3 Doulas, 3 Mothers & All the Ancestors
Episode 3: Anna’s Story: 3 Doulas, 3 Mothers & All the Ancestors
Anna who has lived in four countries, is a PhD candidate at Cambridge University and served as First Partner for the city of Stockton, CA. but when it came to pregnancy and childbirth, Anna went looking for a community of support. How do three doulas, three mothers and all the ancestors come into play? In this episode you’ll hear Anna’s powerful birth story and how she tapped into power she didn’t know she had to deliver her son Malakai. Not only was giving birth her entré into motherhood but it was also a pivotal turning point in Anna’s scholarship and the inspiration for her first book, The Three Mothers. Turns out, we can learn a lot about having a positive birth experience from three doulas, the three mothers and learning from our ancestors. Listen to learn! And then check out the video of Kimberly’s full interview with Anna about her new book where they discuss the dehumanization of Black mothers, and why positivity is such a powerful force in narrative change.
Learn more about Anna Malaika Tubbs’ work https://annamalaikatubbs.com
Purchase The Three Mothers book here: https://static.macmillan.com/static/fib/three-mothers/
Learn more about having a safe and empowered birth by downloading the free ebook: Birth with Irth: A Mini-Manual to Pregnancy and Childbirth for Black People
Get full episode details and transcripts (posted by midday) on www.BirthrightPodcast.com
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Birthright is funded by the California Health Care Foundation.
Episode 3: Anna’s Story: 3 Doulas, 3 Mothers & All the Ancestors
Kimberly Seals Allers
Welcome to Birthright. This is Kimberly Seals Allers and I’m so excited to be joined today by Anna Malaika Tubbs. Anna is an educator and a scholar, and is currently a PhD candidate in sociology at the university of Cambridge. Anna recently added two new titles to her already impressive resume, author and mother. Today, we will talk about both.
Anna Malaika Tubbs
I’m Anna Malaika Tubbs, I am the mother of a son who is 17 months old. His name is Michael Malakai Tubbs. We all call him Malakai. And my son, my husband’s also Michael and I, I knew this was going to happen. It was my plan all along. We were going to call him Malakai. Um, and he’s also named after me, my second name, we moved the I to the end and I have another one on the way due in August this year. And I’m so excited! So I’m about 17 weeks pregnant as we speak.
Kimberly Wow! Congratulations! And thank you for being a Birthright first, where our birthing person is also expecting! What a joy! Anna take us to finding out you were pregnant the first time?
Anna That magical moment when the test reads pregnant is so just amazing, such a blessing. I was in DC with my husband. We were there for an event and it was pretty funny because it was this really busy week and I just kind of thrown my bag together for the event. So we flew out to DC. I only had one dress option and it was this white cream color dress.
And I remember thinking the entire time I’m at the event. Oh no, my period is coming soon. What if it starts here, I don’t have what I need. I don’t have tampons and pads. I’m just wearing this cream color dress. And so I kept excusing myself, to use the restroom and, you know, checking and breathing a sigh of relief, everything was fine. I’d come back. And so later on that night, Michael surprised me after the event because it was Valentine’s day. And he took me out for some dessert and some wine. And, you know, we’re sitting there just talking and then I suddenly felt just sort of sick to my stomach and I thought. Huh, that’s interesting.
I took a step back and then it sort of made me process the week and I had really messed up the count on my days because we’d been so busy and I realized, wait a second. Cause we’ve been trying to conceive. And I thought in my head. Oh, my goodness. I am not, maybe I’m not, you know, due, maybe I’m already late!
Let me go check, you know, count my days on my phone. And so I said, Mike, and he looks at me cause he was, you know, I was in my own little world and my own thoughts and he says like, what’s going on? Are you okay? And I said, I think I’m more than, okay, let’s go to CVS. I want to get a pregnancy test. And so we went there, we’re in our fancy clothes from this gala and I pick up the test and take it later on that night. And on Valentine’s day, we found out that we were expecting and it was so beautiful. I obviously cried immediately. It was very emotional, but within just a few seconds of that initial joy and excitement, I also felt a lot of fear, a lot of worry. I couldn’t kind of settle that part of my mind, that thought immediately about loss and what might happen if I lost this child that I already felt so connected to and already felt so much love for. And so I think ever since that moment, it’s been finding this balance between not shutting off that fear, but acknowledging that fear and thinking of ways to allow myself to not only cope with that, but find ways to think about everything much more positively and to embrace the love and the passion and the excitement of it all while also realizing why some of those fears are very real and thinking about what I can do in my own life to keep those fears at bay.
