We Mourn and Stand In Solidarity With AAPI Community

We are deeply saddened by the violence in Georgia that has taken eight lives, six of whom were Asian American women. We mourn with the families of these victims. 

We are horrified and continue to be concerned for the safety of our Asian American community members as violence towards this community continues to grow. As an organization that works predominantly with women in communities of color, we must lift up the fact that anti-Asian hate and violence disproportionately impacts women. 

Women have reported twice as many anti-Asian hate incidents as men. More than 68 percent of reported incidents of anti-Asian harassment and violence have been against women. 

This is unacceptable. HealthConnect One stands in solidarity with the AAPI community and calls for an end to violence against them. 

Here are some websites to learn more and get involved in fighting AAPI hate. 

Breonna Taylor Deserved Better

We stand with all who loved Breonna Taylor, Black Lives Matter, and activists across the nation and world demanding justice for her murder.

Systemic and interpersonal racism led to Breonna’s murder, and even in death, have prevented her from having justice. Racism is a public health crisis. We must find ways to dismantle the systems of oppression that hurt our communities.

HealthConnect One continues to stand in solidarity with Black people against racism in all its forms. It is critical that we continue using our collective voice against injustice and centering Black women and their families. We will continue to say Breonna Taylor’s name, and work with birth workers, partner organizations, funders, and our supporters to lift-up and protect Black moms, babies, and their families.

If you would like to make a donation to Breonna Taylor’s family you can do so here.

Additional resources:

Mental health resources for the Black community

Register to vote

Jamarah Amani webinar photo

Increase power, improve health outcomes, Amani says

Please click below to view the webinar video from May 28.

“We cannot talk about health disparities without talking about power, and how lack of access to power over the course of one’s life impacts the ability to be healthy,” Jamarah Amani, executive director of Southern Birth Justice, told more than 100 birth workers and others on HealthConnect One’s recent webinar.

“By increasing power, we also improve health outcomes,” Amani said. She was the featured presenter on the second of three webinars focusing on birth equity this spring and summer. Milwaukeean Dalvery Blackwell presented her agency’s birth equity work during COVID-19 on the first; a third is later this week in Spanish and in English

Amani is founder of the National Black Midwives Alliance, the only national professional association specifically for midwives of African descent, as well as director at Southern Birth Justice, working to expand the birth justice movement and to make midwifery and doula care accessible to all. She’s been honored numerous times for tackling the epidemics of black maternal and infant morbidity and mortality for more than 15 years, such as the 2019 Trailblazer Award from the city of Miami, as well as media coverage in Florida where she’s based and nationally.

Birth Justice Bill of Rights & Circle of Mamas 

Amani presented an approach that combines the toolboxes of the community health worker and the community organizer. She shared her organization’s Birth Justice Bill of Rights, 22 core values that Black and all other pre-conception, pregnant, birthing or postpartum persons have a right to–from the right to stand against racism to the right to recognize that my body is always mine. 

She also discussed their seven-year-old Circle of Mamas program, a combination childbirth preparation, doula support, and leadership development circle, Amani said: “e talk to young mamas about their birth options. We educate them, they educate us on what their needs are, and we work together collaboratively with our community in a participatory way to uplift and honor their needs.” 

She presented, with permission, the video birth story of Bianca, a young woman who participated in Circle of Mamas and chose to deliver at a birth center. 

“When I watched this video,” Amani said, “it really to me is what is possible when we come together as a community, when we have access to black midwives and black doulas, when young parents are not shamed but they are celebrated for their journey into motherhood  and parenting. This is to me what is possible.”

“And it doesn’t mean it’s easy. You know but it is possible. And it will help to not only improve health outcomes but make our communities better places to live and to grow. That is central to the birth justice movement.”

PPE for Black Midwives available 

As Amani explained in the opening portion of her pre-recorded presentation, a client was headed into labor at the scheduled time of the session. But that seemed to present few problems for Amani, nor for participants who tuned in through to the end of the session, facilitated by the HealthConnect One team. Joining the call were more than 130 people from 30 states and Puerto Rico, as well as several who joined in from Brazil and Canada.

The presentation lifted up historical birth workers including Onnie Lee Logan and Biddy Mason and was dedicated to Claudia Booker, the Washington, D.C. midwife who passed away earlier this year, a formative influence for Amani.

Before ending the session, Amani discussed key initiatives in her work during the time of COVID-19.  The National Black Midwives Alliance and Everyday Birth magazine are paying for Personal Protective Equipment for midwives of color facing difficulties getting these supplies. Information on how to request a kit or make donations to support purchase of additional kits is here.

Women Experiencing Incarceration Learn Community-Based Doula Skills

 

by Diana Pando

Every year, millions of women are experiencing being incarcerated. Of them, “80% are mothers and 150,000 of these women are pregnant when admitted,” according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

Women in prison are supporting their pregnant peers – but may lack tools and training that would help them in that effort. Nonprofit agency Chicago Volunteer Doulas sought to remedy that by bringing a doula training to the Logan Correctional Facility.  The group turned to HC One’s Tikvah Wadley, Lead Doula and Brenda Reyes, Peer Lactation Specialist, to lead a workshop at the facility in central Illinois in December.

