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Tuesday Tidbits: Science, Mother Blame, & Postpartum Psychosis

“There is nobody, out the other side of that sort of strong birth, who is not better prepared to meet the absolutely remarkable challenges of parenthood. When the power and trust is transferred to the mother, when she delivers her child, rather than ‘is delivered’ when she chooses, rather than ‘is allowed’, no matter what sort of technical birth she has, she is stronger, fiercer, and better…”

–Stephanie Pearl McPhee (The Yarn Harlot)

August 2014 019Just a short Tidbits post for today…

Over the weekend, I appreciated reading this article about an unusual topic: postpartum psychosis.

Two weeks previously, Jessica was in perfect health, enjoying a career as an actress, comedian and writer and at the end of a straightforward pregnancy with her actor husband Matthew Bannister.

“I describe Albert’s first weeks as ‘peace and war’,” she says. “The birth was gentle; I delivered Albert myself in a pool in our dining room. I remember looking down as he was born, seeing this baby blinking up at me under the water, and feeling such love. Then came a tidal wave of terror.”

The first days of parenthood were the blur of joy and shock common to most. “It was a time of epic contradictions: you’ve lost so much of yourself and you’ve never been more whole,” Jessica explains. Yet by day three she began to display symptoms of a rare illness affecting one to two in every 1,000 UK mothers…

via Postpartum psychosis: How Jessica Pidsley was driven to the edge by the rare illness – Features – Health & Families – The Independent.

I also read a significant article about epigenetic research and motherblame:

So why is it that the complex science of human development, in particular, is so readily distilled into this single, unhelpful message: “It’s all about mom”?

Of course, science is influenced by values in all sorts of ways: in the questions we address, the conclusions we prioritize, and the applications we pursue. But when dealing with complex causal processes and the assignment of causal responsibility “it’s the mother!”, values can affect the conclusions we draw from science in an especially pernicious way. That’s because we think of causal claims as simple descriptive facts about the world — as value-free. But a growing body of empirical work shows they’re not. In fact, the way we make causal claims depends a lot on how things normally happen and on how we think they should happen.

via Using Science To Blame Mothers : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR.

This in turn reminded me of my own past post about asking the right questions, which I shared on a friend’s Facebook page in response to all of the recent media attention being paid to newly developed date rape drug detecting nail polish.

We MUST look at the larger system when we ask our questions. The fact that we even have to teach birth classes and to help women learn how to navigate the hospital system and to assert their rights to evidence-based care, indicates serious issues that go way beyond the individual. When we say things about women making informed choices or make statements like, “well, it’s her birth” or “it’s not my birth, it’s not my birth,” or wonder why she went to “that doctor” or “that hospital,” we are becoming blind to the sociocultural context in which those birth “choices” are embedded. When we teach women to ask their doctors about maintaining freedom of movement in labor or when we tell them to stay home as long as possible, we are, in a very real sense, endorsing, or at least acquiescing to these conditions in the first place. This isn’t changing the world for women, it is only softening the impact of a broken and oftentimes abusive system…”

Asking the right questions… | Talk Birth.

And, while not completely related to the topics at hand in today’s post, but absolutely relating to quality mother care, I wanted to share a link to a fundraising project from my doula, Summer:

Who's <br />
Your <br />
Doula?

“…Smyth comments that ‘the role of mother is not immediately intelligible to those who find themselves inhabiting it’ p. 4. This is certainly borne out in the confessional writing and memoirs of young feminist women, who try to make sense of their experiences as a new mother. They write of a crisis of selfhood, feeling undifferentiated in ‘a primordial soup of femaleness’ Wolf 2001 and of experiencing a gendered, embodied and relational self for the first time Stephens 2012…”

via Tuesday Tidbits: Story Power | Talk Birth.

August 2014 044

Tuesday Tidbits: National Breastfeeding Month

10556374_10152170229481290_105195906968994596_n(1)I was feeling kind of bad during the first week of August about having not gotten around to making any World Breastfeeding Week posts this year (I was still coming down from Mamafest on August 2nd, plus in “second stage” on birthing a really huge project, to be revealed soon!). Anyway, Pathways to Family Wellness Magazine took care of it for me with the image above! The referenced article is on the Pathways site here: Breastfeeding As an Ecofeminist Issue | The Outer Womb and on my own site is here: Breastfeeding as an Ecofeminist Issue | Talk Birth. I noticed it was shared 3,552 times on Facebook, which seems “viral” in terms of breastfeeding memes! (I confess I wish it would have directed back to my own site or page with that number of shares though!) And, no, I didn’t read the comments on it except for a handful, because I am not really interested in any criticism right now. BUT, the one critical comment I did see was about “society” having nothing to do with it is up to women to take care of themselves/assert their “natural rights” which “no one can take away from them,”  and so I have to repeat: breastfeeding is a sociopolitical and sociocultural issue. It does not occur in a vacuum and in the privacy of our own homes, it is intimately and inextricably linked to the health of society as a whole and inevitably impacted by the circles of support, broken or healthy, that surround each and every breastfeeding dyad. Breastfeeding is a systemic issue. Women, families, babies, men, children…we are all embedded in an expanding network of social, political, and cultural systems every, single, day. It is inescapable, for better or for worse.

