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Birth of a Child, Birth of an Activist: An Interview with Sarah Gaunt
By Bridgett Torrence

A revealing look at one woman's transformation from a shy, stuttering teen into a vocal advocate for the natural parenting community.

NF: Tell us a bit about yourself and your natural family, Sarah.

Sarah: Well, I'm a native Texan and mother of two sons. Jake is four, Logan is two, and both boys are still nursing. We also co-sleep, and always have. Jake does have his own bed in my room, but spends only about half the night there. I've always been very shy, excelling in written communication and stuttering in public. And as far back as I can remember, I've wanted to be a writer, to fight against unfairness.

NF: When did you first become interested in natural family issues?

Sarah: When I got pregnant at eighteen. People started asking me about my plans, and telling me their experiences. I hadn't thought about it before, and I reacted very strongly to conservative, mainstream advice. It didn't occur to me that I would bottle-feed. It was logical: You give birth, you breastfeed.

NF: Statistically, it is unusual for young mothers to breastfeed their children.

Sarah: So I've heard, which surprised me.

NF: Tell us about your work as an advocate for the natural family, Sarah.

Sarah: My biggest...issue, I suppose, is informed childbirth. It all begins at birth. A positive birth eases bonding which increases responsiveness; it's all linked. And there is so much that is taken away from a woman in birth, so many decisions made for her by people who may not have her best interests at heart. Once your baby comes home, societal pressures are often intense, but the decisions you make are still yours. I started advocating for informed childbirth, drug-free labors and such, after the birth of my first son. His birth was very traumatic and out of control.

NF: How did you begin advocating? Did you become involved in a local organization?

Sarah: Yes. I got a flyer in the mail one day looking for people interested in midwifery. I thought it might be a huge gathering. In a totally out-of-character decision, I went. It was the seeds of Texans for Midwifery. Texans for Midwifery is a consumer-advocacy organization seeking to protect the rights of women in Texas to deliver their children wherever they wish, be it home, hospital, or birth center. The people that showed up were all midwives or doulas or students, and I was the only consumer. I was also the only one without a piece of paper or a pen! Much to my embarrassment.

NF: Let me guess -- you didn't let that stop you, right?

Sarah: Right. And actually, the organization is a consumer-rights organization. But consumers who really support midwifery generally all become midwives themselves. It's hard to find consumers who support midwifery enough to do volunteer work, but don't want to deliver babies themselves.

NF: What is your role in the Texans for Midwifery organization?

Sarah: I manage all the related email lists for the organization, organize the membership databases, build and operate the official website, and will be running the Texans for Midwifery store when it opens.

NF: What other advocacy work do you do?

Sarah: I'm constantly reading, constantly writing about natural parenting. I write a great deal for my breastfeeding list. Breastfeeding at Yahoo! Groups is an email list of over six hundred members created to bring breastfeeding or pregnant women together for breastfeeding support, advice, friendship, and camaraderie. I also publish an online newsletter called The Nursing Mom's News. The Nursing Mom's News brings the true-life stories and experiences of breastfeeding mothers to readers so that we all can see how normal our own experiences really are.

NF: That sounds very rewarding.

Sarah: Yes. It's just incredible to hear all the stories from mothers, all over the country. These are stories you don't get to hear in the media, stories straight from mothers who are going through it. I get pleas for help and expert advice, hilarious stories and similarities across the board. The biggest rewards have come from women on my breastfeeding list, what they tell new members. They say things like, "This list is the reason I'm still breastfeeding!" Women have emailed me privately thanking me for advice that worked for them. Some have been so enraged and empowered about what I had to say, they confronted their doctors and family members who gave them bad advice or didn't support them in the decision to breastfeed. Most are appalled at the sheer amount of misinformation out there, stuff perpetuated by the people they trust: doctors, nurses, family, even lactation consultants.

NF: Do you have any advice for others wishing to make a difference, either online or in their real-world communities?

Sarah: Read, read, read. Everything you can find, including things you oppose. And talk to people. If it's important to you, you won't be able to let a chance to advocate go by.

NF: Things you oppose? Why is that?

Sarah: You can't effectively speak against something if you don't fully understand what that something really is, what it really means to people. You have to know what it is, precisely, you oppose and why. Otherwise, you come from a sheerly emotional place which ,while valid, doesn't get through to many people. The more you talk to people, the more you come to learn who you are and what matters to you.

NF: Is that why natural parenting is sometimes called informed parenting?

Sarah: Exactly. It's all about information. You simply cannot make the best decision without all the available information. In all things, parenting included. Talking to people, whether you talk one-on-one or through advocacy organizations, is the absolute best way to spread truth and information around. You have to know where you stand, be unafraid of stating your position and share your reasons with frank honesty. People are people. There is no "us" and "them." Once you get past that, it's easy to talk to people about issues important to you. For me, being an advocate isn't a responsibility, it's a drive.

Sarah Gaunt is a single mom, writer, editor, and natural family advocate. She has written for and also owns and publishes The Nursing Mom's News, a monthly ezine dedicated to breastfeeding articles, essays, and more.

Bridgett Torrence is a freelance writer and mother of two living in southern California. She enjoys natural parenting, whole foods cooking, and speculative fiction.

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