Fun fact before we get rolling, every US president since 1976 has proclaimed February to be Black History Month. Pretty neat huh?
Here's another fact, more than 16 of every 1,000 babies born in central Hillsborough County die before their first birthday. One more fact, there are 87 Federal Healthy Start programs nationwide, in areas deemed extreme high risk for maternal/infant mortality and Tampa Bay has TWO!
How does all of this connect to maternal mental health and the health of black women? I asked my colleague Gaetane Jospeh-Rhodd to help me connect the dots and better understand the maternal mental health crisis in the black community.
Gaetane is very open about her struggle with maternal mental health, and has recently published her own account on her blog at http://www.seedsofmommysoul.net.
"My struggle with maternal mental health was very difficult because my family would repeatedly express how I must keep it together for them. I had to always be strong, so discussing mental health was not welcomed. Feeling overwhelmed? Go on a weekend getaway. Feeling like life is getting too hard? Go take a nap. The constant redirection of my cries made it difficult to seek help. Once I knew that my overall life would change for the worse, I knew that I had to get help in order to continue to live. To feel like life is worth living."
The concept of deny, delay and distract is nothing new for mothers experiencing health concerns. I asked Gaetane about the existence of a stigma surrounding mental health. Her response seems relatable to many.
"In my Black community mental health is not discussed much. When we discuss mental health there is always the conatation that so and so went "crazy" and had to go away. In the Black community we do not seek mental health care because only non functioning adults need that help. If you're able to still go to work, take care of your family, etc. then why can't constant prayer fix this? As a black woman you are strong. You are able to carry the weight of everyone's burdens on your shoulders while being as graceful as possible. This is what I also call the Strong Black Woman Syndrome. You can overcome all of this because your mother, aunts, and grandmothers raised a strong Black woman. By seeking mental health, there must be something wrong with you and family can't help. This stigma needs to be addressed and dissected."
Addressed and dissected. Yes. It needs to be broken down, crumbled like the Berlin wall. Recent studies have shown that while Black and Hispanic mothers are at higher risk for postpartum distress, only a small percentage seek treatment. Gaetane shared some of the barriers women of color face in reaching out and some of the origin.
"To truly get a better understanding of the depths of these barriers would have to date back to slavery. The aspect of women having to be separated from their families, rape, and dehumanization. Historically, we have to continue to keep pushing through when we have to continue being that glue for our loved ones. Being able to face constant social-economical battles is persistent so who has time to reach out because life is so hard? We have our families to care for and down that ladder our well being sits and patiently waits for acknowledgment."
Our well being sits and waits. But I'm not a very patient person and quite frankly I'm tired of moms being forced to push through and struggle alone. When I asked Gaetane what we could do to reduce the stigma. Again, she nailed it.
"Maternal mental health advocates should be ready to understand that culture, sexual abuse, disparities, racisim, sexism, and economics play major roles in maternal health. By having other women of color as advocates could be a great start for other advocates to get a better understanding of the depths of the stigmas of mental health in the Black community."
I cannot thank Gaetane enough for being patient enough to help me understand more so that I can pass this on to you reading this.
So if you're reading this, now is the time for you to get into action. We need you. Your mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives need you! If you want to save babies, start by saving their mothers. All the mothers.
Holding the umbrella,
*we acknowledge that this is the truths of one Black mother and not representative for all Black mothers. Though we have a hunch many experiences may be similar.
So it's February and if you have lived in the United States after 1976, you probably know that it's Black History Month.
This seems like a perfect time to finish something that had been milling around in my head for some time. Black infants have twice the mortality rate of white babies the same age. Black mothers experience postpartum distress at nearly double the rate of white women. Data shows us time and again that there are severe health disparities in our black communities yet I still here people say things like "I don't see color" or "When it comes to skin, I'm colorblind." and I want to cry out "OPEN YOUR EYES!".
We at The Seventh Mom Project, Inc. are absolutely not color blind. Yes, I said we are NOT color blind. In fact, we see and celebrate every beautiful shade of melanin of every mother and her family. Diversity builds strength. Strong mothers grow strong families.
Refusing to be color blind is our way of saying, to every mom, we see you and you matter. It's our way of acknowledging that every mother comes from a different background and her cultural, gendered, racial, ethnic and religious experience is a part of what makes her motherhood experience.
Something we're painfully aware of is the disparities when it comes to mental health and minority communities. Our diverse board of directors consist of mothers, each from a different racial, ethnic, religious and socioeconomic back ground. Some of our own board members have felt the sting of discrimination first hand. We will not turn a blind eye to that.
According to the Florida Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring system (PRAMS) 61.4% of Black women surveyed self reported symptoms of postpartum depression. How many are not reporting their symptoms? How many mothers of color are struggling in silence, refusing to seek treatment because they fear the consequence of coming forward?
From the Florida Maternal, Infant, & Early Childhood Home Visiting Program 2015 Maternal Depression Analysis Report:
" Participant characteristics that were found to be associated with depression in the crude analysis included race, ethnicity, employment status, income, childhood abuse, and stress. However...only perceived parental stress remained significantly associated with depression...This implies that stress plays a strong role on the mental health status of women."
That same report noted 60.2% of black mothers with depressive symptoms verses 33.2% of white mothers.This is not okay.
The color of your skin or the community you are from should not ever be a barrier to competent mental health care. We stand with ALL moms and promise to do our best to remain culturally competent and sensitive to the needs of each individual we work with.
Come back for part two of this post, in honor of Black History Month. We'll be hearing from Gaetane Joseph-Rhodd and learning about the experience of being a mother of color and dealing with postpartum distress.
Riding out the storm,
Gaetane Joseph-Rhodd is a nurturing postpartum doula in the Tampa Bay Community. Working with moms she knew about how complicated postpartum distress can be. Turns out, she also knew first hand. Thank you for breaking your silence G! We love you.
She welcomes you to read her story at her site: seedsofmommysoul.net
Each walk is different, but we walk together, and that makes all the