As a related image of the embedded, interdependent nature of reality, including breastfeeding, I really appreciated the graphic in this post by Science and Sensibility.

wbw2014-goals-1024x1024Breastfeeding is a women’s health issue, a reproductive rights issue, and promotes gender equality and empowers women! It both systemic and personal. Neither context can be ignored.

I was very pleased to get an email from Routledge publishing at the beginning of August promoting World Breastfeeding Week and offering a compilation of related free resources through the end of the month. Routledge is a textbook publishing company and I use some of their textbooks in my Human Services classes: World Breastfeeding Week – Routledge.

In addition to breastfeeding-specific textbooks, they also are offering free online access to related interesting textbooks like The Politics of Maternity and Social History of Maternity and Childbirth. This tells me they recognize the birth-breastfeeding continuum!

Live Love Latch logoSince our Mamafest event was coordinated by two LLL Leaders and our other local Leader helped with it as well, it made since to me to register it as an official Live, Love, Latch event. Live, Love, Latch is an initiative launched by La Leche League USA this year in honor of National Breastfeeding Month in August. The point of these events is celebration of breastfeeding and breastfeeding support.

The purpose of the celebration is, of course, to celebrate breastfeeding, but also to highlight support. All in attendance will be counted as participants, with the goal being to break the previous year’s record for breastfeeding supporters attending. Leaders have autonomy to decide on the details of each celebration.

This celebration theme provides an opportunity to educate family, friends, healthcare providers and other community members about how breastfeeding can be supported, and also emphasizes the value of the support network behind every nursing dyad.

via About – Live, Love, Latch!

I will write more about Mamafest in another post this week (I hope!), but if you’re curious, the photo album is available on the Rolla Birth Network Facebook page. We had 84 people sign in on our Live, Love, Latch sign-in form and about 100-120 people in attendance overall. It was really a successful, fun, exciting event.

After sharing these other images and thoughts, I couldn’t resist making another image of my own:

meme1And, we set up a new coupon code at Brigid’s Grove in honor of National Breastfeeding Month! Use WBW10OFF for a 10% discount on any item through the end of the month. 🙂

Breastfeeding as an Ecofeminist Issue: Collage Project

Processed with Moldiv

Since January I’ve been working with an independent study student from Prescott College on a self-designed course called Breastfeeding and Ecofeminism. Her class ended this month and her final project was a collage making the connection between the world body and the female body and reflecting the idea that how we treat women and their bodies as a culture is mirrored by our global treatment of the planet (and, conversely, if we change how women’s bodies our treated, our treatment of the planet will also change). As she worked on her collage, she also made a series of digital collage images for use on social media (see above), using quotes from her reading for the course.

“Governments and commercial companies will ‘invest’ billions in expensive new technology: roads, bridges, airports, dams or power generation plants, ‘for the good of society’. They may even ‘invest’ in schools and hospitals, but the crucial primary investment in the emotional, physical and mental health of all humans, which breastfeeding and mothering provide, is invisible.”

Gabrielle Palmer (The Politics of Breastfeeding, p. 333)

As my student remarked, this is an atrocity. AND, it is one that is largely “invisible” to the average person.

I also find this quote relevant from The Politics of Women’s Spirituality:

“Human life is valuable and sacred when it is the freely given gift of the Mother—through the human mother. To bear new life is a grave responsibility, requiring a deep commitment—one which no one can force on another. To coerce a woman by force or fear or guilt or law or economic pressure to bear an unwanted child is the height of immorality…If they were genuinely concerned with life, they would be protesting the spraying of our forests and fields with pesticides known to cause birth defects. They would be working to shut down nuclear power plants and dismantle nuclear weapons, to avert the threat of widespread genetic damage which may plague wanted children for generations to come…” (p. 420).

