Why Aren't Enough Black Women Talking About Postpartum?

Life & Love | Gerren Keith Gaynor | 05/16/2016 | 09:00 AM EDT

(Photo: ERproductions Ltd/Getty Images)

Though taught to be "too blessed to be stressed," Black moms around the world are suffering in silence

Black women typically follow the conventional saying "Too Blessed to be Stressed." In motherhood especially, there's an unrealistic expectation to be like superwoman; to be the perfect, adoring mother who takes care of home--cook, clean and provide--and yet still finds the time to hold down her career.

But the reality is that far too many women of color are suffering in silence from the trappings of postpartum depression--something we don't talk about enough. Even worse, Black women with postpartum depression are culturally taught to ignore or mask their pain and simply endure, rather than get through it. Because this generational occurrence makes it rather difficult to seek help from their elders or even peers, Black mothers sadly end up hurting all on their own. 

Postpartum depression is a serious illness and affects about 10 to 20 percent of women who give birth. Though Black women and non-Black women do not develop the disorder at any higher rate than the other, women of color are less likely to be treated or even detect it. Untreated postpartum depression can have severe impacts on not only the mom and her family, but the child's emotional and behavioral development. 
 

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Mental health professionals point to cultural expectations and perceptions of motherhood as the culprit. Black moms are likely to feel that they are weak if they open up about their struggles, not to mention parenting is a very sensitive topic in itself.

"What real mother isn't happy to be a mom?"
she may ask herself. Or "I'm a terrible mom for not feeling a connection to my baby," she may think.

With a lineage of women who've had to endure much worse than mommy woes--from rape and abuse during slavery to the systematic racism that literally tore their families apart--Black women often feel the need to play the role of strength and perfection. But ladies, it's time we put an end to that trend. 

Creating a safe space for Black women to not feel like they'd be shamed for speaking out about their postpartum is the first step. We must cultivate an environment of open dialogue and support. If we truly claim to have our sister's back, it's important that we begin to have these uncomfortable conversations so that our children can grow up in healthy and loving homes. 

Of course, there are other obstacles Black moms with postpartum depression face, such as the racial disparities in getting health care and coverage. But if we begin to at least acknowledge the need for medical help, Black mothers can begin to do the necessary work to ensure that they are equipped to care for their family.

Motherhood is a stressful job, and the pressure our culture places on the Black woman's body and abilities is one that is crippling our community. It's time to undo the harm and get to a place of healing.

Find information on mental health services in your community. Call or email the National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine. 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org.


 

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