Breaking the Generational Curse

I’m writing to you today smack dab in the middle of White Suburbia. My neighborhood oozes with privilege. I live in a bubble. 

Come January though, my then five-month-old and I will venture down to Orlando, Fla. for the 23rd International Breastfeeding Conference. It’s a place where I learn an incredible amount about communities different than my own. And while the conference gives me an opportunity to engage with so many different, amazing people, I’m always struck by the sense of comradery and our common goal to better maternal child health outcomes globally. Each year, I’m totally overwhelmed by the wealth of knowledge the presenters and participants bring with them. And of course, it’s always nice to shake the hands of the voices behind our awesome, Our Milky Way interviewees.  

unnamed-2Most recently, I spoke with Shirley Payne, MPH, a second-year doctoral student in the Health Behavior program at the Indiana University School of Public Health.  Payne will co-present with her academic advisor, Cecilia Obeng, PhD, “Breaking the Generational Curse: A Case Study of How Family and Culture Influence Breastfeeding in African-American Women.” 

The presentation will be interactive and allow participants to engage in a conversation geared toward working on concrete solutions. 

“It’s going to be something very meaningful,” says Payne. 

I shared with Payne that I’ve been enlightened by a few pieces that speak to “The Generational Curse”:  Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome and Intergenerational Trauma: Slavery is Like a Curse Passing Through the DNA of Black People By David Love, the documentary 13TH and Kimberly Seals Allers’ True Honesty, Gender Solidarity & Political Correctness Are Dead. What Now for Mothers & Babies?  I wondered what advice she had for myself and our readers on how to help heal generational trauma.

“Especially in public health and when changing one’s health behavior, education is half the battle,” Payne explains. 

She adds, “You also have to listen to the women.”  

Payne initially set off to become an OB/GYN. As a fifth year senior though, she knew she needed to take some additional time to prepare herself.  That is when she came across the public health program.

“I absolutely fell in love with public health,” Payne says. “It changed my whole trajectory.”

Payne has worked within maternal child health for eight years with a focus on children with special health care needs. While in graduate school, Payne worked with St. Vincent New hope (now New Hope of Indiana), an agency that serves people with disabilities and families involved in the child welfare system.

Payne notes the importance of breastfeeding for all mother baby couplets, but she emphasizes that it would be great to study the benefits and challenges for the mother with a child with special needs. 

When a mother has a child who is differently abled, she often goes through a grieving process, letting go of the child she thought she was going to have, Payne explains. 

When a mother has a child who may not smile at her, or a child who cannot communicate with her, breastfeeding may be a way to help with bonding, she goes on. 

At New Hope, Payne provided one-on-one direct care services for almost a year before working as a team leader where she coordinated care for individuals. 

After three years, she began working with the Indiana State Department of Health. Her scope began to broaden while working with the Children’s Special Health Care Services (CSHCS) Division managing the children and youth with special health care needs portion of the Federal Title V Maternal and Child Health Block Grant.

“Even though my focus was special needs, we worked so closely and collaboratively with the Maternal and Child Health Division, I thought, ‘Wow, this is way bigger than I thought!’” Payne exclaims. “Breastfeeding spans every area and every topic.”

Payne now serves as the Director of the CSHCS Division at the Indiana State Department of Health.

“I absolutely love my job!” she exclaims. 

When it comes to programming for mothers and infants, Payne is proud of her state’s Baby and Me Tobacco Free program. The program provides mothers at least four prenatal cessation-counseling sessions, support, and carbon monoxide (CO) monitoring, usually during a regular prenatal visit. Mothers continue CO monitoring after the birth of her baby. If she is smoke-free, she receives diaper vouchers to be used for any brand and size.  Indiana also extends this benefit to fathers. [Retrieved from: http://www.babyandmetobaccofree.org/program-information/ ] 

Because of the administrative nature of Payne’s work, she primarily relies on community partners to relay stories from mothers and families. Last year though, Payne had the opportunity to network with mothers and their infants in her community who participated in the Baby and Me Tobacco Free program at the 2015 Labor of Love Summit, an annual infant mortality summit in Indiana.

Completing her doctoral degree is a personal goal, but Payne says she also hopes to serve as a role model. 

“I am a woman, and at that I’m an African American woman,” Payne begins. “I wanted to be that role model [who shows]…no matter where you come from, if you work hard you can achieve your goals.” 

Click here to register for the International Breastfeeding Conference and the opportunity to network with Payne!

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