More Than Statistics: A Conversation on Postpartum Depression and Maternal Wellness
Across the U.S, clinical postpartum depression is reported at a rate of 10%-20% among new mothers. 1 in 7 women will experience postpartum depression in some form and 70% — 80% of mothers experience ‘Baby Blues’. This is adapted from Postpartum Depression, one of the many sites I came across during my research on the subject. The information may seem like numbers to you but, for many women, myself included, those numbers spell our names.
The topic of Postpartum Depression is very taboo in the African American Community, because of this, many black women do not seek the help they need, to effectively cope with this very common and very real issue. I could not understand it! Furthermore, I could not understand why I did not reach out for medical assistance, myself. That is when I was referred to Dr. Lode´, Holistic Wellness Specialist and owner/operator of #ThinkFreshWellness. Throughout her career, Dr. Lode´ has done extensive research covering Reproductive Justice disparities and Inheritance vs. Heredity detailing the diagnosis of Lupus, in Fundamentally Black American Women. Her independent research points out racism; explicit bias and benign neglect, as public health threats. This research has sparked conversation and behavioral change within the Public Health professional community.
What began as a conversation seeking to understand the stigma behind Postpartum Depression and the African American community, turned into an eye opening talk on the state of Maternal Wellness in our nation, it’s link to postpartum depression, and its effects on women across cultural communities.
MATERNAL WELLNESS & MORTALITY
“Postpartum depression ties in very closely to maternal wellness — and the state of maternal wellness for black women is dire.”
Dr. Lode´ opened our conversation with that very eye-opening statement. As a practicing student Midwife and Labor Support Specialist, she spoke primarily on the state of maternal wellness, especially in her home state of Georgia. In Georgia, the maternal mortality rate is staggering across cultures. According to Dr. Lode´, in our nation black women die at a rate of 243% higher than white women, with one of the leading causes being access to proper healthcare. In the state of Georgia, more than half of the 159 counties do not have an OB/GYN and half of those counties have absolutely no Labor and Delivery center in their Hospitals, with the majority of those affected counties being in rural Georgia. Compounding these issues, Georgia had enforced an abortion ban (recently blocked on the Federal level), making quality maternal care both necessary and shockingly absent. As our conversation continued, Dr. Lode´ shared some statistics that should raise alarm among the medically diverse and layman alike.
Dr. Lode´ shared these statistics: “In inner city Georgia black women are dying at a rate of 14+% higher than white women, however, comparatively as we move into the rural setting, there is an increase of maternal mortality at a rate of 30% for Black women and 50% for white women.” This shed a light on the fact that, the disparity on display in these statistics, go far beyond race and opens up an extremely broad and neglected dialogue, around the standard of healthcare accessible to all women. As Dr. Lode´ rightfully stated, “…mothers should not be dying during childbirth in the United States. We are an industrial leader, we are a technology leader in the world, yet our maternal mortality rates are higher in comparison to war-torn countries.” This is also highlighted in an entry on the ACLU Georgia site, entitled The Problem: Georgia Has A Maternal Mortality Crisis.
These statistics are beyond concerning nationally and for the state of Georgia. All these factors considered, make the argument for adequate, accessible, and quality healthcare, to ensure overall maternal wellness. This is an undeniable necessity in order for women’s health, to go beyond statistics and focus on the faces and lives behind the numbers.
MATERNAL MORTALITY AND POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION
The link between postpartum depression and maternal mortality can be found if you pay attention to the numbers (during our conversation we used Georgia’s statistics as a compass).
As Dr. Lode´ highlighted, the underlying causes for death related to maternal mortality can differ among cultures. For African American women, causes are Hypertensive diseases and Hemorrhaging, with the former being related to stress. This leaves room to hypothesize that, due to disparities in access to quality health care within the African American community, the maternal needs of African American women are not being met.
Subsequently, Dr. Lode´ directed my attention to the causes contributing to the increase in death among our white counterparts. It was not due to underlying disease, but rather, toxicity, meaning that white women were overdosing. It was at this moment that I understood the link. In attempts to cope with the barrage of feelings that come with having a baby, and their unchecked emotional state, white women were self-medicating, to the point of death. Dr. Lode´ continued to explain, that these initial feelings of being overwhelmed is all “normal”, however, the continuation of these feelings when left unchecked, for a prolonged period of time, will display as postpartum depression and without proper care, can lead to these needless tragedies.
It was clear, all women are being ignored, and it is having a devastating effect within all communities.
