Angela Tatum Malloy is one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Year, recognizing women who have made a major impact in their communities and across the country. The program launched in 2022 as a continuation of Women of the Century, commemorating the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. Meet this year’s honorees at womenoftheyear.usatoday.com.
Angela Tatum Malloy works to improve maternal and infant health outcomes for Black families in the Sandhills region of Eastern North Carolina through breastfeeding education and doula care.
According to a study by the American Journal of Public Health, black women in the US are between three and four times more likely to die during pregnancy or postpartum than white women.
“In a failing system, black women have it three times as bad,” she said. “It’s something that needs to be addressed.”
Tatum Malloy, 55, founded Momma’s Village, a nonprofit clinic that provides birth and breastfeeding support, postpartum care, parenting education and mental health services to black families in the Fayetteville, North Carolina area.
Her clinic is one of two North Carolina clinics to lead a five-year, $10 million statewide study measuring the impact of doula support and a system that alerts medical staff to warning signs such as missed appointments and high blood pressure on health outcomes for black mothers.
Infant birth weights, emergency room visits, hospital admissions and self-reported incidents of racism will be measured to determine the effectiveness of the interventions. Tatum Malloy is overseeing 40 clinics in the study.
Tatum Malloy, an internationally board-certified lactation consultant and trained African-centered community doula, provides training to other black women entering the field of birth support.
“Black doulas play an effective role in saving the lives of black women from preventable ailments,” she said. “We can be that bridge between the mother and the provider so there’s better communication.”
Tatum Malloy has also strengthened support and social acceptance of breastfeeding in the black community by helping Fayetteville and Cumberland County meet World Health Organization guidelines for the designation of the family-friendly breastfeeding community. The designation conveys the message that the community respects a family’s wishes and values the benefits of breastfeeding for the health of the child, mother, family and community, according to the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute website.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breastfeeding can reduce the risk of life-threatening conditions such as cancer and diabetes, which are among the leading causes of maternal death in black women. Making black mothers breastfeeding visible helps undo the racist stigma against the practice, which stems from wet nursing, where enslaved black women were forced to breastfeed the children of slave owners, and later marketing campaigns for brands like Pet Milk who portrayed black breast milk as inferior to infant formula, Tatum Malloy said.
While her research and advocacy focus on the health of black mothers and babies, she said undoing racism will improve outcomes for all women. For her work, Tatum Malloy has been named USA TODAY’s Women of the Year honoree from North Carolina.
“When we address systemic racism, everyone improves,” said Tatum Malloy.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Who paved the way for you?
There are so many strong black women who have gone before me, women like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, my grandmother, my mother, my mother-in-law. My mother was one of the first three black women to compete in Miss Fayetteville Terry Sanford’s beauty pageant.
Who have you paved the way for?
I’m still paving the way; I am not done. I am paving the way for my five children, eight grandchildren and many young people in the community who are looking for a life where they can dream and succeed and where systemic racism is not an obstacle.
Is there a mantra you live by?
Perseverance and determination. That two-word mantra allows me to accomplish anything I want to do, like supervise the police or solve problems with our out-of-home, or even have all my kids come home at the same time for our holidays. I like that I have perseverance and determination tattooed on my forearms. It’s a reminder to myself and a reminder to others that I’m not leaving until I’ve done what I set out to do.
What is your definition of courage?
It’s being comfortable with being uncomfortable, whether you’re making changes in systems or just within a relationship, friendship, or marriage. It is allowing yourself to sit in that discomfort and have the strength to persevere, despite that urge to flee.
As we know with children, they go through a growth spurt. Growth spurts are painful, but we know they can’t get to the next level of maturity if they don’t go through that. We must have the courage to experience discomfort so that we can grow and change in our own personal lives and as a country.
How do you overcome adversity?
I believe we have what we say. If you speak power, strength and solutions, then you have it. Any situation I face is how I approach it.
Who do you look up to?
Three women have helped me the most to be who I am. My mother-in-law, my mother and my grandmother.
I have never known a woman who has wholeheartedly sacrificed her life for her children and her grandchildren, like my mother-in-law from the age of 19 until now. She may be exhausted, but when she sees we have a need, she fills it.
My mother went through the loss of two daughters and her mother and had a 30 year career teaching other people’s children. The strength and passion she has poured into children encourages me. I can never come down on myself because I look at the strength she showed.
My grandmother lost her mother when she was 8 years old and became a matriarch in our family. It was amazing what she could do with an eighth grade education.
Their love has enabled me to be the woman I have. It is the reason I have the strength to do the things I set out to accomplish.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Sit at your grandmother’s feet, ask all the questions and listen. Write those recipes down! If I could go back in time I would get her banana nut bread recipe, watch her bake everything from scratch, learn all the vegetables she grew, learn to treat various ailments with things she would find in the garden.
And don’t stop playing the violin because you will regret it!
This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: How Fayetteville doula fights to improve the health of black mothers and babies