Please welcome Divya Kumar, a speaker from the Warrior Mom™ Conference in July, with the second of her two-part series on expanding outreach to underserved communities. In Wednesday’s post, we examined how “looking at perinatal mood and anxiety disorders through a “lens of diversity” can help us see how different aspects of our identities—and our privilege—affect our experiences with PPD.” Today, she shares practical strategies for advocates and peer supporters to put into action as they expand their own outreach.
Using privilege to become better advocates
How can we, as survivors, be better advocates for all moms who are struggling with PPD and related illnesses? As part of my presentation, I showed a Jay Smooth clip called “The Oscars and Learning the Craft of Being Good,” recorded shortly after the Oscars in 2015. In this 5-minute clip, he underscores the need to constantly work to change the status quo. Assuming that you are a good person and therefore that you will always do the right thing is an easy trap to fall into. Instead, we need to make a conscious, consistent effort to promote equity and inclusivity.
How does this relate to expanding outreach to underserved communities?
Like Jay Smooth reminds us, being well meaning isn’t enough. It’s easy to say, “Everyone is welcome! This is a free event open to all! We serve all moms and families!” but unless we communicate that through what we do, those words may ring hollow to some moms. Our actions need to communicate the message of inclusivity, so that moms can look at what we’re doing and say, “Oh, that’s for me.” As a woman of color, if I see only a white woman on a flier or logo, I know in my gut that this event or service is not really for me—despite the organizers’ good intentions.
What words do we use in our messages? What are the images on our fliers and logos? Where are our organizing meetings held and when? If we don’t think carefully about these details, it will be all too easy for us to fail at inclusivity—not because we don’t mean well or we don’t care deeply, but because maintaining the status quo is so very easy, and, before we know it, we are in an echo chamber at our local coffee shop with our friends.
What are some tangible places to start?
No one is expected to know everything there is to know about communities that are not our own, but educating ourselves before we begin our outreach is a great first step. Read up on privilege, reflect on your own privilege, and read more about disenfranchised populations in your local area. Check out the links at the end of this post if you want to read more!
- When you think about expanding your outreach, think about where moms may be. Go to one place you have never gone before. Call folks that you have never met before. Who are leaders in different communities? Call them up. If you don’t know whom to call, perhaps go to your local community center, women’s center, or health center. Along these lines, where do you hold meetings, meet-ups, or groups? Are they accessible by public transportation? Of course, all of these changes may take time, but making even change and one step towards changing the statues quo is important!
- Create a resource list that you can share with moms who are struggling, and think about how to incorporate different types of services that may address different needs. You may want to research and include
- Community health centers
- Community doula programs
- Any postpartum or breastfeeding support provided by women of color
- Mental health providers that accept different health insurances, including Medicaid
- Domestic violence and sexual assault agencies
- LGBTQ organizations
- Visiting nurse programs
- Early Intervention programs
- Concrete services—agencies that connect new families with resources like car seats, diapers, and baby related supplies
- Services that are provided in languages other than English
- Along with a resource list, identify some community agencies, groups, and leaders. See if you can meet with them and learn about their priorities and the changes they are advocating for. Establishing relationships can take time and doesn’t happen with one phone call or meeting; it’s important to keep showing up to meetings and to listen. Ask how you can support the work that is rooted in and growing out of these communities. When you build relationships, remember that part of being an ally means understanding and supporting the goals of underserved communities—not promoting your own goals or agenda.
- Work within your own demographic to educate folks who share your privilege. As I said in my previous post, reflecting on our privilege helps us think about how to work with folks who share our privilege to advocate for changes that benefit everyone. For example, if you are a white woman and are organizing an event in your community to raise awareness about perinatal mood disorders, and the folks coming to your meetings are other white women, you can distribute reading materials about how women of color are disproportionately affected by these disorders and discuss how the work you’re doing can intersect with any racial justice efforts in your area.
- Consider advocating for systemic change. Is there a local agency that is advocating for paid parental leave? Or increasing insurance coverage and reimbursement for mental health services? How can you collaborate with these folks?Is there a legislator who is championing any advocacy around perinatal mood disorders? And who is your legislator? Give these folks a phone call. As a constituent, you can absolutely call up and say, “My name is ____ and I live in your district, and I am concerned about the lack of support services for women experiencing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders”. In Massachusetts, we are fortunate to have a Commission on Postpartum Depression chaired by Representative Ellen Story and Senator Joan Lovely; perhaps your local legislator would be willing to chair a similar committee in your state.
Above all, remember that this is a dynamic process that we will (ideally) engage in for the rest of our lives, largely because that’s part of the responsibility of having privilege—to use that privilege to create changes that benefit everyone. By thinking about privilege, diversity, and where moms are (both literally and figuratively), we can be better advocates and do a better job helping other moms.
Are we going to make mistakes? Absolutely; maybe many, many times. We are always learning; that’s a crucial piece of the dynamic nature of this process. When we make mistakes, we apologize, and then we go back to the starting points of educating ourselves and understanding our own privilege so that we can continue to be better advocates.
At the Warrior Mom™ Conference, I read an Audre Lorde quotation: “There is no such thing as a single issue struggle, because we do not live single issue lives.” Yes, we are all survivors of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and we hope to raise awareness about these disorders, destigmatize them, and support women who have experienced them. Integrating an understanding of privilege and intersectionality can strengthen our work, widen our reach, and increase our impact.
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, by Peggy McIntosh
The Origins of “Privilege,” by Joshua Rothman
(an interview with Peggy McIntosh in the May 12, 2014 issue of The New Yorker)
Everyday Feminism often posts helpful articles on privilege and being an ally, like these:
If you are local to Boston, check out these educational opportunities: White People Challenging Racism courses in Boston
Kerry Washington at the 2015 GLADD Media Awards on intersectionality and representation:
Divya Kumar, Sc.M., CLC, PPD
Divya Kumar has a Masters in public health and is certified as a postpartum doula and lactation counselor. In 2013, she helped create a state-funded perinatal support pilot program in four community health centers in Massachusetts. She currently provides perinatal support for women and families at Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center, one of the four pilot sites. In addition, she facilitates support groups for new parents and conducts workshops about the transition to parenthood. Divya tells it like it is and brings honesty, compassion, camaraderie, and humor to her work with new families. She is also the mother of two children and a survivor of perinatal emotional complications.