Racial Equity for All Moms, Babies and Families

It was a warm day in August 1963 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his powerful “I Have A Dream” speech to a peaceful crowd of marchers at the Lincoln Memorial. “I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”

Now more than ever, Dr. King’s dream resonates with families across the nation. It comes at a turbulent time when Black, Brown, and Indigenous families are devastated by Covid-19, racial tensions, and the aftermath of an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Today, we look to Dr. King’s legacy for answers to these pressing issues because his life is a lesson of hope for all of us. Dr. King’s words and acts of nonviolent resistance like grassroots organizing and protests demonstrate the power of social change.  We must continue this legacy with vitality and commitment to dismantling racism and the systems that uphold it.

Dr. King’s example and leadership are important for HealthConnect One as we continue to fight for racial equity. We do this through co-developed peer-to-peer programs that decrease maternal and infant mortality and increase bonding, breastfeeding, maternal support networks, and early learning for infants. Our vision is to see every Black, Brown, and Indigenous mom, baby, and family thrive in a healthy community.

As we continue to work towards a collective “American dream,” we encourage you to be intentional each day in centering and lifting Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities who are struggling while “dreaming of the day they can live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.”

Virtual Meet & Greet with Dr. Twylla Dillion

Join us for a virtual meet and greet event to get to know our new Executive Director, Dr. Twylla Dillion! She has a great vision for HealthConnect One and wants to share it with all of our supporters!

In her prior work at United Way of Greater Rochester, Dr. Dillion focused on using data and analytics across the fundraising, grantmaking, and evaluation cycle. Additionally, Dr. Dillion has conducted research on breastfeeding, served as program officer for maternal-child health programs, and worked as a research lead on a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), the project focused on collaborating with Black moms better to understand contributors to Black maternal mortality/morbidity and develop strategies for better outcomes.

RSVP: INSERT LINK  

This virtual event will be moderated by Jeretha McKinley, HC One Program Director. During the meet and greet, we’ll have a Q&A session where you’ll get the opportunity to ask Dr. Dillion questions about the maternal health issues that matter to you!

New Issue Brief: Maternal Health In Puerto Rico During COVID-19

Perhaps the biggest structural challenge posed by COVID-19 is the strain that the pandemic is placing on healthcare systems.

The human costs, however, are much more significant – recent data has shown that Black, Indigenous, Black Latinx and Latinx (BIPOC) populations and poorer people have higher rates of infection and are more likely to die from COVID-19.

For birthing families in Puerto Rico this could mean less attention in an already over-burdened system, a heightened susceptibility to exposure and infection, and an increase in adverse maternal health outcomes. Any public health response to COVID-19 must include a focus on birth equity work and center the needs of birthing families that are facing the greatest hardship during this pandemic.

Key components of this brief include:

  • Disparities in outcomes pre Covid-19
  • Birthing during a pandemic
  • Recommendations

For more information on this topic, please send questions or comments to Khadija Gurnah, Director of Policy and Advocacy at info@healthconnectone.org.

More: We also partnered with Alimentación Segura Infantil (ASI) in Puerto Rico (PR) to present related webinars in English and Spanish. You can view the webinars here. 

Download Maternal Health in Puerto Rico During COVID-19

Please complete the form above to download our new report. Downloadable versions are available in English and Spanish. 

Image credit: Karla Rosas / IG: @karlinche_

Irving Harris Advocacy Award: U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood (IL-14)

“The disparity in maternal health is] a crisis that has demanded action for decades and is now getting the attention it deserves,” –U.S. Representative Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14)  quoted by the Wilson Center

 

The Irving Harris Legacy Award is given to individuals and organizations making an impact on maternal health and birth equity. Though our organization serves communities across the U.S., we did not have to look far from our Chicago home base to find a leader who well deserves this recognition.

This year, Congresswoman Underwood, D- Ill, led 62 members of the House of Representatives in a bipartisan letter urging the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that the U.S. is taking steps to understand the unique risks and complications of COVID-19 in pregnant women.

