Pregnancy & Birth – Kindred Media https://www.kindredmedia.org Sharing the New Story of Childhood, Parenthood, and the Human Family Sun, 27 Sep 2020 19:19:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.1.6 https://www.kindredmedia.org/wp-content/uploads/cropped-Kindred-Black-Logo-square-32x32.png Pregnancy & Birth – Kindred Media https://www.kindredmedia.org 32 32 How Midwifery Racially Evolved https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/07/how-midwifery-racially-evolved/ https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/07/how-midwifery-racially-evolved/#respond Wed, 15 Jul 2020 14:56:01 +0000 https://www.kindredmedia.org/?p=25958 Birthing Battle | Equity in Maternal Health CareThis is the first in a series of stories about the evolution of midwifery that will appear on Flatland the next three Wednesdays. Learn how the history of birthing care unfolded in the U.S., how midwives and mothers of color were slowly left out and the resurgence of […]]]>

The first in a series…

Birthing Battle | Equity in Maternal Health Care
This is the first in a series of stories about the evolution of midwifery that will appear on Flatland the next three Wednesdays.


Learn how the history of birthing care unfolded in the U.S., how midwives and mothers of color were slowly left out and the resurgence of midwifery’s link to Kansas City.


When it comes to giving birth, the longest and most laborious story may be the battle between midwives and physicians. 

Between the 1600s and mid-1900s, midwives ruled the roost. During that time, nearly half of all babies born in this country were “born into the hands of a midwife,” according to a 2003 issue of the journal published by the American College of Nurse-Midwives. 

Read more about the series…

RESOURCES

Kindred’s Midwifery Features, Videos and Interviews

Kindred’s Birth Resources

Kindred’s Black Mothers’ and Fathers’ Birth Resources

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The Men Of ROBE: Standing At The Intersection Of Fatherhood, Infant Mortality, Breastfeeding And Social Justice https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/06/black-fathers-cultural-myth-and-reality-an-interview-with-robe-wisdom-council-members/ https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/06/black-fathers-cultural-myth-and-reality-an-interview-with-robe-wisdom-council-members/#respond Thu, 04 Jun 2020 16:27:09 +0000 http://www.kindredmedia.org/?p=25008 Part III in Kindred’s Series About Kindred’s Black Men, Breastfeeding and Social Justice Series: In this series, Lisa Reagan talks with the Wisdom Council members of Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere, ROBE, Calvin Williams and Kevin Sherman, who share their extraordinary stories of forging a new “generative” path to fatherhood, one that prepares black fathers to become […]]]>

Part III in Kindred’s Series

Read Our Five Star Reviews at Great Nonprofits!

About Kindred’s Black Men, Breastfeeding and Social Justice Series: In this series, Lisa Reagan talks with the Wisdom Council members of Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere, ROBE, Calvin Williams and Kevin Sherman, who share their extraordinary stories of forging a new “generative” path to fatherhood, one that prepares black fathers to become crucial advocates and supporters “to increase breastfeeding rates and decrease infant mortality rates within African-American communities.”

The maternal morbidity, infant death and low breastfeeding rates (a path to lifelong wellness) in African-American communities are the results of institutional and structural racism, gender inequality, and living in the one developed country on Earth that does not provide social support for families, such as paid family leave, healthcare, and worklife laws for fathers.

While ROBE’s wisdom council members seek to “educate, equip and empower” new fathers, they, and the fathers they serve face the persistent cultural myth of black fathers as absent fathers. A damaging mythology contradicted by CDC data that shows:

  • Most black fathers live with their children. There are about 2.5 million who live with their children, and 1.7 million who don’t, according to the CDC.
  • Black dads who live with their children are actually the most involved fathers of all, on average, a CDC study found.

For more academic insights into breaking stereotypes of black fathers, see Understanding the Positive Impacts of African American Fathers, or any work by Waldo E. Johnson, Jr., who has been deeply immersed in the study of black fathers and families for over two decades.

About Kindred’s Editor: Oral history has its roots in the sharing of stories throughout the centuries. It is a primary source of historical data, gathering information from living individuals via recorded interviews. Lisa Reagan’s interviews of thought-leaders, researchers, activists, parents and professionals serves as an oral history of the organic conscious parenting/family wellness movement in the United States and globally since 1999. Follow her podcasts, and this series, on Apple Music/iTunesSoundCloud and here on Kindred.


Kindred’s Meet the Men of ROBE Series


Part I: Meet ROBE. An introduction to Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere with founders Wesley Bugg, JD, and George Bugg, MD.

Part II: Meet ROSE: Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, the inspiration for ROBE. ROSE’s Chief Empowerment Officer, Kimarie Bugg, DNP, shares her story of transforming her 40 year nursing career into a diversity, equity and inclusion nonprofit to train health care professionals, breastfeeding consultants and families.

Part III: The Men Of ROBE: Standing At The Intersection Of Fatherhood, Infant Mortality, Breastfeeding And Social Justice. Listen to stories of ROBE’s Wisdom Council members, Calvin Williams and Kevin Sherman, below.

Part IV:The Fatherhood Narrative: What Support Circles Reveal About Fears and Hopes. An interview with Carl Route, Jr, and Gregory Long, Wisdom Council Members of ROBE.



Part III: The Men Of ROBE: Standing At The Intersection Of Fatherhood, Infant Mortality, Breastfeeding And Social Justice

Meet Calvin Williams and Kevin Sherman


Calvin Williams, CLC

“I saw breastfeeding as a healing mechanism for distressed families.  I saw it as a way for men to reacquire some of their humanity.  I saw it as a way for a man to the generative part of fathering.  Supporting breastfeeding is generative.  Like my child is going to benefit from this for 40, 50, or 60 years. ” – Calvin Williams

Calvin Williams is a co-author of and Master Trainer for the “On My Shoulders” fatherhood curriculum, an innovative, evidence-based program that equips fathers for success in relationships with their children and co-parenting partners. He previously served as the Director of Fatherhood Services at Public Strategies Incorporated in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Before joining Public Strategies, Mr. Williams was as the Program Director for the Lighthouse Youth Services REAL Dads Program, and for the Services United for Mothers and Adolescents Fatherhood Project, both in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a founding and current board member with the Ohio Practitioners Network for Fathers & Families, a statewide training, advocacy and support organization for fatherhood practitioners.


Kevin Sherman

“When I see a billboard of an African American family,I see a mother and kids.  The dad is nowhere in the picture, so if he don’t see himself in the picture, he feel like he don’t belongs there.  The more he sees himself in the picture the more he feels like he belongs there.  That’s doing justice.” – Kevin Sherman

Kevin Sherman was released from prison after spending 30 years incarcerated. He was born and raised in New Orleans uptown. At an early age he got into street crime, which led him to being shot then incarcerated at the age of 15. While incarcerated he began to educate himself and became a spokesperson for young men entering the prison system. Once Kevin was released, he continued his work with the youth by ensuring every young man and woman has the opportunity to avoid the pit-falls of the so-called street life. Kevin has an exceptional background as a youth and adult mentor, as well as a fatherhood and substance abuse peer facilitator. In 2015 Kevin led the Unity Project in Baton Rouge as the Youth Program Director. There he taught adult basic life skills and empowerment courses, parenting classes, mentored 250 youths and assisted them in obtaining a GED and facilitated instructional and valuable trips to Angola Prison. Kevin now facilitates the Male Fatherhood Program for Healthy Start New Orleans and NOLA for Life. He also is a Community Outreach Worker for Healthy Start.


INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT


(Click on the title below to pop down to that section.)


LISA REAGAN: Welcome to Kindred. This is Lisa Reagan and today we continue Kindred’s Black Men, Breastfeeding and Social Justice Series. You can visit Kindred’s website and find more of the series’ interviews, transcripts and resources for equity, diversity and inclusion education.

Today I am joined by two Wisdom Council members from Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere, ROBE. Calvin Williams, who is joining us from Cincinnati, and Kevin Sherman, in New Orleans. 

I am also joined by Kindred’s social justice editor, David Metler, and Kindred’s Research Student from the University of California in Santa Barbara, Reshma Grewal.

You are invited to join our virtual campfire as we listen to Calvin and Kevin’s stories of forging a new “generative” path to fatherhood, and how this work connects breastfeeding and birth in the African-American community to social justice reforms and education.

So welcome everyone.

Instead of reading off your bios, which are considerable, I’d really just rather hear your stories from you and how your backgrounds connect with the work that you’re doing with ROBE. Calvin, how did you get to where you are?  It seems like your background in fatherhood education prepared you for this work.


Calvin’s Story


CALVIN:  Yes, actually it has, and I go all the way back to my father.  I come from a very poor family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  My father met and married my mother when she had five children from three other different men.  None of those men were involved with my step-brothers’ and sisters’ lives.  My father was 48 years old when he had me.  He and my mom broke up and I was one of the only children to go with him, and I don’t remember any conflict or struggle about that.  That’s what’s so interesting.  I just remember when he said, “Me and your mom are no longer going to be together,” I was just like, “I’m with you.”  

I saw breastfeeding as a healing mechanism for distressed families.  I saw it as a way for men to reacquire some of their humanity.  I saw it as a way for a man to the generative part of fathering.  Supporting breastfeeding is generative.  Like my child is going to benefit from this for 40, 50, or 60 years. 

CALVIN WILLIAMS

He set me up for the work that I’m doing by the way that he felt about me and the way I describe it is, he transmitted some things to me.  He did some things to me that endure to this day.  I feel him deeply at all times, and in positive spirit form.  It was the experience of what he transmitted to me, and when I had my son, the process of becoming a father when my son was born, set me up for the work that I’m doing. 

I was a manager at Rowley’s in Cincinnati back in the early 1990s, and one of my cooks was involved with a little group in the Whitton Barry housing project in Cincinnati.  And because I was so compassionate and kind to this guy in helping him try to advance himself in life, he said, “Man, come to our little group meetings in Whitton Barry.”  Now Whitton Barry at that time was, no mincing words, a dangerous housing project.  You know, crime-ridden, all the earmarks of public housing back in those days. I went to the meeting with him, and there were drug dealers, unemployed men, formerly incarcerated, people who were working, just every stripe of man, and I started attending those meetings. I just attended as a person who was in love with my people and I just wanted to be there and help.  It wasn’t an organization, but the gentlemen who were backing that group, who were helping it form and stay together, decided to make a formal organization. At the time, at that point in my life my resume was like six single lines of stuff; not much on it at all because I didn’t go to college.  

I put in my resume to become Executive Director of what became the Genesis Men’s program. These men own national businesses. They were just altruistic and trying to help, and so they did a national search like people of that ilk would do for an executive director of their fledgling organization.  Lo’ and behold they chose me, and that was the beginning of this journey.  The Genesis Men’s program in Cincinnati is my first nonprofit social service experience.  I was executive director, and we had tremendous success. It was very well documented by the local news, and it was just very successful and that set me up for where I am today.


A Strategy for “Generative” Fatherhood: Becoming A Black, Male Certified Lactation Consultant


LISA:  Calvin, how did you decide to become a lactation consultant?  I’m not sure how many men there are right now who are lactation consultants, and how does that play into your ROBE work?

CALVIN: Well, in 2017, here in Cincinnati, I went to a breastfeeding forum at the University of Cincinnati.  It was a one-day forum and I was asked to spend 15 minutes talking about the fatherhood program in Cincinnati that I was connected to.  I did some contract work for this program, and they said just describe the Talbert House Fatherhood project. At that time, the Talbert House Fatherhood project was starting to use curriculum that included thoughts about breastfeeding.  So, I did my little 15-minute talk.  I shared the podium with someone who had 15 minutes as well.  I was walking back to my seat and somebody touched my arm, and I looked down and it was a lady and she said, “You should come to Atlanta.”  And I am like, okay.  I was sitting behind her.  You know, when you’re at conferences people give you business cards and say, “We’re gonna do this,” and you take it in good faith, but you never know.  

“When I became a CLC, my heart and my mind fused fatherhood and breast-feeding in service to the people and the communities that I care about. And I just made breast-feeding a part of fatherhood in me and started carrying that forward” 

CALVIN WILLIAMS

So, I sat behind her and she said, “Give me your business card.”  I didn’t have any business cards, so I scribbled my stuff on the back of one of hers and I thought, for me, this is a deal breaker; this guy’s not even organized. But sure enough, that was in May and in June, I was in Atlanta with Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere at an infant mortality summit that they organized.  So, that was in June.  Then in August I was at their Sixth Annual Breastfeeding Conference and then in December I was in Miami with ROSE, so Kimarie Bugg, the woman who touched my arm and said, “You should come to Atlanta,” started this whole process.

At the breastfeeding conference in New Orleans I was blown away. I am in a room with 500 women – IBCLCs, doulas, CLCs, peer counselors, researchers – and I had never experienced that. For three days I’m soaking this in.  I’m transformed, seriously.  I wrote in the margin of my note paper, “Can a man be a CLC?”  I shared that with Kimarie and about four months later, she alerted me to a CLC training happening in Cincinnati. She provided a scholarship for me and paid for all the other testing fees and everything.  So, I took the course and I passed the test and lo’ and behold: CLC (Certified Lactation Consultant).

LISA:  I saw a picture of you with a T-shirt on that had the football on it. (Laughs together.) You know what I am talking about then.  Tell me about that T-shirt.

CALVIN:  I was actually in Linda Smith’s IBCLC prep course. She is world-renowned in breastfeeding and safe sleep, and I had one of the T-shirts with me. One day I went to the course and said, “I’m going to wear this T-shirt.”  The T-shirt was designed by Kevin Sherman (on this call with us). It was his idea, his creation, and his design. Kevin had the concept of the little football laces on a drop of fluid indicating breast milk, and it said, “Breastfeeding is a Team Sport.”  So that’s the story behind the T-shirt.

LISA:  That is a great T-shirt. I love that T-shirt. How has it been, being a lactation consultant and reaching men.  Are there messages that help you? I’ve seen your presentations on how you’ve come into barbershops (see photo gallery on this page), and a vegan farm in Mississippi.  How does that work out?

CALVIN: Fatherhood has been my passion for almost two decades.  It’s my passion. It’s my life’s work.  I am just so blessed to have been in that work.  So, when I became a CLC my heart and my mind fused fatherhood and breastfeeding in service to the communities and people I care about and I just made breastfeeding a part of fatherhood in me and then started carrying that forward.  

Because I was a CLC and a man, people started asking me to do breastfeeding workshops for fathers, or actually, I did more fathers and breastfeeding workshops for organizations and service providers. I started developing and crafting messages – again everything starts with the heart – about breastfeeding, not only the benefits to children, the importance of it, the benefits to the mom, but I saw it as a healing mechanism for distressed families.  I saw it as a way for men to reacquire some of their humanity.  I saw it as a way for a man to the generative part of fathering.  Supporting breastfeeding is generative.  Like my child is going to benefit from this for 40, 50, or 60 years. 

So, all of that started rolling around in me and I started blending the fatherhood concepts and philosophies and ideas and research and – the way my head works – I saw breastfeeding in everything. So, I just started developing content and messages and that was it.


Caption for gallery below: ROBE members meeting community members in a barbershop for breastfeeding education outreach.


LISA:  Your insight is remarkable, that you put those pieces together.  I am just going to convey what I saw at the national conference when you spoke, then I’m going to turn this next section over to Dave because I want him to be able to ask some questions about the social justice piece and then we’re going to go back to Kevin for his story.

When I was at the National Breastfeeding Conference and Convention in Bethesda, Maryland last year, same kind of room you’re talking about, hundreds of people, a very passionate crowd. I talked to Kimarie and Laurel Wilson, who are on the board for the USBC in the last few weeks, that conference had shifted in the last couple of years from being a predominantly white professional conference and organization to being this incredibly dynamic and diverse organization and gathering. It just knocked my socks off to be there this past year. I was so impressed with the transformative work that they’d done and the energy in the room. 

Calvin Williams speaking at the USBC National Breastfeeding Conference

For the benefit of the listener, I’ll tell the story: I had been at this conference for three days and we’re all tired, and the very last group of people to get up to speak are the ROBE guys, and I am sitting at my desk, and I am doing things and trying to pack up a little bit.  It’s three o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, my back is to the stage, and I hear someone say that they “envision rivers of human milk flowing in the street to wash away systems of oppression,” and my knees kind of went out a little bit because I had never heard anyone say that before, and then when I turned around and there is a stage full of men who are delivering this message, I just had to sit down. I’m still very moved by the presentation that you all did.  (see the video below.) But this understanding of breastfeeding as being this powerful and this transformative was so moving to me, this is why we’re talking now. Because I wanted to know, and for our listeners t know, who you were.


Cultural Mythology and Reality: Unpacking and Unlearning Socialized Masculinity


DAVE METLER:  I’m struck by your story, Calvin.  I think the piece where you mention men reacquiring their humanity through the process of really getting involved in nurturing ways in the family and breastfeeding being really, it seems like the main focus area, at least that we’ve been talking about so far.  I just wonder if you could say more about that, about socialization for men and why is there so much that needs to be unlearned from men that’s just not true that comes from your question of, “Can a man be a CLC?”  That’s actually at the root of why that question even needs to be asked.  You know, where does the doubt, where does the fear, the being not able to have the nurturing part of masculinity oppressed or not to be able to have that part of masculinity expressed.  Where have you connected in with men around that socialization and how to start to unlearn some of what men have learned through socialization?

Engaging with men and hearing – that’s talking with thousands and thousands of men through the years I’ve been doing fatherhood work – I just see potential.  I have confidence in them. I love them. I see potential, and it makes it easier for me to see what we are up against in terms of this socialization.  

CALVIN WILLIAMS

CALVIN:  Yea, I think it’s a sad deal that men in this society get socialized the way they do and one thing I think about is there’s no one masculinity/masculinities, because there are more ways for a man to be a man than there are not.  And I think I know my own process of healing and learning self-compassion and self-care and self-love is a big part of that.  I learned there was more for me in my relationships and in my life changing my path to not working to be the quote/unquote traditional masculine man, but it also came about in my work with men because my whole thing from the beginning is I love the people I serve, and because I love them I am listening to and feeling them and taking them in, and I experienced the other parts of men who otherwise would be wearing the masks.  Engaging with men and hearing – that’s talking with thousands and thousands of men through the years I’ve been doing fatherhood work – I just see potential.  I have confidence in them. I love them. I see potential, and it makes it easier for me to see what we are up against in terms of this socialization.  

So that’s pretty much how I acquired it. I am a co-author of a fatherhood curriculum called “On My Shoulders.” I was the fatherhood consultant on the curriculum development team, and they really listened to me a lot, and I said we need to have something in here about manhood and masculinity, so I wrote a unit called “Free to Be.”  The whole concept was men are free to be the type of man that they want to be, and so it was a unit where I created content around unpacking and examining, not telling men what to do and who to be.  

Unpacking, examining, and then looking at the diverse range of manhood that’s possible and available to people, and then also acknowledging that for some men traditional masculinity is the right fit, whatever that means.  For a lot of men – really thinking about boys getting socialized into that traditional masculinity – that’s where it’s really hard to see and to stomach.  

I saw breastfeeding as an opportunity for men to really tamp down or maybe get rid of some of these oppressive ways, oppressive things that women have to deal with, especially breastfeeding in public, right?  We want men to be comfortable and strong next to their woman breastfeeding in public. It’s a huge statement.

CALVIN WILLIAMS

When I’m in a grocery store one day and I hear a father tell a boy, “Boy, stop crying!” and I’m in the other aisle, I can’t see them and I hear him say, “Boy, I told you stop that crying!” And I’m not alarmed or anything.  I don’t know.  I’m just hearing that, but a picture comes into your mind of a certain age of child.  I go around the corner, the kid’s in a stroller and I’m like, okay this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.  So, we are all endowed with not only every emotion but the physical, biological mechanisms to express those emotions, whether it’s crying, shaking, laughing, hollering, yawning, whatever and so, yeah, it’s just really hard to see that with boys.  So, that’s how I got into that space.

DAVE:  And just one follow-up to that, is, I really wonder how liberation for men can further liberation for women?  Just how they’re actually connected and, because there is historical privilege to being a man, but in the reality of the way oppression works, we’re all oppressed by oppression in some way.  There’s a differential for how men experience it and have internalized oppression and how women are experiencing oppression within family roles as well, and I think some of the ideas that I saw off of the ROBE website – of men stepping up as team players. Is that how you articulate ways in which men actually are allies to women in supporting women’s liberation as they step up to their roles in how they can support breastfeeding?

CALVIN:  Yes.  One of the things that I am very careful about and pointed about is men supporting breastfeeding has to equal moms/women maintaining their autonomy or even strengthening their autonomy.  So, I do see that as…and you’re absolutely right.  If men are oppressed women are oppressed.  Oppression kind of works both ways, in little circles and cycles. Men supporting women breastfeeding help women maintain their autonomy and help women actually do what’s natural and good for them, which is going to build women up.  I saw breastfeeding as an opportunity for men to really tamp down or maybe get rid of some of these oppressive ways, oppressive things that women have to deal with, especially breastfeeding in public, right?  We want men to be comfortable and strong next to their woman breastfeeding in public. It’s a huge statement. I definitely saw men supporting breastfeeding as a way to liberate themselves but also, as you said, to uplift women in their lives.

DAVE:  Thanks for sharing.  


Kevin’s Story


NOTE: Kevin’s interview begins at the 25 minute mark of the podcast recording above.

LISA: Kevin Sherman, who’s been patiently waiting in New Orleans, we would love to hear your story of how you arrived at ROBE. It seems like your background, as well, has prepared you for the work that you’re doing? How did you get here?  What is your story?

Kevin Sherman, ROBE Wisdom Council Member, telling his story during Kindred’s Virtual Campfire.

KEVIN:  First of all, as you know, I’m from New Orleans, Louisiana. Grew up without a mother or father.  At an early age, I ventured to the crime street life, wound up going to prison at the age of 16, and spent 30 years of my life incarcerated.  During my incarceration period I began to educate myself and people in my situation.  I began to try to help other young men who were coming into prison who had a similar background as myself: not having a father or not really having a support system.  

