Archive for the ‘Our Bodies Ourselves’ Category

March 18, 2014

Experts Discuss Women’s Health Movement and Healthcare Reform

“We are a very rich country, but we have rationed healthcare in a way that is unconscionable.”

Judy Norsigian, Our Bodies Ourselves co-founder and executive director, doesn’t hold back in this March 6 discussion on women’s health with Sonia Pressman Fuentes, National Organization for Women (NOW) co-founder.

Luz Corcuera, program director of Healthy Start Coalition of Manatee, Fla., hosts the dynamic conversation, which covers the history of the women’s health movement and the founding of Our Bodies Ourselves and NOW, as well as current healthcare issues, the effect of poverty on health, and more.

At about half-way in, Fuentes talks about joining the the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the late 1960s and being the first female lawyer in the general counsel’s office, where she encountered reluctance to enforce the sex discrimination aspect of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Fuentes wasn’t an activist at the time, but as one of the few women at the Commission, she found herself frequently in the position of representing women’s interests.

“Whenever an issue came up, I always said, ‘Well what about sex discrimination?’ So my boss, the general counsel, took to calling me a sex maniac because I always raised the issue of sex discrimination.”

The whole interview is well-worth watching. Thanks to Manatee Educational TV in Florida for hosting the conversation!

January 31, 2014

Your Ad Here: Help Our Bodies Ourselves Advertise in The Boston Globe!

Boston Globe GRANT program

Can you imagine if Our Bodies Ourselves took out an ad in The Boston Globe? We could announce the launch of our new website (coming soon!) and the important work OBOS is doing to develop and promote accurate information about girls’ and women’s sexual and reproductive health!

If you’re a Boston Globe subscriber, print or digital, you can help make that ad a reality — and it won’t cost a thing.

All subscribers are being sent an email or letter — look for the silver envelope — from the Globe about its new GRANT program (Globe Readers and Non-Profits Together), which enables readers to select a group to receive free advertising in the Globe.

Please write in the name of Our Bodies Ourselves on the GRANT gift check so we can inform the public about our valuable programs in the United States and abroad. And encourage friends and family members to do the same!

Boston Globe GRANT programSeven-day newspaper subscribers’ vouchers are valued at $100; all other subscribers (including web-only readers) have been sent vouchers valued at $50. Nonprofits will be given free advertising space based on the total amount readers allocate.

The deadline for submissions is March 1, 2014. If you are a subscriber and did not get a silver envelope or have misplaced yours, please email customer service (, or call the Globe (617-929-3198) to get another one.

Other questions? Here’s a FAQ for subscribers.

Thank you so much from all of us at OBOS!

December 30, 2013

Want the Facts About Women’s Health?

"Our Bodies, Ourselves" Goes to Washington

Members of Congress received copies of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” in 2013.

When people hear that I write for Our Bodies Ourselves, they often share stories of their first encounter with the book. Time and again, people credit “Our Bodies, Ourselves” with helping them to better understand their own bodies, empowering them to make choices for their own health, and alerting them to political issues and sexism around women’s health.

All of us at OBOS absolutely love hearing these stories, from long-time supporters and new readers alike.

If you’re reading this post, though, you already know that Our Bodies Ourselves is more than a book. This blog is where we provide information on current research and public policy, and promote action alerts and responses to health topics making news. Along with our outreach on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms, this is where we publish crucial updates between book editions, and where we dive deeper into important topics.

Your contributions to Our Bodies Ourselves support the work we do here on the blog, and so much more.

Earlier this year, thanks to you, we delivered copies of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to every member of Congress, capping off the Educate Congress road trip and campaign, inspired by the epically misinformed Todd Akin. In 2014, we will educate more policy makers at the state level, and expand access access to “Our Bodies, Ourselves” on college campuses and health clinics across the country.

Plans for the new year also include a brand new website and boosting coverage of important topics like contraceptionpregnancy and childbirthbody imageabortion and reproductive rights, and politics.

When the first edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” was published, the organization couldn’t have imagined the impact of new technologies on women’s health. Today, we’re covering complex advances such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast cancer gene patents, reviews of mammography guidelines and methods, and updates on assisted reproductive technology (ART) services, and we’re advocating for a database to track the health of young women providing eggs for those using ART.

In conjunction with our global partners, OBOS is also working to address the health and rights of women serving as paid gestational mothers in domestic and cross-border commercial surrogacy arrangements.

The work of Our Bodies Ourselves continues in books and beyond. All of us at OBOS would like to thank each and every one of you for reading, sharing, and supporting this valuable work.

We hope you will consider a year-end donation to Our Bodies Ourselves to help ensure that we can continue to provide much-needed information and analysis, and share it with readers around the globe.

