Tran Anh Kiet’s feet, hands and limbs are twisted and deformed. He is 21 years old, but trapped inside a body that appears to belong to a 15 year old with a mental age of around six. He has to be spoon-fed and writhes often in evident frustration. All his attempts at speech are confined to plaintive and pitiful grunts.
In Kiet’s small community in Cu Chi district, about 45 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh city, south Vietnam, his story is all too common – indeed the villagers have a name for young people like him: Agent Orange babies.
Some 79 million liters of Agent Orange herbicides were dropped on the jungles of Vietnam from 1961-1971 in an attempt to defoliate the rainforest and deny any cover for the VietCong guerilla forces resisting the United States occupation of Vietnam.
Today in Vietnam there are 150,000 other children like Kiet, whose parents allege their birth defects are the result of exposure to Agent Orange during the war, or the consumption of dioxin-contaminated food and water since 1975.
damali ayo’s ecoliving. i would definitely appreciate a lot less classist suggestions on her list for ‘going green’. but some of teh suggestions sound like fun. i would like to learn more about permaculture and have a reason not to rake leaves.
so i extended the submission deadline to revolutionary motherhood publication. now it is april 30th…and i am reposting the call as well…
Call for submissions
Due by April 30th, 2008
We are creating a global multi-media publication called Revolutionary Motherhood inspired by the Incite! 2008 Southwest conference and the workshop entitled: Revolutionary Motherhood. The intention of this publication is to inspire, connect, and organize women and transfolk of color who perform motherhood and daughterhood to co-create life-affirming, mutually liberating communities.
Please send submissions to mai’a at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please check out revolutionofthelilies.wordpress.com, guerrillamamamedicine.wordpress.com and www.freewebs.com/revolutionofthelilies for more information.
We are asking for articles, essays, interviews, black and white visual art, photography, poetry, etc .
Exploring themes and questions such as:
What does it mean to be a mother? What does it mean to be a daughter?
What does it mean to give birth? How do we give birth as empowered women and transgendered folk? What is the transition into motherhood?
What is revolutionary motherhood? How does our experience and performance as women and transfolk of color intersect with our experience of mothering?
What are the daily acts of resistance in which we engage as mothers and daughters? How did motherhood change our vision of resistance, revolution, and radical action? What is our relationship to activism and the activism world through the experience of motherhood?
What is the experience of mothering those who are older than us such as parents, grandparents, etc.? What is the experience of mothering those who are not biological descendents such as students, godchildren, stepchildren, etc.?
In what ways did our mothers model ‘revolutionary motherhood’? What is revolutionary daughterhood? As a daughter, how do we relate and engage with the mothers and daughters in our community? Who and what inspires us as mothers and daughters?
What does it mean to be the revolutionary mother of a boy-child/a son? What is the experience of being a son? How do we respond to the demonization of mothers of color who care for boy-children/sons?
What are the specific ways that violence intersects with the experience of motherhood? In what ways does the anti-violence movement need to be more responsible to the experience of mothers of color? How do we respond to the violence in the medical establishment in terms of pregnancy, birth, child-rearing, elder-care, etc.?
What are specific ways that the intersections of race, gender, class, sexuality, nationality play with the acts of mothering and daughtering?
okay so this is the second article i found online on the zapatista womens encuentro
unlike the previous article that i cited, this article is written by 4 women, rather than one man. at least one of whom i have met a couple of times and hung out with at the encuentro. and we had a good strong conversation on the role of women and community in the encuentro and in the states. so good for them for creating collaborative work.
For centuries, indigenous and poor women have carried the responsibility of these tasks. Their backs have held the weight of the survival of their families, communities, and cultures. Their resistance is inseparable from that of their communities, serving as an integral source of strength. The Zapatista women emphasize a dynamic relationship between derechos y deberes [rights and responsibilities]. As young women born to white feminists in the US, we joined many 2nd and 3rd wave feminists in the crowd who’ve been taught that women’s liberation means equal rights, that it is a movement towards independence and self-determination. Our politics of feminism and solidarity are perhaps tested, seeing the women of this indigenous Zapatista movement declare their rights as integral to their collective responsibility, for the well-being of their community. Indigenous men, standing at the edges of the auditorium, shading their eyes from the sun nodded in agreement as the voices of the Zapatista women demanded the right to education, emphasizing the responsibility to become promoters of education. As their voices demanded the right to choose their own partners, they emphasized the responsibility of participating in family and community matters. By having a women’s encuentro, they sought to have their voices heard and not spoken over or marginalized. But when questioned about whether this was the beginning of their own women’s movement, and if they wanted to create more women-only spaces; they emphasized that the movement included their brothers, husbands, children, elders…everyone in the community. This appeared as something distinctly different from women’s liberation; more like collective liberation. Or better yet, described as Zapatismo.
