LCTC participant is a catalyst for change

Natasha Aldridge has endured two laparoscopic surgeries and induced menopause to treat stage four endometriosis. Through it all, she found herself bouncing from doctor to doctor, looking for ways to manage pain and to get answers. The process was all-consuming, forcing her to exit nursing school prematurely.

“I was very unhappy with myself,” Aldridge shares. “I felt like my body was broken.” 

Eventually, struggling through the personal challenges, Aldridge identified the larger forces at play. 

“I realized how maternal health needed to be easier to navigate and more accessible,” she comments.

Now, Aldridge works as what she calls a Perinatal Professional and Maternal Ambassador. Her business, Natural Queen Essentials, supports feminine wellness from the first menstrual cycle through menopause. Her collective work includes facilitating holistic wellness options,  Trauma Informed Doula Trainings through Cocolife.black  and volunteering for The MOM’s Tour (Maternal Outcomes Matter)  to provide information on lactation and the importance of doulas.

Aldridge is also an Advanced Prison Doula  with Ostara Initiative where she supports women in local jails and helps to educate staff about milk expression and storage. She partners with The Diverse Birth Collective, Project Empower and  Virginia Prison Birth Project to facilitate peer support groups, prenatal yoga and the transport of milk.  Currently, only six states “have laws with written policies on breastfeeding and lactation support for incarcerated postpartum people in the U.S,” according to the National University-Based Collaborative on Justice-Involved Women & Children (JIWC)

Aldridge is one of the most recent individuals to earn the Accessing the Milky Way scholarship, and she says her studies through the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) have already helped her help others like cheering on incarcerated moms and babies during their first latch.  

“It’s a domino effect,” she says. “The more knowledge I provide through peer support, the more information will pass through the justice system.” 

Aldridge was drawn to the LCTC because she found she lacked the ability to provide lactation and breastfeeding support. She shares that she “easily gave up breastfeeding” with her two daughters, because she was never educated on the impact of infant feeding. None of the women in her family breastfed either. Aldridge struggled through postpartum mood disorders (PPMDs) too.

“I didn’t have the capacity to even know where to begin,” she says. Like so many mothers, Aldridge’s language pins herself as the responsible one for not breastfeeding, when in reality, breastfeeding is not a one-woman job and requires greater systemic supports.  

The LCTC is illuminating many details about infant feeding and its history, Aldridge shares. She says she’s finding the counseling portion “excellent as well” and is able to apply the strategies to all areas of her career. 

“Knowing the background and the science is pulling everything together in my whole journey,” she says.

In the beginning of September, Aldridge spent time on Capitol Hill with Mom Congress learning about policy making and how to tell stories to help influence legislation important to families, one of the elements essential to improving infant feeding practices in the U.S.  

Aldridge was also recently honored with the Catalyst of Change award from Endo Black, Inc.–a Black women-led advocacy group founded by Lauren Kornegay for Black women living with endometriosis– which “recognizes an ambitious leader and influential person in the endometriosis community… [who] engages the community in a meaningful and high-impact way.”

Aldridge’s ambition and accomplishments are certainly ones to celebrate, but she says that it’s all bigger than herself. 

You can support Aldridge’s work by following her on social media @naturalqueenessentials. Watch for the release of an in-the-works newsletter for another way to get connected.



Full spectrum doula facilitates multilateral programming to support BIPOC breastfeeding

When Meah El, SFW, TCP, CBE, a Full-Spectrum Doula, Education Specialist, Doula Team Leader and Cribs for Kids Coordinator at The Foundation for Delaware County, was just eight years old, she landed her first job. On summer trips to New England, El would help her aunt in her in-home daycare.  When her aunt gave birth to a premature baby in her late forties, El was the only one her aunt trusted in helping out with the baby.

“I always say that my career found me,” El reflects.

She stayed on this early education career path, later working with Maternity Care Coalition as an Early Head Start advocate. Through this work, she became trained as the first doula at their site.

“I loved it ever since,” she says. “Birth work is the crème de la crème.”

El remembers one of her first clients, a 15-year-old mother, and struggles to put into words just how amazing it felt to help a birthing mother.

To enhance her ability to support lactating and breastfeeding clients, El took a breastfeeding course with Nikki Lee  and now, she is one of the latest recipients to earn the Accessing the Milky Way scholarship which covers the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC). A colleague of hers is also working through the LCTC, so they have scheduled a weekly meet up to review the course material together.

El is dedicated to helping BIPOC families reach their breastfeeding goals and dedicated to improving overall health within BIPOC communities through healthy infant feeding.

While Chester and Delaware counties have relatively high breastfeeding initiation rates, the overall infant feeding culture “hushes” breastfeeding, and BIPOC families are up against barriers to breastfeeding like lack of education, familial support, and skilled lactation care, as El explains.

