Medical librarian to perinatal services manager, LCTC participant strives to improve Black maternal health

Christian Minter, MSLIS is the eldest of twelve siblings. Her mother gave birth both at home and in the hospital, and she breastfed all of her children, so Minter says she was accustomed to seeing the full range of options when it comes to maternity care.

About ten years ago, Minter became interested in maternal and child health after hearing friends share their often less than ideal birth experiences. She discovered that informed choice was a rarity in their care. As Minter learned more about the disparities in birth outcomes among Black women and babies, she became passionate about working to improve Black maternal health.

At the time, Minter worked as a medical librarian supporting families with access to health information. 

“There was only so much I could do as a librarian to support maternal and child health,” Minter reflects. 

Her work evolved and in 2019, Minter began her public health graduate studies. As a project for the course Introduction to Health Disparities and Health Equity at University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health, Minter created a beautiful mini-documentary about doula care for Black women. 

Minter also served as the manager of maternal infant health initiatives for March of Dimes Nebraska, Black maternal health organizer for I Be Black Girl and collaborated on the Omaha Reproductive Well-being Project

Now, Minter works as the perinatal services manager at Community of Hope in Washington, D.C. She is currently on maternity leave with her first baby who is three months old and cooed sweetly during our phone call. 

“Breastfeeding him has been an eye opening experience,” Minter shares.  “It’s one thing to talk about maternal and child health, and another to experience it firsthand. It’s giving me a greater appreciation of the breastfeeding journey of families.  It’s  increased my passion to support other families.” 

Minter shares that she had her eye on the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) for quite some time, but could never sacrifice the time away from work for the week-long, in-person training. As one of the most recent awardees of the Accessing the Milky Way scholarship, Minter says she’s enjoying the online, self-paced format and learning about the physiology of breastfeeding. 

Minter plans to use her training to support their patient population at Community of Hope. Additionally, she says she’d like to make lactation education and support more accessible to those living in Prince George County, Md., as families often need to travel outside the county for community-based support. 

Minter encourages readers to follow Community of Hope on social media. Their breastfeeding classes are open to the general public. The organization also accepts donations of supplies for families like diapers, maternity clothing and books. Check out their wishlist here and learn about other ways to support their work here.  



Fatherhood advocate facilitates paternal involvement, positively affecting children’s and mothers’ lives

Doug Edwards, Director of Real Dads Forever, a Fatherhood Strategies Development organization, is a firestarter. Inside every father is something of value, an ember, as Edwards describes. Edwards sees it as his mission to clear away any ashes so that the embers can burst into flames, to become energy and atmosphere, to help fathers come into the space where they can truly radiate.

“I want to change the world!… More realistically and substantively I want to get dads to understand their unique and specific value and articulate it and change behavior so their relationship is meaningful to their child,” Edwards said in a 2013 interview.

Paternal involvement positively affects child development and wellness; further when fathers are positively involved in their infants’ lives, mothers’ stress decreases.

Edwards was propelled into this work nearly three decades ago when he volunteered with a development center working with teen parents.

Since then, he has worked with over 20,000 men.

When he started this work, Edwards says the national focus was on deficit and absent fathers; today, he sees more awareness and an understanding of the importance of fatherhood as it relates to the needs of the child.

Photo by Keira Burton

Real Dads Forever boasts an impressive list of clients including Centering Pregnancy, UCONN, public school systems and departments of public health.

About a decade ago, Edwards found through a father-friendly site survey,  that only 30 percent of programs enrolling new parents–whether that be at a school or through a maternity program, etc.–  asked for the father’s name.

“We don’t encourage [fathers] to step up and then we wonder why they don’t show up,” Edwards commented in a 2013 interview.

In many cases, this continues to be the trend today.

Recently, Edwards conducted a Fatherhood Friendly Site Assessment with Connecticut WIC. He investigated: Were fathers included in their policies? If so, was this being translated into their practice? Was the physical environment welcoming to fathers? Were fathers pictured in their educational and promotional materials? Edwards found that fathers literally had no chair at the table. When consults were held, there was often no chair for the father to be included in the discussion.

Photo by Anna Shvets

Edwards helped the organization implement changes specifically through staff training and professional development.   The training included sensitivity training on how to respectfully ask the question : “Where is the father?” when he is not present, taking into account many of the realities that families may be dealing with: death, incarceration, deployment, abuse, and absence under other circumstances.

Edwards suggests that those working with young families take stock of our biases as well as acknowledge and address any systemic barriers present.

Fathers are often forgotten in the experience of infant and young child death too. Through his work with the Fetal and Infant Mortality Review in Hartford, Conn., Edwards found that fathers were getting little to no support after the death of a child.

He recalls one father who shared that he listened to the heartbeat of his baby, felt his baby’s movements, sang to the baby, and attended all of the prenatal visits. Around eight months gestation, the family was involved in a car accident. The baby was born prematurely and ultimately died. The father shared with Edwards that he lost the ability to become the father he didn’t have. “My fetus knew her dad,” the father told Edwards.

