During the episode, we go to a therapy appointment with both Kalenna and her husband, Tony Vick. You can view the clip of the appointment here: Kalenna Meets With a Therapist
Kalenna starts out by listing her symptoms:
- Very short fuse
Sound familiar to anyone? The last two really hit home for me. My fuse was so short it didn’t take much to light it up.
In an aside, Kalenna says the following:
“I’ve been officially diagnosed as having Postpartum Depression and I gotta say that it’s kind of a relief to finally know the truth.”
Again, boom. Knowing what you are fighting, finally, is a tremendous relief. Why? Because it allows you to employ the proper weapons to fight the beast.
What is triggering Kalenna the most?
“They’re killing young black boys every day. I have boys, baby boys…” she says, with tears rolling down her face. She continues, “I don’t want to be that mom on TV, you know……or somebody shot my son….I’m trying to create a different way…”
In this very pointed and direct comment, Kalenna hits on several points which put her at quite an intersection of struggling through new motherhood. As Dr. Motapanyane stated in an email to me after I reached out to her for some insight, “Kalenna is a woman situated at the intersection of at least two identity markers that leave her vulnerable to experiences of marginalization, discrimination, and oppression – she is a woman and she is black. Her family background seems to be working class. Based on this alone, she is likely to be fatigued before she even becomes a mother.”
A’Driane Nieves, blogger at Butterfly Confessions and founder of the Tessera Collective on FB , a mental health empowerment group for Women of Color, noted the inclusion in Kalenna’s statement here regarding police brutality and how racial trauma has affected her as she has become a new mother. Just last week, the Tessera Collective addressed Race based trauma and self-care in their chat. You can read the Storify here.
It is incredibly difficult not to draw parallels as a new mother, particularly as a woman of colour, between what is happening to other people of colour and the generation for which you are responsible. The exhaustion is oppressive, fatiguing, adding to their fight against any mental health disorder which decides to show up on the doorstep.
Another important issue Kalenna intimates to is the Strong Black Woman Complex. Dr. Motapanyane sums this up as: “Black women, according to this narrative, stoically withstand just about any life challenge. This has compounded the structural mechanisms at a macro level that silence the experiences, needs, and political interests of the most vulnerable women among us.” Therefore, the overwhelming, historic, and expected need to be all and do all for all people. To not allow anyone to see you as weak, something which interferes with the ability to seek help for any mental health issue. Kalenna nails it in this aside (emphasis mine, meant to reflect her pattern of speech in the clip):
“Therapy is a scary thing. As a Black Woman, I grew up believing you either heal yourself or you go to church. But I’m doing this because I NEED TO. And the truth is? I feel VALIDATED. I’m not crazy. I’m not a hysterical female. I have a TRUE medical condition that exasperates all the stress I’ve been feeling and it steals all the joy away from how I should be feeling about my beautiful baby boy.”
Kalenna goes on, however, according to Dr. Motapanyane, to talk “as if she is a single mother” as she discusses her decision to continue her career. Dr. Motapanyane notes “She is talking as if she is a single mother. …she constructs this narrative as a means of supporting the argument that she needs her career because it is for the future security of her sons. She cannot seem to say that she needs her career because she simply loves it and it brings her joy, or that she wants a sense of her own financial security independent of her husband.” Again, this may well be the Strong Black Woman Complex rearing its head, or it may be that Tony has several other children with several other women which leaves Kalenna determined to have something of her own.
Kalenna is also socially isolated with little to no support. Tony hasn’t realized how much her music meant to her and what a tremendous outlet it was for her as she navigated through this long weary path of Postpartum Depression. In fact, the only time Kalenna brightens during the therapy session is when she is discussing how much her music means to her and how it has been an important outlet. She makes mention of pouring everything into the mic.
I want to step out of the flow for a minute and discuss the issue of race and therapy. I was glad that Kalenna took the time to make the statements that “therapy is a scary thing” and followed it up with how she needed to do therapy – how it validated her – how she isn’t crazy. Therapy is often viewed as a “white” thing, and in “Staying The Course: Psychotherapy In The African American Community” by Dr. Janis Sanchez Hucles states the following: “….black individuals fear that if they seek formal mental-health assistance, they will be labeled ‘crazy’ or blamed for their problems. Unlike other patients, African-Americans are also reluctant to seek services because of a longstanding tradition that dirty laundry should not be aired to others, and that they must solve their problems on their own.”
In her piece, Dr. Sanchez-Hucles goes on to examine what happens when African Americans when they meet with white therapists:
“When African Americans obtain assistance and meet with a white therapist, they are often fearful that these therapists will be biased, use stereotypes, minimize clients’ experiences of discrimination, and not understand black cultural traditions. Even if a black client has a black therapist, the client may rightly fear that the therapist may be unable to relate to the client due to the differences in education, class, or life experiences.”
This brings up a huge points in the clip with Kalenna, Tony, and the therapist. First, the therapist is an African-American woman who appears to not only understand Postpartum Depression, but artfully discusses the cultural challenges and racial issues Kalenna faces as complexities with her own struggle therein. For me, and for A’Driane Nieves, this was a huge point.
Overall, while I know that Postpartum Depression is hell and it takes a lot of strength to fight through it, I am very glad to see that it is being discussed so openly, particularly on a show which has such a cultural intersection – womanhood, motherhood, and navigating the often misogynistic realm of the hip-hop world. Later in the show, Tony and the other men were standing on a creek bank, fishing. Tony was asked how things were going and brought up, freely, Kalenna’s diagnosis. None of the other men seemed shocked, in fact, they seemed to briefly openly discuss it (not in detail, mind you, but without judgment or bias), and gave Tony their support as best they could. For me, that was a huge moment.
We still have a very, very long way to go in removing the stigma of battling against Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders, but Love & Hip Hop: ATL, just took a HUGE leap forward for all families of color fighting against this insidious true medical condition. Thank you.
Further recommended reading:
Motapanyane, Maki, ed. Mothering in Hip-Hop Culture: Representation and Experience Bradford: Demeter Press, 2012.
Sanchez-Hucles, Janis. The First Session With African Americans: A Step-by-Step Guide. Jossey-Bass, 1999.