What I’m Reading :: It’s definitely not my ‘unsettling’ interview on another website!

Nearly six weeks ago I was asked if I’d be willing to participate in an interview for another breastfeeding website. This all happened as a result of that IBCLC doing more harm than good article and all of the defensiveness it received. Well, stemming from that a woman contacted me through my site and told me that my blog was ‘radical’ — meaning ‘refreshing’ (these were her words). I didn’t know how to take that exactly but she did ask if I would be interested in conducing an over the phone or email interview for the site that she runs, and so after thinking about it for a min I decided I would. But it was only after I had sent the responses is when it dawned on me that my interview may not be published — that this may end up being the outcome. 

[Update]: My interview was finally published on the site, but I want to keep this post up because there were some edits that didn’t make it to the post. Here is the entire interview. And I didn’t even change one single character from what I sent over:

– What are you most looking forward to in regards to your upcoming webinar, “Are IBCLCs the ‘New’ Infant Formula?”

When I first began work in this area I was interested in completing all of the steps outlined in pathway 2 of the IBCLE’s requirements, in order to become certified. I really believed that doing so would be how I would help challenge the gaping divisions – an emphasis placed among people of African descent in the U.S., by helping to increase the numbers of Black women breastfeeding and decrease the many health and social inequities, since statistically Black women rank lowest of any group. But even then and now my thoughts have been that attaching an infant to its mother’s breast is the easy part.

The IBCLE erupted as a result of the day’s evidence on the benefits of mother’s milk, and since then breastfeeding professionals have proliferated, especially here in American, but they have burgeoned worldwide. IBCLCs as may be doing exactly what they were trained and impassioned to do, which is ensuring a baby receives its milk, yet I believe there is a greater impact that is not being addressed. Breastfeeding has always been a highly stratified tradition in this country, which is why, in a time where many are looking to dismantle these layers through professionalism, it requires us to look at a greater aspect to see if we are indeed only rearranging social and biological turmoil. We may get a baby to attach itself but at what price? I can’t think of any time in history where a hierarchy and inevitable oligarchy, have meant that more people have greater access, or that a new system of ranking has worked to wage social equity; where it has not manifested in the domination of some or the subjugation of others. This is especially true for those who belong to groups that have been relegated to the periphery. This is clear throughout various facets of our society. Look at the history of birthing practices, and the implementation of a biomedical model of healthcare.

I’m looking to start a conversation – among breastfeeding professionals, among advocates, among birth professionals and birth advocates, and among anyone who is interested in examining what I believe are blind spots in breastfeeding support, and overlooked areas of what my favorite theorist, bell hooks terms ‘imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy,’ that constructs the framework of the culture we live in that seeks domination. I believe that there are too many areas within breastfeeding professionalism that need a more in-depth examination – that need a more complicated lens, to examine the impact this can and does have on a local, national and global context.

– Do you plan to share the discussions resulting from your webinar with the public at any point?

My entire work is centered on the socio-political ideas of breastfeeding. For more than three years now, my blog has placed a great emphasis on looking at these areas, in order to try to gauge a larger picture on society. I definitely plan on expanding this conversation.

 – You have made it clear that you are not pinpointing any one, 10 or 100 lactation consultants in your critique. You also acknowledge an individual’s good intentions.

“Yet good intentions don’t always lead us to a path of social justice, equity or healing. It sometimes causes a cycle of violence that is too easily overlooked, because it manifests under the guise of ‘nurturing,’ without allowing us to see the operation of the overarching structure.”

Still, it seems that many lactation professionals respond to your ideas on the defense. What other feedback have you received from your post “Are IBCLCs The ‘New’ Infant Formula?: A look at biopower, global sovereignty and the Proliferation of Breastfeeding Professionals”?

To be completely honest with you I am not all that sure what folks are saying about my post or my upcoming webinar exactly. I do know that they have each received attention from both sides of the argument – those in favor and those who are not. I’ve received some interesting emails through the contact tab of my website, that’s for sure. But it wouldn’t be realistic of me to have not expected pushback. I don’t color things up when I’m addressing racism, injustice, social domination, and whiteness, and I think it is normal for folks to go on the defensive, since the article is a straightforward critique of an area many have dedicated their efforts, and some, their lives to, and to have this area critiqued in this way is something, I’m certain, people weren’t expecting. My point is not a criticism of IBCLCs at the individual level; I know in some places the article had been referred to as an ‘attack’ on IBCLCs. And like I have said in the article I believe that at the individual level everyone wants the best. But like I mentioned in my blurb about the webinar – I’m looking for blind spots – of white supremacy, imperialism, hegemony, depoliticization and other overlooked areas of injustice that can operate via this biological site, that no one really pays attention to in this way.