During Black Breastfeeding Week (BBW) 2023, El facilitated a celebration complete with henna artists, reiki sessions, infant foot massage, aromatouch hand massages for parents, brunch and a breastfeeding photo shoot. El will curate the images from the photo shoot into an art installation during next year’s BBW celebration.

Moreover, El is working to establish a lactation cafe, a peer breastfeeding support group run by breastfeeding champions in the community, and mini trainings for staff at The Foundation.

Logo by Meah El

In order to combat breastfeeding misinformation on social media, El will create social media “shorts” with practical breastfeeding information that will be disseminated through the organizations channels. El is also in the process of working with the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to recognize breastfeeding-friendly businesses.

All of these efforts are part of El’s goal to create a supportive environment around breastfeeding.

“If there’s no community support and no support at home, [the system] is built to fail,” El begins. “I want everyone to win.”

El encourages Our Milky Way readers to share their breastfeeding photos on social media and tag #delcobreastfeeds in order to normalize breastfeeding. She also reminds readers to explore the multitude of programs available at The Foundation for Delaware County. You can contact El directly for direction.

Louisiana doula protects BIPOC women from abuse through birth work and beyond

Having endured the trauma of a lost pregnancy at the hands of her obstetrician during her teenagehood, Angelica Rideaux vowed that she would work to protect BIPOC women from emotional and physical abuse.

In 2021, she enrolled in Community Birth Companion, a non-profit doula training program serving those in Southwest Louisiana. 

“During the training, I was loved on by women who looked like me, and had the same purpose of ending racial bias in maternal child health care,” Rideaux recalls.

She now serves as a doula for BIPOC families around Louisiana  with the ultimate goal of becoming a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM). Currently, there are only three Black CPMs in Louisiana, according to Rideaux. In 2021 Baby Catcher Birth Center, the state’s first Black-owned, CABC accredited free-standing birth center opened.  

Most recently, Rideaux was accepted as a member of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice’s She Leads: Community Activist Fellowship 2023 cohort: a “network of women activists who are disrupting the current power structures and realizing change in their communities.”

Rideaux’s accomplishments go on. She earned one of the most recent Accessing the Milky Way scholarships to support her completion of the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC)

Because Rideaux is a hands-on learner, she reports the online format of the LCTC challenging. Even so, Rideaux says she likes challenges. 

“So I am going to push past that,” she states. 

She says she has found the office hours helpful; they make the experience of online learning feel less isolating. 

Working her way through the course, Rideaux has been surprised by how many myths have been put to rest. Specifically, she says it was “mind-blowing” to learn that water consumption is not solely responsible for milk production. She plans to share the knowledge she continues to gain among her colleagues and the families she supports.    

Rideaux sees the LCTC as an important piece in making her future in midwifery more well-rounded, effective and supportive. 

As Rideaux continues on her journey to know more to better serve her community, she reminds us of some important concepts to reflect on as we move through our own work to improve maternal child health outcomes. 

First is that discomfort is necessary for change, and sitting in discomfort, having those difficult  conversations is part of bringing an end to racial inequity.

Secondly, creating healthy environments for women and children, especially those in BIPOC communities,  is not a trend. Rideaux comments that while she wants everyone to be culturally aware and competent, she hopes that the impetus comes from “hearts to get the situation resolved” rather than for “the dollars” or for “the accolades” or for an illusion of doing good.  

In Equity is more than a buzzword, the author writes: “Those committed to equity should understand that the harm of racism cannot simply be ‘undone’. The ramifications of colonization, enslavement and segregation penetrate almost every aspect of our society, including our education systems. Merely boosting representation is not an effective way to increase equity in predominantly white institutions.”  (Paytner, 2023)

It’s a reminder that improving maternal child health outcomes for the BIPOC community is part of a revolution, as Rideaux describes it. 

A lot of us are on the ground getting this work done, never receiving any kind of media coverage,” she begins. “We are soldiers in this war, and the goal is to get everybody on the same path for equity and justice. We  want everybody to feel like they are humans because that’s what we are first and foremost.”  

Learn about ending obstetric racism by visiting Birthing Cultural Rigor, founded by Dr. Karen A. Scott, MD, MPH, FACOG. 

African American Breastfeeding Network (AABN) is outside and celebrating connection and community

Photo by Criativa Pix Fotografia

For 15 years, the African American Breastfeeding Network (AABN) has been leading and immersed in integral work to improve maternal child health outcomes in the Greater Milwaukee area.

AABN was founded by Angelia Wilks-Tate and Dalvery Blackwell who set out to  address breastfeeding disparities through a community-led organization. Blackwell now serves as the organization’s first executive director and Wilks-Tate serves as the President of the Board Directors.

Photo by julio andres rosario ortiz

AABN hosts healing spaces for birth workers, facilitates doula trainings including the HealthConnect One community doula training and WeRISE Community Doula Program, celebrates father involvement, holds space for bereaved parents, fights for birth and reproductive justice, and more and more and more. Simply visit their Facebook page and you’ll catch a glimpse of the passion, the wisdom, comradery, fun, and the dedication. You can also read about their 2020 impact here.

