Sunday, December 14, 2014

Saving Our Communities May Entail Some Hurt Feelings

I can remember as a child, crying inconsolably.  My mother asked me, 'What's wrong?' and I answered, "You hurt my feelings." Her sassy retort?  "I'll hurt more than your feelings, if you don't stop all that crying!"

Since my last post, I have tussled with the most obstinate of allies.  Folks who are literally, 'helping us to death'.  They refuse to listen. They refuse to understand.  They refuse to give way.   All they can see is their own brilliant ideas.  All they can wonder is why we don't get on board with them.  I have used my most eloquent voice to explain what effective allyship looks like. The response? Apparently I hurt some feelings of some 'sensitive' allies. It's time to change tactics. 

Women of Color, we must rise up and lead our communities out of this mess.  No one else can do it.  We must do it ourselves or it won't get done.  I know its not fair, that huge agencies that are outside our community get millions to decrease perinatal health inequity and go decades without any positive effect from all those tax payer dollars.  Our communities continue to suffer.  Our babies continue to die.  With all the odds stacked against us, we must save our communities anyway.  Don't let your shortage of resources stop you.  Be brilliant and innovative.  We must let nothing stand in our way. 

I attended a birth last week that against all odds, ended in a much desired VBAC.  There were trade-offs.  Such as the 12 people that crowded into the mother's room while she was pushing, spread eagle in stirrups, you know, 'to help'.  They mostly helped themselves to observing another birth to help them get their numbers, but were certainly of no use to the mother who had to endure the indignities of all those strangers in her birthing room.  Then there was the 'needed' episiotomy.  Needed I'm sure because a resident 'needed' to practice doing one and another 'needed' practice sewing one up.  These and many other indignities are endured by our mothers daily in maternity 'care'.  The racism and classism is embedded in every brick the buildings are created with.

We already have brilliant examples.  If you haven't done so already, pick up a copy of this month's Essence magazine and read about Aza Nedhari and Mamatoto Village in Washington DC.  She and her team are doing amazing things with bigger plans in the works.  It is possible for us to change our communities from the inside out.  Just look to Jennie Joseph, Kathryn Hall-Trujillo, Shafia Monroe and many others who are creating the change we need to bring our communities back to health and vitality.

At Uzazi Village our goal is to expand Uzazi Academie which will train local women to be birth workers including doulas, lactation consultants, and midwives.  Our prenatal clinic and birth center will serve community mothers in a culturally appropriate and humane way. I implore birth workers of color to do the work only you can do in your corner of the world.  Spread the word person, by person, that birth belongs to us.  We are the experts. 

I interviewed my first homebirth clients as a midwife under supervision-an African-American couple having their first child.  What a salve it was to my soul to hear them talk with a united voice about their desires for a homebirth for their baby.  Informed, enthusiastic, optimistic couples just like them are the best hope for our future.  She will be one less Black woman treated with all manner of indignities and used for someone else's learning, her baby will be one less Black infant subject to needless interventions and needless disruptions to their bonding process, her husband will be one less Black man treated as invisible and superfluous to the process of the birth of his own baby.  My goal is to multiply their numbers until they become the norm rather than the exception.

If you are a woman of color doing birth work in your community, join the National Perinatal Taskforce and the National Association of Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color if you do breastfeeding support and advocacy.  We need to begin to create a tapestry across this country of community-led programs and community-based agencies.  We need to know who we all are.  We need to increase the national dialog among ourselves.  Please be on the look out for continuing conversations for our communities online, in Facebook, Google Hangouts.  Join those dialogs, and let us work together for the good  of our own communities.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

But I Meant Well...

Listen people.  It is not racist to talk about race.  It is not racist to mount efforts that are culturally targeted and that focus and race-based disparities.  It is however destructive and exploitative to take and utilize resources that could be used at the community level to impact individual lives and outcomes, and use those resources in trivial and useless pursuits that do nothing but enrich 'the helping class' and then say it was for the community's good.  That's a working definition of disparities pimping. Just because you have a great idea, doesn't mean its appropriate for you to act on it.  I got calls from all over the country from folks who wanted advice from ME on how to write a grant that I was also competing for.  These folks often had no connections to the Black community but wanted to appropriate funds intended to benefit the Black community because... well just because.  This is not appropriate.  I don't care how well you mean.

It hasn't been all bad.  I had wonderful midwife mentors who welcomed me to their birth center and treated me like one of their own (ditto with my midwife hostess who let me crash at her house for two days, and the Kansas City supporter who handed over the keys to her car so I could get to St. Louis and back after my car died.)  I so valued my time at a local conference to connect with midwife powerhouses, Jennie Joseph and Shafia Monroe.  I was nurtured and enriched by my time with Jeanette McCullough and Sister Morningstar.  I had a productive trip to Nebraska and loved my time Liz Brooks, an insightful person and a gifted speaker at the podium. I returned home to welcome new members to our Council of Elders at Uzazi Village- all women I love, admire and look forward to working alongside. I can't wait to get to Atlanta, to bask in the radiant glory of women like Kimarie Bugg and Ameena Ali.  I'm headed to training provided by an ally who 'gets it'.  When I return home, it will be to other allies like Diana Casser Uhl who support the work that I and others like me are doing.  However, the following scenes from my life, tell me there is much work to be done.

scenario a) I've been speaking to several communities with no connection to their African-American counterparts. Two local organizations in a city with a 50% African-American population banded together to write a grant that supports African-American women breastfeeding- even though there is no representation within either of these organizations that represents the community where the work is to be done!  We cannot continue to do business as usual like this.  This is disparities pimping at its finest.  Why do these organizations think they have the right to apply for grants aimed at our communities when they have no ties to our community?  To continue to do this is pure and simple colonialist thinking.  They can take money on our behalf under the guise of serving us (while they really serve themselves), but can't make any reasonable overtures into the community to connect with members of the community?  What hope is there for the success of their programs?  Shouldn't the infrastructure come first? then programs they support? We do not need more well meaning people to come into our communities with yet another brilliant idea to save us. But of course, they mean well... (Sent out mass email to those involved at leadership level.)

scenario b) One of my Chocolate Milk Cafe's (TM) was forced to change its name (therefore disqualifying it from being a Chocolate Milk Café (TM) ) when administrators up the ranks found the name to be 'offensive" and issued a gag order to prevent them from sharing their success with the greater organization.  They were given a choice to change the name or keep silent (there's that silence thing again) about it during an annual gathering to share their success with other counterparts in other parts of the state.  So let me get this straight, its okay for culturally incompetent others to come into our community and start their idea of what they think a breastfeeding support group should look like (see a.) but we cannot start our own support groups that are culturally specific and proven effective?  But those who oppose this 'racist' approach, mean well.   (Made some calls to state leadership- and a private vow not to work with these organizations in the future)

scenario c) Sat in Uzazi Village while I endured the visit of two researchers from the local university who had been paid thousands of dollars to do a survey on why our local hospitals are not yet Baby-Friendly and what breastfeeding barriers were posed to first time mothers.  Lord help me.  I patiently explained that with the thousands that were being spent to compile yet another useless report, I could have served hundreds, literally hundreds of childbearing families in my community.  Of course, as the researchers explained it, they meant well... (Just scratched my head in frustration).

