Black Rural Families Have Obstacles to Pregnancy and Birth Care—This Podcast Works to Highlight Opportunities

The second season of the groundbreaking podcast NATAL puts the focus on three Black families' birth experiences in rural America.

An illustration featuring four Black parents
Photo: NATAL

Birth and parenting are life-changing events, but Black communities have rarely had access to the representation, support, and considerate care we deserve. When Black families have resources that consider the particularities of our experiences, care not only feels better but is more effective. This is especially true for those who are even further marginalized like our LGBTQ families, disabled families, and rural loved ones.

NATAL, a podcast docuseries about having a baby while Black, is one of a growing number of resources working to fill the gap in reproductive stories, making sure Black communities are represented, in all of our glorious diversity. The second season brings new opportunities to expand the dialogue on birth and reproduction while Black.

Executive producers and co-hosts Martina Abrahams Ilunga and Gabrielle Horton were thinking of the pregnancy and birth stories along the margins when they created NATAL. The newly released season amplifies the pregnancy and birth stories of Black families, while sharing the resources they need and highlighting the histories that contribute to today's disparities through narrative storytelling, in a way that's rarely seen.

Martina Abrahams Ilunga, who is also a Brooklyn-based creative entrepreneur and community builder, says in season one, the NATAL team set out to broadly answer the question, "What does care look like for Black birthing families in this country?" They did so through following nine parents with differently situated identities, family structures, and locations, and placing those stories in conversation with experts.

For season two, they wanted to do a deep dive, exploring the unique challenges Black families in rural America face, and the creative solutions they use to overcome those obstacles, through stories from four parents in three families.

"We knew that Black families living in rural communities have unique experiences to those living in more urban areas — like greater challenges accessing reproductive care,'' says Abrahams Ilunga. "We also knew that some of these same communities are ripe with both innovations to address these challenges, and the ancestral knowledge about how to care for and honor our bodies that's missing from the American medical system."

Gabrielle Horton, who is also a Los Angeles-based multimedia storyteller and editor, says the creative process was as important as the stories they told. "We wanted to push the boundaries of what narrative storytelling can be, especially when the subject is Black rural families," she says. The season contains under-discussed histories of Black Hawaiians, Fannie Lou Hamer, home video and social media footage of unassisted birth, and even inspiration from the team's favorite R&B albums.

Neither Horton nor Abrahams Ilunga have children. But deep curiosity around the stories of loved ones moved them to amplify the voices of Black parenting, mothering, and birthing people. It shows that concerns around birth and reproduction should matter to all people, not just those giving birth.

Abrahams Ilunga, says as the docuseries ages, they're thrilled at the chance to witness Black families seeing stories that mirror their own. "In a healthcare system that belittles our knowledge of our own bodies and needs, it's validating and empowering to hear experiences that are often kept hush-hush or that are discredited, stated plainly as fact and held in equal weight as an expert opinion," she says.

Horton hopes listeners have the opportunity to appreciate the fullness of Black rural life in this country, especially what she calls "the legacy of Black genius" often demonstrated through organized resistance and of love, in season two. She also hopes it forever reframes how they think about Black families in the US. "I hope that when listers enter future spaces and conversations, that Black families in rural America always come top of mind, and never as a footnote."

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