Soraya Miré, FMG Survivor, Author and Human Rights Activist: Raising A Baby Activist

Soraya Miré, age 2, with her siblings. Somalia, Africa

Meet Soraya Mire. Life has a beautiful way of bringing people together. Serendipity worked its beautiful magic one day last year, at a local coffee shop where I was writing. As I headed for the largest table in the place, I joined a beautiful woman who smiles with her whole face. Little did I know that asking to take a seat at that table would would lead to a wonderful friendship and a chance to hear, and read, her story. Little did I know that she’d been through the unimaginable, and that she had taken her pain and used it to heal, and to become a leading Human Rights activist, author, lecturer, filmmaker and champion for justice the world over.

Little did I know.. But I know now, and you should know, too. I am so honored that she agreed to be featured as this month’s Raising A Baby Activist post.

Though Soraya was born in Somalia, this story isn’t based in Africa, the Middle East or Asia. All countries, cultures & families have cycles of pain. It is how we choose to look at them, respond to them and act in contradiction to them that matters. This story is based in our own backyard, wherever you are in the world. It is the story of children, of refugees, of moving parts. It is people coming from other cultures that we aren’t aware of. It is in America.

When I started this journey, I was ambivalent about circumcision of little boys. I once interpreted for Deaf parents whose newborn son was being circumcised and I can tell you it was terrible to watch. It was clearly painful to the newborn, and it didn’t make sense. It was bloody and horrible and felt unnecessary, but society taught me the myth that it’s “cleaner”, so witnessing what price a baby has to pay, I made the mental note not to do that if I ever had a son, blocked it out and moved on. I am now keenly aware of my place against circumcising, no matter a person’s gender. With all due respect, cultural norms, be damned.

In her book, The Girl With Three Legs: A Memoir, Soraya writes about the extreme devastation and physical, mental and emotional trauma she faced and overcame as a survivor of Female Genital Mutilation at the tender age of 13. This book takes us on her journey of how she overcame this horrendous trauma, moving forward as a champion for women and girls all over the world. Her story blew the lid off of this largely ignored “rite of passage”. “The misconception,” she explains, “is that this somehow equates to a first drink or experimentation with a drug. Or perhaps even a girl’s first menstrual period. But this has a different meaning. This is something put upon my body before I was even aware of my body.”

How did you become an activist, and what activism have you been involved in?

Looking back, I was born to be an activist. My mom used to say, “You are a reign of terror!” I believe in fairness and justice. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but if I’m right, and something is unjust, I’ll tell you without a filter. I respect religion but we are talking about child abuse under the cloak of culture. Mutilation is the ultimate child abuse. The children subjected to it were born perfect. It’s my choice if I want to enhance my body in any way at the age where I can decide for myself correctly, not influenced by the idea of the perfect body.

When I was faced with the decision to choose my family or my activist path, I was considered to have discarded my family because they disagreed with my choices to speak up and reveal what has been happening young girls in our culture, and many others, for about 2000 years. I had no choice.

I have spoken before the United Nations, U.S. Senate Human Resources & Health Assembly and the World Health Organization. I have worked with medical professionals, government officials and with women and families affected by FGM. My goal is human rights for women & girls, and to end this violent global oppression while empowering women.

I was struck by the way you were able to express the emotions of yourself as a child in your book, going through all of that trauma, but speaking as your adult self. What was that like for you?

I want you to smell that burning rotten flesh. That’s the fire that keeps me going. My voice and experience matters. I know that speaking and making you feel how I felt, you will understand millions of innocent children who are forced into this before their bodies were developed. Women can’t have a normal delivery when they give birth. The fistula -the tissue between the anus and vagina falls off – and childbirth is excruciating.

Let me walk with 3 legs. I would rather my clitoris dangling between my legs. I’d rather be “different”.

People refer to Female Genital Mutiliation as body-enhancing surgery. How could this be viewed as that?? I can’t believe this is actually a real perspective! The belief is that this is the mistake God made; that we need to fix this body so that we can make a woman the wife a husband “should have”. It’s wrong.

These are the hidden secrets in our cultures. This is the shame they live with. I wanted you to know it so that change could happen.

