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Tuesday Tidbits: Breastfeeding while World-Changing

12247796_1680002715545277_7987491015769319276_oThese sculptures were created for three different customers, but on the same day, so naturally they wanted to hang out together for a little while, like a tiny LLL meeting on the shipping counter.

On my original book blog, my tagline was, “resting and reading and nursing the child, trying to figure out enoughness.”

…when my first baby was born in 2003, I once again became a truly avid reader. Why? Because of breastfeeding. As I nursed my little son, I read and read and read. This became the rhythm of our lives: suck, swallow, read, and consider.

Source: Breastfeeding as a Spiritual Practice | Talk Birth

The entrance of the iphone and ipad into my life in 2011 had a marked impact on my reading-while-nursing time, increasing my ability to respond to students, keep up with online courses, and now, update etsy listings and customer communications, but I still do a lot of reading and nursing. However, I see from this list of 21 Books From The Last 5 Years That Every Woman Should Read that I’m woefully behind in that I’ve only read one book from this list of 21 (I have also read 74 books this year that are not on the list, so I won’t bemoan my behindedness too much).

I’ve addressed the notion of breastfeeding as a shero’s journey a couple of times in the past:

“Why have I never written about the bloody, messy, tearful, painful parts of breastfeeding in my own personal motherhood story?! They’re there…”

Source: Breastfeeding as a (s)hero’s journey? | Talk Birth

I was reminded of it again today, while reading this blog post on the theme of “I’m an OB and I ‘failed’ at breastfeeding,” with its accompanying subtext that if even an OB “can’t breastfeed,” then it must be okay if you can’t too:

But when we went home two days after Safiya’s birth, she was still not nursing well, requiring me to pump breast milk and supplement with formula early on. I was a fourth-year medical student, and I had one month to study for the second of three exams required to obtain my medical license.

Source: An Obstetrician Finds Breastfeeding Isn’t Always Natural : Shots – Health News : NPR

However, as often happens in medical discourse about breastfeeding and why it “fails,” the systemic context is almost completely overlooked, the critical eye is turned towards women’s bodies and babies’ “demands,” rather than the often broken systems of support surrounding (or not surrounding, or even actively undermining) a family.

Elizabeth Grattan has written a very matter-of-fact analysis of how the personal choice narrative and a socially constructed idea that breastfeeding advocacy is somehow persecuting women who do not breastfeed:

…It is absolutely true that women facing this decision face unsolicited advice and shame. It’s also true that some white men get harassed for the color of their skin. It is true that some in favor of “traditional marriage” feel ostracized because the Constitution doesn’t side with them. Humanity is full of experiences in personal journeys that lead us to empathy on an individual level. But that gives us no right to pretend our personal anecdotes even compare to issues faced on an institutional level. It is not appropriate when the majority pushes back against minority advocacy. But that doesn’t seem to matter much to Jung, who treats both as pawns to gain her own notoriety.

Source: Overselling Breastfeeding? How One Author Exploits The Majority To Silence Minority Advocacy. — Elizabeth Grattan

She also has a good article about breastfeeding as a reproductive rights issue:

Because nutrition for our children isn’t really the argument. Reproductive freedom is.

Quite simply: Breastfeeding might very well be a decision women are making for a variety of reasons (nutrition notwithstanding), but lactating is not a choice. It is a biological process based on the anatomy of the reproductive system. Whether you deliver the child full term or not, pregnancy includes the production of milk in a woman’s body*. That milk is going to make its way to the mammary glands in the breast and if steps are not taken to stop the production or express the milk, engorgement, plugged ducts or mastitis are inevitable. A woman cannot will the production of milk away anymore than she could tell her body to go into labor at a certain time and place. Reproduction doesn’t work that way. And since lactating is triggered through the reproductive process, then every aspect of the discussion must be built upon the rights of women.

Source: The Reproductive Rights Discussion No One Is Having. — Elizabeth Grattan

This exploration reminds me of my own look at breastfeeding as an ecofeminist issue:

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.

