The decision to have children is a tough transition for a lot of mothers. From pregnancy struggles to the intensity of labor and delivery, and then the trial and error of the 4th trimester, we experience a lot to bring these little humans into the world.
Others tell us what to expect during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Things like morning sickness, pooping during delivery, or the “baby blues” are frequently shared. While it’s helpful to discuss these things to normalize them, it is neglectful to address these topics from only one perspective.
As a biracial woman with a white husband, I can’t escape the glaring difference in experiences between myself and my white family members. Not only during childhood, but also into my adult life.
Like all of us, the experiences in my childhood have truly shaped who I am today. The experiences I have now continue to teach me lessons that help me develop as a mother. While I am thankful for having such a diverse family, I also realize how little is known about the Black mother’s experience.
Racism plagues every inch of our society, and that does not stop at motherhood.
Perinatal Mental Health
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 1 in 5 women have a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD).
Personally, I struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety and consider myself lucky to have a provider who took such an interest in my mental health. This is not the case for everyone, and certainly not the case for every black woman.
Black women are less likely to get quality mental healthcare when compared to their white counterparts. While nobody knows the true reason behind this disparity, a lot of speculation points out socioeconomic status, historical trauma, and societal stigmas.
I am the first of my friends and immediate family to have a child. Meaning, I didn’t get to witness motherhood firsthand. Like a lot of us, I had to just jump in with both feet and learn on the go. I knew I wanted to breastfeed my baby, but I had no idea just how difficult it was. My son ended up latching right away after delivery but then didn’t latch the rest of the time we were in the hospital.
We left with a follow-up appointment with a lactation consultant later that week and the fear of figuring out how to feed my baby until then.
Sadly, this is the reality for a lot of new mothers, and unfortunately racial disparities also exist around feeding your baby. Only 74% of Black infants are breastfed compared to 87% of white infants. While both numbers are above average, it makes you wonder why there is such a large difference. When you think about the health benefits of breastfeeding for both the baby and the mom, this disparity has some serious consequences.
Research shows that some of these disparities can be explained due to hospitals being less likely to help Black mothers initiate breastfeeding, black women often needing to return to work shortly after birth (making it difficult to establish a breastfeeding relationship), and that we tend to work inconsistent and inflexible jobs that make it difficult to prioritize nursing.
2020 brought on a social movement surrounding police violence and systemic racial injustice for Black people. This alone is so gut wrenching for people to hear about, but imagine what it’s like for Black mothers. Imagine being able to replace those black and brown faces being treated inhumanely with your own child’s face. Imagine when you heard George Floyd calling out for his “mama” that your heart shattered.
Not only because it was despicable, but because you know your Black son could very well face the same reality in his future.
As a new mother I can’t help but think of my son in the shoes of the hundreds of Black men and women being treated unfairly by the system. It is draining; all-consuming even. The mental load of raising a family as a Black mother in America is difficult. We don’t know how long we’ll be able to raise our children. Things like walking to the park, driving a car, spending time in our own homes are all privileges that not every Black person survives. The trauma of that reality truly shapes the way I parent and adds additional challenges that are mentally tough to face.
Motherhood is hard. It is the hardest job I’ve ever had. But it is singlehandedly the best thing I’ve ever done. It is important to discuss the realities of motherhood but it is equally as important to understand the unique perspectives Black mothers face.
You Can Help
After reading this you’re probably wondering what you can do. Tell your family and friends. If you have a Black mother in your life, support them by checking in on their mental health. Be empathetic to things going on in the world. Realize that the societal injustices you are witnessing are being felt deeply by Black mothers. Lastly, educate yourself and then others. Read about racial disparities in birth, breastfeeding, and postpartum care. The more we know, the more understanding and caring we can be.
It takes a village to raise a child and that same village to support a mother.
For a list of Black mental health providers, please see our Guide to Black-Owned Businesses.
If you are a new mom, Postpartum Support International offers a list of professionals who have received training in perinatal mental health. You can contact them at 1.800.944.4773 or www.postpartum.net. They also offer a virtual support group for Black mothers.
About the Author:
Alexa Dixson-Griggs was born in Houston, TX, but has lived in ND/MN for the greater part of her life. She graduated with a Masters in Social Work from the University of North Dakota and works at a local non-profit in Moorhead. She is passionate about social justice for marginalized populations and mental health. Her husband is the Office Manager for Prairie Naturopathic Doctors in Moorhead. They met attending college at MSUM in 2013 and have one son, two cats, and two dogs!
We are thankful to partner with Natalie Reiter and her team at Prairieland Counseling on our Moms & Mental Health series. Natalie specializes in reproductive mental health, which includes perinatal (before and after birth), postpartum, infertility, infant loss, paternal mental health, and the impact of birth and new parenthood on couples. She is certified as a perinatal mental health counselor from Postpartum Support International. She is also recognized as the 2019 Outstanding Mental Health Counselor by the ND Mental Health Counseling Association for her work with reproductive mental health. Her work as a child birth educator and her two children have sparked her passion of working with reproductive mental health!
Read more from our Moms & Mental Health series here: