Sunday, December 1, 2013

Brown Baby, Black Milk

I feel as though nearly all of 2013 has been primarily focused on breastfeeding issues.  It may feel that way to me because in the past twelve months I have attended the CIMS Forum, the United States Lactation Consultant Association Conference, the American College of Nurse Midwives, the Missouri La Leche League conference, The Inequities in Breastfeeding Support Summit, and the United States Breastfeeding Committee special meeting.  I have presented the Chocolate Milk CafĂ© talk about 10 times in the last 12 months..

Foremost in my mind is the "Inequities" summit which to date has been the most thoughtful if also the most difficult public tackling of a subject some would rather leave unbroached.  During the planning phase, La Leche League pulled out as a sponsor of the discussion, they apparently didn't want to be associated with a discussion about white privilege and systemic racism inherent in breastfeeding support.  I have concerns that this type of blatant denial will lead LLL down a path of irrelevancy.  Will they become a relic of a time now long past as they cling to their circa 1950s model of mother to mother support?  They are unwilling to have a discussion about white privilege while their organizational structure excludes almost everyone except stay-at-home white middle-class mothers.

I'm also exasperated by an occurrence that is all to common in communities across the US.  I left my doula client happily nursing her baby a couple of months ago, after her delivery.  When I visit her on her first day home (only two days later!) she was bottle-feeding! The nurses initiated this when the mom hit a snag on day two.  Oh, the frustration!  We've been working our way back to breastfeeding ever since.  My work undone, the client's confidence undermined, a baby denied its mama's milk.  This is not okay, people!  Babies being able to access their mama's milk is a big deal.  No more excuses for or from the nurses.  We have to start teaching  nurses what they need to know to support mothers.  Breastfeeding support for every nursing mother is not optional.  Where is the support for moms once they go home?  We need to be creative and innovative at finding solutions to mothers (especially in our communities) having no where to go with their questions and concerns.  We need to work more collaboratively with hospitals,and WIC clinics to bridge that gap in community-based support. And finally, we need to really address systemic racism embedded in healthcare organizations that unfairly targets women of color and penalizes them.  This is where my own work will focus- I look forward to opportunities the new year will hold.

Retreat, Retrench, and Regroup

After a long hiatus from this blog, I am back.  I'm happy to report that I have made what I hope will be a game-changing decision. Starting in January I will no longer be attending anyone else's meetings on a regular basis.  I will maintain my memberships in all the professional organizations I am associated with by paying my dues but I will no longer be in regular attendance at meetings.  It eats up too much of my valuable time and there is very little return on investment.  Same with conferences, I will invest time in planning my own, but I won't assist with others (though I will continue to present at conferences and attend conferences).  My energy is best used on my own work so I'm stepping out of other projects.  I'm happy to announce that the conference I wanted to hold in 2014 is happening.  It will be the "Midwest Black Doulas and Midwives Retreat- featuring Dr. Ameena Ali" on June 6-8, 2014.   I'm hoping it will draw birth workers of color from around our region who wish to discuss issues pertinent to our community and pertinent to our role in improving perinatal health outcomes.  I did not get into a CNM program this past Fall or this coming Spring.  I will reapply next Fall.  I will also be busy training for my Black Infant Mortality Awareness Walk next September.  I am putting together a team to help me with the walk.  If you are interested in walking with me or being a member of the team, go to and click on the Black Infant Mortality Awareness Walk page.  I'm excited to be rethinking where I will put my energy, time and resources.  Most will go to my family, followed by Uzazi Village, and my book writing.  When I restart school, that of course, will take up the bulk of my time.  It feels good to close ranks and be more focused.  I'm also hoping it will make me more effective.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Black Route