i am really grateful for them writing about the relationship between zap women and first world women in a cogent critical way. but i really want to point out that there is a strong history in mujeristas, black feminism, red women movement, womanism that has had this same critique (for decades). one of the leaders of third world feminism is rebecca walker, who is the daughter of alice walker, one of the primary articulators of ‘womanism’. my primary critiques of third wave feminism is the emphasis on ‘choice’ and how this emphasis on ‘choice’ reinscribes the erasure of a class critique on feminism. and by (kinda) erasing the history of the ways and strategies of women of color struggling for community liberation, by just lumping all feminists from the first world, under this banner in which our primary goal is individualism, this paragraph denies the complexity of womens thought in the first world.
i also question the dichotomy of ‘women-only spaces’ and collective liberation. in nearly every community i have seen womens only spaces already exist. often by the ways that ‘womens work’ is circumscribed. the question is (in my humble opinion) how and when are these women only spaces utilized. and in the same way that i know that my liberation is experienced through motherhood, in part because motherhood is one of those social spaces in which i connect with women across the social borders and hierachies, i also see my experience and enjoyment of motherhood to be part of the collective liberation of our communities and our worlds.
zapatista women meet the women of the world.
so we went to the third encuentro of the zapatistas. and the first one focused on women. it was in la garrucha which is a really long way like five hours from san cristobal. there for three days and it was an incredibly intense experience especially with our little daughter…tere.
left san cristobal in a combi..shared van and arrived a couple of hours later in ocosingo. from ocosingo aza and i hopped on the back of a truck with a bunch of kids from san fran state mainly chicanos and asianos. and we rode on the back of a pick up truck for 2-3 hours to la garrucha. it was a little chilly but lucky i had a friends windbreaker and aza giggled and ate cookies and breastfed and flirted. it felt like we just rode deeper into the selva–jungle and more and more stars appeared until i couldnt even see the simple common constellations like orion and cassiopea because of the utter magnitude and quantity of stars in the sky.
la garrucha is a zapatista caracol. one of five or six. and this was the site of the latest encuentro in memory of comandante ramona.
a small note of comandante ramona: a friend, xmal, told me that ramona was a woman to be looked up to because she had been in the army and that was the way that she advanced herself in the communities and in the movement even though she was a woman. and so being a comandante part of the army or part of the good government are new pathways for zapatista women to gain respect in the community. for this reason she is held in such esteem by the zap women.
we arrived in la garrucha, me probably looking a little disheveled and were taken to a corner of a room where we could lay our things down.
ah the mexican polka…mexicans and especially rancheros love to polka. and so they did. until 330 am. hundreds of people polkaing outside under the stars. the bass of the polka vibrated against the walls of our room.
the polka was sort of the connecting theme of the weekend. they play the polka when the zap women file in and file out of the tent auditorium. they play the polka in between the sessions. they play the polka.
now it is interesting as to who comes to a zap encuentro. there are the hippies. hipsters. and the punks. the indigenous families from various caracoles. of course the masked women and men from the caracoles. there was a delegation from casa atbex ache of women of color. there were activistas internationales. the are old commies. and lots of kids from san cris. a couple of other delegations of chicanos. college kids. and of course us.
i come from a womanist perspective and so while i doubt that zap women call themselves (maybe they do..) womanist i am viewing them as women of color as they share a similar history as we do –not simply as shared suffering of colonization (fuck colonization) (use fuck in the term of ‘confront’) and rupture but also that we are going through similar processes of reclamation healing the rupture of colonization and bad governments. osea that we can learn from one another how to create a post colonial community of centering justice and love. since we are both post colonial subjects women building something old something new something borrowed and a little something from a blues people.
doing it with a 8 month old was a little crazy and intense. but there are these little helping invisible hands everywhere and if i was to properly thank everyone i would nt know how to begin. it was really cool to hang out with other mamas mexican indigenous and international. everytime i meet traveling moms and their kids it makes me feel a little saner about the choices we have made. there was an italian woman with her 2 year old who sold jewelry and handcrafts. she had frizzy hair skinny legs and a great italian accent while speaking spanish. italian speaking spanish sounds great just great. like sweet ice cream on a hot cloudless day. there was a nyorker , tere, and her three year old. frizzy hair skinny legs and that ny spanish that pops the syllables even if you arent chewing gum.