Kimberly When we look at the statistics on his feet, those are real. Sadly, we hear black mothers planning, wills, and other end of life documents before they give birth. This saddens and sickens me. But what’s also real is what Anna is saying about being intentional about focusing on the positivity, which could include daily affirmations, a meditation practice, yoga, reading scripture, and finding all the ways and all the things to keep those positive vibes flowing.
Anna My pregnancy was really, I mean, you know, every pregnancy is different, but.From all the different stories that I’ve heard, apparently a very easy one. Um, but at the same time, of course, when you’re going through it, it feels so different. I think, especially your first time, because at the beginning I kept saying that it felt like I was like, my body was trying to treat the child as if it was like a parasite or something like something we were trying to remove.
I felt so sick, so tired, just completely out of it in that first trimester, you know, I kept saying, I don’t want to feel like this. This is so terrible. Is this going to be the whole pregnancy? This is so hard. I was very, very emotional about it. And then as soon as the second trimester, arrived, It felt like this dark cloud had been lifted.
I had all my energy back. I was so excited, but I still, each day in day out was very worried, leading up to my delivery into labor. And, not only because, you know, I think all of us when we have children for the first time, feel a little worried because you just don’t know what to expect. But I also felt that I’d been told in so many different ways that it was a fearful experience, that there was, you know, you didn’t know what was going to happen and you should be prepared for the absolute worst and all of this kind of in many ways over medicalized way of thinking about the experience scared me and I was really well aware as somebody who studies Black, feminist theory and race and gender of the black maternal health crisis.
I knew it was not only a fear that I had, but a very real danger going into it. So. I knew early on, I wanted to have either a midwife, a woman of color next to me, or doulas to work with, unfortunately in Stockton, where we lived before, and we’ve now relocated to LosAngeles, there weren’t many midwives of color. If any, I couldn’t find them. It was very difficult to find doulas to work with even. So it was something that I realized a lot of our communities that are more marginalized, kind of forgotten, ignored… don’t have the resources that they need, especially for birthing parents. And so I was fortunate enough to find somebody in Oakland and to work with three doulas from Oakland originally, too.
But my main doula couldn’t make it the day of, so I ended up having three incredible ones to work with.
My name is Mika Cade, and I live in Oakland, California, and I’m a birth doula and I’m the educational coordinator for the Oakland Better Birth Foundation.
A doula is a person who provides physical, mental, and emotional support to people prenatally, during birth, and postpartum.
Anna And as soon as I met with them, they completely changed my perspective about my pregnancy, about my labor and delivery. I told them about my fears from the first meeting Samsarah Morgan, who’s been a doula for about 30 some years, stopped me, you know, at the end of my thought and said, You know, I, I respect the sphere that you were saying you have, and you know, you say you don’t think you’re going to have control over anything on the day of she’s like, but I’m going to just tell you read gently that you’re wrong about that.
She’s like you are the one in control, the rest of us, including your husband are here to help your vision of your birth and your delivery become a reality. And we want to hear you. We want to make your plan together. We want to think about how you’re going to voice to us what you need in this moment where you’re going to be extremely vulnerable, but you should know your body knows what to do.
You’re going to be ready for this, and we’re going to be right by your side. And even that initial meeting, I felt. So much pressure relieved and felt like I wasn’t alone and also felt so empowered. I was a superstar. I was going to do this incredible thing. My body was ready already to do it, and I just needed to get my mindset right.
And make sure that I believed in myself.
Kimberly I love this. And when we think about why is a critical and improving growth outcomes, this is what is at the core of it. Helping birthing people establish a knowledge base and we gain a confidence that was taken from us all when growth was medicalized and the data on their impact on the birth experience speaks for itself.
Mika So in 2017, there was a Cochrane review of over 39 trials and 15,000 people that showed that doulas decrease C-section rates, they increase vaginal birth, decreases a pain medication, shorter labors, and they really overall positively impact birth outcomes.
Kimberly Yes they do. But there is one issue, access to doulas of color is often a challenge.
