Thursday, 29 November 2007

The Guardian prints Janipher Maseko's Story

 Those of you who only know me through this blog, will have missed the huge amount of support that was rallied in May 2007 for JanipherMaseko and her newborn son, Collin.
Janipher was separated from her 2 week old son, who was exclusively breastfeeding, and her 13 month old daughter, Chantelle, and sent toYarl's Wood IDC, where she was left without either her children, or lactation support.
This week the Guardian finally ran an interview with Janipher, that took place when she was released. It's of note that public concern over the status of asylum seekers in this country, is so low, that this article hasn't managed to be placed until now. It was a feature at the time, when demands that Collin be returned to his mother's breast as soon as possible were rising, that media and news sources were not in the least bit interested in covering the story.
Makes you wonder what else we don't hear about, as we're not so fussed, doesn't it?
There are aspects to Janipher's story that are worth highlighting here:
Breastfeeding babies in prison, have better support than those in detention. In recognition of the nutritional demands on the mother, for breastfeeding babies during the night, extra food and fluids is supplied to all mothers in their cells for night-time consumption. This support was never extended to Janipher, in respect of Collin, when he was finally returned.
Janipher was initially forbidden from baby-wearing Collin, and forced to put him in a buggy as she tried to get him, herself and Chantelle up and down the stairs at Yarl's Wood. A chaplain intervened, and provided a baby sling, and Janipher was finally allowed to use it after the decision that it was forbidden from 'health and safety' grounds was challenged.
Chantelle regularly went to bed hungry at Yarl's Wood. Food was supplied only in the designated areas, and at set times. If Collin was sleeping, or Chantelle sleepy and uninterested in food at feeding times, no help was forthcoming in making sure she got food when she was up to it. Janipher was prevented from leaving the feeding area with food to take upstairs to the sleeping Chantelle.
Chantelle regularly fell out of bed at Yarl's Wood, as there are no cribs or cots in the accommodation supplied. No bed rails. Janipher was forbidden from putting the mattress on the floor, but eventually did so despite being told off.
Chantelle had very bad eczema, and her ointments were taken off Janipher and locked in the medical cupboards which were only available during office hours. Chantelle would spend hours in the night, screaming in itchy and inflamed distress. Eventually, after several phone calls from irate medical people on the outside, Janipher was finally given the cream in order to be able to administer it at night.
Formula is rationed at Yarl's Wood. It is also made up centrally, at set times, and handed out to the mothers to be carried around for several hours at a time without refrigeration. No child over 12 months of age is allowed any at all, even if they are not eating. Janipher was forced to ask for formula for Collin, and then feed it to Chantelle in order to keep her hydrated.
Baroness Scotland, after questions were tabled about Collin and Janipher by Lord Avebury, apologised in the House of Lords for the 'mistakes' that led to Collin being removed from his mother's breast. This may help out some of you who still believe "That there is always more to it." whenever stories such as this do finally make it to the public eye.
Section 9 of the Immigration Act was responsible for Collin, Chantelle and Janipher being thrown out into the streets by Social Services. Under Section 9, entitlement to food and shelter can be withdrawn from asylum seekers who have been refused asylum at the end of the appeals process: so children can not only be hungry, but thrown into the street, as two week old Collin was. Provision should have been made for how vulnerable the Maseko family were, but provision was not made. Shortly after their release from detention, Section 9 was rescinded for vulnerable mothers with infants. However, it still remains on the statute books and can be applied if the Government choose to do so, on any family. It is still used to prevent food and shelter being given to male asylum seekers. Are you aware that the UK acts in this way? Removing food and shelter from vulnerable people who are forbidden to work, in order to 'persuade' them to leave?
Collin and Chantelle Maseko are stateless. Did you know that the UK enacted legislation that prevents children such as Collin and Chantelle from being given citizenship even 'though they were both born here legally?
Saturday November 24, 2007
Janipher Maseko fled Uganda after her mother died and she was raped by armed rebels. She was 13 when she arrived in the UK. She was looking for a place of safety. This is what she found.
I came to this country five years ago, a desperate young teenager, alone, in search of help and safety. The last thing I expected was that I would end up sleeping on the streets in one of the richest countries in the world, hungry, cold, tired and bleeding. If, by telling my story, I can prevent the same thing happening to just one other woman and her children, then it will be worth speaking out.
I arrived in England on August 29 2002. I was 13 years old. My mother died when I was 12, and I became a domestic worker in Kampala, Uganda, because I needed to support myself. But I was raped, first by my employer, who threw me out when I told his wife, then by armed rebels, who broke into the house where I was staying in the night and assaulted me.
Somebody helped me to escape and told me I would be safe in Britain. All I had with me when I arrived were my passport, my birth certificate and a few clothes. As an unaccompanied minor, I should have been allowed to stay in the UK until I was 18, but they didn't believe my age so I was only granted the right to stay for two years.
I didn't understand much of what was said to me at the airport, where I was interviewed, but I was so happy because I thought, "Now I am in England, I will be safe." I was put in a house in west London, with some other young people, and went to college. I worked very hard and did well and although I was shy and very quiet to begin with, I soon made friends.
I really wanted to stay in this country and continue my studies, so in 2004 I applied for an extension. However, I was away, on a trip to Suffolk organised by social services, when I was called for an interview at the Home Office and I didn't get the letter about it.
The next thing I knew, I got a letter refusing the extension in 2005. I appealed, but on the day of the hearing I was 10 minutes late getting to the court because of heavy traffic. The duty barrister allowed my claim to be withdrawn, so the process of removing me from the UK started without me really having had a chance to put my case. I kept trying to get another solicitor, but none would take my case.
