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The Impact & Maternal Disparities on Maternal Mental Health: Black Birthing People’s Experience




Imagine walking into an OBGYN office and feeling judged by your doctor. Imagine

telling your nurse that something doesn’t feel right after giving birth, but he or she blows off your symptoms.

This is the unfortunate reality for many black women in American. Feeling unheard is a feeling that many black women have learned to simply deal with. Not addressing these feelings can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, and more. Therefore, it is important that we, as a society, acknowledge the disproportionality of maternity death among black women and begin advocating for better, meaningful maternity care for black women.


Some of the leading causes of maternal related death are hypertension, pulmonary embolism, hemorrhage, infection, and cardiovascular conditions. According to Bailey et al.

(2023), black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy related issues when compared to white women. Additionally, in 2020, the maternal mortality rate for nonblack

women was an estimated 861 deaths. In contrast, black women maternal mortality rate was an estimated 1800 deaths (Bailey et al., 2023). Despite over sixty percent of maternal deaths being preventable (Long, 2024), the mortality rate for black mothers has increased every year. These numbers are lightyears away from each other and enough to evoke fear in any woman considering motherhood, and no matter how much you try to prepare for motherhood, realistically you can’t prepare for most of it. It is also important to note that the cases of black women maternal mortality is not limited to social economic status. For example, Dr. Shalon Irving was a 36-year-old CDC epidemiologist and a lieutenant commander for the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Dr. Irving completed her master’s degree at John Hopkins. Then at the age of 25, she was the first recipient of a dual PhD in sociology and gerontology from Purdue University (Bowie et al., 2022). Her credentials are more than impressive. She is an accomplished doctor with years of research experience. Of course she will have an amazing birthing experience, right? Other professionals will listen and give her respect, right? However, despite her accomplishments Dr. Shalon Irving’s postpartum experience was not pleasant. A short three weeks after giving birth, Dr. Irving dealt with high blood pressure, leg swelling, decreased urine, severe headaches, and a nine-pound weight gain in ten days. She expressed her declining health issues with her doctors during multiple visits, but her concerns were not addressed. The doctors met her with “You just had a baby. Give it time.” Dr. Shalon Irving’s life was cut short on January 24, 2017, due to cardiac arrest (Bowie et al., 2022). Unfortunately, this is a reoccurring story that has even brought out stories from Christine Fields who is a mother of two, tennis player Serena Williams, and Olympic track star Allyson Felix. Surviving mothers, public lawsuits, tv interviews, news articles, and advocating family members, help bring awareness to this topic. The disparities in the healthcare system can contribute to psychological and emotional distress during the perinatal period. Black women have a higher rate of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, than white women. Black women are also less likely to get treatment or follow-up care (Long, 2024). Despite strides in education, careers, and more, black women’s medical needs continue to be pushed aside. The healthcare system should be a safe space for everyone despite their ethnic background.


What can you do to help? Here my five tips to help:

(1) Educate yourself with available research. (2) Volunteer your time with the many organizations that fight for maternal rights.

(3) If you see something, say something.

(4) Check on your pregnant and postpartum loved ones.

(5) Share your newfound knowledge.


Informative Resources


Doula Support & Postpartum Support

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This wonderful blog post was written by Mallori Thompson, LPC-Associate. Mallori feels passionate about helping mothers at any stage of their journey, providing support and connecting with resources to obtain the help they may need. She would love to support you! If you would like to schedule a free consultation you can contact her through the "Contact Me" on the website or email her directly at mallorithompson@supportspacetherapy.com.



References

Bowie, J., Hickman, D., Ibe, C., Irving, S., Irving, W., McDonald- Mosely, R., Purnell, T. S., & Underwood, L. (2022, February 7). Honoring Dr. Shalon Irving, A Champion for Health Equity. https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/10.1377/hlthaff.2021.01447

Long, M. (2024). Black Perinatal Mental Health Intensive. Seleni Institute. https://training.seleni.org/courses/enrolled/1905222

Njoku A, Evans M, Nimo-Sefah L, Bailey J. Listen to the Whispers before They Become Screams: Addressing Black Maternal Morbidity and Mortality in the United States.

Healthcare (Basel). 2023 Feb 3;11(3):438. doi: 10.3390/healthcare11030438. PMID: 36767014; PMCID: PMC9914526.

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