It is International Women’s Day. I was grateful to begin this particular day on the Health Commissioner’s Infant Mortality Work Group. In this role, I am able to be a voice, an advocate, for efforts to improve infant mortality. This topic has become important to me as both a social justice issue, a women’s health issue, an economic equity issue, and a human rights issue. I had the opportunity to speak 1:1 with our new state health commissioner, and I raised to her the central importance of a holistic and systemic understanding of women’s experiences. Her concerns echoed my own, and it was clear to both of us that there was much work still to be done. As I spoke, both in our individual conversation and the work group meeting as a whole, I began to realize I was speaking in Her voice.
Her voice is the voice of a woman whose mother and grandmother and sisters and cousins had a baby die, and she can’t attach to this pregnancy or to her care because people have treated her as less than human, less than educated. Her community has been written off, treated as beyond hope. She gets referred to as “them.” I listen to her anger and frustration with systems of care. I take in her words, take them in to the depths of my own soul, and realize this is not an individual issue. It’s a community issue, a human issue. Our issue. Her voice is equity.
Her voice is the voice of a woman who has been beaten up by her boyfriend and after he beat her, he made her have sex with him, repeatedly and without a condom. And she now has this pregnancy that she doesn’t know what to do with, and she wrestles with the ramifications to her core values if she terminates the pregnancy, or if she continues onward. Everyone has an opinion about what she should do. But she has a pregnancy, and she has pain, and she has a huge decision. She is speaking with me of this in the confidentiality of my office. I hold her in deep respect and regard, and we explore the directions of her self-determination. Her voice is choice.
Her voice is old, beaten by age. She had a baby that died and she never even saw it because the health professionals whisked it away. She doesn’t even know if it was a boy or a girl. She grieves at age 80 as if she was still 18. I talk with her as my client, before I even knew I could be an academic or maternal child health advocate. She will inspire me to take on those roles, although neither she nor or I know it at the time. Her voice is the life course.
Her voice is calming, and draws in the young mothers she works with. She has been in their shoes and survived…thrived, in my opinion…and could be anything in this world she wants to be. What she wants to be is their support, their navigator, their encouragement in the midst of challenge. So, she earns a low salary and makes a difference in their lives as a home visitor. She takes in the knowledge I have to offer, as I take in hers. Her voice is mentoring.
Her knowledge and experience have brought her to a position of prestige. Her vocal advocacy for women has brought her to a culminating decision as to where she will serve the most good, and when that good is no longer being served. So, she publicly steps down from her former role as Health Commissioner and now works in external advocacy for the women of the state. She is the first one to have invited me to join this group, to speak to her and to other members about women’s mental health as integrally related to our physical well-being. Her voice is leadership.
Her voice is a beam of light that illuminates my path today.
Her voice resonates in my ear, and my spirit.