Back in the 1990s, I had more breast milk than I could handle. I knew then and know now that many women, due largely to the circumstances of their lives and not their biology, are not able to produce all the milk their children need. And there are breastfeeding people (some cis-female and some not) who have biological reasons why they can't produce enough breast milk for their children.
Well, that is where people like me can come in.
By the second trimester of my first pregnancy, my perfectly happy "Barely B" cups had become G cups. I didn't know there were G cups and never had desired to own them. When my first son was born, I pumped in the fruitless hope that he would drink breast milk from a bottle while I was in court. He had other ideas. Then I pumped for comfort because I was constantly engorged. I could pump eight ounces in five minutes, switch bottles, and pump another eight ounces. But my son would have none of it. He wanted breasts or nothing.
Pretty soon I had a freezer stocked full of pumped breast milk my son wouldn't drink. So, after some research, I contacted HMBANA in the hope of finding a good home for my gallons of milk. But I was also on an SSRI at the time – one then and now considered entirely safe for breastfeeding children. The HMBANA policy, I was told then, was that no milk donations would be accepted if the donor was on any medications whatsoever. So HMBANA would not accept my milk.
When son number two was born, not only did I have over supply but overactive let-down. That meant my first let-down would hit the back of my son's throat with such force it triggered his gag reflex and he chomped down in an attempt to slow the flow. There are only so many times a baby, affectionately nicknamed "Moose" for his ten pound birth weight and trap-like mandibles, can chomp on your nipples before something must be done. That something was pumping before each feed so that my let-down was not so fast. And that meant more gallons of breast milk in my freezer.
There were no informal milk-sharing networks on the Internet in the nineties. Or if there were, I didn't know about them. So I was forced to pour gallon after gallon of breast milk down the drain.
Menschheit is a difficult word to translate. Literally it is the German noun meaning "humanity" or "mankind," but I grew up hearing it used in Yiddish to describe a quality – the quality of acting like a real human being. This, in Yiddish, is considered a good thing. Giving my abundant excess breast milk to a baby who needed it seemed to me to be the most basic menschheit. It is what a person does if she is really human.
It made me incredibly sad that I couldn't find a home for my breast milk. And it makes me very happy that today people with excess milk can find other people who need milk and make the exchange. This is menschheit; it was what humans do for one another.
Following is a post written by economist and breastfeeding expert James Akre about the safety and necessity of milk-sharing. It was originally published by baby gooroo on June 28th and is reprinted here with the kind permission of Akre and baby gooroo:
Since pre-history, mothers in need of human milk have relied on other mothers in their family and community with milk to spare and share. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, the second-best feeding option, after breastfeeding, is breast milk expressed by a child’s own mother, followed by milk from a healthy wet-nurse or from a human-milk bank.
The Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) acknowledges that its not-for-profit member banks—two in Canada and 11 in the U.S. serving a total population approaching 350 million — cannot satisfy even a quarter of the current demand for banked milk. Under the circumstances HMBANA rightly gives priority to sick and premature babies. But at $3–$6 an ounce, a week’s supply could cost as much as $750—something few parents can afford to pay even if banked milk were available.
“A growing awareness of the importance of breast milk for babies has accelerated the demand for human milk at a time when processed donor milk is scarce and costly,” says Amy Spangler, president of baby gooroo. “Intent on giving their babies what every baby needs most, mothers are bypassing milk banks and going directly to the supplier—other breastfeeding mothers with milk to spare.”
The Milk-Sharing Debate
With the help of social media, mothers are increasingly aware that milk-sharing is a viable option for mothers who can’t breastfeed or obtain banked milk. Mothers of healthy babies who need milk are linking with other mothers willing to donate milk via chapters of two popular Facebook-based communities—Eats on Feets and Human Milk 4 Human Babies—operating in more than 50 countries.
These online communities allow donor mothers to share their milk, safely and ethically, in the belief that they and recipient mothers are capable of weighing the inherent benefits and risks and making informed decisions. This altruistic commerce-free exchange is grounded in the principle that all who are involved in milk sharing take full responsibility for their actions and subsequent outcomes.
However, the position staked out by some public health authorities, notably in Canada, France, Israel, and the U.S., including the Canadian Paediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics is clear: Don’t do it!
Some in the health and medical establishment regard internet-based sharing as a threat both to their authority and to public health. They reject a system that operates outside their influence, that can’t be regulated, and where mothers alone exercise control. Some especially anxious observers go so far as to allege that mother-to-mother milk sharing undermines the ability of the few under-provisioned human-milk banks to meet the urgent needs of sick and preterm babies, by further reducing potential milk donations.