– This is POWERFUL: “There is a truth here about being charged to feed a baby from your own body. Our instinct is usurped by the overarching entity, whose knowledge is produced via a linear scope, and women are made to pay for this through the various fees charged by hospitals and private sector firms – underscoring the primary tenets of an economic system that is controlled by private owners for profit, and selling our bodies back to us!! “

How might you suggest we begin to take back our bodies in the true sense and not simply transfer ownership?

Well, it’s not an individual idea. I think this means different things for different people and groups and in different contexts. I can’t say that what I know about the history of Black people in this country and what I could add to the conversation would be the same for Native communities, for example. It’s true that we share similarities when it comes to a history of social domination, and facing the brunt of the impact of colonialism, yet there are quite a number of differences in how we could address these and what ‘taking back our bodies’ really means to our community and each other.

 – “We must place greater efforts at working towards breastfeeding sovereignty and create ways to increase our knowledge of the subject at hand in our community at the local level — by organizing, and making more people involved and aware, because we are all responsible. And should all be in the know. And then we can return the power to the people — which is where it belongs.”

Are there any breastfeeding advocacy organizations that you feel address the root of the issues you present, as opposed to taking a top down approach? If so, which organizations would you highlight? Also, is it safe to assume that you’re in favor of peer support programs?

All of this is quite more complex than a simple answer to a question. So far, I think that peer support definitely seems to reflect a more egalitarian picture among the tradition. I think there are those out there who concentrate on breastfeeding who discuss the foundation of disparities, and who work to really return this tradition back to people and their communities. I have been inspired by people inside and outside of the breastfeeding realm by individuals and organizations, who range from ancestors and other folks in our contemporary times, who work on challenging injustice.

– Please explain more how your doula work fits into all of this. You write on your website that doulas offer breastfeeding support but you “do not provide any hand’s on assistance” because “doing so interferes with the innate and biological instinct between the mother-infant dyad.

I know that without what has been termed scientific ‘evidence’ – meaning a formal study, most things are simply relegated to ‘anecdotal’. But I don’t think it’s anecdotal to say that women have been breastfeeding since the beginning of time, and there is an instinct that exists between the mother-infant dyad that I strongly believe becomes disrupted with assistance with mechanics, and especially when passively allowing this intervention, like what we often see in hospital settings. This is an area where I definitely plan on placing more of a practical and academic emphasis. I can’t do anything for a mother and her baby that she can’t do for herself. She knows better than I ever could, about her body and what she and her baby need.

Even though my focus has remained with breastfeeding, over the past while I have really begun to see the links between birthing and breastfeeding. I was initially interested in becoming a doula because I thought it would be an extension of my breastfeeding work – that engaging with women in the postpartum period and doing postpartum work only would give me more insight and provide another avenue to promote breastfeeding. But after I took the training I was stunned (but then not really surprised), at the amount of trauma that is involved in birthing practices. I had no idea that Black babies have such a high rate of mortality because they are not being carried to term. I also didn’t know that Black women have an intensified amount of dying during pregnancy and childbirth, because of many racial and gendered implications. Learning all of this was sobering. But it made sense to me, though, given the complicated history of Blackness in this country and the (dis)regard for Black life that’s been embedded in a large part of the social fabric. But what also amazed me was learning that just sitting in a room with a woman means that she will have a better birthing outcome, and less likely to have an unnecessary caesarean, a better chance of increased breastfeeding and more confidence, along with a list of others. That’s just incredible. So, even though I still focus on breastfeeding in my overall work, my role in birth means that I approach being doula as a social justice initiative. It is a form of praxis for me, and means that I use this avenue to challenge the legacy of social turmoil that has been waged on our bodies, with medical experimentation – cutting into our bodies for the purposes for ‘scientific procedures,’ which has landed on the bodies of many women – and especially Black women, who have been quite disproportionately impacted by this time and again for various medical ‘discoveries’.