At college, I had met a man who became my boyfriend. I didn't know much about sex and babies, and I became pregnant. I love my children now, but I did not want to become a mother so young. By the time I realised I was pregnant, it was too late and there was nothing I could do about it. I had my daughter, Chantell, in March 2006. I very much wanted to carry on studying, and I completed a foundation and intermediate course in health and social care in the same month my daughter was born.
I was pregnant again when my claim was refused in September 2006. My boyfriend had left me by now. Then, in March 2007, all my benefits were cut and I was thrown out of my flat with my one-year-old daughter. I was eight months pregnant and I had no money, nowhere to stay.
My college friends tried to support me, but they didn't have much themselves. They would give me £1 or 50p to buy biscuits and a drink for Chantell. At one point, she had a really high temperature and was very sick and I didn't have the £2 I needed to buy her Calpol.
I contacted the council and spoke to a manager from social services. He started shouting at me, "You are an illegal immigrant, an asylum seeker. We're not going to help you." I was so badly in need of help that I slept on the pavement, with Chantell, outside Hillingdon hospital.
I was allowed into hospital for a few days to give birth, to a little boy called Colin. The social services gave me pink clothes for him, even though he was a boy, but they were the only clothes I had. Chantell had been taken into foster care while I was in labour, but they brought her back to me and we were put into a bed and breakfast, but only for a few days.
I stayed briefly with a friend, but soon I was sleeping out on the streets of Brixton, south London, without food, without proper clothes, struggling with a sick one-year-old and a newborn baby. I had Chantell in a pushchair and I covered Colin in a big black jacket. I was in pain, bleeding heavily, and I couldn't walk. I was desperate. I had £10 in the whole world.
My only chance was a college friend who now lived in Brighton. I bought a ticket and we got on the train. When we got there, they put us on the train back to London because I hadn't paid the full £40 fare. I got off the train at Crawley and managed to slip through the barrier. I was looking for a bus to take me to Brighton. I ended up sleeping outside. I was very cold, very hungry and very tired. It was raining. Passersby heard me crying and called the police.
The police called an ambulance and they took my children away to Brighton hospital. I was taken to a local police station. My breasts were engorged because I had just had a baby and was feeding. A doctor saw me and asked if I wanted a breast pump, but I never got one.
I was still bleeding from the birth. My clothes were filthy. For three days, I was given no shower, no clean clothes. I was just given food three times a day. Every so often, a police officer would slide open the hatch and say, "Are you OK?" That's all.
I was transferred to Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire. I arrived at midnight. I told them I had just had a baby and had been separated from my kids, but they just gave me a paracetamol. I was distraught. My children weren't with me. I was crying all the time. I couldn't eat. They put me on antidepressants.
During the two weeks I was there, no one organised for me to see my kids or told me how they were. Whenever I asked one of the officers, "Please, I have to see my kids. I am breastfeeding. I am in pain," all they said was, "Have a paracetamol." I was told to take drugs to dry my milk. But I wanted Colin back, I wanted to breastfeed because I knew it was best for him.
Eventually, another woman in Yarl's Wood wrote a fax for me and sent it to the Black Women's Rape Action Project. A woman called Cristel Amiss called me back. She was shocked to hear my babies had been separated from me and said she would contact her breastfeeding network. She was in touch with me every day after that. One breastfeeding expert, Sheila Kitzinger, got Lord Avebury, a Liberal Democrat peer, to write to the minister for immigration.
Around the same time, one of the officers at the centre came to me with a smile on his face. "Good news, Janipher. We have booked you a flight back to Uganda." There was only my name on the notice of removal directions. I was distraught at the thought of being deported without my children. I know of at least one woman who is now back in Uganda while her children are still in foster care in this country.
I was frantic. I had one week until the plane left with me on it. I called Cristel for help to have the flight cancelled. They sent out an email to lots of people, many of whom sent protests to the Home Office, and thankfully my children were returned to me that week. Chantell was like a stick, she had eczema, her nails were too long. Colin was like a small rat. He was losing his appetite, he was very sick. The children had not been bathed the whole time they were away.
Yarl's Wood is a real prison. There is a lot of racism and intimidation from the staff. You are locked up for 24 hours a day. They take your phone. You have no access to the internet. It's a horrible place for kids. The food is awful. It is the same every day - days-old reheated jacket potatoes, partially cooked fried eggs, food with hair, dirt and worse in it. There never seems to be enough and the serving people are rude. I saw a lot of people suffering. I personally knew one woman who had tried to commit suicide and I heard of other women who wanted to take their own lives out of desperation. While I was there, we went on hunger strike in protest against the conditions.
Lawyers with Birnberg Peirce got involved in my case and worked with campaigners to stop my removal and to issue a fresh human rights claim for me to remain in the UK. Finally I was released - to yet another bed and breakfast and then, after another big battle, they offered me a one-bedroom flat. That's where I'm living now. I have financial support while I await the outcome of my asylum claim.
I am terrified of going back to Uganda. When a failed asylum seeker arrives at Entebbe airport with a deportation order, they are often handed over to a security organisation. Children over three are taken away from their parents. Those detained frequently disappear, never to be seen again.
I am now 18 years old. I would like to have the chance to stay here, bring up my children and train to do something useful. When my mother was dying, she used to say to me, "I lost all my family and I have no one. If you get a chance, Janipher, be a doctor or a midwife or a nurse. Help people if you can." And that's what I want to do.
As told to Melissa Benn
· BWRAP can be contacted at the Crossroads Women's Centre in Kentish Town, London, on 020-7482 2496 or by email at