Source: Breastfeeding as an Ecofeminist Issue | Talk Birth

Why keep yammering on about breastfeeding? Because it matters. And, it goes way beyond being a personal choice, it is a public health issue with many long-lasting effects on mother, child, and society…

the longer a mother breastfeeds in her life (one or more babies and the collective number of months), significantly impacts her risk for breast cancer; the protective effect of lactation on breast cancer risk is cumulative…

…In addition to offering protection from breast cancer to the mother, having been breastfed has a protective effect. One study cites a 26–31% decrease in the development of breast cancer in females who had been breastfed as babies; if you or she takes no other preventive measures against breast cancer, breastfeeding her alone sets your baby girl up for a nearly 1/3 lower likelihood of developing breast cancer later in her life

Source: Breastfeeding Protects against Breast Cancer: Primary Prevention – Breastfeeding Today

October 2015 115She might look like she’s “just” feeding her baby, but she’s healing the world at the very same time.

National Fertility Awareness Week

October 2015 010In the UK, it is National Fertility Awareness Week, bringing attention and support to the #1in6 couples who experience challenges with their fertility.

We’ve created a series of images for use on social media and they’re available via the Brigid’s Grove blog: National Fertility Awareness Week (#1in6) – Brigid’s Grove

Closing the Bones…

IMG_9515

After my own postpartum sealing ceremony, November 2014.

I’m thrilled to have a guest post from Awen Clement on the Brigid’s Grove blog this month. She writes about Closing the Bones, a ceremony for postpartum women…

“After the birth of my son, I felt broken open”

Did you feel this way after the births of your children? Did you feel as though you had opened yourself body, mind and spirit to bring that new life into the world? Did it surprise you to feel this way?

We give so much when we birth our children, on every level, and then we keep on giving as we move on in our mothering. We feel exhausted, but that exhaustion somehow doesn’t seem to lift no matter how well we rest. We may feel as though something is missing, some part of ourselves that we were sure was there before. It probably isn’t something you would ever mention to anyone and even if you did many would simply point out that you’re a mother now, of course your tired and of course you feel different…

Read more here: Guest Post: Honouring the Bones of my Sisters – Brigid’s Grove

IMG_9800My own post about my postpartum sealing ceremony can be found here:

Ceremonial Bath and Sealing Ceremony | Talk Birth

Guest Post: How childhood stress can affect female fertility

cropAugust 2015 048

Related to my Tuesday Tidbits post from earlier this week, this guest post touches on the relationship between childhood stress and later female fertility.

How childhood stress can affect female fertility

“Early life events may impact later reproductive strategies.”

Can events you endured as a child really impact your ability to have children yourself? New research in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology examines the mechanism by which adverse experiences in childhood impact female fertility.

In their paper ‘Adverse childhood event experiences, fertility difficulties and menstrual cycle characteristics’, Marni B. Jacobs et al. explore the hypothesis that negative experiences in childhood can result in menstrual cycle irregularities, which consequently impact fertility. They relate their hypothesis to life-history theory, which talks of balancing the preservation of one’s health and the production of offspring that will survive to reproduce themselves, and theorise that “early life stressors may predispose an individual to adaptively suppress fertility when situations are less than optimal, leading to periods of fertility difficulties even following previous births.”

The study examined data from 774 women of reproductive age, 195 of whom were pregnant. It analysed fertility difficulties, menstrual cycle irregularities and adverse childhood experiences, through a mixture of in-person interviews and take-home questionnaires.

Following their research, the team came to the conclusion that those women who had experienced negative events at a young age – such as “abuse, neglect, household dysfunction or parental substance abuse” – were more likely to have faced fertility difficulties and abnormal absences of menstruation lasting three months or more, and also took a longer time to get pregnant. Their research also suggests that certain harmful events in childhood can potentially have a greater impact on fertility than others.

