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The Doula Expo by Mama Glow: A Festival Centering a Culture Shift in Black Maternal Health

| May 30, 2022

On Saturday, May 21, at 25 Kent in Brooklyn, Mama Glow hosted their second DOULA EXPO, a festival celebrating birth work and policy change, platforming businesses and organizations rooted in solutions in maternal health. The Doula Expo gathered nearly 1,000 doulas, birthing individuals, caregivers, families, non-profit organizations, women’s health brands, and more, under one roof for a day of education, community-building, networking, business development, and self-care. The day kicked off with a New Orleans style brass band that greeted attendees outside ahead of the ribbon cutting by Mama Glow founder Latham Thomas, who tag teamed the role of emcee alongside Karyn Parsons, best known for her role at Hillary Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

The 16,000 square foot open floor-plan space was completely transformed and as guests filled the space at 10:30 AM to start the day, they were transported to into what felt like a massive living room, a jungle of plants and florals, plush seating, booths including: Nurtafol, Irth App, Mahmee, Ovia Health, Boram, and Carol’s Daughter, banners including: Hum Nutrition, Hugh and Grace, and lounge spaces, including: Kate Spade New York Wellness Lounge, March of Dimes ‘Listening Lounge’, Kin Euphorics Bloom Beauty Bar, the Bobbie Infant feeding Lounge, the LALO children’s play space andMama Glow Lounge. Supplemented by brief keynote presentations, TED style talks, and breakout activities, the festival was driven by immersive, experiential booths and build-outs, and lounge spaces where brand partners connected with the extensive doula and parental community. Over 40 brands and organizations were present and attendees were able to sip on Maman French bakery coffee, teas and nibble on mini croissants and other pastries served by founder Elisa Marshall. They enjoyed vegan bites including chia seed pudding and a salad pot from Daily Dose Meals. Angelica Mendoza founder of Badass Mom Wines served zero proof wine for guests to indulge in throughout the day!

The incredible audience at the Doula Expo by Mama Glow. Nearly 1,000 people were in attendance.

The festivities lasted from 10AM-6PM with curated activations set up village style. Nearly all of the organizations and small businesses curated in attendance were female-founded including: Ancestral Whisper, whose incense and oils are a fan-favorite, Doula Deity, graced us with waist beads, Rosebud Woman, shared their femme product line and books, Rae’s Roots, provided their tea blends, Magic V Steam, educated guests in the art of yoni steaming and gifted their Vaginal Spa, 1130 Chandlery, sold majestic blends of ceremonial smudge wands, Welcoming Hands Birthing Services, Badass Mom Wines, Kin Euphorics, IRTH App, Mahmee, and more. They sampled and sold products and services and took thoughtful time to educate and connect with attendees.

Brooklyn Borough President, Antonio Reynoso addresses the crowd at the 2022 Doula Expo

Brooklyn Borough President, Antonio Reynoso delivered the opening remarks on the main stage, “One of the commitments I made was that I was going outfit the Brooklyn public hospitals with state of the art birthing centers in an effort to reduce the mortality rate of Black women during childbirth.” said Reynoso, who appointed the first members of his Maternal Health Task Force in April 2022.

District 33 Council Member, Lincoln Restler addresses the crowd at the 2022 Doula Expo

Immediately following the Borough President, was District 33 Council Member, Lincoln Restler, “We are weeks away from the end of Roe v Wade, our reproductive rights have never been under attack like they are today. We must prioritize reproductive justice and that means centering doulas and midwives in the birth process.” the Council member added that “the racial disparities that exist here in New York City today, that are killing Black and brown women in the birthing process are unacceptable, unconscionable, and most importantly they are avoidable.”

Later in the day, the NYC Public Advocate, Jumaane Williams made official remarks via video and echoed, “This movement is already shifting policy including changes to how the city supports doula services which will help bring care into communities and lower the economic barriers that are preventing some pregnant people from seeking critical care.”

