In this story, we highlight Black Mamas ATX, a local organization on a mission to end maternal health disparities.
“No mother should have to face death in order to give life.”
These are the words that Nakeenya Wilson lives by. Nakeenya is the executive director of Black Mamas ATX, “a group of everyday women dedicated to an extraordinary movement to save the lives of Black mothers.”
After surviving a traumatic birth experience herself, Nakeenya has dedicated herself to ensuring that other mothers don’t have to go through what she went through.
“As I started talking to friends… it was story after story of not being heard, of experiencing postpartum complications and them not being attended to timely. Just over and over again,” Nakeenya explained in a recent interview with The Austin Common. “And it didn’t matter if we had masters and PhDs, or high school educations. It didn’t matter if we went to every doctor’s appointment, made six figures, or we were on Medicaid, or had private insurance, there was a thread of these negative experiences.”
Because the reality is, Black women are far more likely to experience these pregnancy-related health complications.
Consider these stats from Black Mamas ATX…
Black women are 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy or child-birth related causes.
Black mothers experience maternal death rates 2 to 4 times higher than white women.
Black children in Texas make up just 11 percent of births in the state, but nearly 30 percent of all women in Texas who die from pregnancy linked complications are Black.
So what do Nakeenya and Black Mamas ATX do to try and end these disparities?
“We are an organization that is grounded in anti-racism,” Nakeenya said. “We are centering Black women in the work. We are reinvesting economically by employing Black women to work with Black women.”
In practice, this means tackling maternal health disparities from all angles – providing direct services to moms, engaging the local community, advocating for statewide policies and systemic changes, and educating the public.
Doulas & Support Groups
To help give moms the support they need, Black Mamas ATX provides free doula services to offer emotional, educational, and self-advocacy support. Doulas are non-medical professionals who work with moms throughout all stages of their pregnancy – getting them physically prepared and teaching pain management techniques prenatally, going to doctors appointments with them, and providing breast-feeding and mental health support after the baby is born.
Black Mamas ATX also works to train more Black women to become doulas, so they can provide culturally-competent care for their mothers.
“Unfortunately, through the systems that moms have to interface with, we know that white supremacy and institutional racism is very prevalent,” Nakeenya said. “And so who better to relate and understand those barriers and the stress of those experiences than another Black woman?”
In addition to the doula services, Black Mamas ATX hosts Sister Circle meetings every month, so that new moms can meet and support each other.
Institutional Work/ Systemic Change
When it comes to moving the needle on health care inequities, Nakeenya says that, “we have to be working from the bottom up and the top down.”
One of the ways they exercise this top-down approach is by hosting free Groundwater Analysis Training with local health care professionals, as well as nonprofit and business leaders. These trainings focus on systemic factors that prevent institutions from achieving racial equity.
On top of that, Black Mamas ATX has been working closely with the UT School of Nursing to provide insights to future maternity nurses about biases, racism, and the ways they can impact care.
Black Mamas ATX also regularly partners with other organizations to advocate for health care reform policies at the Texas Legislature.
How to get involved…
Inspired by Black Mamas ATX work? Here’s how you can get involved:
Volunteer – Black Mamas ATX is still in the process of building out their complete volunteer program, but in the meantime, if you’re interested in helping out, you can contact them here.
Give to Black Mamas ATX Patreon Page – sign up for a $5 to $20 monthly payment to support the work of Black Mamas ATX
Make a one-time donation to Black Mamas ATX here. (Just be sure to select School of Social Work, Black Mamas ATX. Black Mamas ATX originated as a project out of UT, but is on its way to becoming an independent nonprofit.)
At the end of the day, Nakeenya explains that, “The future of humanity is hinged upon women giving birth. And so in order for us to be able to make that valuable contribution to humanity, we deserve to be able to do it safely. If one mom is dying, that’s one too many.”