Tag Archives | writing

Seeking Breastfeeding Warrior Poets: Writing to Change the World

By Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC, FAPA

In her book Writing as a Sacred Path, Jill Jepson describes four archetypes in religion and folk lore and how they relate to writers: monk, mystic, shaman and warrior. Of these four, the one that intrigued me most, and the one most relevant to writers in the breastfeeding field, is that of warrior. It’s an apt metaphor when we consider the power of words and how important they are in changing cultural paradigms, as Jepson describes,

One mark of a warrior is the knowledge that what she does can make a profound difference in the world. Because of that power, warriors are trained never to act recklessly or in malice. The writer too must live with that awareness. Like the warrior, you possess the power to alter the course of people’s lives—for everything you write, no matter how trivial it seems, might change some reader’s beliefs or impel her to act. That power makes you honor bound to write with the utmost integrity. If you are a writer, you are engaged in a battle for truth, justice and peace, whether you want to be or not. This is an awesome responsibility, but learning from the warrior, studying his practices, and following his code can help you rise to the challenge.

Pen and paper

Photo by Phil Gyford via Flickr Creative Commons

Warriors train for years to learn their craft. Yet writers often feel that they should be able to instantly put pen to paper and create something memorable. Writing, like any talent or skill, needs developing. But it’s important to start somewhere. Even our smallest efforts can make a difference for mothers and babies.

In describing warriors, Jepson offered another intriguing image: that of warrior-poet. The ancient world honored the warrior-poet: a warrior who could also tell the story. One of the first scenes in the 2006 movie 300 depicted a warrior poet, the sole survivor of the battle of 300 Spartans who held off the massive armies of Persia. The movie Braveheart also ended with reference to warrior-poets:

They fought like warrior-poets.

They fought like Scotsmen—and won their freedom.

The warrior-poet is also a fitting image for writers in the breastfeeding field. True, mothers and babies need apologists—writers who can defend and make a great case for breastfeeding, who can provide the facts, figures, and physiologic details. But that will only take us so far.

Breastfeeding also needs its bards. Writers who can see the sublime within the ordinary and capture breastfeeding at its most intimate. For in the end, it is not the facts that compel mothers to breastfeed; it’s the magic. We need writers who can convey that. I invite you to pick up your pen and become a breastfeeding warrior-poet. Mothers and babies need you.

Kathleen Kendall-Tackett is Owner & Editor-in-Chief of Praeclarus Press, Editor-in-
Chief of Clinical Lactation, and author or editor of 22 books, including How to Write for a General Audience, and author of more than 320 articles and book chapters. She will be teaching a workshop at the 2013 USLCA meeting entitled “Write to Change the World.” For more information, go to www.KathleenKendall-Tackett.com or www.PraeclarusPress.com.


Making Connections: Serendipity + Opportunity + a Few Lily Pads

As a follow-up to Tuesday’s post about mother-to-mother support, we asked Melissa Vickers to share about how she came to be a co-editor with Dr. Virginia Thorley on this project.

By Melissa Clark Vickers, MEd, IBCLC

Try something with me…. Instead of looking ahead to where you’re heading next, turn around and look where you’ve come. How did you get to this point in time and space? Was it following a path you’d planned years ago, or did your actual path diverge? I suspect that few of us decided as young children, “When I grow up, I want to be an IBCLC!”

I decided early that I would be a teacher, and I did teach for five years. And then I had babies, discovered breastfeeding and La Leche League, and earned my IBCLC. I was still teaching – not in a classroom but in mothers’ homes. And, I’d added something else to my life, just as unexpected (to me) as becoming a mother-to-mother breastfeeding supporter: writing. And THAT has led to even more surprising opportunities.

My career path was no longer linear, neatly mapped out by college degrees and traditional job settings. My new path began to resemble the frog that happily jumps from one lily pad  to the next, combining opportunity with a little faith that the pad will hold her up and point her to the next interesting pad.

Writing for various La Leche League International (LLLI) publications led me to working with Rebecca Magalhães, former LLLI Director of External Affairs and LLLI’s link to World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). Rebecca would periodically call me and say, “Hey, Melissa! How would you like to do this project?” I worked with Rebecca and others on the 2008 WABA World Breastfeeding Week Action folder, and that led to a booklet for WABA, Mother Support for Breastfeeding: Selected Statements and Excerpts about Mother Support in Key International Documents. Rebecca and Paulina Smith (another LLL Leader with WABA ties) and I worked as a team to create this document.

Meanwhile, on a lily pad not too far away, I was working on another serendipitous opportunity – I had the honor of working with Marian Tompson, LLL Co-Founder, to co-author her memoir, Passionate Journey – My Unexpected Life. I had never written a book before, but Marian was willing to take a chance on my eagerness to help tell her amazing life story. As that two year project came to a close, Rebecca was poised on the next lily pad, pointing this frog to her next opportunity.

Australian IBCLC, Virginia Thorley, had an idea for a book about mother support for breastfeeding that would include chapters written by authors around the world. She wanted help and asked Rebecca and Paulina if they would be interested. Rebecca recommended me as a possible co-editor.