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

The Response from Essex Social Services

Many people have contacted me over the somewhat formulaic response to their requests for information about breastfeeding babies and their care via Essex Social Services.
The response from Cllr Tracey Chapman states:
"However, in general terms we can assure you that in all cases where there are concerns about the welfare of a child we undertake a full assessment of all the circumstances to decide on the action that needs to be taken to ensure he or she is appropriately safeguarded. In the case of very small babies this will include an assessment of the benefits to the child of ongoing breastfeeding, together with all the other factors that contribute to his or her safety and well being. Such assessments are undertaken in line with national government guidance."
As Essex have thus stated that they follow national guidelines on how to treat breastfeeding babies, I then contacted the Department of Children, Schools and Families, to request a copy of them.
The Department, who were very helpful, and took the time to have an extensive conversation with me on the details, have stated that there are no official guidelines currently published by them. They are currently under review, jointly with the Department of Health, and have not been published because of this.
We discussed that there must be previous guidelines, from prior to the formation of the Department, presumably with the Department of Health's input. Agreeing on this, the Department said it would investigate on my behalf, and see if they could track down any and all prior guidelines - but given the nature of the search, looking into previous work that will have been done some time ago by another department that no longer exists, it may prove time consuming.
I said I'd contact the Department of Health, as they are the ones who would put forward the health based guidelines to Social Services. I will keep you updated.
Which brings us to the really pertinent question: which national guidelines are Essex following?
It is an entirely legitimate act for any member of the public, to request information on precise guidelines being followed by any Government department. They should be able to answer directly, with the name of the legislation, or the guideline, the date of the document, who issued it, and how they then ensure they follow the procedure.
It is incredibly reassuring to hear that Essex is following the national Government guidelines: for it should then be a simple matter for them to be able to quote the legislation, or guideline, when asked to do so.
Again, I will keep you updated.

Human Rights versus Hegemony

This is an archive post, of writing of mine previously posted in other areas on the internet.

This post was in response to a mother with a terribly sick toddler, who was staying at a Ronald McDonald family hospice unit, being asked not to breastfeed her child in public areas in the hopsice. Despite it being illegal to prevent breastfeeding in Texas.
Human rights versus Hegemony
Those of us working hard to improve the world by support breastfeeding and breastfeeding mothers, can often be disheartened by the ongoing list of nursing mothers splashed across the media for being asked to remove themselves and their hungry infants from planes, parks, swimming pools and restaurants. Women such as Emily Gillette and Jessica Swimely find themselves in tense and humiliating experiences, whilst the rest of us find ourselves debating once more in the usual burst of comments, both pro and anti, on the curious concept of “nursing in public”. Such media hiccups are a two edged sword for all of us. On one hand, they do raise awareness of the problems nursing mothers face in a hostile culture, on the other hand, it makes more mothers fearful that they will be personally approached and censored when nursing their own infants. Equally, we have an opportunity to engage in meaningful discourse with others, as well as within our own ranks, but at the same time can find ourselves in a cycle of repeated view and counter view that is both worn and apparently inescapable.
The Swimely case in particular, has raised much of this depressing circular discussion, as the details of the ‘requests’ RMH made to the family, have facilitated a great deal of discussion within breastfeeding support communities and in general debate. The fact that it was an ongoing situation, with a family in immense need of long term support, has allowed us to see inside people’s thinking a great deal more than in a ‘one off’ situation such as a hungry infant removed from a plane or a restaurant. Sustained discourse has occurred, as each solution and counter solution was analyzed and comments passed on the various aspects of the struggle that Tobin was having in getting human milk, and human nurture, as he recovered from his brain operation. Many of the comments, from within our own community, have been about how difficult it is to balance everyone’s viewpoint in this debate. That the other adults and children in the common room required care and concern also. Many have stated that whilst Jessica and Tobin had a right to nurse in the common room, the agreement that Jessica and her family should alert others to it first, and give them time to leave the common room if they wished to, is both sensible and sensitive.
These comments reflect a view, often expressed in such discussions, that in a culture of different personal standards and tastes, acting to protect the other parties involved when contemplating nursing in public, is a sensitive and laudable act. That others need to be considered in the equation and it is a small thing to ask, for them to be warned in advance. Some have even pointed out that as Jessica was nursing twin toddlers, the reactive stance of ‘offended’ onlookers was more understandable. Every comment has usually started with “I agree that Jessica had a right to nurse but….” The ‘but’ goes on to explain that there all sorts of reason why people might be offended by an older infant being nursed, an infant being nursed in front of other children, and infant being nursed in front of a… the usual collections of reasons. The comment usually then ends with a plea for us to understand that progress can only be made if we try and ‘rub along together’ as opposed to end up in seeming combative situations such as calling in lawyers and the press.
This view, seemingly common sense and humane, suggests that all parties have equal rights in the matter and progress will be made if the rights of the ‘onlooker’ are also respected. In this case, that Tobin’s need to be nurtured is of equal status as the rights of the onlooker.

This is complete nonsense. There is only one right here: Tobin’s right to nurse. That’s why there was a law stating so, no matter how ineffective it turned out to be.

Tobin has an inalienable human right here that is being denied. The right of a human child to human milk, to nurture and nourish when its psychobiology requires it. 

The offended onlooker does not have any rights to be protected. The offended onlooker has a personal issue, a feeling of discomfort and unease, that requires handling. A cultural dissonance, that needs acknowledged, responded to, engaged with and hopefully smoothed away. The nursing dyad has no such personal issue in this paradigm. The nursing dyad is not operating out of a cultural context. The nursing dyad has supreme importance and protection in this scenario. 

