged and consequently eradicated this long-standing tradition. In The Way of Our Grandmothers displays how the attitudes of the state viewed the lay midwife as a nuisance, and began pressuring these women, which also inevitably halted their desire to practice. During the 'Meeting of Tradition and the State' it was a time fraught with issues of inequity and unfair practices that placed a heavy burden on these women. The state-imposed age restrictions along with transportation costs, and other new policies were a tremendous agent in hindering many from practicing.

In the same tradition as the majority of other lay midwives, a major theme of this text is the role of religion. Most midwives explained that their deep connection to God was a central component in the way they viewed their practice. Being 'called' by God regardless of their desire to practice or not was the main influence, and expressed that He is the one who ultimately taught them how to catch babies.

Debra Anne Susie's work gathers important information from Black women who may otherwise remain nameless in the larger picture, potentially taking years of traditional knowledge and expertise to their graves. However because of this level of importance of input from this group, is why I feel this text is not without significant weakness. The introductory chapters held brief mentions of issues that affect Black women almost exclusively, and Susie noted that segregation that was responsible for even allowing the midwives to practice as long as they did: 'What hospitals there were in the South were usually segregated, providing care to blacks only for emergencies and, even then, only in hospital-basement arrangements,' and 'this segregated environment [is what] bought the midwives some time' (Pg. 8). Although the significance of other forms of discrimination -- racism, age discrimination, class and gender discrimination were briefly discussed in the initial chapters, there was no further exploration on how these issues directly impacted the lives of Black women. Debra Anne Susie's interview questions mentioned racism only once. "Do you think this bad treatment of midwives is rooted in racism?" (Pg. 198), but failed to give a more detailed account or ask the midwives these questions during the interview, since it was a significant factor of their subjugation and disenfranchisement. I also wish the author would have gone into more detail about literacy, when she briefly inferred some would need to read, but never expanded on this.

In spite of these missing elements, In The Way of Our Grandmothers remains a text that can enrich our understanding, and allow us to engage in conversations about the history of race, gender, and class relations in the U.S., and allow us to gain more knowledge of contemporary ideas as well, to see how this shapes us today.

One of the most interesting things to me is how women entered the world of midwifery. It's very interesting seeing how many expressed God drew them to the tradition and even taught them how to practice. Some of the midwives didn't even want to catch babies but ended up delivering hundreds of babies. The most interesting things harbor any ill feelings towards the state for the long standing and prominent birth traditions that were eventually devastated by medical intervention. Also, when I thought about it, from the time lay midwifery was outlawed to the times when women were again returning to natural childbirth without is not that long. It is, however, long enough to devastate a long-standing tradition and turn this natural practice into an institution.

I wonder what was happening in other places across the country and across the world regarding midwifery. I'm new to this idea of exploring the area, but I am beginning to to understand that the desire to return to traditional practices can reclaim that level of community support and automomy that is so important for Black women. As I look around and see so many people returning to homebirthing practices, I do believe that is significant. But beyond that for communities of color, and for Black women who have always occupied an extremely marginalized space in this society, it means forging the relationships with community members, that were once an integral part of our everyday lives. Can this happen inside of a hospital setting? I've been wondering how people working in birthing fields can we continue to extract these stories and if it is possible to bring this tradition back or is it too far gone. I think finding ways to regain authority over our own bodies and returning to this practice can .

AuthorDebra Anne Susie
Year: 1988 Paperback: 2009
Paperback: 22.95
Genre: History/Midwifery
Pages: 254
ISBN: 978-0-8203-338-5

Thank you, University of Georgia Press, for providing a copy of In the Way of Our Grandmothers: A Cultural View of Twentieth-Century Midwifery in Florida, for this review.

Note: All opinions are my own and honest, and I am not compensated by the publisher!

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Show Me How To Do(ULA) Like You. Show me how to do it.

The other day I was in the grocery store and spot a Black woman. A pregnant Black woman, who is due sometime in the very near future. As I pass her standing in the line at the pharmacy, I say 'Hi', and she returns the greeting. Where usually everything in me would want to stop and talk to her about breastfeeding, now everything in me wants to stop and talk to her about breastfeeding and birth. But that didn't happen.

