I met Tamara (Tams) Thompson Moore, CLC during my second round of The Lactation Counselor Training Course in May 2015. I was bedazzled by her positive energy that seemed to engulf the classroom. What’s more, she has amazing style and insanely cool penmanship. Her writing looks like typeface! Tams’ day job is in corporate marketing, but she’s passionate about helping families thrive. I’m pleased to share our interview this week on Our Milky Way.
Q: How did you become interested in maternal child health?
A: I relocated to Marshall, WI from Chicagoland and was in desperate need of help with my newborn daughter, Jocelyn in 2004. The local WIC agency provided me with some resources for ongoing support, the one that stood out to me was a support group for African American breastfeeding mothers. I joined them and over time, became a peer mentor. My interest grew as I formed close connections with the mothers I met there and as I began to understand more about the parts of our stories that we had in common as well as the differences in our pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding experiences.
Q: Your day job is in corporate marketing. Does your passion for maternal child health intersect here at all, or are they two different worlds?
A: I would have to say that these are two totally different worlds. I have many, many interests but few passions. While the corporate marketing part of my life gives me a rewarding career, my heart is in helping families thrive.
Q: What inspired you to take The Lactation Counselor Training Course?
A: Having the opportunity to be a part of a close-knit group as a mother was a life-changing experience for me and motivated me to help the organization when its number of participants fell. I wanted to recruit more mothers but also wanted to assist in providing direct support for mothers who needed help but were unlikely to travel to a health care clinic for a lactation care provider.
Many people who know me well say that I cannot talk about something very long before I start getting the urge to do something about it. Comparing stories I had heard about obstacles to breastfeeding pushed me toward wanting to explore more deeply into statistics among Black African Americans in infant mortality and maternal morbidity. I decided to start my journey into tackling racial disparities in maternal health by gaining more hands on experience in lactation counseling. I had noticed that the Peer Mentor positions with the local WIC agency required the CLC.
Q: How have you been using what you learned in the class?
A: I’ve been using some of what I learned in the class with my clients during prenatal visits in preparing parents to breastfeed their babies and also shortly after birth. I have found that familiarizing parents with methods well before birth really increases their confidence and creates a strong will to continue breastfeeding for a longer duration.
Q: On your Facebook page you write about The Lactation Counselor Training Exam: “There is so much riding on this exam I’m about to take: I believe creating positive change in the community includes the use of my own energy. My hands. My voice. My work. My compassion. My love. Proving that I am competent with a credential doesn’t validate me as an activist, or a person for that matter- but it does seem to make me more visible to those outside of my community. Let me be an instrument of light, peace, hope, and love- but more importantly- let there be #PowerToThePeople.” Can you tell me more about what you were feeling when you wrote this?
A: I wrote this thinking about being something like the proverbial sister’s keeper. I saw a need for me to an expand my role not only within the organization but within the community. I observed the ways that mothers were not feeling respected, heard, and served- this drove me to act because the gap between where services are offered and services were needed was blaringly obvious to me. I find myself frustrated with the way healthcare can seem politicized and also how the hierarchy of professionals works like a power structure more than a vehicle toward health equity for all. I felt that my intentions needed to be expressed because I wanted it to be known that I aim to create positive change in the institutions that we use to welcome our future generations in. It’s like that still moment where a group of quiet people hesitate before making a conscious choice to respond. I wanted to break the silence and say “I will.”
Q: How do you network with other birth and lactation professionals in our area? Why is networking important to you?
A: …My networking happens mostly because I am a chatty person, if I’m within earshot of an interesting person, I strike up conversation and we’re exchanging information shortly thereafter. While this is something that I do with everyone, I make a point to encourage Black African Americans and all people of color to consider the lactation profession. With the low amount of diversity among breastfeeding advocates, it’s understandable why there are attitudes among Black African Americans and people of color that breastfeeding is something we don’t do. It’s not normalized because the prominent voices of the narratives aren’t familiar to many of us. I hope that mothers and families who look for advice and services can see mirrors of themselves in providers because lifestyle habits and parenting philosophies that are generational can influence so many things- having providers that understand this concept and can build on that established rapport can be instrumental to success. So many people in African American communities in Wisconsin have been touched by the death of an infant and are getting mixed messages from what they hear and read. Having someone knowledgeable empower them with sound information and practical advice that they can relate to is something we can provide with more CLCs and IBCLCs that are from said communities. I think the prosperity of a community depends on the strengths of its families, therefore the people who serve families have major roles. Proximity matters!
Q: Please tell me about your doula training with Shafia Monroe.