DISPARITIES, STIGMA AND OTHER FACTORS
As a nation and across communities, Maternal Mortality is a huge issue, however, rates for African Americans are disproportionately high. Although postpartum depression cases are assumed to be reported at a higher rate in white communities, black communities are more likely than not either being dismissed for not reporting postpartum depression and being misdiagnosed with its milder relative ‘Baby Blues’. This, as Dr Lode´ acknowledged, could be because of the lingering stigma attached to mental health issues and distrust between the black community and their medical providers, due to the systemic history of accusatory and unnecessary practices because of racial differences. As a community this distrust translates to family separation or accusations of maternal incompetency. Instead, as black women we seek family support or do as we are culturally known to do — cope with it.
However, this has an extremely dangerous effect on a mother. Postpartum depression can lead to elevated levels of stress and if it remains untreated it can lead to — Hypertensive diseases, one of the main contributing factors to maternal mortality among African American women. The cycle is a very destructive one.
“If we put the care back into our community, we see less adverse results when we are in the care of a midwife that actually cares for and is culturally sensitive to, her clients.” ~ Dr. Lode’
MIDWIFE/LABOR SUPPORT SPECIALIST
A Labor Support Specialist is an amazing assistant to an expecting mother prior to, during, and after birth, especially if you plan to have a natural birth. A Midwife is normally trained in the delivery of the child, with her primary focus being to deliver a healthy baby and to nurture the mental and physical wellness of the mother. Both women play a vital role in assisting with the birthing process, however, if you combine these roles, you get a person trained in delivery who offers a broader focus of support and overall care for both mom and baby.
“Anytime someone is bringing forth a new life into the community, it is the community’s job to make sure that the energy is welcomed.” ~ Dr. Lode´
Dr. Lode´ is a practicing student midwife and labor support specialist. She describes the environment created for the expecting mother as a welcoming and supportive one, with family, friends, and the midwife present, to welcome this new life into the world. Following which, loved ones would stay with the new mother for a period of 42 days at minimum. During which time, the Midwife would also visit regularly to check on mom and baby. It is at these visits that she would listen and watch for queues that could signal any warning signs that mom may display, which may warrant her to sit with mom and give her an ear. “Offering extra care and support; from simple pampering to belly binding can lessen the likelihood of the advanced form of postpartum depression.” ~ Dr. Lode’
In the state of Georgia, Dr. Lode´ and her colleagues are advocating for more home births and the use of community midwives, seeing that the quality of care provided for mom is better than that which is given in the limited Labor and Delivery Centers across the state. They are also seeking to extend the length of postpartum care to 1 year following birth.
“Postpartum Depression can affect us as long as our children are on this earth. Being displayed in our efforts to be a ‘good’ mom we find ourselves analyzing and being overly critical of ourselves.”~ Dr. Lode´
MAKING A CHANGE
Moving forward Dr. Lode´ recommends that people of color practice the principle of Sankofa and reap the benefits of practices that we have engaged in for generations. As a community, we need to begin to heal and become more sensitive to lifestyle changes. “…every parent cannot stay home with their baby, but as a community we can meet mom where she is… women also need to check in with each other and make a simple ‘how are you?’ a norm in order to release some of the pressure we all feel as mothers at some point in time or another.”
As for the Healthcare system, when it comes to women’s needs, “We just have a poor outlook on maternal wellness in this country period. The healthcare system is run by older men and these older men have all the say in women’s health. This is why so many issues go unchecked or dismissed leading to high maternal mortality rates, especially in the black community.”
Dr. Lode´ shed some much-needed light on the state of Maternal Wellness in our country, and its link to maternal mortality and postpartum depression. The disparities in healthcare across America are far reaching in nature. Touching on race and gender, alike. Equal access to quality healthcare for Black communities and Women’s health, have long been a talking point with calls for change constant and seldomly addressed. However, there is a shift occurring and positive change is on the horizon. For African American Communities, the loss of lives daily is spread out across circumstances; maternal mortality being one of them. Open the dialogue in your community — raise awareness about postpartum depression and other mental wellness issues that we have, for too long, frowned upon and ignored. As a society, we can inspire change and we can begin in our own backyard.
All women deserve quality maternal healthcare and ALL women deserve support as they embark on the journey to motherhood and beyond.
**Dr. Lode´ is offering a program for mothers experiencing Postpartum Depression symptoms. This holistic wellness based program utilizes counselling/support sessions with herbal remedies to balance the low mood chemicals associated with this condition. Contact me or reach out directly to Dr. Lode´ [here] or by using the links below for more information.**