Tibetan nuns reading "Our Bodies, Ourselves"

Tibetan nuns reading “Our Bodies, Ourselves”

December 24, 2013

Striving for Gender Equity: My Journey to Armenia

Dilijan Armenia workshop Oct 2013

Judy Norsigian and Dr. Meri Khachikyan, coordinator of the Armenian edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” present organizers with copies of the book.

Looking back on 2013, one of the highlights for me was a trip to Armenia where I spoke about gender equity and witnessed a dozen young women organizing around the lack of sexuality education in their community.

I was a featured speaker at a discussion on “Promoting Gender Equity and Breaking Gender Stereotypes,” hosted by the American University of Armenia (AUA), the Women’s Support Center in Yerevan, and the Armenian International Women’s Association. Dr. Bruce Boghosian, AUA president, and Dr. Meri Khachikyan, coordinator of the Armenian “Our Bodies, Ourselves” translation/adaptation project, attended, along with students, faculty, Peace Corps volunteers, and NGO staff and directors,

Domestic violence is a major concern in this small country — as it is in all of the countries where OBOS has global partners. As part of OBOS’s efforts to encourage men’s engagement in violence prevention, we connected a young man on the AUA panel with staff at Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, which provided him with slides about the role men can play in stopping violence.

Another concern addressed by panelists was the growing problem of sex-selective abortion in Armenia (also common in the neighboring countries of Georgia and Azerbaijan). Approximately 115 boys are born for every 100 girls; only China has a more skewed rate.

Following the AUA event, I attended several meetings with members of groups involved in the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Women in Armenia. In a country where government officials and church leaders have at times endorsed or congratulated those committing homophobic and sexist acts of violence, these courageous activists have been known to disrupt high-level meetings to draw attention to women’s and LGBT rights in Armenia.

I also traveled to rural Dilijan with Dr. Khachikyan, where I witnessed the initial organizing efforts of about a dozen young women (and one young man) concerned about the lack of sexuality education in their conservative community. They came up with several excellent ideas about meeting venues that would be safe spaces for young women, as well as ideas for outreach via social media, and were ready to take on problematic cultural practices.

For example, many parents of young women still do a “check the bed for blood” test after a newly married couple spends its first night together, looking for signs their daughter remained a virgin before marriage. If they find blood, they take a basket of red apples to the groom’s parents to acknowledge the young woman’s “purity.” Plastic surgeons now do a brisk business with hymen reconstruction in many parts of the country, even though this is technically illegal.

Despite the numerous issues women face in Armenia, the intergenerational advocacy and critical support provided by a number of European and American funders contribute to the continued growth of a grassroots movement that will improve the health and well-being of women and girls.

Before leaving, Dr. Khachikyan presented each of the young organizers with their own copy of the latest Armenian edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” I was moved by their enthusiasm — as I have been so many times when talking with women about how the book changed their lives.

Plus: Earlier this year, Taleen K. Moughamian, a women’s health nurse practitioner in Philadelphia, wrote about her experience providing health services in Armenia. Learn more about OBOS’s partner in Armenia, “For Family and Health” Pan Armenian Association (PAFHA), and efforts to adapt and distribute women’s health information based on “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” The preface to the Armenian edition is available in English.

December 19, 2013

Cross-Border Surrogacy: How OBOS is Advancing Public Discourse and Action

Women's Rehabilitation Center facilitators in Kathmandu

Women’s Rehabilitation Center facilitators lead community discussions on cross-border surrogacy in Kathmandu / Photo courtesy of WOREC

by Ayesha Chatterjee & Sally Whelan

In an episode that aired on primetime television in 2007, America’s favorite talk show host portrayed cross-border surrogacy as a win for everyone.

Oprah Winfrey blazed her spotlight on an American couple that traveled to a fertility clinic in the Indian city of Anand to commission a baby. In front of an audience of millions, she extolled the benefits of the arrangement for the couple, who can finally have a baby, and for the woman who is paid to become their surrogate, who can finally send her child to school. Yes, many in the audience agreed, there seem to be benefits all around!

Cross-border surrogacy is a contract-based arrangement that uses assisted reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization. It is a lucrative global industry — the heart of which beats in India — and part of a wider, multi-billion dollar market in assisted reproduction. Thousands of individuals, straight and gay, married and not, have hired surrogates to bear their children.

So who would rain on this parade? Why are there “concern trolls” raising difficult questions about a “solution” that seems a boon for everyone involved?

The answer demands a closer look at the supply side — at the lives, motivations, and vulnerabilities of the women who carry and deliver babies for others, most often to pull themselves and their families out of dire poverty. Their marginalized social and economic status creates a power imbalance that makes it impossible to negotiate dignified and fair “working” conditions and, in fact, allows recruiting agents and clinics to get away with exploitative practices.

