How my advocacy work became personal

Jan 6, 2020

The 2020 legislative session will be my eighth legislative session as a child advocate. The eighth year I will go to the state capitol and work to ensure that children are a top priority for Iowa policymakers. The eighth year I will work with my colleagues to advocate for policies that improve the health outcomes for young children and their families.

I have learned a lot over the previous seven sessions—how to build relationships with legislators, the importance of developing common messaging with my fellow advocates, and how make compromises that help us get closer to reaching our goals. But this eighth year at the capitol will be different.

This year is the first year that my advocacy efforts have transitioned from ideological to personal.

In 2019 I was pregnant with my first child. I was fortunate to have a supportive employer, good health insurance, and the best network of friends and family to provide support and reassurance as my husband and I embarked on this new path toward parenthood. Our daughter Grace was born in August and we were fortunate to have an uncomplicated delivery and a healthy baby. Yet, those first two months of Grace’s life were harder than I ever could have anticipated.

At Grace’s first doctor’s appointment we learned that she had lost a concerning amount of weight since she was born. We would later learn that Grace has laryngomalacia (a congenital softening of the tissues of the larynx), which made it very difficult for her to breastfeed.  Breastfeeding is based on supply and demand—the more milk your baby consumes, the more milk your body produces. Since Grace’s laryngomalacia made it difficult for her to get milk, my supply decreased, causing her to continue to lose weight.

Since Grace wasn’t able to nurse very well, she was constantly hungry and nursed virtually around the clock, leaving me no time to eat, drink, or sleep (all of which are necessary to support your milk production). I was mentally and physically exhausted.  My sleep deprivation left me so nauseous I could barely force myself to eat. I was anxious and worried and completely overwhelmed. I remember telling my husband through tears, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

Our network of support and resources were critical during the first few months of Grace’s life. They demonstrated that I didn’t have to do this alone. We would do it together.

My mom and dad virtually moved in with us—preparing meals, giving bottles, walking our dog, and giving lots of hugs and shoulders to cry on (I think I cried just about as much as Grace during those first few weeks). My husband suspected that I was experiencing more than the usual “baby blues” and encouraged me to reach out to my health care provider who diagnosed me with postpartum depression. His encouragement for me to seek help led to an early diagnosis, and therefore, I could begin treatment earlier as well.  

I attended a breastfeeding support group where I met other new moms who shared their experiences with similar struggles—one mom even gave me her number and would text me every few days to check in and provide encouragement. A co-worker, turned friend, came to my house at a moment’s notice to help me figure out how to use a baby wrap to carry Grace (that my sleep-deprived mind could not seem to figure out without her help). A neighbor who I had only spoken with casually once or twice showed up at my doorstep with homemade soup. Everyone assured me that it would get easier.

For the first time I really understood the phrase, “it takes a village.” Surrounded by this network of support—family and friends and neighbors and fortunate to have a foundation of resources to rely on, we were able to navigate these challenges.

I have always strongly believed in the importance of making sure all children have access to high-quality health care, of investing in our children to help put them on a healthy trajectory, of supporting families and ensuring the health and mental well-being of parents. These beliefs have served as the foundation for my advocacy—guiding my work and shaping my voice at the capitol over the past seven legislative sessions. However, now I have experienced those issues and services firsthand.

With my parenting experiences fresh in my mind as I prepare for the 2020 session I am faced with a new challenge. We all know the importance of storytelling—how personal stories can make data come alive. How they can make the issue become “more real” and help the audience better connect with the issue.

But now I ask:

  • How do I incorporate my own personal story into my advocacy?
  • How do I share my story and my experiences in an authentic way that does not divert the focus from the issue itself to me?

Often individuals are drawn to advocate on an issue due to a personal experience, so personal advocacy is not something new or unique. I look forward to finding a way to bring my story to light in a way that will help strengthen my advocacy on behalf of all Iowa’s children and families.

Related Issues & Ideas

Report

A Caring, Connected Community: How Greater Des Moines nonprofits met our needs during the pandemic

View A Caring, Connected Community: How Greater Des Moines nonprofits met our needs during the pandemic
Report

Why aren't kids a policy priority?

