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April 13, 2024 33 mins
Tatyana Ali shares her personal journey in the black maternal health space and the importance of community support. She discusses her traumatic birth experience and the need for reproductive justice. Ali emphasizes the impact of racism and bias on maternal health outcomes and the need for advocacy and education. She highlights her partnership with March of Dimes and their work in addressing maternal care deserts. Ali also shares her upcoming project of creating and selling blankets to support midwives and doulas in underserved communities.
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Episode Transcript

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Okay, so welcome to Me Eternal. I am Kenya Gibson, and I
am really honored and blessed and fortunateto have Tatiana Ali joining us for Me
Eternal today. We were just talkinga little bit earlier about motherhood and all
these things that are intertwined and alittle bit how we met, right.
So, you and I connected atthe Mama Glow Dula expo probably about a

year ago, and I was sittingthere in the room and I was listening
to your story and I was like, oh my God, like I just
I had no idea. So Ikind of wanted to start there with that
because I know you're known for allthese other things, but I don't know
if a lot of people know thatyou do a lot of work that's very
important in the black maternal health space. So I wanted to kind of tap
into your story. Yeah. Ithink my story, who where does it

start? It kind of starts withcommunity. I was going through kind of
breaking generational curses and just you know, wanting to nurse my my first baby,
my my first son. I wantedto nurse him and nurse you know,
hopefully exclusively. I know, youknow, I didn't know what how

that would happen or how what mybody would do? That was my goal.
And uh, up until two yearsold, and the women in my
family, at least for the generationsthat we can remember, hadn't done that.
And uh, I was really seekingcommunity. So I I put it.
I posted, you know a littlebit about just I don't know,

I can't even remember what I posted, but it was, it was,
it was. It was a lengthytext where I talked about you know,
aunties who were like you, soyou so breastfeeding that baby, you know,
just like a different It just kindof bringing a culture change in my
own family and the journey that I'dgone through. And then I was because
of that post, I was askedto attend a panel, to be on

a panel for the Black Mama's MatterAlliance. And when that invitation came,
by the time I was there onthat stage in Atlanta, I was pregnant
with my second son and terrified becauseof the actual experience that I had giving
birth to my first son, whichI had never shared, and I was

looking for another way. I didn'twant to, you know, our are
both our lives were put at riskunnecessarily. I had very healthy pregnancy kind
of normal, you know, everythingwas steady, and everything just you know,
went completely downhill the moment we steppedinto the hospital from coercion into an

epidural from at one point, youknow, they held me down. People
I didn't know in the room dreamingat me. It was extremely harrowing and
it all resulted in me asking fora c section because I thought they were

going to hurt him. He wascrowned for a very long time and they
wouldn't let me move and forcibly,you know, physically, I experienced obstetric
violence. It's not until doing thiswork that I even had the name for
what we experienced in the room.And once I did that panel at Black

Mama's Matter Alliance. This is fouryears ago. My youngest baby is four.
Now. I was pregnant, notshowing, didn't tell anybody, but
I found myself in the middle ofin this room with three hundred or so
black midwives, black and brown midwivesand doulas and just going, oh,

like my prayers have been answered.God put me in this room and I
without even I hadn't even shared mystory yet, and I didn't share my
story until I did. All ofthe research I needed to do for me
and my family to be able tofigure out what is this? There must

be another way? What is thisother way? And all I wanted to
do when I found out that informationwas to share it so that we all
know it. Because if I hadknown then that this reproductive justice community exists,
that these incredible advocates and birth workersare working, they know what the
answers are and how to take careof us properly, with kindness, with

love, respecting our autonomy, Ijust wanted to share it. And so
the first thing I did was Iwrote an op ed in essence called Birthright,
and I've been doing that work eversince. And I just don't want
any any family. I don't wantany of us to ever have to experience
what my husband and I went through. Deserve it, and there's so much

there's there's better for us. Yeah, for sure. It's it's interesting when
you were sharing certain details about yourexperience, it like it makes you acclemped
because I'm like God, like Ican't even I can't even imagine, right,
like I had a traumatic experience withmy son, But at the same
time, like even the term ofCetric's violence right that's kind of really the

first time I've heard that be broughtup on the podcast, because a lot
of times we're talking about the statisticsabout how black women are three times more
likely to die right from childbirth complicationsover our counterparts, but like we don't,
we haven't had a lot of storieswhere those experiences be honests to the

statistics, have come to the fruition. So I just I commend you for
taking such a painful process and beingable to turn that around to really be
able to educate women on how theycan advocate and speak up for themselves,
because that's that's kind of a toughplace and a tough situation to pay it
from. It is, and there'sa lot of trauma involved, you know,

