Last Updated on April 15, 2023 by BVN
Karen Sykes and Mackenzie Hope, 30 & Malcolm Hope, 31, pose for a portrait with their daughter Mia Hope, 1, at the Hopes’ home on April 5, 2023. Mackenzie found Sykes through the National Black Doulas Association’s website as she researched options for additional support during her pregnancy given her knowledge of the pregnancy and labor related health disparities for Black women. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News / CatchLight Local)
April 11, 2023 through April 17, 2023 marks Black Maternal Health Week, a week-long campaign founded and organized by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance which is a Black women-led, cross-sectoral organization that centers Black mothers and birthing people.
The purpose of Black Maternal Health Week is to “build awareness, activism, and community-building to amplify the voices, perspectives and lived experiences of Black Mamas and birthing people.”
As news reports and data continue to reveal the rising rate of Black maternal mortality and inadequate treatment in hospital settings, this year’s theme for Black Maternal Health Week, “Our Bodies Belong to Us: Restoring Black Autonomy and Joy!”, seeks to shine a light on community-centered and cultural practices for maternal care delivered by Black midwives, full-spectrum doulas and other birth and maternal health workers.
In line with the theme of restoring Black autonomy and Joy and with the support of Inland Empire community-based doulas and midwives, the Black Voice News spoke with Black midwives, doulas and families in the area about the joys of parenting and serving their communities, how they hold on to joy while balancing obligations and what they hope for the future.
Meet the Hopes and Their Doula, Karen Sykes
Mackenzie and Malcolm Hope’s one-year-old daughter, Mia, is welcoming and friendly. When her mom opened the door to their Menifee home, Mia stood beside her, waving. The Hopes are a “pandemic couple” who got married in 2020. Mia is their first child together, but they also have a 13-year-old daughter named Zaria that Mackenzie calls “her bonus baby.”
“Joy to me, it’s like that inner smile, what makes your heart smile and it’s the time, it’s watching her grow. It’s really cool with [Malcolm], to see him as a dad. I love that and to see him with her,” Mackenzie, 30, shared.
Malcolm, 31, said it’s tough to balance work, being parents and other obligations while holding on to joy. Mackenzie works in administration and Malcolm is a Class A Driver. Malcolm explained that the balance comes with a good time.
“I’m new to this, and I guess I didn’t realize the intense feeling of joy that it brings you. I enjoy it all, even the hard times, because definitely there are. So, I’m going through every stage. Right now, she’s a toddler and she’s trying to be independent,” Mackenzie said. “We have a little bit of anger, temper tantrums or whatever, so those are like harder times. But even when, at the end of the day, when you look back, you’re just like, ‘wow.’ This little person is very joyous. It surprises me every day.”
Before giving birth to Mia, Mackenzie knew she wanted some additional support during her pregnancy. With her knowledge of pregnancy and labor as it relates to Black women and the fears associated with it, Mackenzie did a lot of research. Mackenzie was pregnant with Mia during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and was unable to have her mom with her in the hospital. After doing some research, Mackenzie found her doula, Karen Sykes, through the National Black Doulas Association’s website.
“The thing I love that really gives me joy in doing this work is [not] just walking alongside the families and really getting that sense of connection, but also giving them tools that will empower them and give them the birth experience they desire, especially Black families,” Sykes explained. “As Kenzie just said, there’s disparities and there’s a lot of fear and justifiable fear because of the mortality rates among Black women, and even with their infants.”
Sykes said empowering families and doing what they want to do gives her joy. She shared that watching the little ones grow gives her joy as well. Her relationship with the families doesn’t end with the conclusion of postpartum visits.
“It goes beyond that because now we’re a year and a half beyond Mia’s birth and we’ve still been in contact. We’ve had coffee together, we talk, we text. They become family,” Sykes shared.
Like Sykes, Malcolm enjoys watching his children grow every day. He said that being with Mia every day and growing with her, those are the things that he finds exciting and that give him joy.
The Hopes said they want all good and positive things for their children. For themselves, Malcolm said he hopes he and his wife can “stay focused. Never give up. Keep the legacy going. When you stop something from being great, you never know what it could be. Always hope for greatness.”
“I want [my children] to know that even though we are young, we’ve done a lot together and as individuals. I want my kids to have that confidence, to just go for it,” Mackenzie voiced. “Because I feel like I got that from both of our parents. They’re go-getters. So, by any means necessary, you have to keep working hard so that you can have all the good things.”
As Sykes watched Mia entertain herself and toddle around, she shared that she hopes the families she works with maintain the spirit of unity and that they remember the beginning of their journeys and embrace how far they’ve come. This way, couples can encourage others to build support systems.
“For myself in this work, [I hope] to continue to give and to share what I do know. I’m going to continue to learn and continue to grow. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning or growing in this work. I want to know more so I can share that with families to help empower them because I really believe as an older woman, it’s my responsibility to bring them up and to show them the way,” Sykes expressed. “Just like I stood on the shoulders of someone, they can stand on my shoulders and someone can stand on theirs, so we can keep that legacy going.”
As a mom, wife and full-time worker, Hope said she believes self-care is an important way to hold on to joy in the midst of everything. She said it helps to have a partner who allows her to have a moment to herself and encourages others to take a step back when they can.
“It’s just like a tank that’s being filled, like you get empty and you fill it back up. We all have to do that. That’s how I maintain my sanity, my joy. They say absence makes [the heart grow fonder],” Hope said. When she takes time for herself or is out with her friends, Hope confided that when she begins to look at pictures of Mia and her family, she knows it’s time to go home.
For Malcolm, he hopes to leave a positive example for his children.
“I didn’t have too many examples, so I want to set the example. That’s what I hope for,” Malcolm explained.
“Something you guys said made me think…I took a course a long, long time ago. But one of the phrases that always stuck in my mind is that we draw to ourselves, the condition of our heart. So, it’s whatever is in here,” Sykes said, gesturing to her heart.
“If we’re focusing on positive things, it doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen and we won’t get our way, but if our heart is focused on good things, we will draw those good things to ourselves. I think it’s fascinating, too, that the word you guys are using is hope and that’s your last name.”