LCTC participant rewrites cultural norms with “Afrofuturist healing modalities”

As you focus on clearing your generational trauma, do not forget to claim your generational strengths. Your ancestors gave you more than just wounds.” — Xavier Dagba

 

Audrey Gentry-Brown, Full Spectrum Birth Sista, Certified Blactation Educator (CBE), Student Midwife, and Medicine Woman in Loudoun County, Va. often found herself asking why?

While present at her sisters’ childbirth experiences, she couldn’t help but question the medical interventions imposed on their bodies. “Why aren’t these doctors allowing their bodies to do what they were designed to do?” she wondered. 

Audrey, hailing from a family with maternal origins in the Southern United States and paternal roots in Jamaica, noticed a stark difference in breastfeeding customs. In the U.S., it appeared that nobody from her maternal lineage embraced breastfeeding, while in Jamaica, it was a widespread tradition.The puzzle deepened when she observed the aversion of many Black women to breastfeeding. 

Just as she diligently tends to her garden, Audrey embarked on a quest for answers and is now sharing the abundance of knowledge she has cultivated.

In her own words, she is rewriting cultural norms within her community, introducing “Afrofuturist healing modalities” that reconnect to “ancestral magic.”

“I engage in this work to revive and reclaim the traditions that we have abandoned. I advocate for, educate, and guide our women through a system that often neglects our needs. My dream is for us to give birth as our foremothers did, within the comfort of our homes, surrounded by love,” Audrey passionately explains.

She says she sees a glimmer of hope in the growing trend of families choosing to reclaim their traditional birthing practices by opting for out-of-hospital births, which grants them greater control and the ability to curate their birth experience.

Having recently been awarded the Accessing the Milky Way scholarship, she is currently pursuing the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) and continually equipping herself with knowledge to assist her community in addressing deeply ingrained trauma related to infant feeding.

Audrey points out a concerning statistic: Black women are more likely to face in-hospital formula introduction (Echols, 2019), along with other marketing tactics targeting them.

“I’m here to tell you that there’s a better way,” she declares.

Moreover, she is dedicated to educating families about traditional practices like babywearing, which encourages breastfeeding and responsive parenting.

In her quest to preserve cultural traditions, Audrey invokes an African proverb: “When an elder dies, a library burns down.” She urges people to reach out to the matriarchs and patriarchs in their families, seeking knowledge of their ancestral customs, and ultimately, to revive, safeguard, and uphold those traditions.

To support Audrey’s mission, you can explore her apothecary or enlist her birthwork services to contribute to her efforts to gather supplies for her future midwifery practice.

‘Full pandemic mama’ becomes full spectrum doula

Allysa Singer was, as she describes, a “full pandemic mama.” Singer became pregnant with her first child in the winter of 2019. As she became aware of the threats and the consequences of COVID-19, she started researching her options and her rights in the delivery room she’d find herself in August 2020.

What started as personal preparation– How many support people would she be allowed? Would she be allowed a support person at all? What restrictions would she encounter? How could she advocate for herself? What were her options?–  propelled her into a world of birth support and autonomy advocacy.

“I was just dumbfounded by the disparities that exist in maternal health,” Singer begins.

In 2020, Alabama, where Singer and her family live, had the third-highest Maternal Mortality Rate in the nation, at 36.4 per 100,000 live births.

BIPOC families suffer from massive disparities in maternal and infant deaths. In a recent piece, Childbirth Is Deadlier for Black Families Even When They’re Rich, Expansive Study Finds, Tiffany L. Green, an economist focused on public health and obstetrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is quoted: “It’s not race, it’s racism…The data are quite clear that this isn’t about biology. This is about the environments where we live, where we work, where we play, where we sleep.”

Still, unlike so many of her peers, Singer reports having had an amazing birth experience.

Inundated by birth horror stories, she decided to change care at 27 weeks in hopes that she would be better supported in her choices at a different institution.

Here, she was allowed a doula and support person to accompany her during her birth.