Scene 2: I was out with my little sister (in the store again) and we had our one-year-old great nephew in tow. While we were being checked out by this young sistah, she started talking to our little dude. I realized she was expecting and asked her how far along she was. Eight months. After we talked for a minute, and she told me her mother would be in town for this baby's birth and she was happy because she wasn't around for her first, I was relieved. I'm imagining in my head what I would have done had a conversation erupted between us and progressed to the point where I found myself trying to backpedal and get out of being someone's doula. What on earth would I do with a pregnant woman?

That question is exactly what I've been thinking about lately. When I see Black women, I want to talk breastfeeding -- and now about what a doula is. But I feel odd. It's the same kind of feeling I get about talking to strangers about breastfeeding. Besides the fact that I'm a complete junkie for the theoretical aspects, and am interested in structures of power and dominance, I would have a much easier time discussing these types of political issues than practical matters -- because the former looks at a much larger picture and doesn't appear to zero in on one person's circumstances. Part of me feels as if I'd be infringing on others' privacy and questioning their efforts and being invasive about their situation; they know what's best for their household. And didn't ask for my input.

How would I begin to try and explain what being a doula is and does if I don't fully understand what being a doula is -- how to practice? I've been trying to find ways to immerse myself in the culture and get a better understanding but don't really know how to go about doing it.

For me, being here means I am engaging in ways to work against the various social issues I challenge -- that I am actively participating and working towards justice in a way that is new for me. It also means that I am setting an example that we are all responsible, regardless of our child status, for healthier outcomes and to confront those structures that create barriers. But I'm new to this area, and have no idea what I'm doing. But, I am looking for some type of instruction, or, what many others have told me -- to find a mentor-type figure or anyone who can show me the ropes, co-doula, shadow someone or something of that sort. Because right now I know I have no idea what I'm doing, and I'm finding that I haven't the slightest clue on where to even begin.

The image above is "A statue of the African Freedom Fighter in Guadeloupe, known to history and legend as Solitude. She was a great shero in the struggle of the Africans in Guadeloupe to end slavery more than 200 years ago. She was captured by the French when she was pregnant and executed the day after her baby was born. She was born about 1779 and hanged in 1802. Her name is Solitude. She is immortal!"

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Word(less words) Wednesday: Yes, an albino woman can indeed bond with her Black baby!

"The bond between mother and child is absolute in this tender moment when breastfeeding. Nothing else is relevant, neither skin color, nor the fact that the mother is albino and her baby is black."

Given the context of this 'Photo of the Day' I found online with the caption above, from a project that looks at the lived experiences and violence perpetuated against those with albinism, I can almost understand why the photographer has highlighted this scene as an area of interest. But I would rather speak up about the dehumanization that arises from objectifying a woman who is simply feeding a baby that came from her own body. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

#DoulaProgression Reading Checklist :: 'Motherwit', 'The Doula Guide' and 'The Radical Doula Guide'

I finished compiling the list of books I've chosen to read and submit as book reports for Doula Certification -- and found an extra along the way.


Part of the requirements for certification is that we choose five texts from the list offered at training and complete book reports. In addition to the ones I previously selected -- Granny Midwives and Black Women WritersThe Archaeology of Mothering and In the Way of Our Grandmothers: A Cultural View of Twentieth-Century Midwifery in Florida, I decided on Motherwit because I'd been wanting to read it for a little while now. I checked it out from the library not so long ago but couldn't find the time to getting around to it before I had to return it so I'm excited to now have my very own copy. The Doula Guide To Birth: Secrets Every Pregnant Woman Should Know, was required reading for training, that I actually never read because I had no idea it was even part of the curriculum until the day of class. Had I not missed this important detail, I would have read it back then, of course. I'm doing so now in an attempt to make up for it after the fact.

Even though The Radical Doula Guide is not a requirement or on the list of texts, I heard about this from a fellow student from the course and wanted to add this to my shelf. I was excited and wondered about other insights that didn't already parallel the politics that I'm used to seeing -- everyday -- in breastfeeding support, and everywhere else. In the description, the Radical Doula explains "The guide provides an introduction to full spectrum doula work—supporting people during all phases of pregnancy, including abortion, miscarriage, birth and adoption—as well as a discussion of how issues like race, class, immigration, gender and more affect our work as doulas", and I just can't resist. I'm a sucker for those politics.

I'm just about finished with In The Way of Our Grandmothers, so I'll have that review around here soon. Next is Motherwit and after I'll take it from there.

Below is the updated list of requirements I'm using to keep track of my progress.

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