Scratch the surface, and these arrangements are replete with health and human rights problems: gestational mothers, otherwise known as surrogates, unable to read the contractual obligations to which they consent; minimal compensation and unfair payment schedules; forced seclusion from family (including young children) and community, in dormitories with round-the-clock monitoring; high-risk medical procedures, including high doses of hormones for embryo transfer and mandated cesarean sections; and little or no postpartum follow up, even in cases of unexpected birth outcomes and health emergencies such as hemorrhage, which can occur days or weeks later with fatal results.

In the middle are the children born as a result of these arrangements. Without best practices and regulation, their rights as citizens in cross-border arrangements, their legal parentage and best interest in custody disputes, and their safety in the absence of adequate screening of commissioning parents, hang in limbo while the world catches up.

This is the untold story of cross-border surrogacy — one on which Oprah did not dwell, one that many of us – including many commissioning parents — know little about. In such a story, where the scales are tipped from the start, only one side wins. The other simply settles.

Here is another story. OBOS, with the Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC) and Sama Resource Group for Women and Health, is responding to ethical conundrums and human rights issues raised by the largely unregulated cross-border surrogacy market and its ability to adapt to lucrative regional niches.

Sama, based in India, uses action research to critically examine cross-border surrogacy practices, articulate the impact on the lives of women, and make policy recommendations. Sama and OBOS provide technical support to WOREC in Nepal as it builds awareness in its nationwide network of Women Human Rights Defenders, assesses the status of an emerging fertility sector — especially along the country’s border with India — and crafts a preemptive response.

Our goal is simple: develop evidence-based, objective and accessible information to ignite broader social dialogue and action on an issue that is layered, laden, and, most importantly, misrepresented by recruiting agents and fertility clinics.

This collaboration is a call for best practices and regulation of assisted reproduction, and a stepping stone to engaging with commissioning parents as allies who can hold the industry accountable. It embodies OBOS’s legacy of bringing important sexual and reproductive rights issues from the periphery to mainstream dialogue.

And, as policy lags behind technology and markets and the media continue to color public perception of a complex human rights dilemma, this collaboration positions us on the cutting edge to ensure cross-border surrogacy moves forward a an ethical option for growing our families and financial stability — making it a true win for everyone.

September 19, 2013

Association of Reproductive Health Professionals Honors Our Bodies Ourselves Founder Judy Norsigian

We are thrilled to announce that the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals selected Judy Norsigian, Our Bodies Ourselves co-founder and executive director, as the recipient of the 2013 Irvin M. Cushner Lectureship.

The lectureship honors a layperson, public figure, or health care professional who has raised public awareness of and inspired public policy debate about an important issue in health care. The honoree delivers a presentation at the ARHP’s 50th annual conference, which starts today in Denver.

Judy’s lecture is titled “Reproductive Health and Justice: How Our Advocacy Can Best Address Persistent Problems and New Challenges.” It addresses such issues as maternity care and abortion, medical technologies, and the use of legal strategies, public education, and outreach to policy makers and media to preserve and expand access to reproductive health and justice.

The lectureship’s namesake, Dr. Cushner, was a leader in reproductive health. Past Cushner honorees have included Dr. Jocelyn Elders, Patricia Schroeder, Carole Joffe, Henry Waxman, and Cecile Richards.

August 20, 2013

Breast Cancer, Mastectomy and Breast Implants: A 20-Year History of Images and Attitudes

CBS Sunday Morning this week aired a segment looking at breast cancer and body image, especially women’s choices around reconstructive surgery and implants.

Artist and former fashion model Matuschka, whose self-portrait on The New York Times Magazine cover 20 years ago (Aug. 15, 1993) created a shock because it displayed her mastectomy scar where her right breast had been removed, describes her reasons for creating the image — wanting to start a conversation about breast cancer — and the backlash she received from readers who thought she brought shame to women.

The moment was compared to the reaction to Angelina Jolie’s recent decision to undergo prophylactic mastectomy, and current public attitudes about women’s breasts.

OBOS Executive Director Judy Norsigian notes how moneyed interests guide what is seen as narrow beauty ideals for women, and how that affects women’s choices about reconstruction after breast cancer surgery.

“We live in a culture in which large breasts are almost universally idealized,” said Norsigian. “We’ve had at the same time a huge industry that has burgeoned to promote the idea that women must have implants.”

(It was great to hear veteran reporter Martha Teichner, in her introduction to the segment, call the ninth edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” “the now iconic guide on women’s sexual and reproductive matters, and a gauge of social attitudes.” )

The segment also includes a clip of  7-year-old girls who are interviewed in “Absolutely Safe,” a documentary that examines the popularity of breast implants among ongoing controversies about implant safety. It’s disturbing to see how thoroughly these young girls have already received the message that bigger breasts are better and attract more attention.

Another resource mentioned is The Scar Project, a series of photographs displaying the bodies and scars of breast cancer survivors. The project generated some controversy earlier this year when Facebook began removing and banning some of the photos for allegedly violating Facebook’s policies on nudity; more details are provided in these posts at the Scar Project blog.

