Ashley Taylor Jacobs, MPA, IBCLC, is a graduate of Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute’s Mary Rose Tully Training Initiative (MRT-TI) class of 2020-2021. She has a BA in Psychology from North Carolina State University and an MPA with a concentration in Non-Profit Management from North Carolina Central University. A doula based in Durham, North Carolina, she started Genuine Embrace Birth Services, which assists mothers and birthing persons in birth and postpartum care. Ashley is also a full-time Senior Contracting Officer with RTI International. Before that, she worked at UNC Chapel Hill managing grants and awards for several years. Ashley was also a board member with Mobilizing African American Mothers through Empowerment. She and her husband have two girls.
Why did you want to become an IBCLC?
Honestly, I’m a huge nerd. So for my quest of further knowledge, I learned of all inequities that were happening to black women in maternal health care and I made the decision to help. That’s just always who I have been. I feel that I have to give back to the community on some level. And whatever that looks like, I’m willing to do.
Why is giving back to the community so important to you?
It’s always been an ingrained quality for me. Being a black woman, I knew I had to assist, somehow, with the maternal health rates, which is why I became a doula. I know sometimes within the black community there is a stigma for people to breastfeed. I wanted others who look like me to know that it is okay to breastfeed if that’s what they want to do. So, I’m always going to have that in mind — the community that you have is truly important, not only as an IBCLC, but as a person.
What drew you to nonprofit work?
For years I’ve been really interested in nonprofit work and have volunteered readily. After I got my master’s degree from North Carolina Central University in Public Administration with a concentration in Non-Profit Management in 2010, it’s been a goal of mine to do nonprofit work. It’s just been a common thread throughout my life, to serve others. When I think about who I’ve been, it just made sense to do it.
“…I wanted others to know that I was serious.” — Ashley Taylor Jacobs
What interested you in the MRT-TI program?
My passions just aligned with the work I was doing. I was working at UNC, being a full-time mom, and working as a birth doula. At my full-time job for the UNC School of Medicine, Office of Sponsored Programs, I actually worked in grants and contracts. I was reading proposals and things as they came through. So, I understood that UNC had their ear on the ground to this work and I knew that I would probably get the best education. I was thrilled to be aligned with folks who were doing that work. I’m so thankful that I went through the program because it definitely gave me a great knowledge-and-skill-based set to not only pass the IBCLC test but continue working in black maternal health. It just all worked out well.
Why did you start Genuine Embrace Birth Services?
I did that out of my desire to show other women of color that they could potentially do something different, something that they probably haven’t done before. I also did it mostly for my children because I wanted them to see a good positive example of someone who tried to strive and reach their goals. Though I work full time and I believe I’m good at it, it’s not my passion. I wanted others to see that you can absolutely work on something and work on a passion. My hope is to expand that business and one day really do that full time, bring my love of assisting the maternal health plight full circle.
You’re married with two children. How does that affect your view on breastfeeding?
I think breastfeeding is a family decision. I tell all my clients that I work for the family. I work in tandem with them to ensure that they feel supported and heard. So, if they come to me because breastfeeding is something that they want to do, I’m supportive of it. And if they feel like they need to do supplementation with formula or donor breast milk or whatever else, I’m willing to go that route with them as well. I’m just the person who really believes in allowing them to have that space where they can come to someone and have those thoughts and be vulnerable and transparent. I believe that allows for relationships to grow.
What advice would you give someone interested in becoming an IBCLC?
Be determined and really tap into your resources, because there’s tons of resources out there. And, unfortunately, sometimes we just don’t know what those resources are. I always believe in imploring community. UNC was my community, and I was able to tell my bosses regarding my intent to study to be an IBCLC. I believe I was transparent in this journey because I wanted others to know that I was serious. I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I think that those qualities will help push someone to get to where they want to be. And, for IBCLCs specifically, reading and educating yourself on the field. Because, even though I’ve been an IBCLC for a year, there’s still things I don’t know. So, just keep learning and keep growing and keep talking to others.
The Mary Rose Tully Training Institute (MRT-TI) Is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs upon recommendation of the Lactation Education Accreditation and Approval Review Committee. In 2016, MRT-TI earned the distinction of becoming the first accredited Pathway 2 lactation consultant training program in the United States. The program is housed within the Maternal and Child Health department at UNC Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.
— Robert A. Poarch