Tatyana Ali's Traumatic Birth Experience Is the Foundation for Her Work This Giving Tuesday

Ali is partnering with Vitamin Angels, a public health nonprofit, to show the power of community. She is inspired by her grandmother’s legacy.

Tatyana Ali
Photo:

Amy Sussman/WireImage/Kindred

Tatyana Ali has played many roles in her multi-decade career as an actress, singer, and advocate. However, none of these prepared her for healing from the trauma of her first birth that could have cost her and her husband their oldest son. 

She realized she needed community to heal from trauma and to support her as she learned to breastfeed. When Ali and her husband learned they were expecting their second son, she knew community would be crucial for the humanizing birth experience she deserved. She hired a Black midwife and found solace and community with Black birth workers and reproductive justice advocates through organizations like Black Mamas Matter Alliance

"When I became pregnant with my second baby, my son, Alejandro, I was like, there has to be another way. I can't do that again," she says in an interview with Kindred by Parents. "That's when I became activated because I realized there was an entire world of activists, birth workers, people who have been doing reproductive justice work for decades. And if I had known, it would have completely changed the experience that I had with my first baby with Aszi."

Ali uses her platform to highlight the concerns and experiences of Black birthing people in the United States. Despite being well educated and privileged, her experience confirms research finding wealthy Black mothers and infants fare worse than the poorest white mothers and infants. "I literally just wanted to shout from the rooftops—it doesn't have to be this way."

Ali knows achieving reproductive justice means improving racial disparities in maternal care and addressing other lifespan concerns like food scarcity and nutrition. She's using her platform to amplify that message during Giving Tuesday— a decade-old annual movement emphasizing global, radical generosity.

"I am partnering with Vitamin Angels on Giving Tuesday because it is through their work to improve nutrition that we can break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and poor health—the cycle that perpetuates poor maternal nutrition, low birth weight of preterm infants, and stunting in young children," she says. 

Vitamin Angels is a public health nonprofit, working to improve the health and nutrition of pregnant women and children worldwide. The organization's efforts focus on decreasing disparities. For example, according to The Lancet, 1 in 2 preschool-aged children and 2 in 3 women of reproductive age, worldwide, have at least one micronutrient deficiency. Similarly, The World Health Organization reports only 17% of mothers and children in the poorest households received basic maternal and child health interventions, compared to 74% of the wealthiest households in low and low-middle-income countries.

Food insecurity and worse maternal outcomes persist in the United States despite it being one of the wealthiest nations in the world. In the U.S. it’s 1 in 3 women of reproductive age who have at least one micronutrient deficiency. Birthing people and infants face worse health outcomes as a direct consequence of food insecurity and disparities in access to maternal health care. Pregnant people experiencing malnourishment face increased risks for pregnancy complications like anemia which increases the risk for premature birth, low infant birth weight, postpartum depression, and occasionally an increased risk of infant death. 

In fact, the U.S. earned a D+ on the March of Dimes national report card as the preterm birth rate increased by 4 % to 10.5% in 2021, with Black and Native American women 62% more likely to have a preterm birth. Despite improvements in infant mortality Black and Native infants remain twice as likely to die compared to white infants. Further, over 21.1% of Black women and 26.8% of American Indian/Alaskan Native women in the U.S. do not receive adequate prenatal care. 

"I believe in community. I believe in us, and we all kind of play our part," she says. "And if I have the opportunity, the ability to speak to something, and to speak up for those who don't have a ring light, the mic, or the social media can that people are following, then I am happy to do so."

Vitamin Angels says ensuring access to essential micronutrients during the first 1,000 days—the window from pregnancy to age two—is essential to disrupt the cycle of infant mortality, low birth rates, and support healthy brain and body development. 

"We know that intuitively as parents—as mamas— that you want to give your baby everything you can," says Ali. "But what if it's not available, and for so many families, it is not.” 

Researchers at NYU School of Global Public Health found the pandemic exacerbated these issues. Nearly 15 percent of U.S. households—and nearly 18 percent of households with children—reported food insecurity early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ali's family has also been impacted by food insecurity, intensifying her belief in this mission. Her grandmother immigrated from Panama and was a single mother of five.

"She needed access to so much. It's so interesting when we say these statistics, like, '[more than] 2 billion people are experiencing malnutrition,' sometimes we'll think of people as 'needing,'" she says. "We all need—some get, and some don't get. I think about her, and what she needed for her kids and for her babies, and how hard she fought. And if there was an organization like Vitamin Angels for her, I would want her to have access to it."

Vitamin Angels, headquartered in Goleta, California, disrupts this cycle by partnering with organizations globally to provide nutritional support and education to pregnant women and children. Charity Navigator and GuideStar give Vitamin Angels their highest marks for financial transparency and accountability. Ali values this transparency. 

Ali says a passion for supporting Black people, especially Black girls, is the throughline for all of her efforts, from acting to advocacy. "And now, as I've grown in my womanhood and as a mother. I'm also interested in Black motherhood and Black women and the full diaspora all over the world," she says, describing herself as a pan-Africanist. "I believe in us, and I believe in what we're able to bring to this world and bring to our communities, and bring to our families and bring to our children if we have the access that we need."

Ali says motherhood revealed her fierce love for her children and community. She intends to pass these lessons, which she inherited from her grandmother, on to her children with belief in their creator, prayer, and kindness. 

"I believe in community. I believe in us, and we all kind of play our part," she says. "And if I have the opportunity, the ability to speak to something, and to speak up for those who don't have a ring light, the mic, or the social media can that people are following, then I am happy to do so."

To learn more and donate to Vitamin Angels, visit their website, vitaminangels.org and follow them on social media: @vitaminangels


Editor's Note: Though "women" and "moms" appears throughout, we acknowledge that not all people who give birth are women or identify as moms.

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