A: What a life-changing four days that was! Shafia Monroe is more than just a person to me, she symbolizes this resilient spirit of power and ingenuity. She is a champion. The training I received honored the legacy of respected midwives who were pillars before this land was renamed the United States and through the introduction of modern obstetrics. She gave a thorough curriculum of everything I expected like physiology and anatomy but also included cultural aspects that isn’t a component of what the more mainstream certifying organizations offer.
Q: Please tell me about your involvement with the African American Breastfeeding Alliance.
A: …every 2nd Friday of every month, the circle gathers and I’m always glad to be a part of it. Sometimes the magic happens all on its own when expectant mothers just feel good vibes from nursing mothers and cute little giggles from babies- that’s what makes it priceless. A safe space for sharing, listening, and learning is a powerful thing. I’m also glad to also join forces with the African American Health Network of Dane County in its disease prevention initiative where I will work with mothers who are interested in reducing their child/ren’s risk of diabetes.
Q: Could you please comment on how you see cultural safety integrated into the work you do and where it needs to be implemented?
A: Cultural safety is not only integrated into the work that I do but also how I live my life. We as people are all prone to forming some type of bias during our lives and it’s very important that we make a conscious decision to reflect on those things that have the potential to influence how we respond to others. I think mindfulness of cultural safety should be a key factor for everyone who works directly with people but unfortunately, that is wishful thinking. Since that is not a realistic expectation, I understand that I have some walls to break down when I work with some people because they are used to being treated with less sensitivity. Sometimes when I explain informed consent in pregnancy and childbirth to clients, the conversation takes turns into other areas where the people realize that they have more options that they realize and can have a more active role in their medical decisions in general. Finding ways to empower people is one way we can reset standards so patients can come to expect that their medical providers will not use language or behavior that is demeaning. There are more studies being published such as ‘It’s The Skin You’re In’ that validate what people of color have been saying for generations, but I hope to see more of the focus on changes on an institutional level rather than more initiatives that focus on what mothers are doing wrong. When we talk about racial disparities in healthcare, there seems to be numerous efforts aimed at how medical consumers need to be more educated or change their habits but not as much attention aimed at eliminating mistreatment and discrimination in clinical settings. We can see billboards that target black African American people to put their babies to sleep on their backs, to participate in cessation programs, and that’s all very good but where are the billboards and public service announcements against being racist at work? The data strongly suggests that it’s happening, but there seems to be less willingness to address it.
Q: What is Wisconsin doing really well when it comes to maternal child health? Where do we need to improve?
A: I think Wisconsin’s Birth to Three programs are very beneficial to families. I believe every parent that I have had who participated in those programs had good things to say about the services. I haven’t had personal experience, but I distinctly remember having the school district reach out to me about my little ones who weren’t yet school aged and even childcare providers offer tools for parents to look for key indicators that a child might need screenings. I think early intervention is most important in preventing long term health effects so these are definitely good protocols to follow in my opinion.
I think an area of improvement would be concerning lead testing in Wisconsin. I listened to a public radio show where a local legislator spoke in depth about alarming concerns about lead levels in children found by researchers and it I decided to look into it more. There is a LOT of data, so I can’t share all of it but I will mention that our state is not exactly consistent with the federal regulations set by the CDC for blood lead levels in children and the agencies that intervene are likely missing children who need services because of it. The highest amount of children who tested with elevated blood lead levels are in Milwaukee and Racine. With all that we know about how lead affects the body, parents want to know that our children are not being put at risk. It makes sense to avoid spending millions of dollars on an irreversible health crisis that is linked to behavioral and mental disorders by instead spending funds on eliminating the risks of contamination in the first place- but that is not what’s happening. We shouldn’t have to console ourselves with thoughts about how much worse it is elsewhere or wait for partisan division to end, these children are our future. All of ours. We need more regulations that keep people safe from drinking water that could potentially harm an unborn baby, an infant who feeds on formula, and toddlers whose readings are below the state’s threshold but above the CDC’s.
Q: Anything else to add?
A: I have noticed in some conversations that there is a perception that being a lactation counselor and a doula means that I am pro- “natural birth” and anti- formula, so I wanted to address those two things. I recognize that there are very real cultural and institutional pressures that create shame for mothers however, I would suggest that these are not at the core of either; being a doula means supporting the birth that the mother wants- not pushing any personal agenda, just as recommending that mothers offer breastmilk also means that I respect that there are reasons why some do not- bottom line: babies must be fed! I think there is an unfair way maternal choices are hyper scrutinized in our society that assigns guilt needlessly. I think supporting families in reaching their goals is the reward above anything else.