Angela Doyinsola Aina, MPH, is co-founder and executive director of Black Mamas Matter Alliance, a Black women-led, cross-sectoral alliance that centers Black mamas to advocate, drive research, build power and shift culture for Black maternal health, rights and justice. MADAMENOIRE had the pleasure of speaking with Angela to discuss the role of birth justice and how Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA) envisions wellness for Black mothers and the families we raise. These are the conversations that are being prioritized by Lincoln Listens First.
MADAMENOIRE: Angela, can you tell us about yourself, your vision of wellness and Black Mamas Matter Alliance commitment to the advancement of Black mothers?
Angela Doyinsola Aina: Absolutely, I come into this work with a background in public health. I’ve been a public health practitioner for almost 15 years, and I’ve worked at the community base level, grassroots level, and all the way to academic centers, and state health departments at the federal level with the CDC. My background is just heavy in the health aspect of women’s health, reproductive health and things of that nature with a heart focus on Black feminism and womanism which frames everything that I do.
My commitment to Black women’s health grew through those years of experiences and as I watched what happened to other people that I consider my mentors at this point, their grassroots effort and in trying to be responsive to what we consider human rights atrocities that are always happening in our communities. Thinking of days on Dázon Dixon Diallo and her commitment to creating and sustaining an organization focused on addressing the needs of HIV positive Black women in the Atlanta area. But, unfortunately, a lot of our work is either undervalued, not funded, and extrapolated, or used.
Being introduced to reproductive justice back in 2007, at Sister Song, basically just solidified me and said, “Oh, this is what I’m going to do.”
I just believe that we need to fight for and continue to advocate for one, Black women’s scholarship around health and healing work, because it matters. It’s innovative. And it’s important, but to also an understanding that Black women’s bodies are the source of everything. From vaccination to medicines, to the understanding of gynecology and Black women’s maternity care work in the form of midwifery practice, helped usher in what we have today in nursing and other medical practices around “pregnancy intervention.”
You mentioned how Black women and our bodies have historically been so transformative for things like gynecology, birthing practices and interventions. I know that birth justice is a pillar of reproductive justice and something the Black Lives Matter Alliance has talked about in the past. What role do you see the birth justice movement playing in the wellness of Black women and families?
I think it needs to be at the center in terms of ending maternal mortality. We know the domino effect of challenges and problems when women die as a result of childbirth or what we consider over-arching contributors to maternal mortality.
Southern Birth Justice Network, Ancient Song Doula Services and Black Women for Birthing Justice: these groups have helped us define this perinatal period whereby there needs to be a higher standard around holistic care that is informed and genuinely meets the needs of the birthing person beyond even navigating the healthcare system.
Birth justice helps those practitioners provide the necessary, holistic components of care to people and it recognizes that not all birthing people are women and that the birthing experience–pregnancy and postpartum–needs to be culturally congruent and responsive to the needs of that birthing person and the overarching family unit around that person to ensure that there’s adequate social support.
Thank you for naming the importance of a comprehensive family unit and community being there. Last month, there was a conversation on Twitter about Black doulas and their role in wellness care after birth. Many Black doulas also stated the importance of empowering both the families and the doulas.
We did the things that we needed to do during what I’m calling the perinatal period because it is inclusive of pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum. A lot of it is directed towards the pregnant person and the infant. Unfortunately, if there’s an experience of miscarriage, and there’s continued needed care like postpartum Support around that or loss support. In terms of what’s going on in the country right now, I would be remiss if I didn’t include in here abortion and termination services because it is doulas who serve as an important support, if and when a person chooses for termination services. While all of that is great and helpful, the person we are centering is still part of a larger family unit. Whatever that family unit looks like in a larger community is still impacted in or engaged in the process of the pregnancy outcome.
You mentioned abortion care or termination services being a vital part of the conversation, and I know that Black Mamas Matter Alliance is vocal about the current state of abortion access. How would you describe abortion care’s role in the wellness of Black women and our families?
While I don’t consider myself an expert in this area, I do know this fight is serious. I want to uplift the truth that this work is dangerous. It is wrong for this work and organizing for essential health care, to have experiences that mirror a domestic terrorist attack. I’m uplifting the great work of Feminist Women’s Health Center under the leadership of Kwajalein Jackson. They have really stood the test of time. Here in Atlanta, Georgia, they have been an essential abortion care and reproductive health care provider in the Southeast region for a long time.
You mentioned Black midwives, doulas, organizers, the Black women who should have access to all of those people and adequate care, all these moving parts of our wellness relies so much on trust. So when BMMA says trust Black women, what does that really look like?
Trust Black women have the scholarship, know-how, skill set, ability, innovation and the ingenuity to address maternal mortality. Full stop.