There is a simple truth here, that is so awesome and complete in its simplicity, that it is in danger of being overlooked: breastfeeding an infant is not a lifestyle choice. It is not a cultural convention. It is not a personal statement. It is a biological imperative. It is our essential nature. It is an essential element of our species, and the continuation of it. It is a biological norm. 

We do not choose to breastfeed. We can choose not to. Likewise, we do not choose to breastfeed in public. We can choose not to. Breastfeeding is not a cultural construct. Not breastfeeding, is. Nursing an infant when the infant needs it, is a biological norm. Deciding that this needs to be done in a certain place, at a certain time, or in a certain way, is a cultural value. 

The problem with many of the arguments that occur when this debate rises again and again, arguments about tolerance, offence, understanding that other parents are going to be askance at nursing toddlers… is that these arguments place nursing within a cultural paradigm. It positions the debate in one of opinion, feelings and cultural mores. In doing this, it assigns equal right to all participants, not to have their feelings etc ‘offended’ and that they all have equal standing in the debate: no one position is more valued or ‘protected’ than the other. Different cultures often do things so differently from each other, that problems and tensions arise when people of the differing cultures meet are best met with discussion, sharing views etc. All laudable comments on such problems as they arise in a multi-cultural society. 

However, breastfeeding is not a cultural activity. Therefore it does not belong in the cultural difference paradigm. As a biological normative behavior, it exists in a complete different paradigm: that of human rights. 

Quite often, when this sort nursing argument is raging, someone will say “Would you ask a black person to go eat in their room if someone else was offended?” and a huge debate will fall open about whether or not that was an appropriate thing to say. One side will scream its not appropriate to reference colour, the other will say “Why not?” and off the merry go round will go. 

Well, raising colour is an appropriate comparison to make, and I present it to you now, as an example of what I mean by the basic difference between arguing about a cultural convention and a biological norm. 

Being black is a biological norm. In fact, it is the biological norm. Being white is actually the absence of being black. To discriminate against someone on the basis of colour, is to discriminate on their essential biology. It is to discriminate against their right to exist: it impinges on their human rights. There is no logic, rhyme or reason to such discrimination. It is a cultural construct imposing lunacy on the essential nature of humans. No one decides to be black. It is not a cultural concept. It is not a lifestyle choice. It is an essential artifact of human biology. It is. 

As is breastfeeding. 

Remembering that we do not choose to breastfeed… we can only choose not to. All babies are born to breastfeed. It is not a cultural concept. It is not a cultural artifact. They are not making a lifestyle choice. They are following their biological, and psychobiological, imperatives. They are doing what humans do: they are suckling for nurture, for nourishment and for survival. It is. 

That is why they need the protection of the human rights paradigm, not the cultural one. 

When laws are passed to protect the nursing dyad, these laws are not about protecting cultural difference. It is not about soothing cultural dissonance. It is not about protecting feelings, emotions or opinion. It is about protecting the essential normative biology of a nursing dyad. It is to prevent cultural suppression of an innate human characteristic. Just as being black, is an innate human characteristic. 

I reiterate: breastfeeding is not a lifestyle choice. It is not something you choose to do. It is something you can only choose not to do. If you accept that an infant has an inalienable human right to human milk, and to comfort and soothe on the mother’s breast, you must also hold up its right to do so when it needs to – regardless of how offended the ‘onlooker’ in. By all means soothe the onlooker – but don’t make it the responsibility of the mother to do the soothing.

Keeping debates on nursing infants within the cultural paradigm is completely and utterly redundant in our current society. It was once the only place the debate could take place, and we must thank, and support, the previous generations in their struggle in that paradigm. Many nursing mothers here and now, are only here because of the work of previous generations, who in the Great Drought sought to change personal opinion where and when they could. Slowly, gently, and in a ‘let’s all get along nicely’ way. Wonderful women fighting a small, slow battle, inch by inch. Thank you. 

However, we are not there anymore. Keeping the debate in the cultural paradigm is not only no longer useful – it is detrimental to progress. Keep it in the cultural battlefield and you do several things, all of them invidious: 

For starters, we place all the pressure on the individual mother, and her infant. Jessica Swimely carried the entire pressure of this battle on her head as she sought to both feed and soothe a hungry and distressed infant and somehow appease cultural suppression at the same time. The law designed to protect her, failed. Some of us in the breastfeeding support community also failed her, but suggesting it was entirely reasonable that she clear the common room before nursing. By keeping the cultural paradigm in mind, we make it about the mother making the inroads into culture. We makes statements as a society that breastfeeding is to be protected … but we leave the individual mother to take the flack. She must make the choices daily, on where and when her child’s psychobiological needs are suppressed by the hegemony. She carries the burden. 

As does the infant. 

In addition, we get all the cultural ‘debates’ that take up the time and energy and prevent progress. The female human breast is ‘sexual’ and it’s understandable that others will be offended. Erm... no! The female human breast is not sexual. It does not carry a biologically determined normative function of ‘sexual attraction’. (Enlarged breasts actually mimic the true sexual attraction – the human bottom. Large breasts are not biologically standard.) Culture dictates whether or not it is a sexualized organ. Keep the debate in cultural mores – keep having endless arguments about seeing sexual body parts. Some laws have even identified this as part of the protective law and stated legally that a nursing breast is not a sexual artifact. When you accept, and promote, the concept that nursing an infant is a cultural debate, you actually end up undermining what you’re trying to protect – by constantly allowing the ever rolling debate on such trivial points as to how much of a breast can be seen before offence is caused. Unless it’s a non-nursing breast, in which case you’re allowed rather a lot of it in advertising cars, underwear and beer! 

