Category: Health and Wellness


Not for babies!

Not for babies!

Here we go again. Three short months after our post about the ill effects of cold medicines on infants, we are now hearing about another hazard in the good old-fashioned medicine chest: Vicks Vaporub! And this time I can’t even come with a good dose of self-righteousness. That blue jar was a staple in our house when I was growing up, right along with Limeacol, Alcalada and Dettol. Come on now, I know I’m not alone here. As a kid, all I had to do was clear my throat a little too hard, and I would find myself greased down with Vicks — chest, back and foot bottoms. Some people even smeared it under the nose — I’m sure glad my mother didn’t go THAT far. It was enough to be slathered in the stuff so much you were all but sticking to the sheets!

Luckily, by the time I had my own children, I was more in favour of eucalyptus oil mixed with shea butter — mind you, I didn’t think anything was WRONG with Vicks, I just thought it was more greasy than I like and maybe the smell would be too strong. SEVERE respiratory distress wasn’t even on my mind. As always I say, Who knew?

Still looking for those good tips and tricks for when your child has a cold. Post your wisdom — I know I sure could use it during these frigid winter months!

  • Last night I had the opportunity to speak on a panel at The Scarborough Hospital (Grace Campus). The discussion was organized by the Family Advisory Council on Maternal and Infant Care. My role as a member of the Advisory Council was to speak on the valuable role that choice plays in improving outcomes in pregnancy and birth care.

    Overall, I think the presentation went very well! I was very pleased with the points that I chose to raise, as well as the audience response. The bad news is that my digital recorder failed on me (or maybe I failed on it) — so was not able to present My First Podcast (as I’d hoped). Well, maybe next time. Instead, I’ve listed some of my notes here of the main points that I put forward in my presentation. Your feedback and comments are always appreciated.

    • What solidified my interest in Family-Centered Care (FCC) is what I call my two-track prenatal experience
    • RELATIONSHIP WITH PHYSICIAN: My physician and I had a good relationship prior to my pregnancy
    • She was open and kept me informed on all matters, illnesses, checkups, etc.
    • Bonus: We also had a shared cultural background so she understood my issues and perspective, jokes i.e. “I’m wearing my Sunday baggie.”
    • My pregnancy changed the Code of Conduct, script, choreography of visits
    • I lacked an understanding of this new “prenatal culture” — i.e., concept of “trying to get pregnant” and question of “are you keeping it?”
    • Suddenly I was not qualified to participate in my own care
    • Even shared cultural background wasn’t enough to bridge the gap (the culture of prenatal care trumped our previous relationship)
    • Handouts were not culturally relevant
    • Ongoing issues around diet, midwifery, homebirth, birthplan, sick vs. healthy attitude, etc.
    • My husband and I would joke about what government secrets were lurking in my med file (information not shared, results of tests not forthcoming)
    • Increased tension; not enough information provided to make informed choices and doctor seemed offended by my questions
    • Issue of control of my care at a time when I was “losing” control of my bodily function — control of any kind was very important to me
    • Parted ways with physician over issue of HIV Test (physician made bad judgement call when I refused an HIV Test that I believed was optional)
    • MIDWIVES: I transitioned my care into that of midwives
    • I was treated with respect
    • I was allowed and encouraged to participate in my care
    • Weighed self, tested own urine and reported results to midwives — medical file always open on the desk, I could see and comment on the comments
    • Debated pros and cons of all tests, final choice always mine
    • Birth plan was encouraged, discussed and respected
    • I didn’t always get my own way but discussion helped me to understand why not
    • My culture was respected
    • BLACK WOMAN AND CHILD: At that time, I felt that mothers of any cultural difference or having any difference in perspective could not get fair treatment or choice in a physician-run hospital system
    • As a result, I began publishing a magazine to promote and validate the cultural perspectives of Black women around the world
    • I held fast to the ideology that “smart,” healthy, empowered women gave birth at home with midwives and only “sick,” scared women gave birth in hospitals with physicians
    • home birth = choice and hospital births = challenges
    • Working with the magazine, I had an opportunity to speak to many different kinds of women
    • Learned that some women were having healthy, safe, empowered and successful births in hospitals too — what made the difference was the level of involvement or choice
    • I learned that it doesn’t have to be polar opposites
    • Home birth is not for everyone but having choice can empower birth outcomes for families even in a hospital
    • NEW VIEWS: Hospitals like TSH are promoting that they are open to Family-Centered Care
    • Women and their families can benefit from having options, benefits also roll over to staff and overall view of hospital
    • Example: a birth plan helps to address issues and opens dialogue between pregnant mothers and caregivers
    • A birthplan also takes pressure off staff: the hospital is note solely responsible for successful birth outcomes
    • Example: Cultural ideals can be good ideas that staff can learn and pass on to other patients
    • Culture doesn’t happen in a vacuum
    • We all want to belong; not check our culture at the hospital door
    • In childbirth, we may be at our most vulnerable but mothers are not monsters — we can actually be reasonable
    • Example: I like to eat barley porridge right after giving birth. I don’t expect to get that in the hospital cafeteria BUT is the hospital open to having a family member bring some for me? Let’s work together.
    • When a mother is relaxed, happy and confident, we get better outcomes, better births, less snapping at nurses and bad attitudes
    • The input of relatives is validated, helps mother, speeds healing
    • The birth experience, whether hospital or home, set the tone for future attitudes about childbearing and child-raising
    • I am on Baby Number Four, so I know that there’s some truth to this

