Becoming a mother can be the most rewarding time in a woman’s life.
Or it can be one of the darkest, loneliest times you will ever experience
When I gave birth to my son at the tender age of 19 my circumstances were not ideal. I had no job and was living with his father’s family. Our relationship was abusive and unhealthy on many levels.
Additionally, in the few months prior to giving birth — my stepfather died in a tragic car accident, we buried my 2-year old nephew, and my brother was sent to prison unjustly. My family was in a state of grief and turmoil
So, I was already experiencing symptoms of grief, depression, and anxiety during my pregnancy.
That depression magnified when I gave birth to my son. Snuggling next to him in the hospital I thought I would be the best mother ever. There is nothing like the energy between a mother and her newborn baby.
After leaving the hospital reality set in. I was alone with a baby that required all my energy and attention although I had none to give. I did not know about self-care and boundaries or the power of asking for a little help.
Motherhood quickly became a black hole where I seemed to create the very darkness that swallowed me and would not let me go.
STATISTICS AND PREDICTORS
With hindsight I was not alone — 1 out of 5 black women develops a postpartum mood disorder a rate 2x higher than that of her white counterpart.
But this number may be inaccurate because a lot of us do not report it especially with the stigma and shame associated with something perceived as a mental illness. Sadly, it often goes untreated and with dire long-term consequences.
And not only does it affect mothers and their children, 50% of fathers connected to a woman dealing with these symptoms develops depression.
There are 13 predictors that make a woman more likely to experience postpartum mood disorder symptoms which include things like prenatal depression and anxiety, poor relationships, and low socioeconomic status.
When I studied this list while earning my doula and perinatal mood disorder certifications, I realized I pretty much had most of the predictors.
But what still shocks me is that racism and damaging cultural stereotypes are not listed as predictors.
When I look at my role model, my mother, the epitome of the strong black woman she birthed 6 children and with each one she endured things I would not wish on my worst enemy.
You see I believe black women have been conditioned to keep moving despite. Breaking down, needing help was not an option. Even today you still see us on the frontlines fighting battles at home and in our society. Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements were started by beautiful black women on a mission.
At times like these we do need to push through because some things are bigger than us and effect our todays and tomorrows and those of the ones, we hold dear.
However, making unhealthy self-sacrifice, pushing through at all cost, going at things alone, staying on the hamster wheel of achievement should not be a way of life — especially not in postpartum which is the most vulnerable season of our lives.
When I found myself screaming “I don’t know what you want” at my little angel who would not stop crying. I feared who I was with him and who I was without him. For the first time in my life I felt that I could hurt myself or him.
And I struggled for those first couple of years to connect to him and to myself. I was angry a lot and I cried even more. I had lost all sense of who I was.
No one understood. I was labeled as a wild woman and bad mother. And I believed I was. I still have pangs of guilt about not being able to survive and thrive well in those first couple of postpartum years.
I did the two things that we are most conditioned to do as black women pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get busy. I earned degrees and traveled the world all with my son in tow. To this day he still says I am the best mother in the world.
He just doesn’t know how many nights I cried myself to sleep because I wish I could have given him more of myself or the cycles of depressive episodes I went through because I didn’t get help when I needed it.
Thirty years later when I became pregnant with my daughter Zoë I was prepared. I put a team in place that was composed of my doula, therapist, support group, health, and business coach.
I must say that the most valuable assets on this team are my coaches. They provided accountability and asked powerful questions to propel me to set realistic goals and make real and lasting changes in my life.
Every woman needs a supportive village to help in her miraculous transition to motherhood whether it is the first or fifth time.
Because no woman should ever have to do postpartum alone.