As I continued to do that work I continually looked at the geographical and the color of the men that were coming in that were suffering from the same problem as me. I just began to understand all these men that was incarcerated, African American men, 85% of them had kids that they had left in the street.  Through the warden, I was the first inmate in Louisiana, one of the first in the state of Louisiana, that was trained to get these men an understanding on who we really failed and understand that we had failed our kids. We had failed our families, When I looked at the overall picture, the number one biggest failure was the kids because the kids were left to fend for themselves.  

I began to teach this curriculum and get men to understand and give men some empowerment and a sense of importance.  Once I was released from prison after 30 years, this was my calling:  to help me bridge the gap with their children despite what the situation was with the mother.  The kids needed their father.  I began to volunteer my time doing this work, recruiting men, talking to them about issues concerning them being a mainstay in their kids’ lives. A lot of times I was being enlightened at the same time because I began to understand that it was not a fact that these men didn’t want to be fathers. The fact was, they was ashamed that they could not take care of their kids, that they wasn’t given a lot of the same opportunities that their counterparts to be able to make an honest living and take care of their kids.  This work became really personal to me because I come from that situation.  Still today, I don’t know my father.  

So, I was invited to speak at several conferences, and one of them I attended was a ROSE conference here in New Orleans. A lot of people who had heard me speak before had bought me to Mama Bugg and Wesley Bugg’s attention. This particular conference they had a set up for fathers and for doulas, and I was invited to sit on their panel – and the panel went great.  I was offered the opportunity to become part of ROBE’s Wisdom Council, and that was, to this date, one of the greatest honors for me coming from where I come from: a GED self-educated man and a bunch of brothers with PhDs, doctor’s degrees was welcoming me to become a part of something so great.  

At first, I wanted to decline it because of fear, because I felt that I did not fit in, but these brothers made me feel like their degrees and everything else wasn’t more important than what I had to offer.  This encouragement allowed me to make the decision to join this great team and do this great work, and when I think that what’s so great with this team, because as Calvin spoke, everybody is great in different areas, but when we all come together we all can get on each other’s level on what we are dealing with.  

I think before you can get African American men to come in and understand and be supportive of breastfeeding, infant mortality, and postpartum and all this you’ve got to first get them to understand how to be a father, how to be a dad, how to be that partner that’s going to be there, because if he’s not willing to do none of that, then getting them to understand other things is going to be very hard.  

I think before you can get African American men to come in and understand and be supportive of breastfeeding, infant mortality, and postpartum and all this you’ve got to first get them to understand how to be a father, how to be a dad, how to be that partner that’s going to be there, because if he’s not willing to do none of that, then getting them to understand other things is going to be very hard.  

KEVIN SHERMAN, ROBE WISDOM COUNCIL

I take the role of really trying to get those father’s attention so that my brothers on the Wisdom Council can educate them to what the strengths are or the chance of this child having both parents, plus a supportive father that supports breastfeeding and understands the infant mortality rate as it is on African Americans, black women being stressed out and so forth. All this connection it gives me a sense of power, and I’m telling you, when I’m with these guys I feel like one of the Marvel cartoon characters. They really energize me because I understand from a disadvantage point… I understand from the community that I come from that the resources that we use to talk about, they are available but they are not going to the community.  

When a group of brothers talk about taking this to the community, not worrying about the community coming to us, now you’ve got me on board, because my thing is that a lot of the men in the community are not going to come to hear what you have to say, you have to go to them and bring your message.  With all these things coming together, it really gives me a great feeling. Here in New Orleans, I have my group of men that I meet with, they’re very interested about wanting to know about breastfeeding now.  They want to know about infant mortality rates.  They want to know about postpartum.  Things that really, people just assume that African American men don’t care about.  These are one of the biggest impacts of this work since I’ve been doing it and what made me understand that this work is needed.

I had a young man, 21 years-old, that was in my fatherhood program that was excited beyond measures that he was about to become a father for the first time.  What I usually do when these guys are about to become fathers, I give them a sack with deodorant, toothpaste, everything they need for an overnight stay up in the hospital.  So he’s got his sack, and he is sitting in the waiting room. He’s been in the waiting room for over 2 ½ hours.  The young lady who is delivering their child, she is in the back.  This young lady’s mother, sister, and aunty walk through the door.  The nurse walked them straight back to the young lady, and this young African American man has been sitting in the waiting room for over two and a half hours because he had twisters on his head.  

Unbeknown to the nurse, who proceeded to do this unjust thing, this young man was a highly respected student and basketball player.  But he was being stereotyped that he didn’t care, that his fiancée was in the back delivering his first child for the very first time.  He was so excited, but when he called me, he was broken.  He said, “Mr. Kevin I don’t want nothing to do with this.  I’m done with it.  The people don’t even much acknowledge me.” And he’s crying.  At that point I stopped what I am doing, go to the hospital and let him know that the nurse is only doing what she been told that’s been going on for so long.  I told him, you can be the one that can stop this right now and make a difference.  You can be the reason hospitals in New Orleans change the procedures, and people understand that the most important person in the waiting room was you, not the grandmother, not the aunty, not the sister, you!  

These are things that’s inspired me to do the work I do because I come from this same community.  So, how I became an advocate for these young men and this is the work that I have dedicated my life to because God have gave me another opportunity. I don’t take it lightly.  


Heroic Community Healers: “Many are sitting in prison.”


LISA: Kevin, when we were at the National Breastfeeding Conference last year you also spoke on stage and you said something that I thought was profound because I don’t think a lot of us as activists, especially white activists in the past, have thought this way. You said you thought the healers for your community were probably sitting in prison.  What did you mean by that?

I tried to show society that there are good men that come from behind the walls, but what helps me and keeps me focused, and what I try to tell everybody that comes from that situation, I am fortunate enough that I can pick up the phone and call a Calvin, I can call a Wesley, I can call a Greg, I can call our doctors.  I got a whole group of brothers that I can call whenever things are not going well. 

KEVIN SHERMAN

KEVIN:  Because a lot of times a lot of these men go to prison and they discover themselves and they discover who they really are.  The ones that have that opportunity to come back in the community, especially when we are talking about disadvantaged communities, they are heroes to a lot of these fathers because of who they was before they went to prison. Like for instance, if they were about to have a program or something in my community, whoever gives that event, guess who they are going to come to when they want the young men there?  They’re going to come to me because I can go into a community and get these young men to understand. “Hey, let’s go hear what they got to see.  It may be something that would be beneficial.”  

And what happens, a lot of men that are in prison are men that didn’t have fathers themselves.  They don’t know what it’s like to have a father. So, when I say heroes, I’m talking about in the sense of guys who want to be so-called “street guys.” These are the guys they look up to so these are the guys that can touch their lives in a positive way if these guys have gone to prison and rehabilitated themselves.  I’m not talking about men, Lisa, that go to prison and come back out with the same mentality they went in with. I’m talking about men who have really understood and accepted their mistakes and use that to come out to make other young men better.  

Many times, men that go into the prison system, a lot of them come out bitter because they feel like the world owes them something.  Those are not the men I’m talking about.  I’m talking about the men that go into prison and say, “Hey nobody put me in this situation but myself. Let me pull on my boots, do what I can do to educate myself.”  Because, understand this, the education I got in prison, it cost citizens thousands and thousands of dollars to acquire; while I’m in prison I get it free if I want it.  So, I took advantage of every program that I could get into.  I am a DTM in Toastmasters, InsideOut Dad.  I was taken to Washington D.C. to be trained from the state of Louisiana. 

I tried to show society that there are good men that come from behind the walls, but what helps me and keeps me focused, and what I try to tell everybody that comes from that situation, I am fortunate enough that I can pick up the phone and call a Calvin, I can call a Wesley, I can call a Greg, I can call our doctors.  I got a whole group of brothers that I can call whenever things are not going well. 

When we are talking about fathers, I have a group of guys now who have no problem with their fiancé whipping her breast out right there with them and feeding the baby because, through these brothers, I’m able to explain to these men the benefits of breastfeeding.  I’m able to do that. I’m able now to sit in WIC clinics every week, go from WIC clinic to WIC clinic around the whole city of New Orleans, and sit in there and engage with dads that come through the door, not trying to take anything from WIC, but get him to understand that the baby needs breastmilk.  God designed that milk to come out of that breast for a reason and getting men to understand the significance of that, just what ROBE has empowered me to do.  

Before ROBE and getting with these brothers and understanding – I’m going to be honest – I found it very disgusting to see a woman whip her breast out in public because I didn’t understand. I was ignorant.  It is a shame to say, but a lot of hospitals are not educating African American women on the benefits of breastfeeding when they’re going to the hospital.  Just like now we’re putting a video together because I understood it and I brought it to the Wisdom Council that we needed to make this as a group of brothers that are empowering and equipping men. The hospitals don’t do it. We need to make up a toolkit, make videos explaining postpartum, because many men come from the community I come from, and you ask them what postpartum is they are going to look at you crazy.  

So, here’s a woman bleeding out and this guy don’t know what to do because the hospital did not explain to this man who’s bringing the woman home who just had a baby what to look for, signs that he should recognize, that he should bring her back to the hospital or call for help.  They just sent her home taking for granted these men know when they don’t, and many women have lost their lives because these men are not educated on postpartum. The Wisdom Council is putting together toolkits and videos hoping that people will put them in the waiting areas in hospitals and clinics so men can see and understand the signs and recognize them so that the woman can have a chance – that young lady can have a chance of living.  We have to get past the thinking of not caring whether or not this group of men should know, when they don’t.

LISA:  You are able to reach men through wining their trust.  When I talked to Kimarie Bugg of ROSE, she said they’re tackling the end of training like that nurse in the hospital you were talking about was oblivious how important it was to find out who this young man is sitting there.  Does he have someone that he needs to be back there supporting and being a part of this birth?  Clearly, the work is tremendous that needs to be done.  I just want to point out that you have the ROSE group, the Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, and ROBE and this statement that you said from the stage about the healers for the community are probably in prison are the ones that come out understanding and having insight into a community that probably can’t come from anywhere else, can’t engineer the trust that is going to be needed to connect with them.

And I think I’m just going to stop here before I go on any further, because now I’m wandering into Dave’s territory, so I’m going to let Dave Metler, Kindred’s Social Justice Editor, take over.  

Thank you so much, Kevin.


Building and Keeping Trust: The Path to Community Healing and Empowerment


DAVE: I appreciated the firepower of your story and I feel even over Zoom I just feel a lot from everything you’ve shared. I feel the challenge of working across levels of change, I mean that just comes up for me as there’s institutional changes that need to happen that you identified, and then there’s also… there’s a personal responsibility.  

I remember from the ROBE videos that I watched before this talk, about one of the greatest needs in advocating for breastfeeding is confidence in breastfeeding and men as team members in supporting the confidence for women to breastfeed.  It seems like confidence comes up again and again, this conviction, this confidence within the personal domain for men, the family domain.  Where does that come from?  How do you teach that?  How do you inspire that?  It seems like you’re doing that.  That’s the work that you’re called to do.  How does that go with the men that you’re working with?  How does that confidence build? Because it seems like that’s how change is happening. It is happening within individual hearts and it’s also trying to advocate for these institutional and societal changes as well.

KEVIN:  What happens is that you have a community of people that have been lied to all their life, Dave.  First, going in you have to do some control damage but the thing is they are willing to give you a chance.  If one or two give you a chance they’re going to let the other ones know, “Hey give him a chance.”  Once you get that chance, Dave, you’ve got to build on it because if you lose it, you’ll never get it back.  This is why I refuse to pass out any flyers. I refuse to deliver any speech, that whoever is giving the event, they are giving me a flyer. If this ain’t what you’re going to present and give to the people, then I’m not passing it out. Because the thing about it, when they come they’re not going to be looking at Dave, they are going to be looking at me because they may never see Dave, but I’m the one that got them there based upon the flyer that you gave me, so I’m very cautious on who sends me into a community and what are the sending me for. 

What happens is that you have a community of people that have been lied to all their life, Dave.  First, going in you have to do some control damage but the thing is they are willing to give you a chance.  If one or two give you a chance they’re going to let the other ones know, “Hey give him a chance.”  Once you get that chance, Dave, you’ve got to build on it because if you lose it, you’ll never get it back.  

KEVIN SHERMAN

Once you get that trust, you’ve got to hold on to it, Dave, because we’re talking about communities that have been lied to just to get signatures on a piece of paper.  People coming into them and selling them promises, so they open up to you and here you do the same thing.  Now it makes it hard for anybody that’s coming behind you.

DAVE: Yeah, I hear you.  The work that you all are doing with ROBE and with ROSE as well, it feels so based on trust and based on relationship and on trying to rebuild trust where trust has been broken before, which is quite a challenge.  

KEVIN: The work that we’re trying to do is very hard because it is new to African American men because, for so long, they didn’t think that was a good thing to do. And not knowing that this is something that our ancestors did all their lives – they was midwives, they believe in the natural – so re-educating these young men and trying to get them to reconstruct their thinking and being even though they and the mother have differences.  You also know support for her is still needed because you need to understand people wonder, “Okay, she’s only two months pregnant, where’s the dad?”  He’s gone already.  

So, my job in my community when I’m doing outreach and I’m talking to a young lady that’s pregnant the first time, I’m asking, “Where’s the father?”  She tells me, “He don’t want to be here.”  I say, “Well give me his number. Give me his number.” Right?  Let me reach out to him. So, when she gives me the number, I call him.  I asked him, could I meet with him and share my story of coming up without a father that led me to prison for 30 years because I left it up to other men to be my father and then they used me and led me straight to hell?

I asked these men, your kid has to be you “why”.  When your kid become your “why,” nothing else gets in the way, regardless of what is the difference you and the mom ain’t work.  That’s not the responsibility of the child.  So, they have to understand that.  When you don’t have people educating these men on this, when you’ve got men saying “F” their kids because they don’t understand why the baby mama put them on child support because she got three more kids with somebody else in order for her to get support for the other three she got to put him on child support too, when he takes care of his kid.  So, we have a system that created friction too.  

So, what ROBE does, when we meet, we try to find out where the reach officers are at.  Here in New Orleans, I bring the child support director in.  I need you to explain to these men why they’re being put on child support when they’re taking care of their kids, not just the mother of the child, for whatever reason.  

These are the things that when we talk about social justice you’ve got to tell me where the justice in this is at first.  I have to see the justice in this.  Where the family is at, when a lot of organizations they are dealing with mothers not even inquiring much about the daddy.  But you said you were about family.  A family consists of a mother, child, and father.  This is what I am beginning to understand here in the city of New Orleans. When I see a billboard, (which they are changing now, because they took ones down because I took it to the mayor’s attention), when I see a billboard of a European family, I see a family, a daddy, a momma, and the kids. 

When I see a billboard of an African American family, I see a mother and kids.  The dad is nowhere in the picture, so if he don’t see himself in the picture, he feel like he don’t belongs there.  The more he sees himself in the picture the more he feels like he belongs there.  That’s doing justice.  


Fathers, Capitalism, and Racism: Why Is Fatherhood Not Recognized As Social Justice Work?


LISA:  So, Kevin, Reshma, Kindred’s Research Student from the University of California at Santa Barbara, has been waiting for a chance to ask you a question.  

Reshma Grewal, Kindred’s Research Student from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Read about Reshma here.

RESHMA:  Yeah, hi.  I’m really appreciative for this opportunity to hear you guys’ stories, so thank you very much for that.  There has been a lot of talk about men and reaching men, and I’m curious as to how we start this conversation with kids.  It’s really clear that families need to support each other, and the youth need to be educated and be comfortable with having these conversations so they can empower each other and empower other women and mothers.  How do you reach the youth?  Do you focus on adults with the hope that they carry on this work to the younger generations or do you have you own specific way for reaching them or plans to do so

KEVIN:  My take to any young many or any man I reach is what I give to you please give to somebody else.  If I help you, help somebody else. That is my motto.  That’s why when I have a father group, I have 25 to 30 guys in my group because I started out with two people, two men, and I incentivized each one of the men that they did not have no church, but the next time they came through the door they both better come with two people, two men.  Peoople have a problem and say you shouldn’t have to incentivize people when you’ve got men dedicating an hour of their time to you and don’t even have a job or even know how their bills will be paid but then they come and sit in your class for an hour. You can incentivize them to let them know, “Hey, I appreciate you.”  With a lot of organizations doing the same with all these men, you don’t exist.  So, why not incentivize them to bring more men that you can reach.  And I tell them, like I tell anybody you can come now and hold a class and say, “Kevin, I need 30 men,” and I’m going to bring you 30 men, but it’s on you whether or not you’re going to keep their attention.  Whether you’re talking their language or whether you’re getting them to believe in what you’re saying.  Can you sell your story to them?  

That’s what’s going to give you opportunity to build.  That’s what builds, especially when we’re talking about communities have been lied to and broken communities and statistics say that 80% of this neighborhood doesn’t have father’s in their homes.  So, in my heart it’s about if you get two, you teach those two what you know and get them to believe in what you’re doing and the work you’re doing and they’re going to become soldiers for you.  But if you break the trust of those two men you getting to do anything in the community is going to be very hard because they’re going to tell everybody you’re a fake and a fraud, you’re just like the rest of the people that came through.  Does that make sense?  Does that answer your question?  Or are you needing more clarification?

RESHMA:  No, that was great.  Calvin, do you have anything to add to that?

CALVIN:  I think Kevin hit it on the head.  I think about the underpinnings of the fatherhood field.  I was there in the beginning, the late 1980s/early 1990s, and I have just started saying this publicly because I’m tired. 

The underpinnings of the fatherhood field are about moralizing and racist jokes about responsibility.  The early fatherhood demonstration projects set out to answer one question, how can we get these poor irresponsible black and brown men to pay child support.  That’s what the multicity demonstration projects were all about back in the 1990s, and then in the literature, it’s so funny to me, in the literature as you track the literature forward, it says, “ Oh, and then we found out they care about their kids.”  

What Kevin is talking about also exists in the underpinnings of the fatherhood field, and I have been asking the question of myself and I’m starting to do it a little more out loud now is: why is fatherhood work so separate from social justice work.?  I don’t understand that.  

I am a whiteboard guy, I think, live, create on a whiteboard.  One day, this was coming out of me and I’m not in control of this, I wrote “Fathers, Capitalism, and Racism” and I drew lines connecting all three and I just sat there and stared at it and I said, “You know what, something’s happening here and I got to figure this out in a way that I can articulate it.”


Where’s The Hope for the Future?


LISA:  So it sounds like we’re going in the direction about transgenerational trauma a bit and how our capitalistic culture and our white supremacy culture in America is compounding and driving a lot of this. I heard someone from stage, and I hate to keep referring to the conference, but you guys did so great on that stage. I heard someone talking about being in a hospital with a mother while she was giving birth and she began to have problems with birth, and the speaker was talking about putting the community around her, putting their hands on her and recognizing that what was happening was transgenerational trauma that she was experiencing.

The recognition now of transgenerational trauma, adverse childhood events is beginning to take off.  We have Nadine Burke Harris who wrote the book The Deepest Well about Adverse Childhood Events who’s now the Surgeon General for California.  She is trying to bring this issue forward, but I think it’s worth mentioning that when she tried to present to professionals at conferences about this issue, and she writes about this in her book, she says she was tuned out, people weren’t listening, and when she would go down to her table to put away her materials it was the people who were cleaning up, the people that were the workers there that were part of putting on the conference who came over to her and said, “I really appreciate what you were saying.  That was really incredible.  That really spoke to me.”  I work with a field of people including activists in Paris and professionals and researchers and I hear this all the time, that there’s a resistance to listening to stories, even though we’re solid on the science now, about this transgenerational trauma piece but the people that are receptive and understand it are the people that are affected by it in the communities.  They see it right away and are going, “Oh yeah, yeah wait I know what that is.”

CALVIN:  Ta-Nehisi Coates writes and talks about this.  He talks about how it is the responsibility from the president on down, governors, senators all the way down through the hierarchy of the political and government chain, it is the responsibility of those people to maintain the racial status quo. It is their responsibility to hold on to and advance the story of racial degradation for people, including President Obama.  He couldn’t get past that. So, what’s happening is nobody from a political standpoint has the strength and the courage to break past that. 

I got his words right now, I got his exact words: “They are the caretakers of our racist history.”  And that struck me because even President Obama, he couldn’t cross that line.  He couldn’t say, “This is horrible for black people.”  He has to hold that history intact. What’s the gentleman from Harvard, he’s trying to get in his own door and a cop arrests him and all.  Who was that?

LISA:  Oh yeah

CALVIN:  You know who I’m talking about.  Henry Lewis Gates, so President Obama’s response is let’s bring the cop and Henry Lewis Gates to the White House and have a beer.  President Obama… listen I know people get all upset when you say anything about President Obama that’s not 1000%.  He could not say, “This is dead wrong.”  

We need to be moving towards an anti-racist society.  That’s our only hope.  Not integration, not recompense, we need to be working towards an anti-racist society for this nation to really, really grow, but we can’t do it because everybody has to hold that racist history and keep it in tact, and that’s the same thing in areas we work in with fathers and breastfeeding.  That’s why the funding for fatherhood, the funding is less so in maternal child health, but in the fatherhood field the funding does not allow you to even address the underlying conditions, the disparities, the misrepresentation that puts fathers in these positions in the first place.  The fatherhood field says: make them responsible.  

I saw they’re already responsible.  Get out of the way.  Stop disinvesting in communities.  Make sure jobs are available for people in their own communities.  Make the culture and environment function in a way that their natural abilities to be responsible and caring and nurturing, that it comes out.  That’s a huge challenge.  As a society we just won’t let go of that racist past and try to envision a new day when we live in an anti-racist society.  And fatherhood research around the world backs this up.  Michael Lamb, David Shwalb have written a book Fathering the Cultural Context.  All around the world as economics go, so goes fathering.

LISA:  I hear you.  I wonder… this is a discussion that we’ve been having for a long time at Kindred on different levels which is, how to shift the dominator society away from its suicidal impulses and taking a whole species off the cliff, and what people like Riane Eisler, have written about it is a perception of what is power. When I listened to the two of you present what you’re doing I see, as you said Kevin, you guys are Marvel superheroes.  This is powerful, truly deeply powerful change that you’re doing on the ground.  