You also create space for the debate to include when and why weaning should occur and further undermine normal nursing practices from establishing. It is relevant that many of the high profile cases lately have been about nursing toddlers. Every single time a breastfeeding supporter has comment on the RHM situation about how it is understandable that people have reacted badly to nursing twin toddlers, a dagger has been struck in the heart of many of us. Two extremely pernicious concepts have bobbed to the surface here in the to-ing and fro-ing debates.
One is the myth of the ‘indiscreet’ women, making it harder for laws to be passed, as she ‘whips it out’ and alienates people. The irresponsible and insensitive mother who fails us all by being brazen with her breasts.
The other is the notion that those of us nursing toddlers in public are making it harder for acceptance, as we are acting so far out of the cultural norm. The mothers who need to understand that nursing older infants needs to be done privately to prevent more outcry.
Shame! Shame on you! How can you possibly justify discussing a woman’s body, and her biological imperative to nurture her infant in such negative and unjust terms? How can you stand up and say you support breastfeeding, but you can see that those nursing toddlers are better advised to hide more than the others? How can you undermine the very women fighting longest and hardest to establish normative nursing patterns.? How can you justify suggesting that women nursing in public hinders breastfeeding awareness?

Yet you do all of these things, when you argue about breastfeeding as a cultural issue. Because the very nature of cultural debate is to state that all sides have some points to make, and must be accommodated. 

Breastfeeding is not a cultural artifact. Breastfeeding is a biological norm. The ability of the infant to access their mother’s milk when and where it chooses, is a human rights issue. The right of the human infant to nourish and comfort itself at the mother’s breast when it requires to, is an inalienable human right. A woman having control of her own body, in order to nourish her infant regardless of cultural suppression, is her inalienable human right. 

These are human rights, not cultural debates. We can act in order to get along nicely where possible, but the right of the human child to breastfeeding is paramount. 

And lest we forget…. the cost of the lack of nursing, is death for many human babies. In the USA, 2 babies per thousand die for being on formula. The figures are probably similar for most western nations. Many many more get ill, and in the UK, the cost to the National Health Service of treating formula fed infants with resulting infections runs into millions every year. This cost is long before we start totting up the treatment for the long terms risks of heart disease, diabetes etc – or the misery and pain that blights many lives when diagnosis of the most serious illnesses are made.
In the wider world, 3 500 babies a day die for lack of breastfeeding. In the time it’s taken me to write this – over 7 000 babies have died. And in the global village we live in, the lack of nursing in the West, feeds into that statistic. Women in the West feeding their infants in closed rooms, are not seen by their own communities and by the expectant mothers around them… but they are also not seen by the mothers of the Third World, desperate to give their babies ‘the best’. These women only see white, affluent and incredibly healthy babies and mothers… on the sides of cans of expensive formula. By keeping our nursing mothers bundled in the corner, or locked in bedrooms with their toddlers, or asking the common room to clear before feeding them… we contribute to the problem. But that’s okay, because the father over there, feeding his sick baby formula, is appeased.
Women choose not to nurse because they live in a culture that disapproves of it. We cannot change this, by working within the culture to ‘smooth it all out’. We cannot dump the responsibility on the individual nursing mother to prevent offence. We must act to protect her rights to nurse, and her child’s right to nurse. Their human rights. Full stop. Period. End of. Working in terms of the sensibilities of the onlooker to nursing, was once useful. Yesterday. Or even the day before yesterday. We can acknowledge how useful it was, and how much was achieved, as we move on to tomorrow.
The right of the human infant to receive sustained nurture and nutrition when it needs it, is a human birth right that must be protected. The right of a mother to share her essential biology with her infant must be protected. We must take it upon ourselves to uphold that essential, primal right, and empower all mothers to protect their own dyad at all costs. Let us have no more hungry infants removed from our view. Let us have no more mothers pressured into ignoring their infant’s hunger from fear. Let us stop pretending that the act of feeding a child via a bottle, is even a pale comparison of the real thing: a warm, responsive and loving human breast, adjusting its own output and content to perfectly match the psychobiological needs of the infant and the mother! Cultural values that suppress this union, be they medical, social, or family based, need to be challenged and refuted at every opportunity. We must support the dyad and protect their rights. Right?

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Request for Support For Breastfeeding in the UK