It should be noted that donor mothers have been breastfeeding their own children. With few exceptions, these mothers and their children are being followed closely by health care professionals with all that this implies for health status monitoring; and they are ready to discuss their lifestyle and disclose their medical records before sharing their milk. And yet health authorities are contending that mother-to-mother milk sharing is fundamentally riskier than feeding infant formula, and that it’s impossible for mothers, acting on their own, to minimize health risks.
Those in favor of milk sharing disagree.
Weighing and Managing Relative Risk
Milk banks function according to a strict medical model where regulations, rules, and protocol determine what is done, when, and for whom. Babies receiving banked donor milk are virtually always sick and hospitalized; healthy children seldom qualify for access to the limited amount of banked milk. Health professionals prescribe milk for the sickest, neediest, and most fragile babies, who are frequently immuno-compromised and risk death.
In addition, the screening criteria that milk banks typically apply disqualify many otherwise healthy women who might be willing to donate their milk. Exclusion criteria include previous residence in the UK (due to possible infection with mad cow disease), regular consumption of caffeinated beverages, a baby older than 6 months of age, and a small amount of available milk.
In contrast, milk sharing takes place in the community where interpersonal contact plays a significant role. Typically, the personalities and values of those involved are largely responsible for influencing decisions; the children concerned are healthy; and mothers are motivated by a heightened awareness of the importance of human milk for human babies and a desire to contribute to the common good.
There are risks associated with milk sharing just as there are with feeding babies formula.
It is thus a question of weighing and managing relative risk, minimizing potential harm, and maximizing benefit. Rather than resisting and dismissing milk sharing, the constructive approach would be for health authorities and health care professionals to engage with mothers in ways that help make the practice as safe as possible, such as providing reliable information on donor screening, milk collection, storage, pasteurization, and feeding practices, and expediting voluntary sharing of medical records.
There are encouraging signs of a more nuanced attitude among health professionals. For example, based on their survey of more than 400 health professionals, two researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in 2010 concluded that those knowledgeable about breastfeeding overwhelmingly support wet-nursing and sharing of unpasteurized human milk. The majority of those surveyed recommended that donors should be screened like blood donors, and should be instructed on safe milk handling and storage techniques. Although health professionals view all infants as possible candidates for unpasteurized donor human milk, concerns remain about safety and social problems with wet-nursing and milk sharing. Lastly, survey participants agreed that professional recommendations should be developed to optimize safety and acceptance of wet-nursing and human-milk sharing.
What the Milk-sharing Community Advises
The four pillars to support the safe sharing of breast milk from Eats on Feets stress:
Informed Choice — Mothers are responsible for understanding the options, including the risks and benefits, of all infant and child feeding methods.
Donor Screening — Mothers can communicate with donors by asking questions about their health and lifestyle, and by requesting blood screening test results.
Safe Handling — Mothers and donors should handle milk with clean hands and equipment and use proper storage methods.
Home pasteurization — If in doubt, mothers can pasteurize milk at home: on the stovetop in order to inactivate HIV; or using a single bottle pasteurizer that performs the Holder method of pasteurization.
Meanwhile, Human Milk 4 Human Babies stresses that, “It is in the spirit of informed choice that milk sharing on these [Internet] pages will occur, and all people posting here will take complete responsibility for the outcome of milk sharing.” It also reminds mothers that:
Full Disclosure Reduces Risk
Suggested points of discussion can include medications, alcohol and drug use. In many countries, testing for infectious diseases is done during routine prenatal/antenatal care. You may be able to consult a health care provider to obtain further testing if desired. You can ask for copies of those test results. If you cannot get a complete picture of the health of your donor, one option is to look into at-home pasteurization.
Mother-to-mother human-milk sharing is here to stay. Though technology has transformed the practice, it remains fundamentally identical to what mothers of good will have been doing since pre-history on behalf of other mothers and their babies.
Not-for-profit human-milk banks and commerce-free mother-to-mother milk sharing can and should operate on parallel non-competitive tracks. They are complementary, not antagonistic. Indeed, there is significant untapped potential for both systems to play mutually supportive roles in pursuit of a single common objective—helping to ensure that no babies are denied their nutritional birthright.
Many many thanks to Trevor at Milk Junkies for kicking my tush so I would participate in this important blog carnival.