What do you say to the people put off the topic of FGM?

This is a crime against humanity.

There is a difference between Empathy versus Sympathy. Any human being who doesn’t have empathy has no reason to block the feelings of the other human being – especially on the topic of FGM. Sympathy comes in the form of looking horrified, turning a blind eye and downplaying what is actually happening. People say things like “What do you think about yourself? If that happened to me, I would have killed myself. What kind of a woman would I be then?” One American woman told me that she considers any person who has experienced it less of a woman because they are mutilated.

When we think of it in the right context, the response is “You’re a survivor. Beautiful. You were abused; how can we make this right and stop this cycle?”

Somalians and other Africans say ‘you brought the most intimate secret out – we had this.’ The countries and cultures knew. Torturing our kids every hour and we kept silent but I refused. I remember my mother’s eyes looking at me allowing my mother provide the ultimate betrayal.

I love and respect, understand and forgive my mother, but it doesn’t give her the right to do that without fighting for me. I have the right to say ‘you are my mother but you were wrong to do this to me. You thought I was like an animal, to do with me whatever you want.’

This happened to my mother, and her mother, and on and on. My mother was abused and so she continued the cycle with me. I didn’t ask for this so now I ask myself how I can make it better for others.

What is your advice for people who feel exhausted by the current political climate, and who may want to take action but feel that they won’t have an impact on lasting change?

We all have a spark inside. Sometimes dimmed with worries, depression, fear – it takes a lot to get off the couch and make things better. Remember why you wanted to make a change a long time ago. Make the choice to live your truth. Television will numb your brain, and you will find yourself forgetting what your truth was. Beware of the hypocrisy of religion & power.

Stay in touch 100% what your mission and purpose in life is, and you will always have that torch to pass it to the next generation. We were too angry or radical, fighting too many fronts to have a torch. Focus on one issue. CHANGE IS HERE – always remember your mission to have that spark to have that torch.

What is your advice to the youth of today, who may not be able to vote yet?

Educate yourself on the topics at hand. Become an expert and learn the opposition’s facts. A good activist must know what their opponent is thinking before your raise your voice. Be an expert without arrogance. Be authentic. Not only when the cameras shine on you. Others may not see your truth because they see standing in their truth. You have to understand what the other is feeling to bring them over.

Angels make mistakes and become eagles. Too much power goes to our head awhen we allow ego and you really must know what you’re standing for.

  • Know who you are and where you stand.
  • Be humble.
  • The closest people you know will be scared of you standing in your truth
  • Have strong, open dialogue.
  • Never, ever, ever back down when improving someone else’s life and you have done your homework
  • Know your facts.

What about parents who are raising baby activists for the future?

It is the hardest job to raise a child. A parent’s first job is to really understand their own self; making peace with their past, how they felt in society, how they saw their bodies in the eyes of others, how they came to be a parent.

Lead with encouragement and listen with sympathetic ears. Allowing their voices to have a space where they are heard “you’re just a child” Once we have empathy. If I hurt you, I know how it feels because I’ve been there.

Wanting to help their children and making peace, they must accept the child’s decision to have, do and say. The choices of understanding happen at an early age. If you take their choices as an insult, and respond with hostility, you break their heart and you are the one left to look in the mirror. When a child doesn’t understand consequences, too much freedom will lead to issues. Too much screen or phone time is unhealthy living and will damage growth.

Male Circumcision

Soraya & I also spoke about infant male circumcision. This is something inherent to American countries, and something that is not common in other countries. There are so many misconceptions among society, and the medical community who profits from its continuation, about culture, cleanliness/disease prevention,

This is the most thorough resource I have found for understanding how absolutely unnecessary & damaging Circumcision is for boys. My conclusion: Just don’t! Here is what a male experiencing this goes through.

