5 min read
by Meg Loughman | 03/03/2022
We’ve teamed up with the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA), a Black women-led network that advocates, drives research, builds power, and shifts culture for Black maternal health, rights, and reproductive justice — and we’re honored to be shining the spotlight on them. Since 2015, they have worked as a national voice and coordinating entity for stakeholders and activists in this space, and their efforts have been crucial in centering the voices and experience of Black mamas & birthing people as they work to reshape the future of maternal and reproductive healthcare.
We chatted with Angela D. Aina, MPH—Co-Founder and Executive Director of BMMA—to learn more about the origins of the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, the impacts of the work that they do, and their vision for the future of maternal and reproductive health.
The Black Mamas Matter Alliance was sparked by a partnership project between the Center for Reproductive Rights and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective that began in 2013. The two organizations collaborated on story collection regarding the obstacles that Southern Black women face in accessing maternal health care, leading to poor maternal health outcomes and persistent racial disparities. These findings were included in a joint report—“Reproductive Injustice: Gender and Racial Discrimination in U.S. Healthcare”—that was submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
Monica Simpson of SisterSong, Katrina Anderson of CRR, and Elizabeth Dawes Gay co-organized a convention in Atlanta in June 2015 that brought together experts, activists, and stakeholders from a variety of sectors who were concerned about Black maternal health. “Black Mamas Matter” was an outcome of this meeting, along with a call to action to produce toolkits for activists in the South working to improve maternal health. Over the course of the next year, CRR, in collaboration with members of BMM, created the Black Mamas Matter Toolkit.
Since then, BMMA has grown to a national network of Black women-led, community-based organizations centered around birth and reproductive justice, as well as multidisciplinary professionals working across the full spectrum of maternal and reproductive health.
We believe that all Black women and girls—including cis, trans, and gender non-conforming individuals—deserve access to quality reproductive health information and resources that enable them to make well-informed and empowered decisions before, during, and after pregnancy. We applaud the work of folks like Lena Vann and her organization Black Period Project, as well as Asia Brown and her organization 601 for Period Equity, to address and build greater awareness around period poverty, and to eliminate gaps in information and access to affordable menstrual products.
When it comes to addressing the appalling disparities in maternal mortality and Black Maternal Health in the U.S. specifically—because this is a global issue—we must always first look at and understand the root causes. The negative health outcomes that Black women and birthing people experience are the result of deep-seated institutional racism and biases that have persisted for centuries. The regulation of Black women’s reproductive decisions has, in particular, been a central aspect of racial oppression in America.
For example, enslaved pregnant Black women were forced to work in plantation fields up until their labor; were rarely given a chance to rest and bond with their babies; and were required to return to the fields and suffer through painstaking labor with their babies strapped to their backs. Throughout history Black women’s bodies have been subjected to cruel and inhumane medical procedures — from experimental vaginal surgeries without anesthesia on enslaved Black women, to stealing our cervical cancer cells. These atrocities have been well-documented and yet, there are still so many people who are unaware of how much Black women have suffered at the hands of medical institutions, all in the name of “advancing science.”
At BMMA, we envision a world where all Black women and birthing people have the rights, respect, & resources to thrive before, during, & after pregnancy. We value their lives, knowledge, and leadership. We trust Black women and prioritize Black women’s voices. We recognize, celebrate, and support Black mamas—those who care for and mother our families and communities—whether they are trans, cis, or gender non-conforming. And we stand in solidarity with all Black mamas. This is the future we are building towards.
Unfortunately, many of the issues that shape maternal health outcomes for Black Mamas—like racism—are baked into institutions that have existed for generations. For this reason, we believe that in order to create a lasting difference, we must advance change at the systemic level.
Additionally, too often, Black women are not recognized for the work they are doing to improve the health and well-being of our communities. When it comes to highlighting solutions that directly impact Black women and birthing people, we must be intentional about centering Black women’s scholarship, maternity care work, and advocacy across the full-spectrum of sexual, maternal, and reproductive health care, services, programs, and initiatives.
This year we are gearing up for our fifth annual Black Maternal Health Week campaign! Founded by BMMA, Black Maternal Health Week serves to amplify the voices of Black Mamas, and centers the values and traditions of the reproductive and birth justice movements. All of the events and activities being held during BMHW, which will take place on April 11-17, are rooted in human rights, reproductive justice, and birth justice frameworks. Those who are interested in participating can get involved and learn more here!
We are also excited to announce our upcoming Black Maternal Health Conference & Training Institute which will take place on September 17-18. This convening meets a national need for a forum dedicated to Black Maternal Health and Black people working to improve our outcomes. We will be centering Black Mamas’ voices and experiences in all of the conference programming and activities. More information can be found here.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Meg Loughman (she/her) is a bayou-born, Brooklyn-based writer & content strategist. When she’s not journaling to lofi beats at a cafe somewhere, she likes to moodboard and partake in slow, luxurious breakfasts. You can keep up with her work on her website and tune into her sporadic dispatches & musings on Instagram.
by Meg Loughman