Being Black With Postpartum Depression: Too Blessed To Be Stressed?

As part of our new Warrior Moms of Color series, I’m so happy to welcome my friend Addye from Butterfly Confessions as our guest contributor. Addye is sharing her experience of postpartum depression from the view of an African-American woman.

No one told me.

Not my doctor.

Not my mother.

Not the other women at my church.

Not my friends.

Not any family members.

No one.

Not a single person told me about postpartum depression as I came to experience it. Sure, I received pamphlets from my OBGYN about it, but they only mentioned feeling sad, depressed, and having the “baby blues.”

They didn’t mention the uncontrollable rage that would explode in my chest when I least expected it.

The pamphlet said absolutely nothing about the sweat-inducing anxiety that made me jumpy and left me wanting to crawl out of my skin. I was unaware anxiety would hit me like a wrecking ball, immobilizing me.

Nothing about how the slightest noise, the tiniest cry from my infant son, would grate on my nerves and slice through my body like a machete.

Nothing told me I would spend hours on my bathroom floor, body heaving, tears pouring down my face as my mind and emotions were tossed to and fro in waves of guilt.

No one told me I would want to hurt myself … or my son. No one told me about the graphic images that would flash through my mind, about the desire to want to run away and never come back.

No one told me my moods would swing back and forth from one extreme to the other at a frantic and chaotic pace.

No one told me I would feel “crazy.”

No one said I would feel detached from my children.

No one told me I would want to die.

And I told no one I felt this way.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

I tried. I really did try. I attempted to reach out to family, friends, church members, my partner. But all I encountered was being misunderstood or not being taken seriously. I reached out to my doctor and was put on Zoloft, with him telling me, “this will go away in a few weeks.”

I saw a therapist paid for by my state insurance who told me that anyone in my position as a single, African-American mother, would feel the way I did.

I was told by people at church that my struggles with motherhood were either the result of my not having a family the “right” way, or just due to circumstances. “I don’t think you’re depressed. I think what you’re experiencing is normal considering your circumstances,” one of my pastors told me.

My mother told me to give it time. Told me I just needed to pull myself up by my bootstraps and everything would be fine.

Ah. Bootstraps.

You see, in the African-American community, that’s what we do.

When we’re hit with pain, adversity, trauma, or some form of devastation, we throw on a giant pair of boots and pull ourselves up by them, one strap at a time.

The unwritten rule if you’re going through hell is to just deal with it. If you can deal with it with a minimal amount of complaining, that’s even better, more commendable.

We “don’t have time to be depressed.”

We are “too blessed to be stressed.”

We don’t talk about our problems, we just deal with them. Silently. To vocalize your inner pain, hurts, struggles, and imperfections is to be weak, to be seen as a complainer, a “drama queen.”

The reasons why we don’t talk about pain and trauma go all the way back to slavery and is a much too complicated history to try to explain in this post alone. But the point is if we could survive slavery, segregation, lynching and struggling for our basic civil rights, then we can survive anything…

The stigma surrounding mental illness in the black community is strong. So strong doing so means you’re “crazy.” So strong that most think it’s something that only “happens to white people.” So strong that going to therapy and taking medication is frowned upon. So strong that no one speaks up about it.

No one … or at least not enough.

And that is why I had to suffer in silence until I found Postpartum Progress and the other Warrior Moms in the #PPDChat Army.

And it’s also why I speak out about it now. Because no one should have to go through hell alone.

Editor’s Note: Addye also wanted me to share this video, entitled Black Folk Don’t Go To Therapy, with you. I’ve had a hard time getting the entire video to play without getting stuck, but what I’ve seen of it I love, so it’s worth watching:
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Tell Us What You Think

  1. THANK YOU ADDYE! I rarely have African-American women come through my door and when they do, they tend not to stay long. At first I thought it was me – I am a white, 40 year-old with one child. But then I asked. I was saddened at the cultural messages that the only way to get better was to pray – or worse…"the reason you feel bad is because you're not right with God." I think spirituality is very important in recovery and life in general, but I also think we are blessed to live in a time where medication and therapy is available. That wasn't the case for our mothers, grandmothers, etc.

    I am starting to see more African-American counselors emerge, which gives me lots of hope that the cultural obstacles that prevent Black women from seeking help are being circumnavigated!

    Thanks again for your post, Addye.

    • I completely agree with you Stacey. Spirituality in the African American community plays an integral role in keeping the stigma around mental illness so deeply entrenched in our culture…and yes, we are incredibly blessed to have such services at our disposal…I think more work needs to be done to make these services available to minorities in general…and we as a culture need to be willing to step out accept help.

      I'm really grateful to see more men and women of color becoming counselors. This experience definitely opened my eyes to the need for more as well as inspired my current career goal.

    • Stacey,

      That's one of the reasons I really wanted to create this series. We need more stories that bring other cultures' feelings around postpartum depression and mental health treatment to light!

      – K

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  3. Addye, Thank you for sharing with us. Talking about PPD is not always easy. I'm also a black mom, and so much of what you said resignated with me.

    • Thank YOU for reading and for commenting. It's hard for us to speak up, I know, but I really believe that the more of us that do, the more we can help each other. ((HUGS)) Remember: you aren't alone, so don't suffer in silence. We're here for you.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your story. It must have been so hard to struggle alone until you found support online. Hopefully your speaking out now will encourage other women who might be silently struggling.

  5. Pingback: Being Black with Postpartum Depression « ButterflyConfessions

  6. My thoughts on therapy:

    My parents survived big things, difficult things and dealt with that on their own.

    That does not mean that it was the right way to deal with it. That they are standing and living their lives, does not mean that therapy wouldn't have made a huge difference.

    Some of the things that I'm dealing with in therapy right now, are things that were caused by the fact that my parents never got help.

    Staying strong and holding it in sometimes simply means: refusing to deal with things and passing it on to the next generation.

    Thanks postpartumprogress and thank you A'driane!

  7. What a brilliant and raw post. Addye, thank you so much for helping me understand your point of view better. This will be very useful when women of color come to my PPD support group here in Ithaca, and helpful in attracting them to come to the group.

    Katherine, this is such a great series. Thank you for having it.

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