For one of her digital images, she chose one of my favorite quotes from Reweaving the World in an article that touches on birth as an ecofeminist issue:

Here are some photos of her final collage project:

photo 1 photo 5 photo 3

“Knowledge serves no purpose if it is not spread around. As the poor get poorer and the rich get richer, an entrenched ignorance is kept in place through a culture created and maintained by commercial interests.” – Gabrielle Palmer, The Politics of Breastfeeding

Thesis Tidbits: Feminism, Midwifery, and Motherhood

“Feminism catches fire when it draws upon its inherent spirituality. When it does not, it is just one more form of politics, and politics never fed our deepest hungers.” –Carol Lee Flinders (in The Millionth Circle)

Yesterday, I spent several hours finishing a blog post for Feminism and Religion regarding empowered self-care (it won’t run until next  week). It is a primarily a personal narrative, rather than a political commentary, but as I was writing it, I learned about new legislation introduced in Missouri in an effort to effectively destroy the practice of independent midwifery here. I also have a friend whose family March 2014 082 member just experienced terribly abusive treatment during the immediate postpartum period. I typed feverishly away with an absolutely excruciating headache and a million things on my mind, primarily the very many injustices experienced by women during the childbearing year. I was also left wondering HOW we can truly take care of ourselves when legislators and health care workers actively take dramatic and even cruel steps to prevent us from doing so?

Another friend wrote a comprehensive blog post about this malpractice insurance legislation and the issues involved with it. Midwifery advocacy organizations have already introduced a perfectly appropriate piece of legislation this session and do not need the proposed bogus piece of legislation that offers nothing in the way of protection for Missouri midwifery consumers and instead simply serves to drive midwives out of practice:

…Fortunately, midwives in Missouri do offer a grievance process and adhere to the practice standards set by the certifying agency NARM (North American Registry of Midwives). While there is already a high degree of professional accountability practiced in Missouri, this is because the state professional organization (Missouri Midwives Association) believes it is important and necessary for the professional practice of midwifery and not because the state has directed midwives to do so.

The state of Missouri has continued to be uninterested in working with midwives and home birth families to improve and safeguard the practice of midwifery.

Is there a better option? YES! HB 1363

Instead of HB 2189, we would like to suggest directing legislators to support HB 1363. This is a comprehensive midwifery licensing bill which does provide a mechanism for oversight and responsible, regulated practice. It also addresses the issue of malpractice insurance by requiring midwives to have coverage under the same conditions as physicians. It would also require Medicaid reimbursement for families desiring the care of Certified Professional Midwives and home birth.

via Missouri Legislature Works Against Women, Families and Midwives….AGAIN. | Midwives, Doulas, Home Birth, OH MY!.

I also recently finished a class on ritual theory for my doctoral degree program. The text for the class was To Make and Make Again: Feminist Ritual Thealogy by Charlotte Caron. In it, I was repeatedly reminded that gathering with other women in a circle for ritual and ceremony is deeply important even though it might just look like people having fun or even being frivolous, it is actually a microcosm of the macrocosm—a miniature version of the world we’d like to see and that we want to make possible. Returning to Caron, she explains something similar: “Ritual change is symbolic change, but it can lead to direct action or to ideological change, so it can be an important element in strategizing for change. One way of causing change is to re-form or alter the system. This involves recognizing that we are part of the system and that the system is dependent on feedback from its parts to keep it in balance, which means that we have the capacity to change” (p. 209).

Ritual experience can lead to practical action: spiritual praxis. But, this action does not need to look the same for all women, nor does it always have to involve large structures of society or even sweeping societal change.

“It is important to recognize that not all women will choose to act in the large structures of society. While it is hoped that all women will act toward justice, still electoral politics, lobbying, and revising the economic system may not be the spheres in which some women exert their energy. Ritual actions, raising children to be just and caring people, living in just ways in intimate and community relationships, and modeling different patterns and values are political actions to change patriarchal ideology. The choices of what spheres to devote energy to are important to honor. The constraints of women’s lives—when they are disabled, when they are dealing with past traumas, when they are raising young children, and when they are doing the many other things expected of women in our society—mean that women need to make choices that will allow them to live with integrity and well-being.” (p. 211)

A number of options of action are possible. “What is important are women’s choices to act in concrete ways in every circumstance, to know our neighbors, to raise children to be caring people, to live as if justice exists, to be just in personal relationships, and to live in the community in ways that model the values of justice and well-being for women and all of creation.” (p. 211)

As a mother who works extensively with other mothers, I appreciated Caron’s acknowledgement that raising children is a feminist act with potential to create change as well. “Another strategy for change is through raising children to be just and caring people. A media image portrays feminists as being against motherhood—but in fact, feminists make the best mothers. They raise children aware of themselves and the world, of options and values, of what justice means and how to work toward it, and how to be self-critical and self-respecting” (p. 203-204). Caron also explains that “in a just society, women would be free to make whatever decisions they needed to, for however long they needed to, in relation to political action in the public and the private sphere. All people would participate in the decision-making, and women would be supported in their decisions rather than, as sometimes happens, made to feel guilty for not doing enough or not valued for what they do.”