West Virginia has the honor of being one of only two U.S. states (W.V. and Idaho) that has no public breastfeeding law whatsoever. Since the vast majority of states have unenforceable public breastfeeding laws, I don't consider West Virginia's lack of legislation a distinction with a difference. But I guess the state finds it a tad embarrassing.
Which would explain the introduction this year of West Virginia Senate Bill 4 (identical to House Bill 4540). The bill as introduced would create a law that states:
ARTICLE 1. STATE PUBLIC HEALTH SYSTEM.
§16-1-19. Child’s right to nurse; location where permitted; right protected.
(a) The Legislature finds that breast feeding is an important, basic act of nurturing that is protected in the interests of maternal and child health.
(b) Notwithstanding any provision of this code to the contrary, a mother may breast feed a child in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be.
The bill is nearly identical to the equally toothless West Virginia Senate Bill 82 from last year. SB82 died in Committee but it appears this year's bill might not.
Introduced on January 12th of this year. SB4 traveled relatively rapidly through the West Virginia Senate, fighting off attempts to add amendments that would require breastfeeding women attempt to cover their breasts. The Bill is now working its way through Committees in the West Virginia House at a decent clip.
West Virginia has the fourth lowest breastfeeding rate in the U.S. It obviously needs legal support for breastfeeding women. So what is wrong with the current bill? The same thing that was wrong with last year's. There is no enforcement provision. If SB4/HB4540 passes the full West Virginia legislature, West Virginia women will have a "right" with no way of enforcing it. If this bill becomes law, West Virginia law contains nothing for a woman to do if it is violated.
Remember to read my articles on BreastfeedingLaw.com for more background on how public breastfeeding laws do and don't work.
If you live in West Virginia, it may be too late to influence the outcome but you can try by letting your House representative know the bill should be amended to add an enforcement provision. Otherwise, West Virginia will move off the "no law" list but West Virginia women will gain nothing.
When I first heard about Slutwalk, I cringed. I thought then, and think now, that the name is awful. "Slut" is a hate word and I do not believe hate words should be used in any context other than direct quotes and then only as necessary for some specific purpose that can't be met without using the quote. But when I first heard about Slutwalk, I wasn't being asked to pass judgment on it. I didn't have to like it. I was asked for legal help, the kind I am proud to give. A group was being prevented from engaging in a lawful demonstration by a city official deliberately misleading them about their rights. So I became the lawyer for Slutwalk Philadelphia and, with much help from the Philadelphia ACLU, got them a demonstration permit for the August 6th Slutwalk Philadelphia event.
This started in late May of this year, a month or so after the first Slutwalk. In the process of filing forms, I had to assist in figuring out a march starting point and a march route and an end point and the placement of a stage and a power source for a sound system. And before I knew it, I was a co-organizer. In those few short months between the first phone call and my standing on a stage at Philadelphia's City Hall, Slutwalks were taking place all over the world. What began as a protest of a sexist remark by one Toronto constable (telling college women that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized") had grown into an international movement of women outraged that we are consistently and universally blamed for being sexually assaulted. By August, over 80 separate Slutwalks (not all called "Slutwalk" in other countries) had taken place internationally.
One of my tasks was to organize the speakers. No Philadelphia feminist organization would work with Slutwalk. The primary rape crisis center refused to send counselors – much needed in a crowd that would certainly contain a significant number of women who had been sexually assaulted and might be triggered by something that day. But we got speakers – amazing, brilliant speakers who rocked us all. A diverse group: men, women, white, of color, straight, queer, trans, activists, academic, academics who were also activists, a state legislator. Our speakers spoke to, and for, as many people as we could possibly manage.
I don't remember when I first heard that the goal of some Slutwalk organizers in other cities was to reclaim the word "Slut" – to attempt to remove its power to injure by owning it, to remove the hate by embracing it. I remember reacting with shock, thinking, "No, the name 'Slutwalk' comes from the use of the word by the constable!" but a co-organizer told me that indeed reclamation was the explicit goal of some. At some point in organizational meetings we discussed it but I don't recall much. My recollection is that basically Slutwalk Philadelphia would take no position on reclamation. Our motto was "Blame the Perpetrator, Not the Victim." If people who attended the event felt reclamation was important to them, who were we to decide that for them? And when several of our speakers specifically disavowed reclamation (as I did) and none of our speakers embraced it, so it was.
Okay, here comes the part where I screwed up – big time – and I need to apologize.
