ACES Muskegon: A Childhood Trauma Survey

Flyer for the ACES Muskegon Study, sponsored by Health West.

Flyer for the ACES Muskegon Study, sponsored by Health West.

I pride myself in being a trauma-informed birth worker.  So, when I was chosen as a “ACE Champion” as a part of the release of a new Health West survey, I registered for and attended the one-hour training on November 17th in Muskegon Heights.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, or ACES, began in 1995 and found that the more traumas a person experienced in their youth, the worse their lifelong health.  Since Muskegon County ranks worse than every other county in the state of Michigan for health behaviors, such as smoking and obesity, there is a high likelihood that childhood traumas are driving these outcomes.

Health West, through a grant called Wellville, is conducting the ACES Muskegon survey just for county residents who are 18 years or older.  Their goal is to get 3,000 people to complete the survey, using the results to raise awareness of the need for trauma-informed treatment and prevention, as well as grant funding to address the problem.

I cannot express strongly enough how much I support the intentions of this initiative!  Still, I must acknowledge my deep hesitations in supporting ACES Muskegon.  Although completing the survey will be easy and for most people, for those with traumatic memories, asking them to spend even 10 minutes thinking about the worst moments of their lives is a lot to ask.  I don’t feel comfortable asking people to do it unless I know that there will be a serious effort to get to the root causes of violence and oppression in our neighborhoods.

As someone who is very well-versed in the theories of primary prevention, I know that for this data to be effective, it must not just lead to providing services with more compassion knowing anyone could be a survivor.  Action must be taken to influence change at the highest rungs on the Spectrum of Prevention, influencing policy, legislation and organizational practices.  Unfortunately, many of those involved in the dissemination and promotion of ACES Muskegon work for organizations who have misogynist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, and other oppressive and exclusionary policies and practices!

The conundrum of social change is that what is palatable to those in power is the least effective and what stands to be the most effective is shut down in its earliest stages.  I speak from experience too vast to include in a blog and I am not alone.  I am close to many people who have lost their livelihoods due to their social justice work.

After contemplating my reasons for skepticism, I shifted my focus to thinking about my own personal healing journey.  I’m always saying that I need to devote more time and energy to self-care.  If I complete a survey, I will receive educational emails.  Maybe I can use this survey as an opportunity to consciously carve out more time to learning about healing my own traumas and those of others.

I have a lot of respect for the Health West staff for putting in the effort to launch such a bold campaign.  Kelly France and others were very supportive of me when I organized the Perinatal Care – A Trauma-Informed Approach conference in April of 2013.  I believe in the sincere intentions of behavioral health professionals to make an impact on the heartbreaking abuse they see in their work every day.  I’m going to take the survey and I encourage you to do the same.

My Philosophy on Pregnancy & Birth: Evidence-Based, Trauma-Informed & Prevention Focused

In a typical interview with prospective clients, most doulas are asked about their philosophy on pregnancy & birth. This is a loaded question: parents are basically asking a complete stranger to succinctly tell them about their emotional, spiritual and political beliefs surrounding their life’s greatest passion. Considering how important it is to carefully choose who will be present throughout someone’s labor and birth, the question deserves an answer worthy of the honor, so here goes!

Evidence-Based

Although I am spiritual and open to mysteries I will never understand, I have faith in the scientific method. While sharing anecdotes is illustrative and healing, they should never solely replace the power of a double-blind randomized controlled trial. I want to teach and share what has been proven effective and safe.

Unfortunately, there are corporate interests that dictate what will be studied and published. Some holistic modalities are free, so the financial backing of studying their impact on birth outcomes is limited, but that is starting to change. Every day, I learn new research proving the positive impact of yoga, essential oils and other practices that are old to humans, but new to science. I want to embrace these new findings and incorporate them into my teachings and work.

The flip side of science is the ancient wisdom of women. If something works for an individual, they should continue that practice. When I was an office manager for holistic and alternative providers, I observed the most powerful impacts from those who believed the most strongly – our minds are powerful! Believe that true health is possible and it will be. Science may or may not catch up eventually.

What we know to be true can change. Take for example the Brewer Diet. Touted for years as the ultimate prevention for toxemia, research has never been able to replicate the studies of its creator. Since then, other dietary approaches have come forth that offer better results. I try not to become too emotionally attached to any health trend, because progress is not just inevitable, it’s desired.

Finally, there are choices. Science does not account for our individual needs. Someone may have other considerations than risk and health. Infant sleep is an example: some parents find the American Academy of Pediatric’s guidelines impossible to follow and are willing to bed-share for its other benefits, while trying to mitigate the risks. There is the best way, and then there is the most practical way for each family. Science and public health are focused on the collective, while families are all unique.

Trauma-Informed

Trauma-informed implies context. Our personal experiences develop our intuition and beliefs that trump what is published in a peer-reviewed journal. Pregnancy and birth are a family’s journey that takes place within a mother’s body. To provide trauma informed care strips me of judgment and places me in a supportive role, whatever form that might take. I consider all women to be survivors of a misogynist culture and society. Those of us who choose to be mothers get to call the shots to emerge from pregnancy to motherhood an empowered being. A trauma-informed doula helps to ensure that the physical, emotional and medical encounters of pregnancy and birth be the result of enthusiastic consent by all involved parties.

Prevention-Focused

Since the variations are endless, there is no way to prepare for every possibility of birth. Armed with good information, however, many negative possibilities can be averted. Focusing on prevention means that I want to spend more time advising a family of how to avoid a negative outcome than planning on how to respond should one occur. Little in life is unavoidable with proper planning and pregnancy is no exception. Seek support and information as early as possible.