Adverse childhood event experiences, fertility difficulties and menstrual cycle characteristics by Marni B. Jacobs, Renee D. Boynton-Jarrett & Emily W. Harville published by Taylor & Francis.

* Read the full article online

Talk Books: A Passion for Birth

Sheila

“We are only now beginning to discover the long term destructive effects on human beings and families of treated women as if they were containers to be opened and relieved of their contents.”

–Sheila Kitzinger

Sheila Kitzinger’s new autobiography, A Passion for Birth, is an absolute treasure. One of the most long-term and pivotal influences in the world of birth activism, I have quoted her work more times than I can count. In fact, I judge the quality of a book by the number of pages I dog-ear to return to. I turned down the corners of so many pages in A Passion for Birth, that it will take me a year’s worth of blog posts to share all the provocative quotes that caught my attention! While Sheila always included a personal flavor in her other books, this book is truly about her, her life, her passions, her family, her activism, her work. Interwoven throughout is the social justice oriented thread of her absolutely devoted dedication to women, feminism, and childbirth activism. Her book is very real, relatable, and readable as well as often charming. She doesn’t hold back from treading into controversial waters, however, and she is straightforward and unapologetic even when writing about topics that can be divisive in the birth world.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover the full-color series of photos in the center insert to the book, they range from Kitzinger’s childhood, a homebirth picture of the birth of one of her daughters, and ending with a poignant photo of Sheila’s casket, decorated by her family, resting easily on some chairs in the dining room of home she so loved.

An internationally recognized author and expert, Kitzinger was an anthropologist and one of the first professional people to acknowledge that women’s birth wisdom, stories, and experiences are worthy of study and attention. Spanning an impressive career of more than fifty years, Kitzinger’s anthropological and activist work was undertaken at a global level and her clear and unwavering commitment to social justice work and activism is a thread running strongly throughout her entire autobiography. The book takes us from Sheila writing and studying while sitting in a playpen in her yard (an effort to have a work area undisturbed by her five children!) to traveling with her family to Jamaica to study the birth customs and stories of the women there. Her identity as an anthropologist is clearly reflected in the cross-cultural birth experiences she surveys and describes and the autobiography includes lots of travel! It also includes homey touches like favorite recipes and descriptions of family traditions as well as stories of her own four homebirths, including that of twin daughters. I found myself wanting more content about her life with children, her life as a mother, which, while acknowledged and integrated through the text, was curiously absent from much of the narrative’s exploration. I was also curious to know more about the accident and serious brain injury experienced by her daughter Polly, which was mentioned somewhat incidentally (though it clearly had a significant impact on the family), as was the passing mention in a photo caption referencing her husband Uwe’s eye removal surgery.

Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in birth work, birth activism, feminist studies, women’s health, or anthropology, A Passion for Birth was compelling, inspirational, funny, straightforward, assertive, honest, candid, wry and dedicated.

“The way we give birth is an expression of culture. It can be spontaneous and instinctual, but it is still patterned by the society in which we live.”

–Sheila Kitzinger

Stay tuned for an ongoing series of themed posts based on additional content and thought-provoking quotes!

In a pioneering career spanning more than 50 years she campaigned for and oversaw a radical change in maternity care, placing women’s rights and choices at the very heart of childbirth. Her passion, research and knowledge of childbirth have had enormous impact on millions of women worldwide.

A Passion for Birth | Sheila Kitzinger | Pinter & Martin Publishers.

Publishing and purchasing details: 

Author: Sheila KitzingerSheila
Published: 7 May 2015
Binding: hardback
Format: 240 x 160 mm
Pages: 384
Illustrations: colour and b/w photographs
Pinter & Martin edition available: worldwide
Translation rights: Pinter & Martin

Also available from: Amazon.co.uk | Wordery | The Hive | Waterstones | Foyles | Mail Bookshop | Amazon.com

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

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Celebrating World Breastfeeding Week!