From now on folks, lets DO WELL not just mean well.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Silenced No More

Last night, both myself and my post were removed from a group for lactation consultants and breastfeeding educators.  I was removed for being disruptive force in the group and making group members uncomfortable with my subject matter: Black infant mortality as it relates to breastfeeding.  I had stated that I would post the entire conversation on this blog.  I will not.  That would be unethical.  As a wise person pointed out, doing so would be petty and unprofessional. I strive to set a better example. What I will do is state emphatically I WILL NOT BE SILENCED.  And neither should you.  This is how inequities come about and persist.  Dominant culture people who refuse to see what is in front of them.  Who refuse to listen, hear, or engage the conversation.  But the problem can also be perpetuated by those who offend.  I don't want to offend when my message is rejected.  I want to move on and engage the next person, hoping they will listen, hear, engage.  This entire experience has been evidence to me that we need more lactation consultants of color. Yes, I've been saying that for a long time, but now it feels more urgent.  When I submitted my grant application yesterday, I recalled having to amend my program idea, because there are not enough LCs of color around the country to help their own communities.  This morning all I think of is that woman from the group going into an African-American client's room today with the thought of 'those colored babies' in her head. That is not the kind of help our mothers need.  If you are a Black woman and you want to become a lactation professional (of any kind), please stay on the path. If you are a true ally, I ask you, no I implore you, please help a woman of color in your vicinity.  We cannot leave our breastfeeding mothers to people who think of them in such a manner that was expressed to me in that group last night.  Yesterday I received a response from IBCLE.  I was not selected as a board member, however, I was offered another opportunity to have input in diversifying the ranks of LCs.  I will continue to do what I can, and what I must to see that African-American breastfeeding mothers aren't left stranded with the type of "assistance" some people are offering.  Let us rise up and be silenced no more.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Recap on Walk for Black Infant Mortality Awareness

These will be my final thoughts on the Walk for Black Infant Mortality Awareness, and my lessons learned from the experience.  First and foremost I want to thank a few folks:
Our walk sponsors:
  • Ergo Baby
  • Jennie Joseph and the JJ Way
  • Home State Health Plans
Other donors who donated to cover walk expenses:
  • Andrea Dixon (funds to rent RV)
  • shoes for walk (Yolanda Fortin and Tasha Reed)
  • Logo and T-shirts (Corey and Racquel Hykes)
  • Misfit Wearable Shines (fitness/mileage tracker)
Human Resources:
  • Team members who helped plan and execute the walk (Janet and Julie)
  • Host families who sheltered us in the storm (and in fair weather)
  • Guest walkers who shared part of the time on the road (Rebecca and Marijke)
  • Folks who set up speaking gigs, radio, and newspaper interviews (Janet and Elizabeth)
  • My Council of Elders who supported this walk (Tasha, Noriah, Rebecca, Bryan and Sharese)
  • Uzazi Village staff who held it down while I was away (Mariah and Charlene)
  • All those who watched, waited, and read along on the journey
  • Those who planned and attended the Improving Birth Rally that kicked off the Walk
End results of the walk:
When all was said and done, I walked 61 miles over six days and raised, $3,720 toward Uzazi Village operations and programming.  Which mean $1,860 for programing (50%), $1,116 (30%) for operations, and $186.00 (5%) each donated to ICTC and National Association of Birth Centers of Color.  The remaining $372 (10%) covered fundraising fees for paypal and causevox.  Thank you to all those who donated to make this fundraiser a success.  From sponsors and other donors we collected $2, 300 to cover walk expenses which included RV rental, food, gas, and motel costs.

My Experience:
The walk was an amazing experience for me.  I walked alone for hours on end for days at a time.  That was a true gift.  I was beautiful beyond words out on the trail and I got to soak it all in.  I'm so grateful to have had that experience.  Someone asked me if I ever felt unsafe alone out on the trail.  I have to admit it took a couple of days to get used to.  City folk like me are used to always having people around and really didn't think the trail would be THAT empty of people.  Now that I've done it and look back on it, I'm really proud of what I accomplished. I challenged myself physically.   I did increase awareness of the issue, and started some dialog both in Missouri and around the nation.  Its just a pittance when so much needs to change.  In order to keep the conversationa and awareness going, I've decided to do the walk again next year, and allow others to walk in thier own states to bring awareness and invite dialog which I hope will lead to action.  Thank you to all of you who supported my efforts and followed my walk.  I will be keeping the walk page open and will reset it for next September so that I can share as the plans for a multi-state walk take shape.  This will be no small task as I enter into a CPM preceptorship and a PhD program.  Your continued prayers and well wishes are most welcomed.

Lessons Learned:
  • Say what you mean, and mean what you say.
  • The only way things will change will be if we change them.
  • Listen to the body and care for its needs.
  • Always bring enough to share.
  • Fear is in the mind, courage is in the action.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

With Friends Like These...

So remember the movie "The Help"?  There's a running joke all through the movie.  The event that the ladies' group was putting on was raising funds to help the 'poor little starving colored children in Africa'- the joke of course being that they were busy throughout the movie, mightily oppressing the 'poor little starving colored children in America' and their parents.

Why do I bring up the situation proposed in that movie?  I often feel stuck in the same kind of scene.  The people in the position to render me a good turn, are often the same people I need to lend the most forbearance.  I call them 'allies'.  I define allies as 'those who do not self-identify as a person of color, but who demonstrate commitment to communities of color and decreasing health disparities within them.'  Notice I use the term 'demonstrate' and not 'talk a good game'.  This is a touchy subject but I feel driven to write about it.  There are days when my 'allies' tax me more than anyone under the sun. Too many allies credit themselves with too much knowledge about my culture, my community, my cause, etc.  Often, very often, they don't know nearly as much as they think they do. 

I'm not saying allies aren't good people, but if they don't maintain humility and a learner's heart, they become quite burdensome to me and to the goals I'm trying to accomplish.  There can be a long learning curve for systemic racism and white privilege.  It can't be assimilated and understood overnight.  Especially since it becomes so intertwined in how we view the world.  It can take a really long time to unpack all that privilege.  In the meantime, you just have to trust me when I ask you to stand down. 

Allies often confuse 'helping' with 'leading'.  I witness this confusion on a daily basis.  Dominant culture women are just not used to following women of color.  It doesn't fit well and feels ackward.  It's one thing to use your privilege to uplift and illuminate a woman of color and her works.  Its quite another to stand down and walk behind her, and support her in that way.  Often allies think their task is 'to come alongside'.  It is not.  Your task is to follow in a supportive role until such time you are invited to 'come alongside'.  You may never be asked to 'come alongside' and if that is the case, you must be content to follow.  "But I'm only trying to help!" is often the distressed cry I receive when I point this out.  "No," I state patiently, "You are only trying to lead- which is what you have been taught to do."

