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.

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