Black women often find themselves at a unique appex of fear and empowerment when it comes to motherhood. On one hand, we embrace the powerful sacredness it is to create life and on the other, we are confronted with the very real fear of the Black maternal mortality rate. According to the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, Black women face dangerous obstacles in accessing maternal health care, leading to poor maternal health outcomes and persistent racial disparities. This understandably leaves many of us who are considering or currently managing motherhood with questions on how to reclaim this experience for ourselves.
Latham Thomas, founder of Mama Glow and co-founder of the Mama Glow Foundation is creating space to allow Black women the resources, dialogue, community, and outlets we need to navigate this intricate issue. Through her widely-successful Doula Expo, Latham bridges the gap between Black women and vital care we all need not only through motherhood, but various stages of our lives.
The Doula Expo by Mama Glow is a day-long festival that supports birth professionals and families, and prioritizes education, connection and community. Birth workers, caregivers and families will join maternal health and wellness industry leaders and policymakers to discuss how we build a future where birth is safe and equitable for all, address policy gaps, and share powerful personal stories grounded in solutions in maternal health.
Mama Glow is a Brooklyn-based, Black, female-founded organization training and supporting a global community of doulas. Through their global doula training platform they strive to advance workforce development and economic empowerment for their thriving community of birth workers.
Latham shared her thoughts with GROWN on why she began her work as an authority in the Black maternal health space:
“I really got into this work because it was inspired by a calling. I grew up in California raised by really powerful and incredible Black women.”
Latham describes an early memory of being 4 years old and witnessing her mother, aunt, and great aunt being pregnant at the same time, all due within a few months of each other. “I’m just watching these bellies expand and I’m fascinated by this and little did I know that that would be the foundation for the work I would do later in life but also the rudiments of what I would come to understand as body literacy.”
“About 20 minutes after my son was born I said into the room, for everyone to hear: ‘I have to help protect this experience for others. I have to.'”
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She then entered the work of women’s health inspired by her upbringing, but the passion grew even more once she experienced childbirth herself. She delivered her son at Elizabeth Seton, a birth center located in New York governed by midwives. “Being able to deliver in this amazing space and having this transformative experience with midwives, and also my family who was present at the delivery, I was like ‘oh wait, birth can be completely different’ and about 20 minutes after my son was born I said into the room, for everyone to hear: ‘I have to help protect this experience for others. I have to.'”
Latham goes on to explain that the practice of midwives and doulas has always been at the root of Black culture, however through slavery and decades of systemic racism those sacred traditions became harder to preserve. “Midwifery is the oldest known profession. Doula work actually evolved out of village keeping. The role really was one where the midwife would [be present during labor] and then a group of women would come into the space and bring in herbs, make tonics, they would gossip, some would tend to the kids, others would cook, they would prepare the linens for the birth, change the linens after birth, they would wash the mother, they would sing, I mean this is what we did ancestrally and anciently. So the modern doula is kind of in that role, in concert with and under the leadership of the midwife.”
“If you invest in midwifery, if I invest in midwifery, we will encourage through our choices a new culture.”
Recently, the practice of doulas and midwives has sparked conversation on social media, with polarizing views as to how Black mothers are allowed to receive and ask for help. However, Latham explains that having a village of care is an important solution to creating a new culture and system. “Why are we asking Black women to go into a place where we already told them they can be mistreated or harmed? We already established that this is the most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth. Why are we sending women into harm’s way with no recourse? So that is why it’s important, if you invest in midwifery, if I invest in midwifery, we will encourage through our choices a new culture.”
While this practice of care is one commonly used during childbirth, doulas also support various stages of life. They can be a comforting resource during miscarriage, abortion, postpartum, and even through the death of a loved one. “Doulas are there to serve as a constant presence of non-judgemental support regardless of the life event. I’m here to hold your hand and make sure that you feel safe.”
That level of safety is one many Black women aren’t aware they have access to, which is why the Doula Expo stands to be a staple event in our community. As the event prepares to take place this weekend in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Latham shares a few things she’s looking forward to the most:
“What I really love about [the Doula Expo] is we’re really all about self-care and rest. While there’s stage programming all day long, there’s all these amazing lounges where you can relax, kiki, and connect with people.”
Special guests at the event include Charlamagne tha God, Lion Babe’s Jillian Hervey, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Karyn Parsons, and founder of 4kira4moms Charles Johnson. Mama Glow has also fostered a partnership with Bobbie Organic Infant Formula to donate 1,000 cans of formula for distribution to families in need during the shortage currently effecting the US.
The expo will also feature brands such as Carol’s Daughter, March Of Dimes, Frida Mom, Irth App, Mahmee, Spring Fertility, Rosebud Woman, Agni, Kudos, Kibou, Kate Spade New YorkBox for Loss and more.
Through Latham’s work, Black women are afforded the opportunity to not only embrace softness but reestablish motherhood on our terms. When asked how she feels about the current movement towards accepting more support, Latham expressed that we deserve this moment to honor our right to care for ourselves.
“I think it’s such a critical moment in time where we need to reclaim rest. We now are taking up space in that way that we weren’t before.”
The Doula Expo takes place at 25 Kent Ave in Brooklyn, NY May 21st from 10AM-6PM. Get your tickets here.