How do allies rid themselves of the 'Saviour Complex' they are enculturated to embrace?  It will take some work.  Recently at Uzazi Village, I did a little social experiment during an event being held at our facility.  Prior to serving the food, I announced that our special guests of honor would go through the buffet first.  I then announced that those special guests were the women of color in attendance.  The dominant culture women stepped aside as the women of color made their way through the food line.  Later in the evening, I invited the dominant culture women to recall another time when they had to 'give way' to a woman of color, because she was a woman of color.  I invite those reading this blog to reflect upon that question as well and share their thoughts.

Why am I bringing this up?  Because my allies are only helpful in proportion to their awareness and humility.  I need my allies to step up and stop being oblivious to their own privilege.  I don't need you to 'come alongside', I need you to be willing to follow.  And please don't come to 'save me'.  I am saving myself.  I might need your help, but I don't need you to take over.  I know this is difficult to hear, because it is difficult to say, but it needs to be said.  I cannot work with so-called allies who do not understand these truths.  You cannot lead in my community- even if no one else has stepped forward to do the work; even if you have looked and can't find woman of color leaders; even if there are no people of color who are qualified (in your opinion); even if, even if, even if.  You cannot lead in my community; you don't know enough, to know what you do not know.

Disparities pimping is a wide spread practice.  Our communities are already preyed upon by well meaning do gooders who support their middle class lifestyles by drawing a paycheck off 'serving' the poor including folks of color.  The poor never get less 'poorer' but the workers manage to maintain their middle class lifestyles. When the grants are dried up, those people and their programs are gone as well.  There is a grave lack of trust of those who encroach on our communities in the name of 'fixing' us.  Please allies be aware and beware.

The fight for health equity needs soldiers, but the general slots are already spoken for.

Monday, September 1, 2014

And so it begins...

I am on the cusp of a journey.  I am not ready, not quite totally prepared, but none-the-less, it will begin. Today begins the 12 day walk I have spent nine months preparing for.  I start on a journey across the Katy Trail between Kansas City MO and St. Louis MO for 175 miles.  I am walking for Black Infant Mortality Awareness.  I walk because I want people to know about a silent epidemic that is occurring right now in our communities around this nation.  Black babies are dying at a rate twice that of their Caucasian peers.  I want us to know better so we can do better for these babies and moms.

As I sit here in my quiet house (everyone sleeping), alone with my thoughts, I am eager for this adventure.  I am worried too that I will be inadequate to the task.  Come what may, I plan to do my part.  There are so many moments I am eager to embrace.  Speaking for the first time at Missouri's only Historic Black College.  I so long to embrace those students and share my stories with them.  I also look forward to the warmth and well wishes of my sister Missouri midwives. I'm looking forward to long days on the trail alone with my thoughts shrouded in pristine beauty of central Missouri.  I'm looking forward to my talk in Columbia MO to a mixed audience of healthcare providers, educators, birthworkers, and birthing women.  I'm even looking forward to my time in Jefferson City talking to legislators about this issue. The talk in St. Louis at the end of the walk is completely humbling to me.  They gave me an auditorium that seats 225 people.  Wow.  I'm excited for the people I'll meet, the conversations I'll have, the lectures I'll give. the new things I learn.

I want everyone to follow this adventure, this journey.  I'll be recording vlogs daily, and writing in this blog whenever I have access to internet.  Thank you to all my many supporters from around the globe and around the nation.  Please make a donation to our work if you have the means.  All prayers and well wishes for my safety are equally valued.  Pray for my internal fortitude, a deepening of my relationship with my creator, that I would have a heart full of gratitude, a head full of wisdom,  and a mouth filled with temperance and forbearance.  Pray that I will be a blessing to those along my path. Pray for strength for my team who will be my strength.

Thank you to those who have made this journey possible, my many supporters near and far, my sponsors,  Ergo Baby, the JJ Way, and Home State Health Plans, and you.

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
  ― Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why Black Breastfeeding Week?


Why Black Breastfeeding Week Is Important
For many families across the nation, the end of August marks the end to the long lazy bubbly days of summer and a return to regimented schedules and academic pursuits.  It also marks the start of Black Breastfeeding Week- August 25-31. Black Breastfeeding Week was created last year by three African-American breastfeeding advocates; Kimberly Seals Allers, a journalist and author of the Mocha Mom Manuals, Kiddada Green, founder of the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association, and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, co-author of “Free to Breastfeed; Voices of Black Mothers”  These three ‘titans of lactation’ saw the need to celebrate African-American mothers in their choice to breastfeed their babies, and launched a nation-wide promotion.

Black Breastfeeding Week was born with great fanfare, and great backlash. Many demanded to know why Black women should get their own ‘breastfeeding week.’ What many don’t know and understand the dismal  landscape for breastfeeding in the African-American community.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, from 2004–2008, (latest data available) the percentage of women who initiated breastfeeding was74.3%for Whites, 54.4% for Blacks and 80.4% for Latinas. ( While the number of women who elect to breastfeed their babies has increased in recent years, the disparity between White mothers and Black mothers still persist.  These numbers indicate a need for greater social, familial and healthcare provider supports, especially for African-American women.

I am an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and a woman of color.  I run a free community-based breastfeeding clinic in the urban core of my city.  I work daily in the trenches with African-American mothers who want to breastfeed their babies but find it difficult to connect with community resources without extraordinary effort on their part. Some women are fortunate to be able to access breastfeeding assistance with relative ease.  Some women have support groups right in their own neighborhoods.    Some women can afford to pay professionals to come to their homes and provide guidance and instruction.  This does not describe the women I work with.  The women I serve, mostly African-American, often live at or below poverty level.  They may be generationally impoverished, or situationally impoverished but one thing is for certain- all this access to breastfeeding help that health care professionals deem imperative to breastfeeding success is not accessible to them.

The women I serve don't have easy access to breastfeeding support groups, except perhaps at their local hospital.  But even those are not without challenges.  The women I work with tell me (because I always ask) that they may go their entire hospital stay without anyone mentioning breastfeeding; that their babies are given bottles of formula without their knowledge or consent; and that nurses actively discourage them from breastfeeding. Among professionals, we call this 'provider bias.'  It is rampant in healthcare.  Physicians, nurses, even IBCLCs don't help because they either a) don't believe African-American women will breastfeed their babies, or they b) don't believe these women will be successful at it. It is also because health care providers may lack proper knowledge about delivering care in a way that is culturally appropriate and acceptable. For example, talking to an African-American woman about breastfeeding without drawing her partner or mother into the conversation could be a problem.  Knowing and understanding who her champions are and engaging them in the process  is vital.

For the brave few new mothers that  garner the courage to venture outside their communities to find help and support they so desperately need,   they may or may not find acceptance waiting for them when they get there.  Last month on the ‘Black Women Do Breastfeed’ Facebook page, an African-American woman shared how she got up the courage to attend a meeting in another community, and while she was there, no one spoke to her or acknowledged her presence.  -I know what you're thinking, that would never happen in “our” neighborhood, right? Perhaps it wouldn't.  -But look around at your breastfeeding support groups.  How diverse are they?  -How comfortable would you feel in a gathering if the racial mix was reversed?