Here is some information about male infant circumcision:

  • Performing a totally unnecessary procedure on an infant who is not at the age of consent is a human rights issue.
  • As the vaginal hood over the clitoris aids in sexual pleasure, so does the foreskin of the penis. This means that circumcised men & women tend to experience less pleasure than uncircumcised people.
  • Amputation of this body part is aesthetic in American society (“it’s what everyone does”, they say. “It’s cleaner”, they say) and it is extremely lucrative to the remainder of medical community which still supports it.
  • The reports of injury, disfigurement, infection and even death have been reported, and many more which have been kept under the radar.
  • It there is no threat to a child’s health, this – again – is medically unnecessary.
  • The idea that the uncircumcised child will be made fun of is a dated excuse for amputation and mutilation. There is a large population of uncircumcised males in the U.S. To think otherwise is a dated way of thinking.
  • As fewer parents request it, the culture is changing from the bottom, up.
  • This is a trauma, chosen and imposed upon a newborn by a parent.
  • Internationally adopted children are being circumcised far beyond the age of infancy in order to “match” their American family members and peers.

Soraya Miré works tirelessly to keep this conversation alive and open, and to continue the progress of the laws against this. Her ability to educate the world about this important issue will continue as she is developing a screenplay of “The Girl with Three Legs: A Memoir”. With the brutal honesty of that which exists in real life, and the Truth of her story, this story must be told!

I can’t say this is in the past”, she says. “What about the next one, and the next one? All of us are born into raising our voices to advance humanity, to make the world a better place for all of us. When I’m feeling good, I can bless others and pay it forward. I stand in acceptance.”

To read more about Soraya’s story, visit http://www.sorayamire.org/

To donate fund to further Soraya’s work, and the making of her film, email: sorayamire@hotmail.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/sorayamire

Heaven

As I join the world in trying to make heads or tails of the fact that the United States has more school shootings than any other country in the world, I was given the direction to “Define Heaven”. Our children are Heaven. They hold the future in their hands, and must be kept safe.

Heaven

Heaven is where you are.

Your life is Heaven.

Heaven is you, safe.

It is the sound of your laughter, your giggles, your cries; your button nose, and the coils that are like silk to my fingers.

Heaven is in your tiny hands and feet, which wont be so tiny anymore, but which will still be Heaven.

It is being with you, no matter what we are doing.

It is being with you after we have been apart.

It is the sun and the stars and the moon that you love so much, whose distance wont touch how much I love you.

Heaven is in your voice, as you tell me so tenderly that you love your family.

It is in the way you wrap your arms around my neck and bury your face to be as close as you can.

It is in the way that you let music take you and you move me to dance with you.

Heaven is watching you grow & change at a rate that makes my head spin.

It is seeing how compassionate you are, and what a good friend you are.

Even though you are so beautifully small, Heaven also makes you mighty.

Your presence here has already made the world better.

You remind me that Heaven is right here, working through you, my child.

You remind me that I live to make sure it stays that way.

You remind me that, as I hold the gift of being your mother,

I am gifted with the responsibility to join all other Heaven-holders to protect Heaven.

Sister Helen Prejean – Raising a Baby Activist

Every morning, my daughter and I stand in front of her dresser mirror, and we read “She counts 112 blessings every day” from a piece of artwork in her room.  Then, starting with the top her head, we count her crown, forehead, eyes, down her face and end at 15 with her heart.  Every day, I end it with “And your heart is your biggest blessing.”  My hope is that kindness, if nothing else, will be her mark on the world.

As I begin this series of Raising a Baby Activist interviews, I can think of no better way than with the key element of compassion.  If you haven’t heard of Sister Helen Prejean, perhaps you have seen the movie Dead Man Walking, starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, based on her book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty.  For me, her work is the epitome of human compassion and dignity.

Sister Helen Prejean 2
Helen in the doorway of the death row facility at Angola Prison ~ Courtesy of Ministry Against the Death Penalty

With a third book soon to be released, Sister Helen is on the road spreading her message, encouraging people to educate themselves on the issues around this controversial topic.  I recently had the opportunity to sit down with her communications manager, Griffin Hardy, to learn about her journey, work and mission.

Early Life

Born in 1939 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Sister Helen’s father was an attorney, and her upbringing was one of privilege.  They had servants in their home, not unusual for families of certain means during that time.  When she was 18, she became a Catholic nun.  In the 1950s, nuns wore habits, Mass was said in Latin, and the sisters received male names.  Their work was assigned within the church confines.  Sister Helen taught middle school English and was a religious education director.

