In Memory of Dana Raphael

Upcoming holidays – 6/6 D-Day, the invasion of France in WW2 (Nazi): 6/19 Fathers’ Day (US and Canada): 6/20 is both a full moon and the summer solstice

I had planned to finish the eating disorders series, but let too much time slide by. It will come in June, I promise.

Dana Raphael passed away on February 2 of this year. She was one of the pioneers in the field of women’s and children’s health and ritual abuse as it affects the bond between women and their children. I knew her personally and she followed my work closely. I didn’t think of her as a mentor, but rather as a cheerleader. Since there hadn’t been many cheerleaders in my life, I was very, very grateful.

I knew that her life’s work was the Human Lactation Center, which she had co-founded with Margaret Mead in 1975. I didn’t know that she introduced the word doula and that she wrote “The Tender Gift: Breastfeeding,” which people called “the Bible of breastfeeding.” It addresses stigma and medical concerns as well as giving advice and encouragement to new mothers. Pretty damn good for 1973.

Dana’s interest in breastfeeding as important to the well-being of both mothers and infants broadened to include oppression of women, child sexual abuse, and ritual abuse. She became known at the United Nations because The Human Lactation Foundation participated in a large study of lactation and infant growth sponsored by the World Health Organization and co-funded by NIH and USDA. From this work came a strong connection with the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women.

Here is an article in which she describes how she came to be involved with ritual abuse issues–torture.html. In it, she speaks of attending the 2003 S.M.A.R.T conference and being very moved by being in the presence of so many ritual abuse survivors. I was at that conference and witnessed the moment when Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald said they wished they could present on ritual abuse at the United Nations. Dana said, “I think I can help. Speak to me afterwards.” That was the beginning of a yearly meeting on ritual abuse at the United Nations Conference on the Status of Women.

One year – I think it was 2005 – she asked me to be part of the panel. I was honored, I was overwhelmed, and I was scared of having flashbacks, as most of my abuse had taken place in New York City. Despite mixed feelings, I asked Dana what to wear (she said anything that makes you feel like a million dollars), took a deep breath, and accepted. After the presentation, I stepped out onto the street and started having non-stop flashbacks. That dress no longer fits but I cannot bring myself to give it away.

Dana’s accomplishments were many and her interests far-ranging. At the time of her death, she was Executive Director of the Eleventh Commandment Foundation, a NGO that researches the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse on women’s experience of pregnancy, labor, childbirth and lactation. She was an adjunct professor at the Yale School of Medicine and lectured all over the world. She received two Fulbright awards, was involved in more than fifty conferences and symposiums, and wrote or edited five books and over fifty articles.

As if she didn’t have enough to do, she was also on the Board of Directors of the Club of Rome, which is working on climate change issues. And then there was her family, the New York City Ballet, the Connecticut Ballet, the American Museum of Natural History, the Audubon Society, and more I will never find out about.

Here is a picture of the Dana I knew; bright, curious, eager, open to whatever is in the moment. I am grateful that I knew her and wish she were still with us.

DAna Prof photos (8)

2 thoughts on “In Memory of Dana Raphael

  1. Thank you, Jeannie, for sharing the news about Dana and for an opportunity to remember her tremendous work. I recall having a long phone conversation with Dana during the height of my advocacy work. She was a remarkable woman, brilliant, connected and open to our cause. May she rest in peace. Jeanne


    1. It makes me happy that you too knew her. She wasn’t well known in the therapist/survivor circle so it felt a little lonely mourning her.

      I wonder who else has passed away recently. I also wonder why we don’t have a celebration of life for those who are still living!


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