Anna I did meet with some midwives in Tracy, in neighboring city to Stockton, but there weren’t any of color. They were white women. Um, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But my experience of speaking with them and meeting with them in person to be completely frank, it felt very judgmental. It didn’t feel very supportive. And I can contrast that now to the experience I had when I did meet with Samsarah, Mika and Kathleen, and they were so. Just, they were wrapping me in love from the very beginning. So it’s also about finding doulas and midwives who have our experiences, even if we’re very different from each other, but who are going to see me with respect and with dignity and not treat me in this kind of patronizing way or a way that I read as being very, yeah, just very judgmental and sort of, Oh, you’re this young girl and probably young Black girl, and maybe you shouldn’t be having a child kind of thing. Maybe I ran a little too much into it because I’m so aware of the biases around this, but it just didn’t feel right to me as compared to when I met the three that I did
Mika Well, there’s first of all, there’s just not enough of us. There also are not enough culturally competent doula training programs. Our modern doula profession was created by middle-class white women who are dissatisfied with their birth experience. So those trainings and the profession in many ways was designed initially to really cater to those women. But, now and really in recent years and thanks to Black midwives, really, and some Black doulas, um, who’ve been around for a really long time. We know that we have our legacy and tradition of Black birth work in the United States that we can look to. And it’s all really there’s these revitalizing efforts happening right now as we speak. And so we need to get it out to more people.
Anna It was wonderful. And really, it kind of started almost two days before he was actually born because the night before a Thursday night, he was born on a Saturday morning, I started to get Braxton Hicks back to back. And I was thinking, you know, I don’t want to get my husband too excited. Cause weeks leading up, I would call him in about anything. He would answer thereafter. The first thing I thought that I was, you know, in labor, I realized, okay, I need to make sure that he is ready. And I’ll tell him, and it’s really happening, So, um, I didn’t say anything that night before, but then the next morning I woke up and had some bloody show, uh, and I used the restroom and then I said, Oh gosh, this is so exciting.
I texted my doulas. We were always texting each other and said, this is what’s happening. They said, okay, great. So they had this balance that whole day between, you know, it could be happening today but it also could still be a couple of weeks, so we don’t want you to get too excited, but they were like, that’s definitely, you know, a sign that the baby is coming.
I said, okay, great, cool. This is great. And then I said, can I, you know, go do the things that I still was going to do today? They said, yes, but we need you to take it easy. So I said, I was going to go do yoga. I said, all right. Anna, go ahead and do yoga. But after that, we need you to rest. I said, okay. So I went to yoga that day and I do yoga, you know, at least three times a week.
And I really knew when I was in yoga. Okay. The baby, like overnight has definitely pushed lower. There were certain poses that I could always do that I couldn’t do. And I said to my instructor, I think this is my last class before the baby arrives. And so she said, Oh, let’s see. That’s so exciting. And so I went then later to distract myself, got my nails done that day.
But my cramps were starting to build. So it definitely, at first felt like, you know, period, like cramps, of course, that I hadn’t felt in several months. And I texted the doulas again to tell them that. And they said, okay, you know, we definitely think you need to go and take a nap. You know, if this is going to happen, they always told me that the number of babies that are born, like in the middle of the night is kind of like, this is usually when you go into labor, I guess there’s something about like the chemicals in your brain that say this is when I’m most relaxed and most calm.
And that’s when your body starts to open up a little bit more. So they said a lot of children arrive or you go into like your full on labor experience through the night. So I want you to nap now. So I went home, I texted Michael, I took a nap like an hour, and then I woke up to some pretty intense contractions and they weren’t quite patterned yet, but I said to Mike, okay, maybe just go get me something to eat.
And he went and got me some food, but he was gone for a while, I guess kind of just reflecting on the fact that he was going to become a father what’s really stressed me out. I suddenly started to feel very like. I need my protection. I need, like, I was starting to get really, almost nested and like something’s about to happen and I need my support right now.
And so I called him crying and was like you need to get back right now, a little bit of pad Thai and whatever. But then we started to realize when he got home, cause he could time it for me. You know, when you’re in pain yourself, it’s really difficult to see what the pattern is. But when he timed it for me, they were clearly patterned contractions.
And so we kind of went into our whole plan that we’d set out with the doulas. He played my playlist that he’d surprised me with. You know, a lot of Beyonce was very sweet. He ran a bath for me, and a big part of working with my doulas was that they prepared him very well for the moment.
