Aside

Activist mama

22 Oct

ImageIt’s been just over a week since we switched to bottle feeding, and a whole new world has opened up for Daphne and I. We are both so much happier. Feedings are no longer a scream-filled trial, and I have stopped doing mental calculations about how long I can be out of the house before she may get hungry again. I haven’t had a panic attack or a wave of anxiety since making the big decision. And I feel like I finally have room in my life again for exercise, yoga and activism.

Last week, the media in Ottawa uncovered a case where a woman was forced to give birth unassisted in an isolation cell at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. She was in jail after breaching bail conditions, but had not been convicted of any crime. She says that prison staff ignored her repeated cries for help when she went into labour, and when she became too agitated, they put her into solitary confinement. She gave birth alone in a tiny concrete cell. Her baby came out “feet first” — a dangerous breech birth that could have killed him. She was only allowed to hold her baby in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. After that, she was separated from him and only allowed to see him through plexiglass.

As a new mother with the experience of childbirth fresh in my mind, I was horrified. A group of local women — including criminology professor Dawn Moore — quickly pulled together an action in front of Correctional Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur’s office. We brought our babies and wrote messages demanding justice for Julie Bilotta on diapers, which we left outside her office (as she refused to acknowledge our presence). The hastily created Mom and Baby Coalition for Justice made national news, and Meilleur was forced to respond to our demand for an inquiry into the treatment of incarcerated women in Ontario. Two days later, Bilotta was released on bail and reunited with her son Gionni.

This is the kind of kitchen-table activism that formed the basis of second wave feminism. It felt great to pull together an effective protest so quickly. All of the members the coalition wrote media releases, networked through social media and wrote campaign materials, while bouncing our babies on our knees. While the action was open to anyone interested in seeking justice for Julie and her son, the image of mothers and babies was a powerful one. It drew media attention (the adorable factor certainly helped) and helped demonstrate mainstream, middle-class support for the rights of incarcerated women in Ontario and across the country.

Since we “birthed” this new coalition last week, we have heard from people across Canada, including former prisoners and parents of incarcerated women. In the coming weeks, we plan to re-group and start developing a vision for our new activist coalition. Our goal is to use our resources to support marginalized women and children, using nap times and brief moments of respite to try and make some change.

It feels great to be an activist mama. Here’s a news clip of me being interviewed at the demo, while bouncing Daphne in the baby carrier. Apparently the best way to get her to nap is to take her to a demonstration.

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