African-American women have yet to find a place for themselves in the breastfeeding landscape.  That's where Black Breastfeeding Week comes in.  We are actively creating a space for ourselves by declaring our own stake in breastfeeding, holding our own private celebration.  The Facebook page and website engages women from around the country all year long with local and national events, updates, and articles, videos and other educational materials.  African-American women can send in their breastfeeding photos and have them posted.  They may not see breastfeeding images of themselves in the media otherwise. How does this week work across the nation? It's imperative to promote breastfeeding in the African-American community so that mothers and babies can share in the many short and long term health benefits.  Black Breastfeeding Week is here to stay to show African-American women that breastfeeding is for them and their babies. Black Breastfeeding Week is important because we need to help all women become successful in meeting their breastfeeding goals and too many of us, have been left out of the picture.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Then I lost me...

This adoption journey has not been what I thought it would be.  In the weeks since meeting my darling Jason, my world has been turned upside down.  Not outwardly.  Outwardly I get on with the business of the day.  But inwardly, there is constant turmoil.  I've discovered all the things people never tell you about reunions.  My emotions betray me daily as I experience the highest highs and the lowest lows. Before this I thought of myself as a fairly reserved, stable, not too emotional person.  Then he came.  Let me say now, that this is about my journey.  It doesn't really have to do with Jason.  He has been wonderful and lovely.  I love the person he is.  It is not because of him that I am going through these things.  It is because of the situation.  Little did I know, that picking up the phone and answering his inquiry would set into motion changes that would leave me questioning everything in my world.  What has changed?  For one thing; how I view adoption.
Adoption is a crap shoot. 
I gave my son up because I bought the party line that he would have a better life.  Well, he didn't.  I thought someone else (anybody else, really) could give him more than I could because society told me I was young, and poor, and basically a piece of shit incapable of giving a baby what it would need.  Well, that was wrong, too.  My baby needed Me and I needed him.  Maybe I didn't have much, but what I had, I would have given him.  So the societal narrative is; "Hey, young stupid girls, don't be so selfish.  Give your babies up to a nice stable married couple.  They'll do a way better job than you ever could raising a baby."  No one ever suggests that your baby could end up in less than ideal circumstances.  I feel as though I've been duped- on a grand scale.  Is adoption just a social experiment to get babies away from their young single mothers and placed with supposedly nice, stable couples? Does society deem me less than and as a lesser mother?  He is my CHILD.  He is MY child. I feel as though I've fallen victim to some cosmic evil scheme.  I feel as though I had an unwritten agreement with God or the universe and it was broken.  I gave my child up- like I was led to believe I should.  I did what society told me was the most loving thing of all- separate myself from my child.  It doesn't feel that way now.
I was not prepared for the emotionality of this.  Up, down, up, down.  I was not prepared for the intensity of this.  Why did I not come across any of this in a book before?  Why have I not heard about it in a support group?  I didn't know that meeting my son, would feel like 'falling in love' only more intense.  I didn't know I would obsess about him, always want to be in his presence, and when I am around him, I didn't know I would not be able to keep my hands off him,  that I would be overwhelmed by my need to smell him, that my arms ache for him.  He is 6'5" and 31 years old, but if I could figure out  way to cuddle him in my arms, I would have done it.  I recognized all of this as 'baby-hunger".  These were all things I would have done when he was a baby.  All the same bonding needs have rushed back as if 31 years have not passed in the interim.  Wow, just wow. 
I've had to figure out ways to help myself through all of this.  I found an online community of birth mothers.  It helps to hear other people's reunion stories.  It helps to ask questions and get answers.  It helps not to feel so all alone. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Then He Found Me

I was living a fairly busy, complicated, and purposeful life.  Then, on June 17th I received an email that would forever change everything.  It was from the adoption agency.  It was telling me, that after 31 years of waiting, he had found me. 
At the age of 20, I placed a baby for adoption.  I did it because I already had two children and I could barely care for them.  I did it, not because I didn't want him, but because I wanted something better for him than I had to offer.  To this date, it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do.  I placed my children in a foster home, traveled to Waukegan IL, lived in a maternity home, gave birth to him, and placed him for adoption.  I returned home and resumed my life, thinking I had given him (and myself) a fighting chance.  Not once did I regret that decision.
I thought of him often and had twice initiated a search on my own, in 1994 and 2004.  I registered all my information with the state, adoption agency, and adoption registries.  I stopped short of looking for his information.  Both times, my goal was to leave my information for him to find, so that the timing would be on his terms.  That day came on June 17, 2014, twenty years later.
The email simply stated that my son had registered his information with the adoption agency recently in his attempt to find me.  It also had his name and contact information included.  I waited an hour.  I breathed in and out.  I felt the blood drain from my fingers and toes.  I looked over into the great abyss that was my knowing and not knowing, my loving, and not knowing how to love, my yearning and my not daring to hope.  Then I called him.
We talked for an hour.  We waited a week and talked again. In that first week, I didn't tell a soul, except his bio-Dad.  I wanted to savor the moment and keep it to myself.   The morning after our first conversation, I called his bio-Dad and gave him the contact information.  His bio-Dad and I had kept in touch throughout the years just for this purpose.  Whoever found him first was to tell the other.  He and his bio-Dad met and had lunch together a week later.
My son and I talked about getting together.  I thought we would wait until he could fly down to meet me and his half siblings, but I was so full of anticipation the day he and his bio-Dad met, that I decided I should get in the car and drive up and see him.  I asked his permission to come see him.  Then I enlisted my best friend Ann, who knew immediately why I suddenly needed to go to Chicago. With only two weeks planning time, we put together a 3 day Thelma and Louise style road trip.  We were to meet my son and his brother (their parents were both deceased) as well as his bio-Dad and his wife, who lived in the same city.  We made the drive up in about nine hours.  The first time I saw him, I knew it was him right away.  Ann pulled up to his apartment and he was sitting on the stoop waiting.  I got out of the car (barely waiting for it to come to a full stop) and hurried up to him.  We hugged.  He is a good 10 inches  taller than me, so his hug totally engulfed me.  I closed my eyes and felt myself soar right into and through him and into the clouds.  I was surprised to open my eyes and find my feet still firmly fixed on the pavement.  As Ann drove away, we decided to walk to the beach, 3 blocks away and sit and talk.  We talked for hours.  We asked and answered one another's questions.  After walking back to his apartment, we changed and went to meet everyone for dinner.  My son had invited his family members, and his bio-Dad's family.  We all had the best time getting to know one another.  We took pictures, ate Chicago-style pizza, laughed, and cried.  I looked around the table at my enlarging extended family and felt full of gratitude.  As Ann's natural warmth and loquaciousness is put to use engaging family members, my son, his bio-Dad and I sit next to one another, our three hands forming a tight triad, as we soak in a moment of shared physical reunification.  "This is the gift I wanted to give you", I tell him, "all of us together."  I resist the urge to kiss away his tears and instead stroke his cheek. "Isn't he beautiful?", I ask his bio-Dad.  "Yes, he is", he answers simply as we all gaze back and forth in amazement at one another.  All the others pretend to be busy with other conversations and allow us this small public privacy. Someone has the foresight to take a photo.  It is my favorite one of the trip, our three heads tipped toward one another in a tripod of hard and earnest concentration.
The next day my son took me to a meditative garden and we simply sat in silence and held hands.  I couldn't stop looking at him, drinking him in. He took Ann and I on a tour of all the places he had lived and the schools he had went to as he reminisced his childhood. We had dinner that evening at an Indian restaurant.  I plied him with mango lassas and garlic naan as we all sampled each other's main courses.  We have discovered  a commonality; our love of Indian food. After dinner, we went to the beach as the sun was setting and sat in silence in the sand.
The final day, my son and I went to breakfast with his bio-Dad, and my son's brother came along.  His older brother told us stories about our son from his childhood that had us bursting with laughter.  After breakfast, my son, his bio-Dad and I made a quick trip to visit the adoption agency.  We spoke to the social worker who had sent me the email.  She hugged us all and made a fuss and had someone take pictures of us.  It had been my son's idea to visit her and I could see she was very pleased.  He had made several trips there during years of searching and she had been very helpful to him.  My son  is a wonderful man full of promise and vitality.  He is a quiet reserved soul like me and his bio-Dad. He has world weary eyes, but an infectious smile.  We talk with ease, and try to understand one another. His life has been difficult.  He is fresh returned from two tours of duty in Afghanistan.  As we leave the agency,  I observe quietly from the backseat as his bio-Dad advises him on car repair.  They tip their heads toward one another in a quiet exchange.  The city sights and sounds fall away. The dream child of my imagination gives way to the flesh and blood man occupying the seat in front of me. We have all fallen together in a disheveled heap- blending our disparate lives- getting messy along the way.  Since our reunion, I have ascended the heavens with joyous rapture, and wallowed in the darkest depths of black despair.  Too many emotions to describe.  What the future holds, I cannot say, but it is my earnest hope that we will all face it together. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Color of Invisibility