July 22, 2013

Night Sweats: A Memoir on an Unplanned Pregnancy

Librarian Laura Crossett has just published a memoir of her unplanned pregnancy, “Night Sweats: An Unexpected Pregnancy.”

I’d recommend it on the merits alone, but here’s another reason: Laura is donating half of her proceeds from book sales to Our Bodies Ourselves.

Crossett describes her experience as a 35-year-old single woman — one month into a relationship and six months into a new job — facing a very unplanned pregnancy.

As the book description notes, her predicament is not uncommon, though her story is:

Almost half the pregnancies that occur in the United States each year are unplanned. Some of them happen to married women, some to unmarried; some occur due to failure to use contraception; some due to contraceptive failure. Some happen to women who hope one day to have children; some to women who never wanted children at all.

In a political climate that polarizes around issues of sexuality and choice and a popular culture that glamorizes pregnancy and fetishizes motherhood, we rarely hear the stories of women who did not seek to become pregnant. Night Sweats is one of them.

Despite the serious nature of her situation, there are some really funny bits in “Night Sweats” that made me chuckle. Discussing how pregnancy books assume certain kinds of family structures and access to resources, Crossett writes: “It’s like 1952 in pregnancy books, only with organic baby food and no BPA.”

The book is structured around the church year of the Episcopal Church, but if you are unfamiliar with its traditions (as I am), it’s not confusing (or preachy). Crossett is very straightforward about considering abortion when she learned of her pregnancy, and it’s interesting to explore her thought process.

We know that more than 70 percent of women seeking abortions are religious, but we don’t always get to hear these everyday stories amid the political rhetoric around the procedure.

You can purchase “Night Sweats” directly from Crossett if you happen to be in the Iowa City area, or you can buy it online:

In the acknowledgements, Crossett cites “Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth,” along with Ina May’s “Guide to Childbirth,”as “the best books” she has read on the subject.

During an email exchange, Crossett expanded on her appreciation for OBOS’s approach: “I picked up the ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves Pregnancy and Childbirth’ book (I’ve always been a fan of OBOS), and there, finally, was a book that never made an assumption. It talked about planned and unplanned pregnancies and people of color and GLBTQ people and people with mental illness and addiction and people who’d been raped and people with partners and people without — it was just so great.”

Learn more about and read excerpts from OBOS’s “Pregnancy and Birth,” or order it online for yourself or in bulk for health clinics or groups providing health-counseling services (there’s a steep discount!). Finally, if you’re interested in directly supporting our work, please make a donation online!

July 8, 2013

Lessons Learned: Why Midwives Should Matter to Everyone

by Eliza Duggan

eliza duggan“Interesting! … What’s that?”

This is the typical response I received when I told people, especially my peers, that I was writing my senior thesis on midwifery. I became accustomed to saying, “I’m writing on midwifery — midwives,” since most people have at least heard the term “midwife.”

The initial lack of knowledge was discouraging; however, the best parts of my project were the conversations that followed. The more I researched and wrote on midwifery, the more it became clear to me that not only are young people interested in birth and midwifery, but this knowledge could be vital to our futures.

As The New York Times recently reported, U.S. maternity care is the costliest in the world. And yet according to the 2010 World Health Statistics, we rank behind dozens of countries when it comes to such benchmarks as maternal, neonatal and infant mortality rates.

A Times follow-up story on the lack of insurance coverage for midwifery care notes that “in many European countries, midwives attend to most pregnancies, often in clinics, resulting in maternity charges that are a fraction of those in the United States.”

Growing up in a small town in Maine, a place where midwives are well known and well respected in the community, I have always been familiar with home birth. Even with this experience, I did not really think about the political complexity of midwifery, nor the unique position that midwifery holds in relatively rural areas like mid-coast Maine, until I moved away.

I went to Boston for college, and in 2011 I took an internship with the women’s advocacy organization Our Bodies Ourselves. For one of the projects I worked on, I promoted midwifery legislation in Massachusetts that aims to expand the rights of nurse-midwives and license and regulate home birth midwives. The bill didn’t pass then, but it has been reintroduced in the 2013-2014 session.

The more I dove into the issue, however, the more I became surprised at the ambivalent and sometimes even hostile reception to the very idea of midwifery. I had assumed that the famously liberal citizens of Massachusetts would generally have the same attitude towards midwives and home birth that I had. When brainstorming ideas for my senior honors thesis at Boston College, I was compelled to investigate this issue further.

In the fall of 2012, I began doing extensive research on the history of midwifery and how it had become so marginalized in Massachusetts. I interviewed countless home birth midwives, nurse-midwives, childbirth educators, public health experts, and consumers in order to gauge attitudes toward maternity care in Massachusetts.