Why is it not recognized as that?  Well, because the people that believe that they have certain kinds of power now are not wanting to let go of that power.  Unfortunately, a lot of that power is monetary and what could be done if we were to redistribute wealth and resources, especially in this country is tremendous but it does to me, and I’m sorry to get under my little soapbox here, seem to be such a deep shift in the hearts of people.  I don’t see it happening on the scale we need it to. It just seems like we need more of you.  We need more men to be trained in what you’re doing.  We need this to be scalable and modeled everywhere.

I’ve definitely drifted over into David’s territory.  David, what would you like to say in this piece.

DAVE:  My thoughts from hearing what you’re sharing, Calvin, is I think partially just feeling like there is a huge reckoning that America has with its own history, just even being honest to a name and also deal with I think some of the darkness the story of America. I feel like Obama and Trump’s presidencies have given different challenges.  I think of Obama’s as being really inspiring: We are the leaders we have been waiting for.  In some ways it is a lack of waiting for the higher-ups to change everything, because you almost see Democrat/Republican, there’s so many overlaps and when you take power you take power over a country that has incredible and dark history: it has its foundation in white supremacy.  

It’s an acknowledgement and understanding of the story but also a feeling of… and that story needs to change.  That can be empowering with actually feeling like the work that individuals are doing is going to be disruptive of that story.  Like yourself and like Kevin and the work that we’re trying to do with Kindred, and it also takes institution and societal change as well so we know that the power structures have to change; it can’t just be change on the ground and every individual is doing this change for themselves.  It is also within the power of community of collective action.  

I just think right now with the current crisis with Coronavirus I wonder if out of crisis there is some opportunity. I wonder if there is opportunity; I’m just thinking particularly here in Detroit for example we have some of the greatest racial disparities in the way in which Corona Virus is impacting Detroiters.  But also, there’s been some crazy things happening that I think social justice activists have been fighting for a long time: to end water shutoffs, to end foreclosures on homes, to really acknowledge and affirm how many people are struggling even to pay the bills on a week in which employment levels have not reached greater than 25% of the state’s population. And I wonder if there… I hear you, I wonder if there is a need to sit with that and feel the reality of what you’ve named.  And then also I wonder where’s the opportunity, where’s the hope and where do each of us put our efforts to change that.

CALVIN:  Kevin, what do you have on that.

KEVIN:  Dave, I’m glad that Lisa spoke of what she spoke of and I’m glad you just spoke of what you spoke of.  We can continue to talk about the past because it gives us some idea of how we get to where we’re at, right?  But we have to start holding all these groups and all these conferences we be going to and hearing these people talk about change.  

We have to start holding everybody at these conferences and who is coming into contact with each other accountable.  Because we all come together, we can be the change that’s needed.  We can be that change.  But what happens is, the influences that’s at the conferences we hold great conversations, we share great ideas, but once we go our separate ways we don’t try to bridge the gap and come together putting together a community, world-wide network of all these people who’s concerned about these problems coming together from different parts of the world coming together and meeting saying, “Here’s what we need to do.”  

We understand what has been done.  If we keep dwelling on that ain’t nothing going to get done.  We understand what has been done.  How can we as a community national network team, how can we change things.  How can we come together and write policies that would make a difference?

We have people like you and Lisa who can broadcast these community networks to bring more people from around the world involved.  See, we can’t wait on other people and this is what I always tell my guys.  We can talk about what’s not being done, but what are we doing?  We are attending a lot of conferences, we are giving great speeches, but we when we go our separate ways we’re not connecting.  We’re not sharing ideas from New Orleans to Washington D.C. until we see each other at another conference.  

Do you know how many fathers we done lost, how many babies we done lost, how many mothers we done lost between one conference this year and we’re going to go to the next conference in the next year.  Do you know what difference that year would have made had we been connecting and networking as concerned people?  

This is why I get tired of meetings.  That’s why I refuse to attend a lot of meetings, I refuse to attend a lot of things because it’s nothing but yap, yap, yap, yap.  Everybody wants to sound good and look good but when it’s all over, nobody’s connecting to do this work. We can make a change.  We can change a lot of things that people keep saying can’t be changed.  

I believe anything that is existing today, the group of people we have that exist today that didn’t exist back then, we have the power to change things. We have lawyers, we have doctors, we have people from all walks of life that’s a part of what we do, so you can’t tell me we can’t change things.  If we all come together from an international standpoint and hold conferences and writing and presenting ideas on how we can change things.  A lot of people don’t want to do things because everyone wants to be the frontrunner, so that creates a diversion among people trying to do things.  I’m about just get the work done, whatever role that I play I’m cool with it.  I just want to see a change where families can unite, babies can have better outcomes with both parents.  

We see a lot of African American men in prison, in the graveyard.  When you make a man feel important, you give him responsibility, he be living a different life.  You’ve got to give him a “Why”.  Each and every one of us have a “Why” in our life, why we get up and do what we do every day.  We have a “Why”.  Even when you don’t want to do it yourself, you think about that one person or that reason you got to go do what you got to do.  You think about that why and you have to do what you have to do.  

We have to think about why we do this work.  Why do we do this work.  You’ve got to be honest when you answer that why.  A lot of people are not honest when they answer why they do this work.  A lot of people are not honest. That’s where the change comes from.  That’s because if we’re waiting on politicians to just up and change what we’re trying to do, we will be in our graves and gone before it happens.  We have to create the foundation and pray to God that we done made enough of lead way, that we have educated enough people to continue this work the way that it’s supposed to be done.  Where every young man and young woman and kid can go in the hospital and get the same treatment.  It’s plain and simple.  

I understand the difference and I have a whole different world perspective, and I’ve seen the difference in hospitals and a lot of the caretaking dealing with the Covid-19.  I was in a hospital.  I’m private insured.  But I have seen people who come in who wasn’t get the sheet put over their head.  Because my doctor was private-insured he’s my doctor; he’s making sure I have everything I need but the man down in the next room from me, he’s not So he’s not going to get as much attention as I’m getting.  He’s not going to get the best equipment that he need in the hospital that I’m getting, because the doctor know if he write this $5000/$6000 bill to me he going to get paid because I’m private insured.  So, yes, he’s going to give me the best he got.  

It still exists.  We can continue to continue to talk about who can change it, but we have a group of people, we have enough organizations that claim they care about these issues that we have enough of power to create a national network that can come together, write policies, and change these situations and we wouldn’t be still talking about them.  Lives would be touched and changed.  That’s what I wish.  That’s what I wish for, that’s what I pray for.

LISA:  Calvin, do you have a follow up?

CALVIN:  Yeah, Dave you ask where the hope is. I see plenty of hope.  

I see plenty of hope. I see hope around the Wisdom Council, and I see that hope get ignited when we go into a city. When they see a Kevin and a me and a Wesley and Greg Long and Clifton King, when they see us interacting authentic, natural, and full of vibrancy based on love and compassion, I see how we touch people. I see hundreds and hundreds of people who are working towards these things we are talking about.  They don’t make the news.  They don’t make the newspaper.  You can read about them in Color Lines, which is one of my favorite (laughs).  You can read about them in a lot of publications, so I have a tremendous amount of hope. I love the young activist class that I am perceiving and reading about around the country, and I think, similar to the Bacons Rebellion in Virginia, sooner or later there’s going to be this multiracial, multicultural throng who says no, no more, it’s over.  That’s what I believe.  That’s the hope that I run with every day.  

LISA: I believe that too, Calvin, I do.  Do you have follow-ups Dave or Reshma or Calvin or Kevin?

DAVE:  I think, Calvin, when you talked about putting fatherhood, capitalism, racism on the board and trying to draw the lines between them, I’ve heard that when you want to understand something you try to change it, that’s how you can really learn how something works, how it is the way it is. And I think that the hardest things to change, like capitalism, fatherhood, racism and the interconnections between them I think that there’s some wisdom that ROBE is bringing to the significance of the changes that ROBE and ROSE are working towards… the significance of those change because each of you brings your story, your authenticity, and your network together the collective power with young people.  As people come together around these types of changes that you have hope to make, I think that’s where the power is, and that’s what gives me hope too.  So, I appreciate that you shared that and that we can have this conversation.

KEVIN:  Dave, and that’s what great about it.  What’s great about ROBE is what I told you from the beginning.  I don’t know whether, how they went about collecting…we all had our meeting in Florida where we all came together, right?  But when they made this Wisdom Council, we got people picked from all walks of life and you’ve got educated men, you have doctors, you have lawyers, you have practitioners.  We have Dr. George Bugg, who is one of the top doctors in Georgia in his field, right?  We have this great group of men who can speak on any aspect that you want to talk about when we are speaking to the mass of stuff that’s taking place in the African American communities that we need to make a change in.  

One thing I’m grateful for, that now we have a friendship with you all that we can have a discussion now.  Because what happens is that a lot of people don’t want to hear the truth, Dave.  A lot of people don’t want to hear the truth.  That’s why I tell people all the time, be mindful when you invite me to your conference. You’re going to get me.  You’re not about to get nothing phony.  You’re not going to never see me walk to the podium with a piece of paper and read to you, because it’s coming from here.  I’m giving the people what they want to hear.  I’m not giving you something that I have to make up.  I want to give you me.  I want to give you all of me so you can understand that and there be no misconception.  

So, I’m grateful that Lisa had the opportunity to be in the audience when we were speaking and we captured her attention and this great friendship has developed, and now it gives ROBE a chance for people to hear this story and understand that we just a group of men that try to do this work and make a difference.  We’re trying to truly make a difference and help.  People who are really trying to do this work, they will be more willing to work with ROBE, because we have a lot to offer and a lot to bring to the table and the best thing about it is it’s genuine. And it’s boots on the ground.  

When I go to Ohio I’m not going to go sit, and all be like Calvin let’s go here, let’s go there, I’m boots on the ground.  The same thing when we come here.  It’s boots on the ground.  I want you to see how fathers are living, how fathers are being treated, what they have for fathers.  I want you to understand because maybe you can help me to help these brothers.  So, this is what it’s about.  So, Dave, you know, being a part of the Wisdom Council we are grateful for the opportunities and we are blessed that you all took the time to want to do this with us so people can get to understand and learn more about ROBE, because the world is going to know about ROBE.  The whole world will know, sooner than later, that we’re a group of brothers that are going to try to reach every brother around this world that we can.

CALVIN:  You know what, I have to add that, and this is from our amazing executive director, G. Wesley Bugg.  Wesley said one day, and it stuck with me, he said, “You don’t have to be black, you don’t even have to be a man to be a brother.  If you care about black infants dying, if you care about black maternal morbidity and mortality, you can be a brother.”

KEVIN:  That’s a fact.

LISA:  Well, can you tell us where to go?  Let’s have our readers, leave them with some resources.  Where can they find you online and where would you like for them to go to find the resources and to contact you?

CALVIN:  For me, it’s…you know, I have a website lucianfamilies.com.  You can check me out there.  Obviously, I have a Facebook page.  Also, my work with Hamilton County, Ohio, you can check that out at hcfathers.org, where we have a county wide fatherhood collaborative.  Yeah, those are the places you can get at me.

LISA:  Okay, and the ROBE website is breastfeedingROBE.org.

CALVIN:  BreastfeedingROBE.org, that’s correct.  And I’ll say this to what Kevin said about the Wisdom Council. I have a saying on the home page of my website and it’s from a Native American author and I borrowed it, and it says the true test of kinship is not blood, it’s behavior.  And so, this Wisdom Council behaves like a band of brothers.  So that’s what makes us special.

LISA: It is a special group. I told you that at that conference and seeing you all together and speak; I don’t know how often you do that or where the next one’s going to be since we’re all kind of in a quarantine mode, maybe you all could do Zoom conferences.  But, you’re collaboration and your dynamics together was really moving.  It was the best part of the conference, it really was.  I say that without hesitation and not the least bit… that’s not an overstatement at all.  It was just really moving, and as you said, Kevin, it was very clear that you were bringing your heart and I do think that really inspires a lot of hope in people to see that… we haven’t all be ground down, we’re all exhausted. I’m still here after 22 years of activism people, so you can show up to.  You can do this.

CALVIN:  Can I say something to you guys?  Thank you for being allies.  Thank you.

LISA:  Thank you, Calvin.  I can’t tell your story for you. I can only make a place at the table like Kevin said.  A place at the table is always here at Kindred, and I’m just thrilled that I was able to discover you there and I can’t wait to see what else you all have.  The resources that you’re coming out with are so helpful.  Some of them like the video is so very simple but it really illustrates for me this very practical way of working together again as a team and that’s what it’s going to take, and for us to think that we’re going to go off in isolation we’re going to figure this out and it’s an intellectual process ourselves, and then as you say, Kevin, get together at a conference and present our intellectual findings.  That day is done.  It was what I feel was a white intellectual agenda that had its chance and we already know the science.  We already know the purpose and necessity of breastfeeding in communities.  It is a social justice issue and that is not the tactic that is going to get us where we are going.  So, I appreciate, as you said, the boots on the ground, that’s it. 

Kevin, do you want people to reach you at the ROBE website?

KEVIN:  Oh yeah, kevinsherman@breastfeedingROBE.com and my other email is kdsherman@nola.gov .  As you know I am the fatherhood coordinator for the Healthy Start in New Orleans here. I’m the fatherhood coordinator of the Crescent City Dad’s.  I coordinate the Crescent City Dad’s classes here in New Orleans.  I am also the mentor for a Catholic charity youth program, and I also have my own youth organization where I take young kids for a life changing experience, not a scare straight, but an all-day experience, to the Louisiana State prison so guys can share their stories with them in hopes that these young people get it and make a life changing decision.  

LISA:  That sounds like the opposite of scared straight.

KEVIN:  Yeah, scared straight is not good.  A lot of bad things have come out of scared straight programs because kids have to reestablish who they really are after you done took them in a prison and pumped them out when people were scared.  Now they will wind up hurting somebody, because now kids are people that are seen and not who they profess to be, so now they’ve got to prove I am that person and why I am hurting people.  So, I believe that just bringing kids in, letting guys that truly transformed in prison, and I’m talking about people who are mamas, doctors, lawyers, prominent people who have made mistakes in their lives and share their stories with these young kids and hope that these kids would just take these stories and make a difference. A lot of kids have.  

It’s just that people have to understand that, and I teach all my young kids this; nobody should want more for you than you want for yourself, and that’s just what I live by.  And I tell them if somebody wants something from you, you’ve got to go harder than them.  Don’t let them want more for you than you want for yourself.  That gives them that push.  I will leave with this, and I’m talking about in any kind of work we do, especially the work that we’re doing now, and I always express this to my Wisdom Council brothers.  I teach this to a lot of people who want to embark on fatherhood, dinner with youths or anything. Lisa, you can’t help me if you don’t know me.

LISA:  Right.

KEVIN:  You can’t just take for instance that because I live next door to Joey, that my life is the same as Joey.  So, you can treat me and Joey the same.  No, you have to get to know me to help me.  You can’t tell me you want to help, me because my first question to you is how you going to help me, you don’t know my story.  You’ve got to hear my story and then you can see how you can help me, how do you fit into my story.  Because you may not fit in, but after hearing my story you may know the person that can.  I can’t help you with that, but Dave can. That’s when you get to know a person.

LISA:  Try to envision what our culture would look like if we decided that a real super power would be that of listening.  

Well, thank you so much.  Don’t hang up yet everybody.  I’m going to stop our recording.  I am going to tell our listeners that they can find the transcript for this call at kindredmedia.org.  You can also look for podcast to share on iTunes, Amazon Cloud, YouTube and again kindredmedia.org.  This is an ongoing series for right now.  I don’t know when we are going to stop at this point.  We have a lot to talk about.  We have a couple more ROBE members coming forward to talk to us about their work and I look forward to sharing these stories with you. 

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The “Magic Of Our Fears And Tears” – An Interview With Kimarie Bugg, DNP, RN, MPH, IBCLC https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/05/the-magic-of-fears-and-tears-an-interview-with-kimarie-bugg/ https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/05/the-magic-of-fears-and-tears-an-interview-with-kimarie-bugg/#respond Mon, 11 May 2020 04:42:15 +0000 http://www.kindredmedia.org/?p=24804 About Meet the Men of ROBE: Standing at the Intersection of Fatherhood, Infant Mortality, Breastfeeding, and Social Justice Part II in Kindred’s Series In this series, Lisa Reagan talks with the Wisdom Council members of Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere, ROBE, invites Kindred listeners and readers to hear their personal stories and understand the critical need for […]]]>

About Meet the Men of ROBE: Standing at the Intersection of Fatherhood, Infant Mortality, Breastfeeding, and Social Justice


Read Our Five Star Reviews at Great Nonprofits!

Part II in Kindred’s Series

In this series, Lisa Reagan talks with the Wisdom Council members of Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere, ROBE, invites Kindred listeners and readers to hear their personal stories and understand the critical need for ROBE’s vision for black fathers. In this interview, Kimarie Bugg, DNP, founder of Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, ROSE, and the inspiration for the founding of ROBE, shares her personal journey and vision for improving black families’ health outcomes through diversity, equity and inclusivity training for professionals.

In Part I, III and IV of the series, ROBE Wisdom Council members share their extraordinary stories of creating a new “generative” path to fatherhood, one that prepares black fathers to become crucial advocates and supporters “to increase breastfeeding rates and decrease infant mortality rates within African-American communities.”

While ROBE’s wisdom council members seek to “educate, equip and empower” new fathers, they, and the fathers they serve, face racial and gender inequality, structural racism, and a persistent cultural myth of black fathers as absent fathers – a damaging and racist mythology contradicted by CDC data that shows: 

  • Most black fathers live with their children. There are about 2.5 million who live with their children, and 1.7 million who don’t, according to the CDC.
  • Black dads who live with their children are actually the most involved fathers of all, on average, a CDC study found.

For more academic insights into breaking stereotypes of black fathers, see Understanding the Positive Impacts of African American Fathers, or any work by Waldo E. Johnson, Jr., who has been deeply immersed in the study of fathers and families for over two decades. 

About Kindred’s Editor: Oral history has its roots in the sharing of stories throughout the centuries. It is a primary source of historical data, gathering information from living individuals via recorded interviews. Lisa Reagan’s interviews of thought-leaders, researchers, activists, parents and professionals serves as an oral history of the organic conscious parenting/family wellness movement in the United States and globally since 1999. Follow her podcasts, and this series, on Apple Music/iTunesSoundCloud and here on Kindred.


Part I: Meet ROBE. An introduction to Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere with founders Wesley Bugg, JD, and George Bugg, MD.

Part II: Meet ROSE: Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, the inspiration for ROBE. ROSE’s Chief Empowerment Officer, Kimarie Bugg, DNP, shares her story of transforming her 40 year nursing career into a diversity, equity and inclusion nonprofit to train health care professionals, breastfeeding consultants and families.

Part III: Black Fathers, Cultural Myth and Reality. Listen to stories of ROBE’s Wisdom Council members, Calvin Williams and Kevin Sherman, below.

Part IV: The Fatherhood Narrative: What Support Circles Reveal About Fears and Hopes. An interview with Carl Route, Jr, and Gregory Long, Wisdom Council Members of ROBE.


Subscribe to Kindred’s newsletter and don’t miss the upcoming interviews for the Black Men, Breastfeeding, and Social Justice Series



Part II: Meet Kimarie Bugg, DNP, RN, MPH, IBCLC

Dr. Kimarie Bugg

A national treasure for her leadership in breastfeeding and equity education, in this Kindred interview, Kimarie Bugg, DNP, RN, MPH, IBCLC, shares her story of discovering her love for caring for babies and mothers as the granddaughter of a Southern lay midwife who cautioned her to become a “real nurse” when she grew up. Born in South Bend, Indiana, Kimarie’s childhood visits to her grandmother in Arkansas shaped her understanding of racism with first-hand experiences not found in South Bend, like moving off of sidewalks with her grandmother to let white people pass.

In 1978, Kimarie became a mother of twins and a registered nurse while living in the state of Texas. In her Kindred interview, she shares her experience of calling La Leche League for help with breastfeeding her twins as a young mother and discovering the organization’s leaders and local hospital, at that time, did not return calls to “people who lived in my area code.” Her challenging and isolating experience breastfeeding twins inspired her to help mothers until, as a nurse, she became known as the “breast nurse.”

Her pursuit of a doctorate in nursing, 40 years of breastfeeding education, and integration of her early and ongoing awareness of racial disparities, led her to found Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, ROSE, in 2011. A recipient of a million-dollar W. K. Kellogg Foundation grant, ROSE is tasked to: “Address inequities in breastfeeding rates among African American women by creating communities across the United States who promote and support breastfeeding through culturally appropriate capacity building of community members, public health professionals and healthcare systems.”

In her recent president’s letter to ROSE members and supporters, Kimarie shares, “Through our passion for eliminating the disproportionate negative impact of [Black] maternal and infant mortality, breastfeeding initiation and duration, and all the maternal, paternal and child health systematic injustices to which we have dedicated our lives, we are labeled hostile by some.  To them, we say, ‘we are not hostile, we are passionate about disrupting the political determinants of health’ in the communities where we live, work, play and worship…

“We will not be satisfied with just Black representation. We listen to Black mothers. And we will fight for their rights to have true power in the information, care and engagement they receive from institutions and systems. This is our calling and our covenant to you. We will continue to address the root cause of social injustice and make a culture shift towards an anti-oppressive culture. And we will actively engage it until we can run no more, at which point we will gladly pass this baton of passion, this birthright, this struggle, to the next-gen mothers, the next-gen servant leaders, who will carry our power further than I can imagine. Our magic is in our fears and tears, our sisterhoods and our LOVE. (Emphasis editor’s. Read Kimarie’s letter from the president here.)

ROSE’s first years as a nonprofit focused on eight states in the South, and in later years, the organization utilized these insights and professional training programs to restructure the nation’s organizing hub for state and local coalitions: the United States Breastfeeding Committee, USBC. The result of this restructuring is a transformed and dynamic nonprofit, a website rich in educational materials, ongoing educational webinar trainings for state and local organizations, and the visible impact of transforming the USBC’s annual conferences into a vibrant, progressive and diverse activist networking celebration. 

