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Reflections on Black Women And Maternal Mental Health

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

I had the privilege of facilitating a 6-week virtual maternal support group that started in May. I initially created this group to support pregnant and postpartum mothers while they adjusted to pregnancy during the pandemic, but had to promptly modify weekly topics to allow for mothers to also process the causes of heightened racial tension in the country, including the loss of Ahmaud Aubery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor.

There were many gems shared and received during this support group. So in honor of Black Maternal Mental Health Week, I thought it would be appropriate to share the top takeaways on Black maternal mental health from this wonderful group of Black mothers:

1. Your choice to bring life into this world was grounded in love. Remember this.

In a climate of hypervigilance on racism, ethnoviolence, and injustice, it is reasonable to have doubts about bringing life into this world. Label this as distorted thinking. Remind yourself of the love that exists for your child. Remind yourself that this love will defeat hate and produce a better world for them to live in and thrive.

2. Your baby, your business. Give yourself permission to set boundaries.

In the era of COVID-19, what you choose to do to protect your body and your baby is your business. Unfortunately, family and friends tend to forget that your pregnancy and your child's birth is not about them. Set boundaries that protect not only your body, but also your peace.

3. How your provider communicates with you reflects how they will care for you.

How your provider speaks to you, how they address you, how they answer your questions, and how they listen to you are also care components. The communication you receive from them during prenatal care will not suddenly improve when you are in the delivery room. Do not stay where you do not feel valued.

4. Doulas and midwives help to empower you in a broken healthcare system.

The healthcare system is failing Black women. Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white women and are more likely to experience complications during pregnancy. The presence of doulas and midwives have increased in response to this epidemic and have become very valuable in fighting Black maternal mortality.

5. You don't have to be a superwoman 24/7. Let your tribe help you rest your cape.

Black women are this country's saviors. This responsibility has many unfortunate consequences, including an unrealistic expectation that we never get tired, bleed, cry, or become weary. In addition to this perception, many of us have internalized the superwoman role and have difficulty taking off the cape. Let your tribe help you. There is strength in asking for help.

The undue stress of systemic discrimination in our healthcare system, including the fear of dying during childbirth, has a strong influence on the mental health of Black mothers. Politics, sexual orientation and gender identity biases, and socioeconomics are other factors that complicate Black mothers' experience of maternal mental wellness. As the sense of urgency persists in ending systemic racism in this country, we must not forget to include matters related to survival and wellness of Black mothers.

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