On September 23rd, Black Women's Blueprint issued "An Open Letter from Black Women to the Slutwalk." I am ashamed of my reaction. My position on the letter, which I shared on more Facebook threads than I can now locate, was informed by two primary motivations: 1) I think like a lawyer and expect others to meet my lawyer expectation when presenting arguments and 2) I wanted to defend the extraordinary event that was Slutwalk Philadelphia on August 6th. As a lawyer I expect assertions to be supported by evidence, I abhor sweeping generalization and exaggerations, and I find it very difficult to keep my mouth shut (or fingers off keyboard) when someone writes something that is simply dishonest. I could find some of those in the Open Letter and all in the "discussions" that followed. So I pointed them out and did so defensively. I tried to be as polite and deferential as possible in the beginning but the responses to my comments were so rude and violent that I became more defensive and finally, beaten bloody, I pled for mercy which I did not receive. I left the discussion and Slutwalk.
You're probably wondering about now where the apology is coming in. Well, here it comes.
Had I not had the expectations of a lawyer in a context in which I may very well have been the only lawyer, had I not been so defensive and taken the Open Letter as an attack on Slutwalk Philadelphia and by extension on me and people I care about, I could have stepped back and given more serious thought to the real meaning of the letter. The central point of the letter was, I think, that Slutwalk, as a movement (and let's just call it that though I understand the arguments against it), had entrenched racism, at least in part, because appropriate safeguards to prevent racism were not in place. Also that the name is so offensive to so many, women of color can not feel welcome. A piece of me knew those were the assertions at the time but I rejected them and did not give them the consideration they deserved.
But then something happened that made everything I had argued before wrong and rendered all of my disagreements with the details of the Open Letter moot. Something happened that showed without doubt that Black Women's Blueprint was right, and I was wrong. On October 1st, Slutwalk NYC had its event and someone carried this sign:
If you have any trouble reading it, the sign says: "Woman Is the Ni**er of the World." [Note: I use the word in direct quote only and even then not in full.] That revolting line is from a song. You can read more about the history of that line, complete with an analysis of its use and an excellent list of posts that have been written about this incident, in a piece by activist filmmaker Aishah Shahidah Simmons who was speaker at Slutwalk Philadelphia. There is much that can be said about the appearance of this sign at a Slutwalk but I want to focus on one thing: it is clear evidence that there is racism at Slutwalks and insufficient safeguards in place to make Slutwalks safe space for women of color. I would expand that even further. Where there is racism, there is also the potential if not likelihood of bigotry and oppression of all kinds. That means that Slutwalks are not safe space for any member of any oppressed group.
So why are there no safeguards? Where does Slutwalk fail? Because there are no rules, there is no oversight, and there is no central authority that dictates what is and isn't acceptable at Slutwalks. There is no accountability. Now, this is something that actually attracts many and is what made it possible for Slutwalk Philadelphia to be an inclusive event that did not walk under the "I am a Slut" banner. The founders of the original Slutwalk in Toronto feel strongly that reclamation of the word "Slut" should be a priority. But since Toronto can not dictate what Philadelphia does, we could choose for ourselves. We were autonomous, as are all individual Slutwalk events. And it also allows Toronto to claim they have no responsibility for what happens at any event other than their own. I not only bought that argument, I sold it. It is, after all, a lawyer's argument. I argued "got a problem with what is happening at Slutwalk NYC, take it up with them." And I was wrong. Everyone who organizes a Slutwalk anywhere must be accountable for what happens at Slutwalks everywhere. If unacceptable conduct occurs anywhere, each and every one of us in Slutwalk must stand up and say, "No. This is unacceptable." And ultimately, if efforts to bring change fail, one must say, "I can not be part of Slutwalk if this is happening in any Slutwalk." That is the decision I made and that is why I am no longer part of Slutwalk.
Events like Slutwalk Philadelphia on August 6th are empowering, important and healing. We need people to stand together and say, "It is unacceptable to blame people who have been sexually assaulted for their own assaults. What I wear does not give anyone permission to touch my body. Violence against women and against men must stop." But that space must be safe. In order for that space to be safe the event must have a name that accurately describes the event and is not so offensive to many that people will stay away simply because of the name. I argue that in order for such a space to be safe, it can not be called "Slutwalk."