In their 2016 Legacy Award statement, the USBC writes of Kimarie, “Her collaborative power and willingness to help everyone around her grow, to ‘know better and do better,’ has significantly contributed to the changes at the USBC, and our strides to be a welcoming and more inclusive organization. As Kim likes to say, ‘being at the table changes the conversation.’ The leadership of the USBC thanks Kim for being at the table, breaking bread with us, and having a rich and transformative conversation that now includes many people and communities around the country.”

With our world in crisis from the personal to the planetary, and our future as a species uncertain, Kimarie Bugg’s story shows us how one person found the “magic” in her own “fears and tears” and transformed her trauma into a passion and vision that sparked real cultural change. I invite you to join me in sitting gratefully at her feet around our virtual campfire here on Kindred and listening, deeply, to her story.

Click on the title below to go to that section:


The “Magic Of Our Fears And Tears” – An Interview With Kimarie Bugg, DNP, RN, MPH, IBCLC

TRANSCRIPT EDITED FOR CLARITY


Falling In Love With Babies And Mothers

LISA:  Hello everyone and welcome to Kindred.  This is Lisa Reagan and today I’m talking with Kimarie Bugg, and she is the Chief Empowerment Officer and Change Leader at Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, also known as ROSE.  Welcome and thank you for coming. Let’s start with your background and where you were coming from long before you started ROSE. 

Kimarie Bugg, DNP, RN, MPH, IBCLC

KIMARIE:  Thank you for having me.  I was born and raised in South Bend, Indiana.  I know most people didn’t know much about that until very recently when the former mayor ran for president but also the University of Notre Dame is there.  

During the summers growing up I was allowed to go with my father, who was from Arkansas, to visit his mother.  His mother was in Marianna, Arkansas, and she was a lay midwife. At the age of 12, my paternal grandmother allowed me to help her with women coming to her home to labor and deliver their babies. My task was to take the baby and clean the baby up.  So, that’s how I fell in love with babies.  Also, at the time my grandmother expressed to me that she wanted me to be what she called a “real nurse.”  That started me on a path to nursing, and again, at the same time, my mom in Indiana was an LPN, a licensed practical nurse; but that’s really how I came to fall in love, especially with babies. And I’ve been a perinatal nurse for the last 40 years or so, but also working with labor and delivery and babies.

LISA:  When did you first decide that there was a need for an organization like ROSE?

KIMARIE:  The very first job that I had was the same year, 1978 I became a mother, a wife, and a registered nurse all in 1978.  What happened during that time is, when I had my children I was living away from my family.  In my family, everyone that had babies were breastfeeding, but they were in Indiana and I went to school in Texas and got married in Texas In Texas, I did not know anyone that was breastfeeding. After I had my babies, I attempted to call La Leche League and in that time, you had phone numbers that indicated where you live.  

A lot of people don’t understand that now, but if your number was 284 you knew exactly where that house was, on what street, on what side of the tracks it was.  So, I never got a call back from La Leche League because I lived on the side of the tracks where people who look like me lived.  – Kimarie Bugg, DNP, RN, MPH, IBCLC

 A lot of people don’t understand that now, but for example if your number was 284 you knew exactly where that house was, on what street, on what side of the tracks it was.  So, I never got a call back from La Leche League because I lived on the side of the tracks where people who look like me lived; is what my beliefs are.  

I truly struggled with breastfeeding.  Also, I had just graduated from nursing… I had twins too, let me say that.  I did not find out until 11 days before they were born that there were two of them. In 1978 they weren’t doing all of those tests to find out about gender… gender reveals, and things.  I struggled trying to breastfeed them and, as I mentioned, I was also a nurse and I had started working on pediatric inpatient and was toeing the party line when women asked about help with breastfeeding. I was told by the nurse that preceeded me that “we didn’t have time for that.”  So, I didn’t learn much about breastfeeding or anything in nursing school.  I didn’t learn anything when I went to the pediatric inpatient in Temple, Texas.  I won’t name the hospital, but it is currently designated as Baby Friendly and I was really happy to see that, but I didn’t get any help with breastfeeding there, and I couldn’t get any assistance in the community.  

I decided at that time that I didn’t want other women to be as miserable with their breastfeeding journey as I was, so I started to learn about how to help other women with breastfeeding on the floors.  Very quickly I became known as the “breast nurse.” 

I moved from Texas in 1980 to Atlanta, Georgia and came to a hospital here and was also known as the “breast nurse” because when people had questions with breastfeeding everybody would sort of turn and look to me.  So, I just started really reading and trying to figure things out and it just kind of worked.  It was more of a passion of doing the breastfeeding, lactation management work and still being a pediatric nurse practitioner and working with sick children, as I also did.  It was an extreme passion for many years.  

Then I was laid off from Emory School of Medicine as a nurse practitioner in 2011 and that’s when I decided with a couple of colleagues that what we really wanted to do was live by our passion and to truly put together an organization that would address the breastfeeding disparities we were seeing in the different ethnicities, because, again, the breastfeeding gap of “who started” and “who continued” breastfeeding was about 30% difference in black and white communities and the gap was not narrowing. Many of the people we saw were breastfeeding so we did not feel those statistics were very correct, but we wanted to see what was going on with those. That’s why we got together and started ROSE.


CRASH: Culture, show RespectAssess/Affirm differences, show Sensitivity and Self-awareness, and do it all with Humility

LISA:  Over the years you’ve served state and national breastfeeding organizations and have held this topline view of what’s going on. Your work at the United States Breastfeeding Committee, USBC, for example, seemed to come during a time when there was a tremendous transition in that organization.  What was your vantage point from there and what did you see happening?

KIMARIE:  It actually started probably in the early 1990s because we got a grant from HRSA to train healthcare professionals in the eight southeastern states.  We were a team of a physician, myself as a nurse, and a dietician, and we were doing training and meeting other health care professionals in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and both the Carolinas.  

At that time, we were also realizing that healthcare professionals did not have lactation management training, so a lot of their information was coming from a place of, “We are an expert of nursing medicine and you know taking care of diabetic children and mothers, but we don’t know anything about breastfeeding”.  So, they were kind of not helpful at all in trying to help families to breastfeed. That is a lot of what we learned and what we started to address.  That experience really kind of stayed with me, knowing that if healthcare providers don’t know anything about breastfeeding and they’re not helpful that will really destroy the whole initiation and support that families could get if they run into any problems at all.  

When we had this opportunity to put this organization together, one of the reasons why it was different than a lot of things that were out was our connections to physicians, nurses, and dietitians that we had met over the years that were truly in leadership positions in all of these states We were able to call on them to say, “These are some things that we need to do to improve breastfeeding rates, duration rates in especially the southeastern states.”  That’s some of the things that we got together early on. 

The USBC is connected to all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and the territories, and was directly working with them to develop resources. In the beginning, ROSE received a grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and one of their “must dos” was to work with the USBC.  So, I decided to run for the USBC board of directors and I became the first African-American woman on the board of directors for USBC. 

One of the things that we instituted at that time was what we called the CRASH Committee (Culture, show RespectAssess/Affirm differences, show Sensitivity and Self-awareness, and do it all with Humility) which was the diversity, equity, and inclusion, but we started with those as the soft conversations before we could get to what they are truly doing a phenomenal job of now, which is truly talking about racism, structural and systemic racism. 

Kimarie Bugg, DNP, RN, MPH, IBCLC

At that time, the USBC was going through lots of change and it was the great time for ROSE’s work in 2013, pretty much right after getting started in 2011. As a board of directors, we really thrashed out policies and procedures and programs and how to restructure the breastfeeding coalitions in all of the states and how to restructure the USBC, who has a lot of reference power and authority because they work with the federal government, the state governments, and the local coalitions.  We had the opportunity to really work on a lot of that structure with the board of directors, which led to some phenomenal change.  

One of the things that we instituted at that time was what we called the CRASH Committee (Culture, show RespectAssess/Affirm differences, show Sensitivity and Self-awareness, and do it all with Humility) which was the diversity, equity, and inclusion, but we started with those as the soft conversations before we could get to what they are truly doing a phenomenal job of now, which is truly talking about racism, structural and systemic racism.  So, we started with the easy conversations with the DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion), and now they have definitely moved on. That organization has been really phenomenal and at the forefront of lactation support in the landscape of this country.

LISA:  Yes, they have been.  What I would like to talk about for a moment is, the conflict within the breastfeeding community between white professional women and breastfeeding activists.  Did you witness from your vantage point there what I had witnessed in 22 years of being a breastfeeding advocate, ­ that there’s all kinds of splintering that goes on within what you would think from the outside would be a movement, holding hands and everybody is working towards the same goal advocating for breastfeeding. But then you actually get in there, as an activist, and you find that professionals, who tend to be mostly white, are very territorial.  

Over the years, I have seen that trying to bring together professionals and activists and moms, and different groups in a cohesive way was very difficult.  I was talking to your son, Wesley, and your husband, George, who are the founders of ROBE, Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere, and Wesley was saying they were surprised that they were not necessarily welcome into the breastfeeding movement because of the territorial nature of some professionals in the field who just didn’t want the competition.  I found that to be remarkable, that he also noticed what had been my experience.

KIMARIE: That is very true, and I guess one of our major strengths is the fact that we have just been unapologetically who and what we are.  And when we address the issue, the concern, it’s always been through our own lens and not expecting or even caring truly about how other folks felt. But then let me premise this with the fact that, early on, I talked about the grant that we received. In that grant we were trained by the mothers of the lactation community and Dr. Ruth Lawrence, Dr. Audrey Naylor, Dr. Miriam Labbok, so the heavyweights, the folks who wrote the articles, the folks who wrote the books. And they were completely and totally the wind beneath our wings. 

 These were older white women who were not in for all of that in-fighting and all of that stuff. They gave us a lot of guidance on directions to go and things that needed to be done and how to do it, and also were instrumental in getting us into rooms that we would not have been able to get in on our own.  We are truly, truly thankful and grateful for their assistance, but with that said also being a nurse – nurses are my tribe, are wonderful and territorial also, and so you kind of come to expect a lot of that sometimes.  

We knew that was out there, even with, for example, the IBCLC exam.  I took the exam in 1987 and I think the first exam was 1986, and I was in IBCLC for five years, and there was no return on investment for me and my community and the things I wanted to do. So, I didn’t retake the exam and had no need for it. However, recently I did because we’ve come to a different point and again that was five years after 1987, and now here we are 2020 and a lot of the young black women that I work with are very interested in being IBCLCs and so I did retake the exam so that I could help to mentor them. 

Yeah, it’s definitely been like that, and that’s one of the reasons why I got into the USBC, because one of the Constellations and Learning Communities that they have is lactation support providers, and that constellation includes peer counselors all the way through breastfeeding medicine physicians.  My husband was a charter member of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and that was because those women that I mentioned earlier are the founders of the American Breastfeeding Physicians and so they also got him to be a charter member too. 

We’ve just been where the action was, as far as working through the lactation landscape, and being there has just made a difference and continue to help us get into the rooms and the places we needed to do and really push our agenda forward.  And that was the other thing, they didn’t feel threatened because of the population and the target that was out concern, and they had no intention or didn’t care at all about working with our specific target population.


Crying, Stomping and Hugging: Behind The Scenes Of Organizational Transformation

There was a lot of crying and stomping and walking out of the room, and hugging, and more crying.  Lots of that.  There were times where folks truly wanted to walk out.  There were times where feelings were hurt and toes were stepped on.  It was difficult for, you know, the oppressor never wants to release power, and especially when you have no idea that you’re holding the power.  It’s the white privilege. – Kimarie Bugg, DNP, RN, MPH, IBCLC

LISA:  I remember the USBC’s 2014 national conference, the focus on building these cultural bridges. The conference featured lots of different presenters that were so inspirational and so moving who taught us, “This is how we built our bridge into our Native American community or the Samoan community.”  The conference illustrated that the bridge has to be someone in that community that understands the language of the community, the needs of the community, what’s really happening on the ground, that is trained and given resources.

Then there is this process that has to happen with trainers needing to listen to the person who returns from the community. There needs to be this reciprocal teaching that’s going to happen of learning about the racism, oppression, inequity, implicit bias, the structural racism.  This listening has not been something that white professionals have been receptive to.

But something happened in the USBC world because the 2014 conference and the 2019 conference were two different conferences – and the change was remarkable.  It was just remarkable.  The energy was the energy of activists, and the anger of activists and the room was very dynamic and diverse. Then ROBE spoke at the very end of the conference. I had never heard black men advocate for breastfeeding in this way. 

That change, right there on the ground, that it really happened was such a wonderful, miraculous event to witness.  I say that because I’ve been around for a long time and I can be pretty cynical, but that change was real.  Can you tell us a little bit about what was behind the scenes that made it possible?

KIMARIE:  There was a lot of crying and stomping and walking out of the room, and hugging, and more crying.  Lots of that.  There were times where folks truly wanted to walk out.  There were times where feelings were hurt and toes were stepped on.  It was difficult for, you know, the oppressor never wants to release power, and especially when you have no idea that you’re holding the power.  It’s the white privilege. 

So, we had to have those conversations, and when you know better you do better.  I talk a lot in my little presentations about Johari’s Window.  I know what I know, I know a little bit about what I don’t know, and I know nothing about what I don’t know.  So, if something has always been this normalized and you do not see in your base anything about slavery and Jim Crow and redlining and about toxic dumps being put in neighborhoods and then segregation and all of those types of things. If you’ve never had any need to focus on those things, then again, it’s like Pollyanna, you just have those rose-colored glasses and that’s it. For women or people of color, we’ve never had that privilege and so this was a time when we got people into the room to have those conversations just basically to help people to understand: this is my reality.  

If you’ve never had any need to focus on those things, then again, it’s like Pollyanna, you just have those rose-colored glasses and that’s it. For women or people of color, we’ve never had that privilege and so this was a time when we got people into the room to have those conversations just basically to help people to understand: this is my reality.  – Kimarie Bugg, DNP, RN, MPH, IBCLC

When I was eight years-old walking in downtown Helena, Arkansas with my grandmother, white men were coming down the sidewalk and we had to get off the sidewalk into the street, and I’m trying to figure out at eight years-old what the hell is going on here, because in Indiana that’s not something that had ever happened to me.  After being belligerent about it, my grandmother made a vow then never to take me downtown in west Helena, Arkansas again because I did not understand what was happening and she didn’t know what would happen to me.  So, it’s about putting it out there and seeing who was willing to listen and at least hear it and then start to make some small inroads into why and how this has happened like this and then what is it that we can do to change. 

One of the speakers that we had come to present to us early on was Dr. Joy DeGruy.  Are you familiar with her?  She does this phenomenal presentation on Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. It is amazing.  So speakers like that and Dr. Camara Jones who does another presentation on health equity and achieving health equity and talking again about the different types of racism, and Dr. David Williams who’s at Harvard and has done some phenomenal economic presentations on the differences in the wealth gap in African Americans and white people.  My dad, for example, when he came home from the war was not able to get a GI loan because he was black.  A lot of people don’t even understand that.  

Until you understand or are presented with the realities, then you’re not really expected to be willing to make these changes.  Some people after addressing these concerns, were not able to make these changes, but a majority of the folks were.  That’s why it took several years, but they have truly made a phenomenal transition.


Nursing Narratives: Training Professionals, Health Care Workers and Nonprofits in Equity Awareness

The staff asks us all the time, how do you engage “these women”, and I’m doing my air quotes because that’s code for women of color, African American women, Hispanic women. When they say “these women” you know who they’re talking about.  Working on those codes, working on their biases, helping them to understand. – Kimarie Bugg, DNP, RN, MPH, IBCLC

LISA:  There’s a very large body of science and research into how nonprofits have been bastions of white privilege minimally and white supremacy outright in some cases because of the boards being white, and monied, and just staying on forever, like you said – they don’t release power, they hang on to it and don’t make efforts to expand and change, invite board members outside of their circle.  So, that again this ROSE training was implemented at USBC,  and it looks like it is trickling down to different organizations.  Can you give us and idea of what a ROSE training  for professionals would look like? 

KIMARIE:  The bottom line is to help folks to understand there’s a lot of things that were not true that we learned growing up and that our implicit bias leads us to believe in a lot of stereotypes that are not true.  So, we need to look at what it is that we should do, especially as professionals, and to make sure that we are helping the families that we serve reach health equity.  That’s all it’s about.  I can’t really talk about the love of Christ like I would like to in spots like that, so what I have to just talk about is the fact that we are called in our professions to serve, and in order to do that we have to look at our own biases and get those out of the way.  

One example is how culturally inappropriate it was for so many years as a nurse in postpartum areas: most of us would line up the ice buckets and take them to the mother’s rooms when we were serving different populations of women, and that it is insulting to Asian women, to give them a bucket full of ice and water right after they have a baby.  That is culturally inappropriate because they only drink hot stuff and hot foods because of their culture. We would set those pitchers of ice water in there and that offended them.  So, it is imperative we learn what is offensive, and it’s not about us changing who we are, it’s just about while we are with certain groups and people and organizations that we act appropriately.  

In the African American community, for us, it’s all about relationships. What we find a lot of times in the hospitals is they will say things like, “Well, we have these breastfeeding support groups for the NICU mothers and none of the black mothers ever come.”  

And so I say, okay, “Tell me about how you advertise or how you invite them.”  

“Well, here at the clerk’s desk there’s a flyer. There’s a piece of paper on the wall that says Breastfeeding Support Group at 10 o’clock every Tuesday morning.”  

To help them to understand that that is offensive and not acceptable to black women is something that is easy for us to do.  Our community is all about building trust in relationships, because in this country for so many years we didn’t have that.  In order for me to want to participate in something like that you’d have to come to me and ask. “Hey, Mrs. Jones (the mother of this 28-weeker), there is a breastfeeding support group that we would love for you to come to and this is the time and these are the dates.”

Then you have a much better time, or it’s more possible for you to get that woman to come and to participate. So many different little things like that could make a difference.  The staff asks us all the time, how do you engage “these women”, and I’m doing my air quotes because that’s code for women of color, African American women, Hispanic women. When they say “these women” you know who they’re talking about.  Working on those codes, working on their biases, helping them to understand. That’s one of the things that we’ve done a lot of in our organization: we bring the equity to projects and programs and help folks to really engage their target populations because a lot of times these are folks with grants and programs and projects that they need to infuse into the communities that they know absolutely nothing about and so part of what we want, of course, is for breastfeeding rates and initiation to be increased. If they are legitimate, we are definitely willing to help to facilitate a lot of that.  

It is just ongoing to help folks to learn about cultural humility, what Dr. Jane Murray talks about.  You’ll never be culturally competent in someone else’s culture; however, you can continue to learn.  It’s a lifelong process and if you do at least have the cultural humility to ask, “How is it that I can serve you and make sure that you reach your specific breastfeeding initiation and breastfeeding duration goals?”  What the CDC has shown is that 60% of women who start breastfeeding don’t meet their goals, and I’m willing to say that it’s higher than that in the African American community for many reasons, many barriers, many challenges.  But, that’s a really sad commentary that 60% of women are not meeting their goals.

LISA:  Yes, it is. And they do set the goals in the beginning; we know that. It’s just all the hurdles in between.

KIMARIE:  Absolutely.  And one of the biggest hurdles had been getting out of the hospital successfully breastfeeding.  Now with the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative being funded by the CDC, the number of Baby-Friendly Hospitals has tripled since probably about 2011, right when we were starting.  That was the first initiative that took 90 hospitals through the Baby-Friendly process.  Now there are over one million babies that have been born in Baby-Friendly Hospitals, and there are like 600+ Baby-Friendly Hospitals, where in 2010 it was in the single digits, probably.


Creating Bold, Brave, Safe Spaces: Inviting Our Humanity Into The Room

That safe space is something that needs to continue to happen, but we need to have bold spaces or brave spaces now, where I can truly bring out the fact that, “Yeah, in our family there are still these things that are going on, but I want to do better so I want to know about this in the African American community.” – Kimarie Bugg, DNP, RN, MPH, IBCLC

Kindred’s interview with Jennie Joseph

LISA:  You’re talking about relationships and how important relationships are in the African American community. The first time I heard about Jenny Joseph, who is a British midwife that came to the United States and set up practice in Florida, I kept hearing about her fantastic results with her patients and how their rates of maternal morbidity were so low compared to national rates.  A few years ago on phone conference, I’m listening to Jenny Joseph speak and I’m waiting and waiting for the big secret, the big secret of how she did this. What I don’t realize is my brain is in a white privilege academic thinking mode.  I’m waiting for there to be something complicated, and then when she says “it’s relationship we found” to be the key to reduced maternal morbidity. The people coming through her door are seen and they are heard and it is understood that they may have taken three buses to get there, and it’s understood what they have to face to have a healthy baby and the relationship that is built is what makes the difference in the maternal morbidity rates in her clinic.  

It was just humbling but it was also frustrating because I’m thinking, “How are you going to do that? How are you going to reproduce that?” I know Jenny’s out there trying to teach people now, how this relationship-building process is reproduced, but this is more than just a cultural shift.  This is an internal human heart shift.

KIMARIE:  Absolutely yes.  She’s definitely one of my favorite people, and she does it with ease because that’s the spirit that she has, but as I teach all the time, it’s about transparency.  It’s about owning your thoughts, your concerns.  It’s about creating safe spaces and now what I’ve been talking about more is we don’t want to just create safe spaces because we’ve been there for years now.  Like Martin Luther King Jr. said, we have the fierce sense of urgency of now, and so we’ve got to push this envelope and we want to have brave spaces.  We, ROSE, want to have a room where we can get to and have different people actually talk and ask the questions that they need to ask, their burning questions, and to be able to come out of it feeling good that there are no stupid questions.  

For example, we’ve been working on these spaces quite a bit, to have these brave spaces. One of the things that comes up often is, “Why is it that black women get offended when I say ‘can I touch your hair?’” That happens a lot in the African American community.  Did you know that, that women come up to us all the time and say, “Can I touch your hair?” That is extremely offensive for black women.  That’s good that you ask this question in the brave space.  That means that you have noticed that that is offensive and you’re asking why, so those are the types of things we want to do. That safe space is something that needs to continue to happen, but we need to have bold spaces or brave spaces now, where I can truly bring out the fact that, “Yeah, in our family there are still these things that are going on, but I want to do better so I want to know about this in the African American community.”

