Hearing the Call to Service: An Interview with Latham Thomas

Latham Thomas is a doula, mentor and educator – and so much more. As the founder of Mama Glow, she draws on a full spectrum of holistic wellness knowledge, ancestral tools passed down via ancient tradition, and partnerships with public health advocates and organizations to provide comprehensive direct support for all women along the childbearing spectrum and their families, as well as a globally-recognized doula training program.

Her commitment to supporting marginalized and underserved communities and advocating for humane healthcare for all inspires us deeply, and we were delighted to speak with her as part of our Women’s History Month series.

On your website, you have a beautiful explanation of how “Mama Glow” isn’t just an organization, but a concept. Can you elaborate on that?

For us, the experience of pregnancy [is] of being embodied in a state of constant change and flux, being in relationship with your body in a way that doesn't happen that often, for a period of 40 weeks – or 10 moons – of change. 

And then, on the other side of that, having a lifetime of change with the human that you bring earthside is, to us, a sacred and holy event and experience.

The work that we do seeks to ground people in that experience, to remind them of their power, and, in some cases, be a conduit for reconnection to ancestral tools that guide us to a place where we can be in a state of surrender, really. And also a state of constant opening.

I think pregnancy is about being fully expressed. It's about expanding you and shaping you and opening you, and there are so many forces that work on us, to open us in these ways. 

And so while we witness this in the doula work that we do, and through various experiences that people have along the childbearing continuum, it's really important for us to acknowledge that it is abundant and it is beautiful. And even the aspects that are challenging are also a gift, and really powerful teachers. 

And we also know that many people in our current medical models don’t have access to this type of experience. And so that's what we're fighting for, to preserve this experience for everyone.

You're leading so much of the conversation around birth advocacy and motherhood – what it means to bring a child into the world and what it means to be supported. What drew you to this field in the first place? What inspired you to step onto this path?

I acknowledge it as a calling. I'm answering a call that's really deep. And it's something that has been visiting me for many years, that hovered for many years, while I acknowledged it by ignoring it. 

And, there was a time where I couldn't put it off any longer. And without getting into all the details, there were several serendipitous symbolic events that took place, that served on a platter what I was supposed to be doing, and I finally listened. 

I'm a Taurus, and we're very disobedient and we're very stubborn, right? So it takes a long time to embrace change. And I just took a long time to get there. And this is [after] two decades of work in women's health, but feeling that calling stirring inside of me for a very long time, and even having the rudiments of this work show up when I was a child.

Being called to service leadership is inconvenient. It shows up in your life in a way that is disruptive. [It] disrupts what you're already doing, and sends you in a direction to do something that's greater and bigger than you, and so that's what I've been positioned to do.

And so it isn't like a “passion”. It is an act of deep service. it isn't something that I can just turn away from and then go do other things that are fun. People's lives depend on how we show up. So I think that's the difference in how I see the work, and also the seriousness with which I show up for it. 

It was answering a call. I feel like I was anointed to do the work. I think that everybody has some sort of calling, some sort of special medicine on their hearts to be of service and to heal.

And so that is how I show up. And then the other way is through teaching. A huge part of our commitment, and mine specifically, is about making sure there's access to education that really centers our unique experience as birthing individuals, primarily as folks who've been marginalized. 

We have people who, for the first time in their lives, have seen themselves centered in [our] material, and have seen languaging and spaces created to support them in processing their own birth experiences.

For me, it's been such an honor to be able to show up in that space and support people who are on the journey to be a mentor – I have thousands of doulas who I mentor, that come through Mama Glow. 

And it's been one foot in front of the other, right? Every single day you take steps on your journey. And I really allow God to order my steps. “How do I show up in devotion today?” That's how I approach my life in the work. 

What is the core role of a doula, and why are they so important?

So it's interesting, because [“doula”] is a really pretty word. And then, when you learn where the root of the word comes from, it comes from ancient Greek. And it actually means “handmaid”, or “one who serves”, or “female slave”. 

And when you hear that overlay, and how that hits for people who are descendants of folks who were in bondage, or if you’re in connection with a community on the margins, it doesn't feel right to be calling yourself that. 

I think that if folks feel that the word is evocative of something that doesn't feel good, then there's other words you can use. There's “birth attendant”, I use “birth keeper” a lot. And you can call yourself a “birth coach” – there's many different ways. 

But what we should understand, though, collectively, is that the role is ancient. And this is not new. It's not something for just rich people, or just people of a certain mindset or belief system around birth. It's for everyone, evolving out of rich traditions where we were in support, in community, around birth and other life events. 

The role of a doula is really to help someone cross the threshold from one plane of existence to another. We are there to serve as guides through the rites of passage. So, through birthing rites, or postpartum rites, or perimenopausal rites, we are there to support that – or rights of loss and bereavement, if someone has miscarriage or stillbirth. It is for menses – we have people who can support you as you come in through menarche. It's along this entire continuum. 

So it's not a new thing, but because of how we constructed our society, this role has been pushed out to one that's become more like a career path, rather than someone who was just in your community, like a neighbor or auntie. 

And the doulas back in the day, we actually evolved from the role of the “gossips”, or God's siblings. The godsiblings would show up alongside the midwife, and the midwife would not just perform clinical support and care; [she] would also perform ritual, would pray, would smoke the room with incense or holy resin, would prepare a tonic, usually with some sort of alcohol to help move things.