One of the most troubling things that I found was not only were few people interested in this issue, but the vast majority of people who were involved already had children. Most people my age were unfamiliar with midwives and the topic of childbirth as a whole.

This isn’t surprising; we’re usually not encouraged to consider how we feel about childbirth until we or someone we know becomes pregnant, so often we don’t have a clear sense of our options or knowledge about the process. After getting over their initial discomfort, my friends and classmates became intensely curious about childbirth, and most of them had lots of questions.

While working on my thesis, I realized that there is a need for discussion about childbirth before pregnancy. We need to know our options so we can make informed decisions about how we want our children to be brought into the world — and so we can support public policies that are best for mothers and babies.

This, I believe, should be an easy fix. The countless conversations I had with my peers have shown that pregnancy and birth are interesting topics, and young men and women are eager for accurate information, too.

Eliza Duggan is a 2013 graduate of Boston College, where she majored in English and women’s studies. Her time at OBOS and her thesis work inspired her to pursue women’s advocacy. She will be a first-year law student at the University of California at Berkeley Law School in the fall.

May 23, 2013

Adapting “Our Bodies, Ourselves” for Iranian and Vietnamese Women and Girls

Friends of the Vietnamese OBOS project

Committed friends of the Vietnamese OBOS project Susan Bailey (left) and Roslyn Feldberg and Nancy Hammett (right), join Project Director Khuat Thu Hong (center) and OBOS’s Judy Norsigian and Sally Whelan.

The Our Bodies Ourselves Global Network is a dynamic coalition of social change organizations, all of whom talk the talk and walk the walk when it comes to the health and human rights of women and girls.

This year, OBOS welcomes two new partners into its growing network.

The Roshan Institute for Persian Studies, in collaboration with the Department of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, is adapting sections of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” into Farsi. This is a critical effort to reach Iranian women and girls, especially those living in Iran and routinely subjected to oppression and censorship, both by government and other forces.

Fatemeh Keshavarz, director of the Institute, told OBOS that the Farsi resource, which will be available online, will lead the Institute’s effort to integrate gender into a broader social change framework.

“We have so far been an academic institution with a fairly small reach,” said Keshavarz. “I am trying to expand our reach to Persian speakers across the globe, particularly inside Iran, mostly through the internet. I am also adding gender to the range of lenses we have used for understanding and instigating social change. The current project is one of the very first steps in that direction.”

Further away, in Vietnam, OBOS is working with the Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS) in Hanoi to provide nearly 3 million women and girls evidence-based, culturally appropriate information based on Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Toolkits with discussion guides, stories and proposed actions will cover such topics as relationships and sexuality, sexual health and reproductive choices, bodies and identities, and post-reproductive years. ISDS will use the resources in trainings across the country, and tap a large, close-knit collaborative network that spans the provinces to maximize print and digital access. One of ISDS’s allies, the Vietnamese Women Union, has 13 million members.

The timing and impact of our Vietnamese partnership are critical. The UNFPA reports that about half the country’s population is under 25, with high rates of unplanned pregnancies, abortions and HIV infection. Yet condom use is low, and young people are continually exposed to inaccurate and misleading information.

In a country where nearly 38 percent of the population subsists on less that $2 a day, millions of poor and rural Vietnamese women and girls are unable to pay for reliable information and services. Access is further limited by the lack of capacity and neglect exhibited by state agencies overseeing sexual health education. A strong response is needed — and the ISDS is well positioned and equipped to lead the way.

Established in 2002, the ISDS is renowned in Vietnam for the quality of its research and ability “to inform as well as influence,” as it applies academic knowledge to meet national challenges. At the community level, the ISDS is strongly rooted in the philosophy of “knowledge as power,” and has successfully adopted an approach that keeps women and girls front and center as it builds public awareness around gender, sexuality and sexual health.

With support in place from Oxfam Novib, the Dutch affiliate of Oxfam, ISDS and OBOS are responding to a growing health crisis in Vietnam. In November 2012, Khuat Thu Hong, ISDS co-director and director of the adaptation project, met with OBOS staff and a circle of committed friends in Boston to formalize our partnership and launch the project.

OBOS is honored to collaborate with ISDS and the Roshan Insitute to bring Our Bodies, Ourselves to Vietnamese and Iranian women and girls. These projects speak to the urgent need for evidence-based, culturally appropriate health resources – and underscore our commitment to ensuring the health and human rights of all women and girls.

Ayesha Chatterjee is the OBOS Global Initiative program manager.

May 22, 2013

Supporting Women – At Home and Around the World

First in an occasional series by OBOS staff about their work and their lives.

Ayesha and her daughter, Tara

Ayesha and her daughter, Tara

I was welcomed into the Our Bodies Ourselves family in January 2006, soon after I moved to Boston from India. As a die-hard reproductive justice advocate (and unabashed “Our Bodies, Ourselves” fan), I was euphoric to join the team.