August 2015 043It is World Breastfeeding Week and we’ve been busy supporting celebratory events around the country. We donated nursing mama sculptures to the World Breastfeeding Week picnic in Springfield, MO and to two LLL Leader workshops, one in NY and one in Tennessee. Today, we donated a birth sculpture and 4o goodie packets to the upcoming Women in the Wild photo shoot in Kansas City and we also mailed a spiral mama sculpture and 20 goodie packets to a Live, Love, Latch event in Portland, TN.

August 2015 068Is there a Live, Love, Latch event near you? Check it out here: Events – Live, Love, Latch!

On August 22, we’ll be giving away some goodies at MamaFest in Rolla, which is also registered as a Live, Love, Latch event.

What is MamaFest?

 It’s a celebration! A celebration of women, of community organizations that serve women, of women-owned/women-oriented businesses. We want you to come visit the vendors, have some refreshments, visit with your friends on the couch, and take home awareness of what your community has to offer YOU.

(Men and children are welcome to attend!)

via MamaFest 2015.

I’m particularly excited about the Women in the Wild event. This article about the effort really brings home why it matters:

…The women behind this photo would like to shift the paradigm, to change the narrative of shame that is inflicted upon mothers. They would like to celebrate the bodies of mothers, with all of their glorious imperfections, because they are strong, and beautiful. Mother of one, Jacklyn Kosakowski, shared: ”When the opportunity came up to take this photo, I honestly wasn’t doing it for others. I did it for myself. My changing body during pregnancy was difficult for me, and especially afterwards was hard. I’m at a good place with myself and I have just recently began to appreciate my stretch marks and mommy belly. This body carried and nourished my baby for nine months and pushed for four hours just to meet her, so I should be proud of this body. To just be out in the open, half naked, with other beautiful mothers was such an amazing feeling. There was no judgement, we all looked beautiful.”

via The Shame Game » Erin White Photography.

You can also visit Erin White Photography on Facebook for more information and beautiful, inspiring photos.

The theme of the 2015 World Breastfeeding Week is: “Let’s Make it Work” and it focuses on mothers combining breastfeeding and employment.

The WBW 2015 theme on working women and breastfeeding revisits the 1993 WBW campaign on the Mother-Friendly Workplace Initiative. Much has been achieved in 22 years of global action supporting women in combining breastfeeding and work, particularly the adoption of the revised ILO Convention 183 on Maternity Protection with much stronger maternity entitlements, and more country actions on improving national laws and practices. At the workplace level, we have also seen more actions taken to set up breastfeeding or mother-friendly workplaces including awards for breastfeeding-friendly employers, as well as greater mass awareness on working women’s rights to breastfeed.

via World Breastfeeding Week 2015.

WHO_BreastfeedingWeek2015_EN4Images for the 2015 theme of “Let’s Make it Work” are available here: WHO | World Breastfeeding Week.

Why does the support of employers matter to breastfeeding women? It matters immensely. Women and their babies don’t exist in isolation, they are nestled within larger systems that can either help make or break the breastfeeding relationship:

“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)

via Breastfeeding as an Ecofeminist Issue: Collage Project | Talk Birth.

Seriously. This is why World Breastfeeding Week matters. It isn’t just about breastfeeding memes and platitudes, it is about systemic change in the US and around the world.

I was interested by this story about an Argentinian politician and her baby breastfeeding at work:

…We’re having a moment here when it comes to the cultural conversation surround public breastfeeding. When we talk about women balancing work and childcare, part of what we’re talking about is women living in a world that makes it difficult to care for their children while simultaneously managing the rest of their lives. It’s not that it’s physically impossible to care for a baby while going about one’s day, it’s that we live in a world in which women are shamed for things like breastfeeding in public.

via Why it’s important that this Argentinian politician was breastfeeding her baby on the job – Page 2 of 2.

August 2015 060…We are mammals because as a species we nurse our young. This is a fundamental tie between the women of our time and place and the women of all other times and places as well as between the female members of every mammal species that have ever lived. It is our root tie to the planet, to the cycles of life, and to mammal life on earth. It is precisely this connection to the physical, the earthy, the material, the mundane, the body, that breastfeeding challenges men, feminists, and society.