– You respond to a comment on your blog: “I don’t think professionalization creates normalization of breastfeeding. Instead it creates a normalization of medicalization (which is an entirely new conversation in itself) and, in turn, among many things, creates a cultural shift and embeds the message that women must look outside of themselves to initiate this age-old tradition.”

Is it fair to say that one of the first steps to addressing these issues is lactation professionals having the guts to acknowledge that we are part of the problem?

I have seen and have heard of so many breastfeeding meetings and conferences and summits and such, geared towards creating more ‘fairness’ – so to speak, in breastfeeding: in erasing barriers to access in the community, and especially erasing barriers in professional pursuits. What is always left out of these same conversations is that breastfeeding itself is more stratified than ever on a much larger scale because of these increases in professionalism. I hear so many women talking about having a lactation consultant at their birth, or after, or whenever, to assist with breastfeeding. But on the other side of that I also hear many who say that they had to begin using formula because they didn’t have access to professional assistance – they couldn’t afford one, or other reasons. While I was visiting a good friend up on Bowen Island, B.C., for me, our conversation really underscored the injustice that is perpetuated in this way. It really highlighted the way that breastfeeding professionalism has instituted a system where it is not something utilized by those who want to breastfeed. Instead, it is utilized by women who want to breastfeed who can afford these services or otherwise have access. And that’s just the very beginning of a very complex web of problems. In my opinion I just don’t think there’s any way to rationalize this – especially since breastfeeding is an innately human characteristic. What message is this sending now and what is it sending for future generations?

– You share your criticism on the attention Beyonce received on social media [http://acquandastanford.com/whitney-houston-and-famous-breastfeeding-women-everybody-searching-for-a-hero-video/] when she allegedly nursed her baby in public. What kinds of things would you prefer to see “blow up” social media sites?

So many advocates expressed their excitement about this – about Beyonce, allegedly breastfeeding in public. And if this was the case then I’m absolutely glad she breastfed her daughter when and where she needed to, as I am for anyone. But you’re right, I did share my criticism on this area. I can only share my thoughts about it but I believe that focus on people in this type of spotlight often has the tendency to cloud our vision and overlook that just because someone on such a platform as Beyonce participated in a certain activity that would seem to benefit us, it does not mean that it is doing so. I think that instead, it would be something that would possibly only make it appealing. In my mind, it would reduce the act to a trend, or a ‘rage,’ because someone with such acclaim enacts it – and trends and rages come and go. I don’t think that this will work to transform our real thoughts and attitudes on this tradition, or have people value it as the lifesaving, community transforming, radical reclamation of tradition that breastfeeding really is. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but for myself I don’t really want to see anything ‘blow up’ anywhere. I want us to get to a point where breastfeeding is so normal and so embedded in our minds and in our hearts and in our souls that no one bats an eye. But that is not going to happen tomorrow. That level of necessary radicalism – grasping things at that root level, in my mind, is not possible from an angle from someone with that amount of celebrity.

-Anything else to add?

One thing that I really believe needs to happen in breastfeeding support is to change the conversation. I think those truly interested in creating a more just environment should be willing and eager to work on radically decolonizing this custom. I believe this can only happen with a very thorough and critical examination that really goes beneath the surface. I think we need to ask ourselves what we are really expecting with the implementation of breastfeeding professionalism and any other area that is closely related. I say ‘we’ because even though I am no longer interested in becoming an IBCLC, and have not been for some time, we are all responsible and play a part in creating and maintaining social divisions and can all work to dismantle these.

On the other hand, I don’t want to only theorize this area, and overlook that there have been and continue to be women who have needed assistance from professionals, in order to either initiate or sustain breastfeeding, and that’s the only way they have been able to make it work. But for one, we know that is neither the biological or physiological norm, nor is it the norm within the very lengthy evolutionary record – that a baby cannot attach itself to its food source. And, I’m also not convinced that learning to put a breast in the mouth of one is the answer to our collective issues in this area. I think that has operated as simply a veneer that has become entirely too convenient – a way to treat symptoms. I really think we need to place a greater emphasis on the issues that are situated between the two – a baby and a breast – that function to keep them disconnected. And we also need to ask the questions about if we are breaking down what many people believe are barriers in breastfeeding support, only to inaugurate others into a different matrix of structural and systematic injustice. I really think that needs to be a highly prioritized topic, among us. 

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