In connection with women being valued for what they actually do, Caron makes an interesting note about the visions women in her research hold for the future, for the possible:

“Interestingly, none of the visions described by women was based in self-fulfillment, in gaining personal power, or in one’s group having power and the expense of others. Instead, the interviewees talked about the elimination of social, economic, military, and other patriarchal problems, and about living in a world of valued individuals, healthy and diverse relationships, economic and environmental sustainability, equality for all, and shared decision-making and power” (p. 220).

Connected to these themes, one of my classic favorite quotes about women’s spirituality groups is this one:

“…Women’s spirituality groups can become birth centers for social change”

–Anne Rush in The Politics of Women’s Spirituality (p. 384)

March 2014 127

Rise for Justice

1497514_10153552346400442_1148387720_nOkay, so I knew I would enjoy The Vagina Monologues. How could I not, right?! Well, I did not expect to be SO blown away by the power, presence, and passion of my magnificent friends. They were incredible. Seriously incredible. It was an amazing show!  There were many powerful moments–some very funny, some sad, some horrifying. My friend, doula, and colleague did the piece on birth at the end and brought me to tears with her vibrance and passion. There was a moment in the middle where the teenage girl member of the cast read out some statistics on the One Billion women who are raped, abused, or assaulted. Each member of the cast began to rise in turn and as they did, their friends in the audience rose with them, until the whole theater was standing. We rose for justice.

I’ve mentioned several times that I came to birth work with a core foundation in feminism and social justice work, primarily in domestic violence. I remain firmly convinced that the way we treat women in the birthplace reflects an overall cultural attitude towards women in general. I believe that peace on earth begins with birth. I believe that we can change the world with the way we greet new babies and celebrate new mothers and see the deep, never-ending work of parenting our children. I believe in rising for justice and I keep vigil in my heart every day for women around the world.

In a stroke of coincidence that gave me chills, my independent study student who is working on a Breastfeeding and Ecofeminism course submitted her weekly reflections and in it she mentioned Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues, and One Billion Rising with no idea that I was going to the show this week. As I read her reflections, the connection between the personal and political was so tangible that I asked her if I could use her assignment as a guest post for my blog. Part of the reason I assigned the book Reweaving the World for this course was because of how it contextualizes the issues facing women so broadly and makes this undeniable connection between exploitation of the planet and exploitation of women’s bodies. While it might sometimes trigger a sense of hopelessness and distress, I think ultimately, the contextualization is empowering. The Vagina Monologues are based on the courage of women telling their stories and sharing their truths. Likewise, I appreciate Alea’s generosity and courage in sharing her reflections with my readers…

November 2013 061

Dancing for Change: A look inside a personal exploration of ecofeminism, sexuality, and social justice.

Guest post by Alea Scarff

I began reading The Politics of Breastfeeding which sparked a series of “hell, yes’s!” It also left me feeling inspired, excited and validated that I’m not the only one with these feelings and notions about women, breastfeeding, and the injustice I witness within this issue. Her kick-ass presentation of the truth among this profound cultural issue left me enlivened and ready for action sentence after sentence.

Then I read several pages of Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism. Yikes. This was heavy. I suddenly found myself caught between two worlds of inherent optimism excited for positive social change, and the deep dark issues of ecology and the longstanding reality of suffering and inequality of women on this planet. I felt my body overcome with anger. A feeling of helplessness ensued. I felt those women in third world countries starving and overheated, overworked and just trying to sustain the lives of their children on top of enduring mental, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. I felt all the children who suffer because of this. I felt all of the gender imposing rules children in the western world are conditioned by, thus tainting our hearts and souls with limitation and sharp edges surrounding who we are allowed to be in this society. All of the emotionally repressed men; all of the objectified, degraded women who have never known what it feels like to feel good in their bodies.

I began to feel my grandmother’s oppression she suffered from my grandfather in the 60s. The abandonment, the sexual abuse, the use and re-use of her as a resource and service for himself. I felt my mother’s experience of an emotionally abusive relationship, and finally my experience of sexual molestation as a child. Where was all of this coming from? A deep sadness came over me as I desperately tried to figure out my own issues with sexuality and my relationship to the world as I sat amongst strangers in this warm coffee shop. Was I angry about what happened to me? Was I angry at my partner? Past partners? Was I angry at the world? I really couldn’t identify where the anger came from, or where it was directed. I had to stop, refresh, and start over. Maybe this shit is too intense for me. Maybe I need to change my course of study.