Mika I supported Michael through education primarily, at first. So Michael came to every prenatal appointment with us. We met about six to eight times prenatally and he was there for every session. He was asking questions. He was just part of that whole process. And when we learned coping measures and labor, I was teaching Michael because I know that Michael is Anna’s beloved. And you want your beloved to be the one touching you and caring for you in labor? Right? So I taught him how to do many of these techniques so that he could be the primary person to be the one for her in labor. And then in labor, I, you know, would kind of makes suggestions about like ways that he could help her or going into the bathroom together.
And spending that time so they could have some bonding. Um, and so really being that doula for him too. Michael was so excited and like ready to be that support person for Anna. It was so sweet to watch him really step up and step into that role with confidence. And yeah, it was beautiful.
Anna And that mattered a lot.
I didn’t want it to feel like it was just me who was going through this experience. They reminded us over and over again, this was a team effort, not only between my husband and I, but also between the baby, my husband and I. All of us were going to be working in this moment together as a family, which was so beautiful and unifying.
And so he reminded me of those themes. We did some thought exercises together. As I was taking my bath, I called my doulas again and they said, all right, we’re on our way. You’re, you’re clearly in labor. And so, we’d planned on me doing most of my labor from home. Well, so this was what I thought, I thought it was much further along.
So it was definitely like a first mother kind of experience by the time they got there. I was laying on the floor, you know, an agony. I was in so much pain and I was like, this baby is about to arrive because I cannot imagine this pain getting any worse and you know, they were massaging me and trying to calm me down.
And I’m trying to like, even less than the pressure I was holding in my face as I was tensing up, you know, they kept reminding me of these things. They had different oils and sense for me to calm down and they were massaging my body and God bless their hearts. Even though they knew I was nowhere close, they said, all right, you know, do you want to go to the hospital?
Are you ready to go? I said, yes. Like, cause this baby’s coming right now. So we go to the hospital. Which is about five minutes away. And the nurse asks me on a scale of one to 10, of course, she’s really trying to assess how dilated I probably was. She says, how, how bad is the pain? I said, it’s a 10. Absolutely. I, this is, we’re done. And they checked my cervix. I was at a three. And I said, um, how, how much longer am I supposed to go? They said, as you know, you have to get to a 10. As I looked at Michael, you know, and I had, in my mind this vision of me having a labor without an epidural and unassisted labor, in that sense, I didn’t want an IV in my arm.
I wanted to do this as, as “on my own” quote, unquote as possible. And I looked at him and kind of thought. I’ve only had a three, how am I going to do? But then I realized that I needed to kind of quit all the drama and say, okay Anna, if this is how you want to do this, you need to kind of think about this a little bit differently.
And I remember my doulas prepping me for this. There’s a moment where you kind of shift your mindset from the fear and kind of the drama. And this is so unknown to- I can do this. I need to center myself. I need to calm down. And I said, okay. Um, I just kind of closed my eyes and started to really center myself.
Mika And then, I remember looking at her, and she was standing on the ground over the bed and she was mid contraction. And she was moaning. Yes. Yes. And she looked like the goddess that she is, in all of her power, summoning the strength of her ancestors in that moment. And Kathleen and I looked at each other, like, are you seeing what I’m seeing?
Because it was so powerful and it was a spiritual experience. I think for everyone in the room. I could feel her ancestors there in that moment.
Anna And took several showers. Apparently some of them sort of a blur, but I do remember Michael being right by me the entire time, breathing with me, my doulas massaging my pain, allowing me to move around the room as much as possible, really advocating for me with the nurses who were also incredible, but they really wanted to obviously monitor my heart rate, as well as the baby’s heart rate. But sometimes the things that they put on you, you can’t move quite as much as you want to. And so I really just couldn’t sit still. So I was moving all around the room and they kept coming in saying, you need to sit so we can monitor the baby. And I would look at my doulas, just sort of like, I will not sit.
So they would have the communication with the nurses saying, she’s fine. She’s healthy. Like, you know, this is her health record. She’s going to be okay. Just allow her to move and do what she wants to do. And so everyone was just letting me move. I remember at one point throwing up the pad Thai that I’d eaten a little bit earlier, not expecting that to happen, but my doulas kept telling me, you know, these are the markers, this is completely normal, you know?