The OBOS Global Initiative, which supports women’s organizations developing and using culturally specific materials based on “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” offered the perfect opportunity to weave together my commitment to women’s rights and cross-cultural movement building.

Eight years later, I have helped shepherd the development of resources based on “Our Bodies, Ourselves” in 12 additional languages (with more in development), and coalesced a global network of social change activists.

I have been privileged to meet, learn from, and grow to love this group of women, each on the frontline of human rights work in her country. I know that OBOS’s partnerships with these visionary and tenacious leaders represent a community of shared interests that is pivotal to protecting the lives of women and girls on the ground.

Beyond OBOS, I nurture my decade-long love affair with reproductive justice by supporting families with newborns. As a postpartum doula trained by DONA International, the oldest and largest doula association in the world, and young mum (and as a child who benefitted enormously from the loving arms of extended family), I am personally affected by and committed to changing the state of postpartum care in the United States — one mummy at a time!

My doula-ing started rather unexpectedly and informally in 2009, with the birth of my niece. Though I have always been acutely aware of the growing global crisis in maternal and postpartum care through my work overseas and at OBOS, being with my sister and her family during and after the birth was transformative — the proverbial eye-opener. I quickly became aware of the awesomeness of their task; a task that really does take a village.

At the time, my goal was simple: to love and provide everything my sister and her partner needed to stay nourished and focused on their baby and each other. From hot meals and daily grocery runs, to endless loads of laundry and late-night, sleepy-eyed banter to keep my sister awake (and laughing) through yet another round of pumping, I did my best and loved (nearly) every moment of it.

OBOS, with its four-decade journey and networks of women’s health activists, has connected me with women who, like me, are drawn to the sides of expectant and new mothers. With these relationships, I am now gaining stride in my doula-clogs.

I thank the families that have let me into their homes and lives; I am honored and humbled by their trust. As OBOS expands its global reach, I thank the women who have become our steadfast co-conspirators in a collective struggle. I am inspired by the fire in their bellies.

And to all of you: I thank you for cheering us on and hope you will remain our committed partners as we plough ahead, forging a global community where women live without fear, with dignity, wrought as a fundamental human right.

Ayesha Chatterjee is the OBOS Global Initiative program manager.

May 20, 2013

“Educate Congress” Accomplished: Every Member Now Has a Copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves”

Our Bodies, Ourselves Goes to Washington

Every member of Congress has pages of accurate information on women’s health at their fingertips – more than 900 pages to be exact – now that they have the latest edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”

Thanks to supporters of OBOS’s Educate Congress campaign – inspired by a road trip to deliver “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to then-Rep. Todd Akin – we hand-delivered or mailed the newest edition and a letter signed by prominent health policy experts to all members of the U.S. House and Senate.

Educate Congress launched with a simple premise: Everyone deserves access to accurate information concerning women’s reproductive and sexual health – especially those who write the laws.

Deliveries began Feb. 28, when I spent the day meeting with members on Capitol Hill. It was the day that the House finally passed the Violence Against Women Act, which made the trip particularly poignant.

Joining me were Christy Turlington Burns, founder of Every Mother Counts (EMC), and Erin Thornton, EMC executive director. We collaborated on scheduling and delivered EMC materials along with “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” including a special petition for women members of Congress congratulating them on their leadership role and asking them to affirm support of policies that protect the health and well-being of girls and women around the world, especially those that will reduce infant and maternal mortality rates.

Two National Women’s Health Network (NWHN) interns, Alysson Reddy and Grace Adofoli, provided invaluable logistics support and shoulder-bag transport of the rather hefty copies of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” We received warm receptions not only from those who know the book and OBOS’s work, but also from members who want to be better prepared to address key reproductive health concerns.

Our first meeting was with Rep. Jim McGovern (MA), a consistent advocate of evidence-based policies. Christy and Erin presented a copy of EMC’s excellent documentary about maternal mortality, “No Woman, No Cry.”

Alysson and Grace helped me walk the corridors of three House office buildings in record time, with stops in the offices of Representatives Adam Kinzinger (IL), Steven Horsford (NV), Gary Peters (MI), Kay Granger (TX), Betty McCollum (MN), Chellie Pingree (ME), Michael Capuano (MA), Marsha Blackburn (TN), James Clyburn (SC), Jackie Speier (CA), Nita Lowey (NY), Anne Kirkpatrick (AZ), Joseph Kennedy (MA), and Cheri Bustos (IL).

The day ended on the Senate side, with visits to Senators Jeanne Shaheen (NH) and Elizabeth Warren (MA). Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women and Families (NRCWF), joined me in discussing women’s health with Sen. Warren and her chief of staff, Mindy Myers.

Time was running short, so Allyson and Grace returned later that week to deliver books and letters to Senators Mitch McConnell (KY), Rob Portman (OH), Carl Levin (MI), Mark Begich (AK) Charles Grassley (IA), Pat Toomey (PA), Jeff Flake (AZ), and Christopher Coons (DE).