like physical and emotional and the strainthat it takes on the family.
I am so grateful that you know, my son is healthy and well.
He was in the NICU for forfour days after because of the trauma of

his birth. That's actually why andbecause of what happened, and that what
they did and we made it throughwith our lives. And what I learned
very early on sharing my story wasthat my story is not rare. The

story is not rare. M.So many people have experiences and through through
the generations. I even sharing mystory allowed my elders in my family,
my mother, my aunt, theystarted to tell me what happened to them,

things that they did not voice forall these years. And yeah,
it's been going on too long.You know, when we think about how
we should be cared for, howwe should be treated, nobody should be
yelling at you. Right, it'syour body. It is this thing that

like somebody else is taking our babiesout of it. It's my body.
The baby has to come through me. So there's a there's a spiritual quality
to becoming a mother and giving birth. However it happens because everybody's situation is
different. And I'll tell you,I can tell you a little bit about
my second birth afterwards, just tokind of illuminate that point. Babies come,

how they come, that's true,we can't control that. But how
we're treated, how we care for, whether or not we're listened to and
respect it, it actually impacts ouroutcomes for sure. Those those those small
moments mm hm, they impact thosenumbers. That's why definitely, And I

would say for us, I think, yeah, culturally, we've learned how
to teach ourselves to endure, right, And that's just historic, right.
I think it started with slavery andit and it's continued through the times in
our lineage. And we've just spentin a place where a mindset wise where
like we're strong and we've just wehave we've learned how to endure and we've

learned how to process pain. Andit's like we've normalized that for ourselves and
like that's not okay, right.And I was going to ask you as
you were going through this process,like what was your your mental health like,
because it's like that's so much traumato your body, to your mind,
to your spirit, Like was thereanything that you needed to do to
like cultivate that inner healing because that'sa lot. Yeah. Luckily, I

have a very you know, myhusband's a professor's and a professor of English,
and so he's very communicative. That'spart of his nature spirit. And
so we talked a lot. Wetalked a lot, we cried a lot,
we walked through it together. Therapy, I'm a therapist in my phone.

Physical you know, physical healing kindof yoga, exercise, and it's
a process it's a process that I'mstill in and that i'm still in also
for me, and I know everyand everybody's different. Sharing my story has
been a part of the healing process. And if I were to look back,

which I would never do, butif I were to look back at
different conversations I've had public conversations aboutmy story. Where I'm telling my story,
I can see the stages of Ican see grief, I can see
anger. Yeah, it's kind ofI could track it if I went back,

but it is. It's And alsowhat I'm where I'm at now is
recognizing and embodying the fact that we'resafe now because we were in a situation
where we were not safe in ahospital. Yeah, and it gets the

safest place and you would think,you know, because yes, yeah,
you would think. I mean,you know, everyone knows about you know,
your career and your accolades, andyou know you're an actress and all
these wonderful things. What I'm findingabout our situation with black maternal health is
it's not it doesn't discriminate amongst usas black women. Right, it doesn't

matter our socioeconomic status, it doesn'tmatter where we are career wise, it
doesn't like we are treated across theboard in a way where those things don't
factor in when we're having these typeof experiences, which is why we're having
these conversations, because I think thatthat's part of the way to break down
these barriers. Like it doesn't matterwhat I look like, sis, it

doesn't matter who you think I amor what I do. It's like,
this is a universal problem amongst us, right, and the only way that
we're going to get past that isif we join forces together and we start
to share our journeys and how wecan teach one another to speak up.
I think, I think, andthis is why I really gravitate towards the

reproductive justice framework. There's what it'sdone, this issue in particular, this
is our struggle, is it's exposeda lot of stuff when you look at
the data and you see that thethings that in our society that are supposed

to matter, right, how howyou know, how educated are you?
How much money do you make,where do you live? All the things
that are supposed to matter, whichthink about it, why should that matter?
Why should those things matter? Doesthat make me a better a person,
more deserving than someone who doesn't havethose things. Why let's so,

let's you break that down. Whyshould that even matter? Right, there's
that, But when you look atall that data, because those things don't
matter, you know that it's onething that's affecting it, and it's race.
It's racism, it's biased. Andyou can't graduate your way out of
that. You can't make enough moneyto get out of that. That is

the way it is. So it'sa real kind of to fix things.
Yes, you're right, we haveto be in community. We really have
to be in community with ourselves andnot buy the I have so much money,
so I'm better than you logic.That has been really you know,

