Category: Women’s Words

There is a saying that mothers love their sons and raise their daughters. This perspective is evident in the way that girls grow into women. For all the ceremonial culture that we lost when we were ripped from the Motherland, women still maintained a strong foundation of social and even physical rites of passage to build on.

As girls, we learn hard life lessons. In our families and in society, whether good or bad, we have clear definitions of what it means to be a woman. We follow the Mother Figure in the home. Our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts and the women in our community ALWAYS talk about what it means to be a woman. Keep your head up and your dress down. Books before boys. Cook a pot of rice and pick the peas properly. You got your period? Don’t be bringing no babies up in here. Keep a clean house and sweep the yard. Do well in school. Iron your clothes. Get a good job. Always have on a clean panty — you might get into an accident. Keep your weave tight and your nails fly. Get your own money. Get that man’s money. Whatever it is, every family has its own values but it’s always clear.

So, for girls, the opportunity is there to rebuild Rites of Passage, the more structured and ceremonial side of becoming a woman. And what about the boys? What ideas do you have around using a structured Rites of Passage system to teach our children how to be women and men? If you know of any resources, please also post them here.

In the News: Black is coming back! Share your ideas for the Black Woman and Child magazine relaunch at

BWAC is coming back!


CB106362Black Woman and Child is in the process of developing a pre-natal program for women who are 12 weeks or further along in their pregnancies. We need your input! Did YOU ever attend a pre-natal program? What did you think or feel about it? Did the program help to prepare you for childbirth and parenting? Did it have an impact on the kind of parent that you are today? After the program, did you have any additional contact, bonds, with the other parents who participated? Please post your comments here or send to Your feedback is greatly appreciated so thank you in advance!

  • 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.

This is a public service information request. In the Winter 2009 edition of Black Woman and Child magazine (November 2009), we are working on a piece about blended families. Meaning, he has a child from a previous relationship, maybe you have a child as well. And now that you are together, maybe you have more children together. How is it working for you? Are you able to balance the needs of the children, previous partners, grandparents, society and, if you’re lucky, yourselves? Are you happy? Do you have any advice for others in a similar situation? Is there anything that you wish you could do differently? Please share. Your comments could go a long way in supporting one of our readers — and, if you are interested, you could even be one of our featured families for the article. Let us know where you live; our goal is always to go global as much as possible. If you don’t want to use your real name, just don’t.

To find out more about BWAC, visit

Project Butterfly Book by Niambi Jaha-Echols

Project Butterfly Book by Niambi Jaha-Echols

Now available from the Black Woman and Child Mama’s Market:

  • Project Butterfly: Supporting Young Women and Girls Through the Transitions of Life – a great book written by Niambi Jaha-Echols.
  • Also available – the corresponding write-in workbook.

Niambi made a great presentation at the recent Family, Culture and Lifestyle Show in Toronto on June 28. Exerts from her speech will be posted here on Blog Woman and Child. Stay tuned.

To get your own copies, visit the Black Woman and Child Mama’s Market at

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.]

Last night I was reading (re-reading for probably the millionth time) Pearl Cleage’s book “Mad at Miles” where she talks about her personal struggle, loving the music of Miles Davis knowing that he was a proud and self-confessed woman beater. Two quotes from the book really stand out for me:

Miles Davis Album“I wonder how much good all those poems about beautiful African queens can do in the face of a backhand slap across the mouth and a merciless rape in the bedroom of your own house.” (p. 2)

“Can we make love to the rhythm of ‘a little early Miles’ when he may have spent the morning of the day he recorded the music slapping one of our sisters in the mouth? Can we continue to celebrate the genius in the face of the monster?” (p. 19)

QUESTION: Is the music separate from the personal behaviour of the person? Rappers are being hauled up on gun crimes every day, R&B crooners are doing the dirty with underage girls and drugs are a rampant part of the industry. How do you feel about the music when you know about the artists’ personal lives?

I admit it: I am still struggling with R. Kelly – do YOU see something wrong with a little Bump and Grind? Help me out here people!

Click on the heading to leave 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).