Friday, July 2, 2010

A long overdue Weekend Movie: Crisis in the Crib

Straight up confession right off the bat: I totally own up to being one of the bloggers that the Courtroom Mama component of The Unnecesarean (which has been sprouting new and ever more formidable heads, like a fabulous birth junkie hydra) calls out in this post on the extremely important short film by Tonya Lewis Lee, "Crisis in the Crib". As she explains the impetus for her post:

I have to admit that I put off seeing “Crisis in the Crib” for a long time. Because I knew it would be sad? Because I fancied myself some sort of expert on the issue? Because it seems so far away from my own experience? Who knows. But when Jill sent me a Google Blog Search for “Crisis in the Crib,” my heart stopped for a moment: nearly none of the blogs that I read had covered it.

We’re not talking “my indie film video store doesn’t carry Braveheart.” We’re talking about the very set of people who should be writing about infant mortality—mostly birthy blogs, feminist blogs, and mothering blogs—didn’t mention the film. Sure, there were some; for example, Elita at Blacktating did a quick hit as a part of her Happy Black Girl Day list of “black girls who understand the importance of birth autonomy, breastfeeding and natural parenting.” I don’t read All the Blogs in the World, and maybe I’m not reading the “right” stuff, but it makes me sad to know that I have 1000+ unread items in my Google Reader, probably 3/4 of those about birth or mothering, and none of them will have mentioned the film.

Lamely: I DO think I remember sharing it on Facebook (sometimes I fear that Facebook lulls us into the illusion that we're actually DOING something by hitting "share"; ahh, sedentary modern activism). But really, no contest. Guilty as charged.

So I finally got around to watching it and, as expected, I was mightily impressed. Please watch it here (not available to embed), it's only about 30 minutes and if you regret taking the time to watch it, I will personally pay you one million dollars*.

And what are my thoughts? All over the map. Emotionally hit hard by the reality of the situation, first and foremost. And yet, also conflicted about my place in addressing this.

Is it arrogant for me to speak about this? Would my thoughts on the solutions be perceived as judgments? Or is it arrogant for me to NOT address is because it's 'not my problem'? I can see how, coming from my place of acknowledged privilege, making pronouncements about what the approach to solving the problem ought to be could be way out of line. And I definitely have my own biases - Courtroom Mama sums up quite a lot of my own thought process here:
Watching “Crisis in the Crib,” I could see the water I swim in for a moment and realized that I sometimes have “birth blinders” on. I care so much about unnecessary interventions and evidence-based care that it’s tempting to look at our flagging position in rank for maternal and infant health and say “see! It’s the unnecesareans and the pitocin and the EFM!” But the truth, as the documentary shows, is more complicated.

"More complicated" is an understatement. There are just so many factors. Interventions and unnecesareans? Possibly a part of it. But there is SO much more. Prematurity? And thus health of mom when pregnant, which connects to nutrition, which connects to poverty, period? Low breastfeeding rates? Crappy maternity care? It's hard to even know where to begin.

Back to the film, I REALLY liked the emphasis on preconception health, hearing their volunteers speak forthrightly about that - and not just for the mothers, for the fathers too. It's more indirect than being the host organism, but every bit as influential in terms of the environment into which babies are brought. Spike Lee (husband of Tonya) underscored this point as he brought up a related point, the impact of absentee fathers. 7 in 10 African American households are headed by a single mother. Connect that to the impact of stress on our health, and the lack of involved fathers becomes a considerable culprit.

I also loved that they touched on treatment BY doctors, as discussed with a doctor overseeing one of the NICUs in Memphis - that even when some women do have access to health care in the first place (not always the case), assumptions about are made about her, about her lifestyle and her circumstances. My take on that is that this could alienate a mother from seeking more care (in terms of pregnancy as well as overall health) until it's dire, life-threatening stuff. This same doctor brought up the importance of the village, something that warrants much more discussion.

One criticism: I would have liked to see more attention paid to low breastfeeding rates among African Americans. In the film, unless I completely spaced out, there was almost none - you really had to be looking and listening for it (being me, of course, I was). Yes, absolutely there are many other major factors, but one of them is prematurity, and the influence of breastfeeding on preemie outcomes can't be understated. And those benefits, of course, continue to improve a baby's health (not to mention the mother's) for the duration of nursing and beyond.

Other thoughts: I'm just so impressed with Tonya Lewis Lee and her efforts. It was great to look in on a think tank of 300 health professionals, all discussing the social determinants of health. And the preconception peer counselors pounding the pavement with their direct, person-to-person outreach cast an even more glaring light on my armchair activism. Feeling my privilege. Feeling very humbled. What's my role? How do I help?

Well, one very, very small step would be getting more people to see this movie (all credit to Courtroom Mama). So this weekend, before you go see "Toy Story" or "Knight and Day" or "Eclipse", give half an hour to contemplating this issue.

*Terms: one dollar a year for a million years


  1. I, too, was surprised that breastfeeding wasn't mentioned. And yes, seeing those kids canvassing the neighborhood, urging people to attend health screenings, meeting with doctors, and high school students made me feel humbled about my armchair activism as well. The good thing is, I can tell the college students I know about this program and hopefully more kids around the country will want to get involved!


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  3. 2 pieces of information that I think need to be looked at when considering the infant mortality rate for African Americans:

    1. While African Americans make up only 17% of live births, they make up more than 36% of abortions

    2. Abortion has been linked to an increased chance of future children being born prematurely.,8599,1695927,00.html

    Not trying to place blame, but if women are being lied to that an abortion will not affect plans of future children, don't they have a right to know??