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

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

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:


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.

Expanding Outreach to Underserved Communities


Divya KimarIn July, I had the privilege of speaking to over 100 survivors of PPD and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders at the first Warrior Mom™ Conference about expanding outreach to underserved communities. When those of us who are survivors expand our advocacy efforts to support other struggling moms, we can benefit from reflecting on our own experience and understanding how the experience of perinatal emotional complications differs across different groups.

First, what do we mean by “underserved”? While women from ALL different places and backgrounds struggle with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders during pregnancy and postpartum, they face different challenges based on their identities, privilege, and life circumstances. A large body of research indicates that rates of maternal mental health disorders are higher among women who are disenfranchised. Women of color and low-income women experience PPD and related illnesses at nearly twice the rates of middle class white women; in fact, one study indicates that 40-60% of women living in poverty experience postpartum depression.[1] [2] [3] Moms who struggle with domestic violence, have a history of previous trauma, are recovering from substance abuse, and become a mother during the teenage years experience higher rates of depression and anxiety.[4] [5] Women of color are also more likely to experience poverty and pregnancy complications, which can lead to and exacerbate emotional complications. Lack of support, social isolation, and lack of access to physical and mental health services also contribute to and worsen depression and anxiety.[6] Plus, not only do women of color and economically disenfranchised women experience higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders, their rates of treatment are significantly lower.

Examining privilege, intersectionality, and the lens of diversity

As survivors, we may have ideas of how to help other moms who are struggling, based on our own experiences with PPD and related illnesses and what we found to be helpful. Before we can think about how we can support others, though, it is important to look at our own privilege. Privilege refers to any unearned benefit or advantage we receive in society because of an aspect of our identity, such as race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, class/wealth, ability, etc. When we say, “we warrior moms,” we may be making many assumptions about who “we” is, and, despite our best intentions, we may fail at being inclusive and/or representing folks outside our demographic. Reflecting on our privilege helps us think about how we can work with folks who share our privilege– as well as those who don’t– to create changes that benefit everyone.

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, including whom we felt we could tell, the treatment we sought, our barriers to care, and the professionals who helped us. This process can illuminate why what was helpful for us may not necessarily be helpful to other moms. Here are some questions to consider:

What does postpartum depression mean for different communities? Here’s the thing: being able to SAY that you are experiencing postpartum depression, anxiety, or another perinatal emotional complication (let alone have the ability to seek treatment for it) is a privilege. For many moms, the challenges of unstable housing, poverty, homophobia, unsafe neighborhoods, and racism may exceed the need for treatment. Different moms have a different hierarchy of needs, and addressing their own mood and mental state may be seen as overly indulgent when there are bigger fish to fry.

Moreover, these same challenges may BE the actual source of stress for some moms. For example, one study found that 30% of low-income families can’t afford adequate diapers for their baby, and that this specific need was linked to depression and anxiety.[7] Research has clearly demonstrated the link between extenuating life circumstances (such as poverty, trauma, isolation, etc) and maternal mental illness, so, for some moms, it can be difficult—and not really relevant– to parse out the difference between a mental health issue and an expected reaction to incredible challenges.

Also, along these lines, some communities may view postpartum depression and related illnesses as unacceptable—or as something that happens to other people. A qualitative study of African American women provides some keen insight into the different conceptualizations and experiences of mental health issues.  According to one participant in the study, “There is no postpartum depression. Only white people go through it.” Another participant stated that a neighbor had told her that, “depression is something young mothers do to get out of needing to take care of their kids”.[8]

Who seeks and receives treatment and why? Treatment (such as talk therapy or medication) may be appealing and possible for some women and not others. One study found that Black and Latina women receive treatment at nearly half the rates of white women, and, considering that rates of depression and anxiety are higher among women of color, this statistic is particularly troubling.[9] In some communities, mental/behavioral health issues are heavily stigmatized; moreover, women may not have the ability to see a mental health provider who looks like her or represents her community. Just like many women may want to see a female Ob-Gyn, women of color may want to see a clinician of her racial/ethnic group—and may not be able to do so.