running our country and the world beinga human beings should be enough for sure,
and not being judged based on thecolor of your skin or what someone
perceives of you. Right, youknow, I wanted to bring it back
to the education piece because you're you'revery well educated. You went to Harvard,
I had I had saw and soin terms of like looking at it

from an education standpoint, like howdo you feel like implicit bias training like
comes into the fold. Do youthink it's an effective model? And like
where would you say that would bebest implemented when you're looking towards like kind
of retraining the way society thinks towardsthis an epidemic. You know, I
am. I'm excited by the effortsthat are that are being made. I'm

always you know, if you lookon my Instagram, I'm making I made
a jingle for the mam Nabus Billbecause one of one of the one of
the pieces of legislation is implicit bias. Training is a way to even interact
with hospitals and medical spaces so thatwe can be honest about what we're experiencing,
what those experiences are. And Ithink it's important because implicit implicit bias

is a big word, but whatit really means is or it's a it's
a it's a term that people liketo throw around. But to get to
what it really means is when youlook at me, what do you see?
What assumptions are you making about me? Uh? You know? Do
you think that I can't express myself? Do you think I'm a liar?

Do you think I'm on drugs?Do you think I don't care about my
baby? What are you? All? Those are all these are all the
biases that come into play when wego into spaces, and those biases are
unacceptable. They're unacceptable to somebody whohas taken on the profession to care for

the health of people. Yeah,so you've testified in front of Congress,
right like about a lot of theseissues. And what was that? Like,
how did that feel? And howdo you prepare for something like that?
You know, it was it wasduring the pandemic, so it was
virtual, and I have to behonest with you, it was a little

disheartening. It was disheartening because therewere brilliant black doctors, Charles Johnson who's
been he lost his wife in thehospital at Cedar Sinai. He was there,
He's been very vocal, brilliant doctors. And I found that the conversation

degraded into whether or not racism exists. That's take. And I'm giving you
the like ye little questionnaire afterwards afteryour experience and I shared my experience my
I did my questionnaire like a littledork that I am. I was like,
this is what I thought happened.It really degraded into into and and

you know, and it's very split. You know, Congress is very split,
as we all know. And itdegraded into But those are those people.
M hmm, we know that thathappens to those people. How could
this happened to you? It was. There was a lot of disbelief and

a lot of yeah, just thequestion like, but this can't be because
this can't be because of racism,because racism is not real. It was,
it was. It was interesting,It was. That is very interesting.
I was gonna say, I mean, I you talk for a living,
but I don't know if I couldever get up in front of Congress
and really well, you know what, I can't say that. I think

our computer well that that part too. But but I think because you know,
you're so closely connected to the causeand like you have such a personal
attachment to it, right, Like, it doesn't make it easy, but
it allows you to be you know, passionate about it, right And and
unfortunately, I'm so sad that thatdidn't translate in the way that you hoped

it had, you know, Andthat I think sometimes people find excuses to
you know, acknowledge the truth becauseit's easier to entertain the lie, right
or the false narrative that's there.So sometimes you know, you get that
with people, which is which isnothing we can control, right. We
can only share what's factual, whatwe've experienced, what's going on, and
we hope that people take that informationand are willing to do something with it.

Yeah, and and I do think, you know, even though even
though my experience there was was waseven though I said it was the even
though I said the reception that Iwas disappointed in the way that the conversation
went. I I am still andwas even at that point optimistic because you

know, I'm a praying person andthe Bible says the way is narrow.
Amen. Yeah, So I don'tI don't need I need us to know.
Yeah, I need us to know, and I need us like your
show, maternal, I need usto create the connections, to create the

pipelines, to create the resources,to create the community. That's what I
need. And the way that thecountry works, you know, even March
of Dimes, I need, that'swhat I need. I want to I
want to see us empowered. Idon't need I know, And this is

anyway, That's how I feel atleast now. That is nice. What's
important and the ears that need tohear here m h. Yeah. Sometimes
you know there's some ears that I'mlike, I don't know, maybe you're
too old, I can't right,or or it's you know what I feel
sometimes too. We're sowing seeds,right and sometimes we don't see the harvest

of that right away or the fruitof that. We may never see the
fruit or the harvest in our ownnatural space, right, but we don't
know, like spiritually what that exchangewas on the back end. So you
know, I say all that tosay, like, you never you can't
discredit the opportunities that come up whereGod uses you to speak and advocate for
this and stand up because you neverknow where that seed might end up down

the line, for example. Andthis is like a kind of a spotlight
example. But when I started talkingabout this for years ago, we were
talking about the statistics, We're talkingabout everything that was going wrong and that.
But now four years later, AbbiePhillips did that wonderful, that amazing
special where she's talking about why asa black woman she's she made a different