No, no. You can’t run away. I realized I had been running from this issue my whole life and it’s finally time to recognize it. I stopped, took some deep breaths, did some yoga asanas to release the sticky tensions of injustice lurking in my joints throughout my body. Ok. Begin again.

So I went back to my childhood, with my deepest memories of the frequent encounters of gender inequality. My mother, to this day, credits me for bringing to light her own femininity and capturing her attention to the inequalities of men and women. Something that went unnoticed until I came along, however she still was not interested in changing the ways of the world to the extent I was. She had her own social change she was working on. It was entrenched in art and consciousness. Luckily, I picked up on this, and found my own desire for changing the world through consciousness. Consciousness through equality for women. How could anyone else NOT be outraged by the fact that 8 out of 10 songs on the radio were sung by men? As a twelve year old, I began writing letters to radio stations. I couldn’t understand how no one seemed to care about this absurd injustice constantly happening on the radio. Something so simple yet so powerful as radio permeated our culture – and no one seemed to notice. There were a plethora of female musicians that I favored at this age. How could I not hear them on the radio? On top of an array of social issues such as this, I always HATED those older men who would make random, confusing, degrading comments to me for others’ and their own amusement. What the hell was up with that?

I began reading an interview with Eve Ensler, the creator of The Vagina Monologues and the global women’s campaign, One Billion Rising. The figures quoted from the UN in this interview left me in a deeper outrage. One billion women on the planet today are beaten or sexually assaulted. I reflected on an article I had read earlier that week, as well about how to talk with your children about their private parts and to help prevent them from being sexually abused. The article stated that one in five girls are sexually molested and one in six boys are. I never identified with the label “sexually molested” nor did I want to admit I was affected by this, but just in the last few years when I looked at the definition, I realized, even my few small inappropriate experiences are considered just that, and they have, in fact, affected me.

I had to take a few days off. This all needed to settle inside and I had to figure out what to do with it. I spent days pondering, how do I continue to explore this crucial subject and maintain a positive outlook? How do I channel this anger into solutions for helping others? How can I continue researching and hold my strength and goddess energy as a female role model, an inspiration for my two little boys, my partner, men and women, and the planet?

This is a tall aspiration I set for myself, I realize. I suppose this is simply what I aspire to be.

I began speaking with my mother about my sexuality from a young age and my exploration of it now. It was both comforting and disheartening to discover my mother had similar inappropriate sexual experiences as a child that I endured, as well as finding she’s still on her journey of understanding this taboo topic herself, female sexuality. Perhaps a running thread in my family of women? Or is this prevalent everywhere? Why is no one talking about it? Even after being so close with my mother, and being able to talk about anything for as long as I can remember, it took some courage to bring up this subject with her. Regardless, I am so glad I did.

I began to read again. I decided I had to begin with an open heart and mind, as I swim right through the obstacles of understanding the depths and spaces of the world of women and the planet. There is a lot to be grateful for, and a lot that needs changing. Positive reflection throughout this journey can only bring more light. Letting go and forgiving my past experiences, and the oppression the women I know and love have endured, I take a step into a new beginning. I can move forward continuing to understand my path of my sexuality growing up, and what this means for me now. I feel I’ve got a long way to go, and I can sense a gap of mystery and unknown feelings sitting somewhere inside. But I’m ready to embrace and heal whatever decides to reveal itself.

I am now in the process of releasing fear and letting go. Letting go of being afraid to speak up and stand up for what’s right; of being viewed as a bitch, uptight, or simply being exposed. We as women need to start somewhere within this realm in order to ignite change. Rather than accepting these old cultural paradigms and letting them continue to thrive within this patriarchal society, it’s time to change this tired, destructive trend. As Ensler quotes in a recent interview with Deccan Aitkenhead for The Guardian, “We have one in three women on the planet being raped or beaten…We’ve all learned to be so well behaved and polite. We should be hysterical.”

Ensler launched One Billion Rising which, on Valentine’s Day in 2013 brought close to one billion women out on the streets to protest against violence towards women. Ensler’s goal is to have one billion gather on February 14th outside buildings that represent justice – police stations, courthouses, and government offices – and dance. That’s it. Where and how they dance is up to them; each is organized at a local level. In this, I found tremendous uplifting relief.