    Nicole Osbourne James

So I heard on the news that cold medicines are being recalled because they aren’t good for infants and young children. I’ll tell you who already knew that: my great-grandmother (and she didn’t have to hear about it on CNN). I remember all of those down-home remedies that many of us scorned when we were younger: herbs, honey, soup, ginger, garlic, massage with “Chinese Oil,” you name it. Now these same remedies are the ones that mainstream culture is promoting! Wow.

I’m curious: what do you do for your children when they have colds? Or what tricks have you learned in your family to treal an illness? I’m curious…and so are our BWAC readers. Please leave your comments and take our poll.

Watching TV this afternoon, I really paid attention to that new commercial from Gardasil. “What would you do to protect yourself?” The main thing being to get a PAP test and get vaccinated against cervical cancer. Good advice I suppose. I have heard commercials being played ceaselessly on our local urban radio station (I haven’t heard so many on non-urban stations) encouraging young girls to get themselves vaccinated to protect against cervical cancer. I thought this might be a good place to discuss some of the other risk factors of cervical cancer that we can encourage our daughters and young women in our community to AVOID — instead of seeing vaccination as the be-all and end-all of our cervical health. We have more control than we think:

Risk factors for cervical cancer include:

  • becoming sexually active at a young age
    Young women are more susceptible to HPV infection since the cells of the cervix are undergoing rapid change at puberty.
  • having many sexual partners
    Women who have many partners or who have sex with partners who have had many partners, have a greater chance of getting HPV.
  • HIV infection
    The immune system of a woman infected with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) is less able to fight both the human papillomavirus and early cancers.
  • having a weakened immune system
    Immunocompromised women with chronic fatigue syndrome, women who have had organ transplants and women who are taking steroids are less able to fight HPV infection.
  • smoking
    Smoking appears to be a cofactor with HPV in causing dysplasia, which may progress to cervical cancer.

Let’s talk about these things too. Gardasil may not be talking about them (why discuss risk factors when you only have a few minutes to promote your product) but we can talk about them in our own families and communities. Any thoughts?

Editorial – Black Woman and Child ( Spring-Summer 2008 )

You don’t have to look too far these days to find tips, suggestions, programs and movements dedicated to “saving” the planet – most with good reason and good intention. But another environmental strategy, growing in popularity, smacks of a sinister agenda that has existed for generations and continues to recreate itself. That is the issue of Population Control.

According to groups like the Sierra Club (an environmental organization founded in 1892), the Population Institute (established in 1969 to address “population issues”) and the well-known Planned Parenthood (a “women’s health” organization founded in 1916) – overpopulation is responsible for a laundry list of social problems, including infant mortality, famine, poverty and, more recently, global warming and most forms of environmental damage. However, this perspective becomes suspect when most of these birth control efforts are aimed at poor women and women of colour. The so-called “Third World” women. Women very similar to you and me.

Some people (you probably know them) are always looking for someone to blame. In times of economic or employment crisis, they blame the immigrants – people like us. In today’s environmental crisis, they blame overpopulation – of people like us. They don’t blame the excessive lifestyle of Western waste.

The populaton control agenda gives these same people an excuse to advance white supremacist values over human rights. Environmentalists promote the ideology that there is a “perfect population” that the Earth can support. Not surprisingly, “perfection” goes beyond numbers – it’s about race and ethnicity too! In addition to birth control policy, this belief has impacted immigation, welfare policy, criminal law and sentencing, the treatment of First Nations groups, decisions of war and political intervention. Black women around the world have long endured forced sterilizations, illegal abortions and foreign aid with strings attached in pursuit of this “perfect population.”

In short, population control translates into a healthier planet and better living conditions for wealthy, non-melanated people and the children they are encouraged to have. It has not escaped my attention that Essence displays full-page advertisements for every imaginable birth control system while white-oriented mainstream magazines discuss fertility issues and advertise ovulation predictor kits.

In her academic paper, “Population Control and Environmental Protection: Misplaced Coercion,” Jennifer Simpson reveals the scandalous practices often tied to birth control programs: “Oral contraceptives, IUDs, Norplant and Depo-Provera, have been administered in less-developed countries even when they have been banned or untested in developed countries.”

And while our reproductive efforts are being discouraged, the fertility industry is booming. According to Dorothy Roberts, author of Killing the Black Body: “The multiple births that result from these technologies point to the contradiction of a public not willing to pay the expenses of one additional child born to a welfare mother, yet willing to support seven children born to a white couple.”