OBOS has already received personal thank-you notes from several members of Congress who indicated that the book will be a useful resource. We’re confident it will be of value to staff members working on policy issues.

If you visit the D.C. office of your representative or senator in the coming months, let us know if you get a chance to ask about how “Our Bodies, Ourselves” might have been referenced. Establishing sound, science-based policy about reproductive health is no easy feat, but it will be all the more likely if each of us finds ways to promote this goal.

OBOS will continue to monitor where information interventions are needed. Please help fund our efforts to send books to state legislators, educational leaders, and other public officials.

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Photo, clockwise: EMC’s Erin Thornton and Christy Turlington Burns, Rep. Gary Peters, OBOS’s Judy Norsigian, and NWNH interns Alysson Reddy and Grace Adofoli; Judy and Christy with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen; Judy, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and NRCWF’s Diana Zuckerman; Rep. Chellie Pingree; Judy and Christy with Rep. Jim McGovern (center). 

March 15, 2013

Our Bodies Ourselves Heads to Austin and Chicago With “Absolutely Safe”

Absolutely Safe

Hey Austin and Chicago! Judy Norsigian, founder and executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves, and film director Carol Ciancutti-Leyva are heading to your cities to host a screening and discussion of the acclaimed documentary “Absolutely Safe,” examining the controversy over breast implant safety. The screenings are free and open to the public.

The Austin event kicks off at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19, at the University of Texas at Austin AVAYA Auditorium (ACE 2.302).

The Chicago screening takes place on Thursday, March 21, at 5:30 p.m. at the UIC School of Public Health auditorium. Registration is requested by UIC.

Interested in learning more about OBOS’s work and women’s health issues? Attend a private house party with Judy Norsigian in Austin (Monday, March 18) or in Chicago (Wednesday, March 20), where she’ll be joined by Christine Cupaiuolo, managing editor of the 2011 edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” To learn more about these special events, email office AT or call (617) 245-0200 x10. 

Here’s more about this unforgettable film; also read what Ciancutti-Leyva wrote about why and how she undertook this project. Hope you’ll join us in person!

Absolutely Safe screenshot

At a time when more women than ever are getting breast implants, fewer voices than ever seem to be asking “Why?” And fewer still are asking “Are they safe?” ABSOLUTELY SAFE takes an open-minded, personal approach to the controversy over breast implant safety. Ultimately, ABSOLUTELY SAFE is the story of everyday women who find themselves and their breasts in the tangled and confusing intersection of health, money, science and beauty.

At its heart, ABSOLUTELY SAFE is driven by the experience of the filmmaker’s own mother. Diagnosed in 1974 with breast tumors, Audrey Ciancutti underwent a double mastectomy with silicone-implant reconstruction surgery. A year later, her implants ruptured, and soon after, her health steadily declined. Like thousands of other women, Audrey believes her debilitating illnesses—joint pain, chronic fatigue, scleroderma — are linked to her breast implants; however, most doctors and researchers deny this link. Among the debate by plastic surgeons, toxicologists, attorneys, implant manufacturers, whistle blowers, government officials and activists, ABSOLUTELY SAFE introduces more everyday women like Audrey who make choices about their breasts in our appearance driven culture.

March 13, 2013

Women’s History: The New York Times Reviews “Our Bodies, Ourselves”

Our Bodies, Ourselves 1973 cover

Forty years ago today, The New York Times reviewed “Our Bodies, Ourselves” under the headline “Thinking About the Thinkable.”

It’s fascinating to see how the book was received in the mainstream press — and, in this case, how one of the most prominent book reviewers of the late 20th century, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, approached the text.

I admit I was surprised to see his byline when I looked up the review, after being alerted to the anniversary on Twitter via @Feministory.

Lehmann-Haupt was the senior daily book reviewer for the Times back then, a position he held from 1969 to 2001. But as he acknowledges up front, you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see the first women’s health book of its kind reviewed by a man.

He writes that he took on the review “first, because the book looked useful and I wanted an excuse to read it carefully, and second, because those members of the movement I respect have often argued that women’s liberation means men’s liberation, and it is an argument I am willing to try on.”

His perspective is laudable, although sometimes Lehmann-Haupt seems to forget it’s not really for or about him.

The review is of the first edition published by Simon & Schuster. Prior to 1973, the book had appeared in two other formats: In 1970, a group of women printed and stapled together a 193-page course booklet, “Women and Their Bodies,” based on their own research and exploration of women’s health and social/political issues. The booklet is available online (download “Women and Their Bodies” [PDF]).

In 1971, they changed the name to “Our Bodies, Ourselves” — to emphasize women taking full ownership of their bodies — and New England Free Press republished it that same year, selling 250,000 copies, mostly by word of mouth. That edition was one of 88 books selected by the Library of Congress for the 2012 exhibit “Books That Shaped America.”

