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Latham Thomas: Doula and Maternal Health Advocate

Latham Thomas at the Humming Puppy

When you meet Latham Thomas, it is hard to not become a little obsessed with her. As one of the world’s leading doulas, the founder of Mama Glow and the author of not one, but two books, her roster of famous clients (Ashley Graham and DJ Khaled, to name just two) is impressive. Latham never name drops however. She shares stories and insights about the lives of mothers, and acknowledges that motherhood can be a hard journey for everyone.

I have many doula friends who speak very highly of Latham. She was even named one of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul 100. However, I really got to understand who Latham is as a person when I attended her inaugural Continuum Conference this past November. This gathering was intended to focus on all the stages of women’s reproductive life, from period to menopause.

When I walked into the Continuum Conference, I was struck by the diversity of the women attending. I have been to many a “mom summit”, and have, for the most part, left disappointed. I did not feel connected to the women at these previous events, and frankly, we go to these things to connect. At the Continuum Conference, I immediately felt welcomed. The other moms were chatty and open to sharing their stories. This is Latham’s vibe: she creates a space you feel you can be who you are, at whatever stage you are in this crazy journey of being a woman.

Latham is also a very busy mama, and we are so grateful she is gracing our first cover of this new decade!

Mama Glow is a maternity lifestyle brand that focuses on doula support and the “childbearing continuum”. Can you explain what you mean by the “childbearing continuum”?

The childbearing or reproductive continuum includes menses, pregnancy, abortion and loss, birth, breastfeeding and peri-menopause. We acknowledge that life for women is punctuated by reproductive events that are rarely celebrated in western culture. Other global traditions support women during these life phases, which are an integral part of an arc of our lives. Each is distinct and leaves an impression. You are forever changed when your period begins, you are never the same after you give birth.

How did you come to discover that maternal health was your calling?

Many people describe their work as a passion. I am passionate about the work I do, but I’m clear, it isn’t a passion — it’s a calling. A calling drives you to do things that you ordinarily wouldn’t desire to do. My calling is what wakes me up in the middle of the night to serve a woman and family in labor and help carry them to safe passage during birth and postpartum. My calling to do this work led me to create our Global Mama Glow Doula Immersion Program, which has hubs in NYC, LA, Miami, and Paris. I didn’t plan to start a professional educational program for doulas. I was compelled to do it. And I’m so thankful that I listened to the call because, in only a year and a half, we have more than 300 women who have taken our course globally. People have traveled from as far as Thailand and Madagascar to take our professional immersion program. This is incredible and a testimony of the times we are living in.

The United States has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the industrialized world, and according to the CDC, African-American, Native American and Alaska Native women are three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women. Can you share more on this?

Well, in the US, Black women are actually 4-5 times more likely than white women to die during childbirth or due to childbirth-related causes. That number jumps to 12 times in places like NYC. The health disparity is greater here, and black women are at tremendous risk. This number is similar for Native People who make up 2% of the population and are often misclassified racially. Their stats are under-reported, and there is significantly less research on this population and the factors that contribute to maternal mortality and morbidity.

There has been a 25-year increase in black maternal deaths in this country. It’s been only in the past 4 years that we have seen a surge in reporting that has led to action, addressing policy gaps, racial bias, and accountability. For maternal deaths, the U.S ranks 55 of all developed nations. This is unacceptable. A poor White woman with a high school level of education will statistically have a better birth outcome than a highly educated and economically mobile Black woman. We know that these factors do not protect black women in birth. We know that the lived experience of race in the medical system greatly impacts Black and Brown women during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. This is why we at Mama Glow are so avid about education, advocacy, and access to culturally competent care.

What can we do as mothers and as a community to address the issue of maternal mortality?

Educating ourselves, learning, and practicing informed consent, becoming confident in asking questions, trusting our intuition. All of the information can be daunting and frightening if you become consumed by it. It’s important to be informed, but it’s also important to protect your energy and be mindful of what media you consume. Join community groups, attend workshops and gatherings that will help to further educate you and connect you with others. Let’s also remember that those whose lives were lost were not numbers; they were women who had purpose, who had dreams, and when mothers die, communities are fractured. Women are the crux of community. We need to speak up as a community and center this crisis — not as a black issue or something affecting women of color — but ALL of us. It’s a human rights issue. The same energy we give to the conversation about reproductive rights we need to bring to this issue! Maternal health should be at the top of the feminist agenda.

Latham Thomas
For new mothers, what do they need to thrive as they enter into motherhood?

I believe community is so important. Mothers need exactly the same thing that infants need. They need to be swaddled with support. They need to be affirmed and held. They need to be fed and changed and cleaned. They need the folks surrounding them to anticipate their needs. In the U.S, one in four women goes back to work ten days after giving birth. That is insane. We are the only industrialized nation that doesn’t offer federal paid parental leave. Women who have given birth need time and space to heal. There is no postpartum tradition in the U.S, but there are incredible global postpartum traditions that are alive and well. We need to restore and protect the sanctity of the postpartum period. Moms should not feel alone. Postpartum doulas can fill a gap for women and families that need extra support to get through the postpartum period.

