Postpartum Depression: A Feminist Issue

Share Button


Image-1 (1)
Do not dismiss postpartum depression with a shrug and an eye roll, Ms. Albert.  It affects one out of every seven women.  Ms. Elisa Albert wrote a book After Birth that I will definitely not be reading.  Her main premise is that women do not have enough support for the choices that they are making.  I wholeheartedly agree with that statement and the overall theme of her book.  Based on an article with the Guardian, she then contradicted the primary theme of her book as she heaped judgement and shame on women who choose medication as an option to treat their postpartum mood and anxiety disorder.

I recognize the responsibility that I have as a Warrior Mom and as a mental health advocate.  I am not a trained professional.  I offer support and encouragement to moms who are struggling.  I share what worked for me to simply encourage a mom who is struggling to have as many options as possible.  Medication saves lives; my medication saved mine.  My medication was one of the tools in my toolbox.  I utilized many tools in my toolbox to help me recover: therapy, online peer support through Postpartum Progress, support from my friends and family, exercise, proper nutrition, sleep, journaling, singing, and sharing my story with other moms.

Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders manifest themselves differently because each mom is unique.  What worked for me may work for a friend, but it may not.  Making blanket statements does a disservice to all moms.  Ms. Albert made this statement.  “The only people I know who did just fine in the postpartum period are those who score the triumvirate: well cared for in birth, surrounded by supportive peers, helpful elders to stay with them for a time.” Guess what Ms. Albert? I had all of that, and I still struggled.  I spent my entire pregnancy anxious and depressed.  With time and perspective my family and I have been able to pinpoint how these symptoms manifested themselves immediately after I became pregnant.  My antenatal depression manifested itself in irritability and rage.  I had support from both my mother and my mother-in-law while I was on maternity leave for three months.  I had a supportive network of friends and family.  I still struggled for seventeen months until I finally got the help I so desperately needed.  My baby girl was seven months by the time I realized that I was not getting better.  Do not speak for me or for the community of Warrior Moms.  Let us tell our stories.

Share Button

Women of Color and Maternal Mental Health: Why Are We So Underserved?

Share Button

women of color maternal mental healthOver the past year, I’ve made it a point in my advocacy efforts to focus more on women of color, talking with them about their mental health experiences during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Based on those conversations and my own personal experience, I’ve become especially interested in how perinatal mood disorders and their symptoms impact and manifest in our lives, what culturally specific barriers to support and treatment we encounter, and what mental health advocacy efforts are being made to remove those barriers for us. Here’s what I’ve learned from research, Postpartum Progress’ current survey on mothers of color and their experience with perinatal mental health, conversations I’ve had with fellow mothers of color, and from what I’ve seen in the mental health advocacy space.

 

  • We are woefully underserved by mental health professionals and social services that reside in our communities-for a variety of reasons. Many of the women I spoke to were dismissed, rebuffed, or had their mental health concerns during pregnancy and the postpartum period downplayed by their doctor, pediatrician, pastor, and/or social worker.
  • Women of color are either without health insurance, or have insurance plans that do not cover mental health services, especially during pregnancy. Medicaid, for example, often lapses in many states six weeks after pregnancy, leaving many without continued coverage and access to mental health care.
  • We are not informed or aware of what places us at a particular risk for developing one of these illnesses compared to Whites.
  • We simply aren’t aware of the symptoms of perinatal mood disorders.
  • Stigma around mental illness is prevalent in our cultures but this is especially true when it comes to motherhood. Our cultures place a significant emphasis on us being silent about our struggles, taking care of everyone else before ourselves, turning to religion in an effort to overcome, and on being strong in the face of adversity-particularly in the face of oppression, racism and other socioeconomic stressors. Seeking the help of a professional, and disclosing our symptoms is seen as a sign of weakness so much so that we ignore the need to make our mental health a priority. Health advocacy efforts focus solely on physical illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, infant mortality, and cultural disparities in breastfeeding rates. The latest statistics show that women of color and those living at or below the poverty line have a higher rate of occurrence, yet none of the national organizations dedicated to empowering and serving minorities discuss maternal mental health and the disparities that exist in regards to diagnosis, support, and treatment. This is preposterous and negligent considering our rate of occurrence is 1 in 4.
  • Our reasons for not discussing it publicly are a significant barrier to raising awareness and seeking treatment. We face racial and gender discrimination in our places of employment so as you can imagine, disclosure of a postpartum mood disorder can increase the risk of losing our jobs significantly. Many of the women I’ve spoken with have expressed this fear, with several stating it was the sole reason they didn’t seek treatment either during pregnancy or when their symptoms peaked during their child’s first year. Support from family and friends is often minimal due to culture specific stigma and ignorance surrounding mental illness. Many of us living at the poverty line or who are in the lower-income bracket utilize the help of social services such as SNAP, WIC, and TANF; speaking from personal experience, I can say being under scrutiny from social workers and the state triggers fears of losing your children for being seen as unfit to care for them.
  • Lack of research. I’ve grown incredibly frustrated in my efforts to find consistent research on this issue because, quite frankly, it’s pretty scant. Most of the research that focuses solely on women of color and perinatal mental health is also out of date, with data from the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
  • Lack of targeted advocacy. We do not see women who look like us in literature doctor’s offices, or on websites that talk about perinatal mental health. There are very few if any advocacy campaigns or outreach targeted specifically towards us, like there are for other health issues and breastfeeding. Advocacy organizations often focus on minority mental health only during designated months once or twice a year, instead of on a consistent basis. Many organizations simply focus on all pregnant and new mothers, which is fine, but such a general scope ignores our unique experiences with mental health. Our disparities in support and treatment due to socioeconomic stressors, our particular needs, the risk factors we face, as well as the role culturally specific stigma plays as a barrier are not taken into consideration when calls to action are given. They are mentioned as an afterthought, a sentence or two in a post or article. The results of such inattentiveness are programs and initiatives that are not inclusive of our unique needs. Finally, we lack support groups in our own communities as well as safe spaces online to talk with other women like us who understand our unique struggles as mothers, which for many of us creates a very isolated existence.