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…

via Breastfeeding as an Ecofeminist Issue | Talk Birth.

Past World Breastfeeding Week posts:

 Sign up for the Brigid’s Grove Newsletter for resources, monthly freebies, + art and workshop announcements.

And, as is our tradition, in honor of WBW and National Breastfeeding Month, you can get 10% off items in our shop throughout August: WBW10OFF.

Tuesday Tidbits: More Women’s Health Thoughts

February 2015 091Can we actually expect humane care in pregnancy and birth? According to a new report, no. Mistreatment in labor is a worldwide issue…

99% of all maternal deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries, where resources are limited and access to safe, acceptable, good quality sexual and reproductive health care, including maternity care, is not available to many women during their childbearing year. The most common cause of these maternal deaths are postpartum hemorrhage, postpartum infection, obstructed labors and blood pressure issues – all conditions considered very preventable or treatable with access to quality care and trained birth attendants.

Analysis of reports examined in this paper indicate that “many women globally experience poor treatment during childbirth, including abusive, neglectful, or disrespectful care.” This treatment can further complicate the situation downstream, by creating a disincentive for women to seek care from these facilities and providers in future pregnancies.

via Science & Sensibility » Report Finds Widespread Global Mistreatment of Women during Childbirth.

From the original paper:

…The researchers identified 65 (mainly qualitative) studies undertaken in 34 countries that investigated the mistreatment of women during childbirth across all geographical and income-level settings. They analyzed the evidence presented in these studies using thematic analysis, an approach that identifies and organizes patterns (themes) within qualitative data. Based on this analysis, the researchers developed a typology of the mistreatment of women during childbirth consisting of seven domains (categories). These domains were physical abuse (for example, slapping or pinching during delivery); sexual abuse; verbal abuse such as harsh or rude language; stigma and discrimination based on age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or medical conditions; failure to meet professional standards of care (for example, neglect during delivery); poor rapport between women and providers, including ineffective communication, lack of supportive care, and loss of autonomy; and health system conditions and constraints such as the lack of the resources needed to provide women with privacy.

via PLOS Medicine: The Mistreatment of Women during Childbirth in Health Facilities Globally: A Mixed-Methods Systematic Review.

I’ve written about violence against women during pregnancy before:

Domestic Violence During Pregnancy | Talk Birth

Companion guest post about abuse of women during labor:

Guest Post: Abuse of pregnant women in the medical setting | Talk Birth.

It was via link trackbacks to these posts, that I read an article about birth control which raises important questions related to men’s health as well:

…Around the planet, advocates for healthier families insist that reproductive rights are human rights. Are they? If so, why is little attention paid to reproductive empowerment of the half of humanity born male? An honest human rights framework would acknowledge that the difference between the top easily reversed family planning method available for women (1 in 2000 annual failure rate) and the top method available for men (1 in 6 annual failure rate) is unjust and unconscionable…

Condoms are So Hundred Years Ago: Why Better Birth Control for Men Would Be Better for Everyone | ValerieTarico.

And, finally, bringing it back to women’s health, I read a horrifying article about young women working in factories using radioactive paint.

…When the women began exploring the possibility that their factory jobs had contributed to their illnesses, university “specialists” requested to examine them. Former factory girl Grace Fryer was declared to be in fine health by two medical experts. It would later be revealed that the two experts who had examined her were not doctors at all but a toxicologist on the US Radium payroll and one of the vice-presidents of US Radium…

The Radium Girls and the Generation that brushed its Teeth with Radioactive Toothpaste | Messy Nessy Chic.

This is why people question GMOs, flouride, vaccines, ultrasounds, artificial sweeteners, etc. Because we cannot always assume benign intent, nor can we assume full and appropriate disclosure, risk assessment, and truth from corporations with a vested interest in claiming no harm.

Super quick post for today! I’ve been busy grading papers and have a class to teach tonight.