Stacey Brayboy, Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Government Affairs moderated a conversation with Folake Eniola, Deputy Director – Research and Evaluation, Maternity Hospital Quality Improvement Network Unit and Regina Conceiçaõ, Director, By My Side Birth Support Program, Center for Health Equity and Community Wellness

The Expo stage was lively with policy driven conversations, exploring how transformational advocacy and policy can improve care outcomes along the reproductive continuum, moderated by Stacey Brayboy, Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Government Affairs at the March of DimesFolake Eniola, Deputy Director – Research and Evaluation, Maternity Hospital Quality Improvement Network Unit spoke about the importance of implicit bias trainings inside of the hospitals to improve the maternal health experience as well as making the hospitals doula friendly. “we interrogate the root causes of disparities that exist in our hospitals with a focus on training providers in equitable care, anti-racist care, gender justice, and reproductive justice” said Einola. In speaking about the origins of community doula care, “Community Doula based doula care and midwifery care is rooted on centuries old tradition of women receiving care from women. Black birth workers are uniquely equipped to serve our own communities to determine our care needs”, said Regina Conceiçaõ, Director, By My Side Birth Support Program, Center for Health Equity and Community Wellness.

Lean on Me: Black Fathers reflect on the impact of the maternal health crisis on the Black family a conversation between Charles Johnson, Maternal Health Advocate, Founder of 4 Kira 4 Moms, and Carlamagne tha God, Radio host and television personality, co-host of The Breakfast Club

And a potent fireside chat about the impact of the Black maternal health crisis on Black fathers, between radio personality Charlamagne tha God and Charles Johnson IV, maternal health activist and founder of 4 Kira 4 Moms, was deeply moving. Charles shared the tragic story of his partner Kira Johnson, who lost her life in childbirth at the hands of medical negligence and is the inspiration behind his work to dismantle the systemic flaws within the healthcare system, “we have to have a serious conversation about the lived experience of Black men who are navigating birth with their families and the impact of loss.”Said Charles. While we are working on reimagining a system we need to provide families with tools to advocate. It’s not enough for Black women to survive childbirth  they need to thrive. “We never really hear about Black fathers going through this process and it’s important to support them, we need support through this” said Charlamagne. For the births of two out of 4 daughters, Charlamagne tha God and his wife Jessica hired Latham Thomas as their doula, to help them navigate a V-Bac, vaginal birth after Cesarean.

Jillian Hervey of the electronic music duo, Lion Babe performed two songs including “Treat Me Like Fire” and dedicated her performance to the doula community. 

Jillian Hervey of the electronic music duo, Lion Babe, joined Latham Thomas conversation about her own birth journey and the impact of doulas in her life during pregnancy and postpartum she shared “having doula support in the 4th trimester was critical as I was still transforming, healing, and becoming my new self.”Lion Babe performed two songs, closing out her set with “Treat Me Like Fire.”

Rest and the 4th Trimester: Embracing the ancient practice of postpartum retreat for recovery with Boram Nam, Co-Founder of Boram and Latham Thomas, Founder of Mama Glow

Boram is a postnatal stay for new mothers to rest and recover with baby on the way home from the hospital.We believe the fourth trimester—the period right after child birth, is a critical time for mothers to rest and recover. The Boram experience includes 24/7 support, spa therapy, essential nutrition and rest during the postnatal period when a mother’s health and well-being is of the utmost importance. Founded by Boram Nam, the space is located in the Langham hotels in NYC. Boram is about redefining the 4th trimester. Nam admits that she started working an hour into postpartum, she was back on her phone and suffered depression as a result. Nam recognizes that “Rest is critical in recovery and in the US we do not offer mothers rest in the postpartum period. We also don’t provide rest during miscarriage either. This culture needs to change.”