Thinking about population and the environment means not thinking about the far-reaching after-shocks of slavery and colonialism. It means ignoring corporate pollution. It means not thinking about the environmental effects of military misbehaviour. It means not talking about land redistribution. Or developing a worldwide clean water system or accessible health services for everybody.

So rather than talk population problems, let’s talk environmental solutions. Let’s even dare to implement changes that impact the affluent lifestyles that are posing the real problems on this planet.

In my opinion (and I am not alone), these people argue for population control because they don’t want to share. We could all live comfortably if we worked at equitable distribution of food, land, water, money and other basic needs. It’s not a population problem. We have a consumption problem.

How can food supply be an issue in a world where food is mass-produced, packaged, and discarded after the expiry date or left to spoil? Is water an issue? Let’s limit water supply to only a few hours a day – outside of North America, many of us are used to that. Drive less, or not at all. Give up foreign fruits and vegetables. Put real money into development projects in countries where workers and resources have been exploited.

Why not focus on sharing and sustainability rather than obsess over who is having how many children? For me, the bottom line is: Talk to me about population control when we’ve exhausted all other options.

Nicole Osbourne James

[Click on the heading to post your comments.]

Thank you to all of you who came out last Saturday to support What’s Up Down There at the Women’s Health Matters forum and expo. Can I tell you that the room was PACKED? It was thrilling to see so many sistahs ready to show and prove that, as Black women, we have our own way of dealing with health issues and our own culture around the discussion itself.

The only drawback was that we clearly did not have enough time. Half an hour is NOT long enough for us to get a true meeting of the minds going on. There was a lot of interest in having us come back to the forum for more time next year. If you would like to have the opportunity to connect again with Black Woman and Child at this forum, send an email to

And there’s more on the horizon for What’s Up Down There so stay tuned. Get in touch with us – you can send us an email at if you are not already on our mailing list.

And a special thank you to Jacquie Cohen for the pictures:

WUDT – 1 and WUDT – 2

This morning (at 6:30AM while the rest of the household sleeps), I am up working on my presentation for What’s Up Down There at the Women’s Health Matters forum next Saturday (January 19 at 12 noon, shameless plug, OK sue me). Anyway, I decided to look up the spelling of the word “va-jay-jay” since one woman brought it up in our discussion group, saying she heard it on Oprah and Grey’s Anatomy. Fair enough. Having no idea what I was getting myself into, I dutifully typed it into Google…and there the fun begins!

ALL kinds of definitions, blog postings and comments are on the web about what seems to be a very offensive term. People everywhere are riled up about the issue, which seems to be that instead of using the word “vagina” on a show that is obviously for adults, TV executives have chosen to create yet another nickname for fear that viewers may be offended or turned off by the word “vagina.” Wow, even in this day and age, nothing offends like a woman’s private parts.

I found it interesting because our whole discussion around What’s Up Down There was based on the fact that a majority of African women, Black women, don’t use the word vagina but we have other names for it that are often created out of our shame, our mother’s reluctance to talk about sex or anything having to do with sex. But my assumption was that while we were mired in all this drama, White women were out there, free-wheeling and dealing, using the word “vagina” with all the comfort and freedom of an unoppressed people with no barriers, sexual or otherwise, in their perfect shampoo, hair-tossing world. It was surprising to learn that even in that world, there are hurdles to overcome when it comes to talking about our…er…um…(cough) vaginas.

Here are some recommended readings. I suggest, if you have a chance, look these over before you join us on Saturday (at 12 noon…oops, there I go again with the shameless plugs). If by some unfortunate incident (such as, you live on another continent) you can’t make it on Saturday, TALK ABOUT THIS with your friends, your mother, your daughter, somebody! Just talking about anything can make such a difference in the way we move in the world.

(By the way, if you want a FREE PASS to the forum, visit — OK, I promise, that’s the LAST one…well, for this post anyway).


Wow, I was just reviewing some newsletters we produced in 1999 and found a quotation by Susan L. Taylor. In getting ready to start the new year, I thought this would be a good piece to keep in mind:

“Stop waiting until you finish school, until you go back to school, until you lose ten pounds, until you gain ten pounds, until you have kids, until your kids leave the house, until you start work, until you retire, until you get married, until you get divorced, until Friday night, until Sunday morning, until you get a new car or home, until your car or home is paid off.

Stop waiting until spring, until summer, until fall, until winter, until you are off welfare, until the first or fifteenth, until your song comes on, until you’ve had a drink, until you’ve sobered up, until you die, until you are born again to decide that there is no better time than right now to be happy…Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” — Susan Taylor

Growing up, many people used different words to describe their “private parts” As a child, what did you call “down there?” How do you teach your children to speak about their bodies?

Please click the heading to leave your comments.

Special thanks to the seven sistahs who spoke out at the What’s Up Down There? dinner and discussion. And thanks to all the sistahs who sent in their responses to our questionnaire. Everybody is welcome to be there on Saturday 19 January 2008 for Women’s Health Matters. The What’s Up Down There? session is at 12:30PM in the Zoom Room 802. Find out more at