I want to take a moment to address concerns that have come my way in recent days.  I don't expect everyone to hear my message.  In fact, I'm still pleasantly surprised when someone does.  I always hope folks will take the time to really listen to what I have to say and sit with any resulting discomfort for a minute or two.  Its a lot to ask, I know- but the truth is worth it.  As a primer on the racially-constructed barriers African-Americans face historically and contemporarily, I challenge you, Dear Reader, to read the following essay.  This will be no small feat.  It is equal parts long and horrific.  However, there is much to be learned from it.  Don't be put off by the title, it is much more encompassing than the title suggests. 

I also want to address the subject of labels.  I believe this simple truth: call people what they want to be called.  To refuse to do so is to marginalize that person, render them invisible.  You want to be called by your name, right?  I can't just pick another name at random and start calling you that instead, because it makes ME more comfortable.  Please provide me the same courtesy.  I want to link to a short pithy article that I think is well worth the read.  This is a great overview for those struggling with what it means to be an 'ally.' Pay particular attention to numbers 2 and 4.

I have no intension of being argumentative.  My energy will not be used that way. This is hard work and each one of us has our own burden to shoulder.  I want to engage and discuss, but I will not defend or debate.   Please do not make it my job to validate you.  Thank you to the true allies out there who truly have my back and have worked hard to support the difficult work I do.  You are true treasures and I am better for your conscious awareness and redemptive action. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Post Read Round The World..

So here's what happened:  I was asked to do an interview for Lactation Matters, the blog for the International Lactation Consultant Association.  The interview was posted on the website on April 1, 2014.  It got a few comments, all was well.  Several weeks later, after I thought it would get no more comments, I got a couple of very thought provoking questions.  I gave it 24 hours to consider and then took a stab at answering those questions.  My reply must have resonated with folks because over the next 24 hours, I got comments from around the globe.  A remarkable conversation ensued. I have tried to copy the conversation in its entirety here.  Here is the original interview.
Warning: Long read, but oh so worth it:

Q & A with Sherry Payne, MSN, RN, CNE, IBCLC: An Innovator In Lactation Equity

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.54.48 PMSherry Payne, MSN, RN, CNE, IBCLC, is the Executive Director of Uzazi Village, a nonprofit organization devoted to decreasing pregnancy related health disparities in the urban core of Kansas City. She is also the facilitator of the upcoming 2014 Lactation Summit: Addressing Inequities within the Lactation Consultant Profession. Ms. Payne speaks frequently around the country to professional audiences on topics related to lactation and birth disparities (including the upcoming 2014 ILCA Conference). One of the many barriers that aspiring IBCLCs of color face is acquiring clinical hours. The Uzazi Village Lactation Consultant Mentorship Program is an innovative solution, connecting aspiring International Board Certified Lactation Consultants® (IBCLC®) from the Kansas City community to the Uzazi Village Breastfeeding Clinic, which provides free services to area families.
Ms. Payne was recently interviewed by Marie Hemming, IBCLC, a member of the International Lactation Consultant Association® (ILCA®) Medialert Team.
Marie Hemming: Why did you start the Lactation Consultant Mentorship Program?
Sherry Payne: I started this program with the idea that we needed more IBCLCs of Color. I am currently the only IBCLC of Color practicing in my city (though I am the third African-American IBCLC to be certified in my community). This has become a top priority for Uzazi Village – making accessible pathways for lactation educators and peer counselors to become board certified professionals, and then linking those professionals to families in our community who need those services. We already had our free Breastfeeding Clinic up and running two days a week and four volunteer IBCLCs to run it. It was not too difficult to add the mentorship program to it. Three of our IBCLCs qualify to be mentors and there were always plenty of women at our door inquiring about how to become a Lactation Consultant. The research tells us that recruiting and diversifying the ranks of IBCLCs should be a part of the strategy for overcoming disparities in lactation in the African-American community. That’s what we are attempting to do.
MH: Tell us about the Breastfeeding Clinic and how it serves families in Kansas City.
SP: Clients are referred from community-based prenatal clinics and local hospitals that serve low income breastfeeding women who otherwise would not be able to access the lactation support they need. I talk to the local lactation consultants, nurse midwives, pediatricians, doulas and other care providers about our clinic. We receive referrals from Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and home visiting programs such as Healthy Start and Nurse Family Partnership. We have three to five moms in clinic and home visits each day and we spend an average of two hours with each client on everything from sore nipples, to milk supply issues, to relactation and weaning. We also offer two breastfeeding support groups: La Leche League on Troost, and the Chocolate Milk Café. Our support groups and breastfeeding classes also draw local women into the clinic.
MH: How does the Mentorship Program work?
SP: The interns need to accumulate 300 or 500 hours and we ask that they work at the Breastfeeding Clinic a minimum of one day per week every other week. If they come to every clinic it will take them four to six months or it may take them as long as 10 months to get their hours if they come less often. They are also encouraged to take the WHO/UNICEF Breastfeeding course which is offered every quarter. The interns pay a fee for the program on a sliding scale depending on income.
The program is just starting out, however, we have our first intern beginning in May 2014, with two other candidates seeking placement. We are currently working on getting hospital placement for our interns to do part of their hours. We are also in talks with a local community college to package all the required courses to create a one-stop shopping curriculum for our interns. We hope to be able to simplify things by having classes and clinical experiences all in one program.
MH: What are some of the other barriers that aspiring IBCLCs of Color experience? How is Uzazi Village helping to break down those barriers?
SP: Barriers for aspiring IBCLCs include accessing the educational components, finding mentors, and completing the hours. Women of Color will of course be much less likely to find mentors that look like them, and normative culture mentors may be uncomfortable bringing a Woman of Color into their practice. (I am actually experiencing the same difficulty in my midwifery training.) Many aspiring IBCLCs of Color are found in the ranks of WIC Peer Counselors, but there is no clear cut pathway to move them into the ranks of IBCLCs. It is the presence of these types of barriers that compelled me to create a program at Uzazi Village. International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners® (IBLCE®) requirements often presuppose educational attainment that peer counselors may not possess, leaving them stranded at the bottom of the professional and economic rungs.
MH: You were invited to Washington DC by the United States Breastfeeding Committee to discuss continuity of care with advocates from around the country. If you could change one thing about our healthcare system to improve breastfeeding outcomes, what would it be?
SP: The Affordable Care Act makes provision for reimbursement for lactation professionals. I would like to see reimbursement for ALL levels of breastfeeding support professionals – direct compensation for the work we do, particularly WIC Peer Counselors. We need our WIC Peer Counselors in our communities. Lactation consultants are most often isolated in hospitals and accessing them is difficult, if not impossible, following hospital discharge. Private practice IBCLCs are cost prohibitive to access among the women we regularly see. Peer counselors have had the greatest impact on increasing breastfeeding rates in our community – they do most of the front-line work and yet they receive the least amount of recognition and pay. I would like to see Peer Counselors and Certified Lactation Counselors compensated by insurance companies for the valuable service and support they offer. This does not take anything away from the board certified professional, but enhances and refines his or her role. We need all levels of expertise.
MH: Of all of the things that you have done, are there one or two things that stand out as being most effective in helping the moms that come to Uzazi Village?
SP: The Chocolate Milk Café, which is a mother-to-mother support group for African-American women, has been groundbreaking. It is designed to meet the needs of our urban moms and has been one of our most successful programs. At Chocolate Milk Café, mothers can attend with their babies and have a safe environment in which to discuss their breastfeeding issues. We are starting to replicate this model around the country.
MH: You are breaking new ground with your work at Uzazi Village, is there someone who has influenced you or mentored you in your own career as a lactation consultant & natural birth educator?
SP: Lots of people have invested in my success over the years, but my primary mentor in lactation has been Charlene Burnett, BSN, RN, IBCLC. She mentored me when I was an L & D nurse, but I worked at a different hospital. She received special permission from her hospital to mentor me 500 hours in a year. I could not have done this without her. She is one of my LC volunteers and she is the Director of Lactation Services at Uzazi Village. We have named a scholarship after her: the Charlene L. M. Burnett IBCLC Scholarship, set aside for a candidate of color in the greater metropolitan area of Kansas, Missouri who has met all requirements to sit for the IBLCE exam. It is our small way of thanking her for all that she has invested in Uzazi Village.
MH: What advice would you give to others hoping to increase access to lactation services for women of Color?
SP: Be creative, assess your community assets and find a way to connect what you have to what women need. When I’m considering a project large or small, I always call to mind the words of the late tennis great, Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” Finally, if you are not a woman of color yourself, join your efforts to someone who is. Allies are important to the cause, but they must take their lead from someone who is a member of a community of color. At Uzazi Village, we counsel many allies around the state and around the country to place women of color in central roles when doing outreaches to communities of color. On our website, you’ll find the success stories (Uzazi Champions) of those we have worked with to improve lactation rates in other communities of color.
Marie Hemming, IBCLC is the mom of three breastfed children (now 20, 16 & 15 years of age). She developed and taught a 20-hour breastfeeding class at the Florida School of Traditional Midwifery. She is currently volunteering as an IBCLC and lay community counselor at Birthline of San Diego, serving families living in poverty.

Now here are the interview comments:

15 Responses to Q & A with Sherry Payne, MSN, RN, CNE, IBCLC: An Innovator In Lactation Equity

  1. ECBrooks says:
    Thank you for this wonderful interview, Sherry and Marie.
  2. I. Pereira says:
    I have been advocating for WIC officials in my state to provide pathways for advancement ifor peer counselors with little luck. My county has two black, one biligual Latina and one white peer counselor compared to the IBCLCs in the county who are all white except one who is not practicing.
  3. It’s so inspiring to learn more about all Sherry has done. Wonderful insight. Thank you Sherry and Marie!
  4. You are very welcome. It was a privilege to interview Sherry. She is an amazing role model for us all, regardless of color. I. Pereira, that is wonderful that you have diversity among your WIC peer counselors. As Sherry said, there needs to be a pathway for the counselors to become IBCLCs. I hope you can find a way to help them. Thanks so much for your comments.
  5. Paula Clay says:
    As a white woman passionate about the benefits of breastfeeding for moms and babies, I am always a little saddened when I read about breastfeeding support groups for women of color….. sad that there is a need for such groups; sad that all women are not more united in mutual support; and sad that I may not be the best advocate and support for women of color, even though I sure do try. I welcome the opportunity to unite with women of color in my area and follow their lead in supporting moms in their community.
  6. Pingback: An Innovator In Lactation Equity « Midwives of Color
  7. ibclcinca says:
    What an inspiration! I am very much looking forward to hearing Ms Payne and hopefully meeting her at ILCA 2014! She leads us all to open our eyes to how we can get every mother the prenatal and lactation support they deserve.
  8. Pingback: Indiana Black Breastfeeding Coalition » Sherry Payne our Hero
  9. Laurie Beck, RN, MSN, IBCLC, RLC says:
    “I would like to see Peer Counselors and Certified Lactation Counselors compensated by insurance companies for the valuable service and support they offer.”
    WIC Peer Counselors in the United States are typically paid with federal dollars. I am having trouble understanding why a government employee would need to be reimbursed. Absolutely agree that there is a place for all of the various lactation helpers that educate and support mothers. Each helper provides a different level of care. Mothers and their support systems cannot have too many helpers.
    I am a little concerned with the fact that there are IBCLCs willing to advocate for other credentials to be reimbursed by insurance companies and to be compensated. IBCLCs should be proud of their credentials. It is an expensive credenital to obtain and to maintain. IBCLCs do provide a higher level of care since they have a more extensive knowledge background, should provide evidence based lactation care, and have hundreds of hours of mentoring clinical experience vs just taking a course. Insurance companies typically only reimburse for professionals that are licensed.
    I believe in the IBCLC profession, but I also believe that IBCLCs need to stand together to advance the profession forward.
  10. Thank you Laurie for your observations. I too believe in the IBCLC credential. It is difficult to obtain and maintain- which also makes it inaccessible to many who aspire to it. I also believe in my community, and right now my community is in crisis and without adequate breastfeeding support. The women I serve have difficulty accessing a lactation consultant in the hospital, let alone after they go home. They have to seek help where they can find it, and often that is at the local WIC office with a peer educator. I work with and train peer educators and do respect their role. I am deeply concerned about their economic viability and their ability to increase both their education and earnings potential. When the Farm Bill was last debated, I saw how tenuous their existence really is. I love my IBCLC credential, and like you, I worked hard and paid dearly for it, but I love my community more. I have observed that IBCLCs are just like midwives and doulas in that, while these models of care are wonderful- but they just don’t trickle down to the communities of women who could most benefit from them.
    Here in my city, while the suburban women enjoy their birth center births with hand picked doulas to support them and midwives to deliver them and private practice LCs to come visit them at home afterward (along with their postpartum doula), the women of the urban core can expect no such level of services. They typically wait 3-4 hours for a 10 minute doctors visit (a doctor they’ve never seen before and probably won’t see again.) They’ll deliver in hospitals where they are bullied and mistreated and looked down upon (or looking to escape that fate, they’ll just ‘drop in’ to one of the suburban hospitals where they’ll really be treated in a punitive manner). They’ll receive precious little assistance with breastfeeding because the nurses think “those people don’t breastfeed” and they may or may not ever see a lactation consultant because often hospitals don’t staff IBCLCs adequately if at all. They’ll also return to work in as little as two weeks, because their families can’t go without the income, probably with a boss that does not support pumping breaks.
    Inequitable care is an everyday reality for my community. I hold membership in many professional organizations and they are all very concerned with ‘advancing their profession’. There needs to be a realignment of values that places advancing the cause of underserved communities and decreasing inequities in care as a core focus. Thankfully awareness is growing. I am not advocating for another credential to the harm of my own- I am advocating for my community to have access to lactation support- on any level they can get it, and that those individuals willing to stand in the gap, be adequately compensated for it.
  11. ECBrooks says:
    Hear, hear, Sherry: “I am not advocating for another credential to the harm of my own – I am advocating for my community to have access to lactation support – on any level they can get it, and that those individuals willing to stand in the gap, be adequately compensated for it.”
    Nearly two years ago Lactation Matters had its first blog on inequities in breastfeeding support:
    I’ll repeat here a portion of my comments made in September 2012: “There is plenty of work to go around: Lactating women are everywhere, and they deserve competent, passionate information and support along the way. [T]he only real raging debate is: Why is it so hard for every mother, everywhere, to find easy access to this very simple yet essential support from counselors or healthcare providers? [B]reastfeeding barriers must be tackled on a macro level (with national and international public health policies that recognize breastfeeding as the biologic imperative), and on a micro level (developing accessible community-based breastfeeding support … literally in one’s backyard). When families do have a need for the specialized skill and expertise of an IBCLC, such allied healthcare should be readily available, and easily reimbursed.”
    In 2014, I’d add: the Affordable Care Act in the United States has opened the door for preventive healthcare services to be made readily available, as a public health objective, to breastfeeding families. Not every mother needs an IBCLC. Most parents can be helped with compassionate, well-informed peer support, like that offered by volunteer lay counselors, WIC peer counselors, or those who have taken any of the dozens of short-term classes that are available (and LEAARC-approved) as good breastfeeding management education.
    If a WIC peer counselor or other parent-supportive counselor is reimbursed for her work … and offering such reimbursement means breastfeeding support is better dispersed into the community (where families are!) … this not diminish the right of the IBCLC similarly to be adequately compensated when higher levels of clinical expertise are required, and for that care to be covered by insurance.
    The better question is “HOW to pay?,” not WHO to pay. We ALL ought to be paid for whatever level of care we are giving to the family. To repeat: There is plenty of work to go around. It just makes sense to provide adequate levels of compensation and reimbursement, for *all* levels of care.
  12. Rachel says:
    I’m just curious why women of color would not feel comfortable attending an open to everyone LLL meeting? Why they need their own. As a LLL leader I’ve had women of every color and have never seen a problem with it.
  13. Rachel says:
    along the same lines, why would women of color have a more difficult time acquiring the required hours needed to sit for the IBCLC exam. I know this is a barrier and very difficult for everyone and finding a way to have a resource for all candidates would be very helpful in increasing the number of IBCLC’s in general which is always beneficial to everyone.
  14. Thank you Rachel for your questions I will try to address them one by one. Question 1: I know it may seem on the surface as if I am creating a racially-based division. But in fact, that division already exists. LLLI is well aware that its model of mother to mother support does not translate to communities of color and never has. While their meetings are officially ‘open to everyone,’ they do not meet the specific needs of communities of color. Their misstep is based on a common fallacy of thinking that many share. Let me give you an example: If you Rachel, ventured into say a new pediatrician’s office for your child, and the walls of the office were covered with photos of African-American families and children, you would think, “Oh, this practice is for African-American families. If you visited yet another doctor’s and found only photos of Latino families on the wall, you might think, “Oh this practice serves Latino families. However, if you found a practice that had photos on the wall of all Caucasian families, you would think, “Finally, a practice that serves everyone.” This fallacious thinking is based on culture norming that says everything ‘White’ is inclusive of everyone, making ‘Whiteness’ the norm, with everyone else measured against that standard. So now back to your first question: “why women of color would not feel comfortable attending an open to everyone LLL meeting” The truth of the matter is, those meetings are not open to everyone. They are Caucasian Normative in their style and approach, attracting White women because they were created by White women for White women (not intentionally of course- the creators just thought if it suited and fit them- it would suit and fit everyone), occur primarily in White neighborhoods, and subscribe to standards and guidelines that can be met primarily by middle-class White women. (I am aware that only a few weeks ago LLL has started to make some changes to broaden its appeal.) One or two women of color, does not diversity make. I have to wonder if you are seeing true inclusion or merely tokenism? True inclusion is purposeful, ongoing, and grows organically.