IRTH Making Birth without Bias A Reality for Black and Brown Parents with Kimberly Seals Allers, Maternal Health Tech Founder, IRTH App, Award-Winning Writer & Author Host, Birthright Podcast

In her presentation: IRTH Making Birth without Bias A Reality for Black and Brown Parents. – Presented by IRTH App Kimberly Seals Allers discusses the Irth App and how its important to hold systems accountable for our birthing outcomes. “If we are going to achieve equity for birthing people we need to generate data.” says Seals Allers, Maternal Health Tech Founder, IRTH App, Award-Winning Writer & Author Host, Birthright Podcast. The app uses user generated data to provide a Yelp like experience for people using the platform. Each review makes it safer for another Black or brown birthing person who gets the information they need to make an informed choice about their care.

Love Delivered: Expanding access to doula support and advocating for better birth, a conversation between Lisa Price, Founder of Carol’s Daughter and Latham Thomas, Founder of Mama Glow and Mama Glow Foundation

Carol’s Daughter founder Lisa Price promoted the Love Delivered, campaign in partnership with the Mama Glow Foundation, which provides doula services for Black families in need in 5 major U.S cities. As we celebrate this weekend we center joy in the Black birthing experience,” said Mama Glow founder and CEO Latham Thomas.  “We celebrate the triumphs, our collective solutions, and our self determination. Birth is meant to be transcendent, and we all deserve to experience empowerment through birth. The Doula grants made possible through the three-year $225,000 commitment from Carol’s Daughter, further the mission to support safe, healthy and joyful birth outcomes for Black families in need.” According to the CDC, Black birthing people unfortunately die of pregnancy-related causes at a rate 3x higher than those of white women with 60% of those deaths being preventable. Sadly, Black newborn babies are 3x more likely than white babies to die when looked after by White doctors.  These disparities were in part why Love Delivered was established; to empower, support and show love to Black birthing people and babies when they need it most.

Bobbie is an organic infant formula company changing the conversation around infant feeding. Bobbie is committed to addressing the formula crisis.

In the midst of the brewing formula crisis Bobbie, an organic US-based infant formula company that makes European-style formula, addressed the current formula crisis and committed 1,000 cans of infant formula to the Mama Glow Foundation to support impacted families in need. Bobbie, a long time partner of Mama Glow, is changing the conversation about infant feeding and centering non-judgement. Bobbie raised 50 million dollars that they will allocate toward product development and research. The Bobbie infant feeding lounge at the Doula Expo was a space of relaxation and calm. It was an interactive lounge where families could get advice from Elieke KearnsBobbie’s Medical Affairs Lead,  and learn more about breastfeeding or solutions for formula feeders.

You, your clients, and…the government? How to prepare to work with government agencies and insurance companies as a doula, with Founder and CEO of Mahmee, Melissa Hanna
Mahmee CEO & Co-Founder Melissa Hanna spoke about the importance of using technology to partner with insurance companies and the government to ensure those who need care get it!
Hanna, walked the audience through how navigate a state or city-funded doula program. Mahmee is an integrated care delivery platform that works with community-based birth professionals, government agencies, and payors to ensure birthing people get the care they deserve.

The day was grounded in celebration and culture shift, it was about forward thinking and building a future that centers birth equity and reproductive justice, it was a day of galvanizing and fortifying birth workers who are going out to serve those in their communities. It was a day that reminded all of us of our collective power and what is possible when we look to community to be at the center of change.

Latham Thomas is the visionary behind the Doula Expo by Mama Glow and the Mama Glow Foundation has partnered with the City of New York for Mayor Adams’ multi-million dollar Citywide Doula Initiative designed to close the maternal health care gap for Black and Brown birthing people and babies.  New York City Department of Health and the Citywide Doula Initiative was present at the Doula Expo. “This unique gathering underscores the importance of leaning into community, supporting our villages, and reminds us of the power we have when we come together. Birth work is essential work, caregivers are at the crux of community, and the work of doulas is life affirming. The Doula Expo by Mama Glow is a safe space for us to gather, celebrate, and restore ourselves as we continue the path forward,” said Thomas.

Learn more at www.DoulaExpo.com

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