Black Moms are Suffering from Postpartum Depression in Silence and That Needs to Change
By Christine Michel Carter| August 16, 2019
"Moms of color have an increased risk of experiencing PPD and related disorders than women in other ethnic groups, but fear is keeping them from getting the treatment they need. Here’s why, and how Black families can get the right mental health support."
"During her first year as a mom, Karen Flores, then 31 years old, was afraid she was not emotionally stable enough to take care of her daughter. On the particularly hard days, Flores would take a walk with her daughter on the beach. “Out of nowhere, this bizarre thought came to my mind ‘push the stroller over the rocks and see what happens,’” she wrote on the site Maternal Mental Health Now. “I was paralyzed by the thought but forced myself to keep on walking while wondering where it had come from—'Oh, My God, am I crazy?' I wondered.”
Flores, now 50, was not crazy. She was suffering from postpartum depression, a condition that affects up to one in seven women, according to the American Psychological Association. Flores didn’t immediately seek out help. “I was extremely anxious and ashamed thinking that I was losing my mind and that my baby would be taken from me,” she says. “I tried praying and did a lot of cardio.” Before her daughter’s second birthday, she began working with a therapist to manage the symptoms of her depression.
Black women like Flores are less likely to get help for postpartum mental health issues compared to both white women and Latinas, according to a study published in the journal Psychiatric Services. Part of this hesitation is caused by fear—these women fear they will be considered unfit and have their children taken away from them by Child Protective Services. These fears are not unwarranted since one in nine Black children will spend time in foster care by the time they're 18, according to data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System. This is the second-highest risk racial/ethnic group to end up in the foster care system behind Native American children.
“There’s a lack of trust of medical practitioners within the Black mom community nationwide,” explains Shivonne Odom, LCPC, LPC, founder of Akoma Counseling Concepts, LLC, in Silver Spring, Maryland, who specializes in maternal mental health counseling for mothers with perinatal disorders. “Many medical practitioners are not trained to refer or treat perinatal mood disorders so when they hear patients report typical symptoms of postpartum depression, practitioners mistake the severity of the symptoms for abuse.” Odom, who is Black herself, adds that many practitioners do not recognize a difference in how perinatal mood disorders present among ethnic groups. “This leads to improper treatment or poor rapport between practitioner and client,” she says.
Postpartum depression, anxiety, and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders can affect any mother and can manifest up to one year after delivery. However, there are cultural nuances during pregnancy, labor, and delivery that can increase the risks of experiencing PPD for Black mothers. Statistics show that Black women are three to four times more likely to die during or after delivery than white women. From 2011 to 2015, there were 42.8 deaths per 100,000 live births for Black non-Hispanic women—a higher ratio than any other ethnic group. “These statistics along with birth trauma and untreated mental health issues prior to and during pregnancy may lead to postpartum depression,” Odom says.
Suffering in silence
Odom says she often sees the same themes preventing Black mothers from seeking mental health therapy. First, there’s the fear of losing control, independence, respect from others, or mental sanity. “Sometimes holding in this fear leads to a manifestation of irrational thoughts—'I’m not a good mom,’ ‘I feel empty,’ ‘I’m not emotionally connecting to my baby,’” she says. “The belief that something is wrong, which must mean I’m doing something wrong and I’m a bad mom is an extension of these irrational thoughts.”
Then she often hears that these women would prefer to seek help from their friends, family, and church rather than a mental health professional. “There’s definitely a cultural stigma discouraging mental health counseling in the Black community,” Odom explains. “Some believe that if you go to therapy you have to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital or will be required to take addictive prescription medications. Some people’s religious beliefs also shape their views on mental health and can impact their help-seeking behaviors.” There’s also concern passed down from generation to generation that mental health practitioners are suspicious of Black mothers."
By: Shanicia Boswell | August 26, 2020
"Raising awareness about the history of Black breastfeeding and the factors that contribute to low rates of Black mothers breastfeeding is an important way to close the gap."