Through this personal revelation, I’ve decided to remain free – and not restrained by anger or resentment of injustice. I simply cannot move forward or flourish from that space. We must find liberation through the endurance, triumph and the celebration of womanhood. Simply. This is the only way to encourage and create change. I must release the tensions that like to creep up and burrow inside my joints and muscles. I no longer will walk around carrying this stuff – I’d rather be dancing than dwelling. This is the only way I will find my way to living up to my goddess vibration of inspiration for social change for my two little boys, my partner, women and men, and the planet collectively.

Next year on Valentine’s Day, I think I will be dancing.

“But when you suddenly understand that violence against women is the methodology that sustains patriarchy, then you suddenly get that we’re in this together. Women across the world are in this together.” –Eve Ensler

 

Wednesday Tidbits: Activism!

vdayutvs_webRolla Birth Network is pleased to be one of the co-sponsors of the upcoming production of The Vagina Monlogues, Eve Ensler’s classic feminist empowerment play.

The local production of The Vagina Monologues will benefit the Russell House, a shelter for battered women and their children. The event is specifically planned as part of V-Day:

“V-Day is a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. V-Day is a catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money, and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations. V-Day generates broader attention for the fight to stop violence against women and girls, including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation (FGM), and sex slavery.”

Last year we had a candlelight vigil on Valentine’s Day in honor of One Billion Rising. While that was a wonderful project too, this play production is much more ambitious and is very exciting! Here are some more details:

1506285_10201181030470858_1053739884_o

Local cast members (including my very own talented and awesome doula! 🙂 )

Rolla Area Citizens for Women 2014
Presents a Benefit Production of

Eve Ensler’s
THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES

FEBRUARY 21, 2014 at 7:00 PM

Venue:
Cedar Street Playhouse
701 North Cedar Street
Rolla, Missouri 65401

$5.00 Minimum Donation per person CASH ONLY
Benefits The Russell House

I’m really looking forward to going!

Another Missouri-local opportunity specific to birth advocacy and midwifery activism is the annual Friends of Missouri Midwives Cookie Day at the Capitol coming up next week:

1524390_680284898676217_1590110806_oYes, it is true, Barbara Harper will be there! Isn’t that cool?! I heard her speak at the CAPPA conference in 2010 and very much enjoyed her presence and devotion. I hope the weather cooperates so I can see her grace our Capitol building with her poise and information!

“Let us initiate our daughters into the beauty and mystery of being strong and confident women who claim their right to give birth and raise their children with dignity, power, love, and joy.” –Barbara Harper

One of the opportunities that is also going on this month that is not local, but virtual instead, is DeAnna L’am’s Red Tent Summit. It is free to register and participate. I have not yet carved out the space I need to actually tune in, but the lineup of speakers and wealth of topics is amazing!

Also, while all of these particular events are offered with a wonderfully upbeat spirit of intent and energy, I also feel like sharing an activism-related quote that I’ve had saved in my drafts folder for a long time that acknowledges the important role of anger and activism:

I’m not afraid to say it. Hell, isn’t anger kind of a prerequisite for activism work? As a birth worker I get to watch abuse after abuse, injustice after injustice – over and over again. I mean, really, what spurs the need for activism work if not injustice? And injustice stirs up indignant anger.

We have this huge deficit with the word, “anger.” Somehow, whenever it is said, we cling to this connotation that it – the word, the feeling – is inherently BAD. It took me a lot of years to come to the understanding that there are no “bad” or “good” feelings – that emotions just are. They are states of being which reflect either met or unmet needs.

Anger is usually a catalyst emotion…

via I am an Angry Activist.

I’ve self-identified as an activist since at least 1996 (when I first began working at the same battered women’s shelter for which the Vagina Monologues production is benefiting, actually!) I do find that some anger (or sheer disbelief!) at injustice is part of the fuel that drives my present-day activism. In fact, social justice was at the heart of my response several years ago when asked why I became a childbirth educator:

…the question was posed, “why did you become a childbirth educator?” I responded with the following: because I care deeply about women’s issues, social justice and social change and I feel like women’s choices in childbirth are intimately entwined with this. Because I believe peace on earth begins with birth. Because the births of my own sons were the most powerful and transformative events of my life. And, because I believe every woman should have the opportunity to feel and know her own power and to blossom into motherhood with strength, confidence, and joy. ♥

…On a discussion board once, someone asked the question “what’s at the root of your love of birth?” I was still for a moment and let my intuitive, heart-felt, gut level response come to me and it was this:

Women.

Women’s health, women’s issues, women’s empowerment, women’s rights.

Social justice….

via Why, indeed? | Talk Birth.

I’m currently finishing a book about women’s rituals and this paragraph caught my eye last night in relationship to my own experience of birth activism (and other activist work):

“One of the other problems in areas of small population is the relationship between local and regional leadership. Often, people who are competent local leaders are recruited to work regionally or nationally in their organizations. This policy frequently leaves a vacuum at the local level because leadership is not broadly enough based in those communities.”