Oh, you threw up great. Like, and things that I thought were kind of weird, you know, I thought I was going to use the restroom and my water broke and I thought something had happened. I said, Oh no, what’s wrong. They said, no, your water’s breaking, that’s completely normal. We’re moving along in the process. So anyways, we’d gotten to the hospital about 11:00 PM at night.
He was born 9 in the morning. And my contractions had really started like 15 hours before he was born. So it was like a 15 hour long labor experience when we got to the pushing. Uh, I remember asking, cause I thought in my head, wow, I’ve gone through so much and we’re almost there. I’m almost at 10. And then I realized.
Oh, my goodness. When I get to 10, it’s not done. I have to push that’s when the hard part really begins. And I, again, got a little scared, but I asked my doulas, how long does it take the pushing part? They said, we’re going to be honest for first-time moms. Sometimes it’s about two hours. And I said, Oh, in my head, I said, no, absolutely not.
I said, I will… it’s gonna be a lot faster for me. I’m done. And I’m tired. And I just don’t, I can’t do this anymore. I had a lot of moments too, where I felt like I was sort of in a trans, like, I felt like I was. Like speaking to my ancestors, like if they could do this, you know, in some of the hardest conditions, like I can do this.
And I was talking to myself, you know, my doulas said later, it was clear that you were like somewhere else, finding whatever strength and power that you needed. And so when it came time to push, I pushed for 15 minutes. And I remember the nurses saying, Oh, she’s a great pusher. This baby is coming really soon.
And I felt so proud of myself! Yeah. I’ve been doing this plank work. I’ve been doing this core work, and long story short, he was born at 9:03 on that Saturday morning. And it was. So beautiful, so magical despite the pain that was still coming from, you know, delivering the placenta and the stitches, which I, again, didn’t really know it was going to be so painful just to have somebody, you think you’re dead.
And then it’s like, the pain just keeps coming. And I actually like kicked the doctor when he was trying to stitch me back up. But I said to my girls, like, they just need to stop. Hurting me because I’ve done. What I need to do, baby is here and healthy. So everyone just leave us alone. So that’s my, my birth story.
Kimberly Wow, what a beautiful story. I love this idea of you tapping into this higher power and feeling all the ancestors being there with you. Because not only was this birth, a pivotal experience for you entering motherhood, but this also became a turning point for you in terms of your scholarly work. In fact, you have written a new book about three Black mothers.
Anna I just wrote the book called The Three Mothers, about how the mothers of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin shaped a nation about Alberta King, Berdis Baldwin, and Louis Little and telling their life stories and helping readers understand how much life they were giving us long before they became literal moms through their art, through their creativity, through their activism, their passions, and their talents.
Kimberly First of all. I love your book. I just need to say that it’s such an amazing read. All the rich history, all the storytelling, the details. For me, it was ultimately a celebration of Black motherhood. How would you describe it?
Anna So the book is all about honoring their lives, as well as honoring Black womanhood, Black motherhood, as a whole and celebrating the diverse experiences that we bring to the table that were all very different from each other part of this kind of reduction and dehumanization of Black women’s identity is that so often people try to put us in this one box versus celebrating the rich nuance and diversity that we each bring to the table. And all three of them were very different from each other, although they had some of these similar shared experiences. And so studying them, I was researching them, I was in the middle of my research when I found out I was expecting Michael Malakai.
And then, when he was already here born, and I was kind of editing chapters later after my maternity leave, he was kind of napping on my chest while I was writing and editing these stories about incredible women. So definitely in that day, when I went into labor, I was thinking about the three of them, as well as so many others.
And thinking even about the conditions that Black women throughout history have given birth in regardless of their own access to resources and privileges. What was going on around them? What were they fearful of? How did they tap into their strength? And it really, it just felt so empowering for me.
You know, I was part of this long legacy of so many women who have done this countless times and felt really unified with them.
Kimberly Yes, that’s so powerful. And to think about what our foremothers have endured can really help add some perspective for sure. Um, and speaking of perspective, one of the things I love in the book is when you talk about why it is so important for Black women to exist positively.
Anna It’s crucial for us to be seen in our wholeness. That it not necessarily be read as we only present positive facts about what’s happening, but that it’s complexity. It’s not just, as Melissa Harris Perry says, we’re not just conquered victims as Black women. And there is a strange obsession in the United States with only seeing Black women in our pain. Only putting us in the headlines when we’ve lost a child, when something has gone tragically wrong, um, in this human experience that everybody should feel, you know, very hurt by.