In March, alongside Senator Kamala Harris, D-Cal, and her Black Maternal Health Caucus co-chair Congresswoman Alma Adams, D-NC, Underwood helped introduce the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2020. The Act will fill gaps in existing legislation to comprehensively address every dimension of the black maternal health crisis in the nation.

The Black Maternal Health Caucus is one of the largest bipartisan caucuses in Congress, with more than 100 members. It is organized around the goals of elevating the Black maternal health crisis within Congress and advancing policy solutions to improve maternal health outcomes and end disparities.

“It’s both alarming and unacceptable that maternal mortality rates continue to rise in the United States, and the situation is even worse for Black women, who are three to four times more likely to die. This issue affects too many women and families and will take a comprehensive approach to end disparities,” said Congresswoman Underwood.

“I would like to thank HealthConnect One for honoring me with the Irving Harris Legacy Award, a humbling reminder of the critical urgency of the work address of us to address our nation’s maternal health crisis,” Rep. Underwood shared. “I am grateful for HealthConnect One’s partnership with the Black Maternal Health Caucus that I co-chair, working with us to advance the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act and other policies to improve outcomes and save lives.”

HealthConnect One is grateful to Congresswoman Underwood, a true champion, for her leadership in improving the lives of moms, birthing families, and babies.

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day 2 promo of EBOB event to intro CHW AwardEvery Baby Our Baby 2020

We’re also grateful to sponsors of our virtual Every Baby Our Baby this year: Gold sponsors the Irving Harris Foundation and Perigee Fund; Silver sponsor, Navistar, and Copper sponsors, Mairita Smiltars, Gordon Mayer Communications, and Graceful Fusion Birth Doula Trainings.

Our work to support and train community-based doulas, peer counselors and other community health workers continues. We appreciate you for being here. If you are able to support this work at any level, you can contribute here.

Thank you! Support our work

 

Yellow cover with line art of woman w/baby and doula

New: HC One Issue Brief: Creating Policy for Equitable Doula Access

We are thrilled to announce the release of the HealthConnect One (HC One) Issue Brief: Creating Policy for Equitable Doula Access. It’s very exciting that communities and states across the country are looking at doula access. We  think it’s really important that we talk about what is a doula and what’s a community-based doula and how they are different. This issue brief also covers processes and approaches to setting up policy that will provide equitable doula access.

The purpose of this high-level brief is to help states think about how they are going to move forward on creating policy for equitable doula access. As we know, with communities across the country, we can work with our public departments of health and other entities that want to address this issue. Please download and read our policy brief and share with your networks.

Download:  HC One Issue Brief: Creating Policy for Equitable Doula Access

Download: Executive Summary of  Creating Policy for Equitable Doula Access

If you have questions about the brief or need assistance and support on this issue please reach out to us at 312-243-4772 or email us at info@healthconnectone.org.

Black woman breastfeeding old black and white image

Black Breastfeeding after a History of Trauma

by Mekha McGuire

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In the conversation on Reproductive Justice and Birthing Equity, the climate is one of immense urgency.

With public breastfeeding now legal in all 50 states as of July this year, there’s a lot of momentum around birth equity, breastfeeding, and the rights of mothers in both the private and public spheres, but with every institutional reform and public shift, the question begs to be asked: Where does this leave Black mothers?

In the context of reproductive justice and the history of our communities in this country, the answer is non-extractable from the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the practice of slave breeding in the Americas. This Black Breastfeeding Week, like many others in the past, meets the crucible forged by white supremacy, medical racism, and heteropatriarchal state violence against the bodies of Black mothers and their children.

The history of the controlled reproductive capacities of Black and afro descended women is the foundation on which this country is built. The legacies of terror, oppression, and gendered dehumanization still impact the ancestors of those who survived the vast grief of enslavement. The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities reported in 2017 that 64.3% of Black American parents breastfed, in comparison to 81.9% of Latino and 81.5% of White parents breastfeeding. Now, those statistics can look very different when breaking down the racial variations within the Latino statistic (as people can be both Black and Latino as well as any race and Latino.) The enduring legacies of slavery are part of this equation.

