Nataizya Mukwavi has been a mother to her community for five years, as the Founder and Executive Director of Black Women Connect Vancouver (BWCV) – a not-for-profit collective serving to bridge gaps in the Vancouver Black community, particularly offering support to Black women to be inspired and get connected. Driven by the need to create the social and wellness spaces she never had access to growing up, Nataizya champions Black sisterhood – fostering new connections and providing resources needed for Black women, teens, and mothers to live an empowered and active life.
Now, three months after the birth of her first child, Z’kari Mukwavi Dock, the Vancouver-based Zambian is learning to slow down and rediscover how her body moves in this new postpartum stage of her life, whilst continuing to nurture the mental and physical health needs of her community.
“I had a challenging birth, so I feel like the first month was just me rediscovering what my body looks and feels like now. Even just taking the stairs was weird. You feel like your hips are out of place. Obviously you did something miraculous, but at the same time you just want your body to get back to where it needs to be. So it’s also learning to move in different ways than before and adjusting to your new life.”
Before pregnancy, Nataizya’s flexibility drew her toward movement, and she sought out the feeling of getting a good stretch through practices such as Pilates, running, and yoga. However, as an Endo Warrior, plagued with painful and inflammatory cysts due to endometriosis, Nataizya also looked to movement to alleviate her chronic pain. “They kind of push all these pain medications. Like take this, take that and it just wasn’t working for me. I was actually reacting worse. Then I was like, ‘What about what I actually eat? What about working out?’ I’ve addressed a lot of my diet and how I move, and I think that’s what brought me back to a place of feeling I could manage the pain.” Endometriosis also taught Nataizya the importance of rest, listening to her body limits, and not pushing beyond her physical capabilities as they fluctuate from day-to-day. “Some days you can only lay in your bed. I had to learn to accept that and say, ‘This is where I’m at right now and that’s OK!’”
Between the symptoms of endometriosis and pregnancy, Nataizya spent a lot of time on bed rest. “That was really challenging for me because even if I’m not physically active, I’m active in some part of my life and that really kind of crippled me.” Even still, she began to move in whatever capacity she could, to improve her mental and physical health – like going on short walks or doing guided yoga sessions with her doula. “When we did our sessions, it felt good and then the next day I was so sore! I think that I didn’t realize how much it really took out of me. It was a challenging experience but I think that my body needed that to kind of prepare itself for what it needs to do.”
While Nataizya had plenty of support from her doula, family, and friends during pregnancy, she was also familiar with the feeling of not being supported or seeing herself represented after growing up all over Canada and Europe. “Being able to create something helps me with my isolation. Planning [Black Women Connect Vancouver], I can also enjoy that space as well because if I’m feeling a certain type of way I’m sure other people are feeling it as well.” As Black women are marginalized, underrepresented, and isolated in the Vancouver fitness community as a whole, Nataizya aimed to create safe spaces where Black women feel welcome to explore movement, create their own community, and be who they want to be. “Give yourself grace! I think a lot of us function out of hyper anxiety because we’ll do anything and everything to get things done. I think learning to slow our minds, learning to slow our bodies down will do us so much good.”
The BWCV has arranged events for women to take time to focus on their mental and physical health like the Exhale Wellness Day Conference and organized group spin and yoga sessions. “I think that the Black population really finds healing and our mental health gets better when we find ourselves in community. A majority of [the women] said that it was the first time that they’ve been in a room full of Black women.” This feedback from her community has only further highlighted a need for Black women and mothers in the broader Vancouver community to be able to share their medical experiences and provide access to spaces where they find support and healing through fitness.
As Nataizya enters a new postpartum stage of motherhood, she’s learning to slow it down – advice she received from members of the BWCV collective. “Learning to kind of be in the moment in this stage, because obviously I’m never going to experience this stage again with my son, but also taking care of myself, whatever that looks like. For me, I find self-care in what I do, and obviously learning to balance that right now is hard.” One of her favourite ways to find that balance is going on walks with her baby, holding him or pushing him in the stroller. “Even during pregnancy, walking was my biggest thing because that’s kind of the best way to relax your body.”
Stretching has become part of her self-care routine, and on those days where an integrated fitness routine doesn’t feel possible, Nataizya still prioritizes quiet time for herself in the morning or at night, while the baby sleeps. “I try my hardest even just in the morning, I like to try to process what my day is going to look like. I guess I would say by definition I’m a visionary and so for me if I don’t have those moments, I kind of can’t picture what my next move or what my next step is.” And with a vibrant community to support and a passion that feels like self-care, Nataizya’s next steps are creating accessibility for people that live outside of Vancouver.
Members of the Black Women Connect Vancouver collective can now access the entire Movement by NM channel library for 100% off their first month to try out yoga, dance, strength, and HIIT classes, as well as class collections for mobility, prenatal movement, postnatal movement, and more!