Such an event must also have some central body that is held accountable for what happens – even if it is only nationwide. There was an attempt to create a space for discussion of issues affecting U.S. Slutwalks. It was a Facebook page. Not much, but a start. For a few days I was one of the administrators of that page. But discussions about U.S. Slutwalks didn't take place, U.S. organizers didn't come to the page or post, and at least one of the other administrators posted links that were off-topic. Exasperated, I resigned as administrator of what was then just dead air. That was on October 5th. Thursday night (October 13th) I came home from a business trip to find, quite by accident, that an administrator who refuses to identify herself had posted a string of racist comments underneath a link of mine. This quite reasonably led people to believe that I was the author of the racist posts. Over fifty comments vilifying me followed. My pleas to the page owner, Atlanta Slutwalk organizer Kim Rippere, to clarify that I was not the author of the racist comments have gone unanswered. I private messaged as many of the commenters whose accounts allowed but received only one response. An unidentified Slutwalk organizer
, and Slutwalk Co-Founder, Heather Jarvis responded to my plea on the wall of the main Slutwalk Facebook page with the following:
No one from our Canadian organizing team has any control or privileges over the SlutWalk USA page you are referencing. Please try to connect with the admins of that page.
Total lack of accountability. That is not safe space for this or any other event.
When the Black Women's Blueprint Open Letter came out, I was authorized on behalf of Slutwalk Philadelphia to approach them and ask to engage in dialogue. I received a very polite reply saying they were going to dialogue with NYC and Toronto only. I was angry. It made no sense to attempt to resolve what is clearly at least a national problem by talking only with two groups out of so many – one of which isn't even in the U.S. Now I wonder that Black Women's Blueprint would want to talk to anyone involved in Slutwalk at all.
Slutwalk NYC responded swiftly to the sign and, while many have problems with the way the sign was dealt with, I don't have first hand knowledge of what happened that day so will offer no judgment. There is a comprehensive letter of apology from the organizer on the Slutwalk NYC website in which they take full responsibility for the events surrounding the sign.
Slutwalk Toronto has posted repeatedly that it is composing a response to Blackwomen's Blueprint. But still, nothing.
Though some organizers have also denounced the NYC sign (including Slutwalk Philadelphia), nothing is being done to stop racist comments from being posted in the name of Slutwalk USA on Facebook. And as long as racism – or any bigotry or oppression – exists in the name of Slutwalk, I can not be a part of it.
To all I have offended along this painful journey, I am sincerely sorry. To those who wish to continue to work to fight blaming women for being sexually assaulted, I hope our paths cross again.
I first saw Mothering magazine in the waiting room of my midwife in 1996. I didn't read parenting magazines but this one was clearly written for me. Breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, anti-circumcision, suspicious of the vaccine schedule. I didn't come to parenting with more than a desire to breastfeed and an academic understanding of attachment theory. Attachment parenting was not something I had heard of when I had had my first son in 1994 but by the time I was pregnant with my second son in 1996 a few short years later, I was living it. I was on my way to becoming a La Leche League Leader, co-slept with my eldest who was still breastfeeding, had stopped routine vaccination, was sling shopping and had moved my law practice home.
For the record, I owned the Birkenstocks long before I had kids.
So I became a Mothering subscriber. In perhaps 2000 there was a short piece in a Mothering issue about HIV and how we talked to our sons about it. I don't have a copy of it and am relying totally on my memory. My memory is that it basically said that telling our teenage sons to practice safer sex was creating an atmosphere of shame and fear around sexuality. It went on to either state or imply that research showed that HIV transmission and infection among children like ours (there was a vague assumption that all readers fell into a homogeneous category to which this assertion applied) was nearly non-existent. There was no citation. I believe there was mention of a study but no information that would have allowed me to find it.
I was outraged. Having worked with people living with HIV and AIDS since 1988 I know this small article was both inaccurate and dangerous. I also found it offensive – it seemed to me to imply that our middle class white boys don't need to worry about practicing safer sex because HIV is happening to some other people. Implicit, of course, was also the assumption that our teenage sons were having sex with middle class girls and not other middle class boys.
Offended on many levels, I picked up the phone and called the editorial department at Mothering magazine to ask 1) who the author of this piece was and 2) what the citation was to the science supporting the assertion in the piece about transmission risk. The person who answered the phone said that the piece had been written by publisher Peggy O'Mara and "Peggy doesn't need a citation." The person was rude and, I believe, wrong. Scientific assertions need scientific support.
So then I wrote an email to Peggy O'Mara. I didn't expect anything to come of it and I had already decided to stop reading the magazine. But, to my surprise, I did receive a response from Peggy. She apologized for the editor's rudeness saying this person was very protective of her, perhaps to a fault. However, she never addressed my main question: where was the science to support the assertion concerning "our" sons' risk of acquiring HIV being so low they need not practice safer sex. Though I appreciated the apology, I thought that was the end of me and Mothering.
