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This post is the first 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.
Growing up in a home where I was dark and some of my relatives were light or fair skinned, I always heard, “You are pretty to be dark skinned” – sounding like a compliment but also sounding like indifference, and sowing in me the seeds of light is prettier and dark is not. I remember watching my aunts and Grandmother combing my cousins’ and my hair. My cousins would receive one and two ponytails, and I would always receive three. I grew up and believed in my mind – they got less ponytails than me because they were light skinned and I was dark.
Not until I was older and had a conversation, I found out I received more ponytails than my cousins because my hair was thicker than theirs and it was a bit much to fit into one or two ponytails.
This was my first interaction on “dark versus light.” This seed was planted in my youth in my own home. However, it was cultivated and nurtured in my adult professional life.
It may have not been identified as “dark versus light” every time, but it was identified by “the haves and the have nots”. It still exists today in birth and breastfeeding.
I have so many examples of seeing the prejudice/pre-judging of families in the birthing room.
For example, I worked with this young lady on her birth plan and she expressed how she would like to deliver in water as she had seen on television. The time approached for her to deliver and she was hoping she would use the pool to help with contractions and ease of delivery. She was told that because of her insurance, she couldn’t deliver in the pool. If getting in the pool helps everyone, why is it withheld from this young lady? I thought to myself.
Working with many moms, with moms of all colors, accompanying them to their births – I have noticed African American babies are “bagged” to find out if a mother is using drugs. The babies of other mothers I have accompanied – non African American mothers – are rarely “bagged” for drug use.
In conversation with breastfeeding professionals, during a presentation about breastfeeding support for all families regardless of color, I asked, “Why aren’t African Americans and Hispanics supported in breastfeeding?” The answers were that African Americans are less likely to breastfeed because of their support systems at home and Hispanics will breastfeed but they will do both – meaning breast and formula.
We must decrease the barriers of support to all families and we must start with racial equality. These barriers, this prejudice, is everywhere. We must recognize it, call it out, and bring it down. It starts with you and me in Washington DC from March 4th through 6th.
Will you join me?
Tikvah Wadley, AAS, CD(DONA), BDT (DONA), as HealthConnect One’s Program Coordinator, is in charge of the upcoming National Action Summit in Washington, DC. A Certified Doula and Birth Doula Trainer through DONA, Ms. Wadley has worked in the community for over 12 years and believes in empowering women in today’s society. She has supported hundreds of women through childbirth and breastfeeding, and recently trained young women to become community-based doulas for youth in Chicago’s foster care system. With each training, she looks forward to meeting every participant and engaging the learning experience between mom and baby.