Certified Nurse Midwife Stephanie Devane-Johnson of Greensboro, North Carolina conducted research as to why Black women weren’t breastfeeding and found that, “The echoes of slave women being forced to give up their milk still resounded. And black women didn’t talk to their sisters, daughters and granddaughters about how to feed their babies; the bottle was just assumed. And for some women, breast-feeding was a ‘white thing.’”

Devane-Johnson’s Findings

As part of her research for a doctoral degree at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Nursing, Devane-Johnson held focus groups to ask Black women about breast-feeding. She presented her research at the annual UNC-Chapel Hill Minority Health Conference, held recently at the Friday Center. Devane-Johnson described how she recruited 39 women ranging in age from 18 to 89 years old and asked them what conversations they’d had with family members. Turns out, many hadn’t had conversations at all.

“In the formula-feeding group, it was just assumed,” she said. Some women who had breast-fed said it was a topic that couldn’t be addressed in their families. “If they did breast-feed, they didn’t breast-feed at, say, their aunt’s house, they would tell them, ‘You can’t do that in my house. Breast-feeding is nasty,’” Devane-Johnson said. “You don’t talk about ‘boobies,’ because breasts are sometimes seen as sexual and not as functional.”

And then there was the enduring legacy of slavery. “There were some older black women who wanted to disassociate themselves from the past, from slavery and the wet-nursing,” she said, explaining that often young slave women were pressed into giving their milk to white infants. “That image of a ‘mammy’ when people would say that,” reads one of the quotes Devane-Johnson collected from her focus groups. “It did conjure up those pictures of the women feeding the white babies and all that.” And the cultural memory has been passed down even to younger women. “It really was amazing…. In my 18-to-29-year-old breast-feeding group, there was a young lady in there who said, ‘Yeah, the white men used to steal the slaves’ milk,’” she said. Devane-Johnson explained that often slave women had to be away from their own children, at the cost of their own children’s lives.

“A lot of slave babies died during slavery because they weren’t breast-fed. They were fed concoctions of dirty water and cows milk,” she said. Meanwhile, those children’s mothers were giving white children their milk. And women reported that oral histories have been reinforced by modern technology. “These pictures are all on social media,” Devane-Johnson said. “Then someone gets pregnant and people talk about breast-feeding. They’ll say, ‘You don’t have to do that anymore.’”

A study on Enhancing Breastfeeding Rates Among African American Women by Angela Johnson, Rosalind Kirk, Katherine Lisa Rosenblum, and Maria Muzik included this graphic for mapping and understanding the various factors that influence breastfeeding in Black American mothers. (Fig 1.)

Within the realm of influences that contribute to the comparative low numbers for breastfeeding amongst Black Women are slavery, racism, implicit bias, and discrimination from care/treatment providers. What creates a more nuanced and complex take on this data is also the influence that mental health and personal history have on the breastfeeding parent. When we consider the material realities and sentiments around mental health that exist inside our community, as well as the structural violence we face, a completely different picture around Breastfeeding is painted.

To center the history of these legacies, material realities, and subjectivities, I talked with a Black mother named Christena, who is based in Washington, D.C. and has a two year old son named Thiago. I wanted to center her experience with Breastfeeding, discuss some of the situations, structures and resources she had in place that made her feel supported and NOT supported, and learn what would make breastfeeding a better experience for her and for other Black mothers in her community.

Christena has been nursing her baby for two years and counting!

She’s a working class mother who has been though the ringer — having been illegally reprimanded for pumping at work, and having nursed through postpartum depression. Hopefully, her truth and her experience dealing with the structural inequalities around feeding her baby and mothering can provide a mirror to support other Black mothers who may be doing really well but need inspiration to go further; or mothers who are struggling with trauma or resource capacities (emotional, financial, and otherwise) and need some honest affirmation in their journey.