“Women who are incarcerated have already been supporting their peers; we wanted to provide training, structure, and access to further empower them to do so,” said Maggie Quinn, Chicago Volunteer Doulas’ Peer Doula Program Coordinator. “HealthConnect One seemed like a great partner to facilitate the first peer doula training in that regard. We also wanted the peer doulas to have the option to complete doula certification upon their release as a potential career opportunity, which is why HC One provided a DONA certified training.”

The first day of the training began with an ice breaker that had participants laughing and clapping, Wadley said. The intergenerational group of women attending this training were strangers to each other even though they often saw each other on the correctional grounds. During the training, participants learned community-based doula skills and were able to get answers to their perinatal health questions.

Despite being incarcerated for various reasons, participants were able to establish commonalities through a healing circle led by Wadley.  As a result, there was a bond created among them.

Pregnant women in correctional facilities face many issues like isolation, lack of mental health support, shackling and separation from their infant once they are born, Reyes noted. These women also face a higher risk for experiencing complications during pregnancy and birth.

“There is a dehumanization and trauma that happens when you are an incarcerated person,” she said. Reyes said training incarcerated women to become doulas is vital to expectant moms in facilities because it can have a positive impact on the mom during pregnancy and postpartum.

Wadley and Reyes both also noted the new skill set may serve as a stepping stone for the participants to paying work in the future after leaving the facility. They also gained skills to improve birth outcomes and organize around policy change at the facility.

“Every community deserves healthy moms and babies,” Wadley said.

Black woman breastfeeding old black and white image

Black Breastfeeding after a History of Trauma

by Mekha McGuire

—–
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).

Birth Equity: Start by Supporting and Respecting Doulas

Read – Birth Equity: Start by Supporting and Respecting Doulas

“Every year at this time we celebrate mothers and fathers for the important role they play in supporting our families. And yet as a society we don’t do enough to truly help mothers who face unique challenges on the road to birthing and raising children.

“Between 700 and 1200 mothers die during childbirth in the US every year, the highest maternal mortality rate of all developed nations, and roughly 50,000 more mothers face near-fatal complications. That is: An estimated 50,000 mothers come close to death. These figures are outrageous, and they can be prevented.”

Published by MomsRising, June 12, 2018

HealthConnect One is proud to partner with MomsRising to promote equitable support for moms, babies, families and communities.

Video by National First Food Racial Equity Cohort

 Watch – First Food: Women of Color Removing Barriers to Breastfeeding

Thank you to the National First Food Racial Equity Cohort for your work and leadership. This video features HealthConnect One’s Brenda Reyes among other leaders.  The video shows breastfeeding challenges faced by people of color and the powerful advantages of “first foods.”

You can view their video below, or on RaceForward’s YouTube channel.

Black Babies Matter

by Stacy Davis

I am here to free you just as Harriett Tubman freed the slaves,
To free your mind and body from the damage that made you feel no better than yesterday’s trash,
To free you from the plagued mindset that black lives did not matter,
To free you so that you can freely nourish and nurture your child wherever you are.

I am here to show that you need to be Bessie Coleman to take flight in your community,
To show you how you can conquer your fears and take your sisters and brothers on the flight with you,
To show you how making waves will create stronger communities, men, women and children,

To provide you with the tools to be the next Misty Copeland,
To support you, as you stand on your points to create a better life for yourself, family and community.

I am here to shout the truth as Sojourner Truth did until breastfeeding is normalized, racial equity has been achieved, and the lives of black babies and residents of Flint matter.

 

Stacy Davis 2Stacy Davis, program coordinator at Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association, is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), with 16 years of community-based health care experience. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Health Administration from Davenport University and is currently pursuing her Masters degree in Public Health. Stacy is a 2015 Ecology Center Health Leaders Fellow and committee member for the National Association for Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color. Mrs. Davis is the mother to four sons: Lawran (15), Devahn (12), Jessie (6), and Jace (3). As one of the few African American lactation consultants in the state of Michigan, Stacy is committed to providing families of color with culturally-competent breastfeeding support.

For Black History Month 2016, HealthConnect One invited partners and allies to share how they have been influenced or inspired by Black women who made history.

We hope you will share with us, too!

Join us on Twitter this Thursday, Feb 25th, at 1:00 p.m. ET (12 noon CT, 11a MT, 10a PT) for a Black Herstory Twitter Chat, using the hashtag #BlkHerStory.

Where do I see inequities in birth and breastfeeding?

In preparation for our National Action Summit this week, we asked Georg’ann Cattelona, Executive Director of Bloomington Area Birth Services (BABS) and longtime ally, to share a few words on our theme, Shared Voices for Equity in Birth and Breastfeeding.

Georg’ann was one of the founding members of BABS and has guided its development as a vital resource for pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding, serving families in south central Indiana since 1994. She also teaches numerous Childbirth Education classes and prenatal yoga. Georg’ann is a DONA-approved Birth Doula Trainer, a DONA-certified Birth Doula, and a Lamaze-certified Childbirth Educator.