choice. Why she so because theears that needed to hear her, And
that's that's what it's about. That'swhat you know when you talk about advocating
for ourselves. I sometimes when peoplefirst started using those terms. I was
like, you know, it's reallyhard to advocate for yourself when you're in

labor. That's a heart that's veryhard. But you can advocate for yourself,
oh the way leading up to that, that's right. Yeah, and
we we were talking about that earlier, you know, even from picking the
right provider finding out you know,I didn't even I think when I went
to my first obg yn. Itwas just something I went and I did

because I was supposed to do it. But like, I never thought about
the process of picking a provider untilI had a bad experience with my son.
And yeah, and then that youknow, I had my daughter and
I was like, wow, Iget to I get to choose, like
somebody who I have a connection with, and I could potentially pick somebody who
looks like me, right, who'sprobably going to understand me a little bit
better and empathize because they're they wehave that in common. Right, So

I totally get where you're saying aboutthe preparation that's leading up to that,
because it's all those little things thatlead to what the experience in the birthing
room is like, right, Andyou can only control the controllables, but
at the end of the day,it makes a huge difference. That's right,
that's ryeah. Yeah. So Iwanted to talk about March of Dimes
because I'm so excited that you allhave partnered and you're doing things. So

what exactly are you doing as partof your partnership with them. Well,
I've been a part of this celebritycouncil for for a while, but now
doing more work and and really gettinginto it with them, and I I
am really getting into a part andshook with them getting into it. I

was like that has other sometimes,but no, really getting into partnership with
them. I'm really interested in workingon maternal care deserts, places in our
country where people have to travel veryfar to get the help that they need.

You know, we all know likethis is a really critical time where
reproductive services are being slashed all overthe country. And there's a report on
maternal care deserts that's going to becoming out soon, and so I'm excited

to help amplify that that report thefindings. Also, I hope what's also
in that report is ways to mitigatethat. So, yeah, that's that's
the work I've been doing with them. And you know, my mother always
worked at them shift dimes, andso even when I was very little,
when I was doing fresh prints,I used to do the march when I

go back home in Long Island withmy mom. Yeah, that's great.
They're a great organization. I mean, I first off, I appreciate them
for seeing the vision in this platform. And one of the things that I
admire about them is statistically they areso on point with everything that they're doing.
And one of the things that Ifelt was really important to this platform
was credibility, right, which iswhy as a partner, they've been phenomenal.

Because you mentioned the maternal health youknow, health desert reporting that they
do. I mean, they reallyfrom a data standpoint, track everything that's
going on and then you have thereport card where you can actually look at
how things are moving statistically where thingsneed to improve, you know. And
even when you're talking about the maternalhealth desert, it's like the mobile bus,

right that is going to be ableto go out now into these areas.
I mean, and it's not thefull sol but like wow, what
a solution to be able to bringthese into communities where women are driving over
maybe forty miles just to have ababy, or to get to an appointment,
or to have adequate health care.So I love that they've been very
purposeful in their data and their approachto solving what's going on with the Black

maternal health crisis, because sometimes Ithink, you know, it's we can
talk about it, talk about it, talk about it, right, But
it's nice to see an organization thatreally has their self together where you see
the impact, you see the data, you see where things are moving,
and it's measurable, right, whichwas super important for us as a partnership.
So I love that you're aligned withthem because they've been phenomenal to work

with and have been just great partnersof ours. Yeah, they're amazing actually
taking action on the ground where peoplefeel it. People Yeah, corrected by
the work that they're doing. Yeah, And to see it and to see
it data wise, because I'll behonest with you, I hadn't. I
had not seen a ton of reportingstatistically until I started working with them,

and I'm like, wow, likethis is pretty pressive that you get to
really see where these disparities are areaffected more in what areas I mean,
just down to the zip code likewhere the needs are. So I think
just empirically, it's important to havethat type of data to just you know,
have it as a resource because ithelps us move the needle and it

helps show us where we need toput the work in. So I'm excited
about that. So anything that you'vebeen working on recently in this space that
you're excited about or that you wantto talk about or share, Yes,
I am something that I am goingto be sharing very soon during Black Maternal
Health Week. I I sow andit's something that I've kind of kept to

myself, but I've been doing it. Yeah, I've been doing it for
a while, and especially when Iwas pregnant. I was so in a
storm. Well, I was onthis journey when I was pregnant with Alejandro.
I I did a lot of workwith groups who would give me.
They would give me like a basket, like a gift basket, but they

would put it in on car offabrics. And it happened a few times
and I had all this fabric andit meant so much to me, especially
because I was pregnant at the timethat I was doing a lot of this
work and investigating and finding out andI decided to make a blanket for my
son and my husband and put ourwishes in it for him, and it's