“Not a lot of women had that luxury,” Singer comments.

Knowing well that birth support is a right and not a luxury, she started her own doula practice in December 2021. 

Singer shares that she experienced severe postpartum depression, but she was able to divert and ultimately reshape this energy into her doula work.

“My doula training was the lifeboat that saved me from drowning in my PPD,” she says.

And now her practice, Faith to Fruition, has become the lifeboat for many of the birthing people Singer supports.

She shares: “I don’t believe that a birther’s desire to have more children should be dictated by their birthing experience. I have heard so many stories from people who had one kid but say, ‘I would never do this again because my experience was so traumatic.’ One of my biggest missions and goals is to support birthers to feel empowered in their process; not as bystanders of their process.”

Singer also holds a full time position as an industrial psychologist where she channels her advocacy work, pushing for organizational change and understanding of proper maternal support.

In fact, as part of a public speaking course for a training curriculum, Singer presented on why it’s important to support breastfeeding. She reports that her audience of roughly 25 was engaged, especially as she pointed out the absurdities of infant feeding culture in our country: How would you feel if I asked you to eat your meal in the bathroom? How would you like to eat with a blanket tossed over your head? for instance.

Singer also points out the “insanely amazing public health outcomes” breastfeeding affords.

If 90 percent of U.S. babies were exclusively breastfed for six months, the United States would save $13 billion per year and prevent an excess 911 deaths, nearly all of which would be in infants ($10.5 billion and 741 deaths at 80% compliance). [Bartick, Reinhold, 2010]

“Not only is there a personal investment, there is a public investment and value to understanding the larger implications,” Singer comments. “As a taxpayer, [breastfeeding] impacts you; as someone who utilizes our healthcare system, [breastfeeding] impacts you.”

With the recent passing of the PUMP Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act coming soon, Singer says “We still have a long way to go.”

Organizational policy doesn’t support motherhood; instead it fuels detached parenting which goes against nature, Singer goes on.

“Mothers feel the brunt of that more than ever,” she says.  “[We aren’t] supported to be able to care for our children the way that we want to.”

Singer says she sees it as her mission as an organizational psychologist to encourage change that supports parenthood, so that women don’t feel threatened to care for their children the way that they want to. This means ensuring that women are provided with ample space to pump their milk while away from their babies and empowering them to approach HR when there aren’t appropriate accommodations.

“Outside forces shouldn’t be able to dictate how you care for and feed your child. The end of one’s breastfeeding journey should be a personal decision.”

She continues, “It’s amazing that legislation is catching up. The thing that I fear with any law, there are still people behind those laws that have to enforce them and carry them out. Education and garnishing an understanding of what this looks like is a key component to implementation. The people behind those policies have to make them successful, but this is  moving things into a very good direction, and I hope that more changes to legislation follow suit, especially with paid parental leave. It’s a catalyst for change; I am hopeful but cautiously optimistic.”

Singer says she owes her personal success continuing to breastfeed her two-and-a-half year old to Chocolate Milk Mommies, where she now serves as a board member.

Through Chocolate Milk Mommies, Singer started a subcommittee to focus on education for individuals within the breastfeeder’s support system.

“The people in the village need to be supportive. When you don’t know better, you can’t do better,” she explains.

Singer recently completed the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) as part of Chocolate Milk Mommies’ mission to best support their constituents and as a way to benefit her doula clients with more well-rounded support.

“I really loved the training because I already thought that our bodies are amazing, but learning more science was great. I would text my friends the ‘Boobie Fact of the Day’,” Singer shares. “[The science] allows me to really appreciate my journey that much more and how impactful I’m being with my daughter.”

You can follow Singer’s work here and here.

Lactation counselor invents one-of-a-kind, hand expression education device

For as long as there have been humans, there has been human milk. As it happens, according to Greek mythology our entire galaxy originates from breastmilk. 