"I sat on the sofa crying silently between my mother and my fiancé. Tears spilled over my cheeks as we watched a movie and I held my newborn daughter. I was three days postpartum and my breasts were painfully engorged with milk. How was this happening? I had survived a med-free labor and delivery. This was supposed to be the easy part. Looking back nearly eight years ago at my breastfeeding journey, I always remember this day. I was a first-generation breastfeeder.
That day and many other days, I sat between people I loved the most and felt completely alone and isolated. My partner could not help me with breastfeeding because he was a man who had no experience around breastfeeding. My mother could not help me because she had not breastfed me or my brother. My friends could not help me because I was the only one in my friendship circle who had a baby. Like many Black millennial women, I was embarking on this journey alone.
Without the proper resources, my breastfeeding journey only lasted six months. I felt defeated. In fact, the statistics show that Black women are less likely to start breastfeeding than any other race of mother and even less likely to continue breastfeeding for six months. Only 69 percent of Black women initiate breastfeeding compared to 85 percent of white women. The question that is often asked after hearing statistics is why? There are many reasons. There are unfortunate events deeply connected to our race as a people: a history of wet nursing, oversexualization, lack of economic and familial support, are a few. For me, the question became how do we raise the numbers?
This is where Black Breastfeeding Week comes in. Black Breastfeeding Week is August 25 to 31, 2020, and is a campaign that has been part of National Breastfeeding Month for the past eight years. This year, through virtual events, Black mothers, lactation experts, and public health professionals have space to discuss their breastfeeding journeys, raise awareness, and explore public policies that address the disparities in statistics around Black maternal and infant care. Black Breastfeeding Week has become even more controversial this year because we are in a time where extreme emphasis has been placed upon race and it creates a space where white mothers feel isolated. White mothers are asking why Black women are choosing to segregate themselves, even down to the topic of breastfeeding.
As the creator of Black Moms Blog, a collaborative blogging platform for mothers of color, I am no stranger to the "why aren't we included" questions from white mothers. The truth is, weeks like this should not have to exist. Platforms like mine should not be a necessity—but they are. The needs of Black mothers as well as the specific barriers we face are left out of the overall breastfeeding conversation. The historical and cultural context as to why is important.
The History of Black Breastfeeding
Cultural reference should always be considered when discussing breastfeeding. During slavery, Black women were used as wet nurses. A wet nurse is someone who breastfeeds another woman's child. The true definition of a wet nurse states "employed," but replace that word with "forced," and the reality becomes clear. It is generational that Black women have developed a disdain for breastfeeding due to our historical relationship with wet nursing. Because of wet nursing, many Black women were unable to breastfeed their own children. Can you imagine the psychological effect that must have had on a moment that every mother should enjoy?"
A Mom on Maternal Mental Health For Women of Color: "Society Holds This False Expectation"
By Murphy Moroney | October 24, 2020
"The coronavirus pandemic has brought on a slew of challenges for expecting women and new parents. With so much uncertainty, women must take care of their mental health. Because COVID-19 has disproportionally affected people of color, mothers in these communities need more support than ever, as people of color have less access to mental health services compared to white people. Moreover, when they do receive care, it is likely to be of poorer quality.
In honor of National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, we spoke with Shonita Roach, executive director and spokesperson for the 2020 Multicultural Maternal Mental Health Conference, to learn why discussing issues that directly affect maternal mental health will positively impact women of color.
"This awareness month is very dear to my heart, as I also lost my son to an accidental death nearly 18 years ago, and I suffered postpartum depression and even contemplated suicide," Shonita told POPSUGAR. "Through extensive therapy, parenting classes, and spiritual healing, I have been able to thrive, create a loving family with my three boys, and serve as an advocate for women and mothers."
How a Lack of Diversity in the Medical Field Is Affecting Black Maternity Health
It's widely known that Black women experience higher chances of maternal health complications than white women in the US, and unfortunately, the lack of diversity in healthcare professions isn't making it any easier for women of color to get the help they need.