           OK, I'm ready to talk about it.  Why I am no longer in my CNM program.  I was interviewed today by a midwife of color preparing a report for a CPM midwifery organization.  She wanted to know about my midwifery education journey.  I asked, 'Will my story help you, I'm taking the CNM route, not the CPM route."  She quickly corrected me.  "No", she said," you are taking the Black Route."  She explained that my story had much in common with midwifery students of color no matter which route to midwifery that they took.   I actually told my story twice today.  After the morning telephone interview, I later in the day visited with an old midwife friend visiting from out of state.  She made the mistake of asking me how school was going.   When I told her she was furious and smothered me in hugs and apologies.
            The short and sweet version is that I flunked out of school- with only one semester left to go.  That failure came with some assistance on the part of the system.  After watching my classmates received at clinical sites that I was denied and being asked to repeat a course because I didn't get enough births (something my classmate who also worried aloud about not getting enough births was not asked to do) I cowered to the suggestion that I do 'independent studies' until the course rolled around again.  I was told my work was inferior.  (I had made only As and Bs to that point).  We were encouraged to apply for a midwifery scholarship, but when I asked for the required reference letter, I was denied, twice.  In the end my untimely demise came about because I didn't trust anyone, not the individuals,  not the system and certainly not the institution.  I truly felt all alone- and I was all alone.   I consider this all a valuable lesson learn: NOTE TO UNIVERSE- I got it.  I settled for a hospital midwife program that did not fit me.  I was a freak from the start, both because of my homebirth devotion and my Black skin (neither of which this Midwestern state university had seen before).  I applied to another program for this Fall but my application was denied.  I will apply to other programs in the Spring. 
             I am more committed to becoming a midwife than ever.  Students of color who come after me will have a soft place to land because I'll be there for them.  I have had to shoulder my burden geographically alone, (except for a few wonderful 'allies' who were not afraid to take me under their wing- bless them).  There are no other midwives of color in my state, only one other LC of color.  But the next generation of midwives won't be alone.  My resolve is stronger than ever.  I am a midwife that will nurture that next generation and restore true midwifery to my community.  I have just a few things to keep me busy this Fall while I research other programs to apply to (one that will value what I bring to it):
  • two book contracts (more about those on a later post) both books are due this Winter and will be published in the Spring.
  • I just applied to a board position at IBLCE.  If I get it, it is a 3 year commitment with 2 meetings a year.
  • I just took on the Mother-Friendly Nurse Recognition program oversite at CIMS.  I plan to overhaul the program and market it nationally.
  • My nonprofit Uzazi Village just signed its second year lease with many programs in the works, but we continue to look for a permanent building to house the expansion into a clinic after I graduate.
  • Today I was invited to a meeting in DC (all expenses paid) by the United States Breastfeeding Committee with a select group of other breastfeeding advocates from around the country after notice was taken of the work being done at Uzazi Village.  I'm really looking forward to the dialog that will come out of that meeting.
  • I have presented at several local and national conferences so far this year, and have three more presentations on my calendar for the Fall.
  • A new Breastfeeding Clinic is in the works for Uzazi Village.  A retired nurse/lactation consultant will run the free community clinic and will simultaneously mentor lactation consultant candidates getting their required hours to sit for the IBLCE exam.  I am so loving the symbiosis of this idea.  We start in August. Community women will see an LC for free but the mentees will pay a small stipend for the mentoring.
  • We may have secured some funding for our 100 Breastfeeding Ambassadors program (won't know for sure till Fall) in which Uzazi Village will train 100 Breastfeeding Peer Educators for free.  In exchange for their free training, they must submit a plan for how they will impact their communities with breastfeeding promotion.  I'm very excited about this.  Hoping it will become a national model. 
  • Partnering with a local midwife for my company Perinatal ReSource to add a midwifery assistant class to our growing list of training offerings.  We are already getting inquiries for this training even thought its still in its planning phase.
  • Have a wonderful class of five students to pilot my 16 week course, Perinatal Academy. So far, so fantastic. (A local nursing program has given me access to their simulation lab, so two of my courses include a trip to the Sim Lab!)  Nice to have collaborative partners.  Enrollment for our other classes are filling up.
  • A local domestic violence shelter is hiring me to bring perinatal education to their pregnant residents.
  • In talks with the local school district to bring perinatal education to pregnant and parenting teens in the district to help with the goal of keeping them in school.
  • Currently seeking sponsors for my first annual Symposium on Perinatal Health Inequities that I plan to hold here in KC next Fall (and the next Fall, and the next Fall...) 
  • Simply adore my new 'Midwives in the Making' support group I started for midwife students of color and 'allies'.  This group will be an invaluable tool for gathering future midwives together and nurture them through the  process of becoming a midwife. We gather in our homes, drink wine, eat good food, tell our stories, and support and encourage one another through the process.  This is just downright soul healing. 
So as you can see Dear Reader, what hasn't killed me has only made me stronger as I continue my education via The Black Route.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Saving the World... one class at a time