With the liberalization and modernization of the Catholic church known as Vatican 2, nun habits were abandoned, original names restored and, much to Sister Helen’s dismay at the time, roles changed to working out in the service of the community at large.  Her response to this was “we are nuns, not social workers!”  Indeed, she was resistant to these changes from the traditional, but these changes led her into a whole new world, and her life’s work.

New Life Experiences

In the early 1980s, Sister Helen attended a retreat with her religious community, where the presenter, a sociologist named Sister Mary Augusta Neal, addressed the Gospel of Jesus, Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,”
New International Version (NIV),

presenting that idea that the Good News is that the poor will be poor no longer.  This was a defining moment in her life as she realized the need for human compassion among all people.  She moved to a housing project in New Orleans, where she dedicated her life to working with and helping the poor and underserved.

She was living in low-income community that was 100% African-American.  She realized that those folks who served her home as a child were only familiar to her on a first-name basis.  Her new neighbors were providing her with a new perspective into the “other America”, and woke her up to a new way of seeing all people as she learned about them and their different life experiences.

Sister Helen Prejean 1
Helen in front of Hope House in the St. Thomas housing project ~ Courtesy of Ministry Against the Death Penalty

Her work in this community involved improving literacy, and working with a prison coalition.  The director of the coalition asked if the sisters would write letters to Death Row inmates.  That is how she came to know, and become spiritual advisor to Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killers of two teenagers, sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana’s Angola State Prison.   Pat Sonnier’s case was the one that involved his brother, Eddie, testifying against him in exchange for a life sentence. Eddie died in 2013 and Sister Helen had continued to visit him on a regular basis in the years since Pat’s execution in 1984.

Looking back on this connection with Sonnier, Sister Helen jokes, “The problem wasn’t writing to him.  It was that he wrote back!”  And so, this pen pal began to reveal himself to her, then asked her to visit him.  She made the 3-hour journey to the Louisiana/Mississippi border to the death row facility where he was being held.  There is not much information to prepare one for this experience as much information about facilities of this nature is deliberately kept secret.  This was a completely foreign experience for Sister Helen, and one that proved to be an enormous light bulb moment.  She spent several years as Sonnier’s spiritual advisor, helped him secure a new lawyer and was present at his execution.

Activist Life Lessons

“People are more than the worst thing they’ve ever done in their life.” 

  • There have always been light bulb moments and the reveal of new perspectives for this humble and amazing woman.  When she met Sonnier, she saw a human being.  Her service means being present with people where they are. It means having empathy and reinforcing human dignity.  There is more to these people, who many view as nothing but monsters.  That is the bottom line.
  • A regret that Sister Helen in the case of her role in Patrick Sonnier’s life was that she didn’t connect with the families of his victims until they happened to meet at a parole hearing.  They are not on the opposite side of this, and she doesn’t have to choose a side to be present with people.
  • Human dignity is not only prisoners, but everybody.  Developing, reinforcing and applying general awareness daily.

 How to be an Activist

“Ignited passion can happen at any age.”  We are so often paralyzed by the injustice of a situation.  Once you’ve made that realization, do something.  If Sister Helen can accomplish coming to this understanding at 40, imagine what young people can do.  The sooner you start, the easier it is to apply human dignity to your work daily and effectively.  There are different levels of commitment, but every person has the ability to do something.

  • Write a letter
  • Contact an elected official
  • Attend a march or rally

The sooner you start, the easier it is to apply human dignity to your work daily and effectively.

The Death Penalty

For a very long time, the political framework of the death penalty put all parties on the wrong side.  As time has gone on, everything from subjective faith-based beliefs to financial concerns.  Democrats added abolition of it to their platform in 2016.

It is a widely held belief that it is more cost-effective to put an inmate to death than to sentence them to life in prison, without the possibility of parole.  That is not the case.    The counterintuitive Truth is that it costs more to house and kill a death row inmate.  Though Republicans may not publicly oppose it, Democrats and Republicans have formed a coalition on this important social issue, for independent reasons.  Even the very Republican Koch Brothers are in support of Social Justice Reform!