Thank you, Georg’ann, for sharing your voice.

by Georg’ann Cattelona

Georg'ann CattelonaWhere do I see inequities in birth and breastfeeding?

Everywhere. Out in the open. Hidden. Found openly in labor and delivery rooms, where a mother’s anxiety or a father’s protectiveness is met with antagonism. Found lurking in the corners of postpartum rooms or clinics where a mother’s request for help is met with an absence of options. Leaking out of the words of care providers to each other: “Why is she being so difficult?” “She is just going to quit breastfeeding anyway.” There for everyone to see in body language and silent actions: the eye-roll, the talking to the machine and not the mother, avoiding going into the room, and stony silence. Responses like these given to some families but not to others.

Power differentials everywhere. In the rooms of women of color attended by women who look nothing like them. In the rooms of the rural poor or teen mothers attended by those who only see a set of problems in front of them and not a person. Care providers unaware of their own privilege, who “mean well” but are, unfortunately, blind to their racism and classism.

What can (or should) be done about these inequities?

Talking. Naming the sins of commission and omission. Being awake and aware to my own participation in white privilege. And above all else, listening. Making a place for women of color, for women living in poverty, helping them have access not just to care, but also to positions of leadership. So if I can train a doula or give information about becoming a lactation consultant to a woman who has been a teen mom, to a woman of color, if I can in some small way get them to the next stage of leadership for their community, then I want to do it. Speaking up about who is at the table at meetings. So if I can work to get these women involved, even if it is uncomfortable for me or others or makes me unpopular, then I want to do it.

What is one thing the person reading this can do to support equity in birth and breastfeeding?

Act as if “every baby is our baby.” Remember that every baby is also part of a mother-baby dyad. Treat them as a unit. Support the mother so she can take care of her baby. Remember that every day that a baby is breastfed is a day that baby is not in poverty.

And find something every day that moves us forward in this fight for equity in birth and breastfeeding. I can’t tell you what that particular action needs to be in your community, but I promise I will cheer you on.

Connect with us on Facebook or Twitter and tell us:

Where do you see inequities? What can (or should) be done?
PowerCommunity

What is racial justice in birth and breastfeeding?

By Brenda Reyes

Brenda ReyesThis post is the fifth in a series leading up to HealthConnect One’s National Action Summit, “Racial Justice or Just Us? in Birth and Breastfeeding,” intended to encourage open,  thoughtful dialogue about finding or not finding, working or not working towards racial justice during the vulnerable time of birth and breastfeeding.

What is racial justice in birth and breastfeeding?

I think about my children, the families I’ve had the honor of serving, the communities I have engaged with, and the systems that serve these communities. I have witnessed and I have experienced discrimination and racism.

Yes, I said it!

Before we address inequities in birth outcomes and breastfeeding success in this country, we must discuss the real issues that communities of color face and experience. How do we see teen moms? Women of color? Adults who completed fourth grade and went no further? Mexican immigrants? How do health care providers respond to patients with different types of insurance? Or to those who do not speak English?

I’ve heard the anger and frustration from some nurses about how Latina and Mexican women do not breastfeed exclusively and do not attend breastfeeding classes. When I asked one particular nurse who was providing these classes and in what language, and how the hospital was conducting the outreach, she responded that the classes were conducted in English by a white nurse. I asked if they had considered conducting a focus group or survey to address the barriers and solicit feedback from the community. She responded, “No.”

Problem 1: Why do we assume what the community needs without engaging them first? Problem 2: There is disconnection between the perceived need and the real community need. Maybe breastfeeding classes are not the best approach for this community. Problem 3: Cultural and language barriers. Why would a community member be motivated to attend a class not conducted in her native language? What type of outreach is being conducted in the community? We too often fail to acknowledge that institutional racism exists in this country.

The American Journal of Public Health had a special theme issue on Racial Disparities & Birth Outcomes, and this is the topic for many conferences. This is good. This is necessary. But what too often fails to happen is the changing of policies and systems that build inequity into birth and breastfeeding.

Racial justice begins with all women having access to the support they need to have successful pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding experiences – a system that respects, welcomes, and sees the value of community-based doulas and peer counselors – a system that reimburses community-based doulas and peer counselors for their extraordinary outcomes.

We have an opportunity to integrate community health workers into our current healthcare system. Are we all up for the challenge? I know I am.

Brenda Reyes, RN, CLC is the Program Manager for HealthConnect One (HC One). A well-respected and knowledgeable breastfeeding advocate, Ms. Reyes conducts breastfeeding peer counselor trainings, workshops for WIC and MCH case management staff, and trainings for front-line staff at health and social service agencies, and she was part of the HC One team which created the Hospital Breastfeeding Toolkit for Illinois’ State Perinatal Breastfeeding Quality Improvement Project. Ms. Reyes has served as both Secretary and Treasurer of the Chicago Region Breastfeeding Task Force, on the Advisory Board of the Center for Sustainable Health Outreach, and on the Illinois WIC Peer Counselor Advisory Committee. She currently serves as HC One’s representative to the United States Breastfeeding Committee. Ms. Reyes spearheads the campaign to reimburse all critical providers of breastfeeding support, including community health workers. She is also the mother of three wonderful children.