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 Hilda Hutcherson| September 4, 2020
"Often misunderstood and misdiagnosed, PCOS can play havoc with your fertility. Here’s how to recognize the symptoms and take action to protect your reproductive health."
"Caroline’s mother was concerned when she turned 15 and hadn’t had her first period. It finally came, but it wasn’t until three months later that she’d get her second. Her gynecologist assured her that irregular periods were common for someone her age, so Caroline’s mother didn’t worry. Then, at 18, her periods disappeared for six months. This time, her college ob-gyn said that the stress of college often causes menstrual periods to wane, and that the best treatment was hormonal therapy to make her periods regular. So she started taking birth control pills.
Thirteen years later, she was ready to have a baby and stopped taking them, assuming that since she was older and not under as much stress, her periods would become more regular. But they didn’t. She also noticed increased acne and facial hair. After six months of trying unsuccessfully to conceive, she started taking her temperature and using an ovulation predictor kit. Both revealed that she was ovulating infrequently and irregularly. The question was why?
Many women with irregular periods are told it’s no big deal. Even her acne and facial hair didn’t throw up a red flag. Fortunately, tests eventually led to an accurate diagnosis: she had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder that disrupts women’s fertility and may cause a host of other health issues. As many as 15 percent of women between 18 and 45 have PCOS, making it the most common hormonal disorder among women of childbearing age.
For this guide, I reviewed the current literature and interviewed Beth Rackow, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist and director of the pediatric and adolescent gynecology program at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
What to do:
Know the signs and symptoms
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a common hormonal disorder among women, yet often goes underdiagnosed by health care providers. Some women have few, if any, symptoms. Others have many — irregular or absent periods, excess facial or body hair growth (hirsutism), obesity and infertility — but they may be mistaken as signs of other health conditions.
Irregular, unpredictable periods are one important symptom. Periods may come twice a month, be infrequent (greater than 35 days apart) or disappear for months at a time. They may be light or they may be heavy enough to cause anemia. You may suspect PCOS if you also have acne that doesn’t respond to treatment or increased growth of facial or body hair. These are signs of excess androgen hormone. Eighty percent of women with hirsutism have PCOS.
PCOS may appear as early as adolescence. “Girls with PCOS typically present when they haven’t had their first period when they should have, their periods are very infrequent or they are having frequent, heavy periods,” said Dr. Rackow.
It’s common for menses to be irregular in girls during the first year or two after the first period. Acne is also common during adolescence. However, if menstrual periods continue to be abnormal after the first two years, or if bleeding is persistently heavy at any time, an evaluation is needed."
By Sneha Kohli Mathur, CNN| August 28, 2020
"Nima Bhakta was that college friend who everyone knew would be a great mother.
We met in 2006, and I could see that she was always at ease when she interacted with children.
Kind and confident, she was also the friend who talked about how excited she was to have children of her own.
That's why it was such a devastating loss to her family, friends and to me, when she lost her battle with postpartum depression and died by suicide on July 24. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in women with postpartum depression.
In a letter to her family before she died, Nima wrote that she tried to tell her loved ones about her struggle with postpartum depression but she hadn't been able to find the words to explain the depth of her suffering. She wrote that she had a loving and supportive husband and that no one was at fault for her pain.
It started, she wrote, after her son was born in 2019. She felt completely changed as an individual, wife, sister, daughter and aunt, and she didn't understand how she couldn't even attempt cooking or other things that she once enjoyed.
Her constant worry about the future and self-blame for any difficulties with her son overwhelmed her. She got to the point that she believed that she was a complete failure as a mother and was scared that she would cause him harm in the future. Throughout her letter was a sense of shame for needing help taking care of her son, and guilt that she wasn't feeling better despite having an incredibly supportive husband, Deven Bhakta, and her sisters and family.
In her text messages to me she expressed she was experiencing postpartum depression. "Everything I do for Keshav just seems like a task for me, it's been hard to have that bond between me and him. Really didn't expect all this since I love kids but with Keshav I've been struggling. I haven't been out of the house either unless it's for a doctor appointment, it's pretty bad. Deven's been such a big help it's ridiculous."
She couldn't see what a wonderful mother she was to her beautiful baby boy. I saw her as a devoted mother diligently attending to all of his daily needs. I could see she loved him so much.
How did a mother who didn't have any of the risk factors for PPD -- factors that include a personal or family history of depression and lack of social support -- still succumb to it? It can be harder for Indian women like us to ask for psychological help because these issues are not always discussed in our community, but there are other reasons women suffer from this misunderstood condition.
What is postpartum depression?
During pregnancy and in the hours after childbirth, women experience a dramatic drop in their estrogen and progesterone hormone levels, and that fluctuation is thought to contribute to postpartum mental health problems, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
In addition to the changes in hormones, emotional factors, fatigue and general life stressors may contribute to PPD, experts say. Postpartum depression may begin in the days or weeks following childbirth, or it may begin months later, and it can last weeks, months or years if untreated.
While the experience of PPD can look different for each woman, common symptoms include a loss of pleasure or interest in doing things she once enjoyed; eating and sleeping much more or much less than usual; experiencing panic attacks or anxiety most or all of the time; feelings of guilt, worthlessness and self-blame; sadness or crying uncontrollably; fear of not being a good mom; fear of being alone with the baby or disinterest in the baby; difficulty making decisions; and thoughts of hurting oneself or the baby.
Postpartum depression is not the so-called "baby blues," which 70% to 80% of all moms experience, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
While baby blues may begin soon after birth, its symptoms -- which can include crying for no apparent reason, anxiety, insomnia and mood changes -- should dissipate two weeks after childbirth. If they continue past two weeks, mothers should be examined for postpartum depression."