But in 2006, I received an email from Peggy saying she had read some posts I had written explaining how breastfeeding law worked and asking if I had ever done any freelance writing. I was thrilled at the opportunity to write a feature for Mothering on public breastfeeding law. That feature became a cover story:
which turned into a job as a Contributing Editor and more writing and another feature:
which turned into a job as Politics Editor. There is a third feature – an update to these previous two features that focuses on why 2010 was a depressing year for breastfeeding law. It was to be published in the May/June 2011 issue. But in January, the magazine ceased publication.
There has been a lot of grief. There simply is no other magazine like Mothering. There is no other magazine that consistently presents alternative views on birth, breastfeeding, discipline, vaccines and raising our children with respect and intelligence. In the current economic and journalistic environment, there is unlikely to be another magazine like Mothering. We get our news and information on-line these days. Personally, I like the feel and smell of magazines. I subscribe to them. I fall behind in reading them and, yes I do far more reading on-line than I do on paper but I don't want to live in a world without magazines. But publishing them is expensive. It takes advertising. And a magazine full of articles about how little mass produced stuff you need to raise a child is by definition not going to draw lots of high paying advertising.
Personally, thanks to Peggy O'Mara and some fantastic Mothering editors who have now had to move on (I love you Candace Walsh and Laura Egley Taylor, as well as Cynthia Mosher who is still on MDC!) my words reached more people and helped more moms than I could have on my own. Being on the staff at Mothering opened doors and got me interviews I might have missed as a freelancer. It was exhausting, challenging and exciting. Candace made my words better, Laura made them visually more beautiful and Cynthia made them accessible on the website. And Peggy gave me input into how Mothering would respond to what was going on in our parenting community.
These are all people I hope to work with in the future. But my work continues nonetheless.
I am redesigning my own website so look for changes there soon. I am increasing my speaking schedule so keep watching for a conference near you. And I will soon be announcing an exciting new website where you will be able to find all federal and state breastfeeding law as well as my key writing from my Mothering years all organized in one place. Along with my growing private law practice, I hope to keep bringing you the content I would have had Mothering remained in publication.
Hang in there Mothering readers. Goodbye to the magazine but hello to new projects for all of us dedicated to attachment parenting.
The day after several blogs, including this one, suggested racism as a motive for Facebook's removing a breastfeeding image from the Earth Mama Angel Baby Facebook fan page, Facebook removed the photo of the white woman breastfeeding her baby.
(c) Earth Mama Angel Baby
Okay, this one does violate the "areola rule." But in addition to the removal, Earth Mama received a new warning – one I haven't seen before:
Because you uploaded photo content that violates our policies, you won’t be able to upload photos for 7 days. After this 7-day block is lifted, please make sure any photos you upload follow Facebook’s policies. If you have other photos on the site that violate our policies, be sure to remove them immediately or you could be blocked from uploading content for a longer period of time.
Has anyone seem the "7 day block" before or is Facebook just making it up as it goes along?
The photo of the white woman does indeed violate the existing Facebook definition of obscenity: areola=obscene. But the question remains concerning the African American mother and child nursing that was removed earlier in the week:
(c) Earth Mama Angel Baby
Nope, no areola there. So why was this image removed? What is inappropriate about it? There is one more possibility to add to the racism discussion. It occurred to me fleetingly but when I heard someone else mention it, I thought I should say it out loud. Some people may look at the image of an African American woman nursing her baby and think she is nursing a "white" child. Come on. Raise of hands. How many people considered the possibility that the woman in the second image above is nursing a "white" baby?
The reason why some significant proportion of you are raising your hands is because in the U.S., "white" people don't have much experience with "black" babies. By and large we don't live in the same neighborhoods, we don't shop in the same grocery stores and the images of non-white babies don't grace the covers of most magazines or appear in most advertisements.
For some reason I can't find a decent citation for this (please post it if you have one) but most babies are born a bit red and ruddy. Few babies of any race are born with "black" skin. The baby in this picture will develop a skin color vaguely like his or her parents eventually but under a year old, her or her skin color will be more like my ("white") skin. I, a white woman, had a first born who resembled Don King. Go figure.
So back to the race question. Just because Facebook has come back and taken down the photo of the white woman, doesn't resolve why the photo of the black woman was taken down? It may be pushing any number of buttons involving race ("white people don't want to see a black woman breastfeeding and certainly not a white baby!"). But it certainly doesn't violate any stated policy of Facebook.