But unfortunately by casting a light, only on our pain has also numbed people to our pain. In a lot of ways. It’s confirmed this narrative that Black women are somehow superhuman and Ken with hold and tolerate more pain than any other human being. And that that’s not the reality. That’s not true. But when represented in our wholeness, in our joys in the way that we thrive, not only survive and cope with all the attacks against us, but also find life and find joy and find fulfillment while navigating the pain, navigating the challenges.
That’s when we’re seen as the human beings who we are. And in my book, I try very hard to reach that balance of acknowledging the difficulties. We can’t ignore those either. The Black maternal health crisis is really, and people need to know about it, but we also can not only be seen as constantly grieving, conquered victims, who are just waiting on a system to save them.
Instead it’s, despite these attacks against us, despite this way, in which we’ve been treated as less than human, despite even by law being the only ones deemed the givers of property, not the givers of life through our children and times of slavery. We have claimed our humanity. We have said we are worth every ounce of dignity and respect.
Our children are worth every ounce of dignity and respect. And until the country can say the same, we’re going to push it to do that. We have no other choice, but to change the systems around us, if we’re a conquered victim, then we can’t have our own agency. And the truth is we do. So even when I had this extreme fear going into labor and delivery and finding out I was pregnant and all the different kind of attacks that were going to be waged against me and my child, I also was aware that I’m a woman of agency and I’m part of a long legacy of change makers who never accepted these burdens as if they were inevitable.
But instead said, okay, well then, my choice is to do something about this, to use what I can use to make a difference around these narratives, around changing policy, changing minds so that we are seen in our wholeness ,seen in our complexity, because what I’ll say finally is when we focus solely on pain, others see it as if it’s the only choice for Black women. And it’s almost the expected thing that we think is going to happen.
Kimberly Yes. There’s so much dehumanization and invisibility around black motherhood.
Anna Yeah. But this project, I was really thinking of the many levels of eraser that I could address in one writing. One project. And there were so many different things I thought about number one came the civil rights movement.
And how often we speak about it from this male dominant perspective, as if, you know, all of us can name more Black leaders than anybody else at the civil rights movement. So I wanted to do something to tackle that in some way. But then I thought about rules in society and like Western communities that are overlooked, under appreciated, unrecognized, not given the credit that they deserve. Um, so motherhood immediately came to mind with that.
Kimberly I was intrigued in your book as well, um, because you are the mother of a young Black male. I am the mother of a young Black male. Mine just turned 17. And so, Mothers of Black males have a unique experience, Um, have a unique fear. As I think about my son getting to the age where he may be driving and being out there in the world. And you chose mothers of three Black males, and I wanted to hear a little bit more about why did you choose the mothers of three Black males? And what do you think if anything, being the mother of a Black male is a unique experience.
Anna With the mothers of sons, it’s not necessarily that they’re any more or less erased in the mothers of daughters, because I think there’s also a very unique experience there, or the mothers of nonbinary children. But then I thought about how there’s something wrong with the gender binary, where we assume that young men and boys are only influenced by their fathers.
So when we think about Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. And Malcolm X and James Baldwin. If you’re a fan of these three men, you probably have heard something about their fathers. It’s really normal for scholars to go in to men’s stories and say, not only are they the heroes of the story. But their fathers are the ones who inspired them to become the hero of the story, whether the father is present or not, whether the father passed away when the child was young or not, whether the father was abusive or not, um, or that they were good or bad father, we focus on the father.
And this actually also happens a lot in my own partner story. He’s a public figure and people often want to ask him about his father when in reality, in the three cases of these three men, as well as in my partner’s case, it’s the women formed them and the stories are just being forgotten simply because it doesn’t fit a patriarchal societies notion of what influences the son.
Kimberly The patriarchy is a thing. And then, you know, we don’t even really questioned at some point, right. You have to give ourselves some tools and space to really interrogate that and say, wait a minute,
Anna I was really obsessed with like breaking that apart and before I even gave birth to a son. So it was very coincidental that through this experience, I became the mother of a son because in Alberta King’s case and Louise Little’s case in Berdis Baldwins case.
And I show this extensively throughout the book. Their passions, their talents long before they became mothers are really what translate into what their sons become. Berdis Baldwin was a writer. She helps transform the minds of people around her, through her letters. She had a beautiful power over him words, and she believed that people needed to kind of push through, to find love and find light and find healing.