I’ve seen this happen with myself, noticing that as I became involved with birth activism on a national level, my time for local birth activism was necessarily reduced. (And, then as my interests and commitments broadened beyond birth, the time for birth activism of any kind reduced.) I also see it happening with digital commitments—basically, the more I do for people on a virtual level over the internet, the less I have to give on a face-to-face local level. I’m still sitting with this realization and wondering what to do with it. The organizers of the One Billion Rising event in Denver this year recently contacted me to ask permission to read one of my poems aloud during their event. I was thrilled to say yes, but then I also thought about my local community and how most people here would not be familiar with my poem at all. So, Denver hears it, but my own local area does not. Interesting. I also found out this week that one of my essays about my grandma was translated into French and published in a French magazine. Cool, yes, but again gave me pause…

January 2014 063Related past posts:

Birth Violence

Tuesday Tidbits: Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence During Pregnancy

Guest Post: Abuse of pregnant women in the medical setting

Business of Being Born: Classroom Edition

Tuesday Tidbits: The Role of Doulas…

Community Organizing

Birth Matters!

Taking it to the Body, Part 4: Women’s Bodies and Self-Authority

Tuesday Tidbits: Breastfeeding and Ecofeminism

“Women united in close circles can awaken the wisdom in each other’s hearts.” ~The 13 Indigenous Grandmothers (via The Girl God)

I agreed to serve as a faculty mentor for a Breastfeeding and Ecofeminism independent study class that started yesterday. Since my husband and I also recently finished our Breastfeeding Mama in pewter, I felt inspired to create this little message…

b3wkwFor the class, my student is reading three books and working on several projects (one of which will be a series of blog posts, so watch for those!). We chose these books:

The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts are Bad for Business by Gabrielle Palmer

Milk, Money, and Madness: The Culture and Politics of Breastfeeding by Naomi Baumslag M.D. and Dia Michels

Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism by Irene Diamond

This is going to be so much fun! How lucky I am to get to do stuff like this! This is the course description we worked on together:

This course explores the cultural, social, and political environment surrounding breastfeeding in the United States through the lens of eco-feminism. We will examine global cultural attitudes compared to the United States, scientific research of the benefits of breast milk, marketing and advertising of artificial milk, and the sociocultural context surrounding infant feeding as a public health issue. This course emphasizes critical and varied perspectives on breast and bottle feeding; as well as the ways in which gender, race, and socioeconomic class affect women’s choices in breastfeeding. The birth-breastfeeding continuum will also be explored. We will study the aspects of ecology, spirituality, and feminism as well as many other perspectives supporting this holistic human experience for the well-being of the planet.

I wrote up some nifty course objectives as well:

  1. Contextualize breastfeeding as a public health issue both within the sociocultural environment in the United States and cross-culturally.
  2. Describe why breastfeeding is an ecofeminist issue—make connections between human treatment of the “world body” and the female body.
  3. Articulate the systemic and structural context in which breastfeeding takes place in the US. (Describe the political and economic influences on infant feeding in the US and frame the issue within a broad cultural context extending beyond the concept of personal choice.)
  4. Address the charge of “essentialism” with regard to breastfeeding in the context of feminist theory.

The student found me because of my past article on this subject…

Breastfeeding is a feminist issue and a fundamental women’s issue. And, it is an issue deeply embedded in a sociocultural context. Attitudes towards breastfeeding are intimately entwined with attitudes toward women, women’s bodies, and who has “ownership” of them. Patriarchy chafes at a woman having the audacity to feed her child with her own body, under her own authority, and without the need for any other. Feminism sometimes chafes at the “control” over the woman’s body exerted by the breastfeeding infant.

Part of the root core of patriarchy is a rejection of the female and of women’s bodies as abnormal OR as enticing or sinful or messy, hormonal, complicated, confusing…. Authentic feminism need not be about denying biological differences between women and men, but instead about defining both as profoundly worthy and capable and of never denying an opportunity to anyone for a sex-based reason. Feminism can be about creating a culture that values what is female as well as what is male, not a culture that tries to erase or hide “messy” evidence of femaleness.

