By Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC, FAPA
Three weeks ago, the USA and the world lost a brilliant and talented doctor and maternal child health expert who had worked for many decades to improve the lives of families in each corner of the globe. Dr. Miriam Labbok passed away and while her contributions live on, she will be very much missed. Her friend and colleague Kathleen Kendall-Tackett remembers Miriam in this brief tribute to Miriam's significant work. - Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.
On August 13, 2016, the breastfeeding world lost a tireless champion who touched lives all over the world. And I lost a dear and cherished friend. It was a sad day for all of Miriam Labbok's many friends around the world. Miriam had a brilliant mind, and she accomplished much in her long and productive career. But what I will always remember was her kind and generous spirit, and her great sense of humor.
Miriam did her undergraduate work at the University of Pennsylvania, and completed both her MD and MPH at Tulane University. She was particularly interested in promoting breastfeeding and maternal and child health in the developing world, and worked with USAID, UNICEF, and other international organizations, as well as Johns Hopkins and Georgetown University. Her work continues to be valued and appreciated as reflected in the many notes that have come in from around the world honoring her. Her most recent work was as founder of the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute, at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she was also a professor in the Gillings School of Global Public Health.
A male colleague recently shared a story about Miriam that I thought beautifully illustrated who Miriam was and why we miss her so much. They were both speaking at a conference. A young woman approached them and told them she had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and was having trouble breastfeeding. My male colleague was about to jump in with suggestions on which medications she might try, but Miriam cut to the heart of the matter and said, “I can see how much you love your baby and want to do what is best for her.” The mother started sobbing and pouring out the rest of her story. Miriam didn’t get caught up in the technical parts of breastfeeding with this mother. Instead, she saw this mother and acknowledged her first before jumping in and trying fix the problem. The mother knew it too.
At Praeclarus Press, we were privileged to publish three of her books: It Takes a Village, Advancing Breastfeeding, and a monograph on exclusive breastfeeding. Her fourth and final book with us will be published by the end of the year. The topic is Social Justice and Breastfeeding. These books are all excellent and reflect her keen mind and her desire to keep moving the field forward.
In July, the month before her passing, Miriam was honored as the recipient of the Patricia Martens Award for Excellence in Breastfeeding Research, given by the International Lactation Consultant Association’s Journal of Human Lactation as well as the Crystal Rose award from Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, an organization that works to address breastfeeding disparities among people of color, and the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee’s Legacy Award.
Over the past few weeks, as I knew that the end of Miriam’s life was near, I found myself often reflecting on what she meant to me and how much I valued her friendship. I have also resolved to live up to the example she set with her life. I miss her every day and I know many others do too. Let’s keep her memory alive by continuing in the work she dedicated her life to. I’d like to think that she is in heaven cheering us on.
About Kathleen Kendall-Tackett
Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC, FAPA is a health psychologist, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Fellow of the American Psychologial Association in both the divisions of Health and Trauma Psychology. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is President-Elect of the Division of Trauma Psychology, Editor-in-Chief ofClinical Lactation, clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, and Owner/Editor-in-Chief of Praeclarus Press, a small press specializing in women’s health. Dr. Kendall-Tackett has authored more than 310 articles or chapters and is the author or editor of 22 books on women’s health, maternal depression, family violence and breastfeeding. Dr. Kendall-Tackett and Dr. Tom Hale received the 2011 John Kennell and Marshall Klaus Award for Research Excellence from DONA International. You can find more from her at Uppity Science Chick.