I might have heard of Virginia on Lactnet, but I doubt that she’d ever heard of me. In any case, neither of us had a clue what working together on such an undertaking might be like. But we both trusted Rebecca’s faith in the other’s abilities, and we were both willing to make that leap to the next lily pad.

It’s interesting working on a project of this magnitude with someone you’ve never met before, and would only get to know through email. Thankfully, we hit it off, and despite working half a world away from each other, had just a few hours each day that we could both be at our computers. We shared our lives and the chapters we authored, and traded off editing the 18 chapters from authors around the world—some of them written by those for whom English was a second language. We plugged away at the task, despite very busy individual lives. We learned from each other and from each of our chapter authors, and collectively we created a tapestry of mother support, The 10th Step and Beyond: Mother Support for Breastfeeding.

From Chapter 1: Why Breastfeeding Women Need Mother Support –

When mothers are adequately supported to breastfeed, everyone−the baby, the mother, the family, the community−benefits. This kind of support, coming from many different facets of society, helps move us toward breastfeeding as the cultural norm and weaves a tapestry of support. Tapestries are both beautiful and strong, and the beauty and strength come from the diversity of types of support interwoven together. While any form of support can help a mother breastfeed her child, the synergistic effect of the tapestry makes it easier on that mother, empowering her to support other mothers. Ted Greiner has stated this idea succinctly:

Anything done by anyone on behalf of making the world a better place where breastfeeding works better for mothers and babies is doing a great service. It may seem small, but it all really adds up.

I’d like to think that through our book Virginia and I (and our chapter authors) have taken a few of those small steps (or lily pad leaps) to making the world a place where breastfeeding works better for mothers and babies.

Melissa Clark Vickers traded a career as a biology teacher to become mom, IBCLC, and writer. She also works as the IMPACT (Improving Maternal and Child Health Policies so All Children Thrive) Project Coordinator for Family Voices, a U.S. organization dedicated to family-centered care and advocacy for families with children with special health care needs.


A Message from Incoming JHL Editor, Anne Merewood

In England, you learn to talk, and shortly thereafter, to answer the question, “What will you be when you grow up?” For better or worse, kids soon set a goal, be it fireman, footballer, or pharmacologist. My brother planned to be a horse, one of the few aims he didn’t achieve. The UK education system plays into this – from around age 14 students begin to specialize. I studied English Literature at Cambridge University. I didn’t major in English Literature, I read English Literature for my BA, and nothing else.

 After graduating, I entered a field related, arguably, to Literature – journalism; specifically, BBC TV news. I learned editing, news writing and film-making, and met Paul McCartney and Phil Collins. I then married (not Paul or Phil, but Gerassimakis) and moved to Greece for a year before my husband took a research post at Harvard in 1987. For over 10 years, I freelanced as a writer, but after my three boys were born, I wanted a change, a career with meaning, and a five figure income. For the usual reasons – personal obstacles met with inadequate answers – lactation attracted me. I became an IBCLC in 1999, gained my MPH in 2006, and my PhD from Cambridge in 2010. During this time I moved away from the purely clinical into teaching and my grown up passion – research.

My vision for JHL emerges from this mottled background in science and journalism. I believe excellent research and accessibility can be – indeed, must be – compatible. Research is fun – exciting – an endless creative torrent of new information pouring from the pages to readers thirsting for knowledge. Writers and editors must make this knowledge accessible for practicing clinicians and personal enlightenment. At JHL, I will strive to increase clarity and readability of research, reduce restrictive jargon, and battle against – yes – the distancing drone of the passive voice. The first rule of good writing is to make the reader read it. Why are so many academic journals hard to read and, frankly, so boring?

Before the purists run screaming for the archives, I don’t advocate sacrificing quality for over-simplification. Specific terminology is critical and beautiful, nothing beats clarity of meaning in excellent writing. Indeed some of our breastfeeding terminology could use a dose of epidemiologic precision. As more than one epidemiologist has asked me, what do you mean by a breastfeeding rate?

With all this in mind, changes I hope to bring to JHL will include some revamping of  writers’ guidelines. We will print longer, structured abstracts, and shorter articles. We will feature student research, expert round tables, and regular themed issues, the first of which will focus on the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, in August 2012. Editorially speaking, Donna Chapman, RD, PhD, will remain as Associate Editor; Supriya Mehta, MHS, PhD, (Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Chicago School of Public Health) will join us as Methods Editor. We will create an International Advisory Board to involve proactive non-US researchers, and subject area Assistant Editors to reach more expert reviewers in the ever growing field of lactation research.

A field, it seems, that failed thus far to nourish my English family. When I announced my new position, my brother shook his sadly depleted mane and said, “the Journal of What?” I proceed undaunted, despite my healthily humbling British roots. Touring SAGE Publications back in June, I was delighted to discover so many strange people like myself – ex newspaper editors polishing scientific tables; ex lab technicians crunching data and deadlines. I had found what I grew up to be. I hope my platform of readable research will serve ILCA members well for many years to come.

 Anne Merewood PhD, MPH, IBCLC

Incoming JHL Editor


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