“Tell me,” somebody asked me once, “is it true that black people do the Electric Slide at funerals and at weddings?”  And I had to laugh about it, but it’s just like yes, and they say, “Well that’s just been a burning question on my heart and I didn’t know who to ask.”  It was just funny.  It’s funny for them, it was funny to me, but it’s true.  So those are the kinds of spaces that we need to have to be able to share so that we know.


COVID-19’s Impact on Black Mothers and Community

Birth has already been pretty traumatic in this country for black women because maternal mortality, especially here where I am in Georgia, is higher here than it is anywhere else.  Birth is already traumatic and for them to be alone, of course, is just really a lot worse. – Kimarie Bugg, DNP, RN, MPH, IBCLC

LISA:  We are in the middle of quarantining for the Covid-19 and you were saying that this moment is highlighting the issue of black maternal mortality because of what is happening.  How is that going? 

KIMARIE:  Some of the stuff that is happening right now is that in places where black and brown women are delivering their babies, the hospitals are deciding to separate mothers and babies just randomly. Because of Covid-19 they’re saying that when women have babies we’re going to separate them, put the babies in the nursery, put the mother in a room by herself so the babies don’t get Covid-19 until the mother has been tested, and you know those tests have been five days long.  

The problem that we see, and again this is because of the people who are calling me, and I’ve had calls from six states, is that it’s happening in areas of town where the majority of the women who are delivering at those hospitals are black and brown women.  Some of the things that we’ve asked recently is that, this week specifically, that USBC and also Moms Rising address this.  There’s also been some guidelines that have come down from the CDC just this week also that addresses this.  The American Medical Association is also addressing it.  These are all folks that advocates have been calling all week.  ACOG has put out a statement just yesterday and there’s an article in the New York Times about this also. But this is what I’ve been working on for the last six days and lots of other people also.  

Also, women have been going on to labor and deliver alone because the hospitals are saying they cannot have a support person with them, but I’m being told that was happening a lot in New York. Governor Cuomo addressed that yesterday and said that it would not happen anymore with labor and birth, but that is happening again in many inner city hospitals where women are delivering alone.  That is extremely traumatic.  Birth has already been pretty traumatic in this country for black women because maternal mortality, especially here where I am in Georgia, is higher here than it is anywhere else.  Birth is already traumatic and for them to be alone, of course, is just really a lot worse.

LISA:  La Leche League and a number of other breastfeeding organizations have also advocated that you continue to breastfeed your infant during this Covid-19 virus because it is more traumatizing for the child to not be held and nursed and to miss out on that, and those are all up on Kindred if you want to take a look there, kindredmedia.org.  


Putting Our Humanity On The Agenda

This gets extremely painful for many of us.  I’ve held many African American women in my arms who have lost babies to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and grandmothers who’ve lost daughters when they were having babies in childbirth, and that takes a toll on you.  It takes a toll to be the mother of a black son in America, just always concerned about, are they going to make it home safe, for many reasons?  It really felt good for that organization to allow that space so that everyone could go around and check in just for a few minutes, and everybody needs to do that.  – Kimarie Bugg, DNP, RN, MPH, IBCLC

Listen to Joan C. Williams, director of the Center for Worklife Law, share her insights into classism, racism and sexism as barriers to breastfeeding policy.

LISA: Let’s go back to safe spaces because I also witnessed something else remarkable last year, and you were there. This past August in San Francisco, you and I attended the Center for Worklife Law Breastfeeding Summit, and this is a part of the University of California at Hastings and this event was about worklife law, of course, but really about language and how to use different words in different states depending upon whether they are Republican or Democrat or super conservative or somewhere in the middle. We found at the conference there is a certain way to speak to people in order to get them to care about breastfeeding and supporting breastfeeding.  These are sophisticated activist tools that both were exciting to find but also made me despair, a little. 

What were your thoughts about how we have to be careful with our language in order to advocate for breastfeeding depending on geographically where we are? And, I know you know what moment I want to talk about, because there was another moment that we stopped the conference and we went into more human place with each other. 

KIMARIE:  I think that is something that we had to do in the past.  It has changed dramatically, but I would definitely say that geography matters.  The way that you talk about it in California where breastfeeding rates are 95% are very different from how you can talk about it in Mississippi and Louisiana that have the lowest rates in the country.  It has gotten a lot better in the last five years because the federal government has been very involved with women’s health and HRSA (United States Health Resources & Services Administration) in developing language and resources, and also because so many articles and information have been coming out of just about every area also.

LISA:  Right, and it is different in these states.  You and I are both in the South, so we have an idea.  But there was a moment in this summit that for me, was remarkable. I felt like a sacred witness at this moment. I guess you may have to be a Southerner to appreciate this, but there was a moment in the conference – and again this is a very well put together very intellectually driven conference – and something happened and the room shifted and someone in the back raised their hand, and said, “I’m not feeling safe and I think we should go around the room now and ask the women of color if they feel safe, and everyone checked in on their level of feeling safe.”  To me that was remarkable.  I tried to speak, I tried to contribute but I couldn’t get my voice.  I was choking up and I felt like that moment brought our humanity into the room, because we all did the pausing and listening practice that wasn’t on the agenda, but it really did bring the heart into the room, to have that level of consideration for where are people right now.  Do you remember that moment?

KIMARIE:  I do.  I definitely think that it was wonderful.  What happened was it was time to move on when we were talking about some things that were really felt deeply, particularly they were felt by women of color. What was on the agenda move forward but then again as you mentioned someone in the room said, “But we’re not really feeling easy and good with where we are with this last agenda item.”  So, it felt good to be able to jump out of the ivory tower and to recognize that everybody truly had feelings and concerns and we weren’t going to move on without at least addressing those, or at least letting someone say something.  

There were some tears in the room because some people specifically asked what do you have to say, because they felt that there was some serious emotion in their faces.  It was a great time.  It was good. It would be fabulous for more meetings to be like that.  Again, when people are able to get in touch with how they’re feeling in order to affect policy, that’s going to impact so many other people.  

This gets extremely painful for many of us.  I’ve held many African American women in my arms who have lost babies to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and grandmothers who’ve lost daughters when they were having babies in childbirth, and that takes a toll on you.  It takes a toll to be the mother of a black son in America, just always concerned about, are they going to make it home safe, for many reasons?  It really felt good for that organization to allow that space so that everyone could go around and check in just for a few minutes, and everybody needs to do that. 

We need to put time into these agendas, and especially at times like this with this Covid-19, where we can truly say to people, “How are you really feeling?”  There was a woman that I met many years ago, her name was Bobbie Avery, and she said to me one day, she held my hand and said, “How are you doing?” and I said, “I’m doing fine, yada, yada, yada,” and she held my hands and she looked in my eyes and she said, “Now, how are you really doing?” and I just started to bawl. I just cried and I cried. I’m like, “I had to run home and put on these high heels and this skirt and I really wasn’t finished, and this is happening with my kids, but I know I needed to be here.”  And that was my first meeting, but she made me feel so safe that I just had to come out to her.  I have done that over and over and over again because she made me feel so good, and like Maya Angelou said, “You don’t remember what people say, you don’t remember what they do, but you remember how they made you feel.”  So, I want to be sure to make people feel like that too.  That’s why I always attempt to take time to truly listen to people and to look at them and to give them some space to be able to talk, and we need to do that these days because there are so many hurting people at home right now.

LISA:  What else would you like for our listeners to know about your work before we go?

KIMARIE:  Well, just that we are really grateful to be able to do this work.  We have had some phenomenal partners, HealthConnect One and Moms Rising, and 1000 Days and especially, of course, the United States Breastfeeding Committee. There’s so many wonderful people, organizations and people in this country who are doing the work in the communities, and we’re really thankful because that’s where we have to go to address issues and barriers and challenges.  It is true that we have to have connections to the community, and so I’m really thankful to be able to do that.

LISA:  Thank you so much for sharing your story, for the work that you’re doing. I am just blown away that you have been almost a lifelong activist it seems, 40 years, right?  Thank you so much. I’ll let our listeners know that you can go to breastfeedingROSE.org for ROSE and breastfeedingROBE.org for Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere, which is also an organization that was created by ROSE.  So, thank you so much again for coming on today. I appreciate your time and all you’re doing.

KIMARIE:  Thank you so much for having me.


RESOURCES

Kindred’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Resources

Kindred’s Features on Equity, Racism, White Supremacy and the Dominator Culture

Kindred’s Black Mothers and Fathers Resources

What Is Equity?

Equity has three interwoven components: a lens, a mirror, and an outcome. 

  • It is a lens through which we view the world to inform and guide the design of our strategies and activities to build a “landscape of breastfeeding support.” 
  • It is also a mirror through which we view ourselves and our organizations, examining our internal structures, culture, and policies and their impact on how the lens is applied and the outcome achieved. 
  • Lastly, it is the outcome we seek to achieve, i.e., equity is realized when life outcomes are equal, in a statistical sense, regardless of one’s identities. 

Equity work can take the form of actions designed to address historic burdens as well as to remove present-day barriers to equal opportunities. It can be accomplished by identifying and eliminating systemic discriminatory policies and practices, but also by transforming structures towards access, justice, self-determination, redistribution, and sharing of power and resources. Above all, it requires an inclusive approach that maximizes engagement of the communities impacted. 

Allegories on race and racism, by Camara Jones, A TEDx Talk

How Racism Makes Us Sick, by David Williams, PhD

Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, by Dr. Joy DeGruy

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https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/05/the-magic-of-fears-and-tears-an-interview-with-kimarie-bugg/feed/ 0
Black Men, Breastfeeding, Infant Mortality And Social Justice https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/03/black-men-breastfeeding-and-social-justice/ https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/03/black-men-breastfeeding-and-social-justice/#respond Mon, 30 Mar 2020 19:22:22 +0000 http://www.kindredmedia.org/?p=24399 The Men of ROBE: Standing at the Intersection of Fatherhood, Infant Mortality, Breastfeeding and Social Justice About Kindred’s Series: In this series, Kindred listeners and readers are invited to our virtual campfire to hear the Wisdom Council members of Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere, ROBE, share their inspired personal stories and vision for their national nonprofit […]]]>

The Men of ROBE: Standing at the Intersection of Fatherhood, Infant Mortality, Breastfeeding and Social Justice

About Kindred’s Series:

Read Our Five Star Reviews at Great Nonprofits!

In this series, Kindred listeners and readers are invited to our virtual campfire to hear the Wisdom Council members of Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere, ROBE, share their inspired personal stories and vision for their national nonprofit work.

In this series, Lisa Reagan is joined by Kindred’s social justice editor, Dave Metler, in Detroit, MI, and our Kindred Spirit Research Student, Reshma Grewal, from the University of California at Santa Barbara, who helped to expand our inquiry into our own personal experiences and perspectives.

In this first interview, Wesley Bugg, JD, and George Bugg, MD, founders of ROBE, share the nonprofit’s origins and overview. In forthcoming interviews, ROBE Wisdom Council members share their extraordinary stories of forging a new “generative” path to fatherhood, one that prepares black fathers to become crucial advocates “to increase breastfeeding rates and decrease infant mortality rates within African-American communities,” disparities that largely stem from structural and institutional racism.

While ROBE’s Wisdom Council members seek to “educate, equip and empower” new fathers, they, and the fathers they serve face racial and gender inequality, structural racism, and a persistent cultural myth of black fathers as absent fathers. A damaging and racist narrative rarely questioned when presented by politicians, contradictory CDC data shows: 

  • Most black fathers live with their children. There are about 2.5 million who live with their children, and 1.7 million who don’t, according to the CDC.
  • Black dads who live with their children are actually the most involved fathers of all, on average, a CDC study found.

As the United States Breastfeeding Committee shares on their website, the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality, neonatal mortality, and infant mortality rates among all developed countries and is the only country where the maternal mortality rate is increasing instead of decreasing. Stark racial and ethnic disparities persist in rates of pregnancy complications, pregnancy-related deaths, preterm and premature birth, infant mortality, SUID and SIDS. In the U.S. today, African American women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes and have a preterm birth rate nearly 50 percent higher than white women.

In the U.S. today, African American women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes and have a preterm birth rate nearly 50 percent higher than white women.

Maternal, infant, and child health outcomes, including breastfeeding rates, are impacted by issues of intersectionality. Deep inequities in social determinants of health, structural racism, and the lack of access to health care and preventive services are among the many factors impacting outcomes in communities of color and low-income communities. Policy changes are needed to influence upstream determinants of health and address the inequities that keep too many families of color from achieving their full potential.

Breastfeeding is the optimal source of nutrition and immune protection for babies, and a robust source of primary prevention for many infant and maternal conditions. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly states that infant feeding should no longer be considered a lifestyle choice, but rather a public health imperative because of the many short and long-term benefits to mother and child.

For more academic insights into breaking stereotypes of black fathers, see Understanding the Positive Impacts of African American Fathers, or any work by Waldo E. Johnson, Jr., who has been deeply immersed in the study of fathers and families for over two decades. 

This Kindred series will also explore:

  • The individual stories, and histories, of the ROSE and ROBE founders and team members
  • How engaging black fathers in birth and breastfeeding support roles is an effective, and needed, tactic for addressing the United State’s epidemic of black mothers dying in childbirth and low breastfeeding success rates.
  • How ROBE addresses and dispels cultural bias and myths surrounding black families.
  • How white professionals in the lactation field were not initially welcoming to black men as breastfeeding advocates. The “turf war” in the breastfeeding professionals field continues and this acknowledged cultural feature is explored as a barrier to breastfeeding success.
  • How research shows nonprofit organizations have historically been bastions of white professionals, even white supremacy, and how the transformative programs of Reaching Our Sister’s Everywhere, ROSE, and ROBE offer equity training for organizations.

About Kindred’s Editor: Oral history has its roots in the sharing of stories throughout the centuries. It is a primary source of historical data, gathering information from living individuals via recorded interviews. Lisa Reagan’s interviews of thought-leaders, researchers, activists, parents and professionals serves as an oral history of the organic conscious parenting/family wellness movement in the United States and globally since 1999. Follow her podcasts, and this series, on Apple Music/iTunesSoundCloud and here on Kindred.


Black Men, Breastfeeding, Infant Mortality and Social Justice Series

Part I: Meet ROBE – An Interview with Founders, George Bugg, MD, and Wesley Bugg, JD

In this first interview of the series, Kindred’s Social Justice Editor, Dave Metler, and Editor, Lisa Reagan, talk with Dr. George Bugg and Wesley Bugg, JD, founders of ROBE, Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere.

Subscribe to Kindred’s newsletter to make sure you don’t miss our upcoming series, Black Men, Breastfeeding, and Social Justice Series

In this podcast interview you will meet Dr. George Bugg, a neonatologist, and his son, Wesley Bugg, a nonprofit attorney, who have sparked a national movement to explore the healing power of black men supporting breastfeeding as a path to healing fatherhood and addressing critically needed social justice reforms.

Lisa Reagan met the ROBE founders and program leaders at the United States Breastfeeding Committee’s National Conference in June 2019 and again at the Worklife Law Center’s Breastfeeding Summit in August 2019. (see photos below)

ROBE’s mission is to educate, equip, and empower men to impact an increase in breastfeeding rates and a decrease in infant mortality rates within the African-American communities. Visit their website at www.breastfeedingrobe.org.


Upcoming Interviews in the Series


Part I: Meet ROBE – An Interview with Founders, George Bugg, MD, and Wesley Bugg, JD

Wesley Bugg, JD

Wesley Bugg is a 2016 graduate of the University of Miami’s School of Law (JD, LLM), and 2013 graduate of Emory University (BA). He is currently the deputy director of Court Vision International Inc., a nonprofit that promotes youth advocacy and conflict resolution. His current interests include legal compliance and business development, especially for startups and small nonprofits where these tasks are often expensive and difficult. In this spirit, he serves ROSE as the Legal Compliance Officer and financial assistant, aggregated into his role as Financial and Legal Operation Coordinator.


George Bugg, MD

Dr. George Bugg is currently the chief of the neonatology service at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, GA, and the neonatal director of the Emory Regional Perinatal Center. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (BA), Meharry Medical College (MD), and Emory University (MPH). He is a founding member of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and was trained in lactation management at Wellstart International. He and his wife, Kimarie Bugg, are the proud parents of five children.

Listen to the interview withe Wesley and Dr. Bugg above.


Part II: The “Magic of Fears and Tears” – An Interview with Kimarie Bugg, DNP

Kimarie Bugg, DNP

Kimarie Bugg, DNP/FNP-BC/MPH/IBCLC/CLC, is Chief Empowerment (CEO) and Change Leader of Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, Inc (ROSE), a nonprofit corporation developed in 2011, to address breastfeeding inequities and disparities in the African American community.

A national treasure for her leadership in breastfeeding and equity education, in this Kindred interview, Kimarie Bugg, DNP, RN, MPH, IBCLC, shares her story of discovering her love for caring for babies and mothers as the granddaughter of a Southern lay midwife who cautioned her to become a “real nurse” when she grew up. Born in South Bend, Indiana, Kimarie’s childhood visits to her grandmother in Arkansas shaped her understanding of racism with first-hand experiences – like moving off of sidewalks with her grandmother to let white people pass – ­that she did not encounter in South Bend.

Listen and download the interview now. Read the transcript.


Part III: The Men Of ROBE: Standing At The Intersection Of Fatherhood, Infant Mortality, Breastfeeding And Social Justice

Calvin Williams is a co-author of and Master Trainer for the “On My Shoulders” fatherhood curriculum, an innovative, evidence-based program that equips fathers for success in relationships with their children and co-parenting partners. He previously served as the Director of Fatherhood Services at Public Strategies Incorporated in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Before joining Public Strategies, Mr. Williams was as the Program Director for the Lighthouse Youth Services REAL Dads Program, and for the Services United for Mothers and Adolescents Fatherhood Project, both in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a founding and current board member with the Ohio Practitioners Network for Fathers & Families, a statewide training, advocacy and support organization for fatherhood practitioners.

Kevin Sherman

Kevin Sherman was released from prison after spending 30 years incarcerated. He was born and raised in New Orleans uptown. At an early age he got into street crime, which led him to being shot then incarcerated at the age of 15. While incarcerated he began to educate himself and became a spokesperson for young men entering the prison system. Once Kevin was released, he continued his work with the youth by ensuring every young man and woman has the opportunity to avoid the pit-falls of the so-called street life. Kevin has an exceptional background as a youth and adult mentor, as well as a fatherhood and substance abuse peer facilitator. In 2015 Kevin led the Unity Project in Baton Rouge as the Youth Program Director. There he taught adult basic life skills and empowerment courses, parenting classes, mentored 250 youths and assisted them in obtaining a GED and facilitated instructional and valuable trips to Angola Prison. Kevin now facilitates the Male Fatherhood Program for Healthy Start New Orleans and NOLA for Life. He also is a Community Outreach Worker for Healthy Start.

Listen to the interview and meet Calvin and Kevin.


Part IV: The Fatherhood Narrative: What Support Circles Reveal About Fears and Hopes

Carl L. Route, Jr.

Carl L. Route, Jr. and his work has been featured on Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) with host Lisa Ling, on “Our America” segment titled “Incarceration Generation”. He is the author of of two books, Born Captive, Made Free (2011), and Boy, Man, Father (2018).

Carl is a Community Activist, Criminal Justice Reformer, Responsible Fatherhood Advocate/Ally/Author, & Advisory Council member with Community Council of Metropolitan Atlanta, Inc., Community Transformer and Wisdom Council member at Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere (ROBE). He is also a volunteer with Georgia Department of Corrections and Georgia Department of Community Supervision as an I Choose Mentoring Support Mentor, Certified Healing Communities Station of Hope and Community Stakeholder/Partnerwith Georgia Prisoner Reentry Initiative and member of former President Barack Obama’s initiative, My Brother’s Keeper Fulton County Task Force, and an Ambassador with the Russell Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

Carl is the founder of Young Fathers of Metro Atlanta, Inc, a Certified Responsible Fatherhood & Family Life Coach with the National Partnership for Community Leadership. Lead Facilitator of an Access and Visitation pilot program for fathers on Child Support in Georgia’s largest transition center, a model for programs now facilitated at all 13 of the state’s transitional centers.

He has been a featured speaker at Harvard University Law School Speakers Forum (2018). See his presentation here.


Gregory Long

Gregory Long is a stay-at-home dad who has homeschooled his two wonderful sons since 2006. Prior to that, he worked in the technical field at Comcast for 16 years as a Technical Trainer for the Prince George’s County Maryland system. In addition to homeschooling, Greg is a graphic designer and videographer/producer. He has done graphics work for Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, the DC and Maryland Breastfeeding Coalitions and other local businesses. In 2008, Greg filmed and produced the first documentary on kidney disease for the D.C. chapter of the National Kidney Foundation featuring an African American transplant candidate. In 2007, Greg began facilitating Fatherhood Matters, a component of the MedStar Washington Hospital Center Childbirth Education Series intended for dads. He meets with expectant fathers to discuss the vital role a father plays in a child’s life, which includes providing practical support for breastfeeding.


Listen to Greg Long and Carl Route, Jr, share their stories in this podcast.

RESOURCES

Kindred’s Equity-Diversity-Inclusion Resources

Kindred’s Black Mothers and Fathers Resources

Saving Tomorrow Today: An African American Breastfeeding Blueprint


Subscribe to Kindred’s newsletter to make sure you don’t miss our upcoming series, Black Men, Breastfeeding, and Social Justice Series


Calvin Williams, CLC

#ReachingRnR #PeachMilk #Latchville #MilkJuleps #FeedingLikeaQueen #BluesCityBoobs #MSSipItUp #MusicCityMilk #StayWokeAndBf #GeauxBreastFriend #BlkBfing #BostonMilkParty #NotOnMyWatch #BlacktationDiaries #ConcreteROSE2019 #savingtomorrowtoday #BMHW19 #gotswampmilk #PeachMilkUSBC 2019

Posted by Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere on Tuesday, July 2, 2019
Caption: Calvin Williams speaking at the United States Breastfeeding Committee’s National Conference and Convening in Bethesda, MD, in June 2019.