[And] the godsiblings would come in and kick out the male of the house. Like if there was a father or somebody, they would leave. And then the children or whoever else is in the house would be attended to by the gossip, and they would prepare food, and prepare the birthing room, and draw the curtain to create a sense of darkness and safety.

And they would feed and hydrate the birthing person, and look after the kids, and tell stories and gossip and laugh and cackle, prepare the sheet for the birth, change the sheets after the birth, do all of that stuff.

And then also attend in the early postpartum period, with rituals, foods, all types of things that now have gotten lost in Western culture, or are just reemerging as we celebrate confinement practices for the postpartum period. 

And so the role is that old, right? It's super ancient. And so it is for all of us to reclaim.

In the modern sense, the doula [provides] emotional support, physical support, education. If you have a partner, they're going to do partner support, and to ensure that you have advocacy tools to navigate your birth.

And it is quite different from having a midwife or doctor, because they're there to provide all clinical care, and also to deliver the baby. The doula is there to provide all emotional care. 

There's a pervasive misunderstanding of the role of doulas and midwives, which keeps us in a state where we don't have access to the resources we need to advance maternity care in this country. And so it is by design that there’s confusion – which drives policy, drives health education, drives where the financials are distributed amongst any of our health programming in the United States. 

So we need to get this right, and have clarity around what the role is. But it's not easy for people to figure out, because the information sometimes can be confusing.

So yes, it is a non-clinical role. It is a service role, and it is available to you, and everybody should have access to the care provider of their choice to support them through the birthing process. 

And a doula is a version of that, who can support you in birth or post birth, and certainly something you should look into, regardless of what type of birth you're planning for. And certainly for every type of birth outcome that may arise.

As you’ve said, for people who are called to this kind of role, the first teacher is Spirit. Then there’s the world, and other humans. Can you tell us about some of your other teachers, who our readers can access directly – in the form of people, books, or other tools?

You know what's interesting? I was talking to a midwife friend the other day about this, and she was talking about how sometimes she's in spaces and people are like, “oh, where's the reference for that? Or is there a book, or?” And I think the important thing to surface is that a lot of the wisdomkeeping that we're able to conjure wasn't written down.

How people transmitted information was through song. It was through their bodies, it was in their bodies. Sometimes it was through food, certain rituals or prayers, but none of that stuff was written. 

So a lot of what gives people the satisfaction of being able to fact-check, a source for something like that isn't there – because you would have not survived if you made it clear that you could write and read. You could actually be killed, being able to read and write in that time, and people knew that. 

And so a lot of the information is not centering us in that way. It's extracting from contributions that we weren’t able to write down. 

A lot of these things that I know, I know, through storytelling, or I know through ancestry, or I know through other people who were in conversation and in storytelling and in song with other people who were living it and passing it on orally.

So that's one thing, there's a difference in how we story-keep culturally. Like everything that my grandmother could cook, she never wrote down, we had to learn by being in the kitchen. 

So it's a different lens on how information and wisdom is transferred. The more you can recall or remember in your body, the more you can recollect and bring into the space orally, and the better you can keep and preserve things that get extracted culturally. Because when we surface our information, people co-opt it. So that is also the other fear, that everything gets taken. 

And people who are marginalized, and people who are oppressed, and people who don't have the ability to put their story out there, or don't have the mechanisms to spread it – their stories don’t get told. 

And if people really knew the truth, by the way, the fear is that the stories that we have told ourselves are about to unravel. Right? The fear is that people who know the truth, that the young people who know the truth will feel something, not just feel bad, but they will feel something, they'll do something about that feeling. And that'll lead to actual change. And then there will be people who are like, “Oh, my gosh, we can't continue to let this happen!” And that would change things. 

But this is the culture we live in. It's one where our ancestors were criminalized for what they knew. And then had to essentially prove up through credentialing, and basically showing their papers. And so everything that we're trying to do is to make sure that people don't have to feel like they have to prove up anything. And that we really trust these internal resources that we have as our teachers, and that we think about ourselves, as we move through the world, as making our own history.

I feel like reading can make you feel good about what you're about to learn, but the birth work is like not about reading, it is about being present, it is about listening, it is about guiding, it is about being able to close your eyes and know if somebody is crying in the room. It is being able to, in darkness, help people cross this river, holding their hands to safe passage.

I look at Harriet Tubman as a guide. She was a freedom fighter, she was an herbalist, she was disabled, and she was still carrying people to safe passage, right? And that is what we are called to do, is walk in the spirit of that power of our ancestry, all of us. Not to just try to read your way there, or resource your way there, or syllabus your way there. 

And so that's the invitation, to allow yourself to feel what comes up as you navigate space, and connect with what's happening in your body as it relates to this work, like what stories you have that are untold about your own birthing, or your own birthing journey, or how you got here. 

Connect with that wisdom. What was in the traditions your mother practiced, or your foremothers? That's the work. Not reading what I read, but hooking into what is happening in you, and what's calling you to do this, and then finding your source material.

What inspires me, or makes me feel connected, is not your medicine. You have your own medicine. You have to find it within, you have to channel it, and you have to slow down to connect, to attune so that it surfaces. 

And then it’ll show up and then your teachers emerge, the teachings emerge, the lessons emerge, and in the format that makes sense for you. It'll come! But seek to connect to the source material inside of you first.


If you're in the NYC area, be sure to check out Mama Glow's first-ever Doula Expo – a 360-degree festival experience for birth workers, caregivers and the brands designed to support them. This interactive experience includes keynotes, TED style talks, demos, and exploration, and it's open to all people involved in the birthing and wellness fields and those who are curious! 

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