View Why aren't kids a policy priority?
Website

The United States Prosperity Index 2021

View The United States Prosperity Index 2021
Website

Make It Okay messaging in multiple languages

View Make It Okay messaging in multiple languages
Guide

Prenatal-to-3 State Policy Roadmap

View Prenatal-to-3 State Policy Roadmap
Website

Frameworks Institute: Changing the conversation on social issues

View Frameworks Institute: Changing the conversation on social issues
Website

Framing best practices with Topos Partnership

View Framing best practices with Topos Partnership
Website

Iowa Public Health Association

View Iowa Public Health Association
Report

Cultivating Change: How the HealthConnect Fellowship lifted a network of advocates to improve children's health in central Iowa

View Cultivating Change: How the HealthConnect Fellowship lifted a network of advocates to improve children's health in central Iowa
Report

Shifting the Lens: How The ACE Study sparked action to collectively improve our community's health

View Shifting the Lens: How The ACE Study sparked action to collectively improve our community's health
Website

National Academy of Medicine

View National Academy of Medicine
Website

Grant Makers in Health

View Grant Makers in Health
Website

ACEs Connection

View ACEs Connection
Report

Addressing Patients' Social Needs: An Emerging Business Case for Provider Investment

View Addressing Patients' Social Needs: An Emerging Business Case for Provider Investment
Website

Centers for Disease Control

View Centers for Disease Control
White Paper

Prenatal Strategies to Support Families

View Prenatal Strategies to Support Families
Report

1st Five Healthy Mental Development Initiative 2020 Report

View 1st Five Healthy Mental Development Initiative 2020 Report
Report

2020 One Economy: The Blueprint for Action

View 2020 One Economy: The Blueprint for Action
Report

Mental and Sexual Health Education for Youth

View Mental and Sexual Health Education for Youth
Policy Brief

Strengthening Medicaid

View Strengthening Medicaid

Re-Imagining How Iowa's Systems Work Together to Best Serve Families

The Vision Council has led conversations on how Iowa's families and children can be safe, secure, healthy, and well in our communities.

View Story
View Story

Champions for Change: A Collective Commitment to Children's Health

Outcomes from Mid-Iowa Health Foundation's HealthConnect Fellowship, October 2019-June 2021

View Story
View Story

Elevating the Latinx Community

How nonprofit leaders brought attention to the Latinx community and built new systems of support during the pandemic

View Story
View Story

Protecting Those Who Protect Our Kids

Iowa ACEs 360 shares this story about how supervisors in the Polk County Dept. of Human Services’ Child Welfare Division are addressing trauma in their workforce.

View Story
View Story

A New Approach to Supporting Youth in Juvenile Detention

Teenagers in jumpsuits lying on yoga mats, their eyes closed, their bodies still. This is the image Megan Hoxhalli describes as remarkable for juvenile detention, a place where youth arrive shaken, dysregulated, and scared about their future.

View Story
View Story

A closer look at mental health in schools during the pandemic

Community response
Nov 29, 2021
View Post

Get to Know Dr. Nalo Johnson

Foundation news
Nov 24, 2021
View Post

4 questions for nonprofit and community leaders

View Post

5 questions for leaders in philanthropy

Funder practices
Nov 5, 2021
View Post

5 ways to think about your personal brand as a part of your work

Leadership
Nov 1, 2021
View Post

4 issues impacting children’s health during the pandemic

View Post

7 lessons learned about systems change work

System change
Sep 9, 2021
View Post

The Foundation's role in the HealthConnect Fellowship

Funder practices
Sep 8, 2021
View Post

Go ahead: Brag a little

Leadership
Aug 5, 2021
View Post

Planning from strength: questions to ask your team

Advocacy
Apr 26, 2021
View Post

Preparing yourself to center the voices of those impacted by issues

View Post

Vision vs. Tactics: How we can achieve the change we want to see

Action planning
Feb 22, 2021
View Post

System-change achievements advocates are making for central Iowa’s kids

View Post

How we can begin to find peace in 2021

View Post

Disconnection matters

System change
Nov 24, 2020
View Post

3 questions to reshape your policy agenda

Advocacy
Oct 30, 2020
View Post

What you should know about homelessness in central Iowa during the pandemic

Community response
Oct 26, 2020
View Post

Leading system change, even in times of uncertainty

System change
Jul 22, 2020
View Post

We must all do our part to be anti-racist

View Post

Lessons in preventing burnout

View Post