Where are they now? Catching up with Lucy Ellen Towbin, LCSW

Towbin admires her grandchild in this recent photo.

Many of Lucy Ellen Towbin’s, LCSW endeavors are defined by nourishment. By the time she was two, Towbin was producing art and as she has continued to make multimedia art into her 70s, she nourishes her Self. As the eldest of four children, Towbin helped provide for her
younger siblings in their childhood. In her 30s, as a new mother,  she nourished her children.  As a social worker and lactation care provider, she supported other dyads in their infant feeding efforts. Later, Towbin started a business (which has since been sold) that offers clean, dehydrated parrot pellets, so that she and other parrot-owners could escape reliance on industry-produced pet food which usually contains additives and food coloring that parrots are particularly sensitive to.

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Towbin retired from the
Arkansas Health Department, and while she no longer holds her IBCLC
credential, she continues to assist new mothers informally. Towbin now
practices as a part-time therapist for a psychotherapy clinic in
Arkansas.

The last time Towbin graced Our Milky Way was back in 2017 when we
featured the breastfeeding art contest she facilitated through the
Arkansas Breastfeeding Coalition.

We’re pleased to have chatted with Towbin as part of our Where are they
now? series. Responses have been edited for brevity.

 

Towbin poses with Ruth Lawrence roughly a decade ago.

How did you become interested in maternal child health? 

The first job I had at the Department of Health was as the refugee health program coordinator. We worked with mostly refugees from Southeast Asia.  I was really interested in and intrigued  by the difference in how
they were taking care of their children. They slept with their babies, which I’m sure plenty of people in the U.S. still did quietly, but back then, no one was talking about it.
During a panel discussion we once held, a speaker from Laos shared
that his six children born in Laos were breastfed, and the five children
born in the States were bottle-fed. This is when I really became
interested in the cultural aspects that affect infant feeding, and I started
to try to figure out what was going on.

Is there a current trend, project or organization that excites you?

I’m really not that up-to-date about trends in lactation, but what does
excite me are the portable pumps that working moms can wear. A close
friend of my daughter’s is a nurse practitioner and she showed me her
pump that she wears under her white jacket as she walks around seeing
patients. It makes almost no noise and it’s amazing because you don’t
even know that it’s under there. That would’ve been so incredible for me
to have as a working breastfeeding mom.

When I was working outside of the home, it was really difficult; even La
Leche League wasn’t very supportive of working moms at the time. With
my first child, I had a manual pump and my own office, but the pump was
miserable.  It hurt and wasn’t that effective. With my second child, I
stayed home longer with him and then he wouldn’t take a bottle, so I
didn’t do that much pumping. When I went back to work, my mother took
care of him and she lived close to where I was working, so I would nurse
him before work, and then drive back and forth to her house to feed him
about every two hours. It was a lot of back and forth.

What is the most significant change you’ve noticed within maternal child
health?

I have a very small sample size to talk about significant changes. All I
know is from my daughter and her friends. I’ve noticed that there seems
to be less unmedicated births happening in the hospital. I know there are
still a lot of people choosing home birth. But of those having babies in
the hospital, I haven’t heard about anyone doing what I did and having
mine in the hospital, but with no pain medicine or IV or anything.   I was
lucky to find the physicians that I did who went along with my wishes.  I
would expect there would be more supportive physicians now and instead, I don’t hear about any. I do want to reiterate that my observations are based on just a small group.

What is your best piece of advice for the next generation of lactation
care providers?

The most helpful lesson combines my training as both a therapist and
lactation consultant. New mothers need so much emotional support.
They don’t need people to take care of the baby. Bringing food and running errands for them is helpful. But I think what gets overlooked is
how much they need to be told that they’re going to make it, that they will
survive this early period of no sleep, and not knowing if they are doing a
good job. They need reassurance that this difficult time is normal and
they need to be told they will get through this.

My best piece of advice for the next generation is to take a holistic
approach, don’t just emphasize the physical exam. Equally important is
how much sleep the mother is getting,  what she is eating, if she is
getting exercise, if she has family and friends supporting her, if she has a
plan for if she’s going to be working outside of the home. It’s important to
equip new moms with coping strategies like easy breathing exercises or
something when she is feeling stressed that are doable in short time
frames and at home.

Where do you envision yourself in the next decade?

Asking someone my age where I see myself in the next ten years is
basically just hoping I’m still healthy and active! I do all the right things
and have good genes, so I’m on the pathway to that, but you never
know. Appreciate good health and youthful energy if you still have it.

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.



Happy National Midwifery Week!

October 2 to 8 marks National Midwifery Week. National Midwifery Week was created by the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) to celebrate and recognize midwives and midwife-led care.

Two of my three births were attended by midwives. My first birth in a hospital attended by an obstetrician might best be described using words like chaos, fear, coercion, and out of my control. Juxtapose that next to my subsequent home births with professional midwives which conjure words like calm, empowerment, grounded, respect and safety.

Midwives aren’t only attending births though, providing personalized, ethical care, but as this year’s Midwifery Week theme embodies– Midwives for Justice– midwives strive for justice on many fronts. You can find out about the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM) national advocacy efforts here.

Midwives also play an integral role in establishing healthy infant feeding practices. Read the Global Breastfeeding Collective’s advocacy brief The Role of Midwives and Nurses in Protecting, Promoting and Supporting Breastfeeding here.

I am proud of and inspired by the work that my midwife Erin does beyond helping catch babies. You can read about her efforts as an ally here.

ACNM has created a beautiful toolkit to help us celebrate the midwives around us and the midwifery model of care this week and beyond. You can access that PDF here. It includes sample social media posts and ways to engage online, suggestions for community gatherings, and ways to celebrate accomplishments like parties, team building events and award ceremonies.  

Check out past celebrations of the midwife for still relevant resources like WHO’s declaration of 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife and the International Day of the Midwives.

For further reading on midwifery care, especially indigenous midwifery care, check out Knowledge Keepers: Why We Need Indigenous Midwives and Giving Birth Where the Family IsCommonSense Childbirth and Changing Woman Initiative’s  Power of One Indigenous Midwifery Fellowship program at http://www.changingwomaninitiative.com/power-of-one-indigenous-midwifery-fellowship.html.

Past Our Milky Way coverage on midwives

Honoring midwives during Women’s History Month

Alabama birth worker facilitates holistic, sustainable care for families

Taking ‘if’ out of the equation

Skin-to-skin in the operating room after cesarean birth

High schoolers explore human placenta, learn about physiological birth

Happy Birth Day, a new project by Dr. Kajsa Brimdyr

An opportunity for normal birth

Renaissance Woman

Dr. Soo Downe: International Breastfeeding Conference presenter Sneak Peak

#MidwiferyWeek2022 #MidwivesforJustice