This is a request for support on behalf of a breastfeeding mother and her infant, in the UK.
It is also about supporting a wider issue - that of the status of breastfeeding within the UK.
Apologies for the length, and detail, of this case - but it is vitally important that the details are made clear.
In June 2007, Essex Social Services took the decision to remove an exclusively breastfed infant from its mother's arms, without benefit of a court order, or discussion with the mother. They sent a team of social workers out into the streets, located the young mother and baby, and physically removed the baby from her arms, driving off with the baby in a car. They left the mother alone in the street.
She had not known they were looking for her, prior to complete strangers arriving in front of her, and pulling her baby from her arms. She immediately reported the incident to the police, such was her shock.
The mother, Miss W, was exclusively breastfeeding her infant, Baby E, who was five months old. Social Services did not offer any care or support to Miss W, in terms of her medical needs on having her baby removed with no warning, or extend any information on how she should deal with her engorged breasts or how to extract her milk for her baby. Miss W's mother arranged a breast pump and lactation support the next day, and Miss W began a regular pumping regime to maintain her supply and to collect expressed milk for her baby, no mean feat for a distressed 18 year old living on her own.
4 days later, Miss W was allowed a short access visit with her baby. During this supervised visit, Miss W began to breastfeed Baby E, who was frantically rooting at her mother's breast. Social Services requested she did not do so, as the baby had only just learned to cope with a bottle, and having access to her mother's breast would 'confuse her'.
Miss W breastfed her baby, with her family's support, and continued to do so for several weeks, during the access visits. She was not permitted daily access with her baby. This entire sequence - removing a breastfed baby without regard to the breastfeeding needs, either of the infant or the mother, and not allowing regular daily access for breastfeeding, contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights, a fact that appears not to have worried Essex Social Services. Miss W also requested her pumped milk be given to her baby - a request Social Services did not facilitate. They have since stated that she should have been responsible for collecting and delivering the milk to her baby - even thought Miss W didn't know where her baby was.
It also goes against regular Government assurances that breastfed mothers and infants will not be separated unless in the most extreme of circumstances. Gradually, despite the best attempts of the Miss W and her family, Baby E began to refuse the breast, and is no longer receiving her mother's milk.
Whilst the removal of the baby had occurred without a court order, and whilst the family succeeded in engaging a solicitor in that first week, the baby has not been returned. The secrecy in the Family Courts system, has meant that the family have had to stand back, silently, and fulfill all requests made to them, by Social Services, in the hope of Baby E's return. Baby E had been placed on the Child Protection Register a few days prior to the removal, for unfounded, and unproven, allegations of potential harm that cannot be discussed due to the secrecy. They were however, allegations, and Baby E had never come to any harm in any way, and the allegations for the Child Protection Order are not a feature of subsequent paperwork by Essex Social Services. In short, the reasons cited for the protection order, do not appear at all in subsequent arguments for keeping the baby from her mother.
What does appear in subsequent arguments however, is that Miss W has demonstrated to Essex Social Services that she does not understand the needs of Baby E, and has no bond with her. Specifically, they cite Miss W's insistence on breastfeeding her baby, as evidence that she does not understand the needs of her baby's health and well being. They actually draw attention to the incident where, on the first access visit after 4 days of being separated from her baby, she carried on breastfeeding her baby despite Social Services' request that she do not do so, and state that this incident is part of the evidence that the baby should not be returned to her.
This is the exact wording in the report:
“I think Miss W would not be able to offer sustained and committed care to Baby E at the moment because she is too immature to meet Baby E’s needs as a priority. Miss W is ‘headstrong’ and is likely to take advice she thinks is right regardless of any advice that might be given, an example of this is breastfeeding Baby E when the Social Worker had advised her that this would probably disrupt Baby E’s ability to take the bottle.”
“Miss W told me that when she attended for Contact after Baby E was removed from her care she used to breastfeed her despite what she had been advised. Miss W refused to accept that breastfeeding Baby E at this time might have been confusing for Baby E.”
At the emergence of this detail in the confidential reports into Miss W and Baby E, Miss W and her family felt that they had no option but to break their silence and ask for support from the wider community. They have been in touch with many statutory and voluntary agencies throughout this nightmare, and have continued to slog along in the hope that the mess would be sorted. However, given how proud the family were that a young, troubled and not always even tempered young woman had successfully exclusively breastfed her baby despite her problems, and that this success was being cited as reasons to keep the baby from her.. they felt they could stay silent no longer.
The family are not convinced Baby E will ever be returned to them, but feel that they must speak out in order to prevent this happening to other breastfeed infants in the United Kingdom.
If you wish to help, we ask that you contact the following County Councillor who has the responsibiity to liase between Government and Essex Social Services:
Cllr Tracey Chapman
Children Schools and Families
Essex County Council
County Hall Market Road
Chelmsford CM1 1LX
phone (Essex County Council): 01245 430430 and ask for the Cabinet Support Office
fax: 01245 438420 (mark for Cllr Tracey Chapman)
you may wish to consider cc'ing to
Ed Balls
Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families
Department for Children, Schools and Families
Sanctuary Buildings
Great Smith Street
phone: 0870 000 2288 FAX: 01928 794248
Gordon "Every Child Matters" Brown
10 Downing Street
FAX: 020 7925 0918
We ask that write in the first instance to express your concerns over the breastfeeding issues this case has raised.
If you are a medical professional, with skill in the areas of lactation and in understanding the bond of the breastfed infant, we ask you specifically state to all concerned your professional opinion of the actions of Essex Social Services in the this case, and your professional opinion of the statement that by breastfeeding her baby during access visits the mother did not understand the needs of her infant.
(Given the secret nature of Family Courts, direct appeals on behalf of the family will be ignored, and you will receive a letter back stating the family's circumstances can not be discussed. For this reason it is vital that if you write to support, you state clearly you are discussing the actions of Essex Social Services, and the serious implications of any Social Services department making negative judgements upon breastfeeding an infant. You should stress you are engaging in the wider issue of the breastfeeding relationship being so disrupted, and the precedent being set about breastfeeding itself being cited in such a way.)
You may also wish to mention the issue of Baby E's Human Rights, and how they have been ignored by Essex Social Services. This is not an isolated case, and the UK courts have already judged that this behaviour - removing an infant from the mother's breast without care to ensure daily access for breastfeeding - does not meet the imperatives of the European Convention on Human rights (*In the matter of unborn baby M; R (on the application of X and another) v Gloucestershire County Council. Citation: BLD 160403280; [2003] EWHC 850 (Admin)
In the past, letters such as these, from experienced medical professionals as well as concerned individuals have had an effect on outcomes.
Letters from countries outside the UK appear to carry a great deal of weight at Downing Street. You do make a difference.
Please cc any and all correspondance to the Victoria Climbie Foundation as they are supporting the family and are collecting evidence on behalf of Baby E.
In particular, you may wish to comment on your feelings, professional or otherwise, on the status of any 'Social Worker' who feels qualified to advise a young mother to sacrifice breastfeeding in favour of using a bottle. You may also wish to discuss the importance of the breastfeeding relationship in general, and in particular how important it was for Miss W to breastfeed her baby on that first access visit, as this will not only be useful to the family, but will help establish the needs and rights of all breastfed infants. At the moment, this statement - that the baby should not have been breastfed after an enforced seperation in order to protect the baby for bottle feeding - stands uncontested: we must ensure it is contested to the best of our knowledge and ability. Other infants may need this protection in the future.
If you wish to help the family directly, as opposed to bringing attention to the appalling actions of Essex Social Services and the implications for all statutory and voluntary agencies within the UK , you should contact:
The Victoria Climbie Foundation
28 Museum Street
LondonWC1A 1LH
phone: 020 8571 4121 fax: 020 8813 9734
This link will take you to a petition in support of the family at the Foundation's website.
If you are resident within the UK, we ask you also contact your local MP to register your views on this matter.
Likewise, if you feel you need to have more access to details of this case, in order for you to make an informed choice on the facts, you will have to approach the Victoria Climbie Foundation - as the Family Courts secrecy prevents anyone doing so openly.
Finally, and thank you for making it this far down this request, please propagate this message as widely as you can, in the appropriate forums: this family wishes the wider community to know what has occurred here, and have few opportunitites to tell their story. Please pass their story on.
Thank you.
"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." Martin Luther King

