Angela Doyinsola Aina Is Determined to Give Black Mamas the Care They Deserve

Courtesy of Black Mamas Matter Alliance
Courtesy of Black Mamas Matter Alliance

There are so many aspects of health that disproportionately affect the Black community, and yet less than six percent of US doctors are Black — a deficit that only further harms public health. Many of the Black folks who work in healthcare have dedicated their careers to combating inequities. That's why, this Black History Month, PS is crowning our Black Health Heroes: physicians, sexologists, doulas, and more who are advocating for the Black community in their respective fields. Meet them all here.

Forming an alliance takes work. Angela Doyinsola Aina would know. The multi-hyphenate founder, researcher, and public-health expert has made it her mission, via the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA), to ensure that Black birthing people have access to safe and holistic care during their pregnancy and postpartum journeys. But working toward a goal like this can't happen without dismantling a system or two . . . or 10.

"What we're saying is that the healthcare system is the problem, not you as a Black woman."

When Aina first began her work in maternal health, she would often find herself in predominantly white spaces.

"I was navigating my career and wanting to work at some of these large, well-known domestic and even international maternal and reproductive health organizations — and a lot of these organizations, the leadership and a lot of the people that they hired were white women," Aina recalls. Even more unsettling was that the people they were doing the work for looked like her.

In the early and mid-2000s, Aina watched that disconnect play out at conferences and gatherings as these leaders would present their research. "The ways that they would write up these issues and these problems very much centered on them calling for individual change, like something is always wrong with Black women or African women," she recalls. "Something is always inherently wrong with us versus taking that intersectional-systems look at things and taking the time to understand the social, cultural, and political components and happenings that contribute to these adverse health outcomes."

This is exactly the kind of disconnect that has led to the dire maternal mortality rates we see today among Black women. For context, the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among high-income countries, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. And when you factor race and ethnicity into the puzzle, the numbers are particularly startling. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, Black women are at least three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. In fact, for Black women, the estimated maternal mortality rate in 2020 was about 55.3 per 100,000 live births, or around 1,800 maternal deaths, the highest among any racial group, according to a 2023 analysis from the journal Healthcare.

This disparity exists for several reasons, including preexisting and chronic conditions. But structural racism, implicit bias, and access to quality healthcare play a major role, too. When Aina was entering the maternal health space, it seemed that the people in leadership didn't grasp that.

"To not understand the intersectional oppression, the misogynoir, or not even know how to talk to the people most impacted — it's very problematic," Aina says. "And you're talking about decades upon decades of investments into these programs, into these research endeavors."

This lack of understanding plays out in every aspect of the health sector. The truth is, our healthcare system doesn't look at childbirth through a "whole person" lens — and that's one of the primary reasons Aina started the BMMA.

Because of these statistics, a lot of people tend to come away with the notion that "as a Black woman, I'm gonna die if I get pregnant," Aina says. And what the BMMA aims to do is shift the perspective and increase visibility around the many resources that can help prevent that from happening. "What we're saying is that the healthcare system is the problem, not you as a Black woman," Aina explains.

"Pregnancy is so medicalized," she continues. "People think that, 'Oh, I have to go to the hospital,' or the end-all, be-all is ob-gyns, and let me say this, we love our ob-gyns, we love all our physicians — however, they need help." They're not going to be able to do everything that's necessary for Black and Brown birthing people, who tend to have more needs when it comes to providing comprehensive, equitable, and culturally competent care — no matter their education or economic background, Aina says.

That's where the alliance comes in. The BMMA believes strongly in the practice and investment of doulas, midwives, and BIPOC-led, community-based organizations that have been doing the work of maternal, perinatal, and reproductive health for decades and generations. As a nonprofit, the BMMA's goal is to partner with these organizations that center the holistic Black birthing experience and foster the connection between them and more mainstream healthcare entities — to help change policy, shift culture, cultivate research, and advance care for Black mamas.

Since launching, the alliance has been instrumental in some of the largest strides yet to be made in the maternal health space. That includes leading the first-ever Black maternal-health and reproductive-justice congressional briefing in 2017 (under the Trump regime, by the way, which Aina says only "gave us more fuel") and ensuring the passage of the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act, which allocated federal funding and resources to collect and analyze data on every maternal death in every state across the country. The organization is also responsible for founding Black Maternal Health Week, a campaign in April that centers and builds awareness around the lived experiences of Black birthing people.

Despite the accomplishments of the BMMA, Aina says impostor syndrome still creeps in. "Here I am, [considered] from the medical field an obese Black woman, who's leading a public health, Black maternal-health organization. I don't look like the typical public health leader or the size of what is considered an example of health," Aina tells POPSUGAR.

"It really takes tenacity, ability to take a risk, and courage to speak up and speak out to these health systems to say, you know what, I don't care what I look like, I am deserving of quality healthcare that respects not just my culture, but that is provided to me with dignity," she says.

Aina demands that daily for herself and the hundreds of thousands of Black birthing people around the country — not because it's easy, but because she knows it's what we're entitled to.