This month, MyMommyVents gives you an inside look at the lives of everyday moms who are juggling it all. From breastfeeding advocates and authors to designers, these women aren’t just changing diapers, they’re changing the world.
When you’re in labor, you want someone supportive by your side. Someone who will offer comfort. Someone who will reassure you, guide you, and advocate for you. For some women, that someone is a husband or a friend, but for many others, that someone is a doula.
Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka is a doula, nurse, midwifery student, co-author of “Free to Breastfeed: Voices of Black Mothers,” co-creator of Black Breastfeeding Week, and MomsRising fellow. Her days are spent learning, teaching, and advocating for women and moms.
Raised in Chicago, cultivated as an adult in Brooklyn and now, training as a healthcare provider in New Haven, CT, she is a wife and mother of two “deeply curious, fun loving and communicative sons who are 5 and 2.5 years old.”
I’m honored to be able to call her friend, and to introduce you to her in today’s “How She Does It” feature.
What made you decide to pursue midwifery?
I’ve always been broadly interested in health and wellbeing, but it took me many years of searching and filling my bag with a variety of tools and modalities to learn that I’m deeply interested in helping women connect to their power through their physical health and the perinatal period. A friend mentioned to me that she was planning a homebirth with a midwife.
I was an adult and it was my first time learning about midwifery as a formal profession and hearing about homebirth being done above ground. I contacted the midwife, who would later attend me through pregnancy and labor, to learn more about her life as a midwife. I knew immediately that I had found a piece of myself like a horcrux and haven’t looked back.
How did you become an advocate for maternal health and breastfeeding?
My advocacy work is another horcrux (she laughs). I could never be a healthcare provider who is not also active in creating and shaping the social matrix in which we’re raising our families and meant to love ourselves and each other. My previous profession was as a high school teacher and during that time, I was also active in issues related to access to high-quality foods and community development. In my transition to motherhood, I took note of what struggles I had that just feel illogical – like choosing between staying home with a newborn vs. returning to work so as not to exhaust ones savings. This was just a few years ago, but the conversation about paid family leave was not as popular as it even is now.
A much simpler and more accessible topic that I also felt strongly about is breastfeeding. Simply put, every black woman I knew – friend or family – breastfed their children. I could not reconcile my personal reality with the dominant narrative that Black women don’t breastfeed – or that we don’t do it enough even in the face of evidence that shows how significant it can be for health ailments that haunt us specifically. At some point, I decided to be part of a cultural shift that would change the narrative and content creation about our breastfeeding, nurturing and parenting.
When did you start working with MomsRising, and what do you do?
After creating the Brown Mamas Breastfeed Project, Sh*t People Say to Breastfeeding Mothers video and Free to Breastfeed website with my co-conspirator Jeanine Valrie Logan, I learned about MomsRising’s work. I was taken by how the organization made connections between feminism and family economic security because it directly related to the major themes of personal and political power that are important to me in all aspects of life.
With MomsRising, I work on issues related to the intersection of breastfeeding and economic security. This includes paid sick days and workplace supports, like job protection, time, and a clean, private place to pump.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I love that my work keeps me making connections between the systems and institutions that affect our lives as well as the experiences and activism of everyday people. It’s deeply encouraging and even reassuring to be surrounded by so much action and power in my life, whether it be in the birth room, chatting on Twitter or participating in a strategy session. I feel like I’ve chosen a path that keeps me connected to an endless spring of hope, which is so clutch in moments when my human frailties feel overwhelming.
How do you balance your career and motherhood? When do you work?
“When do you work?” is a perfect question. As I respond to these interview questions, my clock tells me that it is 3:23 am and my youngest child begins his first day of pre-school at 8:30. Did I mention I’m also expected to stay with him for his first half-day? When there is something large on the horizon like Black Breastfeeding Week or exams, I work after the children retire to bed late into the next morning.
Someone once pointed out to me that balance is only necessary for an object in motion. To me, that means that balance is a dynamic achievement, not necessarily a dead stillness. Balance is adjustment. This means being aware of where and how I’m moving and being able to locate the center and return to it. My approach is to continue identifying who and what my resources are, build a village of reciprocal, loving relationships and slaying the beasts of self-doubt, unsusceptible, fear and selfishness.
Interested in learning more about Anayah and her work?
Read more about Black Breastfeeding Week here.