Photo by Laura Garcia

It was this poignant story that led Edwards to create the curriculum, “Paternal Prenatal Early Attachment”. The program is designed for expecting couples with a focus on strengthening fathers’ capabilities to enhance their support of mothers and babies during pregnancy beyond. He has facilitated the program in Connecticut and with 17 different states for National Institute for Children’s Health Quality (NICHQ), which provides Technical Assistance for National Healthy Start.

Prenatal education offers the “biggest bang for your buck,” Edwards says of fatherhood advocacy.

“This is when [fathers] are keenly aware of something outside of themselves that’s going on,” Edwards comments. “They want to do a good job… Guys like jobs… I turn that into more than a job; I turn that into a relationship. I want them to fall in love with their unborn child and fall in love with [the mother of their child]. That’s a great setup for the child to thrive.”

Edwards’ work challenges fathers to explore and feel their own childhoods.

“This is an eye opening experience for them,” Edwards comments.

He calls it “backing into empathy.”

Edwards has watched the transformation of self described “thugs” and “black hearted” individuals to softened men when they go through the “magical epiphany” of becoming a father.

Photo by Ксения

Edwards explains that fathers gain new insights and experience out-of-body sensations due to the flood of oxytocin during the birth of a child. Skin-to-skin contact deepens this bond between father and child. [More at Facilitating the bond between children and fathers or male-identifying partners]

Reflecting on the course of his work, Edwards says “It’s just getting better with time. We didn’t have these discussions years ago.”

He highlights fatherhood legislative work in Conn., the first state to pass legislation on fatherhood.

“The Connecticut Fatherhood Initiative (CFI) is a broad-based, statewide collaborative effort led by the Department of Social Services, focused on changing the systems that can improve fathers’ ability to be fully and positively involved in the lives of their children.

First implemented after the passage of legislation in 1999, state and local partners have been working together … to make changes to policy and practice in order to better meet the needs of fathers…” [Read more here: https://portal.ct.gov/Fatherhood/Core/The-Connecticut-Fatherhood-Initiative]

Photo courtesy of the Gaynor family

Edwards was previously featured on Our Milky Way in Unsung Sheros/Heros in maternal child health.

Edwards also recently completed the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC).

‘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.

Breastfeeding is food sovereignty. Breastfeeding is health equity. Breastfeeding is healing.

–This post is part of our 10-year anniversary series “Breastfeeding is…”

Breastfeeding is food sovereignty. Breastfeeding is health equity. Breastfeeding is healing.

Breastfeeding is a “weapon of mass construction”, a phrase coined by Camie Jae Goldhammer, MSW, LICSW, IBCLC, (Sisseton-Wahpeton).

In her Reclaiming the Tradition of Breastfeeding: the Foundation of a Nation webinar, Goldhammer describes how breastfeeding has the power to heal those suffering the effects of generational trauma, specifically through the release of oxytocin, subsequently allowing mothers and their babies to feel empowered and independent.

Photo by Luiza Braun

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.

Ifeyinwa V. Asiodu,  Kimarie Bugg,  and Aunchalee E.L. Palmquist write in Achieving Breastfeeding Equity and Justice in Black Communities: Past, Present, and Future:

“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.”

Photo by Emily Finch

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.

Photo by Luiza Braun

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.

Equity has become a buzzword; in fact, one author brands the sentiment “Fakequity”. This year, United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) National Conference and Convening presenters expressed their fatigue with the word.

“We want to see action,” they said.

Nikki & Nikki LIVE offer their Allies, Advocates and Activists Equity in Lactation webinar which covers the meaning of equitable in lactation care, how to show up for the marginalized and how to make a lasting impact.

In other efforts, the CDC has identified breastfeeding as a priority area to address health inequities.

Photo by Luiza Braun

NICHQ’s Achieving Breastfeeding Equity campaign also focuses on closing breastfeeding disparity gaps, viewing their efforts through an equity lens.

Director of policy and partnerships at the National Women’s Health Network Denys Symonette Mitchell offers commentary on a way forward with key policies that will ensure investment in breastfeeding to ultimately advance health equity.

Watch Racism and the Colonial Roots of Gendered Language in Public Health and Biomedicine with Dr. Aunchalee Palmquist, PhD, IBCLC for more on these issues.  

 

——–

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 info@ourmilkyway.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.

Educate, motivate, normalize: one mom’s experience harnessing harassment into empowerment

Chenae Marie is an Author, Maternal Mental Health & Breastfeeding Advocate and Speaker.  In November 2018, she released a coloring book entitled Breastfeeding Mamas. The book was created in response to being ridiculed for breastfeeding.

She says it is an honor to see her work circulating. 

“This was such a purpose project for me and to see it still circulating 4 years later, wow,” Chenae Marie begins.  “You hope for the best, you hope people not only love it but deem it just as necessary as you; so seeing its impact has been so deeply rewarding.” 

Since its release, over 3,000 copies have been sold. 