    Do women of color regularly attend your meetings or just drop in occasionally? Do you have any leaders of color? Do any of your meetings take place in communities of color? Do you ever discuss issues of interest to women of color? Do women of color return and bring their friends? Do your inclusive meetings reflect the percentages present in the population as a whole? For example Black people make up about 12% of the US population, Latinos about 14%. Is that the breakdown that you see in your meetings? 26% or one quarter of your meetings are African-American and Latino women? Or did you perhaps mean that every few months, a woman of color attends one meeting or perhaps that you have one woman of color that attends regularly? I myself attended LLL for seven years as the only woman of color in my group. I had to go to a White neighborhood to do it, because there were no LLL groups in my own neighborhood. I enjoyed the ladies, and got good information, and was successful in breastfeeding several babies over that period of time. But- I had to check my cultural identity at the door to do so. I know what you are thinking, “Breastfeeding is breastfeeding, what does racial identity have to do with it?” The answer is ‘everything’. Breastfeeding is a human behavior and as such exists in a cultural context. I travel around the country teaching healthcare professionals how important it is to understand the cultural context of lactation for African-American women. We are a unique and distinct and diverse culture, with equally unique needs that go unmet in a dominant normative White culture construct around lactation. Groups like LLL send a subtle message: “Breastfeeding is for people like us.” Us being White, middle-class, stay-at-home moms with cloth diapered, amber necklace wearing, attachment style parented babies. Nothing about that description would appeal to the mamas I see everyday in my practice. Like nearly everyone else, LLL subscribes to the fallacy that they are inclusive, BECAUSE they are White, and White is the dominant culture norm, therefore it includes everyone. This of course is racist thinking at its finest. The fact of the matter is that there are disparities in breastfeeding. African-American women breastfeed at much lower rates and for much shorter intervals than their Caucasian counterparts, and the reasons for this are primarily racially-based. Healthcare providers are much less likely to discuss breastfeeding with their African-American clients prenatally. African-American women are less likely to see a Lactation Consultant in the hospital. Nurses are less likely to assist African-American women with their breastfeeding issues and offer a bottle instead. When African-American women go home from the hospital and seek out community-based support, they are likely to find it only in White neighborhoods and not in their own. Oh, and all those providers I just mentioned are likely to be White so that African-American women never see providers who look like them or share their values. This too is racism at its finest. Second question: “why would women of color have a more difficult time acquiring the required hours needed to sit for the IBCLC exam” Same answer as for question No. 1: RACISM.
    You are correct in stating that finding mentors is difficult for everyone. Aspiring LCs of color have the additional burden of having very few LCs that look like them. Mentees of color, much like students of color, don’t get mentors because dominant culture mentors are uncomfortable selecting mentees of color. They want to choose someone they think they have commonalities with, someone of course who looks like them. Doing as you state, “finding a way to have a resource for all candidates would be very helpful in increasing the number of IBCLC’s in general which is always beneficial to everyone.” is not true. It would only benefit White people, because your “everyone” really only means White people, and not the ones who are suffering the disparities, who would be locked out of opportunities intended for ‘everyone’. Think about it, that is what we do now- have opportunities aimed at ‘everyone’. As a result, what percentage of LCs in the US are White? (hint: overwhelming, vast majority). We don’t need resources for ALL candidates, we need resources for underrepresented candidates, because they are being locked out of opportunities in a White dominated profession. Fewer professionals of color mean fewer women of color getting what they need. The ugly legacy of inequities and disparities continue. I know I have written an overly long response to your questions and I thank you in advance for both taking the time to read it and hopefully understanding another point of view. I think your questions are important ones, because so many Caucasian Americans are oblivious to the racial norming that keeps everyone else locked out. I believe many people believe as you do, that normative culture is every culture, but sadly this is not so. I hope that you will turn a more critical eye to your own social constructs surrounding lactation support and take the initiative to find out what you don’t know. In the meantime, I’ll keep fighting on the front lines for African-American women to get what they need to ensure breastfeeding success- the same things that normative culture women take for granted.
    • Rachel says:
      Hi Sherry,
      First let me say thank you for giving such a well thought out, respectful and educational response. I truly appreciate it because I was half expecting to be told I didn’t know what I was talking about, end of story. How else can we all learn if not with intelligent, real conversations that inform but don’t attack?
      As for the pediatricians offices, I have been in many as a private practice LC and can tell you all the ones I go into appear to make a real effort to demonstrate that they are wishing to be all inclusive but I do agree that if I were to go in an office that had only black women displayed in posters/informational info and parents I would probably feel out of place. I also work pt in a midwifery clinic that serves uninsured women and most of the population there is women of color so our literature definitely portrays our families because we want to make sure they see women like them breastfeeding.
      I had to laugh when you described the LLL meetings are attended mostly middle class, white, married, stay at home, attachment parenting, cloth diaper using moms. Exactly my experience. Both in the LLL meetings I attended in a larger city and the ones I’ve lead in my smaller suburban town. In both places we did have a black woman as one of the leaders at different points and both only left because they moved. I would have to say that both places generally reflected the % of blacks in the area but of course their lives may not have reflected exactly what the other women were living. (although they were also sling wearing, cloth diapering moms). To state the obvious though the meetings are going to be held where it is convenient for the volunteer leaders. They aren’t trying to be exclusive but it does have to be doable for them as moms and volunteers, so they are in white neighborhoods because that is mostly where the women who pursue leadership live. Can’t blame them for that.
      In regards to finding mentors, I just can’t imagine not letting someone shadow you because she is a different color then you. At least you have the desire to help women breastfeed in common. I can understand not being 100% comfortable in an environment that is all a different color then me though.
      So I can understand that women of color have different needs then the middle class, stay-at-home moms but since the reality is that most LLL leaders and LC’s are white, what can we/I do to address the needs of women of color as best as we are able since I feel I won’t be doing my job if they don’t feel they are getting the best out of me when they need my help.
      Topped your long letter with another long one. :) Love the dialog. I’m glad you are doing what you are doing to expand breastfeeding support to more women!
  15. Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    “To state the obvious though the meetings are going to be held where it is convenient for the volunteer leaders. They aren’t trying to be exclusive but it does have to be doable for them as moms and volunteers, so they are in white neighborhoods because that is mostly where the women who pursue leadership live. Can’t blame them for that”
    Thank you Rachel, good to hear back from you. Your above statement is true, however I CAN blame ‘them’ (LLLInternational and the volunteer leaders) for shortsightedness of vision. The fix for this is simple if not easy. RECRUIT MORE LEADERS OF COLOR (not shouting, just stating the obvious.) If LLLI had really seen this as a priority, they would have made it a part of their very creed, to seek out and expand their (really lovely vision of mother to mother support) to communities who would benefit from it the most. They could have invested money in things like scholarships for leadership dues, promotional campaigns to communities of color, creating special programs to recruit and train leaders of color… I’m just making this stuff up, but you get the idea. LLL is the way it is because it WANTS to be the way it is, exclusive, rather than inclusive. What other conclusion can I draw? Its been around over 50 years and if inclusivity had been a priority, it would have been met by now. Of course I don’t want to just pick on LLL because all the orgs I’m associated with do the same thing. But LLL is a good example, great organization, that does great stuff, but think about it. I was in LLL for seven years. I SHOULD HAVE BEEN PEGGED FOR A LEADERSHIP ROLE!!!! (not shouting, just emphasizing). Why did my leaders not see me that way? Am I not leadership material? Did their own personal biases keep them from seeing me as a leader? Did the values of the organization make them blind to me qualifications? Did they see me as extra work that they didn’t want to invest in? Recruiting me to that office? Mentoring me through the process? I think this is LLL’s fatal flaw. Missing what few opportunities come their way to make inroads into communities of color. You said it yourself. The leaders set up meetings on their own home turf. THAT’S WHY WE NEED LEADERS OF COLOR!!!! (still not yelling at you)
    ILCA is in the same boat. There needs to be a PR campaign, a fundraising effort, a recruitment campaign, SOMETHING (that isn’t another taskforce) to push and promote the recruitment and creation of more LCs of color. Rachel, we already know it just won’t happen ‘organically’, right? It will take a concerted effort on the part of leadership in these organizations. Leaders interpret and trickle down the organization’s priorities, values and culture. Only a leader of color can take an organization’s values and distill them in a way that is acceptable and appropriate for his/her community. Is this rocket science? I don’t think so. (I’m not that smart!) Sorry, I didn’t mean for this to turn into a rant.
    What can you do, Rachel? Get out there and start recruiting, training, nurturing and mentoring leadership candidates of color (in both LLL and ILCA). Do the work only YOU can do, so that they in turn can do the work only THEY can do.
    In earnest and steadfast faith,
  16. Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    PS: Rachel, friend me on facebook if you are interested in seeing the day-long discussion your question initiated. This has struck a nerve that has reverberated around the globe.