Most people don’t know much about the death penalty because a lot of information about the process is kept secret.   That’s the only way that the death penalty continues to be propped up.  It would be very difficult to defend the idea of taking a defenseless person, shackling them, marching them into a room, putting them on a table, and pumping them full of poison. It’s the most premeditated of killings. It’s the most premeditated of killings. Rather than defend the indefensible, our governments do all they can to hide the realities of capital punishment. Laws have been passed to hide just about everything about the process.  We know more about how veterinarians euthanize pets than about how our government kills human beings. -Griffin Hardy

Today

Sister Helen has 35 years in her line of work with Death Row inmates and her work in under-served communities.  She was present for 5 more Death Row executions.  She is the public face of the Ministry Against the Death Penalty, and is currently spiritual advisor to 2 Death Row inmates and also works with the families involved.  She is releasing a new book in the fall, River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey.

As Ella & I count her heart as her biggest blessing each day, my hope is that she is inspired by the work of activists like Sister Helen Prejean, whose heart is surely her biggest blessing.

Sister Helen Prejean 3.jpg
Helen visiting with Dobie Gillis Williams. Helen was Dobie’s spiritual advisor. He was executed at Angola in 1999 ~ Courtesy of Ministry Against the Death Penalty

My deepest gratitude goes to Griffin Hardy for taking the time to talk with me about this crucial issue in our American society.  The work of the Ministry, and all its staff, are instrumental to the education around all of the complexities of the death penalty.  I’m certainly inspired and more informed now.  I hope that you are as well.

To donate, purchase her books and support the continued work of the Ministry Against the Death Penalty, please go to https://www.sisterhelen.org/ .

What Dazzles Me – DinDin Smart Bus Platter

I’ve decided to post some of my favorite things related to kids and parenting, beginning with this gem from InnoBaby.  At this time, nobody has given me products or paid me to talk about or photograph their products.

• Such a fabulous platter, designed with perfectly portioned sections that baby simply loves to eat from.  Using finger foods or food that calls for utensils works.  Versatility is key in a day in the life of a baby-person.

• It elevates mealtime.  This is a kiddie bento box.  Totally trendy!

• I love making meal and snack time fun!  This takes makes it so easy.  It makes introducing new foods an exciting adventure, rather than a chore.  Baby is excited to see what makes up her plate.

• We can have interesting discussions about food groups, types of fruits, veggies, colors, etc.

• Now I can take fresh, healthy ingredients on the go rather than to depend on pre-made food like crackers and pouches.

• I got the one with the lid so that we can take it to the park. I discovered this when a nanny brought one with her little charge.  It was chock full of blueberries, cheese, strawberries & grapes – all sorts of good, fresh foods.

• The bus design is something that my girl loves too!

• Its slim design slides into our diaper bag perfectly.

At $19.99 for the version with the lid ($17.99/$4.99 for the 2 separate pieces), I think this high-quality contraption is a great addition to my parent tools!

http://innobaby.com/eat/din-din-smart-bus-platters/

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Bonding With Adoption

Mothers hold their children's hands for a short time, but their hearts forever. ~Author Unknown

My wife and I got the call that our baby was here when Ella was 5-days-old.  She'd been taken to the NICU because her birth mother thought that she was about 30 weeks pregnant when she delivered.  We were allowed to pick her up the next day.  As we walked in to the room to meet the tiny person in the hospital bassinet, the nurse asked, "Who wants to hold her first?"  Lynne immediately said, "Lola.  Give her to Lola."  My child.. the greatest gift I've ever received.

The moment that I was alone with Ella for the first time, I cradled her in my hands and told her this:

On the day you were born, all the gods got together and threw a BIG party!  They decided that you, Mommy, Momma & Lucy should be a family.  And so we are going to take you home today.  You are our dream, come true.

At that, my newborn baby girl smiled in her sleep.  She already  knew and loved my voice, and I already knew and loved her smile.  Our bond was instant, and it is strong.

My friend recently told me that the bonding hormones that are produced from childbirth & breastfeeding were absent for us, so our bond must be less than that of a birth parent.  Oh contrare, mon frere!  We've got it goin' on over here with the bonding.  The odds were in our favor, though, because studies show that when you're the first to bond, the bond is most likely to be successful.

