We talked with Mari-Carmen Farmer about her upcoming session at the 2021 Annual Conference: Antiracism Training for WIC Nutrition Professionals: A Promising Strategy to Improve Attitudes, Awareness, & Actions. Read on to learn more about her session and experiences with WIC:
Tell us about yourself, your background, and your position and experiences with WIC.
Hi! My name is Mari-Carmen Farmer, and I am a midwife practicing in Philadelphia, PA. I am a first-generation Afro-Latina, and I work primarily with birthing people of color, many of whom have immigrated to the United States. Although I felt the calling to midwifery as a young woman during the birth of my oldest child, I engaged in a number of other professional experiences before going to midwifery school. My first undergraduate degree is in Sociology, where I studied how social justice impacts access to health care, learning concepts that shaped the lens with which I approach my work today. In my years before starting as a midwife, I worked as a social justice activist and antiracism educator, a birth doula, a childbirth educator, a Centering Pregnancy facilitator, and a labor & delivery nurse.
My relationship with WIC began in my early 20s when I found myself unexpectedly pregnant as a college student. My partner and I had to work hard to gather the support and resources we needed for the pregnancy and birth, and during our research, came upon WIC as a vital resource. The assistance WIC provided to our family proved to be essential not just economically, but also in ensuring my success in breastfeeding our son, whose birth changed the direction of my life and career forever.
Why are you interested in health equity? And why do you believe in its importance?
Health is a human right. So is health care. We should all be interested in health equity, because as Fannie Lou Hamer reminded us, “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Disparities in health outcomes are the manifestation of the most toxic roots of our culture - racism, gender oppression, and economic exploitation. If we can unlearn and dismantle the way systems and institutions uphold and perpetuate these root causes, we can make real progress towards creating whole, healthy, thriving communities. As a member of a number of identity groups that have borne the weight of inequity and carried the disproportionate burden of dis-ease and illness, and have often been considered to be inherently inferior, the struggle for health equity is deeply personal.
What’s your favorite part about working for WIC?
My young, scared 22-year-old self could never have imagined that someday I would be professionally partnering with WIC! What a full-circle experience! It brings me so much joy to be able to bring all of myself into this partnership, and my understanding of the organization both as a client and as a professional collaborator. WIC is making change happen on the front lines for the same families I care for as a midwife, and I am so grateful that we can work together to make a real difference in their lives. I know how hard the folks at WIC work on a day-to-day basis, and so I think my favorite part of this work is offering WIC staff more resources and a deeper understanding of the ways they can make that work more effective and more equitable.
What are some everyday challenges you face in your profession?
Midwifery work is simultaneously the hardest and most fulfilling work I’ve ever done. All people work is challenging because it requires we bring our whole selves to the work every day. It can be exhausting to bear witness to people’s grief and struggles as often as we do, especially when the causes of a lot of that pain are things that could be different, that we have the collective power to change. It’s hard to push against a system that often prioritizes profits over the needs of people, to have to seek out resources that should be readily available to families but instead are difficult to access and not available to many people who need them. It often feels like there are not enough hours in the day to care for everyone who is asking for the attention they deserve, and that is also so frustrating.
Give us a 1-2 sentence teaser for your session.
Come learn how interpersonal and structural racism impacts WIC enrollment, participation, and culture of care, and how implementing antiracism workshops as an intervention to help better equip and support WIC staff can help improve the WIC client experience, based on implementation of this intervention in Philadelphia. Participants will have the opportunity to engage in one of the activities from the workshop as part of this session.
If attendees took away one point from your session, what would it be?
My hope is that folks leave energized to engage in the lifelong practice of antiracism, with specific ideas on how to undo the pervasive narrative of racial difference in the communities and systems that are within their reach.
What is an accomplishment of yours that you’re particularly proud of and why?
I first felt called to Midwifery because to me, this profession represented the intersection of social justice and health care. When I pivoted away from direct social justice work to steep myself in birth work, I made a promise to my younger self to find my way back to that intersection. Over the last four years, I’ve been bringing a new initiative into the world, a consulting collaborative called Midwife y Maestra, an organization that creates and facilitates workshops, retreats, and group circles that focus on antiracism, healing trauma, and building community amongst midwives and other healthcare professionals. I am so proud of the collaborations I’ve been able to foster with other midwives committed to liberation, equity, and justice and so grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given to facilitate dialogue and catalyze change. It’s healing work of another kind, and one I feel I am as called to as catching babies and caring for growing families.