We had the pleasure of hosting a house party for Judy Norsigian at our home this week. The party was to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the publication of Our Bodies, Ourselves and to learn more about the ongoing efforts of Our Bodies Ourselves (aka OBOS), the nonprofit health education and advocacy organization that Judy co-founded as the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective in 1969.
How important is Our Bodies, Ourselves? How about this as an indicator: Time magazine named it one of the 100 most influential nonfiction books written since 1923. And it remains a trusted resource—Library Journal selected it as one of the eight best consumer health books of 2011. What can I say? As a writer, I’m jealous!
My wife and I have different recollections of the early editions of Our Bodies, Ourselves. Elisabeth has a special place in her heart for the book – like many, many women she learned a great deal about her own body and the larger world of women’s health on those pages.
Me? I was one of the very few people at the party who hadn’t read a single page of Our Bodies, Ourselves in my twenties. That’s not to say it didn’t influence my life. Nearly every woman I knew back then had a copy on her bookshelf, but I kept a respectful distance. Our Bodies, Ourselves was a mysterious woman-thing, all about their bodies and themselves. (I kept waiting for somebody to publish an equivalent guy-book—maybe Hey, Man! It’s Your Body!—but they never did.)
I first met Judy Norsigian in 2009, when I was on the Portland stop of my Birth Day book tour. We were introduced by a mutual friend (the indomitable Judith Rooks) and Judy very kindly agreed to introduce me at my Powell’s Books reading. I still have the sneaking suspicion that the audience was there for Judy, not me…
We reconnected at the Home Birth Consensus Summit in Virginia last October, where Judy was the Summit’s go-to person for her wisdom and her well-grounded-in-reality common sense. She mentioned to me that she would be coming to Berkeley in April, and since we live just an hour away, we decided to do the house party.
It was a remarkable evening. Twenty-five women (and three men) listened as Judy spoke eloquently and passionately of OBOS’s ongoing advocacy efforts, which included a few topics that would have been straight out of a science fiction novel in 1969:
- Calling for policies that preserve or expand access to sexual and reproductive services—a white-hot topic in the current political climate.
- Advocating for improved maternity care policies, especially expanded access to midwifery care, the promotion of VBACs, and a reduction in unnecessary labor inductions.
- Urging better FDA oversight of siliocne breast implants.
- Serving on the Steering Committee for this summer’s third Tarrytown Meeting, where prominent health advocates and academics will work for more responsible governance of new human genetic technologies.
- Establishing better informed consent for women seeking assisted reproductive technology.
- Serving as co-plaintiff in an ACLU lawsuit regarding the patenting of human genes.
As soon as the party ended Judy was hard at work, answering emails and preparing for the rest of her northern California trip. We dropped her off in Berkeley the next morning, after an enjoyable ride that included a thorough hashing of the public health challenges facing California (that’s Elisabeth’s turf, as director of Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health for Sonoma County—I played the role of driver/active listener).
Rough economic times are particularly rough on nonprofit organizations. I hope you’ll be inspired to contribute to OBOS here (not to put too fine of a point on it, but DONATE HERE!!) We need OBOS more now than ever!