Calvin Williams’ presentation from above:

“My vision for breastfeeding, is a vision for my people. Not all black people are struggling. And that has to be said because there are inane, ridiculous statistics out there like, ‘there are more black men in prison than on college campuses.’ Give me a break. But too many of my brothers and sisters are hurting each other, themselves, their families and their communities because THEY are so hurt, confused, distressed. Dissected and disconnected from their history and their own self-worth. 

“In my dream, my breastfeeding dream, I see rivers of breastmilk flowing down the streets of these distressed communities. Healing, bonding, nursing and making whole what was dissected and dismembered. My vision for men is that they benefit from supporting and protecting the breastfeeding experience in ways that help them to reclaim their humanity. My vision for ROBE, is that neighborhoods, communities, cities across this country take advantage of and benefit from this assemblage, this collection, in ways that matter to those communities.”


Photos of ROBE presenting at the United States Breastfeeding Committee’s National Conference and Convening 2019, in Bethesda, Maryland. Photos of ROBE by Lisa Reagan. Group photo of attendees by USBC.

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Does The Medicalization Of Birth Harm Mothers? https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/03/does-the-medicalization-of-birth-harm-mothers/ https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/03/does-the-medicalization-of-birth-harm-mothers/#respond Tue, 10 Mar 2020 22:00:45 +0000 http://www.kindredmedia.org/?p=24288 Since the 1920s—and especially after World War II—the regulation and medicalization of childbirth has steered mothers away from midwives to physicians in hospitals. This medicalization has saved a lot of lives. But, as Rochester Institute of Technology professor Lauren Hall shows in this video, over-medicalization has also pushed low-risk mothers into unnecessary medical interventions without […]]]>

Yes, it does.

Since the 1920s—and especially after World War II—the regulation and medicalization of childbirth has steered mothers away from midwives to physicians in hospitals. This medicalization has saved a lot of lives. But, as Rochester Institute of Technology professor Lauren Hall shows in this video, over-medicalization has also pushed low-risk mothers into unnecessary medical interventions without their informed consent in order to keep the assembly line of the hospital moving.

Hall explains the history of childbirth in the United States, and shows how the medicalization of birth can hurt mothers—leading the United States to have the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed nation. This video is produced by the Institute for Humane Studies to explore the role of voluntary action in a free society.

About the book

Improving how individuals give birth and die in the United States requires reforming the regulatory, reimbursement, and legal structures that centralize care in hospitals and prevent the growth of community-based alternatives.

In 1900, most Americans gave birth and died at home, with minimal medical intervention. By contrast, most Americans today begin and end their lives in hospitals. The medicalization we now see is due in large part to federal and state policies that draw patients away from community-based providers, such as birth centers and hospice care, and toward the most intensive and costliest kinds of care. But the evidence suggests that birthing and dying people receive too much—even harmful—medical intervention.

In The Medicalization of Birth and Death, political scientist Lauren K. Hall describes how and why birth and death became medicalized events. While hospitalization provides certain benefits, she acknowledges, it also creates harms, limiting patient autonomy, driving up costs, and causing a cascade of interventions, many with serious side effects. Tracing the regulatory, legal, and financial policies that centralize care during birth and death, Hall argues that medicalization reduces competition, stifles innovation, and prevents individuals from accessing the most appropriate care during their most vulnerable moments. She also examines the profound implications of policy-enforced medicalization on informed consent and shows how medicalization challenges the healthcare community’s most foundational ethical commitments.

Drawing on interviews with medical and nonmedical healthcare providers, as well as surveys of patients and their families, Hall provides a broad overview of the costs, benefits, and origins of medicalized birth and death. The Medicalization of Birth and Death is required reading for academics, patients, providers, policymakers, and anyone else interested in how policy shapes healthcare options and limits patients and providers during life’s most profound moments.

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The Baby Is In The Shadow: Why Study Pre And Perinatal Patterns https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/02/the-baby-is-in-the-shadow-why-study-pre-and-perinatal-patterns/ https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/02/the-baby-is-in-the-shadow-why-study-pre-and-perinatal-patterns/#respond Tue, 25 Feb 2020 15:27:51 +0000 http://www.kindredmedia.org/?p=24141 A woman contacted me wanting an appointment.  Her baby had not slept more than 90 minutes since birth.  Now, at four months of age, the baby was having a hard time, and the woman, understandably, was losing her mind. She, too, had not slept much in all that time. I said, “Come in, immediately.”  When they arrived, […]]]>

A woman contacted me wanting an appointment.  Her baby had not slept more than 90 minutes since birth.  Now, at four months of age, the baby was having a hard time, and the woman, understandably, was losing her mind. She, too, had not slept much in all that time. I said, “Come in, immediately.” 

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When they arrived, I noticed the baby was bright, cheerful, and quite communicative.  However, she held her arms straight out to her sides with her hands splayed, which was unusual for a baby.  The mother looked exhausted.  Over the phone, she had explained that the baby had been tongue tied and had a frenulum clip at 10 weeks.  They had difficulty nursing, which also told me bonding was compromised at the start.

The first thing I did was get the birth story.  The woman was an older mom, in her early 40s.  She married late and this was a very wanted baby.  The father was also an older man, in his 50s.  She had a premature rupture of the amniotic fluid sac, what is called a ‘premature rupture of membranes’ at 37 weeks.  The mom actually thought that baby was five weeks early, based on her calculations.  She did not go into labor immediately, as is often the case.  After twelve hours at home (the time most hospitals allow), she reluctantly went into the hospital.

She did not know the on-call doctor very well; they had difficulty communicating.  It was clear to her that he was scared; his fear made her feel afraid and threatened.  When she didn’t go into labor, he started her on a Pitocin drip (medication used to improve uterine contractions).  She labored a long time but did not dilate.  This was a heroic thing to do—to labor without pain medicine while on a Pitocin drip. When the doctor began to talk about a C-section, the mom agreed to an epidural.  She dilated quickly and delivered.

While the mom told me this story, she stopped periodically and cried.  I sat beside her, with my hand on her back and empathized with her, normalizing her fear, to allow a compassionate space for her feelings, and to do my best to comfort her, all the while watching to see if the baby wanted to participate in the story.  The baby had gotten quiet and appeared to be listening with no signs of distress.  Because the baby was jaundice at birth, she had been separated from her mother. So I suggested we complete a sequence called ‘supported attachment’ that allows the baby to tell her story with her body and helps bring mother and baby together after separation.  

Originally developed by midwife Mary Jackson (Cerelli, 2013) while working with Ray Castellino, RPP, RPE, RCST® this technique helps to calm the baby.  It allows the baby’s story to be seen and heard and improves breastfeeding.

I had the mother take off her shirt, and we took the baby’s clothes off down to her diaper.  I told the baby what we were doing and why and placed the baby on her mother’s stomach.  The baby began to crawl up toward the breast, all the while complaining—not crying really, more like telling us about something.  I empathized with the feeling tone.  It sounded like she was scolding us.  I noticed she was not using her arms and reminded her that she could use them.  Once she started using them, she made rapid pace to her mother’s breast.  She latched on, nursed, and at the same time, kept telling us about something in an alarmed but calm manner.  After a few minutes of breastfeeding, both mom and baby feel asleep on my couch.  I put one hand on the mom’s back and one hand on the back of the baby and held them using biodynamic craniosacral therapy, just holding [NE1] and supporting them.  In craniosacral therapy, the therapist is trained to track very subtle but deep tidal movements in the body. The movements are related to an inner health or blueprint that we all have.  With my hands on the dyad, I tracked these movements using my own body and a knowing of what the fluid movement is supposed to be, synchronized and amplified the patterns, allowing this inner health to rise.  In pre and perinatal work, pregnancy and birth have a healthy pattern: every baby and mother know how to birth.  When there have been these disruptions and interventions, the inner healthy pattern and blueprint can be covered over by an imprint of difficulty.  Craniosacral therapy can help decrease that feeling and normalize the experience so that it does not continue to overwhelm the person (or this case persons).  After fifteen minutes, they woke up, dressed, and left.  I was quite concerned about them.  The next day, I got this email:

The baby and I came straight home and laid down, tummy-to-tummy, and she nursed and dozed, and then we both nodded off for an hour.  She seemed content yesterday evening, and we had an easeful bath/massage/nursing time.  She slept in her cradle swing from 7:00 pm to 3:30 am at which point she nursed vigorously for 20 minutes, and then went right back to sleep until 6:45 am.  Not only a long sleep for her but an hour later than usual!

Thank you for all your insights and kind words.  I felt a sense of relief after our session and a broader understanding of just how traumatized I was after our birth experience.  I have a feeling that as I can clear some of this up for myself, the baby will relax as well.

The Skill Base for a Pre and Perinatal Professional

Working with families and babies who have had overwhelming experiences requires a certain skill base.  I have been working in the prenatal and perinatal realm for over 15 years, over 20 years as a body worker, and over 25 in maternal and child health. In the last 14 years, advances in the fields of interpersonal biology, epigenetics, fetal origins, trauma resolution, affect regulation, neuroscience, and attachment have created more acceptance that babies have experiences in utero, during birth, and postpartum (neonatal). My work is about healing moms, babies, and adults with early trauma; prenatal and perinatal therapeutic approaches focus on giving babies the best possible start.

Pre and Perinatal Health and Healing

William Emerson (1999a) is one of the pioneers in pre and perinatal psychology (PPN). His work is pivotal because he was one of the few who created articles, papers, and tapes on the subject, and eventually a training program for professioanls. He divides birth into four stages and teaches practitioners how to help heal the psychological and emotional stresses that result from difficulty or overwhelming experiences that happened at each stage (Grov, 1976; Lake 1981). According to Emerson, these imprints create lifelong patterns that often go undetected because they lie in the unconscious of the individual.

Expanding our consciousness around these imprints and bringing them into awareness out of the unconscious loop of the brain’s automaticity will lessen their impact on our lives and thus decrease our suffering. Emerson correlated his four stages of physical imprints from intense experiences in utero, as well as the mental and emotional states and belief patterns that happen at each stage, with overwhelming experiences that can occur at each stage (Emerson, 1999b). 

  • Stage I: The feeling of No Exit.  Contractions are felt within a closed system. Examples of psychological correlates here include claustrophobia, boundary violation, anticipatory anxiety, and endogenous depression.
  • Stage II: No Man’s Land.  Full dilation and descent into the pelvis. 
  • Stage III: Life Death Struggle.  If overwhelm is felt here, the client can feel exogenous depression, and distressed by shared boundaries, among other patterns.
  • Stage IV: Dysfunction and Distressed Bonding. Separation is a possible theme here.

Differentiating trauma from shock (Emerson, 1999b), Emerson said that a person can have a present day experience that awakens an unconscious trauma or shock from the prenatal and perinatal period—the ‘baby self’ is reliving a terrible time from long ago that becomes activated in the present.

Pre and Perinatal Practice

Ray Castellino, RPP, RPE, RCST® in conjunction with Myrna Martin, RN, MN, RCC, RCST® , current PPN trainers and practitioners recognized that ancestral history can be felt in the person and family and needs attention if there are overwhelming parts. They teach therapists how to discern, differentiate, and heal a concentric ring of relationships starting with these ancestral patterns. Although the rings are more in-depth than portrayed, I will often sketch a simplified diagram with clients so they can see their patterns and discern how they relate to the present day. It can be illuminating. Patterns that arise may include: difficulty breastfeeding or bonding; separation from mom; twin loss; maternal stress; toxic chemicals in utero of all kinds; difficulty conceiving, previous miscarriages, abortion or still births; and difficulties at birth including chemical and surgical interventions.

Martin and Castellino begin their trainings with preconception and attachment experiences rather than with Emerson’s four stages.  They are expert in teaching about ‘double binds—the baby is presented with a situation that feels like a life or death struggle and any decision they make will likely be difficult and/or overwhelming. Many of these experiences can exist and can reactivate an early pattern in the nervous system if left unhealed.

Tipping Points:  Three Case Studies

Recent advances in fetal origins, epigenetics, affective neuroscience and more support the importance of the baby’s experience.  There are several important points that pre and perinatal psychology educators can make when talking about the impact of difficulty on babies.  Research supports the notion that babies feel pain, that babies can get post-traumatic stress if their mothers experience it, and truly, separation from the mother at critical times of development can have a devastating effect.  

  • Babies Feel Pain

It is hard to believe that there was a time that people, especially medical professionals, thought babies did not feel pain.  In fact, it was the prevailing theory that babies were objects, blank slates, born into the world to be scripted.  We now know that babies have big experiences in utero, that their senses become vivid as the baby grows.  We know that they can learn and be spoken to utero, and that prenatal bonding can increase birth and perinatal outcomes.  The science of fetal origins and many research studies from infant laboratories all show that babies learn about the world while still inside the womb, and come out with preconceived notions and also, abilities to make discernments.  Several studies that played an important role in changing hospital policies about babies and their needs for anesthesia were done by a very brave neonatologist named Kanwaljeet Anand (called Sunny).  He documented that babies who had surgery often had extremely high levels of cortisol in their bodies showing how stressful the procedures are (Paul, 2008).  Pain relieving medicine was not given to babies having circumcision, hernia repairs, even open heart surgery, just drugs to paralyze them so they did not move.  His studies eventually helped change hospital policies, but many did not fully support the baby’s needs for pain medicine until the late 1990s.  Many adults today have had those surgeries as infants, and these memories are in their bodies in a procedural way.  Some youth and adults cannot visit hospitals without severe anxiety, panic and fear, many because of their hospital experiences as babies (Monell, 2011).

  • Post-Traumatic Stress in Babies

Scientists are able to measure the impact of the mother’s experience on her baby while she is pregnant, and nowhere were this more poignant than the 9-11 tragedy.  With the fall of the twin towers, researchers began to track the impact of the experience on many different kinds of people, including pregnant women.  In a study, they were able to gather 38 women who were pregnant during the fall of the twin towers and measured their cortisol levels. These women measured low in cortisol, a result often seen in people who have posttraumatic stress.  The researchers tracked the babies that were born, and found that they had the same level of cortisol, showing how stress could be passed to the future generations (Constandi, 1999)

  • The Unabomber

Those of us who we old enough to pay attention to the news during the 1980s will remember Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber. While it is unknown what exactly prompted Kaczynski to send letter bombs that killed 3 people and injured over 20 others, writer Robyn Kerr-Morse (2012) speculates his disturbance started as a baby.  She recounts his story in her book, Scared Sick: The role of childhood trauma in adult disease.  At nine months, Kaczynski was isolated in a local hospital for a strange rash for one week.  His mother was only allowed to hold him one hour a day.  She said that he totally changed in the week that he was there.  “He became limp like a rag doll,” she says, and lost interest in human relationships after that.  She added, “He was a different baby.”  The isolation away from family, especially his mother, at a time when stranger danger naturally develops in babies could have affected this man’s world view as a dangerous place.  

The Skill Base for a Pre and Perinatal Professional

Working with families and babies who have had overwhelming experiences require a certain skill base.  In addition, the prenatal and perinatal practitioner works with adults seeking to heal early trauma.  Along with specific training in prenatal and perinatal approaches from Emerson, Castellino, Martin, and John Chitty (2013), these are some common tools:

  • Trauma Resolution, such as Somatic Experiencing®

Ideally, a pre and perinatal therapist is trained in some trauma resolution therapies and has a good understanding of developmental trauma, or early childhood abuse.  There are several good approaches.  Somatic Experiencing® (SE) involves deep inquiry of and renegotiation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Survival, or that feeling of life or death, is a common experience during the prenatal period and birth.  SE provides an excellent basis of ANS recognition and verbal skills to slow down the pace, acknowledge resources, titrate into difficult material, and pendulate so that the client stays present and doesn’t go into fight/flight or dissociative states and can be resourced enough to discharge the trauma held in the body (Levine, 2010).  Much of the power of early pre and perinatal trauma comes from its procedural or somatic state; the experience of the baby is sometimes seen but most often felt.  

This approach is somatic and also verbal.  The therapist also has a grasp of the right kinds of questions to ask and how to ask them, bringing finely attuned attention to the “felt sense” of the experience. The therapist can take the client into an overwhelming situation with safety.  Trauma resolution skills are necessary to keep the client in the now, allow enough support for awareness of the pattern without overwhelming the person, and discharge through the client’s body.

  • Mindfulness Based Training, such as Interpersonal Biology

There is a wealth of clinical and research data that support mindfulness approaches for healing.  Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Richard Davidson are two practitioners and researchers that combine mindfulness approaches and neuroscience.  Siegel’s approaches are easy to understand and start to practice.  We now know that we biologically develop interpersonally, so therapists who work in the pre and perinatal realm will need to have a strong enough container inside themselves to meet a client where they are and provide that safe, secure presence that many clients with early trauma did not get.  Practices like body scans including the relaxation response introduced by Herbert Bensen (1975), the ‘body-low-slow loop’ practiced by Chitty (2013), and Heartmath (www.hearthmath.com) are also good.  Mirror neurons are a significant part of how healing happens in relationship, so the therapist is also a model for the client to take in and try on.  Mindfulness practices also engage the prefrontal cortex and can bring social engagement back on line if the client’s baseline is in sympathetic or parasympathetic reaction to threat.

  • Touch Therapies, such as Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy

Touch is important when working with implicit somatic memory. Biodynamic craniosacral therapy (BCST) is a subtle but powerful form of bodywork arising from osteopathic tradition.  It is an important part of prenatal and perinatal therapy because it focuses on the health in the client’s system and an optimal pattern referred to as “the blueprint.”  As the tree grows from an acorn without the need to focus on how, so do we grow from a fertilized egg into a complex and highly functional organism.  We know that how the embryo develops influences us today, as the roots of our patterns in the present come from how we developed in utero.  This is not to say that overwhelming events later in life and many positive developmental aspects don’t also leave their imprints. 

In BCST, therapists can feel subtle movements and rhythms with their hands; their clients’ bones and membranes respond to cerebral spinal fluid flow.  This intervention is meant to find places where there has been compression or restriction of flow and return the body to its healthy state.  There is saying that there is wisdom in the body, or “the health in the system.” Through this lens, all acts of compensation in the body (and therefore psyche and the mind) are acts of health as the body adapts to overwhelming events.  

There are many teachings from this healing art that help reframe and support healing in the pre and perinatal field, such as the understanding of embryonic patterns from preconception through birth.  Also, the therapist has to do significant personal work to slow down and be present; the best experiences in this therapy happen when therapists can create the right conditions within themselves.  Overwhelming experiences, especially those that lie in the unconscious, can create significant tension.  Many times, the best route is simply to be able to sit with this tension and “do nothing,” and simply “be present.”  Careful attention is placed on being with the client at just the right distance, right pace, and right depth. Much of what needs to happen is unspoken, which again is very compatible with pre and perinatal work.

In addition to this form of light and still touch, are other forms of hands on therapy.  Deep compression, especially into bigger muscles and stronger parts of the body help clients who are in dissociative or freeze states.  Deep but still, slow touch on the legs can help ground a client, for example.  Squeezing the joints of the shoulder can release shock literally held in joint capsules because that is their job (joint capsules are the shock absorbers of the body).  Moving touch can help the client relax and also move energy that is stuck.  For bodyworkers, advanced education in understanding how shock and trauma are held in the body is ethical.  Our best authors and researchers in trauma now write and speak about how the body “bears the burden” (Scaer, 2014), or “keeps the score” (van der Kolk, 2014).  I will often teach parents how to give bodywork to their babies and children, and I have seen it dramatically affect the child and transform the parent-child relationship from misattuned and dysregulated to attuned and bonded.

An Interweave

Prenatal and perinatal psychology and healing principles have progressed exponentially since Otto Rank first published his book, The Trauma of Birth, in 1924. Practitioners have transitioned from early regression work and altered states (primal scream, holotrophic breath work) to more subtle body oriented therapies. The sciences have contributed their support, especially with the human genome project competed in 2003 that revealed we only had 25,000 genes instead of the expected 130,000. The science of epigenetics, fetal origins, and prenatal bonding also known as prenatal stimulation, have clarified the long standing nature versus nurture debate. With magnetic imaging and ultrasound technology, we are able to see and more fully understand how our earliest experiences help shape who we are, our perceptions, and world view. We are currently weaving affective neuroscience and interpersonal biology into our understanding of human development as studies with rats prove positive outcomes when ‘babies’ are provided attentive and high functioning mothers (Weaver, et al., 2004). Preventative measures, i.e., promoting relaxation techniques, prenatal bonding, intrauterine communication, skin-to-skin contact with mom and newborn, and secure attachments, are possible to support an optimal prenatal and perinatal constellation of early life patterns/imprints.

It is an exciting time to be a practitioner in the prenatal and perinatal field as we acknowledge a full, round picture of what babies experience and are capable of. A team of leaders gathered by the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health is bringing more information, education, and practice forward.  All these efforts are contributing to bringing the baby’s experience to consciousness, out of the shadow and into the light.

This article first appeared in Somatic Psychology Today.

Kindred’s Birth Psychology Resources

Articles, Videos and Podcasts found here.

References

Benson, Herbert, 1975 (2001). The relaxation response. NY: HarperCollins

Cerelli, K. (2013) Mary Jackson, certified professional midwife bridging midwifery practice and pre- and perinatal psychology insights. The Journal for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health, 28 (1) 43-60.

Chitty, J. (2013). Dancing with yin & yang: Ancient wisdom, modern psychotherapy, and Randolph Stone’s polarity therapy. Boulder, CO: Colorado School of Energy Studies, Polarity Press.

Costandi, M. (1999) Pregnant 9/11 survivors transmitted trauma to their children. 

Emerson, W. (1999a).  Presentation. Breath of Life Conference, Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Association of North America, Winterpark, CO.

Emerson, W. (1999b). Shock: A universal malady: Prenatal and perinatal origins of suffering. Petaluma, CA: Emerson Training.

Grof, S. (1976). Realms of the human unconscious. London: Souvenir Press, Ltd.

Kerr-Morse, R. (2012). Scared sick: The role of childhood trauma in adult disease. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Lake, F. (1981). Tight corners in pastoral counseling. London: Darton, Longman, and Todd.

Levine, P. (2010). In an unspoken voice: How the body releases trauma and restores goodness. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Monell, T. (2011).  Living out the past: Infant surgery prior to 1987. The Journal for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health25(3): 159-172.