However, precisely because of the patriarchal association of the female with the earthy and the physical, feminists have perhaps wanted to distance themselves from breastfeeding. This intensely embodied biologically mandated physical experience so clearly represents a fundamental difference between men and women that it appears to bolster biological reductionism. Yet in so doing feminism then colludes with patriarchy and itself becomes a tool of the patriarchy in the repression and silencing of women and their leaky ever-changing, endlessly cycling bodies: these bodies that change blood into food and bleed without dying and provide safe passage for new souls upon the earth. Sometimes the issue of a woman’s right not to breastfeed is framed as a feminist “choice.” This is a myth, made in the context of a society that places little value on women, children, and caregiving. It is society that needs to change. Not women and not babies.

via Breastfeeding as an Ecofeminist Issue | Talk Birth.

Last week I read a relevant article from Amy Glenn…

For the first time in human history, the female breast is nearly completely separated from its primary mammalian function. Rather than supporting the healthy development of our limbic lives, breasts are pornographically used to market a multitude of products. Why is the breast’s primary lactating function deemed strangely controversial today?

Despite the efforts of breastfeeding advocates, consider that mainstream news publications and talk shows feature mothers who nurse toddlers as cultural oddities…Our own society’s rupture from the wisdom of ancient ways is the true cultural oddity.

I applaud the efforts of public health advocates seeking to reconnect to the ancient wisdom of our female ancestors. Friends and family need to draw a fierce circle of protection and non-interference around the nursing mother-child dyad…

If it were up to breastfeeding advocates, federal legislation mandating paid maternity leave would exist everywhere. For nothing pressures a new mother to give up nursing more than struggling to meet the financial needs of her family. While teaching in Colombia, my employer was obligated legally to give me three months of paid maternity leave. Yet, if I had been working in the US at the time, it would have been up to my employer to determine the status of my maternity leave. The US stands alone as the only developed country without legally mandated paid maternity leave. This directly connects to our woeful breastfeeding rates…

Glenn read Palmer’s Politics book and it changed her perspectives on the systemic influences surrounding breastfeeding women:

In particular, Palmer’s connections between poverty and breastfeeding moved me. Over the last century, the purposefully deceptive marketing ploys of infant-formula makers have left tragedy in their destructive wake. For example, when promoting artificial milk in the developing world, companies dressed their representatives as medical professionals who claimed that their products were better than breast milk. Poverty stricken and largely uneducated mothers were persuaded to spend a large percentage of their household’s monthly income on the artificial milk powder that was considered best. To prolong its use, they often diluted the powder further reducing any nutritional value. In addition, these mothers lived in areas with poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water. Palmer describes how hundreds of thousands of babies died. At times, I had to put the book down as angry tears washed through me.

Choosing to move beyond the painful disconnections of our culture, I do my best to support the breastfeeding mothers I meet. Our world must move beyond separating baby from mother, self from breath, and bodies from hearts.

via In praise of breast milk.

I also read with interest an interview between Jeanette McCulloch of BirthSwell and Paige Hall Smith, a speaker at the 2013 Breastfeeding and Feminism conference, which makes some additional points about the relationship between income and breastfeeding rates:

PHS: The connection between women’s status and breastfeeding leads to a number of interesting ideas. We know from other research that both education and income are positively associated with breastfeeding outcomes. More research on why this is the case would be useful, particularly given that higher income is also associated with women’s employment. We also learn in this study that in those states where women have greater control of reproductive choices, and those where they are more likely to vote, also have higher breastfeeding rates. Since none of these are indicators that are directly implicated in breastfeeding success, we have to conclude that something interesting is going on in the climate of these states that makes a difference for women.

It makes sense that women who have higher status have more ability to manage their own time and resources (such as adjusting break times at work, taking additional maternity leave, determining the flow and location of their work) which may lead to higher breastfeeding rates. They may also have more authority at home and at work, which translates into greater ability to actualize their own decisions. Breastfeeding, like the ability to control one’s fertility, can be seen as a form of reproductive autonomy.

The relationship between women’s status and breastfeeding remained even when we controlled for available state-level breastfeeding support, such as access to IBCLCs, peer support like La Leche League, and baby friendly hospitals. One possible interpretation for this is that the breastfeeding support measures we have in place are ones that provide more assistance to higher status women than they do to lower status women. We need to think critically how our measures are affecting different populations. In general we found that clinical indicators of breastfeeding support had more impact on breastfeeding than did policy measures. This could have been because currently there insufficient “trickle down” from policy to women’s lives.

via Does Breastfeeding Hold Women Back? | Breastfeeding and Feminism International Conference

On a related-to-breastfeeding note, but moving off the topic of breastfeeding and ecofeminism, Mark and I also have a brand new nursing mama pendant that will be unveiled at the launch of our new collaborative business on February 1st! We’ll have a series of product giveaways, a free digital kit, and a new discount coupon as well. I’m so excited!

Other related posts:

The ‘Of Course’ Response

World Breastfeeding Week post roundup

Taking it to the Body