Facebook has been making news and raising ire for removing breastfeeding photos since late 2008. I have been writing about the protests here and in the late Mothering magazine. Facebook did announce the standard it would be using to decide whether a breastfeeding image is "obscene" and thus would be removed. I wrote about that in "It's All About the Areola." According to the official statement from Facebook, "visible areola" is the determining factor in which image is obscene. Yes, I think the standard is absurd but at least it isn't arbitrary.
Or is it? Facebook does not seem to be following its own areola rule. Yesterday, Earth Mama Organics reported that one of two breastfeeding images had been removed from its Facebook page. In comparing the two images, Earth Mama suggests that the reason this image was targeted is because the mother is black.
Hmm. No visible areola. So Facebook is not following its own rule. Why this picture then?
The procedure for removal of Facebook image begins with someone reporting an image as inappropriate. Facebook has neither the time nor inclination to troll its site looking for breastfeeding pictures. So I think it is unlkely some barely post-pubescent Stanford grad in Palo Alto gave this image a whole lot of thought. As the owner of Earth Mama points out on her blog, the other breastfeeding image in the same Facebook page is of a white woman and was not removed. What stood out to me about that other image is that areola is visible.
So black woman showing no areola is obscene and white woman showing areola is not. It is possible this was entirely arbitrary. Someone reported the image of the black woman but not the image of the white woman. Perhaps that disputes an allegation of racism on the part of Facebook. But one then has to wonder why someone viewing a page with both images reported one and not the other. And I have to agree, the most obvious distinction is race. The racist (conscious or not) is whoever reported the image. Someone out there is more uncomfortable with the image of a black woman breastfeeding than a white woman who is breastfeeding (with areola exposed).
Thoughts? Is the race theory paranoia? Is the removal of this particular image saying more about those who use Facebook than those who run it? Discuss (respectfully please). [Thanks to Earth Mama for permission to use the image]
Following is a Guest Post from my friend HopeAllison Dwiggins. HopeAllyson is an IBCLC who recently traveled to Haiti with Circle of Health International. For a week she provided lactation support in a maternity clinic in Fond Parisien and the surrounding community. She taught classes to nurses and expectant mothers, as well as assisting mothers who had just given birth in breastfeeding their babies. Upon returning home, she presented a poster at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Global Pediatric Health Symposium, The Impact of Disasters on the Health of Children. The poster presentation was entitled, "Lactation Support in Haiti." HopeAllyson will be presenting a similar presentation at the International Lactation Consultant Association's conference this summer.
For more on breastfeeding and the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, see my earlier blog post: Hell, Haiti, Good Intentions and Breastmilk Donations.
Breastfeeding is essential for all human beings, but nowhere is the need to breastfeed more acute than in a situation where there is little or no access to clean water, safe shelter, or reliable food supplies. Most, if not all, in the lactation community, are concerned with the issue of lactation support and how it is addressed by the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and humanitarian relief organizations offering relief services immediately after a crisis.
When I went to Haiti, in September 2010, to provide lactation support in a maternity clinic and the surrounding community, I expected to come home with the story of how I had helped mothers breastfeed, of the classes I had given and the support I provided. And I did come home with many stories…but none of them were my own.
Over the months since I returned home, many people asked how my trip went, as if I had been on vacation and could sum up my experiences in one or two words. I tried.
“It was intense."
"It was challenging."
"It was amazing."
I did not want to use the cliché, “It was life changing,” though it was. I was encouraged to present my work at symposiums and conferences. I was asked to give talks on what I had done in Haiti. But there was an underlying assumption that this was it – I had done my part, and I was finished.
But really, this is just the beginning.
Writing this post is the next step, my next step, in what I hope will be a much larger program which will do even more than I can do myself. It has been difficult for me to write this post because there is simply so much to say, but so few words that can actually express the reality of what I experienced.
How can I describe in words what I need emotions to truly convey? I could write many paragraphs about the feeling of my heart in my throat, from both excitement and fear, as I said goodbye to my husband and children. I could describe in detail the soaring of confidence as the plane landed in Haiti – the feeling that, perhaps, I could help in some small way. I could write an entire post about my gratitude at being welcomed with so many warm, sincere smiles. I could try to express my dismay on hearing of injustices that continue every day, but then I'd also have to write about the hope I felt because of the resilience I saw every minute, which I know will someday make a difference.
But then I'd still be left with an incomplete story because as much as I hope I helped the people of Haiti, they helped me, too. So how do I impart the lessons I learned, when I had come to teach? I came to educate expectant mothers on the importance of breastfeeding, but instead I was taught the importance of listening for the questions they didn’t ask. I came to answer questions from medical staff on how to support lactation, but instead I was shown glimpses of the cultural knowledge of which I lacked any understanding.
