A special series on African-American, Asian-American and Latin-American women with postpartum depression.

A Latina Mama Wonders if She Belongs in the Warrior Mom Community

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Pauline Campos, a Latina mama who isn’t sure if she belongs in the Warrior Mom Community. Spoiler Alert: She does. -Jenna]

A Latina Mom Wonders if She Belongs in the Warrior Mom Community -postpartumprogress.com

I don’t know if I belong here, in this sacred place for women who have climbed out of a darkness that has been named and called out for what it was—what it still is for so many. I’ve spent far too long watching, lurking, and listening to the growing community of women bravely and openly seeking the help they need, all the while nodding my head in understanding more often that I was previously ready to admit.

I remember falling in love for the first time. The feeling was so tangible that it did take the very breath out of me and shook me to my core. My daughter was six weeks old and I was holding her, sitting in her nursery recovering from my last of three week-long hospital stays for severe mastitis. Until that moment, I hadn’t even realized that I had been functioning on instinct, that I might not love the little being I had grown inside of me. But there it was: A love so new and so powerful that I could only marvel at its very existence.

Don’t get me wrong: I did all the things I was supposed to do. I fed and clothed and held and sang to my baby. I read to and kissed and and checked on while she slept. I smiled and wondered at the marvel of this perfect little being. But I didn’t truly love, or maybe I did and just hadn’t been able to feel it. Feelings, like lights switches and door handles, tend to get easily lost in the darkness.

I don’t have an official diagnosis. Looking back, it’s clear to me that what I experienced was not “normal baby blues.” It’s also clear that even though I verbalized my concerns to my providers, I still managed to fall through the cracks.

The year was 2007 and the topic of postpartum depression and related conditions was still taboo in mainstream conversations, and even more so in the Latino culture in which I was raised. A friend of mine shared how her sisters, mother, and friends took shifts in her home to make she she was not left alone for a single moment for the first four weeks after having her baby, but no one ever discussed why. You work around the problem without addressing the problem. It’s just what you do. So she did.

And so did I.

It’s standard operating procedure for many Latinas, raised with the cultural ideal of “Marianismo,” in which a woman puts the needs of her family ahead of her own. Research studies have determined that Latinas are 37% more likely to suffer from Postpartum Depression than other groups, with factors such as socio-economic status, acculturation, and the knowledge that seeking help is often frowned upon by family members, all falling into play.

It’s important to note that while I managed to get up the nerve to ask for help during one of my postpartum checkups with my midwife, it did me no good. I remember nodding my head and holding in the tears as my midwife told me that I was fine. Everybody gets the baby blues, she said. This is normal, she told me.

But it wasn’t.

Having used up all of my bravery in that single, stammering moment just a few weeks after giving birth, I didn’t reach out again. I would survive, it turns out, by smiling through the all-encompassing fog while the sun shone. My tears, hot and plentiful, would wait until for night to fall and the world to sleep.

This is how most of our midnight feedings went. At least, the feedings I was able to do when we were both home together. I didn’t cry during each of my hospital stays for severe mastitis during the first six weeks as a new mother. I checked enough of the boxes that would flag me today for being at risk, even before the new guidelines calling for screening for women during pregnancy and after giving birth were announced.

I have a history of mental illness issues that include anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and a suicide-attempt. I suffered through severe hyperemis-gravidarum (HG), an extreme form of morning sickness that, in my case, lasted the entire pregnancy and required medication commonly used to combat nausea in chemo patients. I visited the emergency room three times, one visit per trimester, for fluid via IVs when my insurance company refused to approve my medication refills. It took my admission papers and a confirmation of diagnosis each time to get them to sign off.

It wasn’t until only recently discussing my history with a friend that I learned my pregnancy and birth experience—from my pre-eclampsia and emergency-induction at 37 weeks to the frequent hospital stays after having my daughter—fit the descriptors for birth trauma, and that my irrational fear of subsequent pregnancies are an indicator for PTSD, according to the UK-based Birth Trauma Association.

I also learned I have ADHD—which can in and of itself, create its own set of challenges for new mothers—when my daughter was almost four years old. I struggle to focus daily, task by task, and become easily overstimulated when my senses are bombarded with anything new and different and shiny. I can’t even imagine having had this knowledge, alongside a medical support team, and how much more positive my experience could have been.

I don’t know if I belong here, but I’m eight years into this journey, and I’m still climbing. For that, I have to thank all those warrior moms who’ve shown us all that there is no shame in getting lost in the dark.

~Pauline Campos

Apply for the Postpartum Progress Warrior Mom™ Conference Diversity Scholarship

Postpartum Progress Warrior Mom™ Conference Diversity Scholarship -postpartumprogress.com

Postpartum Progress Warrior Mom™ Conference
Diversity Scholarship

October 14th-15th, 2016, Atlanta, GA
Application Due: March 15, 2016

One of the goals at Postpartum Progress is to expand our reach and support so that all women are getting the information and help they need. Women of color get even less access and have even fewer options than the general population. Enacting real change in maternal mental health can only be achieved when we listen to the voices of and provide support for all women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including those from perennially under-served communities.

Because of this, the Diversity Scholarship was established to provide financial assistance to Warrior Moms from diverse social, racial, or ethnic backgrounds so they can attend the 2016 Warrior Mom™ Conference to expand their advocacy, contribute to the conversation, and increase their knowledge of peer support in perinatal mental health. The scholarship helps support travel, lodging, and registration for these Warrior Moms at the event. Two awards of up to $775 (which covers the $175 registration fee plus up to $600 for expenses) are available.

Applications for awards must be submitted by midnight on March 15, 2016. All applicants will receive notification of their acceptance status by April 15, 2016. Email wmc@postpartumprogress.org with any questions.

Moms can apply for the Diversity Scholarship here through March 15, 2016. You can also register now for the conference. Our second conference is focused on the Warrior Mom community: the volunteers, climbers, blog readers, forum members, and staff that have changed the face of PPD for so many women and families over the last 11 years. We’re calling it Together, Stronger.

5 Steps Toward Becoming a Better Advocate

Divya KimarPlease 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!

  1. 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!
  1. 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
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

And remember…

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.

Further reading:

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,  by Peggy McIntosh
http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html 

The Origins of “Privilege,” by Joshua Rothman

(an interview with Peggy McIntosh in the May 12, 2014 issue of The New Yorker)

http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-origins-of-privilege

Everyday Feminism often posts helpful articles on privilege and being an ally, like these:

http://everydayfeminism.com/?s=privilege

http://everydayfeminism.com/?s=ally

http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/11/things-allies-need-to-know/

If you are local to Boston, check out these educational opportunities: White People Challenging Racism courses in Boston

http://www.wpcr-boston.org/

Kerry Washington at the 2015 GLADD Media Awards on intersectionality and representation:

http://www.shakesville.com/2015/03/kerry-washington-yall.html

photo credit: Divya Kumar

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.

Love & Hip Hop: PPD in the ATL

Love & Hip Hop: PPD in the ATL

Love & Hip Hop: ATL is one of the highest cable rated shows on right now. In a recent episode, one of the cast members, Kalenna, openly discussed her recent diagnosis of postpartum depression.

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:

  • Sad
  • Upset
  • Irritable
  • 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 color, between what is happening to other people of color 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, 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 BradfordDemeter Press, 2012.

Sanchez-Hucles, Janis. The First Session With African Americans: A Step-by-Step Guide. Jossey-Bass, 1999.