but breastfeeding was a sight to behold obviously…or me breastfeeding was a sight to behold…and so men would stand around me watching me breastfeed outside. and yes everyone i tell this to says oh well, that doesnt make any sense since indigenous men are used to seeing their women breast feed. and okay indigenous men may be used to seeing breastfeeding and they dont circle around their women during the process. but i started to feel like some museum piece. look at the black woman breastfeeding the (obviously) biracial baby…
but as piece de exotique as i felt, i had nothing on the trans woman in the room
the trans woman in the room:
so we were bunkered down in the room with another family and friends group of like 5 and a couple even more interesting than the black woman and the white man and the biracial baby. yes…this couple was trans woman and her lover, a red haired humpbacked witch. the first night the couple slept in the shared room with the rest of us pitched out on the floor. the second night the moved into the backroom with a bed and privacy. the third night the family and friends group told us that we should take the bed because we have a baby. how sweet of them to think of us. except that they kicked the trans woman out of her bed and then gave it to us. they gave orders. and the couple moved their suitcases out of the room in tears and curses. saying that the other people staying in the room (and i am not sure if that includes us) had been making fun of her. and then they took away her bed. she refused to return to the room and slept in a tent and i slept in her bed that had been offered.
there were these signs that hung all over the encampamiento: men cannot participate in speaking, translating, directing the encuentro. they can clean and sweep the latrines, take care of the children, and carry firewood…
the latrines were not really that clean. i only saw a few men taking care of the children. and there were alot of men. i think there were more men than women at the encuentro. and it was a zap women meet the women of the world…
and there was a speaking tent set up, ie the auditorium, where only women were supposed to be. but there were plenty of men (esp international men) under the tent.
what i learned about zapatismo zapatistas:
not alot. it was great being in a caracol for a couple of days. getting a better visceral sense of what caracol is. hearing the women tell their personal testimonies for hours and days was interesting at first but the tent was crowded and stuffy and woman after woman told the similar stories of where they saw themselves in relation to history and the world. in other words: that the zapatista struggle transformed their lives profoundly in that they no longer need to rely on plantation owners to survive. instead had greater autonomy and decision making power.
Being a Radical Doula
How pro-choice advocacy and birth activism go hand in hand.
By Miriam Pérez, Swarthmore College
Monday April 16, 2007
How can the same person be a pro-choice activist and a birthing-rights advocate devoted to supporting women through childbirth? When I became interested in the rights of pregnant and birthing women in college, I never imagined there was a contradiction between my pro-choice politics and my newfound passion for midwifery. But a few months ago, Lynn Paltrow, executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, clued me into a longstanding divide between the pro-choice and birthing communities. She and her organization put together a groundbreaking conference that attempted to bridge the gap between these two groups, who rarely talk about each other’s issues.
Abortion had never been addressed at the midwifery conferences I had attended, and the issue gets little mention on the websites of the most prominent midwifery and doula organizations. (A doula is a person trained to provide support to women in labor.) Initially these silences led me to believe that birth activists held my pro-choice beliefs, but I recognize now that they are actually a sign of discord. Rather than address what can be a controversial topic (particularly for a movement that includes religious midwives and doulas), most birthing rights advocates choose to avoid the topic of abortion entirely. With a confirmed focus on the pregnant woman and her journey toward birth, such a high value can be placed on motherhood that it becomes difficult to condone practices like abortion. Similarly, within the pro-choice movement, such a large emphasis is placed on the rights of women not to parent that one can forget about the rights of women who choose to parent.
When I was thrust into the world of what I call “birth activism,” I approached the issues with my usual attitude: People who didn’t get it just didn’t have the facts yet. They hadn’t seen what I’d seen or read what I had read about how terrible the current state of childbirth is in the United States, particularly in the hospital setting. The documentary “Born in the USA” plainly demonstrates how much better midwives and out-of-hospital settings are for low-risk births, and how the bureaucratic obstetrics ward contributes to a landslide of unnecessary medical interventions that aren’t good for mothers or children. Childbirth in its current form—attended by an obstetrician in the hospital—has only existed since the 1920s. Before that time, midwifery care in the home was the standard practice. According to author Karla Hay, before 1900 only 5 percent of American births occurred in hospitals. By 2000, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 99 percent of births did.
What’s wrong with all this? There are many negative effects of the medicalization of birth, but let’s keep it simple. Childbirth is more medicalized now than ever, with more interventions, more drugs, and more surgeries. Our Caesarean section rate is up to around 30 percent, despite World Health Organization recommendations of 15 percent. Are women and babies healthier? Safer? Happier? The answer is no. The United States continues to rank near the bottom of developed countries in relation to infant mortality, coming in second to last in 2006. Experts disagree on why. Some cite sub par health care for low-income pregnant women, while others point to increasingly complicated neonatal surgical interventions for otherwise unviable pregnancies. The simple fact is that Americans have one of the most costly health care systems in the world, but in many respects our health outcomes are nothing to brag about among our developed-world peers.
Beyond all of this, what the birthing rights movement addresses is the narrowing scope of women’s choices about how they give birth. Hospitals and doctors have increasingly specific requirements and regulations about childbirth, many times based on standardized ideas of how a “normal” birth progresses. When women fail to meet these standards, interventions are employed, many of which are costly and cause a landslide of further intervention. Let’s not forget the emotional and psychological component. Many women give birth in environments where they feel unsupported, a fact exacerbated by hospital staffers who are overworked and face increasing productivity demands. They instead rely on family to give emotional support, but not all women have the familial support they need or want.