I said to you after The Continuum Conference that I felt that I was at church. Your conference was inspiring not only as a mother but as a woman. You shared how we need to have our tribe, our people — we need support. What are your tips for mothers who find it hard to connect with other mothers?

Yes! Calling this gathering a conference doesn’t do justice to what took place. It was like church. There was a congregation of people. The goal of the conference was to elucidate and frame solutions around women’s health, with a particular focus on maternal health. We had more than 40 speakers, nine panels and four TED-style talks and elevated conversations around fertility, pregnancy, birth, postpartum, breastfeeding, abortion, loss, menopause and more.

There are so many women’s empowerment conferences, rarely do they focus on reproductive health. I wanted to change that. This was a who’s who of change-makers in the maternal health space.

I think there are so many ways to connect with others that didn’t exist even 10 years ago. Social platforms can be a space for moms to connect with other moms. But my favorite is to connect in real life with other women. Create a sister circle of support before you have your baby. Who are the people who are your elders in motherhood, how can you learn from them? Go to events, women’s circles, and gatherings where you will be in community with like-minded women. This is why we created our Women’s Space in Brooklyn. We wanted a safe space for women to grow spiritually, educationally, embrace self-care, and be in support of community. The Continuum Conference and our Doula Immersion programs are just a few gatherings where you can find this connection.

What does a day look like for Latham Thomas?

Sometimes I am working on the computer and spending more time with our team. Other times like right now, for instance, I am expecting some client births in January, so I am spending lots of time with my clients and helping them get ready. Clients come to our Brooklyn space for yoga or sound relaxation private sessions. One weekend a month, I am usually deeply engaged with our doulas and leading the Mama Glow Doula Immersion Program. A few times a month I speak professionally for agencies, universities, and medical students as well. Ritual is deeply important to me, and I also have the pleasure of guiding baby blessings for expectant moms and creating lasting bonding rituals for them to celebrate their soon-to-be baby and birth. We are working on the conference for next year, so that’s exciting! I am thankful for the variety in my schedule, which keeps me stimulated.

The Contunuum Conference
How do you stay connected with your husband?

My partner and I are both parents. We drive upstate a lot to get out of the city. We go to dinner, films, theater, but also just simply hang out on the couch and talk about books we are reading or our work. Leading up to The Continuum Conference, I was very occupied, and we didn’t connect like usual because of how busy things were, and we planned an overnight trip right after just to decompress.

You’re the mother of a very cool New York City teen. Any tips on parenting a teenager?

Maybe check in with me when he is grown, and I might be able to provide tips! My son is 16 years alive. He is one of my greatest teachers. He is a potent young man who is deeply sensitive and so kind. He started his professional career as a DJ at eight years alive, so half his life has been devoted to musical performance. We spend time listening to music a lot and talking about world events. I help with his homework, when he asks.

I think of teens as like toddlers: they have agency, they can do a lot for themselves, but are also spreading their wings in a new way. They need to be recognized for their successes and hugged through their failures. They need boundaries. For real. You can’t be friends with them. Teens are deeply in need of parenting and reminders of all the wisdom that you instilled in them. They need you present. I avoid evening events when I can so I can be with my family. My son has one more year of high school and I am not ready for what my life will become when he heads to college. So my advice if I were to give any, is to put your phone down, be present, relish your traditions and memories in this life you’re creating. Don’t blink, it goes so fast!

Latham Thomas is the founder of Mama Glow, a maternity lifestyle brand committed to supporting women along the childbearing continuum. She is a graduate of Columbia University and the author of two popular books, Mama Glow: A Hip Guide to Your Fabulous Abundant Pregnancy and Own Your Glow: A Soulful Guide to Luminous Living and Crowning the Queen Within. Learn more about Latham and her work by visiting mamaglow.com.

Latham Thomas’ Favorites

I wish I had more time for…

Visiting friends. I am actually going to make a resolution to spend more time with my friends.

I always feel saner after…

A massage or Sound Bath.

Around the city with the family

I love to walk in the brisk air with my son, go to the museum. His grandfather is an art dealer, so most of our outings when he was a little guy were focused on the arts. When I have a free moment alone, I will dip into a museum or gallery. My son and I will walk for blocks and grab a Matcha at Cha Cha Matcha. It’s our favorite.

Favorite place to grab a bite to eat with the kids?

Butcher’s Daughter for brunch. They have options for everyone.

Favorite date night spot?

I like Cafe Clover for dates.

Favorite dessert spot?

Oh, this is tricky for me because I am vegan. But at Loring Place there is a Vegan blizzard that is so good! It’s Vanilla ice cream with pretzels, walnut toffee, orange, and topped with melted chocolate.

Favorite park?

Central Park, of course.

Favorite winter activity with the fam?

I would say either going to the movies or bowling.

Favorite family tv show/movie?

My son and I love to watch Black-Ish and Grown-Ish together. It’s to the point where if one of us watches it without the other — we are giving the other the side-eye!