Her son becomes famous as a writer who calls himself a witness to the power of light. Fascinating. We think about Malcom X, whose mother is this radical Pan-Africanist activist, a Marcus Garvey follower, some report that she was one of Marcus Garvey’s closest confidants. She believes in Black independence. Anti-white assimilation. Her son is not the mech. So becomes known around the world for Black pride. Anti-white assimilation. Fascinating. We think about MLK Jr. His mother. Was the daughter of Ebeneezer Baptist church. She grows up believing that faith can not be faith without social justice, that you participate in marches that you think about boycotts as a, as a means to make a change with, you know, companies or papers that are disparaging your community.
You use that as a tool to shift something. She doesn’t use the word non-violent. But this is the same exact thing that she herself knows to be true. And is one of the first members of the NAACP, her parents were, so this is his maternal lineage and she gives birth to Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. who makes these tactics famous around the world.
So, these are the stories that completely complicate the narrative that men, boys, are only influenced by their fathers. It’s not true. It’s a part of a strategy to put women in our place to make us feel like we should see ourselves as weaker, as not having power, as not being influential, but that’s just not the truth.
Kimberly Hmm, that’s not true at all. I love this book for all of those eye opening moments. And if you are a love of history, a lover of storytelling have an interest in sociology or Black motherhood and its history. This is all of it’s in this book for you. Um, and it’s just really such a bridge book that has something for everyone.
But I do want to ask you specifically, what do you want Black mothers to learn from the three mothers?
Anna Um, and like you said, I did write it for so many different people. I think, like you said, everyone has something to gain from it, but for Black mothers, very specifically, I want us to feel seen. I want us to feel celebrated. I want us to carry this notion that we know our worth. We know our power, we know our strength, no matter how hard others might try to take that away from us. Um, and also that we walk with that knowledge and that we raise our children with that knowledge, it’s crucial for them to see us as people who recognize our own humanity.
I think a big reason that MLK Jr, Malcolm X, and James Baldwin had such a deep understanding of the human experience was largely because of their relationships with their mothers. Their mothers were both incredibly strong, of course, because they had to be, again, they didn’t see much other choice in that, but they also shared their vulnerability with their children.
They allowed them to see them in moments where they were sad or when they were worried and their children didn’t see them. I mean, obviously there is still this kind of strong woman trope that plays out and children, aren’t always going to see their parents as the human beings that we are. We know that, but that there’s a certain extent to which we can.
Kind of defeat the narrative that we can hold it all together on our own. That it’s supposed to be that way. That it’s okay for me to go and thanked and unrecognized it’s okay for me to not receive credit for what I’ve done in my child’s life. We need to change that. It’s important that our children see what we’ve been through, understand what we’ve done for them, but we’ve been willing to do for them. It’s a Testament to our love for them. And I think that they would better understand us and not only appreciate us better, but have a better understanding of how the world works. There’s not magical minions called moms who run around and just make things happen and put meals on the table, or clean the house, or make enough money to support their families on their own. There’s effort that goes into that. And a basic recognition of that is really. A favor to our children of being aware that this is how the world works. And I have my parents to think and let me not erase my mom in the picture.
Kimberly And I think on the other side of that, for me, one of the greatest lessons I learned, and fortunately I learned it, um, while going through a divorce was one time I was on this interview and I was on a panel with a young brother. And he was talking about how he was raised by the strong single mother. He had so much pride in his voice about her. And, you know, he said that his dad left and his mother was fine and she took care of us and she didn’t, she didn’t crack and she didn’t cry and, and all of it, although he said it with a lot of pride and joy, it made me sad, because, I don’t think that that’s a way for Black men to think about their mothers. Right. And I had to say to him, you know, brother, that may be what you saw, but you don’t know what happened behind closed doors. You don’t know what happened when she went to sleep at night and she may have been crying and it made me think, and it made me make a conscious decision to make sure that my young Black male never thought that a Black family is broken or a Black man leaves his family and [00:37:00] everything is fine. Right. Um, we are not fine. We, we, we can be fine, but there are certainly going to be repercussions or consequences and that we have to show the nuances of who we are, not just as strong people and get things done, people, but that we hurt. That we have pain that we cry, um, that we struggle and that all of these things are part of the Black motherhood experience. And so I was clear with my children as I got older, that I would let them know in age appropriate ways that, you know, their Black mother is strong, but she’s also soft. And she also cries and she also struggles. She has triumphs. She has good days and bad days, like all of the things that we should be allowed to be.