Although people have been breastfeeding for millennia, breastfeeding doesn’t necessarily come naturally, especially in our modern world where common birth practice, industry influence and cultural phenomena are at play. 

Adhering to a mentality where breastfeeding is viewed as completely natural, is one of the most “harmful and hurtful” beliefs because it assumes that lactating people don’t need support, Founder/CEO of Orolait Ana Rojas Bastidas, CLC explains. 

“The majority of women are not able to fulfill their [infant feeding] goals, and that’s unbelievably sad,” Rojas Bastidas says. 

“That’s where innovation comes in,” she continues. 

Rojas Bastidas’s company Orolait, is a breastfeeding apparel company at its core, but this summer she released a one-of-a-kind lactation education tool: the LactoPRO Trainer

The LactoPRO is an anatomically-correct, tissue-mimicking human breast used for demonstrating hand expression. The device features a realistically-sized areola, nipple, and six lactiferous ducts and effectively ejects a human milk-like or colostrum-like substance. The breast is available in various skin shades too. 

In April 2020, Rojas Bastidas shifted Orolait operations to help provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to a hospital in Haiti alongside a Houston-based company that creates surgical organs.  With Rojas Bastidas’s vision and entrepreneurship and the company’s patented technology, the LactoPRO Trainer came to fruition. 

Rojas Bastidas and the team are working to create a model with inverted nipples as well as fashioning a breast that can develop clogs and mastitis. 

Rojas Bastidas emphasizes that she is always working to make her contributions more affordable and accessible.

“Having great things that are not accessible to the community are not helpful to anyone,” she says. 

Through her movement PowerToPrevail and other projects,  Rojas Bastidas has been a force for body positivity, cultivating self worth and supporting modern motherhood. This work led her to complete the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) earlier this year. 

“As I was going through the course and tried to teach hand expression, I became frustrated by the lack of options to demonstrate it accurately and in a constructive way,” she reports. 

Evidence-based lactation care emphasizes a hands-off approach. Couple this with the idea that infant feeding is a learned behavior and in American culture we don’t grow up seeing lactating breasts and breastfeeding, hand expression is a terribly abstract practice to teach. 

The LactoPRO helps fill this void. 

“Innovation in the lactation space has been slow and overlooked, so this is really exciting for me,” Rojas Bastidas says. “I’ve created something for the private sector that’s going to push public perception.” 

She likens her invention to the evolution of professional lactation care services; maternal child health advocates took a stand and refused to let women suffer, she explains. Like lactation care, Rojas Bastidas has created something that validates people’s stories and experiences. 

Rojas Bastidas’s influence stems from her experience as a new mom and the way she viewed her evolving body. 

“I didn’t realize that the way I viewed my body was impacting so much of my life including my breastfeeding journey,” she says. 

So many parents sympathize with the conundrum of breastfeeding in public spaces for instance. To do so discreetly often means lifting your shirt and exposing the midsection.

It seems vain and trivial, Rojas Bastidas acknowledges but when you multiply it by the millions of moms who experience challenges like this, there’s got to be a solution.

“Don’t be afraid to tackle whatever problem you see,” Rojas Bastidas encourages. “Innovation is for anyone.” 

Rojas Bastidas’s apparel serves as functional fashion. Simultaneously, her pursuit celebrates the bodies that have been largely misrepresented and often altogether censored. 

“The absence of bodies sends a broader message that those bodies don’t exist,” she explains. 

“It makes every battle so much harder, but that’s what keeps driving me. I  should have just closed up shop because this is so hard, but  I’m going to make as many people as uncomfortable as humanly possible,” Rojas Bastidas says of being a female innovator in health and wellness advocacy. 

She adds that by showing the public what bodies actually look like, it frees us, elevates us and empowers us. 

“Lactating individuals deserve to be seen, heard and helped.”

Rojas Bastidas has a lot to offer on her website including her shop, lactation counseling services, a member forum and blog. Check it out here

Follow her on social media @orolaitofficial and @powertoprevail