Paul, A. (2008). The first ache. New York Times Magazine, February 10: 47

Scaer, R. (2014). The body bears the burden: Trauma, dissociation, and disease, 3r ed. New York, NY: Routledge.

van der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York, NY: Viking.

Weaver, I., Cervoni, N., Champagne, F., D’Alessio, A., Sharma, S., SecklJ, et al. (2004). Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior. Nature Neuroscience 7, 847 – 854. doi:10.1038/nn1276

Resources:

APPPAH:  http://www.birthpsychology.com

Somatic Experiencing Training Institute: http://www.traumahealing.com/

Dr. Dan Siegel:  http://www.drdansiegel.com

Dr. Richard Davidson: http://richardjdavidson.com/

William Emerson: http://emersonbirthrx.com/

Brigit Viksnins: http://www.alchemicalalignment.com

Heartmath: http://www.heartmath.org/

Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy http://www.craniosacraltherapy.org

Myrna Martin:  http://www.myrnamartin.net

Ray Castellino:  http://www.castellinotraining.com


 

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I’m Pregnant: What Do I Do Next? Best Practices From A PPN Perspective https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/02/im-pregnant-what-do-i-do-next-best-practices-from-a-ppn-perspective/ https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/02/im-pregnant-what-do-i-do-next-best-practices-from-a-ppn-perspective/#respond Mon, 24 Feb 2020 23:02:06 +0000 http://www.kindredmedia.org/?p=24137 I get emails from people wanting to know how to “do” the paradigm of baby consciousness when they are pregnant. The inquiries often start with, “I’m pregnant, what do I do?” I thought I would write out some simple bullet points and resources for those parents who want to embody earliest parenting to help the […]]]>

I get emails from people wanting to know how to “do” the paradigm of baby consciousness when they are pregnant. The inquiries often start with, “I’m pregnant, what do I do?” I thought I would write out some simple bullet points and resources for those parents who want to embody earliest parenting to help the development of their babies. 

  • Current research shows that best practice is to regulate your nervous system, or essentially, manage your stress. Fetal brain and pregnancy researchers show that babies of nervous or anxious mothers are more sensitive to novel stimulus after they are born, so their nervous system is easily stimulated. What does all THAT mean? It simply means self care and support. Your internal stress needs to be regulated so that you feel good, that you are cared for, and you can care for your baby. Many women carry trauma from their life experiences. If at all possible, tending to your story before you get pregnant is best. There are many trauma-informed approaches now. If you can find a group of women who want to conceive, like this group with Kristen Markham and her work on Conscious Conception, that would be another best practice. 

  • Consciously conceive. Cell biologist Bruce Lipton has shared with us how the lives of the parents influence which germ cells are selected for conception. Become more aware of your life. How are you feeling in your body? Peter Nathanielsz describes to us, in his bookLife Begins in the Womb: The Origins of Health and Disease just how a baby builds her brain and body in response to the environment. Gabor Mater eloquently describes how we respond to your environment in this clip from the movie IN UTERO. 

  • Manage your stress and connect with others. While many researchers expected that stress would be the number one concern among pregnant women, the studies have shown that support was the bigger concern. Indeed, the support of other people can really help pregnant couples and  parents to connect with themselves, their babies, and their community to improve health.

  • Consciously explore your birth options. My favorite resource for this is the book by John Wilks, Choices in Pregnancy and Childbirth. John Wilks carefully describes many things that parents need to know about the choices they make about birth interventions. The baby knows how to be born, and mothers know how to birth. Data show that hiring a birth doula is highly effective and helps with outcomes all around, decreasing the need for birth interventions and increasing satisfaction with life, even the couple’s relationship.

  • Slow down after birth and give yourself, your partner/husband time to be with baby and go at a slow pace to really bond, attach after birth. 

  • Get support from professionals and other couples, too. Many women suffer from birth trauma or issues from birth. You can seek help from a talented bodyworker or physical therapists,  I specialize in healing birth trauma with my family support. There are many therapists and programs out in our communities that want to support women and couples postpartum.

  • If you have difficulty breastfeeding, you can seek out the support of La Leche League, an IBCLC, lactation consultant or other specialist. Baby bodywork is also recommended.

Books and Resources for Pregnant Couples and Moms:

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Raised Nested: Species-Typical Child Raising https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/02/raised-nested-species-typical-child-raising/ https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/02/raised-nested-species-typical-child-raising/#comments Mon, 10 Feb 2020 16:33:24 +0000 http://www.kindredmedia.org/?p=24119 Species-atypical child raising has become normal—to the detriment of the world  In a newly published book, I wrote a chapter called Evolution and the Parenting Ecology of Moral Development, I describe how evolutionary theory is often mischaracterized as only about genes, a shrinking area of importance as epigenetics becomes the bigger story—-how genes are turned up […]]]>

Species-atypical child raising has become normal—to the detriment of the world 


Listen to Darcia Narvaez talk about common reactions to the evolved nest


In a newly published book, I wrote a chapter called Evolution and the Parenting Ecology of Moral Development, I describe how evolutionary theory is often mischaracterized as only about genes, a shrinking area of importance as epigenetics becomes the bigger story—-how genes are turned up or down or off by lived experience. Though epigenetics occurs all day long from our activities, there are sensitive or critical periods for the developmental of neurobiological structures that undergird all our capacities (e.g., stress response, vagus nerve function) (Narvaez, 2014).

 The most sensitive periods occur in early life, the younger the child the greater the effect. Hence, our species, like all animals, evolved a developmental system to enhance normal development, what my lab calls the evolved developmental niche, or evolved nest. Though all ages need to feel supported and attended to—to be nested—the early nest may be the most important for developing the resilience needed to face life’s challenges.

  • The evolved nest includes soothing perinatal experience, multiple responsive caregivers (keeping baby optimally aroused), extensive affectionate touch and breastfeeding, positive social support and welcoming climate, self-directed social play, immersion in nature for connection.

It is obvious that many children are not being raised nested.

It is difficult to take in this fact, and sometimes people resist the information. There are several common reactions to hearing about the evolved nest and the need for it. I list some of them below and give some responses, paraphrasing from and adding to what I said in my chapter.

We modern humans have evolved; we are different from past humans. Genes have changed in the last 10,000 years (e.g., for lactose tolerance). 

Humans actually have not evolved away from being social mammals, a line that emerged 20-40 million years ago (10,000 years is a drop in the bucket of time).  Babies still have built in needs for our species’ nest (and they let you know). The nest components have been documented around the world in the modern era in small-band hunter-gatherers, the type of society that represents 99% of human genus history. Components of the nest are related to peaceable individual and societal outcomes (Eisler & Fry, 2019; Prescott, 1996). 

Modern humans, without the evolved nest, have taken over the world—a sign of evolutionary success. 

This idea of success represents a shifted baseline. Evolutionary progress is about greater diversity, not the dominance of one species. Balanced ecological communities are the norm for planetary ecological life. Contrastingly, invasive or weed species last for a short while until a more cooperative species emerges to rebalance the biocommunity (Naess & Rothenberg, 1989). Modern society is acting like an invasive species.

Children today face a harsh world so we should prepare them for it early by teaching them independence and self-reliance.

Treating babies harshly undermines their development. Period. It doesn’t make sense to stress a child when her neurobiological systems are otherwise setting themselves up for optimal health and intelligence. To say that it is good not to provide the nest components is like saying we should neglect our children to prepare them for neglect later. This is an idea from John Watson (the behaviorist) who wanted babies treated like college undergraduates so they would get used to it early. He did not understand the dynamic development of children. More here.

Human beings are naturally selfish and violent. We are much better behaved than our ancestors (Pinker, 2011). 

These views are based on incorrect analyses of data and are promoted by cultural misunderstandings and incorrect baselines (see Eisler & Fry, 2019; Fry, 2006, 2013; Narvaez, 2014; Narvaez & Witherington, 2018). 

It’s impossible to go back to hunting and gathering. 

Sure, but that is not the point. The point of nesting children is to provide for their basic needs.  Some advanced nations provide some nesting supports like midwife- and doula-guided soothing birth, paid maternal and paternal leave, breastfeeding support, controls over formula advertising, and make possible play-filled childhoods.

“I did not experience the evolved nest and I’m fine.”

It’s not apparent that anyone raised in modern societies is “fine,” especially in the USA where supports for child raising are next to none and where illbeing is rampant.  For example, wellbeing in the USA is worsening in terms of health comparisons with other advanced nations—for example, everyone under age 50 (in 2012) is at a health disadvantage compared to those in 16 other advanced nations (National Research Council, 2013).

Every culture is different. Parents prepare their children for their culture. For example, some cultures raise people with insecure attachment.

From a planetary perspective, we need human persons to grow their full cooperative and intelligence capacities for living with others including other than humans. We are far from that at the moment.

I don’t want to have to deal with children. If parents are going to have them, let them raise them.

Children become the adults that fill your neighborhood, workplace and society. Dysregulated, disconnected individuals cause a lot of havoc, not participating in strengthening communities and sometimes even destroying what has taken years or decades to build. 

Now what?

Change basic assumptions. Humans expect the nest to grow their inbuilt seeds for cooperation. Adults need to realize that babies are highly immature and malleable and that mistreatment or undercare leads to less than optimal outcomes. Babies become what they experience. 

Nest provision. Providing the nest to the young involves adults who are supported and prepared to do so. Adults who feel loved and safe are more likely to act with love and kindness toward children. So let’s support the relaxation of pregnant women, encourage medical personnel and parents to be loving and tender with babies and children. These will go a long way toward growing a cooperative child. Avoid coercion but instead honor, from the beginning, the child’s innate aim for social cooperation. Parents may need some guidance on overcoming their own stress reactivity and how to handle it when it occurs in parenting situations. Books like Brain-Based Parenting can help.

References

Eisler, R., & Fry, D.P. (2019). Nurturing our humanity. New York: Oxford University Press.

Fry, D. P. (2006). The human potential for peace: An anthropological challenge to assumptions about war and violence. New York: Oxford University Press.

Fry, D. (Ed.) (2013). War, peace and human nature. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Hughes, D. A., & Baylin, J. (2015). Brain-based parenting: The neuroscience of caregiving for healthy attachment. New York, NY: Norton

Prescott J.W. (1996). The origins of human love and violence. Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Journal, 10 (3), 143-188.

Naess, A., & Rothenberg, D. (1989). Ecology, community and lifestyle. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Narvaez, D. (2019).  Evolution and the parenting ecology of moral development. In D. Laible, L. Padilla-Walker & G. Carlo (Eds.), Oxford handbook of parenting and moral development (pp. 91-106). New York: Oxford University Press.

Narvaez, D. (2014). Neurobiology and the development of human morality: Evolution, culture and wisdom. New York: Norton.

Narvaez, D., & Witherington, D. (2018). Getting to baselines for human nature, development and wellbeing.. Archives of Scientific Psychology, 6 (1), 205-213. DOI: 10.1037/arc0000053

National Research Council (2013). U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

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Class Conflict, Breastfeeding Policy And Creating Systemic Change: An Interview With Joan C. Williams https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/01/class-conflict-breastfeeding-policy-and-creating-systemic-change%ef%bb%bf-an-interview-with-joan-c-williams/ https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/01/class-conflict-breastfeeding-policy-and-creating-systemic-change%ef%bb%bf-an-interview-with-joan-c-williams/#respond Mon, 13 Jan 2020 23:09:51 +0000 http://www.kindredmedia.org/?p=23617 An Interview with Joan C. Williams, founder of the University of California at Hastings’ Center for Worklife Law and author of White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America Class Conflict, Breastfeeding Policy and Systemic Change: An Interview with Joan Williams Kindred’s editor, Lisa Reagan, attended the University of California at Hastings’ Center for Worklife […]]]>

An Interview with Joan C. Williams, founder of the University of California at Hastings’ Center for Worklife Law and author of White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America


Class Conflict, Breastfeeding Policy and Systemic Change: An Interview with Joan Williams

Kindred’s editor, Lisa Reagan, attended the University of California at Hastings’ Center for Worklife Law‘s Breastfeeding Policy Summit at Jones Day Law Firm in San Francisco on August 6, 2019 (see photos above). The summit’s purpose was to educate an invited group of activists from around the country on the insights gleaned from Joan Williams’ quarter century research into advancing women in the workplace, as well as the center’s new reports on discrimination against breastfeeding and pregnant mothers in the workplace. The summit trained activists in choosing politically-conscientious verbiage, becoming aware of values of their legislators and region, and using these insights to help create and pass legislation to promote and protect women’s reproductive rights in the workplace.

Joan C. Williams is a Distinguished Law Professor and Founding Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings. Her path-breaking work helped create modern workplace flexibility policies and the field of work-family studies. She has authored over 90 academic articles and 11 books, including White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America and What Works for Women at Work. One of her proudest accomplishments was winning the Betty Crocker Homemaker Award in high school.

For an overview of the issues surrounding workplace breastfeeding as a human reproduction right, read the center’s new report, Exposed: Discrimination Against Breastfeeding Workers.

Read more about Joan Williams below, listen to the interview, and follow along with the transcript.


Listen to the Interview Below:

About Joan C. Williams

Described as having “something approaching rock star status” in her field by The New York Times Magazine, Joan C. Williams has played a central role in reshaping the conversation about work, gender, and class over the past quarter century. Williams is a Distinguished Professor of Law, Hastings Foundation Chair, and Founding Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Williams’ path-breaking work helped create the field of work-family studies and modern workplace flexibility policies.

Williams’ 2014 book What Works for Women at Work (co-written with daughter Rachel Dempsey) was praised by The New York Times Book Review: “Deftly combining sociological research with a more casual narrative style, What Works for Women at Work offers unabashedly straightforward advice in a how-to primer for ambitious women.” Following its success, Sheryl Sandberg and LeanIn.org asked Joan to create short videos sharing the strategies discussed in the book. The videos have been downloaded over 975,000 times and are featured by Virgin Airlines as in-flight entertainment, seen literally around the world. Most recently, Williams co-authored a workbook companion to What Works for Women at Work, available now from NYU Press.

Williams is one of the 10 most cited scholars in her field. She has authored 11 books, over 90 academic articles, and her work has been covered in publications from Oprah Magazine to The Atlantic. Her awards include the Families and Work Institute’s Work Life Legacy Award (2014), the American Bar Foundation’s Outstanding Scholar Award (2012), and the ABA’s Margaret Brent Women Award for Lawyers of Achievement (2006). In 2008, she gave the Massey Lectures in the History of American Civilization at Harvard. Her Harvard Business Review article, “What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class” has been read over 3.7 million times and is now the most read article in HBR’s 90-plus year history.


TRANSCRIPT: An Interview with Joan C. Williams, an edited transcript from the podcast interview above.


LISA REAGAN: Welcome to Kindred. This is Lisa Reagan and today I am talking with Joan C. Williams, founding director of the University of California at Hastings Center for WorkLife Law. She is also the author of numerous books that have reshaped the debates over women’s advancement of the past quarter century.

Her scholarly research has documented workplace bias against mothers, organized social scientists to track workplace bias, and exposed how the work-family conflict effects working class families through reports such as One Sick Child Away from Being Fired. The Center’s recent report, Exposed Discrimination Against Breastfeeding Workers, can be found on Kindred.

I talked with Joan this summer at the Center for WorkLife Law’s Breastfeeding Policy Summit in San Francisco. The summit presented a refined set of insights and tools for an invited group of activists to take back to their states and organizations. The tools from this summit enabled activists to understand how public policy and law can be shaped and pushed through in their states’ legal system. This summit offered sophisticated tools for creating the systemic change America needs desperately at this time. So, welcome, Joan.

JOAN WILLIAMS: Delighted to be here, Lisa. Thanks for the invitation.

LISA REAGAN: I know we both have colds, so, as we said before we started recording: we are activists, we are going to push through, and there that is.

JOAN WILLIAMS: Yeah. Exactly.


Toxic Masculinity as an Obstacle to Breastfeeding Policy

LISA REAGAN: I would like to start by introducng Kindred followers to your tremendous body of work, which provides a different context for looking at breastfeeding issues in the United States. I really encourage listeners to read Joan’s publications about the working family and the work-life conflict. There is a tremendous amount of material and insights that we’re not going to be able to cover in the next forty minutes. (See links to Joan’s work and videos at the end of this transcript.)

I would like start with your research-based belief that the work-family conflict isn’t really about women, it’s about men and toxic masculinity.

JOAN WILLIAMS: Yeah, I mean we tend to associate work-family conflict with women because they are kind of on the front lines, but it really goes back to how we define the ideal worker and in far too many workplaces today, we still define the ideal worker as someone who takes no time off for childbirth, no time off for family caregiving and no time for breastfeeding. Who does that describe? You know, it certainly does not describe most women. It describes someone with a man’s body and men’s traditional life patterns and even one of the things that we’ve seen over the past since I’ve been working on this issue for nearly 40 years.

One of the things that’s really dramatic is that there’s been a shift among younger men in what they see as being a good father. Men in my generation, I’m in my 60s, thought that they were great fathers because they changed a diaper. But younger men really are kind of where my generation of mothers were, many of them. They see being a good parent is involving daily care of children and they’re willing to take some career hits to accomplish that, but there’s another group of men, many of them older, some of them equally young, who just don’t see that as being a good father, they see that as being an ineffective breadwinner and an ineffective man. So this is really a conflict among men in the workplace, by people who have defined their lives by being that ideal worker. They see that as the only way to be a real man and an effective person. They are really what is blocking change.


Class Cluelessness, Class Conflict and Culture Wars

LISA REAGAN: And then there are the class conflicts and cluelessness that you explore in your work. When we are talking about professional managerial elite, when they hear the phrase “working class,” they think of the poor, when actually we are talking about most of Americans in the middle. Is that right, Joan?

From Joan C. Williams’ TEDx Talk: “We won’t fix American politics until we talk about class”

JOAN WILLIAMS: Well, there’s really, for purposes of analyzing politics and social policy in the United States, I really think we need to think about three different groups. One are low income people with the bottom 30% of Americans by household income with an annual household income of around $22,000. That’s the poor. Then the professionals are really the top 16-20%. They have an average annual income of about $175,000. Then there’s that 50% of Americans in the middle. They’re called the middle class, sometimes they’re called working class, but they’re the middle 53% and they have a median annual income of around $75,000. There are conflicts between the elite and the middle are driving, for example, Trumpian politics. And the conflicts between those two groups also are what have made it really impossible to pass at a federal level effective legislation to reconcile a working family in the way that has been done in most other industrialized countries.

LISA REAGAN: To bring those two issues together, class conflict and toxic masculinity, your work shows this idea of being a breadwinner in an economy that has continued to deteriorate in the last couple of generations is a lethal ideology for men.

JOAN WILLIAMS: It’s not a healthy ideology for men. More generally, the ethic of overwork that’s built into that conception of the ideal worker leads to higher healthcare prices as well as family prices. But one of the things that we see in the United States because of the growing inequality of income is that it used to be that blue-collar men and white-collar men could perform as ideal workers. That is much less so now with the withering of good, solid blue-collar jobs and the alternative to those ideal worker jobs, blue and white collar, has increasingly become muck jobs where you have to scramble to get enough hours.  

We’ve done a huge study talking about how people’s schedules are often so unstable that they’re given part time hours and they have no idea when those part time hours are going to be from week to week. That obviously puts people literally at risk of losing their children, or losing their job, because if they don’t show up to their job, which they just found out two hours ago that they have to show up to, then they’re going to lose their job, but if they leave young children home alone, then they might well lose their children. So, a lot of Americans, certainly among that bottom 30%, but increasingly even Americans in the middle, are in that kind of situation, and not too surprisingly, they’re fit to be tied. They’re very angry about it.

LISA REAGAN: And what are they doing with that anger?

JOAN WILLIAMS: Well, unfortunately, they’re not doing anything very effective with that anger right now. That anger has been kind of sculpted as anger towards elites which has been expressed and anger towards kind of professionals, professors, those are the thorns of the world, rather than focusing the anger on the people who are designing those jobs in that exploitative way in the first place. That’s the political challenge of economic populism, and race is definitely a big factor there.

Many of the people – both on the bottom and in the middle – if they’re white, they’re interpreting the fact that they no longer see a path to a stable middle class life, they interpret that through the lens of race, that it is because they are white people, instead of interpreting it through the lens of class, that it is because they are working class people, which in my view, is actually what is going on.


Bridging the Class Culture Gap

LISA REAGAN: So when we were in California, I found out that you had written the most read article in the Harvard Business Review ever and the title of that is, “What so many people don’t get about the US working class.” In that article, and then the book, White Working Class, Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America, you say it is dangerous that there is so much cluelessness between classes. What is needs to happen to bridge the gap?

Exposed: Discrimination Against Breastfeeding Workers is a report from the Center for Worklife Law.

JOAN WILLIAMS: What people need to understand is that the key class conflict that’s driving economic populism, and this is as true in Europe as it is in the United States – the book has had a big reception in Europe ­– is that middle 53%, not the poor, but the middle 53% who have seen their incomes and the solidity of their lives really threatened by globalization and accompanying economic changes, that group is very different culturally and economically from what I call the professional managerial elite, that top 16-20%, who also in the United States call themselves middle class. So, it is extremely confusing. But there is really what I call a class culture gap between those two groups that is largely shared across race, although there is one important difference that I will mention.

The professional managerial elite, they’re very focused on self-development, because that’s what helps them get and keep good jobs. They’re very focused on displaying sophistication because that’s what marks them as a member of that elite. So, there are very specific emotion rules as to who you are supposed to be empathetic with, and who you’re supposed to be judgmental of. You are empathetic with the people who produce jazz. You’re judgmental of the people who have pink flamingos on their lawns. So, there’s a very specific class and race set of emotion rules in the elite.

There is also a set of class commitments and emotion roles in the middle class and that context, and this is true across race. People are less focused on self-development than they are on self-discipline, the kind that gets you up and to work every day to a not very glorious job without an attitude. That takes a lot of self discipline.