Thursday, 8 November 2007

The Sin of Omission

Breastfeeding Positions
YouTube – All About Breastfeeding…the Nestle Way….
The Sin of Omission
What a masterly example of the misleading art of formula promotion we have here! When they are handing out awards to the media experts who sit and construct moving image to bewitch, bother and bewilder… this promotional video will win several awards hands down. The amount of care that’s been taken in this info-mercial on behalf of Nestle formula manufacturers is quite breathtaking. It leads audiences along with cosy images and hinted at expertise that completely belies the truth that it has really been constructed to send one message: that breastfeeding is some super human (superwoman) endeavour and really, don’t bother – just reach for their product instead.
So seamlessly has the real message behind this info-mercial been hidden, so heavily has the sugar been piled upon the poisonous pill lurking in the depths, it’s worth brushing off some of that sugar coating to examine more closely how the poison is being peddled. To expose how are they managing to present such a cosy view of breastfeeding whilst at the same time ruthlessly sending the message that most women aren’t up to it, and here, have this formula bottle to help you out of your inadequacy. It’s quite a complex unweaving… so if you are sitting comfortably, I’ll begin….
Warning bells should begin ringing for the alert viewer, in the opening titles. Apart from the nice soft focussed image of that baby feeding, in standard colours to suggest clinical cleanliness – blue and white - there is that title: All About Breastfeeding. And that’s all there is. It’s what’s missing, that should set the bells ringing.
Who made this video? Name me one reputable health information video, commercial video… fictional drama even, that doesn’t list the company who made it? This video tells us nothing about who made it, when it was made, who is in it, or where the funding came from? For all its professional quality, and a seeming message of ‘support’ in the area of health education, this video is orphaned, and has no credentials. Where is the list of sponsors/supporters/experts? When do you discover it’s made by Nestle? Answer… when you follow the link to their website.
Well, perhaps we don’t need to know this sort of stuff – after all, who cares who made it and what it’s for? We’ll move right on, straight onto a nice smiling expert to talk to us. There, a lovely doctor, a paediatrician, telling us what we need to know to breastfeed successfully! How nice. How photogenic… don’t you think that nice doctor lady is suspiciously photogenic? I wonder what her name is, and where she practises…?
Oh dear. More missing details. No name, no statement she is a doctor, just dressed like one, and in a doctor’s office with those nice kid’s drawings on the wall! Look at the huge range of files this actress has with her on set! My, they really got the detail down pat, didn’t they? I bet no one has even noticed that she has no name, no credentials and no ‘expertise’.. although if I squint, does that say M.D on her top? Wonder if she lists this gig on her CV back at the agents… or, no… you don’t think she’s actually a real doctor at Nestle do you? After all, she does go on to then introduced Laurie, ‘their’ Nurse Practioner? Okay, so Laurie is a nurse and works for Nestle. Interesting that Laurie isn’t a lactation professional ‘tho, isn’t it? Or a midwife… or a… oh dear, you can go on for a quite a while, listing everything that’s missing here, can’t you. Get used to it ‘though, for the list of what’s not in this video gets quite long – references to any evidence based research, or even guidelines, being just one the many omissions.
You have to hand it to actress/doctor however, she has a very comforting manner when direct addressing you via the camera. A picture of reassurance and competency, which is extremely important, as it’s her caring soft tones that are taking you past the sub-text in her words – a sub-text made more potent by her ‘medical’ expertise. Let’s have a closer look at what’s she’s saying, and how that pans out in the Nestle formula world:
“breast milk offers a perfect nutritional balance including protein, carbohydrates fat and other nutrients.”
You know, that almost sounds like how a can of formula reads, that list… she wouldn’t be putting it like that in order to make clear that what’s in the milk, is in the can too? Gosh, how cynical of me…
“When you first begin breastfeeding, it’s a new skill for both Mom and baby”
Yeah, I know – it’s a skill to be learned.. but no, wait, the baby comes hard wired with it, doesn’t it? Oh Noes! You mean we both won’t know how to do it?
“Successful breastfeeding is the result of patience, practice and proper positioning…”
It is? Oh dear. I’m not very good at patience. Will the baby suffer while I ‘practise’, and how can I get help on this ‘proper positioning? This sounds really hard work.
“but once you learn the basics, it can become an easy and natural activity that you’ll both look forward to..”
Oh good, I was getting discouraged… how long exactly will it be hard, unnatural and something I dread? How long does it take to master ‘the basics’? I have tender nipples and… gulp. And, another thing, if that’s the basics, how much more stuff do I have to learn after that? You know, I’m so pleased you’re explaining all this to me… I had thought this stuff was much easier than it is! I’m pleased to know it _can_ be rewarding for some.
