Musings on unity beyond National Breastfeeding Month

This year’s National Breastfeeding Month (NBM) celebration has come to an end, but our momentum as maternal child health advocates– striving for equitable care for all– powers on. 

The 2020 NBM theme, Many Voices United, called on us to come together to identify and implement the policy and system changes that are needed to ensure that all families have the support and resources they need in order to feed their babies healthily. 

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
Colorful Hands 1 of 3 / George Fox students Annabelle Wombacher, Jared Mar, Sierra Ratcliff and Benjamin Cahoon collaborated on the mural. / Article: https://www.orartswatch.org/painting-the-town-in-newberg/

Achieving this shared goal requires daily self-work and individual introspection so that our collective can be as effective as ever. No matter how socially-conscious, open-minded, anti-racist, (insert adjective), we think we may be, we still have learned biases and prejudices that require near constant attention. Much like I remind my children to brush their teeth every morning and every night, as a white, binary woman, I must remind myself to examine my biases and my privilege daily.  

With NBM’s theme of unity in mind, this Upworthy video features an art installation that demonstrates our society’s interconnectedness. With a piece of string, the installation shows an intricate, densely-woven web created by individuals wrapping thread around 32 poles with identifiers arranged in a circle. 

“You can see that even though we all have different experiences and we all identify in different ways…We are really one,” the project’s creator says in the video. 

The sentiment and the product are truly beautiful and fascinating. While appreciating the beauty of unity, it’s important to keep our critical thinking and progressive attitude sharp, refraining from slipping into too comfortable a space where change cannot happen.  

Recently, I’ve seen a few statements on unity circulating social media that I’d like to embrace with a “Yes!” Instead, I find myself reacting, “Yes! But…” 

My worry is that these well-intentioned mantras we live by– much like some might argue certain microaggressions are well-intentioned– are also dismissive. 

  1. We all bleed the same blood. 
  1. Children are not born racist.
  1. I will teach my child to love your child. Period. 

Let’s break those down starting with “We all bleed the same blood.”  Some things to consider:

First, Ashley May for The Thirbly writes,

“Black breasts do not exist separate from Black bodies and the situated existence we navigate in this world nor the racialized experience of motherhood. Racism and classism intertwine to act as a containment, working to make some of us feel as if we are walking in quicksand. Add to this the complexities of new motherhood and the needs of the postpartum body and now we have a cocktail for failure. Literal milk plugs. So, although her precious body may be able to produce milk, her situation prevents her and her baby from receiving it. Even the intention to breastfeed cannot save the milk of the mother who cannot find time for pump breaks as she works the night shift as a security guard. Or, perhaps she cannot figure out why pumping is not working, but she doesn’t have the time to seek the educational or financial resources to help her problem solve.” (underline added by OMW) 

Racism affects People of Color (POC) at a cellular level. Studies show that the experience of racial discrimination accelerates the shortening of telomeres (the repetitive sequences of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that protect the cell) and ultimately contributes to an increase in people’s risks of developing diseases. 

It’s epigenetics; the environments POC of are growing in affect their biology.  

Children are not born racist, but white children are born into a racist society that they will benefit from. 

From the very beginning, white children have a better chance of survival than Children of Color; African Americans have 2.3 times the infant mortality rate as non-Hispanic whites

What’s more, Black children are three times more likely to die when cared for by white doctors, while the mortality rate for white babies is largely unaffected by the doctor’s race, a recent study found. 

White children are born into being part of the problem and just the same, can be part of equitable solutions. 

I will teach my child to love your child. Period. 

Love is action, and even if it’s easier said than done, there are so many ways to teach our children about race, inequities and injustice. Afterall, “If Black children are ‘old enough’ to experience racism then white children are ‘old enough’ to learn about it.” – Blair Amadeus Imani

  • Be careful what you say. As a young girl on my way to ballet class one day, my mom, while locking the car doors,  pointed out the barred doors and boarded windows in the neighborhood we rolled through. 

“That’s how you know this is not a safe neighborhood,” my mom warned me. 

No questions asked, I noted the building facades, and then I noted the Black people. Because there wasn’t any further conversation, I made the connection that Black people must be “not safe” and ultimately, that there must be something wrong with Black people if they’re confined to neighborhoods “like this.” 

Imagine the impact we could make if we showed our children that there is nothing inherently wrong with Black people that ending racism can’t solve.

As a nation we are apathetic, made apparent by a recent poll. The survey shows that only 30 percent of white people have taken concrete action to better understand racial issues after George Floyd’s killing. 

The poll also shows that White Americans are also the least likely to support the Black Lives Matter movement, with 47 percent expressing support.