So, people in the middle are very respectful of self-discipline and the institutions that traditionally aid self-discipline: the church, the military, family values. And so you have this class culture gap between the elite which is very focused on the edgy, whether it is edgy dressing, edgy language, edgy sexuality to show their sophistication and the people in the middle of all races that are very focused on traditional institutions and the self-discipline that they aid. That’s the class culture gap that is driving American, and I must say, European politics.

The condescension of the professional managerial elite towards people in the middle and their bad taste, their lack of sophistication, it is really fueling a lot of political fury. The best example among the elite people is they have understood that they need to run class condescension through their head if it is class condescension to people of color – because they are very focused on race. They are not focused at all on class in the professional managerial elite because class doesn’t exist, they just are where they are because they’re the smartest people, not because they started with a silver spoon and now have a platinum spoon. So, it is far easier for them to admit the existence of racial privilege then it is to admit the existence of class privilege and that’s kind of the essence of class cluelessness.

They are not focused at all on class in the professional managerial elite because class doesn’t exist, they just are where they are because they’re the smartest people, not because they started with a silver spoon and now have a platinum spoon. So, it is far easier for them to admit the existence of racial privilege then it is to admit the existence of class privilege and that’s kind of the essence of class cluelessness.


Feminism and Worklife Law

LISA REAGAN: Just to clue in our listeners again, what we’re doing is mapping out the context of what’s really in front of us as we turn towards this breastfeeding policy summit and the takeaways from that glorious meeting that you sponsored in August of this year. Right before we go there, I would like for you to map out the connection between feminism and worklife law.

JOAN WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, I actually think of myself as a scholar of social inequality. I started out in feminism because that’s the dimension of social inequality that affected me, being born basically as a privileged white woman. But then I realized that I was interested not just in feminism as traditionally defined, but I was really interested on how the configuration and gender bias, but how gender bias differs by race. Because gender bias is a very racialized phenomenon, so basically, white women definitely encounter it, but they encounter it in somewhat different ways than the way women of other racial groups encounter it.

For example, if a white woman is too dominant, she is written off as a witch. If an Asian American is, she may be written off as a dragon lady, and in my doing interviews of Latinx women, they may be called feisty or sassy. Those are, at some level, is that nuance? I don’t think so. There are some very important differences that are embedded there. So, kind of the second step was to try to understand how the experience of gender bias differs by race. The third step was to understand the differences and divergences between gender bias and racial bias because one of those…

For example, there are four basic patterns of bias. Three of them are triggered both by gender and by race. For example, one of them I call Prove It Again, and that’s that some groups have to prove themselves more than others. Our research shows that is very true. It is true in today’s workplace and the group that ports the highest level of that Prove It again bias is women of color. So, I’m very interested in these different vectors of social inequality. I have been talking about class as well and how they interact. Sorry, I guess that’s pretty abstract.

LISA REAGAN: Well, I read an interview where you were saying that you saw feminism as being divided into at least three distinctive and overlapping pursuits and one was the work-family, which is what we’re in now.

JOAN WILLIAMS: Yes. Yeah, I see feminism as being divided into a kind of what I call the work-family axis, which is the subject of this interview. And then there’s the sex-violence access, which includes things like race and sexual harassment, all of the ways that sex and violence intertwine and then there are other axis as well. The third major is what I call a queer axis and that has to do with the conventional alignment of how you dress, for example, and the shape of your body and your reproductive function.


Worklife Law and Breastfeeding Policy

LISA REAGAN: Okay. So at the Center for WorkLife Law, which you are the founder of, how did your work take you there, and then I would just like to go into the breastfeeding policy summit and some questions about that day we spent together with so many presenters who gave us very sophisticated tools for making change for when we returned home.

JOAN WILLIAMS: Yeah, I mean, I had my first child in 1986 and at that point, I got really hot under the collar because I realized that the way the world is set up is pretty much designed to marginalize mothers economically and a society that marginalizes its mothers impoverishes its children, which is what we have – as I have mentioned children are the poorest group in the United States.

If you look, if you compare women to men, and you include people who work part time, which of course many mothers do, mothers still make 59 cents on the dollar that fathers make. So, we’ve seen really very, very, little progress. The research shows that the motherhood penalty, the penalty that women encounter economically when they have children, now accounts for an increasing proportion of the gender gap.

I founded WorkLife Law basically to say, we’ve got to make the world safe for mothers because the way we organize work and family now is bad for women. It is in many ways, worse for men as we’ve talked about. They kind of get stuck in these toxic ideal worker scripts and, of course, it is worse for children, because, again, a society that marginalizes its mothers, impoverishes its children, and we set aside mothers as the group that is charged with championing children and then we make them very economically vulnerable and very socially belittled. This is a terrible idea.

One of the first things I said is that because people were openly discriminating against mothers, and federal courts were saying that is not sex discrimination, we have got to turn that around, that is sex discrimination. Now people recognize it as sex discrimination, and it is recognized in courts as sex discrimination.

Then another thing that we did at WorkLife Law is we were part of the generation that crystallized flexible work arrangements, including quality part-time work. That was not completely successful, but it was far more successful than before. Because when you think about it, if you were redesigning that ideal worker with children, most adult workers have to both support the children and help care for the children. That’s the reality on the ground and for many, many people, that’s their ideal too. They want to contribute to their children in two different ways. That’s far better for children because you have both partners invested in the children and not just the partner who is really invested, economically very vulnerable, and a lot less powerful in the relationship.


Species Typical Baselines for Optimal Wellness

LISA REAGAN: So before we started recording, we talked about the baselines for species typical optimum health, a phrase that is better to use when describing family wellness, especially in the last 15 years of presenting to groups and for some reason, especially in California. When I talked about family wellness and babies and where does health begin, I was really conducting field research into the wellness paradigm and asking where is that in this culture? How do we get to that place? What I realized is, when I said words like mother, baby, family, fathers, the audience would start recoiling. So, I started monitoring my language and altering it to more more neutral terms and to just really try out this very basic science that is missing from a lot of our public policy, which are the baselines for health that do begin prenatally. You had a wonderful response to that, just clarify again for me, why is this baseline for wellness, especially in infants and for mothers, missing?

JOAN WILLIAMS: Well, it is missing in the US, because we kind of don’t do social subsidies. So, the traditional conception in the US is that having a child is kind of like a private frolic, kind of like hang gliding. I don’t finance your hang gliding, why should you finance my child? You think about that and when you kind of run it through your head, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. I mean, the reason I should help finance your child is because that’s the next generation of citizens. That’s the only way we have a country going forward.

At a more concrete level, when I’m in my 90s, God willing, and I need a doctor to take care of me, it is going to be someone’s kid who is that doctor. But Americans, again, they kind of erase all of that and they think having children is something that is like kind of a private affair that has no implications for spreading the costs and they typically privatize the cost of childrearing on the individual mothers. That’s a terrible idea and it is not one that is going to deliver either the health of the nation, or as you pointed out, the health of the individuals in it.

Watch Nadine Burke Harris’ presentation on Adverse Childhood Events, ACEs

LISA REAGAN: Right. Nadine Burke Harris is now the surgeon general of California and she is a champion for ACES, the adverse childhood events study, that was done originally by Kaiser Permanente back in 1979 and is just now coming out to show stressors and adverse childhood events, trauma, are predictors of adult illness. With ACES we can test children early to see what have they already been exposed to and then use trauma-informed care, TIC, to recover. We can tell if a population is going to be a healthy population or is this going to be a sick population. Why should I spend my money on your child? Well, if we don’t have these baselines for wellness in place, ACES awareness and testing, and trauma-informed schools, hospitals and law enforcemet, as she is advocating for now, then we are going to pay at the end, instead of at the front of our lives. Either way we are going to pay.

JOAN WILLIAMS: It’s true, yeah.


The Center for Worklife Law Breastfeeding Policy Summit

LISA REAGAN: So, it is better to just create a healthy population from the beginning. And this takes us into the breastfeeding workplace law, the breastfeeding policy summit. This summit wasn’t necessarily about the reasons why we should advocate for breastfeeding, because that was a given, this was the very sophisticated and rarified air of how do we go back to our legislatures in our states and understand some of these very important insights that we learned about language, non-partisan language, and what I just said about watching the audience recoil if I talked about families, anything to do with families. We were given a sheet at the summit about what verbiage may or may not work and what you may want to strike from your language when you are talking with a legislator. This kind of training and thinking, I found to be truly invaluable, especially when we’re talking about practical reality of real systemic change in America. I don’t see another fast track.

JOAN WILLIAMS: Yeah, yeah. I think there is really an opportunity now to make a lot of progress on breastfeeding. One of the things that we have done at WorkLife Law from the very beginning is tried to bridge that class culture gap that I talked about before. This is also a regional gap. So, you would talk very differently in California to legislators then you would in Mississippi.

From the very beginning, we have seen the kind of advocacy we do around family caregivers as very much standing up for the values people hold in family life. In fact, the tagline of WorkLife Law at one point was, “Redesigning life around the values people hold in family life.” I think it is important, depending on the context, to be able to hum this tune in two different keys in the context of conservatism, when you’re talking about breastfeeding is are you talking about whether people can take the personal responsibility to raise the healthiest child that they can and support themselves economically and not get fired in the process?

So, we are deeply talking about personal responsibility and we are talking about the values that people hold that family life is important, that family life is central, that children are cherished, and all of that language is very, very good. That works well. That language works well in red states and to get conservative voters even in blue states. “I think that families are important. I believe in personal responsibility.” Now, these words have been used in some ugly ways, but I’m not using it in ugly ways. I am using it in ways in order to explain to Americans why they need to create less family hostile public policy.

On the other hand, in a very blue state like California, I mean, God forbid that you should talk about nursing mothers because there are trans men that may be nursing. So, it’s a totally different theme. But somebody who is working with the state legislature probably needs to be able to frame the message in at least two different ways and perhaps more.

LISA REAGAN: There were a number of takeaways from the summit, what would you like us to know? There is so much. I am keeping an eye on the time right now, so I am going to put it off on you.

JOAN WILLIAMS: One thing that’s really important in breastfeeding advocacy is to not guilt trip women who choose not to breastfeed. There are many ways to raise a healthy child and that has to be an important message. On the other hand, many women do choose to breastfeed and once you are breastfeeding, it is really important for a mother or a breastfeeding worker to have access to regular breaks in order to pump or breastfeed. If she doesn’t, she’s liable to get a very painful and possibly serious breast infection where your temperature spikes up and it can turn into a serious health condition.

It is also very important for a breastfeeding worker to have a clean place to pump, because after all, you wouldn’t want your food prepared in a bathroom. Babies don’t have as strong immune systems as yours is. Often in small employers, this makes them very anxious, and I can understand that, but there is typically a way with a little bit of forethought, that employers, even small employers, can arrange for a private place for pumping. For example, if you’re in a retail environment, there is often a small manager’s office in the back that a woman can use for a few minutes in order to pump her milk. Often breastfeeding opponents strike this as an incredible burden on employers. But really what is the incredibly burden on employers is if they lose a trained and effective employee after the other because it’s a worker who needs to breastfeed and the employer is being extremely rigid.

One of the things that we found in our report on breastfeeding discrimination is that many, many breastfeeding workers who experience discrimination end up losing their jobs. That’s terrible for women. That’s terrible for children. It is also terrible for those women’s employers. I speak as an employer. I have been an employer for over 20 years. I can’t pretend that it is not sometimes a nuisance when women have children or when women need to breastfeed. It is also a nuisance when people have a heart attack. And it would be far better if workers didn’t have bodies at all. But that’s not the workforce you’re dealing with, the workforce is of human beings and they have heart attacks and they need to breastfeed, and that means that if you pretend otherwise, you are going to be losing one conscientious trained worker after the other and you may not be counting up that expense, but it is a very steep expense. It does not make sense from a pure employer standpoint. That’s another argument that is going to be very persuasive in some state legislatures with legislators who are very concerned about putting undue burdens on businesses, especially small business.

LISA REAGAN: Well, I can tell you a bit of good news. That is in Virginia this year I created the Workplace Breastfeeding Award program for employers to rank themselves in this application process they would go through and see how they’re doing and they would come out the other side and they would get a bronze, silver, or a gold award. It is just a pilot project that was paid for with the CDC grant for the state of Virginia, but the response with no budget for advertising, was tremendous.

JOAN WILLIAMS: Wow.

LISA REAGAN: We had 23 companies sign up and received their awards. Most of them were the big companies though, NASA, Naval Weapons Station, big companies, who are able to do what you’re talking about to provide this level of space. There were some smaller businesses that were in there, but by far it was, at least this year, and honestly, I was just really thrilled that they got the awards.

JOAN WILLIAMS: Congratulations. That’s such a great idea and a great accomplishment and I really think that you get the best out of people by speaking to their best selves.

LISA REAGAN: Yes.

JOAN WILLIAMS: And not demonize them, so that kind of awards program can have a really big impact, particularly if it continues to grow. And it will provide you and I am sure you are all over this, with really concrete descriptions like, you might think it is really difficult to give suitable breastfeeding space in this type of job, but here’s an employer who is doing it and here is exactly how. I really think a lot of this is a failure of imagination. The failure of imagination goes back to very judgmental set of thoughts that stem from the ideal worker. The ideal worker doesn’t need time off for breastfeeding. Well, yes, they do. They are conscientious. They are conscientious about their job. They need to keep their job to support their child. They also want to be a good mom. Those are just the kind of workers that you want and that’s the importance of that kind of prize program that you’ve established. Congratulations.

LISA REAGAN: Well, that was the state who funded and directed that program, so we will see how that takes off over the years.

JOAN WILLIAMS: Absolutely.

LISA REAGAN: I want to thank you again for coming on and talking to us. I am so grateful that we could cover this big picture territory, which I feel like reorients the discussion and also for activists to help us see what are the real hidden challenges that perhaps we are not perceiving. What are some of our own, as you’ve illuminated for us, class conflicts, class bias, class cluelessness that we’re not perceiving and how to approach the issue of breastfeeding in the workplace. This all applies.

JOAN WILLIAMS: I have one final thought as I think about it. We have run a hotline for workers who have encountered discrimination. We have run it for 20 years. So, if people do encounter discrimination, they should definitely feel free to call our hotline. I can give that number in a minute. The other thing to keep in mind is that one of the things that we have found over the years is that sadly sometimes white women are offered accommodations that are denied to women of color. If you see that kind of pattern in your workplace, you know, how you want to handle it, there’s lots of different ways to handle it. But that’s race discrimination and that’s illegal. So that’s one thing that people should keep in mind as they kind of try to navigate these issues.

LISA REAGAN: Yes…

JOAN WILLIAMS: Can I give you that hotline number? The hotline number is 415-703-8276.

LISA REAGAN: You can also go to worklifelaw.org and visit the site and find a tremendous amount of resources there.

JOAN WILLIAMS: The hotline, the email is hotline@worklifelaw.org.

If you’re a worker and you’re having challenges based on breastfeeding or other caregiving responsibilities, you can check out our webpage at “Pregnant at Work” or just go to the WorkLife Law webpage. If you’re a student and you are having similar challenges, you can go to our webpage at “The Pregnant Scholar”.

LISA REAGAN: Excellent. I will make sure to have all of those resources and their links.

JOAN WILLIAMS: Wonderful.


LISA REAGAN: Alright. Well, thank you so much again for coming and I look forward to hopefully talking to you again soon.

JOAN WILLIAMS: Thank you. I hope you feel better.

LISA REAGAN: You too. Thank you. Goodbye.

JOAN WILLIAMS: Bye bye.

 


RESOURCES

Center for Worklife Law’s Projects:

Free National Worker and Student Legal Hotline: 415-703-8276

Pregnant@Work. This online resource center provides tools and educational materials for pregnant and breastfeeding workers, the healthcare professionals who treat them, and the attorneys who represent them. It also has useful materials for companieshuman resources professionals, and management attorneys that can assist in navigating the many legal and practical considerations around pregnancy and breastfeeding accommodations.

The Pregnancy Scholar. This site provides resources for students, postdocs, faculty, administrators, and others in institutions of higher education, including colleges, community colleges, universities, and similar programs. Those interested in learning more about Title IX pregnancy protection in grade school should review the Department of Education’s Guidance on the topic.

Exposed: Discrimination Against Breastfeeding Workers. This first comprehensive report on breastfeeding discrimination reveals widespread and devastating consequences for breastfeeding workers. 


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New California Law Addresses Racial Bias In Maternal Healthcare: Watch News Report https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/01/new-california-law-addresses-racial-bias-in-maternal-healthcare-watch-news-report/ https://www.kindredmedia.org/2020/01/new-california-law-addresses-racial-bias-in-maternal-healthcare-watch-news-report/#respond Sat, 04 Jan 2020 19:22:55 +0000 http://www.kindredmedia.org/?p=23558 Soon, every maternal doctor and nurse in California will have to take implicit bias training. The new law is designed to improve awareness of the impact racial bias has on maternal and infant health. Visit the Cal Matters news page here. Learn more about black mothers maternal morbidity on Kindred here. See Kindred’s Black Mothers […]]]>

Watch the Cal Matters News Report

Soon, every maternal doctor and nurse in California will have to take implicit bias training. The new law is designed to improve awareness of the impact racial bias has on maternal and infant health. Visit the Cal Matters news page here.

Learn more about black mothers maternal morbidity on Kindred here.

See Kindred’s Black Mothers Resources here and below:

RESOURCES

Organizations

Ancient Song Doula Services is a social profit organization working towards addressing racial disparities and inequities within the healthcare system. We do this by providing full spectrum doula services, training & certification, conferences and educational forums to address the maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity, implicit bias, and racism within healthcare systems. 

Black Doula Locator

Black Mamas Matter Alliance Black Mamas Matter Alliance is a Black women-led cross-sectoral alliance. We center Black mamas to advocate, drive research, build power, and shift culture for Black maternal health, rights, and justice.

The Black Maternal Health Caucus. Congresswomen Alma Adams and Lauren Underwood founded the Black Maternal Health Caucus (BMHC) in April 2019 to improve health outcomes for black pregnant and postpartum people. According to a press release from Adams’ office, the caucus “aims to raise awareness within Congress to establish black maternal health as a national priority and explore and advocate for effective, evidence-based, culturally-competent policies and best practices for health outcomes for black mothers.”

Black Women Birthing JusticeBlack Women Birthing Justice is a collective of African-American, African, Caribbean and multiracial women who are committed to transforming birthing experiences for Black women and transfolks. Our vision is that that every pregnant person should have an empowering birthing experience, free of unnecessary medical interventions. Our goals are to educate, to document birth stories and to raise awareness about birthing alternatives. We aim to challenge medical violence, rebuild confidence in our ability to give birth and decrease disproportionate maternal and infant mortality.

The Blavatnik Family Women’s Health Research Institute is to optimize quality of care for women across the life span and to narrow gaps in treatment and outcomes in underserved populations.

As a research Institute, our focus will be to transform women’s health by advancing science, training the next generation of scientific leaders in women’s health, and promoting breakthroughs in clinical care. They have published research on how black and Hispanic women are more likely to report postpartum depression symptoms, why many moms don’t feel prepared for emotional or physical postpartum issues, and how life-threatening maternal complications occur more frequently among black women than their white counterparts, to name a few topics.

Every Mother Counts is a non-profit organization working to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother, everywhere. We work to achieve quality, respectful, and equitable maternity care for all by giving grants and working with partners and thought leaders to increase awareness and mobilize communities to take action. 

MomsRising is a nonpartisan organization pushing for cultural and legislative change around various pressing issues, like gun safetypaid family leave, and maternal justice. MomsRising members serve on state maternal mortality review committees, partner with legislators on local and state policies, and call, visit, and write to elected leaders, among other ventures.

The National Birth Equity CollaborativeNBEC seeks to provide research to promote healthier birth experiences and health outcomes. Birth Equity Index (BEI) is the result of a mixed-methods variance of Black Infant Mortality in the U.S. through Women’s lived experiences in their communities. We partnered with researchers to provide analysis of the collective impact of these experiences and have created a Birth Equity Tool Kit assessment survey. NBEC provides a customized set of strategic racial equity training sessions covering how racism shows up in levels of power, leadership, and worldviews, and how to identify and apply this knowledge to dismantle the root causes of health inequities. We provide a framework to advance health & birth equity in all aspects by intervening on an interpersonal and institutional level.

Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere, ROBE. OBE will focus on Black Infant Mortality by promoting and teaching Safe Sleep and Breastfeeding Inequities in communities of color from an African America tradition.

Reading Our Sisters Everywhere, ROSE. Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE) Inc. was founded to address breastfeeding disparities for communities of color. ROSE works to normalize breastfeeding by providing resources and networking opportunities for individuals and communities. As a national expert, and in partnership with communities, we build equity in maternal and child health through culturally competent training, education, advocacy, and support.

The Shades of Blue Project is dedicated to helping minority women who are suffering from postpartum depression and/or anxiety. We are dedicated to helping women before, during and after child-birth with mental health advocacy, treatment and support. Our goal is to reach women globally helping to restore them mentally, physically and spiritually.

Sista Midwife Productions and the Sista Midwife DirectorySista Midwife Productions provides education, training and consultations for communities, birth workers and organizations that work with child bearing families. We work to improve pregnancy, birth experiences and to eliminate perinatal disparities by increasing the numbers of black birth workers, teaching families about their patient rights; and creating transparency and accountability within childbirth education and the medical obstetrical system. We are dedicated to increasing the numbers of black birth workers and birth workers trained to support families in a culturally holistic way. We know that this is an integral part of the solution to eliminating perinatal disparities.

Village Birth International (VBI) is a community-based organization dedicated to improving outcomes in maternal-child health while seeking birth and reproductive justice for families facing inequities in the childbearing year. We are committed to universal health equity for all families by eliminating the impact of racism and systemic oppression on perinatal outcomes. Our work is currently based in Syracuse, NY, New Jersey, and Northern Uganda. 

Reports

Black Mamas Matter Alliance’s Report: Setting the Standard for Holistic Care of and for Black Women 

Advancing Birth Justice: Community-Based Doula Models as a Standard of Care for Ending Racial Disparities

Uplifting Birth Justice Through Doula Care!

Books

Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty

Reproductive Justice: An Introduction

Birthing Justice: Black Women, Pregnancy, and Childbirth

Radical Reproductive Justice: Foundation, Theory, Practice, Critique

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