Christena Nataren, 27 | Breastfeeding her son Thiago 2 years+

My decision to breastfeed was both a financial and deeply personal choice. I knew breastfeeding was incredibly important to infant health and it lowers rates of infant mortality. The anxiety around keeping a baby alive and thriving was only slightly eased by breastfeeding. I’m thankful for the connection I was able to establish with my baby through breastfeeding. I left my OB/GYN halfway through my pregnancy and opted with a birthing and family center in my area instead. I didn’t feel supported by my OB and that changed when I switched to midwives. Even then, I felt a little hostility from medical professionals and I can only assume it’s because of my race and low income status.

I have a lactation consultant available to me through the birthing center and they offer a lot of help and literature. Outside of the medical structure, I have no support besides my partner. I don’t know anyone that has ever breastfed, so I was met with skepticism from my family. My baby’s birth wasn’t easy and I didn’t feel supported during and labor. The hospital’s lactation consultant was hostile and impatient with my questions. The nurses assigned to me also pressured me to use formula, so I did.

There were many times I wanted to stop, but the convenience and zero cost of nursing was a major factor to continue to nurse my baby.

I suffered an extreme bout of PPD. I suffer from PTSD from CSA (Childhood Sexual Abuse) and it was really hard to associate a sexualized part of my body with functionality. These are no longer parts of my body where I feel shame, but parts of my body that I feel sort of proud of — I have a healthy, bouncy baby that thrives on my breast milk. I feel so much pride in that.

When I had to eventually return to work, I was harassed by management about pumping breast milk at work. I was eventually fired and accused of wage theft over my 15 minute breaks on $2.77 an hour.

My experience with breastfeeding has been traumatic, overall— but I’m still nursing my son at 2 years old. I don’t feel ready to stop nursing and he doesn’t seem ready either, so I’m okay with extended breastfeeding. I’ll be ready to stop when he is. I’m hoping to make my next pregnancy and experience with breastfeeding an infant better than my first experience. I wish I had more emotional support and understanding from both medical professionals as well as coworkers and family members who were purely ignorant on the subject.

I don’t believe Black women are supported enough to breastfeed. Based on my experience, there are no conversations that are had with us from OB/GYNs or other medical professionals. More importantly, there isn’t access to this knowledge.

This inspired me to start a new project to help other mothers. I’m currently working on an app and a website that does the work of mapping out breastfeeding-friendly areas in the DC, Maryland, Virginia area — had I known, I would have ventured out with my baby more. You should be able to feed your baby anywhere you are, but I personally like to know when I’m going to feel safe. That’s where the idea for my project came from.

Christena is an essential part of the community we resist for, support, work with and build with to close these structural trenches. Her story highlights a truth that endures over many centuries of life in diaspora. It’s a truth that propelled our ancestors while they endured inconceivable dehumanization.

Together, our dreams, hopes, resistance, and survival will always drown out the labor of empire to keep us where we are. In the words of Gwendolyn Brooks “We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

My hope is that other Black parents who are breastfeeding — and struggling to be in congress with themselves through this time of immense repression — can read these words and be supported.

This Black Breastfeeding Week, let’s uplift breastfeeding LGBTQ parents, and breastfeeding parents who have postpartum depression, mental illness, or traumas, and aren’t routinely represented in birthing community conversations and support models.

#BBW #LoveOnTop


Mekha McGuire’s transdisciplinary labor is informed by her work with Black girls as an educator and community worker, as well as her service as an abortion doula and Black birth equity advocate. Her research and organizing is built on ethnographic and Black feminist frameworks that analyze and center conversations around Black girlhood, collective memory, femme genealogies, Reproductive Justice, solidarity politics and intergenerational gendered trauma within the African diaspora. Ms. McGuire is a leader in HealthConnect One’s Birth Equity Leadership Academy (BELA).