I am headed to Seattle Washington later this week to present at the Inequities in Breastfeeding Support Symposium.  I will be offering a culturally specific view of barriers African-American women face in their lactation journeys and strategies normative culture providers can use to preserve, protect, and promote successful lactation.  I am very excited to present this information to a wider audience though I have given this talk about 10 times in the past two years at various local and national conferences.  I look forward to seeing Seattle (my first trip out there- though I have a feeling it won't be my last) home of Bastyr University and Penny Simkin (whom I will miss completely while I'm there- she'll be traveling).  I'm grateful to the planners of this conference to attempt a 'white privilege' take on this topic.  I hope it draws a broad audience.  I have two more invitations this Fall to present my topic and plan to attend the AABC conference in Minneapolis in September (a very busy month for conferences).
While I am gainfully unemployed and unschooled, I am taking advantage of the 'free' time to build an empire. (Insert wry smile.) I am quite excited about my business, 'Perinatal ReSource'  ( and the products I am producing.  I am producing books and curriculum like a mad fiend, and I am excited for where this company/school is headed.  I am teaching my first class through Perinatal ReSource on Monday nights.  Perinatal Academy has four very diverse students for the initial class.  It is 16 weeks of all things maternal- infant.  I wrote it, I teach it, and I will evaluate its value.  I want to do other niche education, and to that end, am on the lookout for coalitions, and alliances.
I'm still waiting to hear back from Frontier, whether or not I'm accepted into the Fall class, and what of my credits they will accept.   There are so many irons in the fire right now.  Things are going well, my life is quite productive, and many, many things seem possible. I want to use my time wisely this summer and set into motion projects that will have lasting impact.  I plan to keep my readers posted and how my book writing is going (I currently have two book contracts with two different publishers), the status of my nonprofit, Uzazi Village (I'm working on our annual report today- we're coming up on the end of our first fiscal year), and gearing up for hosting my first (of many) annual symposiums on perinatal health disparities.  So its off to work I go (at my dining room table- my makeshift home office).  There's much to be done in the battle against perinatal health disparities.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Midwives in the Making

I've decided to resume my writing on this blog.  I was trying to wait until I had definitive news to report, but I may not know for a while still.  The big news?  I am no longer in the midwifery program at KU.  I have instead applied to the Frontier at-a-distance program and am waiting to hear back about my application.  I don't wish to elaborate, but the experience has made me more determined than ever to complete my degree and start my career.  I have a much better understanding of why there are no midwives of color in the states of Kansas and Missouri,   The midwifery model of care is a beautiful model of care.  I absolutely do believe that it can be a part of the answer to health disparities, HOWEVER, midwives (and their professional associations) have not made this a priority.  With due deference to those who have tried to bridge the disparities gap, neither have they made the healthcare impact they should have made by now, leaving the women who might best benefit from midwifery care with the least access to it.   I have re-committed myself to the goal of Uzazi Village to restore the community midwife.  I understand much better now, why I must start my practice, and within that practice give midwifery students of color a place to be supported and nurtured.  To that end, Uzazi Village has started a new group, "Midwives in the Making."  This group is open to any aspiring midwife pursuing any path to midwifery, but it is ESPECIALLY a safe haven for women of color to nurture their dreams of becoming midwives.  We will meet the last Sunday of the month from 6-8pm and will rotate between member homes to share a meal and share our stories.  This is how I currently feel led to fight for my community.  To carry on in my own personal fortitude, courage, and moral veracity to make a space that does not currently exist for aspiring midwives of color. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

LAX Reverie

There has been so much to happen in the past few weeks, I've scarcely had time to process it all.  I thought things would slow down and I would have time to carefully consider my next course of action, but that is not to be.  As I sit here in LAX in the middle of a two-week traveling jag with several more days before I return home, I believe this is all the time of contempation that I will get.  So much weighs in the balance.  Circumstances are changing so quickly.  Decisions that I thought were 2-3 years off, may have to be made now.  The work that waits patiently to flow through me is piling up- like kindergarteners walking in a line and the head of the line suddenly stops, and all the others bounce into the one in front of them to an abrupt stop.  I feel compelled to let the work flow, and not be stopped by my own fears and limitations.  I take a deep breath.  A heavy burden is upon me.  I do not bear it lightly. Or alone.  There is much to be done.  Time does not wait.  It is my job to find a way.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Legacy of Ida Mae

As I frantically prepare for clinicals, working my way through an impossible semester, awaiting a second of two back to back blizzards, I'll steal a moment to daydream (or in this case 5am dream) about the future "Ida Mae Patterson Perinatal Health Disparities Symposium"  Now the only place this symposium exists, so far, is in my head.  But hopefully that will change come 2014 when I've secured funding to pull this off and invite my Sisters from around the country, in the front line work of battling health disparities in our community to join me (its free of charge in the daydream).  I'm hoping our midwest placement will make it a great annual draw.  Ida Mae was my grandmother, sometime midwife and mother of 24.  Only nine of her children survived to adulthood. Yes, thats 15 perinatal losses! Her life personifies the health disparities issue, which is why I am proud to name the symposium after her,  I think back to the story of how, as she was giving birth to her first baby, her friend who was there to help, shrank back in fear as the baby became tangled in her cord, but my grandmother, undeterred reached down, untangled the baby and brought her to her chest.  She did what had to be done. That is my inspiration.  We must reach to save ourselves.  No one else can or should do it for us.   I envision this as a venue where folks from across the nation can come and have a meaningful and productive and continuing dialog about perinatal health disparities in our country.  There are many conversations about this already going on, but we must lift high the voices of those who represent the communities most impacted by these disparities.  Our best solutions will come from within.  It is up to us to show others what appropriate care looks like.  That is my aim with this symposium; to showcase grassroots community-based strategies and solutions.