Earlier this year, Chenae Marie was awarded the USBC Emerging Leader Award

We’re so thrilled to be sharing this interview with such a force on Our Milky Way! Read on. 

 

On Chenae Marie’s journey into motherhood…

Whew, where do I even begin? I found out I was pregnant during separation from my then husband. It was certainly a shock. We tried to work it out but the more we forced it, the more it became obvious that we were growing in two different directions. I ended up moving from New Orleans where we were living, back to my hometown of Baltimore, MD. It was imperative for me to be close to my village during such a profound life transition. It’s funny, because looking back I remember having so much anxiety prior to moving to MD. I wasn’t sure if it was nerves, or maybe the shock was still wearing down, or it was normal feelings to feel after finding out you are pregnant. But it’s like the moment that I touched down and hugged my mama, that deep sinking anxiety feeling went away. I finally felt safe again- emotionally and spiritually safe. My appetite came back, I was sleeping regularly and at a decent hour, and I was finally recognizing the woman looking back at me in the mirror. I missed her so much and it was a breath of fresh air to be in a space that I could get to know her again- prior to the arrival of my baby girl. 

Finally, the time had come for me to meet my Leilani Marie. It’s hard for me to even put into words how that first moment of looking into her eyes felt. It was like my world stopped for a moment and all I saw was her, all I felt was her, and I needed was her. If I could bottle that moment up, I certainly would. 

Now my journey had begun and all of who I was and all of who I had yet to become was ready to take on this journey called motherhood. 

 

On being ridiculed for a breastfeeding image she shared…

After noticing how underrepresented black women were as it pertains to motherhood and breastfeeding, I decided I’d start sharing images and partnering each one with either a clever little caption or a more thought-out caption detailing some of my thoughts and where I was on my motherhood journey at that time. 

One afternoon, I was eating ice cream while simultaneously breastfeeding and my mom snapped a picture of it. We were both wearing my handmade mustard yellow bonnets and we were in our own little world. I loved the picture and decided to share it. 

About an hour later I began to get what felt like nonstop notifications on my phone. I remember that I was putting my daughter down for a nap at the time so I placed my phone down away from me so the vibrations wouldn’t awake her. Finally, she was asleep, and I checked my phone. I was so confused because I saw an extremely large number of notifications and was so confused as to what was happening. Apparently, the picture went from Instagram to Twitter and then back to Instagram again. It went viral

From that day, I was getting hundreds of followers, hundreds of comments, and nonstop messages. Some of the comments and messages were full of love and support while others were full of negative comments, judgements, and unsolicited/obscene pictures. It’s like on one hand I felt supported and empowered but on the other hand, I was so incredibly bothered by the amount of ignorance I was reading on a day to day. 

I have always been someone who never let anyone make me feel inferior without my consent and this was one of those moments I had to take my power back. I took a long shower that involved lots of thinking and strategy. How can I take advantage of a moment that a lot of eyes were on me? How can I change the narrative? How can I use this moment to educate? 

Thus, the idea to create an adult coloring book!

 

On her partnership with the illustrator… 

Many are surprised when I tell them that I found my illustrator Mariana, on Upwork! I took a gamble and posted an ad describing my project and what I was looking for. She sent me some of her previous work and I knew she’d be the perfect fit! She was not only an incredible illustrator, but she completely understood my vision. 

 

On the feedback she’s gotten since the book’s release…

I’ve received great feedback since its release, but I’d have to say my favorite was when a mother told me she used my images to put on her wall during her at home water birth. She told me they were incredibly motivational and just what she needed to see to remind her of her strength. 

 

On receiving the USBC Emerging Leader Award…

It feels incredible! I haven’t met a single person in this industry who goes into it seeking rewards or recognition. You go into it because there is a fire burning in you for CHANGE! You go into it because you have a passion for women, for MOTHERS! So to be able to stop for a moment and truly reflect on my journey and also take a deep dive into all the work that has been done and still needs to be done, was beautiful and necessary. USBC does INCREDIBLE work, so to be recognized by them was honestly unexpected but an honor, nonetheless. Receiving this kind of award gave me that extra push I didn’t even know I needed to go harder. To keep having the uncomfortable but necessary conversations, and to keep pushing for change. 

 

On current projects…

I am working to step full force into speaking. I am currently working with Mississippi Public Health to organize monthly virtual workshops/panels to discuss motherhood, mental health, self-care, and wellness. My goal is to create a space for like-minded individuals to come together to share their experiences and have the “uncomfortable” conversations in hopes to inspire and educate others, specifically mothers.


On plans during National Breastfeeding Month/ Black and World Breastfeeding Week(s)…

I’m all about spreading knowledge! Knowledge is power. National Breastfeeding Month/ Black and World Breastfeeding week(s) is a great opportunity to shed as much information as possible while the spotlight shines on the subject.

 

On future goals…

As for future goals, I would like to create another project. I’m not sure what as of yet, but I want to think of another creative way to educate, motivate, and normalize. 

Find Chenae Marie on Instagram here