The strong demand taxed the small New England Press, which is when Simon & Schuster stepped in (read the preface to the 1973 edition).

By then the need for the book had been well established; “it doesn’t much matter whether male reviewers like it or not,” Lehmann-Haupt wrote. That does not, however, stop him from dragging out the discussion:

But do I like it? you are still wondering. Let me duck the question a moment longer by saying that since the book was written collectively — with, for example, “A Boston gay collective” contributing the chapter on Lesbianism, “In Amerika They Call Us Dykes”; and several older women helping out on the chapter covering menopause — it was never expected that everyone would be pleased with all the contents, not even the women who put the book together.

Nor does he have a problem with declaring what any “sensible” woman would appreciate:

I don’t see how any sensible woman — even an antifeminist one — could fail to be enlightened by the book’s lucidly informative chapters on “The Anatomy and Physiology of Reproduction and Sexuality,” on nutrition, exercise, venereal disease, childbearing and postpartum emotional problems; or even by the philosophy that informs them, to wit, that knowledge of one’s body is essential to control of one’s body, and that control of one’s body is essential to living in contemporary America. (As you will see if you read the book, it’s a more radical idea than it may sound.)

He makes 40 years seem like like yesterday.

And then:

On the other hand, I can imagine that some women — even halfway liberated ones — may not agree with the book’s extreme open-mindedness on the questions of birth control and abortion, or its specific conclusion that “it is a myth that the infant will be psychologically damaged unless the mother is always present.”

Let that last line sink in for a moment.

Lehmann-Haupt concludes with his “quibbles” and his findings:

I am still trying to dovetail all the talk about “living less in our heads” and responding “to our feelings” with the book’s overriding message that women must know and think about their bodies in order to get control of their lives. (I’m sure there’s a way to reconcile these two messages, but trying to find it has me climbing an epistemological wall.)

But I learned a great deal from this book that I did not know before, or had somehow forgotten. And if the authors are correct in their belief that one of the major reasons why men oppress women is because “of the male fear and envy of the generative and sexual powers of women” — and I think they are — why then it will do no harm at all for men to read “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and expend a little rational thought on these powers. Nor will it do much harm for a male to review it.

For all my quibbles, to have a man in 1973 so willing to join the feminist movement is a credit to him — and to the book.

The ninth and newest edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” published in 2011, was named one of Library Journal’s best consumer health books of the year. Find out what the fuss is (still) all about.

February 28, 2013

Delivery of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to Members of Congress Launches on Capitol Hill

Erin Thornton, Judy Norsigian, Rep. Jim McGovern, and Christy Turlington Burns

Last fall, following a sex-ed road trip with The Ladydrawers to deliver “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to former Rep. Todd Akin (of “legitimate rape” fame), Our Bodies Ourselves launched Educate Congress, a campaign to deliver the book to all members of Congress and key administration officials.

The basic premise: Everyone deserves access to accurate information concerning women’s reproductive and sexual health — especially those who write the laws.

Today OBOS kicked off delivery of the book, as Judy Norsigian, OBOS executive director and one of the original authors of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” hand-delivered copies of the newest edition to about 20 legislators and staff members.

The point was made that the problem isn’t just poorly chosen words; rather, a lot more needs to be done to advance evidence-based health policy.

Norsigian walked the halls of Capitol Hill with Christy Turlington Burns, founder of Every Mother Counts, and EMC’s executive director, Erin Thornton. They submitted EMC’s petition to female members of Congress, asking them to support policies that protect the health and well-being of girls and women around the world, especially those that will reduce infant and maternal mortality rates.

Doing this on the day that the House finally passed the Violence Against Women Act made it particularly poignant.

NWHN interns Allyson Reddy and Grace Adofoli with Judy Norsigian and Rep. Chellie Pingree

Thanks to Allyson Reddy and Grace Adofoli, interns at the National Women’s Health Project, the book launch was a success. More books will be delivered in the coming weeks, until every member of Congress has, in their office, up-to-date information they can rely on when drafting bills that have a real impact on girls and women.

A big thank you to the supporters of Educate Congress! And a special shout out to fellow road-trippers Anne Elizabeth Moore, Rachel N. Swanson, Nicole Boyett and Sara Drake; Congress scheduler Christina Knowles; everyone who participated in the making of the Educate Congress video, especially Paul Noble and Anthony Cupaiuolo (bro!); and Malcolm Woods, who helped organize the Educate Congress launch at the National Press Club and kept the word going on Twitter (with the aid of “The West Wing” staff). All of you made this happen!

Erin Thornton, Christy Turlington Burns (holding the film “No Woman, No Cry”) Rep. Gary Peters, Judy Norsigian, Allyson Reddy, and Grace Adofoli