Advocate Spotlight: Anthonia Akitunde of matermea.com
ADVOCATE SPOTLIGHT: ANTHONIA AKITUNDE OF MATERMEA.COM
The journalist & mater mea founder shares the importance of diversity and representation in motherhood and fertility stories
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), married black women are almost twice as likely to experience infertility as married white women. But often, women of color — and in particular black women — are left out of the popular culture narrative around infertility. We sat down with Anthonia Akitunde, journalist and founder of mater mea, a media company dedicated black moms’ stories, to discuss the importance of diversity and representation in fertility narratives.
Celmatix: Tell us about your background and what led you to launch mater mea.
Anthonia: I’m a journalist by trade. I was one of those kids who always knew what she wanted to be when she grew up, and I never really wavered from wanting to tell stories.
As I launched my journalism career, I was very mercenary about it — I’d write about anything if I was paid to do it. Then, in 2012 the national conversation around whether women could really “have it all” started to reach a fever pitch, and women like Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter came into the spotlight. I was at a point where I was mid-career, hoping to settle down with a long-term partner, and these were stories that were very relevant to my life. But I didn’t feel that the media was speaking to women who looked like me.
There’s a ton of parenting and women’s content out there, but it’s pretty carefully curated — beautiful homes, well-behaved and well-dressed children, that kind of thing. I wanted to see more realistic depictions of working motherhood.
I also wanted to dispel some of the myths around black women and their families, who are often either depicted as welfare queens or reality television hot messes. There’s not a lot of the reality between those two tropes.
So, I started mater mea. At first, it was kind of a way of having conversations with women I had girl crushes on. I aspire to be a working mother someday, so I’d ask them: How did you do it?
Celmatix: What is mater mea, and why is it important?
Anthonia: I used to say that mater mea is a platform that celebrates black women at the intersection of career and family. That’s still true, but it’s evolving more and more into a safe space for black women to tell their stories, talk about their path to motherhood, and share about working motherhood in a place where their story is validated and seen and affirmed.
There are lots of different stories on the site.
Black women aren’t monoliths; on mater mea we have single moms, lesbians, adoptive mothers, people who act as mothers to their companies or to their friends. It’s not all boho-chic and Instagram-ready.
There are all sorts of different forms and shades that motherhood can take, and they’re all valid.
Celmatix: What are some of the challenges of launching a new media site?
Anthonia: It constantly feels like I’m in launch mode. I definitely thought of the site at first as a passion project, something I was doing on the side, and not as a business. But the longer it’s existed, the more I know I can’t think of it that way. It’s a media company.
So, the challenge now is how to build a team, and find ways to fund the site that doesn’t put the onus on the community that needs this content. It’s about finding a way to create a structure that supports and funds high-quality content my community isn’t getting anywhere else.
Celmatix: What is your proudest accomplishment to date?
Anthonia: I’m definitely proud that the site is still around given the ups and downs I’ve experienced over the years, but the biggest thing is knowing how much the content means to the women who read it.
I did a series for National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month, and women who had been silent about their pregnancy losses reached out and thanked me for the information I shared. I’ve heard from women who hired a doula because mater mea covered the fact that black women are three times more likely to die in childbirth than white women.
A woman in her 20s who lives in LA with her 2-year-old daughter reached out to me. She had been struggling and was homeless for a time. I ended up helping her out with some online resources, advice, and donations from readers. Today she’s a student crafting a personal brand around motherhood and wellness. She’s grown leaps and bounds in the past year.
So, it’s incredibly rewarding to think about the direct impact that the site can have.
Celmatix: You have a podcast in the works. Tell me about that project.
Anthonia: I’ve wanted to do a podcast for a long time. At first, I thought it’d be more of a traditional “Let’s get a bunch of people in a studio and chat about different topics” kind of show, but I decided to bring more focus to it.
Something I realized in telling so many women’s stories, was that infertility had popped up here and there, but I’d never done anything specifically dedicated to the topic. I wanted to explore how hard it can be to bring a baby into the world sometimes, at first through a focus on one woman’s story. But the more I read about it, the more I wanted to tell more stories, so now each episode will be dedicated to an individual woman and her experience of infertility.
The podcast is still in development, but I’m excited about the stories we’ll be sharing. One woman on the podcast had a child from a previous relationship, got married, and is now dealing with male factor infertility. Another woman is a lesbian dealing with lack of monoracial sperm in sperm banks. There’s also a woman who decide to adopt after IVF didn’t work for her, and women who are still on their journey.
I want to get across that these issues happen among black women even if they are often excluded from the broader narrative.
Because of my journalism background, I want to make it educational as well as offer up stories that show that someone who looks like me is going through these issues — even if the media and culture around it would have you believe the opposite.
Celmatix: Research shows that married black women are almost two times more likely to experience infertility than married white women. Yet black women’s stories are underrepresented in the public perception of infertility. How can we — brands, the infertility community — help to change this?
Anthonia: One issue is that whiteness is so often seen as the default. People think using a white model will apply to everybody, and do not take into consideration the different needs of other races or just how meaningful representation can be.
When it comes to marketing, brands shouldn’t just present a white face and think everyone will identify with it. People pick up on that, and think whatever you’re marketing is not for them.
I’ve heard from women at fertility clinics who reported being the only black woman there. To those clinics, I’d say to include images of people who don’t look like the people on your staff, or who you think your target audience is.
I’ve also heard companies complain that they don’t get the same response to content when they share a picture of a person of color vs. a white woman. I would say be OK with that difference in metrics. Your audience has their own unconscious bias, but it still means a lot to have that representation for someone who could become one of your clients/customers. Being more inclusive brings that audience to you.