What barriers do women face when speaking honestly about emotional complications and/or seeking treatment?   Women of color and/or women who are economically disenfranchised may face numerous barriers to seeking and receiving care, including cultural stigma, lack of mental health providers who accept Medicaid, lack of culturally or linguistically appropriate services, lack of childcare, lack of transportation, and fear of children being taken away. Also, although women of color are at a higher risk for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, they are less likely to disclose symptoms to a healthcare provider. 

What are common images of women who suffer from perinatal emotional complications? What do they look like? Do they look like US? Like everyone? One participant from Sampson’s qualitative study “criticized current TV commercials for antidepressants, saying,

“Based on what you see on TV and their commercials and the ones holdin’ the dog by the window, that is so completely garbage. When asked how a commercial that accurately portrays PPD would look, one participant gave this vivid example: She movin’ around. She droppin’ the kids, you tired, you overworked. She doin’ the most, she cookin’, she cleanin’, she washin’ dishes. Doin’ everything at one time….Baby hollerin’, hand doin’ this here, I mean it’s just no time to stop, no time to stop.…Everything has to be done. Nobody else is gonna do it.”

Common media representations of mental health issues did not reflect the experiences of these women. What does that say about how we represent mental health issues?

What do we usually say to women who are struggling with perinatal emotional complications? We as survivors and advocates may be quick to say things like, “It’s OK, it’s not your fault, many women struggle like this, please don’t be ashamed, there is help, you can heal and be well”, etc. While many women will gain comfort from these statements, not all will. In some communities, postpartum depression is seen as something that affects weaker mothers and that “strong” mothers don’t “catch” depression. This blame, along with stigma, lack of diversity among mental health professionals, copious barriers to accessing care, and the stark reality that no amount of therapy will erase poverty and racism, illustrate how what we say will resonate differently with women in different life circumstances. In other words, the statement “there is help for you” doesn’t mean much if the logistical and cultural barriers to accessing help feel insurmountable.

So, when we look at maternal mental health disorders through this lens of diversity, we can see that we as advocates cannot talk about the importance of getting treatment without understanding the context of women’s lives: life circumstances; privilege, and lack thereof; and the barriers faced by so many women—transportation, childcare, lack of insurance, language, cultural stigma, lack of mental health providers of color.

So, how can we, as survivors, be better advocates for all moms who are struggling with PPD and related illnesses? We’ll discuss that, along with some tangible places to start making a difference, this Friday in Part Two!

[1] Chaudron LH et al. Accuracy of Depression Screening Tools for Identifying Postpartum Depression Among Urban Mothers. Pediatrics. 2010. doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-3261

[2] Satcher D. Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity: A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC; 2001

[3] Isaacs MR (2006). Maternal depression: The silent epidemic in poor communities. Baltimore, MD, Annie E. Casey Foundation.

[4] Troutman BR & Cutrona CE Nonpsychotic postpartum depression among adolescent mothers. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 1990; 99(1) :69-78.

[5] Ross L & Dennis CL (2009). The prevalence of postpartum depression among women with substance use, an abuse history, or chronic illness: A systematic review. Journal of Women’s Health, 18 (4), 475-486.

[6] Templeton L. Velleman R, Persaud A., Milner P. The experiences of postnatal depression in women from black and minority ethnic communities in Wiltshire, UK. Ethn Health. 2003;8(3):207-221.

[7] http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/07/inadequate-diaper-supply-linked-child-abuse-depression

[8] Sampson M et al. A disease you just caught: Low-income African-American mothers’ cultural beliefs about postpartum depression. Women’s Healthcare. 2014 Nov:44-50.

[9] Kozhimannil, K. B., Trinacty, C. M., Busch, A. B., Huskamp, H. A., & Adams, A. S. (2011). Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Postpartum Depression Care Among Low-Income Women. Psychiatric Services(Washington, D.C.), 62(6), 619–625. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.62.6.619.


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.

photo credit: ©Fotolia – Rawpixel