in response to crisis in the crib documentary….

(thanks to the post at unnecessarean)

some observations:

1 the theme: a healthy baby begins with you.

birth is a multi layered event that is embedded in the life of a community.  in the states we have have a habit of imagining birth in an individualistic, capitalist model.  in which we argue for people to have the right to ‘more options’.  should we purchase the services of this midwife or that ob?  should we take this type of prenatal education or that type?  etc. etc.  but at the heart of mothering, of childbearing, whether we can see it or not, is embedded in the culture and community from which we come and in which we live.  what i most appreciated about the film was the ways in which the whole community was called to account for the early and small babies being born to black families.

i also saw too much emphasis still on solutions to community problems that fell back on the individualistic notions of personal responsibility.  yes, diet and exercise have a determination on birth outcomes…obviously.  and diet and exercise are those areas of our lives that we have the most control over.  but the over emphasis on diet, exercise, lifestyle, and education can come across as judgmental to families who are suffering from the death of an infant.  and can increase the trauma that a person endures who has had a pre term low birth weight baby.  in other words, if someone tells you that their child died after 17 minutes, the first words out of your mouth need to be something like: i am sorry.  and then a moment of silence and to hold that pain.  and not to assume well, if only you had done xyz you’d have a baby right now.  that is cruel to say or imply to someone.  and inaccurate.

2 raising awareness is not a solution, it is a first step in a long process.  raising awareness is supposed to get people motivated, activated, and involved.  and the film shows kids doing just that.  it was that part of the film that was most inspiring to me.  watching black kids talk to black kids about infant mortality, sharing stories, sharing advice is beautiful. and i couldnt help but wonder…what next?  what protection can we give mamas and babies born in the world with such a high risk of dying before they have barely lived?  how do we deal with the incredible stress that racism (and sexism) are weighing on mama’s bodies before their children ever reach earthside?  sometimes i become so jaded with ‘raising awareness’.  because knowing the incredible pain of ‘livng in two americas’ can cause is not a solution.

at best i saw the phrase: a healthy baby begins with you transformed into ‘a healthy baby begins with us’.  the solution to these problems not simply being ‘raising awareness’, but that as a community, as a nation, we are required to provide the emotional and psychological sustenance that counteracts the stresses of racism and sexism that black folks experience.   we must rebuild and revitalize our communities, so that people grow up in spaces where they can be healthy, strong and valued. .

3 vitamin d: with much respect to emvee and her blog (which i love), i think that vitamin d scare is the latest in a series of simplistic answers to complex issues.

-native folk who lived here long before white colonizers started their unending genocide were darker skinned than white folks.  did they all suffer from vitamin d deficiency at a greater level than the white folks who conquered them?

-black folks who live in the southern usa should, according to logic, have lower maternal and infant mortality rates than folks who live in the northern usa.  but there is no study to show this.  and i doubt that we are going to produce studies that show a disparity between infant mortality rates between black southern folks and black northern folks.  do black folks in florida have better infant/maternal mortality rates than folks in maine?  this documentary focused on tennessee (where there is a good amount of sunlight) and then expanded to health workers mississippi and arkansas…so how does align with the vit. d theory?

3 stress. stress. and more stress.  i wrote about the impacts of stress of racism on health disparities in the usa. and on infant and mortality rates.  you can check the links below for more analysis.

violence and the childbearing year

All of these forms of violence significantly impact a woman’s childbearing experience. Since the origins of violence have a long history that today’s dominant belief systems are rooted in, no matter how subtly, these beliefs are often held by many of the individuals who come into contact in a “helping” capacity during the childbearing year. The parallels of the violations experienced against these woman are not acknowledged because they are systematic, normalized, minimized and otherwise, under the surface.

the arc of the moral universe is long

i read a lot of talk about how in black and latina communities women aren’t educated about birth.  and that there is a lot of misinformation and myths and stereotypes about birth in our communities.  but there is a lot of wisdom in our communities as well.  wisdom that has been punished and silenced by structural violence for centuries.  and still survives.  maybe its time for some intergenerational healing and storytelling within our communities.  maybe its time that the energy of the movement focus on supporting marginalized birth workers and mothers, rather than fighting with the medical establishment over protocol and acceptance.

canary in the mine

i am thinking about what it means that ‘infant mortality rates’ act as a ‘canary in the mine’ for indicators of social health.  and what it means to our survival, as a people, that our children are born as survivors of racism and medical violence.

sick and tired

well, here’s the thing as the video points out.  we already tried the whole educating marginalized women into better health outcomes.  that is what the whole ‘pre natal care is vital to your baby’s health’ came from.  and it hasnt worked.  not at all.

