Seeing Color in Maternal Mental Health
As a woman and mom of color I found myself initially ashamed that I had postpartum mental health issues. In fact, I initially felt guilty of where I was mentally, but encouragement from those closest to me to seek professional help really allowed my mindset to shift in a positive way! Mental health discussions in the black community are a challenge, but the dialogue is slowly improving. This shift in discussion and advocacy is imperative for black mamas to receive the appropriate mental health support we need. The distrust or dismissiveness associated with black women and their healthcare providers, the high cost associated with mental health treatment diminishes the number of black mothers actually being treated. Of course no matter your race or ethnicity postpartum support should be a standard part of pre-natal and perinatal care.
2.5 years ago I would’ve never imagined being impacted by a postpartum psychiatric diagnosis- not that I thought I was immuned – just never ever considered it would be me…guess that could be said about a lot of things along my pregnancy and postpartum journey! Nevertheless here I am 1.5 years post my diagnosis of postpartum anxiety and PTSD – as a result of my traumatic and tragic, yet miraculous pregnancy and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and Cardiac ICU (CICU) of my miracle baby girl along with 3 unexpected hospital stays. Realizing I needed help and having an amazing support system made this diagnosis a little more bearable. I am beyond grateful for my behavioral health team!
Thinking back to how my mental health became such a roller coaster ride, meant reliving the anticipation my baby girl’s death. It’s unimaginable to wait basically 17 weeks (the latter part of my pregnancy) for the death of my unborn child! I went through so many different stages of grief, mental and emotional pain – from unstoppable crying, to anger, to hopeless, to hopeful….and then a sense of peace kicked in!
Purpose for My Pain
I realized our sweet girl had been created for a purpose bigger than my hubby and I, but at times I still gave and give God the side eye – We didn’t sign up for this… but when I look at Nia I am reminded of Jeremiah 29:11- For I know the plans I have for you,declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. My mental health is forever transformed because of this journey but Nia is not her prognosis, which ultimately would’ve meant death upon or before birth.
My New Outlook
I no longer seek to understand why me/us (can’t say that it will never cross my mind again though) on this twisted journey, but more so how can I engage/support other mamas battling similar horrific complex journeys with their unborn or newborn miracles to ensure they have the appropriate home and professional support.
Need Mental Health Support During Pregnancy and/or Postpartum?
If you are feeling overwhelmed, sad, depressed or a sense of panic while pregnant know that you are not alone. Tell someone- family or a friend, healthcare provider or feel free to contact me even if you don’t know me personally… I will not ignore you! Your body has endured so much by just being pregnant and/or giving birth and if you are coping with an unfavorable prognosis for your baby this only heightens your mental instability.
Managing Your Maternal Mental Health With a Complex Needs Baby/Child
If you are embattled with raising a baby/child with complex medical needs and your baby is now home, know that you are not alone either! Please reach out to a professional, friend, or me! I am on this unique journey and have navigated this complex healthcare system in ways I never imagined… Truly grateful to God, my support system, a spirit of discernment, and a resilient soul that keeps the fire burning in me to not give up even when I’ve wanted to along Nia’s Journey…
I have worked hard to recognize the positive and blessings of our journey. Some days have been down right ugly, but I know there is Purpose for my Pain- I speak life to having good mental health! I shall live and not die!
Additional Tips for Mammas-to-Be With a Difficult Pregnancy including Unfavorable Pre-Natal Diagnosis
1. It’s Okay to have whatever feelings you are having
2. Find a therapist that specializes in complex pre-natal diagnosis or post-natal grief
3. Talk to a close friend or family member if you can – naturally most want to be supportive and helpful
4. If you have other friends/family pregnant as well, and it’s difficult for you to see them because of your own difficult pregnancy journey- know that’s okay too- you have to keep yourself mentally sane- I can relate- I was genuinely happy for them and healthy pregnancies but my heart ached for wanting the same – it was a challenge
5. Have an accountability partner that can be a great confidant and hold you to ensuring you are getting appropriate mental health care
Additional Tips for All Postpartum Mamas
1. Crying a little more than usual is okay, but it’s not when you feel like you have lost control – ask for help from family and/or friends
2. Having intrusive thoughts – this can be a sign of postpartum anxiety or PTSD
3. Being overly on edge – consider medical professional help
4. Having a difficult time bonding with your baby… initially ask for a break if you can and reset and manage your expectations for you and your baby
5. Join a postpartum support group if offered in your local community
6. If taking some me mommy time doesn’t help – consider professional help
7. Having Suicidal Thoughts or feeling you want to harm your baby – Call 9-1-1
Additional Tips for Postpartum Mamas of Complex Medical Needs Babies with extended hospitalizations
1. Spend as much time as you need in the NICU or CICU with your warrior baby. He/she can feel your presence even if you can’t hold for kangaroo care snuggles just yet.
2. Don’t put guilt on yourself if your baby was born prematurely or full term but has a rare diagnosis… Life happens and sometimes things are just beyond your control… Nia was not a preemie so I had to remind others of that and still til this day!
3. If you had a full term baby but an extended hospitalization know that your baby still does matter… advocate and demand care as if your baby was a preemie – I’ve been there… I believe this required hyper-vigilance exacerbated my postpartum issues..
4. When you can pick your baby up then opt for skin to skin- it calms your baby and also you which can decrease postpartum issues.
5. Take some me time when you are past your six week check up – yes it truly is fine to think of yourself even if things are chaotic or touch and go! Ive been in your shoes! – Mani/Pedicure new mama??? or just walking to get fresh air
6. Treat yourself to a meal outside the hospital
7. When friends and family ask how they can help – request food outside the hospital – this made me smile just a little bit more
8. Share your struggle with other NICU or CICU mammas that you may connect with during your baby’s hospitalization or at March of Dimes Hospital NICU weekly events. Even when family and friends can’t fully understand your pain and agony – these mamas will! Some just may become lifelong friends 😉
9. If your sleep is being disrupted outside of needing to pump or nurse your baby – consider speaking with to a medical professional – primary care provider, or medical staff in your baby’s hospital… some hospitals have in-house postpartum support when a mom’s baby is in the NICU or CICU; March of Dimes NICU Coordinator is a great resource as well!
10. If you have throughts of harming your baby or yourself and are already at the hospital with your baby inform a medical professional immediately, otherwise call 9-1-1
11. If you are concerned about not being able to afford postpartum behavioral healthcare, there are some therapists that will accept whatever you can afford up to a year after you become a patient/client. Also the following list of resources are available free of charge:
National Maternal Mental Health Support Organizations or Services
Postpartum Support International
Women’s Health- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Call the OWH HELPLINE: 1-800-994-9662
9 a.m. — 6 p.m. ET, Monday — Friday
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
(SAMHSA) National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
Your local health department can be a useful resource
*Note* This blog post is solely my opinion as a non-medical professional, but as a mama that has endured the pregnancy and postpartum mental health journey…
#BlackMaternalMentalHealthWeek #BMMHW #BlackMomsBlog
Previous blog post on nurturing my mental health…