"When you talk about mental health or seeing a therapist or even taking medication for the condition, there is a lot of judgment and misnomers," Shonita told POPSUGAR. "So when you take into account the implicit (and explicit) bias against Black women and healthcare, it makes it especially challenging. The lack of multiculturalism in mental healthcare, from a discrepancy in diverse professionals to the lack of community-based services, creates a major barrier that is difficult to overcome."
Additionally, having more nonwhite doulas and medical professionals can have a positive, lasting impact on maternal health across the board. "Studies show that having doulas of diverse backgrounds contributes to reducing maternal and infant mortality rates," she explained. "What I love about doulas is that they are community-based and do a lot more intimate, one-on-one work with women. They fill the gap where the traditional healthcare system lacks."
How COVID-19 Has Negatively Impacted Black Maternal Health
COVID-19 has disproportionately affected communities of color, and in turn, has extended to Black maternal healthcare. While Shonita is encouraging families to do whatever they can to limit their exposure to the virus, she knows that can be difficult to do when you're pregnant or have just welcomed a child.
"It's important that communities everywhere practice the safety precautions to reduce the spread of this deadly virus," she explained. "However, those same precautions, such as reducing the use of public transportation unless absolutely necessary, isolating yourself, and staying home puts further strain and stress on expecting and postpartum women."
"Not only that, the acceleration of the need for accessible technology and internet services proves to be paramount during the pandemic," she continued, noting how access to telehealth is a privilege and can be a challenge for marginalized communities. "The pandemic is also very isolating when it comes to prenatal visits: women are having to attend these alone without their partner or support system. Also, your friends and family are no longer allowed to visit the hospitals during and after delivery. The entire situation is so unfortunate and does not create a conducive environment for a healthy state of mind as you transition into motherhood, whether you're a first-time mom or a mother to multiple children."
Black Women's Struggle With Accessing Reproductive Healthcare
We would be remiss if we didn't mention some of the historical and cultural reasons that Black women have struggled to get adequate access to reproductive healthcare in the US.
"Medical experimentation on the bodies of women of color and the oversexualization and degradation of Black breasts — which contributes to negative stigmas on Black breastfeeding — are just two examples of why it negatively impacts the sexual and reproductive health of Black women," she said. "This creates barriers of mistrust, misinformation about our bodies. All of this plays into the current disparities and stigmas surrounding reproductive health in marginalized communities."
How racism can impact your pre- and postnatal care — and advice for speaking to your Ob-Gyn about it.
By Erica Chidi and Erica P. Cahill, M.D. | October 22, 2020
"The data is heartbreakingly clear: Black women in America have more than a three times higher risk of death related to pregnancy and childbirth than their white peers. This is regardless of factors like higher education and financial means, and for women over 30, the risk is as much as five times higher.
While the recent national dialogue created in response to the data has been a critical leap forward, it has also brought up a lot of fear and questions from Black women about how we can prevent these outcomes.
Last year, we sought out resources to help Black women navigate their prenatal and postpartum care in light of this knowledge, but came up empty when looking for a resource that explicitly called out encountering racism during this time and how to tackle it.
As a result, we partnered to create an education guide that would offer pregnant Black women agency when planning their care (which, in most cases, would be with white care providers). We felt it required an allied, intersectional perspective that acknowledged the importance of care providers and health educators working together on behalf of patients.
We aimed to have a discussion with medical racism and antiracism at the center, especially since increasing evidence points to the effects of structural racism as the reason for this mortality inequity. Medical racism is present whenever health care professionals or institutions alter the diagnostic or therapeutic care provided because of a patient’s race, particularly if the decision puts the patient at an increased risk of poor outcomes.
We wanted to inform Black women of the unique risks they could encounter during their pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period, as well as what they could do to prepare for them. This guide is meant to help Black women feel safer, and to provide a modern framework for medical providers to actively address their own racism."
By Nina Lakhani in New York| Mon 17 Aug 2020 16.47 EDT
"Black babies have a greater chance of survival when the hospital doctor in charge of their care is also black, according to a new study.
