I read an article this month that made me glad for the upcoming “It’s Complicated” conference on November 2nd. It was particularly relevant to Rachel Blumberg’s upcoming presentation: “Building Your Tool Kit to Support Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.”

The New Yorker article (“A House Of One’s Own” by Larissa MacFarquhar) recounts the start of the first shelter for women fleeing domestic violence. It describes how this movement began and has changed over the decades. One thing that impressed me was that two women simply opened their home as the first shelter. They acted on the belief that battered women deserve to be defended.

Read that again… Deserve to be defended.
There were (and still are) many biases that prevented battered women from getting any help. Often, their pleas were ignored. Usually, the law was not on her side.
Why doesn’t she just leave?
She should keep working on her marriage.
Domestic violence doesn’t happen between lesbians because women don’t do that.

An important part of the change was recognizing, and discarding, biases about women, domestic violence and sexual abuse. These still need to be called out. We also see how biases in our culture penalize vulnerable mothers… especially women with substance abuse issues, women who are poor and women of color.

“Pregnancy and Parenting at the Intersections of Poverty and Substance Use“ was the topic of a workshop I attended at the Bangor Area Recovery Network.  Misinformation and prejudgements affect the access to support a family will, or will not, receive. For example:
• People who use drugs should not chest/breastfeed.   (Weigh the risks and benefits.)
• Naloxone does not work on a pregnant person.   (Naloxone is safe during pregnancy.)

Laws are based on these biases and become the rationale for punitive actions, usually separating a family and complicating the problem. We know there are more effective strategies.

At our conference last year, Dan Hale, M.D described the program at Lawrence General Hospital for NAS infants that encourages skin-to-skin, breastfeeding and mother support. The model of Eat-Sleep-Console is a family centered approach, rather than a punitive one. These are approaches that make sense (mothers and babies belong together) and, as the evidence shows, affect more positive change.

All mothers and families need continuing support in various ways. Recognizing unspoken social values and biases, we can clear the way for better care. The goal, always, is to help families thrive and to shape effective, healthy public policies.

Come to our conference and join the discussions.

FYI: two of the presentations will qualify for your required counseling education. This conference is a fundraiser for legislative efforts to provide access to IBCLC care for all Massachusetts families.