and it should be noted that–education is the answer–is a very middle class (yes, even black middle class) response to a problem.

education is pretty much useless to improve birth outcomes, if women of color are being traumatized by racism daily, and the ‘education’ is ignoring that she will be a woc during her pregnancy, and birth, and the rest of her life.

smart tips and empowered births

what i am saying is that encouraging women to trust experts more than themselves does not decrease the likelihood of being traumatized in birth nor is there any proof that it leads to a healthier pregnancy or baby.  these tips make as much sense as ‘rape prevention tips’.the problem with all these smart tips is that they are a prescription for not having individual choice in one’s pregnancy or birth.  pregnany is no longer just a pregnancy.  but an illness.  a disease that has to be managed.  by experts.  by you encouraging doctors and midwives to have more control over your body and yr choices.  that they know more about your body than you do.  that you give a bunch of personal information and they decide what choices you have considering that info.

race and birth

There are multiple factors that contribute to the growing disparities of pregnancy, birth and infant health outcomes between white and black women. Standard theoretical explanations include: socioeconomic, dietary and lifestyle choices, and genetics. While there is overwhelming evidence that socio-economics play a significant role, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies tells us that: college- educated black women are also at risk. Dietary choices and access also plays a major role. Genetics though does not provide an adequate reason for the disparities:

…children of American black women rate higher for all the major causes of death in the child’s first year. “Genetic diseases pop up at random in different (racial) populations,” David noted. “But one group is taking all the hits. If this were a genetic problem it wouldn’t fit that pattern.” Moreover, birth weights are not static but change in every population and from one generation to the next. Genetic shifts, however, “take place over thousands or tens of thousands of years,” he said.

4 what i am concerned about are the environments in which black mamas and babies live and breathe.

U.S. minority infants are born carrying hundreds of chemicals in their bodies, according to a report released today by an environmental group.

The Environmental Working Group‘s study commissioned five laboratories to examine the umbilical cord blood of 10 babies of African-American, Hispanic and Asian heritage and found more than 200 chemicals in each newborn.

“We know the developing fetus is one of the most vulnerable populations, if not the most vulnerable, to environmental exposure,” said Anila Jacobs, EWG senior scientist. “Their organ systems aren’t mature and their detox methods are not in place, so cord blood gives us a good picture of exposure during this most vulnerable time of life.”

5 and i am concerned about how racism functions as a form of systemic abuse of marginalized mamas and how that seeps into the bodies of their babies.   i cant help but wonder, looking at the incredible impact that racism has on human bodies, does racism affect the dna of babies similarly to the ways that childhood emotional and psychological assault may do so?

Physical and chemical changes in the body caused by abuse early in life can be passed down from mother to child, a recent study shows.

The review of published research by behavioral scientists at Emory University in Atlanta was based on studies that show how early life stress (ELS), such as physical and emotional abuse and neglect, leads to observable changes in the brain’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

This system, which is responsible for controlling the “fight or flight” response in humans, can be physically altered by abuse.

While these changes can happen when abuse occurs at any point in life, the Emory study shows that abuse during pre-teen and adolescent years are most damaging, resulting in mood and anxiety disorders like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression.

What’s more, the functional and physical changes caused by ELS can be passed along from female victims to their children. One of these means of transmission is through epigenetic changes.

Epigenetics is a new field of study that examines how the function of DNA can change without any change to the DNA sequence itself. Through a process known as methylation, protein tags that enhance or thwart the function of a gene can be attached to an individual’s DNA.

Even after a cell divides, the DNA can still carry the new tags.

6 so while i am so happy that more attention is being paid to the structural genocide of black babies.  i am concerned that the approach leaves us too focused on ‘personal responsibility’ that is places squarely on the black mamas’ shoulders.  especially since black women carry such a heavy load already.  i think it is too easy to say: take vitamins, eat fruits and vegetables, go to the gym, get educated.  rather than looking at the environments that women must bear their children.  the ways that historical racism is worn on the body itself.  the ways that we continue to place so much of the stress and burden on black women’s bodies.  how fresh foods often aren’t available in black communities (just look at how the bp oil spill is destroying the land of black folks in the gulf who have lived off the land and its food for generations).  how our diets and our behaviours are often responses of dealing with the stress of racism/sexism/poverty and are not the cause of those stresses.  in other words, dealing with lifestyle changes, is more like dealing with the symptoms of the disease, rather than the cause.  and for the survival of our people, we must do better than that.