“Before you begin breastfeeding please remember that whatever you eat can affect your baby.”
It can? I can harm my baby with foods? Oh dear, I hadn’t thought of that… do you have a list of things I can eat and things I can’t?
“You will want to limit how much caffeine and alcohol you drink”
I will? Uhm, you mean you know how much of both I take in, and so you know I need to limit it? Oh dear… no coffee? Do you have any recommendations for me, so I know how much I can take?
“and you may want to avoid the foods that make you feel gassy.”
This is starting to look like a raw deal…. is KFC okay? I did eat a lot of that during the pregnancy, and I’m wondering if I can damage my baby by eating it now…. gassy… isn’t that what makes babies cry? Oh dear, I’m going to make the baby cry if I eat the wrong stuff? Please tell me you have a list of what the wrong stuff is!
“Please talk with your health care provider about any prescription or over the counter medications you are taking”
Arggh! I hadn’t thought of that, I have allergies and I’m going to harm the baby if I take my meds? You are so right, I need to get my doctor’s permission to see if I’m safe to breastfeed.
I could go on, but realistically, it’d take several pages to properly breakdown all the messages that are being sent out here.
Couple of things I can’t let pass by though – notice how often ‘Laurie’ talks about tugging at nipples, nipple damage and mothers giving up because of it. She understands that you are scared of nipple pain, and she is telling you up front that it does happen, and it does turn women off breastfeeding… but she can help stop that from happening. She also, completely outrageously, tells you that you are going to have to wake up every three hours during the night to wake the baby up to feed it! This is when the lack of reference to any actual guidelines or facts about newborns and their sleeping behaviour, becomes actual mis-information. But it plays so beautifully on mother’s fears that they will never sleep again, and they will never manage to hack it in the breastfeeding stakes...
And that brings me to the most objectionable part of this info-mercial – Laurie and her ministrations. For whilst she’s all soft spoken and ‘meeting the mother where she’s at’. notice a couple of things about Laurie. To begin with, the mother is incapable of actually managing to latch the baby without Laurie’s hand on the back of the baby’s head. Laurie is the boss – the do-er, the person making it happen. The mother is unskilled, unconfident and worried. Laurie eases these worries by being the one that does the work for the mother. Good job she’s there – for the message is that without Laurie, no mother could latch her baby on without this ‘tugging at nipples’ that is going to cause ‘damage’. A lovely nice kind and calm nurse to get her over the lack of her own skill – pity the poor mothers who won’t have Laurie there. Oops – that’s most of us. Dang.
Worse however, and this is quite sickening, we never see the baby latch properly. Whenever Laurie is explaining how to, the camera is either on her face, or the anxious mother’s: it is not on the baby achieving latch. She talks about the baby’s mouth opening wide, but the shot is of a closed mouth. She talks about how the baby will root and latch on – we never see it. The camera pulls away from the mother’s attempts to latch an uninterested and avoiding the nipple baby, and suddenly Laurie’s hand is there forcing the baby onto the breast. Examine the editing and these shots are inter-cut out of sequence (Laurie has had to change position to get her hand behind the baby’s head in that manner) and do not reflect the rooting sequence Laurie describes. The second latch is even worse – they don’t even pretend to show a latching baby, there is more footage of Laurie’s face describing a latch, and then a jump cut into a fully latched baby.
Any mother using this video as a tool to latching, is going to be sorely disappointed: it doesn’t show one. Another omission.
Why it doesn’t show it, of course, is probably the same reason why it just fades out, into nothingness, after its set up a huge anxiety about not knowing how you know if the baby has enough, or how to gauge it’s weight gain. (Or at least I hope that's the reason... I'd hate to think there's more of this drivel out there.) It doesn’t show a latch, and it fades out without an ending, to make the mother think she’s missed the ‘best bit’ and to go to the Nestle website to find the rest of it.
Not that she knows it’s a Nestle web site until she gets there.
But she does know a lot of things by the time she gets to Nestle: she knows she has to restrict her diet, stop having coffee or alcohol, stop taking medication, find an expert to help her learn the difficult and stressful skill of latching in order to stop her nipples being damaged, lock herself away in a quiet room with no distractions, ignore her other kids, eat and sleep to a three hour schedule (that’s her, not the baby) and not worry too much about not knowing how much ‘cream’ her baby is getting. (Nice touch that, ‘cream’ – connection to dairy.)
Oh yes, and she also knows how hard it is to breastfeed, and that, deep down, she knows she’s not up to it. Good job the link takes her to formula adverts then.. that poor baby is going to starve to death waiting for an exhausted and stressed mother to ‘learn the basics’.
Nestle: every breastfeeding mother’s friend. Honest.