And then I always leaned in on my girlfriends to say, what is our role in dismantling that trope? Right? Sometimes we can carry it around ourselves, like a badge of honor and unknowingly pass it to our children. But we need to think about ways that we are deliberate and honoring our nuances, our own softness and our strongness and our interactions with our children, because that’s really important.
And, um, it’s up to us to make it so.
Anna and Mika, I close every episode asking what is our birthright. Mika?
Mika Our birthright is to be at the center of our care to be empowered and to be informed.
Kimberly Anna, what is our birthright?
Anna Our birthright, I would say very specifically for Black women, because it’s been taken from us and people have tried to take it away from us. I should say more so this attempted removal of our basic ability to say I am Human. I deserve respect. I deserve dignity. I deserve to be treated with the same protections and the same supports as other human beings around me. That is our birthright to practice our agency. To bring freedom to ourselves and to allow others to see us in the freedom that we know we have, but also to push systems in our nation to match that view that we have of ourselves. That is a part of our right, unfortunately for so long, it’s been the case that Black women have had to continue to claim that for ourselves. And I think we’re arriving in a moment where hopefully through more attention, being paid to Black women’s complexities through more of a speaking about us in our wholeness. Like we’ve done today. That can transform from people solely admiring us for our strength and our resilience. And again, only focusing on the grief that we’ve persisted through to transforming that into action and say, let’s continue to make this birthright that we should all have available to us a reality to all of us and think very clearly about who that’s currently being denied to and participate in this as a nation, as a whole, it shouldn’t just fall on the individual to say, I’m claiming this for myself. It’s also our nation. Our world, should have that built in so that these birthrights are respected and granted.
Kimberly I think we’ve done our four mothers proud here. I want to give a special thank you to Anna Malaika Tubbs for joining me, please check out her book. The Three Mothers, how the mothers of Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X and James Baldwin shaped the nation. Published by flatiron books. Please visit https://annamalaikatubbs.com and follow her on Instagram @annastea_honesty
I want to give thanks to Mika Cade for joining me on this special extended episode. I’m Kimberly Seals Allers and thank you for listening to Birthright. A podcast about stories of joy and healing and Black birth.
Birthright is hosted by me, Kimberly Seals Allers and produced by Domino sound. Our executive producers are Noleca Radway and Kimberly Seals Allers. Randie Chapman produces the show with Nikki Valdez as assistant producer and help from Homero Radway. Sound design and engineering by Sam Baer with original music from Trel Robinson.
Birthright is funded by the California Healthcare Foundation. If you like what you heard today, please rate, review, and subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen. It really helps people find the show. Thanks for listening.
Author, advocate, educator, and scholar Anna Malaika Tubbs is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at the University of Cambridge. Anna grew up abroad in Dubai, Mexico, Sweden, Estonia, and Azerbaijan. Influenced by her exposure to all kinds of cultures and beliefs, Anna is inspired to bring people together through the celebration of difference. Motivated by her mother’s work advocating for women’s and children’s rights around the world, Anna uses an intersectional lens in her work to advocate for women of color and educate others.
She served as the president of Stanford’s Black Student Union when she was only a sophomore and she was also the Executive Director of Stanford’s Alternative Spring Break. In these roles, she organized rallies and events focused on the concerns of the Black community, she fundraised money for women’s clinics in the Bay Area, and she grew her passion for advocacy and social justice.
Anna holds a Masters in Multidisciplinary Gender Studies from the University of Cambridge and a Bachelors in Medical Anthropology from Stanford University. Her academic focus is on addressing gender and race issues in the US, especially the pervasive erasure of Black women.
As the First Partner of Stockton, CA, she co-authored the first ever “Report on the Status of Women in Stockton” to help guide future policy decisions with the experiences of diverse women in mind.
Anna is also a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant who has worked with companies and individuals interested in progressing their DEI goals.
Anna has published articles on issues ranging from mass incarceration to the forced sterilization of Black women, as well as the importance of feminism, intersectionality, and inclusivity. Her work has been featured in the Huffington Post, For Harriet, Darling Magazine, and Blavity. Her first book, titled The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr, Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation, was published by Flatiron Books in February 2021.