Last week, I glanced at a PowerPoint slide and mistook “Write Breastfeeding Policy” for “White Breastfeeding Policy,” while sitting through a lecture on the 10 steps towards a Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative — and we were on step one. But when I think of it believe the second title may seem more fitting since not too long after class began — on the first day, in fact, is when I realized the actuality of the course.
I just completed the required hours for the CLE Credential, so now I am a Certified Lactation Educator! I learned some interesting and practical information from the course — lots of things I didn’t know, which will only make me more effective, and I am definitely ready to share this with the public. Also, taking this course has cleared up any doubt I had on becoming a Lactation Consultant, and has made me realize that I absolutely do not want to do that! I repeat. I have realized that the clinical aspect of breastfeeding is not my passion — AT ALL! Before, I thought becoming certified through the IBCLE was necessary in order to advocate and help end disparities — to know as much as I can about the practical aspects in order to help out. And having the highest credential in the field of lactation would give me clout, while working towards the cause. But that’s not necessary. At least not for what I want to do. And I’d be cheating myself and the community members I want to serve if I remained on that path, since I now recognize that is not where I feel called, nor is it how I believe I can make the biggest impact. I want to work in the background — the politics and history, and examine the bio-cultural and socio-political areas — as an anthropologist! I want to explore cultural ideas on breastfeeding in society, and produce radical theories about the tradition and the role of domination, that complicate our thinking and challenge the many implications behind it — and change the way we practice and participate — and get more people involved. I don’t want to work in a clinic or in any type of hospital setting, or teach classes on just the hands-on and practical aspects. So sitting through countless slides and looking at all of this information made things crystal clear. And perhaps this epiphany will lessen my anger about the whole thing — the exclusivity of it all, on paying for a course that cost me more than I have in my savings account.
Apparently, years of experience — at least three decades in fact, working in breastfeeding and infant care doesn’t let on to a 70ish-year-old lady that breastfeeding is not something only white women do. There were hundreds of slides throughout this course, as you can imagine. And though there were a few from the instructors trips to the Philippines and a couple of other countries. There was also a slide or two of a Black woman and a few Asians — and of course the recent Venezuelan image that everyone has been rightfully raving about. But I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that less than 1% of the images contained someone from a community of color — and the information didn’t even even began to discuss how breastfeeding is experienced in various racial and cultural contexts. The class was centered around white culture, and apparently I wasn’t the only one who noticed.
One of the students — a white neonatal nurse, when we were discussing Hyperbilirubinemia (or, Jaundice), expressed the difficulties she sometimes faces recognizing this in some of her “clients of other ethnicities,” and wanted a better understanding of how to do this. The instructor told her to look at all of the features and not just the skin. OK. Good explanation, I guess, but one that came only after the fact since it does not involve us as regular participants. Another white woman expressed much of the information (on work and taking time off postpartum, etc.) was hardly relevant to the populations she serves — many Black teenagers. And in other cases — like when it comes to Raynaud’s Syndrome for example, we just don’t exist at all. At least not when the instructor explained a clear indication of this condition comes from white nipples. I raised my hand because I wanted to ask if Raynaud’s is exclusive to white women since I can speak for myself and numerous other Women Of Color who won’t have that problem — and whose nipples only get darker with hormones from pregnancy and childbirth. But there were several hands during that session and I wasn’t picked. Too bad.
I couldn’t keep my mouth closed. And when I saw the director of the school asked her if she’s ever taken the course. She hadn’t. But I told her how upsetting this is, and she was very receptive to what I had to say and told me they have been implementing programs and working on finding ways to de-center whiteness at the university, and suggested we schedule a meeting to discuss all of this — one that I’m going to take her up on as soon as the dust settles around my schedule. And I’m going to fill out the feedback form, too.
I am happy I can now call myself a Certified Lactation Educator. I can rightfully place myself in spaces where I can combine some practical breastfeeding knowledge along with other ways to show resistance to this selected-group type of representation, and be as mindful as I can. I was really looking forward to this course, but in actuality during its sessions I was absolutely infuriated, since that type of setting creates more issues than it seems to address; it not only overlooks the experiences of countless women by portraying the entire breastfeeding experience — including the complications that come along with it, as something central to the white body, but it breeds a brand new generation of healthcare professionals who remain clueless on the health and well-being of a certain percentage of the population they serve. It normalizes whiteness and dehumanizes us. And even of the two Black women in class — myself and one other, it doesn’t even provide information that would be relevant to our own experiences or the people in our community, which for me is the reason I’m even here. I imagine the other Women Of Color who felt the same — that’s some kind of B.S.! Disparities start in classrooms.