Dr. Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D, ecologist and mother, speaks quietly with a big stick. Her lovely voice and gentle presence belies her iron resolve to make a better world for her children. She is intimately familiar with disease and grief, and greed and manipulation and bodily invasions. She is courageous enough to live a life that contains truth-living and truth-telling to power.
EcoBirth produced a lecture by Dr. Steingraber in San Francisco, Oct 28, 2010. When I picked up Sandra from SFO, she asked me about my lineage here in San Francisco and she got to hear lots about my family having been in San Francisco since the 1820’s. She was flying in from the Women’s Conference in LA County and we got to do a little bashing of So Cal and Hollywood and celebrities and politicians- all in great array at the conference. We had a wonderful visit in her friend Judy’s old Edwardian in the Mission District. And I got a sense of some of the contours of her life. She discussed how she determines which speaking engagements she accepts and how those decisions may impact the very real economics of her life. She tries to look at the sponsors of the conferences who so frequently invite her to speak. And in no uncertain terms she said she would go nowhere near an event that was sponsored by a baby formula company.
This struck me as a brave act of integrity and a model for how we all might try to figure out how to accommodate ourselves to live in this imperfect world. Somehow we want to balance taking a stand for something we perceive as truth, but without being rigid, doctrinaire and irrational. I envy her the privilege of having a platform to speak truth to power which may have some good influence in the world.
I tie this impulse into EcoBirth, which recognizes the connections we have with our surroundings, our world through so many generations. Yes, it does matter where we were born and raised. And it does matter how our Mother Earth is treated, because we personally embody that current lack of care in our wombs and pass it onto two generations after ourselves. It does matter that the human qualities of greed and indifference affect how we birth our babies, what milk we can feed them from our own breasts and what food is nourishing from the bounty, given to us as a gift, from Mother Earth. So when do we realize that we will take a visible stand? We listen closely to those courageous people who show us how to do it with grace and openness, like Sandra.
Dr. Steingraber, besides being a mother and an ecologist, is an author, and cancer survivor, and an internationally recognized authority working to break the silence about cancer and its environmental links. Continuing her investigation begun in her first book, Living Downstream, Steingraber’s book, Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood, explores the intimate ecology of motherhood, which is both a memoir of her own pregnancy and an investigation of fetal toxicology. Having Faith reveals the extent to which environmental hazards now threaten each stage of infant development. In the eyes of an ecologist, the mother’s body is the first environment for life.
Sandra has been able to communicate through her beautiful prose and her poetry the naming and recognition of what is happening to our world now, so we can understand it. The wonder, joy and beauty of our world shines in her language and is embodied in her life. That evening we had the honor of listening to a woman who walks the walk and is a guide to us on how we can do it too.
I said to Sandra, “Thank you for your filling the space for all of us as spokesperson naming the perils that are hard to hear about our world. Thank you for being visible to the entire world, especially those in power, acting with integrity and courage. Thank you for being a good mother to your children and to our children and to all our creature kin’s children.”
Please visit my posting of the lecture at http://ecobirth.blogspot.com and hear Sandra’s provocative answers to the below questions:
1-In Having Faith, you took an intimate, scientific look at pregnancy, fetal development, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Yet the book is also a spiritual journey, so beautifully displayed in the chapter on Faith’s birth itself. What have you learned of the sacred in our lives—in the connections between mother and child and environment—from that experience?
2-What part does grief and suffering play in this conscious understanding of the world and its imperiled trajectory about which you seem to want to enlighten us?