Health collective fights for quality of care

Sixty six years ago, a 15-year-old girl thought babies came from kissing. Five years later, she became pregnant with her first child. Not long after, she had another baby and then just nine months later she was pregnant again, this time with my mom.

“Why does this keep happening to me?” my grandmother asked her obstetrician. And so, he told her about birth control.

Many decades later, a 21-year-old woman became pregnant with her first baby. She knew where babies came from, but had many questions about her developing fetus and her own pregnant body. When she asked her OB questions about the pregnancy, labor and delivery, he often snickered at her ignorance. The birth of her baby, my daughter Willow, prompted much exploration and discovery about the capabilities of the female body.

Access to women’s health information and respect for women’s health care choices continues to evolve. The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective and the organization’s acclaimed Our Bodies, Ourselves has played a prodigious part in educating women about our bodies and has influenced much of the developing, evidence-based care available to us today. In fact, The Library of Congress recently named Our Bodies, Ourselves one of 88 books that shaped America.

The first issue of OBOS was created as a newsprint booklet released over 40 years ago that offered women the evidence-based information about our bodies that didn’t exist at the time.

JNphoto_web“Our early work was doing something about the sexism that was rampant in medical care,” Our Bodies Ourselves Executive Director and Founder Judy Norsigian adds.

Several hundred thousand copies sold.

Today the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, often referred to as Our Bodies Ourselves (OBOS) still promotes accurate, evidence-based information on girls’ and women’s reproductive health and sexuality, but it also addresses the social, economic and political conditions that affect health care access and quality of care. [Retrieved from: http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/about/default.asp]

Norsigian cites the inner workings of Big Pharma and other corporations where growing conflicts of interest influence research and information, medical procedures and medications available to women.

OBOS works to shape our culture’s institutions into organizations that respect, represent and honor the people they serve.

“We get information that is shaped and worded by commercial interest that doesn’t necessarily have an unbiased view,” Norsigian says.

For instance, in Ricki Lake’s documentary The Business of Being Born, we watch an obstetrician admit that c-sections are often forced upon women for financial gain.

OBOS was one of the first feminist groups to take up issues childbearing women face.

OBOS2011_weblgThe current OBOS edition includes an extensive pregnancy and postpartum section including looking at breastfeeding as a core feminist issue. OBOS also offers a separate book on pregnancy and birth. Healthy Children’s Cindy Turner-Maffei contributed to the Feeding Your Baby Section.

Birth, lactation and other healthcare professionals will find OBOS a valuable resource. Norsigian says she hopes people will point to the book as not only a piece that supports breastfeeding, but a book that also offers suggestions on how to get society to be more supportive of the breastfeeding dyad.

Norsigian will speak at the upcoming Breastfeeding and Feminism International Conference at UNC Chapel Hill. The conference’s theme: Forging Partnerships for a Better Tomorrow is as significant as ever because “until we really get the message to every segment of the community that cares about the health of mothers and babies, we are going to see enormous challenges,” Norsigian explains.

Breastfeeding is often regarded as  “too cow-like and inappropriate in public.” Norsigian says these ideas are puritanical and absurd.

“I mean we have to pass laws to protect mothers and babies,” she laughs in disgust.

Cindy and Judy pose at Decent Exposures event.

Cindy and Judy pose at Decent Exposures event.

Norsigian says it’s important to remember the creative actions breastfeeding advocates take in order to educate others about women’s and babies’ right to breastfeed. Incidences where a woman was asked to cover up while feeding her child at a Maryland Starbucks, another at a Patriot’s game, another at Target and so on and so on have sparked “great dialogue.”

Norsigian is looking forward to forging more links with younger women at the conference who use social media. She’d like to enlist them in the creative use of these tools to make sure women are well informed about their health, especially during childbearing age.

OBOS is a movement consonant with other peaceful initiatives working to gain recognition and tend to the many different experiences humans embody, Norsigian says.

While feminism often means many things to different people, Norsigian calls feminism a philosophy, a way of looking at the world and “recognizing women as full human beings.”

Feminists seek to offer women full participation in society including leadership positions while also recognizing and reinforcing the roles women play as mothers.

“Feminism isn’t about women wanting a bigger piece of the pie,” Norsigian says. “Feminism wants to change the recipe for the pie.”

OBOS is currently working to Educate Congress by sending every member a copy of their book.

Norsigian says the organization is always responding to inane comments about women’s bodies from people of power like the one Virginia State Sen. Steve Martin recently made about pregnant women.

Norsigian encourages constituents to share the book with state legislators so we can continue to demystify the female body and move forward in offering proper health care options.

Because there is a wealth of information online, although not always quality information, Norsigian says she would like to see a copy of OBOS on every college campus too.

“Students write to us and say it is unique and invaluable,” she says. “That they had seen nothing like it up to that point.”

unnamed-1OBOS also offers an internet use guideline which allows health care consumers to become media literate users and not fall prey to predatory information about their bodies and their choices.

In honor of her long-term commitment to the voices of real women and the relationship between knowledge and health, Healthy Children Project’s The Center for Breastfeeding presented Norsigian with its Omega Award at the event Decent Exposure: The Secret Lives of Breasts held at the Cotuit Center for the Arts in October.

Learn more about the collective at http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/.

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