Yesterday, the organization and its partners hosted their ninth annual  Lift Up Every Baby! Celebration.  Lift Up Every Baby “is all about the blissful happiness we experience when our community comes together to celebrate, securing our collective power to help create spaces of health and wellness!” the organization shared with their social media followers. Pregnant people and young families were invited to experience a community-drive and  “family-centered afternoon of festivities, celebrations, good food and positive vibes.”

The event fit perfectly into Black Breastfeeding Week’s (BBW) 2023 theme: We Outside! Celebrating Connection & Our Communities.

https://blackbreastfeedingweek.org/

Perhaps one of the most touching moments of each year’s event is the opening ceremony made possible by Zakiya Courtney celebrating participants’ cultural heritage and values.

You can check out footage from last year’s event here and stay tuned for reports from this year’s celebration here.

Creative solutions for facilitating traditional Navajo birth

It was a whopping 102 degrees during the day with plummeting temperatures at night in Shiprock, New Mexico on the sacred land of Navajo Nation. The soon-to-be new parents’ camp was set up completely off grid with no running water or electricity.

Indigenous Doula, student homebirth midwife, and New Mexico Doula Association birth equity co-chair Natasha Bowman and her colleague Indigenous Doula and the Executive Director for The Navajo Breastfeeding Coalition Amanda Singer, CLC got to chatting about how they could best serve their client who desired a traditional Navajo birth under these conditions.

Considering their own well-being and the safety of their clients, Bowman and Singer initially joked about hauling Bowman and her fiancé LaDarrell Skeet’s fifth wheel out onto the land. But Skeet helped make it a reality.

The team was able to set up a mobile birthing suite for the new family and their care team complete with air conditioning, clean water and a bathroom. What’s more, the certified professional midwife attending the birth brought along her small trailer too.

“When we do births on the Navajo reservation, we have to think outside of the box,” Bowman explains.

Bowman, who has always been interested in labor and delivery, realized while working with the University of New Mexico’s Birth Companion Program, the lack of Indigenous birth workers. During one training, in a roomful of 40 participants, three were Indigenous.

“I was shocked,” Bowman says. “There has to be a change. There has to be more Indigenous birth workers.”

Later, Bowman attended another training with the Changing Woman Initiative, where she first met Singer. Since then, they’ve been realizing their vision of more Indigenous doulas and birth workers.

Bowman and her partners are continually learning the traditional Navajo ways of birthing and bringing those rituals to their clients.

“Some [clients] are for it, and some are against it because they have always been told they should be birthing in a hospital,” Bowman begins.

She goes on to explain that some of her clients have been scolded and ridiculed by pediatricians, other health care providers and even family and friends for planning a home birth despite the evidence confirming that among low-risk women, planned home births result in low rates of interventions without an increase in adverse outcomes for mothers and babies.

Bowman describes some of the elements of traditional birth which include integrating song, herbal remedies, teas and tinctures, and traditional dress in sash belts and moccasins.

“We believe in the exchange of energy and thoughts,” Bowman continues. “Good intentions, pure thoughts, and lots of prayers.”

It is customary for birth workers to tie a bandana over their heads as well as a Sani scarf, sash belt, or rebozo with an arrowhead tucked inside around the waist to protect the reproductive system.

“It is to protect us from the powerful energy the laboring parent is releasing,” Bowman explains. “It is like armor for us.”

Bowman and Singer and their partners are confronting the health realities in their community through other collaborations too. Their funding partners are The Kellogg Foundation, The Brindle Foundation and United HealthCare. Partnering organizations include Indigenous Women Rising, New Mexico Doula Association, Bidii Baby Foods and Saad K’idilyé, a grassroots organization dedicated to providing traditional teachings to the urban Diné communities around Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Last summer, the Saad K’idilyé Diné Language Nest (SKDLN) opened as a  central urban hub where Saad K’idilyé meets with families, babies, caretakers, and its community.

“A language nest is a community site-based language program for children from birth to three years old where they are immersed in their Native (heritage) language,” as described on their website. “SKDLN is a safe, home-like environment for young children to interact with Diné Bizaad speakers, often elders, through meaningful activities.”

Bowman was able to witness the interactions.
“It was amazing!” she exclaims.

Eventually, Bowman says that she and her colleagues would like to create their own Indigenous Doula training with teachings specific to Navajo birth culture.
In the meantime, they’re celebrating National Breastfeeding Month with Indigenous Milk Medicine Week: From the Stars to a Sustainable Future during the week of August 8 to 14. The breastfeeding coalition will reveal a Navajo translation breastfeeding art piece during this celebration.

And while the fifth wheel doula mobile has stirred up great interest within the community on social media, for the time being, there won’t be an expansion of this service. Bowman and Skeet’s fifth wheel remains on the move though, helping keep the birth team comfortable. Follow its tracks by following the Navajo Breastfeeding Coalition on Facebook.