In the US, babies of color face starkly worse clinical outcomes than white newborns.
Earlier research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published last year shows that black babies are more than twice as likely to die before reaching their first birthday than white babies, regardless of the mother’s income or education level.
While infant mortality has fallen overall in the past century thanks to improvements in hygiene, nutrition and healthcare, the black-white disparity has grown.
Multiple interrelated factors which contribute to these disparities include structural and societal racism, toxic stress and cumulative socioeconomic disadvantages.
The new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests the race of the attending doctor also plays an important role.
Researchers reviewed 1.8m hospital birth records in Florida from 1992 to 2015, and established the race of the doctor in charge of each newborn’s care.
When cared for by white doctors, black babies are about three times more likely to die in the hospital than white newborns.
This disparity halves when black babies are cared for by a black doctor.
Strikingly, the biggest drop in deaths occurred in complex births and in hospitals that deliver relatively more black babies, suggesting institutional factors may play a role.
The study found no statistically significant link between the risk of maternal mortality – which is also much higher for black and brown women – and the race of the mother’s doctor.
Why race concordance is so important in black infant mortality requires further research, but it may enhance trust and communication between doctor and mother, and black doctors may be more attuned to social risk factors and cumulative disadvantages which can impact neonatal care, according to Brad Greenwood, lead author from George Mason University in Virginia.
Unconscious racism among white doctors towards black women and their babies may also be at play.
For white newborns, the race of their doctor makes little difference to their chances of survival.
Despite the stark findings, black women seeking a black doctor to minimize the risk to their babies will struggle as the medical workforce remains disproportionately white. Only 5% of doctors are black, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges."
By: Jareesa Tucker McClure| June 02, 2020
"On Monday, May 25th—my last day of maternity leave after giving birth to my second daughter—yet another Black man, George Floyd, lost his life at the hands of police officers in Minnesota, where I live. In the wake of his death, protesters took to the streets to demand accountability and charges against the officers involved. What started as peaceful protests morphed into the destruction of property, not only in the Twin Cities but across the US.
I've spent the last week cycling through various emotions, from anger to fear to helplessness. My anxiety levels have spiked through the roof, as I worry not only about my husband's safety but my own as well. I've watched my community demand justice for George Floyd and also come together to support those who have been impacted by the uprisings happening throughout the area.
My husband and I have been very intentional in teaching our daughter about Blackness since she was born, using tools like the books we buy her and the toys she plays with. Her favorite books are about Maya Angelou and Rosa Parks, and we've used them to initiate discussions about racism and inequality.
But at this moment, with protests happening all around her, I have an opportunity to share with her what's happening in a way that she can understand. And I'm not alone. In my community of Black moms, virtually all of us are engaging our young children in conversations covering everything from racism and prejudice to protests and uprisings.
Here are some of the phrases I'm using to talk to the young kids in my life about current events.
"Sometimes unfair things happen, and we don't like it."
On some level, every child understands the concept of unfairness. They also know how it feels when something is unfair, and that they don't like it. Using this phrase helps them begin to relate to the unfairness that the protesters are calling out."
By Heather Marcoux
"For nearly 100 years America has seen its historic moments reflected on the cover of TIME magazine, and this week the cover reflects what happens when a nation ignores its own history.The red border around the cover lists the names of 35 Black people killed by fellow Americans and systemic racism and centers the pain of Black mothers as represented in a painting by artist Titus Kaphar.
"In her expression, I see the Black mothers who are unseen, and rendered helpless in this fury against their babies," Kaphar writes in a piece accompanying his painting. "As I listlessly wade through another cycle of violence against Black people, I paint a Black mother … eyes closed, furrowed brow, holding the contour of her loss."
The oil painting is titled Analogous Colors, and Kaphar cut his canvas to symbolize lives cut too short, leaving so many mothers' arms empty."
The names of just a few of the deceased border Kaphar's painting. They are:
Danny Ray Thomas