A conversation with Mya Taylor, an advocate for Black maternal health in New Orleans

Mya Taylor credits her time as a nursing intern at the black-owned maternal health clinic, Labor and Love to her passion, interest, and advocacy for black maternal health in New Orleans.

A conversation with Mya Taylor, an advocate for Black maternal health in New Orleans
Mya Taylor, a maternal health advocate in New Orleans, wants quality sex education to be a higher priority in Louisiana schools and communities. (Photo by Madison Grant)

Behind this story

This article is part of a Lede New Orleans reporting project exploring stories, information and resources around Black motherhood and maternal health in New Orleans. The series was produced by the Spring 2023 Lede New Orleans Community Reporting Fellows.

By Madison Grant

Could offering sex education to young people lead to healthier pregnancies and postpartum experiences for Black women? For Mya Taylor, a recent Xavier University graduate now pursuing her master’s degree in social work, the answer is a clear yes.

Tayor, a native of Amite City, La., moved to New Orleans to study public health at Xavier University of Louisiana. She now works as one in a community of maternal health advocates pushing for better outcomes for Black mothers and mothers-to-be. Improving the state of sex education in Louisiana is one of her passions.

Mya Taylor speaks with a community member at a hurricane preparedness resource fair in New Orleans, May 19, 2023. At the time, Taylor was interning with Labor and Love, a local Black-owned service provider that offers doula support, childbirth education, wellness visits and other services to assist pregnant people and caregivers. (Photo by Madison Grant)

Growing up in southeast Louisiana, sex education was absent in her journey through school until she reached college. Taylor remembers getting basic women’s health instruction as a teenager. The education was aimed at educating young girls about the changes happening to their bodies, but not so much on how to protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases and abuse, or preventing pregnancy, she said.

Fast forward to 2023. Taylor was serving as a maternal child health intern at Labor and Love, a local Black-owned service provider offering doula support, childbirth education, wellness visits and other services to assist women in the childbirth experience. At Labor and Love, Taylor said she was able to see how information and making resources available can break down stigmas around sex and pregnancy, and improve health outcomes for Black women.

In Louisiana, public schools are not mandated to teach sexual education. While state law requires that any sex education offered must be medically accurate, there is no statewide sex education standard or curriculum available to educators. That leaves organizations like Labor and Love working to fill the gap.

Among other services, Labor and Love gives presentations to high school-age youth to share information on sexual anatomy, sexually-transmitted infections and pregnancy. Educating young people and encouraging them to talk with parents and grandparents is an important piece of the movement to improve Black maternal health outcomes, Taylor said.

“I want to make sure that the youth are knowledgeable about what pregnancy is and what maternal health is,” Taylor said. “I don't think that's being talked about enough, especially in high school.”

I sat down with Taylor to discuss her advocacy work, her journey as a Black woman understanding Black maternal health and her hopes for health outcomes in New Orleans. This conversation was edited for length and clarity.. 

How has your understanding of Black maternal health evolved?

I know for myself. I didn't know about a doula. I'd heard of midwives on television and stuff like that. I don't know if this is just coming from a smaller town or rural area, but when you're pregnant you get your prenatal work, you go to the hospital to get your checkups and you go to a hospital to have your baby. Other opportunities as far as home births, that's not something that was really talked about enough. But it's something that is possible for a healthy baby.

What does maternal health look like to you?

Advocacy, health promotion, prevention. Getting those key factors out. With those terms comes so much within them. Even with prevention, there are so many levels of prevention that can go into. You can do individual or interpersonal prevention, talking to someone one-on-one to make sure that they’re knowledgeable about what is to come with maternal health. Or you can do interpersonal prevention with a group of people, so their family members. Making sure that they’re knowledgeable about what is to come so that they can be a support system to people that are pregnant. You can also look at community. That’s making sure that everyone in this region or low-income or middle- or high-income, whichever it is to be is knowledgeable and making sure that they know the outcomes of pregnancy and what is kind of limited to them, unfortunately, but also what is offered to them to combat that. On the highest level is the law. We need to be advocating and making sure that we are promoting maternal health and making sure that our voices are heard so that they do see the people that are in the forefront of maternal health. Just being a witness.

What conversation does the Black community need to have about Black maternal health?

I can only speak from the African American experience. I would say the conversation is taboo, especially for the youth. But that is something that needs to be talked about. Even like sex education; you need to have that conversation with your children so that they are knowledgeable about what could possibly happen if you go through certain steps in your life not knowing and not being prepared. I would say having conversations respectfully with your parents, or any guardian that you might have, as far as, “OK, I've been thinking about this situation,” or “How was your experience when you had me when you were pregnant?” Just knowing medical issues. That is good information to spread along. It is something that isn't talked about enough.

What role do you believe sex education for youth plays in Black maternal health?

Sex education plays a major role in Black maternal health because of the dangers involved in women giving birth. Women can become susceptible to several different health complications and diseases while pregnant if not monitored. Health complications such as preeclampsia–which is high blood pressure–can cause women to deliver prematurely, experience seizures or result in death if not treated effectively. Sex education should not only focus on safe sex and sexually transmitted diseases and infections, but also the possibility of dangerous health outcomes for the mother once pregnant. It allows the youth to understand the importance of Black health and combat stereotypes and biases placed upon Black patients. For example, the false notion that African Americans have a higher pain tolerance than any other race has been seen throughout maternal health experiences. 

What gives you hope? 

What makes me hopeful is the surplus of new students that are very involved and interested in [pregnancy and maternal health]. I didn't know what I wanted to do when I got here, but as soon as I was put into the role and into the field, it just came second nature. I do want to help. I do want to help be an advocate or just speak for people or just be there and prevent things that are up to me to prevent. Actually be of aid to people. We do have a lot of students that are doulas or doulas-in-training. We have students that are just interested in postpartum [care]. So it's different aspects that play a part in maternal health, but we do have a lot of students here at Xavier University of Louisiana that are interested. I believe that we will be in different fields and have an opportunity to promote health and build aid to people.

I love that. What is your vision for Black maternal health in New Orleans?

Utopia would be adequate healthcare and high-quality supervision from medical staff to all patients, no matter their socioeconomic status or racial background. Also, bodily autonomy for women who choose not to [have] children.

What’s a resource you think the community should know about?

Labor and Love located on South Galvez Street in New Orleans has a website called www.laborandlove.org where you can contact them more about the different services they provide. They provide birthing services, breastfeeding information and doula services. They also have a Family Nurse Practitioner who does women's wellness. Their Instagram account is @labor_and_love.

Meet Madison Grant, a writer, photographer, videographer and published journalist originally from Chicago. Grant, 20, is currently studying mass communication at Xavier University of Louisiana.

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