“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.
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.
Kathleen Kendall Tackett’s work also illuminates how breastfeeding can heal trauma. Her videos, How Birth Trauma Affects Breastfeeding and Breastfeeding Can Heal Birth Trauma and Breastfeeding’s Healing Impact on Sexual Assault Trauma discuss the mechanisms behind why and how breastfeeding can be helpful for trauma survivors. Essentially, breastfeeding allows for the down regulation of stress responses, specifically adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol, and similar to exercise, improves maternal mood, decreases the risk of depression, decreases hostility, and improves the mother infant bond.
Jennie Toland, BSN, RN, CLC offers commentary on the role lactation care providers play in offering trauma-informed care in this piece.
This Invisibila episode, Therapy Ghostbusters, shares the incredible story of how a Cambodian practitioner worked to help heal an entire community from generational trauma. It took him over a year to simply earn individuals’ trust.
“…That’s pretty unique,” the podcast hosts point out and offers insight into how our nation approaches care for individuals with specific mental health needs and cultural considerations.
Goldhammer quotes Round Rock elder Annie Kahn: “When a mother nurses her baby, she is giving that child her name, her story and her life’s song. A nursed baby will grow to be strong in body, mind and spirit.”
This connection to the past that Kahn refers to, also offers a form of healing. Breastfeeding is an example of Indigenous food sovereignty, “a part of living culture” and facilitates the revitalization of traditional knowledge. (Cidro, et al 2018)
The revitalization of breastfeeding spans the Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) experience and is a channel to champion equity.
“Breastfeeding is an especially important public health issue in Black communities, particularly given that Black families and communities continue to experience the highest burden related to poor maternal and infant health outcomes, including higher incidence of preterm birth, low birth weight, maternal mortality and morbidity, infant mortality, and lower breastfeeding rates. Owing to lifetime exposure of racism, bias, and stress, Black women experience higher rates of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and aggressive breast cancer. Given that cardiovascular disease and postpartum hemorrhage are leading causes of maternal mortality and morbidity, increasing breastfeeding rates among Black women can potentially save lives.”
More specifically, 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 has been found that higher anxiety scores and inflammation are associated with shorter telomere length.
Because physical and psychological stressors trigger the inflammatory response system, one way to counter this reaction is by supporting ongoing breastfeeding relationships; when breastfeeding is going well, it protects mothers from stress. (Kendall-Tackett, 2007)
Another study found that early exclusive breastfeeding is associated with longer telomeres in children.
The authors of Achieving Breastfeeding Equity and Justice in Black Communities: Past, Present, and Future continue, “Yet breastfeeding is rarely seen as a women’s health, reproductive health, or a public health strategy to address or reduce maternal mortality and morbidity in the U.S. Inequities in lactation support and breastfeeding education exacerbate health inequities experienced by Black women, specifically maternal mortality and morbidity, and thus a greater investment in perinatal lactation and breastfeeding education and resources is warranted. Breastfeeding is an essential part of women’s reproductive health.”
Journalist and maternal child health advocate Kimberly Seals Allers’ approach is one “For Black people, from Black people.”
“…The call to revive, restore and reclaim Black breastfeeding is an internal call to action,” Kimberly Seals Allers begins in Black Breastfeeding Is a Racial Equity Issue. “… Breastfeeding is our social justice movement as we declare the health and vitality of our infants as critical to the health and vitality of our communities.”
Specifically through her work with Narrative Nation, Seals Allers and colleagues are promoting health equity “by democratizing how the story of health disparities is told,” centering BIPOC voices. Additionally, through her Birthright podcast, KSA uplifts stories of joy and healing in Black birth.
Especially after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, organizations made statements about their commitments to dismantling structural racism and focusing efforts on equity.
As part of our celebration, we are giving away an online learning module with contact hours each week. Here’s how to enter into the drawings:
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and “OMW is 10” in the subject line.
This week, in the body of the email, tell us about how you are contributing to working toward healthy equity.
Subsequent weeks will have a different prompt in the blog post.
We will conduct a new drawing each week over the 10-week period. Please email separately each week to be entered in the drawing. You may only win once. If your name is drawn, we will email a link with access to the learning module. The winner of the final week will score a grand finale swag bag.
Heidi Abed, Executive Director Ayllu Community Network, gave birth 20 years apart. With this spacing, Abed saw firsthand how mothers are treated according to their age and perceived experiences.
As a 17-year-old, medical professionals doubted her when she told them she was in labor. When she was sent away from the hospital, Abed almost gave birth at home alone.
“I had to call an ambulance,” she recollects.
At 37, Abed desired a water birth, but her insurance denied coverage for this natural option.
“Even 20 years later, I have not seen enough improvement in maternal support provided for any natural options during birth, postpartum and especially with lactation,” Abed shares.
What’s more, she says it was like pulling teeth to try to gain access to a lactation care provider in the hospital.
“They told me that they had lactation consultants, but a couple of days later, they never got the chance [to come see me.]”
Once she and her baby were discharged, it was hard to find lactation care too. When she did connect with one, the lactation specialist used language Abed didn’t understand, and she says she had to look it up on Google to try to make sense of it.
“Interconnectedness and networking is really everything since we are volunteers with no funding,” Abed begins. “Our aforementioned training was made available through other partnerships at no cost to us. Also, our communities are relatively small and spread out, so pooling together knowledge and resources across social media helps bridge geographic gaps. Bringing light to each other’s efforts makes us more effective, supported, and [helps] avoid redundancy.”
Abed also points out the links between Black maternal health and Indigenous maternal health and how they are working together with allied organizations to dismantle many shared experiences that impact maternal infant health.
With the 3rd Annual Indigenous Milk Medicine Week this week, honoring the theme “Strengthening Our Traditions From Birth and Beyond”, IFCC will host an Instagram Live event. Follow them on social media and stay tuned for more information throughout the week.
Knowing that Indigenous cultures are diverse and complex, the learning and honoring never ends! Check out the following to learn more and support these important efforts.
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