This has to change. It’s unacceptable and as a woman of color and survivor of postpartum depression and anxiety, it hurts my heart to know our maternal mental health isn’t being actively prioritized, much less thought of.  While I fully understand that postpartum mood disorders don’t discriminate in terms of who they impact, and that the need to help pregnant and new moms is great all across the board, I also know that efforts are seriously lagging behind when it comes to the maternal mental health of women of color. We MUST do better. Later this week, I will talk about how we can but for now, I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Mothers of color, what has your experience been, and what kinds of supports and programs do you think would serve us better? What kind of improvements would YOU like to see?

Share Button

Minority Engagement, Diversity and Inclusion Survey

Share Button

postpartum depressionPostpartum Progress is hard at work behind the scenes to improve our support and inclusion of minority and underserved women in our community outreach and engagement. While we often feature stories on the blog from mothers of color and offering Spanish versions of the blog and nonprofit’s website are in the works, we want to go above  our current efforts to develop programs and initiatives that will reach and engage minority women both online and off, all across the country.

However, in order to do that, we first need to know what your experiences have been, and what we can do better to help you. We’ve spent the last month developing a survey that we hope will help us gain some insight into what women of color experience with their mental health during pregnancy and postpartum, levels of awareness & education on postpartum mood disorders, cultural stigma, and barriers to treatment you’ve faced.

It will help us determine what kind of support you desire and how Postpartum Progress can improve on building a community that’s inclusive.

The survey was created by our new intern Denise Carter from Emory University’s Rolllin’s School of Public Health, with input from myself based on my personal experience with PPD and anxiety. Denise is currently getting her Master of Public Health in Behavioral Sciences and Health Education. She also has a Bachelor’s in social work, with minors in non-profit management and African-American studies. She has extensive experience and a passion for helping women of color care for and improve their mental health-we are thrilled to have her helping us!

The survey is 100% confidential and anonymous-your identity will not be tracked. Please feel free to answer honestly and with as much detail as possible. The more we know about your experience with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and what kind of support you need, the better we can help be an effective and valuable organization: changing the landscape of maternal healthcare locally and globally. Will you join us in this mission?

You can access the survey here: http://fluidsurveys.com/s/minority-engagement/

Questions, comments? Send them to us: addyeb@icloud.com or denise.carter02@gmail.com

Share Button

Postpartum Depression Screening is More Than Just a Questionnaire

Share Button

I was one of the lucky mothers who was screened for postpartum depression after the birth of my child. My daughter’s pediatrician administered the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale to me at my daughter’s first few check-ups.

Unfortunately,Postpartum Depression Screening it wasn’t until about six weeks after my daughter was born that I started to exhibit noticeable signs of anxiety and depression and at that time I was no longer being screened at my daughter’s appointments and my OB didn’t offer any screening or questioning at the routinely scheduled six-week postpartum exam.

Even though the screening tool wasn’t what shed light on my illness and linked me to the treatment I eventually received in order to recover, I do believe the simple practice of screening made a positive impact on me.

When the pediatric nurse first handed me the short questionnaire I remember feeling surprised, but also relieved that some attention was being paid to me, the mother. It showed me that my daughter’s pediatrician recognized that my health was directly related to the health of my baby. And if she was going to adequately care for the tiny human I brought in to her, then she had to make sure I was thriving too.

Later, when I began to show symptoms of anxiety that were not within the normal range of emotions for postpartum mothers, it was my daughter’s doctor who I felt most comfortable discussing my initial concerns with. After all, she is the one who screened me and to me that meant she cared.

The fact that I was screened also removed some of the stigma I felt early on in my illness. Of course, I still felt the guilt, shame, and embarrassment that many sufferers of postpartum depression feel, but I was a little more willing to step forward and reach out because the screening helped me realize that what I was suffering from was real and I could get help.

Ultimately, I want pediatricians, OBs, and primary care doctors to know that screening for postpartum depression not only provides useful information to help the patient move forward and get treatment, but it also sends a message to that mother that she is cared for and that it’s okay to ask for help. In my case, the fact that I was screened made more of an impact on me than the screening itself.

Every mother deserves the kind of care that was provided to me and it’s time more doctors stepped up to the plate and assumed responsibility for helping mothers find their way through these miserable illnesses. My daughter’s doctor wasn’t my therapist or my psychiatrist, but by screening me she helped me realize that some of the things I was feeling were not normal and that I needed to find the right doctors to help me.

Share Button