“Mhm,” I calmly nodded to my cantankerous, squirmy infant as I changed her diaper in our living room.
“I know you’re upset, but we’re almost done. You’re doing wonderfully,” I praised.
The sunlight peered in from the three-paned window as “Mhm”– my midwife’s affirmation–resonated half a year later while I snapped up my baby’s diapers on the same couch I labored on.
This repetition of language drew such a peculiar parallel. This was the manifestation of “mothering the mothering.”
Ngozi Walker-Tibbs MPH, LCCE, IBCLC, a birth and lactation professional and mother of five understands the importance and impact of “mothering the mother.” After receiving midwifery care with all of her children, she dedicates her time and energy to the mothers in her community.
Walker-Tibbs has encouraged a mother while she endured an unmedicated VBAC. She’s witnessed a woman “rock her baby into the world” under dim lights. She’s supported several women with histories of sexual abuse who chose to have epidurals and still managed to bond beautifully with their babies. She’s watched women approach medically indicated c-sections without fear and breastfeed successfully. She’s extended a hand to help women with traumatic birth experiences recover from their disappointments.
“All of my births were awesome; knowing that I could go into this experience without fear was so helpful,” she explains. “Having midwife care with all [of my children] has had a huge impact on how I view birth as a normal, natural process and has a direct influence on how I teach…steering clear of fear.”
As a WIC participant and new mother in the early 90s, Walker-Tibbs enrolled in a WIC doula program where she received her first taste of lactation and doula services. Later she became involved with La Leche League.
“I was so impressed with the support I thought, ‘One day I would like to do this and give back to the women in my community,’” she says.
In 1996, Walker-Tibbs became a postpartum doula with the Crisis Pregnancy Center. She attended her first birth in 1999 and was hired as a professional doula in 2005. Through her immersion in the birth world, she learned about The Lactation Counselor Training and Maternal Child Health: Lactation Consulting degree at Union Institute and University, a program offered through a learning partnership with Health Children Project.
“I chose Union because the distance learning was helpful, because I wanted to keep working,” Walker-Tibbs explains.
Most recently, Walker-Tibbs completed a MPH program to nurture her interest in health policy and disparities.
Walker-Tibbs currently teaches breastfeeding and infant care classes at Shining Light Prenatal Education in Pittsburgh. She also teaches and consults at a local hospital and the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh. For families who prefer a more intimate setting, Walker-Tibbs offers in home visits through her small, private practice called Sankofa Childbirth Education and Lactation Services.
“What’s so awesome about teaching is when you get to see that light bulb in a mom; when she’s really engaged with what you’re sharing, and when she asks those questions that maybe she was afraid to ask before,” she says.
Walker-Tibbs’ classes cover breastfeeding essentials, but she and her students also discuss infant feeding ideas circulating current culture.
“As an African American woman of course it’s important to me that black women are heard and are receiving quality care,” she explains. “It’s really sad how often I hear from women of color how they are not receiving the same quality of care as their white friends.”
To address these disparities, Walker-Tibbs discusses with her families how to advocate for themselves and reminds them to surround themselves with women, peers and professionals who can help them walk through the parenting process.
When families encounter discrimination and maltreatment, Walker-Tibbs encourages documentation and journaling about the incidence.
“Sometimes women of color don’t talk about [prejudice] because they know it’s going to be an uphill battle,” she says. “I will walk alongside her. If a lawyer needs to get involved, I want to make sure she knows that she is well supported.”
Walker-Tibb’s work with the Birth Circle of Pittsburgh has reminded her of the reality and prominence of bigotry today and every day.
“Sister doulas share stories of mothers obviously not receiving quality care because she has an accent or she is married to someone of a different race.”
Often surrounded by injustice and cruelty, Walker-Tibbs keeps coming back for more. It simply takes a “Thank you” from one mother to know that she is making a difference in the world.
As a survivor of sexual trauma, Walker-Tibbs’ personal breastfeeding journeys have been especially healing.
“Breastfeeding saved my life,” she says. “To know that this body was damaged and could nourish my children…”
This fall, Walker-Tibbs will present as a keynote speaker at the Lamaze and DONA International Conference.
“I’m hoping to challenge those who will hear lecture: How can we make the world a better place for women of color and for non-traditional families. How can we support these mothers and help write a positive story?”
In Walker-Tibbs’ spare time, she and her family have a small band and teach African dance classes.