a quilt. And over the yearsI've gotten so many compliments because we wore
this blanket out. Okay, itwas a goal of leg and I used
to swattle him in it. Iwould put it on, you know,
when I'd wrap him. It wasmean so much to him too. Yeah,
yeah, well I'd wrap him init, you know, to keep
him warm. And it's such ahappy blanket. It's something that I've wanted

to do and wanted to share.And a lot of these groups that I
work with, especially midwives and dualwho are their dream is to start a
birth center, to work in placesthat are maternal care deserts and places where
we need them the most. Theyneed money, they need money, and

so I started. I'm starting withmy first series of fifty blankets. It's
called they're called baby ams and theirheirloom quality there I don't so as fast
as so. A wonderful woman inLos Angeles is helping me sew them and

get them out. The pattern iscalled the Abundance Blanket and the Witch and
it's a way for us to comeinto community and to get our resources together.
And one hundred percent of the profitsare going to be going to midwives
and doulas in Black and Indigenous midwivesand doulas who are helping us and caring

for us and giving us the lovethat we need. Oh I love that.
That's so good. That's so good. So where can people buy the
blankets? Like, where are theygoing to be available? Well, in
during Black Maternal Health Week, thea little bit before Black Maternal Health Week,
the site will go live. Youknow, you could go to my
Instagram and you'll definitely see ways toto to find it there. Okay,

yeah, yeah, And well you'rejust trying to air this first round,
so I mean you probably get ordersfor a thousand and then you're gonna have
to be making all these blankets,oh my gosh, from your masacons.
I'm telling you, well, youknow it's it's really it's I'm doing it
myself. Like the investment is mine, so I had to. I have
to. I'm a very small businessholder. I have to do it.

And yeah, I got it that, I got it. I got it.
What's a great idea? I meanit's just seemed blankets are important,
right, And they're very therapeutic,and they can they can mean a whole
lot. So it's it's very innovative, right, It's innovative and it means
something. So I love that.So this is such a great conversation.
I mean, I love you know, hearing about your journey. I mean,

you know, I've known you forall these wonderful things. You know,
you're an actress. I mean you'veyou've been on Broadway like you're you
know, you're a big deal.And then now you're being used in this
space to you know, speak intothe lives of women who look like you,
right, And I guess do youthink any of the you know,
your past experiences with the acting andeverything that you've done in your professional space

has like aided or you know,and enhanced anything that you're doing now as
an advocate in this space. Absolutely? Absolutely. When I was thinking about
when I was writing, you know, I wrote I wrote that abed because
I needed to get it out.I didn't even know who I was going
to give it, what publication Iwas going to give it to you.

But while I was writing it,you know, taking care of my babies,
talking to my husband, I'm likeI have been acting, singing,
dancing for people, making people laugh, making people cry since I was a
little girl. This time they chosethe wrong one. That's really what us

Yeah, that part if Yeah,if I have any any if I have
had any platform or any way toaddress this that I feel like God doesn't

do things on an accident. Andno, I just couldn't let it.
You can. I can't let itsstand. It was one thing for it
to just be us. But whenI started to go out into the world
and really and talk to people andrealize that there are so many with the

same story. Look, you're makingmy Long Island acting come out just a
story. I've heard you. No, No, then it must be there
must be some some purpose here.I must. I can't be quiet.

Yeah, So I definitely think it'sall it's all worked together for the greater
good. Yeah, that's so good. And I do and I believe we
can, really, I really believewe can switch over. We can.
Of course, we don't want anyof my little sisters. I don't want
anybody coming up to at it andexperience. And there's no reason why we

should. I mean, we arein twenty twenty four. We have you
know all these innovative ways that wecan, like you know, tap into
technology and what's available in the healthcarespace. Like there's really no need for
this to be happening other than peoplehave to get to a place where humanity
is front and center and we allget treated the same, regardless of what

our socioeconomic status is, regardless ofyou know, where we are in life,
Like, we're humans at the endof the day, and we all
deserve health, equity and just wehave to make that happen for ourselves.
Yes, so good stuff, goodstuff. Well, listen, thank you
for being here on me Eternal.If folks want to learn more about maternal

they can go to meternal dot infoand then Tatiana where can people connect with
you? People can connect with meon my Instagram It's at Tatiana so A
and then another a Ali, TatianaAli. Awesome. Well you're listening to
me Eternal on iHeartRadio. I amKeny Gibson here with the beautiful Tatiana Ali

and until next time, Kenya.Thank you all right, well, thank you
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