Birth activism provided me with a new outlet for my feminist politics and a way to support women during an important time in their lives. After a harrowing experience in a public maternity ward in Ecuador, where I briefly lived, I became a doula, accompanying women during labor. Unfortunately, working as a doula—while an incredible opportunity—was not the empowering experience that I had hoped it would be. I found that I had little ability to influence births and I could be in the birthing room only as long as I kept my mouth shut and stayed out of the way. I accompanied four women during their labors and deliveries in this hospital, but by then I was at my breaking point.
Activists working in the abortion-rights field have similar experiences. It is almost impossible for a woman to have an abortion in a totally safe and supportive environment, free from social and familial stigma. No matter how much we pro-choice advocates fight, there will always be a loud and ever-present group on the other side (often just outside the clinic doors) telling women they should feel guilty about their choices and that they are based on selfishness and sin. Women are rarely allowed the freedom to make these choices in the idealistic environment that we abortion-rights advocates dream about, free from the influence of divisive politics. This is where the connection between abortion-rights advocates and birth activists seems exceedingly clear to me: Both are attempts to fight back against rhetoric that prioritizes the unborn fetus instead of the adult woman.
When a woman is giving birth in an American hospital, the doctors, nurses, and extended medical team are almost wholly focused on the status of the fetus inside of her—constantly employing technologies to monitor it and drugs to regulate it, allowing fetal well-being to be their dominant concern. When we think of a woman with an unintended pregnancy (and this could be the same woman, in a different phase of her life), a similar logic applies. Anti-choice activists don’t trust women to make responsible decisions about their lives and ability to parent; they instead focus on the potential life inside a woman, and place all emphasis on the future of the fetus rather than on the future of the woman. Anti-choice activism and overly-medicalized birthing practices are both based on a lack of trust in women. Consider the many restrictions imposed on birthing women: rules regulating out-of-hospital midwives, mandatory waiting periods for abortions, forced C-sections, and biased pre-abortion counseling are all examples of how people do not trust women (or their support networks) to make responsible decisions about family well-being.
What is unique about the role of the doula is that she gets to be one of the only people in the birthing process exclusively focused on the woman. She focuses entirely on how the woman is feeling, providing accompaniment and support through a process that can be scary and lonely, particularly in a hospital. Studies show the positive effect that this kind of unconditional support and attention can have on both the mother and her child. That’s the logic that really connects the birthing and the pro-choice movements—if we support women and their decisions, everyone will fare better, including children.
today we are hanging out. she is teaching herself to put her hand in her mouth. she focuses so hard at moments she looks cross eyed. sometimes she becomes so frustrated unable to satiate her excitement. then i hear the smacking of lips, turn around and she is sucking on her fist, her entire body relaxed for a moment.
was the labor birth rough? i chose for 10 months to have ahomebirth and in the course of a day 24 hours, i chose to have csection. why did i chose a csection?
because we give birth in the culture. we cant give birth in a culture in which we are not.
i was 42 and a half weeks pregnat. suddenly having an abnormal pregnancy an abnormal labor. and this is why contesting concepts such as normal and natural are more than the expression of a pregnant girls pet peeves.
even though i prepared for a homebirth my homebirth was held within the structures and definitions of the paradigm of the dominant medical culture.
in other words 42 weeks was as long as pregnancy was supposed to last and 43 weeks was dangerous primarily because it is abnormal.
all of a sudden themost important thing is to get the baby out.
all labors are rough at some point. if they werent they wouldnt be called labor. we wouldnt make it analagous to hard work. for the most part my labor was long but calm hitting emotional breakdowns mental labyrinths physical exhaustion like potholes in the road.
they gave me an epidual pumped me full of pitocin water broke my water and my dilation reversed. i swear my body my baby does not like to be pushed.
i have met people who have tried to put themselves in my shoes and then tell me how difficult it must have been for me.
i told the homebirth education trainer lady that my ideal birth was to be right with god.
she responded that my partner and i had communication issues. who doesn’t?
yes it was rough to make conscious righeous decisions in the midst of the ritual space of birth.
i still dont believe in normal or natural.
my partner and i still have communication issues. we talk about them everyday. im still healing from the incision.
but i have come to believe in daughterhood. the ways that we carry and break traditions. and the tradition of birth impreints upon us how we can be mother and how not to be them.
oh and i hope no one reading this thinks i am anti home birth. i am pro homebirth. i just think our choices are more than just anti and pro.
–does your baby look yellow? jaundiced?
–she is a biracial kid so you are going to have to tell me what kind of yellow you are talking about.
–uhh never mind.