Contrary to popular belief, the fact that I didn't birth or breastfeed her is, in fact, irrelevant in our case.  Her moms are the first people she looks for when she's happy, sad, scared, hungry, wants a hug or a kiss, or just wants to have fun with someone.  We are her first best friends, and we relish in the delight of it all.  I cannot imagine feeling any closer to my child than I already do.  She feels like a part of my body. She is a part of me, like it or not.

Since bonding is a term that describes a caregiver's attachment level to a child, it's really the adoptive parent that needs to bond with a new baby—not the other way around. ~Jae Curtis 

We did skin-to-skin bonding, we took care of each other and ourselves so that we were able to relish in the moments without too much crazy newborn fatigue, we had lots of face time and snuggle time, and we love the crap out of our daughter.  That's the most important part.  Love.

Lately, Ella says, "Mommy! I hug yoooo! I holdu!" and I know that the gods really did have that huge party, and they really did line up the stars, and we really are a Family.6A2A51E8-864D-42D9-83E1-F5DA667209AA                      My tiny girl.. 2-months-old_MG_2764                     She is one of the most joy-filled people I have ever know.

Mommy & Ella June 2017                                                  See?!? Pure joy, and she is mine.

Oh, You Haven’t Written a Blog Post About Mommy Shaming?

When my daughter was 18 months old & began to show interest in using the potty, I knew that she was ahead of the curve and I was thrilled at the idea of ditching diapers early! But potty training a child was one thing I’d never done before.  So, like any good first-time mom, I went online and researched until 2am.

I learned of The 3-Day method, I learned that I need to let her lead the process, I learned that I should be prepared for her to pee and poo all over the floors and carpets.  I learned that babies in Ukraine are potty trained at 12 months (no pressure, America, with our 3 and 4-year-olds still in training pants!).  I was in full-on panic mode about which “method” to go with, and how I could emotionally scar my daughter if I didn’t pick the “right” one.  The very next day, I texted my friend who had the highest ratio of potty-trained kids in my world.

As our text exchange began, I was filled with hope as she explained that she used an “all-or-nothing” approach, and how with one child, it happened quickly and the other took longer, etc.  Okay, cool! A new method ! Let’s start fresh — I’ll go with that.  (I was really wrapped up in the “methods”)

So I asked, “What did you do about car rides while you were potty training?”

She answered, “The 3-Day Method is all or nothing.  You leave the diaper off no matter what. Probably best to stay home.”

I replied, “You used that method. Ah, gotcha!”

She replied, “Judgmental much? LOL!”

But it hit me immediately that she wasn’t joking.  Though I only thing intended was clarification, when I said “gotcha”, she was triggered.  It was offensive because her experience as a mom, I later learned, is that perception of parenting styles is attached to a great deal of harsh judgement and criticism.  Through personal experience, along with articles and blogs about “right” “wrong”, parents are on edge when it comes to sharing the decisions that they make.  This conversation was just that trigger for my friend.

She likened my “ah gotcha” text to the judgmental tone used by parents perched on high, looking down on each other’s parenting decisions.  Which potty training methods we choose, whether or not we vaccinate, the way we discipline, how we feed our kids, which “method” of child-rearing, education, the quality of cotton, style of dress, whether or not to post photos of our kids online, preschool or no preschool, circumcise or not, work or stay at home —- you name it!  As this unfolded, and I realized the reality, I felt like my head was going to explode.

At first I felt really annoyed that my meaning got all twisted up and was misinterpreted. Expressing that didn’t work out for me.  My friend was very upset!  What followed was 24 hours of discomfort, uncertainty, anxiety, my being introduced to the terms “Mommy Shaming” and “mommy blogs“, a conversation with a member of the clergy, for God’s sake! (I was desperate, people) and a lesson in the difference between intent & impact.  I INTENDED to get advice about successfully potty training my baby.  The IMPACT was far different from my intention, and that absolutely Continue reading “Oh, You Haven’t Written a Blog Post About Mommy Shaming?”

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