MOM Art Annex: Exhibition & Education Center

By

A Letter From Our Intern – Candace Lecco [LINK]

ABOUT: Candace is a full-time graduate student at the USF College of Public Health. She lives in Connecticut and studies 100% online– when she’s not watching her wonderful (goofy) 2-year-old son because he keeps her super busy. She loves to be in nature hiking and playing in the forest with him during their free time. She is currently wrapping up a poster project for M.O.M. online called “Birth Practices Through the Ages”. We aim to post those shortly here on the Museum of Motherhood website.

A LETTER FROM CANDACE: My academic background in pre-med biology and psychology ignited my fervor for humanistic truth, but hardly gratified my creative temperament, which I tended to with personal literature studies and philosophical musings. I found it difficult to communicate with others as I tried to defend science, because most people view the scientific method as a dusty, dry methodology where bias slips through the cracks, contaminating the entire theory. Few successfully connect the dots that were originally intended in liberal arts education- combining humanities with science to seek the truth and apply it to create a more humane world. Science is a philosophy. It is an art that takes the shape of reasoning. It is a process that only humans are gifted with. We can use the scientific method as a powerful tool but we can notice the cracks. We can see the light shining through them and we can think about what to do about it. We seal them when appropriate and other times it is more appropriate to let nature help reveal knowledge. To believe that science is inherently restrictive and dogmatic is to disempower your incredible capabilities as a human being. As a graduate student at the University of South Florida and a mom, I am proud to intern at the Museum of Motherhood, an organization dedicated to dissolving the systematic barriers of art and science and showcasing the beauty of the motherhood.

After receiving my Bachelor of Science degree from Central Connecticut State University, I desired to look beyond the atomic, molecular, and cellular levels of nature that I had been so focused on in that small campus in that small city, in that small state. I found microbiology so intriguing because it connected the unseen, powerful world of microbes to the superficial human perception of our environment. An elective course on Parasites & Human Disease introduced me to global health disparities and painted an image of health that extended beyond individual existence- public health. I knew that I found infectious disease interesting, I wanted to help people, and I wanted the impact to be big.

I see public health as a beautiful collaboration between humanities and science. That’s exactly what I began studying at the University of South Florida, where I am currently pursuing a Master of Public Health degree in global health, specializing in infection prevention. New insights into the life-course perspective melded with my life experiences more recently to direct my focus to maternal health, which is the foundation of a healthy society. This shift has been informed by my internship at the Museum of Motherhood.

I experienced profound growth and change when I became a mother in 2016 and had a somewhat strange struggle with postpartum depression. It was strange because I had previous knowledge about the condition from the outside-looking-in, and I found that to be valid. But I was also on the inside-looking-out, constantly discerning how I should feel with compassion and anger about what is expected of me, while thwacking myself simultaneously in self-pity and awareness that society and biology have more control over my mental health than I can fix alone. I struggled with breastfeeding until I found help in a local support group. I experienced, firsthand, the benefits of society. These women inspired me, and I found comfort in knowing that when I could log onto Facebook and find help from others who were also up nursing at 3 a.m. I enjoy reading about motherhood in both literature and in psychology and philosophy texts; I ruminate over how I can effectively improve the situation in our society where critique is abundant but action is stonewalled or misguided.

I also found inspiration in global public health leaders, like Hans Rosling, who brilliantly communicated complex data. Rosling used objective data to show that “extreme poverty is the worst health problem in the world today”, and that it should be prioritized over noncommunicable diseases, despite their prominence in numbers. No matter how developed or underdeveloped a country is, the proportion of noncommunicable diseases is ellipsing communicable diseases, yet life expectancies are paradoxically worse; this is an example of science as art- looking at the objective data in the context of our dynamic globe. Disparities associated with maternal and child mortality remains an enormous challenge in nearly all countries, especially the United States, where life-expectancy at birth is the lowest and the maternal and infant mortality rate is the highest of almost all developed countries. Despite non communicable diseases traditionally signaling long-life and high economic status, life expectancies and health outcomes are worse because child mortality rates are increasing due to communicable diseases, malnutrition and lack of maternal services. Maternal health is the foundation of a healthy society.

 

 

By

History, Foundling Wheels, and Experiments in Public Health

During the years that M.O.M operated out of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, posters adorned each of the 2,500 square space’s pillars. These posters focused on quirky and sometimes tragic facts spanning ten centuries of childbirth. One of the most curious posters, and the one that most often elicited conversation from students was the photo and description of the foundling wheel of The Ospedale degli Innocenti in Italy.

Interior courtyard of Ospedale degli Innocenti

This hospital, cum orphanage, history tells us, was an experiment in social welfare and public health fifteenth century-style.

Completed in 1445, the institution received its first abandoned infant ten days later. What the text books tell us differs a great deal from what research anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy discovered and wrote in her provocative book Mother Nature. While I am not at my desk as I write this blog (travels continue to take me through Italy and the surrounding regions), my memory of her book and scholar Jocelyn Fenton Stitt’s 2014 online MSU course on Motherhood Studies stands out. Challenging romanticized notions of caring mothers fawning over their newborns, the foundling hospital tells a different story.

Artifacts left behind along with abandoned newborns were catalogued & curated

Of all the places on our scheduled visit through Italy this summer, this was the destination I was most excited about. According to Hrdy, hundreds of thousands of abandoned newborns died behind these walls, victims of illness, starvation, and a vast population of women, who through circumstance for a great number of reasons were unable to care for their infants. Challenging the assumption that all mothers can or will care for their babies, most of these children born illigitimately, during times of social unrest, during plagues, amidst starvation, and for so many other complex and wide-ranging reasons, were abandoned in the middle of the night and left to fate.

The hospital was envisioned as a charitable institution six hundred years ago and continues to operate as a museum and advocate for youth through various programs. The museum today tells the story of its abandoned children through artifacts left along with the newborns who had to be tiny enough to squeeze through the grated entrance, pictured below.

The author, M. Joy Rose pictured in front of the foundling wheel gate

Once abandoned, a bell would ring, awakening attendants who would then feed and care for the children. For many reasons, Hrdy tells us, the vast majority of these stories end in death. There simply was no baby formula available (it wasn’t invented until the middle 1800s), and there were not enough wet nurses to go around.
The notion of abandoning a newborn, while repugnant to most, is actually evidence for the ongoing argument that women need to be able to choose when and if they will get pregnant and give birth. Baby boxes and other legitimate contemporary options continue to be available to mothers unwilling or unable to care for their newborns in the U.S. and around the world. The Ospedale degli Innocenti stands as testimate to the social history and personal stories of countless children and their families.

Wet nurses hired to feed and care for the babies

Join me by checking in at my personal blog as I spend the next several weeks traveling Europe ~ MOM Founder, Director, M. Joy Rose