Is it because we don’t claim it as our problem? Is it because we misunderstand the problem? Is it because it’s easier to point fingers at others than ourselves? 

I’d like to leave you with this video of writer Kimberly Jones where she provides a brief history of the American economy told through an analogy using the board game Monopoly. I urge you to watch it, and then watch it again, and again, and again. 

There is no time for complacency within these truly abhorrent systems. When we start to lose sight of that, envision the tangle of yarn from the aforementioned unity art installation and remember that vastly different experiences are networked together.

‘Strong. Resilient. Latched.’ Celebrating Native Breastfeeding Week

Just short of a decade ago, the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) declared August National Breastfeeding Month. National Breastfeeding Month kicks off with the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action’s (WABA) World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) and continues to celebrate each subsequent week:

Week 2 (August 9-15): Native Breastfeeding Week: Strong. Resilient. Latched.  

Week 3 (August 16-24): Spotlight on Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies 

Week 4 (August 25-31): Black Breastfeeding Week: Revive. Restore. Reclaim.

This week, we honor the very diverse experiences of Indigenous families and “address the inequity and injustice of Indigenous parents and their abilities to practice their roles in accordance to the tribal communities they descend from.”  [https://www.facebook.com/NativeBreastfeedingWeek/

There are so many ways to celebrate, to uplift, to support, and as white lactation care providers and maternal child health advocates, ways to learn, humble ourselves, and do better.

The official Native Breastfeeding Week Facebook page actively includes ways to engage in Native Breastfeeding Week. There are sunrise honor prayers, a Virtual 5K Move, Q&A sessions, platforms for sharing personal accounts, and much more.

On Tuesday, the American Indian Cancer Foundation will host an #IndigenousMilkIsMedicine webinar, where Indigenous midwife Hope Mayotte (Bad River Tribe) presents on the importance of Indigenous birth and breastfeeding. 

“For generations, our families have known that breastfeeding nourishes baby’s mind, body, and spirit, and also reduces the risk of cancer and cancer risk factors for birthing people,” American Indian Cancer Foundation’s Communications Specialist Tina MacDonald, BA (Leech Lake Ojibwe) shares.  “During Indigenous Milk Is Medicine, we aim to educate and support Native families across the nation by providing them with culturally-tailored breastfeeding webinars and resources.”

Register here

The Indigenous Birth and Breastfeeding Collective of North Dakota will host the Indigenous Breastfeeding Counselor Training in Standing Rock August 26 to 30. The course is taught by Camie Jae Goldhammer, MSW, LICSW, IBCLC (Sisseton-Wahpeton) and Kimberly Moore-Salas, IBCLC (Navajo) and covers topics like historical trauma, the impact of birth on breastfeeding, water rights and its relation to breastfeeding, food sovereignty, maternal mood disorders and much more. The course is open to those who self-identify as Indigenous. Find more information here

Indigenous Women Rising is facilitating the delivery of Covid-19 care packages, and while the deadline to apply has passed, individuals may still donate to the cause

Bold Futures shared An open letter: Seeking justice and systemic change for Native Families harmed by structural racism, a response to a “secretive policy [at a prominent women’s hospital]…to conduct special coronavirus screenings for pregnant women, based on whether they appeared to be Native American, even if they had no symptoms or were otherwise at low risk for the disease, according to clinicians.” [https://www.propublica.org/article/a-hospitals-secret-coronavirus-policy-separated-native-american-mothers-from-their-newborns

The letter details how maternal child health advocates can help move forward; for example:

* “Centering BIPOC midwives, birth workers and birth advocates in leadership and decision making,” 

* “Significant investment through the state Department of Health and public health funds in out-of-hospital birth models led by Native, Black and People of color,”

* “Defunding and criminalizing of medical institutions and providers that are, or have, engaged in hate crimes under the guise of medical care.”

Last year, four out of 10 Indian Health Service (IHS) hospitals achieved Baby-Friendly re-designation. Baby-Friendly hospitals support exclusive breastfeeding which “protects against obesity and type II diabetes, conditions that American Indians and Alaska Natives are particularly prone,” Tina Tah, IHS Senior Nurse Consultant writes.  

Learn more about IHS and the American Indian and Alaska Native Communities and Hospitals Advancing Maternity Practices (AI/AN CHAMPS) project’s successes here.

 For more on Native American experiences in birth, infant feeding and beyond, read Generational trauma among Native American cultures affects infant feeding and Honoring the diversity of Indigenous breastfeeding experiences.

#NativeBreastfeedingWeek

#StrongResilientLatched

#IndigenousParenting

#IndigenousMilk

#Bodyfeeding