I came to make a difference; I left humbled by the way others made a difference in me.
So let me try to share some of that difference, to return to you the stories I heard, saw and experienced in my brief time amid the island and its people.
My first hour in Haiti was spent talking to Hermann. Hermann is almost 70 years old, fluent in English and teaching himself Spanish. He works as a taxi driver in Port au Prince. After my plane landed, I made my way through customs and immigration and found myself waiting outside for my colleague, whose plane was not due to land for another hour. Hermann had not found himself a fare among those on my plane, so we sat and he told me about his country, his fears and his hopes.
Hermann told me he was grateful for all of the people coming to Haiti, but that they would not help his country. His country needed to fixed, yes, but it could only be fixed from within. He told me of the bodies, still buried in the rubble of the earthquake, and the families that could not move on because there was no closure for their loss. He didn't seem to believe there would be closure for these families any time soon.
Ultimately Hermann expressed his hope that I would return to Haiti after this trip, because he knows that my work is important to the mothers and the babies and the future of Haiti. He warned me to be careful about whom I trusted in his country, because many were trying to take advantage of relief workers and humanitarians. When we parted he took my hand and gave me his business card. I am sure that I have been long forgotten, just another of a long line of visitors to Haiti, but his willingness to share a brief acquaintance will remain with me for a long time.
Much of my time in Haiti was spent with Nahomie. Nahomie translated for me during the classes I gave to nurses and women who were pregnant or had just delivered. She was always smiling or laughing, and was an amazing resource for me as I attempted to convey how important breastfeeding is and can be to the women of Haiti. She worked hard to translate not only the words, but also the meaning of my message to those we spoke with. When she translated their questions to me, she worked just as hard to impress upon me the cultural nuances behind the questions. We attended births together, cooed over new babies, and discussed her plans to become a midwife someday. Before I left Haiti, we hugged and cried – the intensity of emotion involved with our work leaving us with no other option.
There really are too many stories to tell in one brief post. So many people have asked me so many things about my trip and I have tried to answer all the questions. But there is one question that has been asked only by a few:
I asked myself that question every day for months after I returned home before I was able to answer. Unfortunately, my answers are, quite often, more questions.
The father who kept asking if it was all right to feed his infant table food as the infant’s mother was dead and the family could not afford formula. What now?
The woman we spoke with who had lost both of her teenage daughters in the earthquake and, though trying, was unable to get pregnant again. What now?
The woman who labored in silence for hours – the father not present at the birth because he had no intention of acknowledging or supporting his child. The baby was born with an abnormally formed foot and ankle. Though there was a hospital capable of performing surgery on the baby, it was many hours away and the mother had neither the funds nor the capacity to get him there. What now?
All too often I was left feeling like I had no answers, no solutions for the people who found their realities to be full of "What now?" situations.
But then, there were happy endings, too. The woman we worked with who was hemorrhaging after birth, her baby unable to breastfeed. We were extremely concerned when she left the maternity clinic, mere hours later. But the next day, the father called to let us know the baby was breastfeeding fine and the mother was well, we were all relieved and we knew we had helped, at least a little.
But what do we do next?
Every day there are new disasters affecting people all over the world. Climate change, earthquakes, floods, mudslides, erupting volcanoes – the list goes on and on. Caught, and often unseen, in each of these disasters are mothers and babies – families—who need support to start and continue breastfeeding. I envision a network of lactation support personnel who work with NGOs and relief agencies before, during, and after emergency situations, so that every mother has the resources she needs to breastfeed—the resources she needs to give her baby the best chance at survival.
This is, of course, more than any one person can do and something that will take more than just time, volunteers or money.
When I think back on my time in Haiti, I see a parade of faces in my mind, all of them with unique stories to tell, all of them with unique needs. And while we can rush in with supplies and medicine and food, sometimes it takes more than that. As Hermann told me, sometimes the healing must come from within. Breastfeeding support is one way to give women in need the ability to take care of her needs and her baby's needs without waiting on shipments of aid from the outside. Some might say this is too small a need to matter, but listening to the women I spoke to in Haiti, it is clearly vital. We can learn far more about our world and the people in it, if we only take the time to listen.
I saw this painful photograph in a museum in Los Alamos, New Mexico, birthplace of the bomb that the U.S. dropped on this woman and her children in Nagasaki, Japan. Karleen Gribble shared both this copy of the photo with me and this article about what happened to the mom and her children.