The Mental Health Of New And Expectant Black Mothers Needs To Be Addressed In The Maternal Mortality Conversation

January 22, 2019  |  

Anxious Black pregnant woman rubbing forehead on sofa

Source: JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty

The conversation surrounding Black maternal mortality has increased greatly since 2017, and for good reason. According to the CDC, the number of overall pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. has shot up from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 18.0 deaths in 2014. And the disparity by race is significant, with 12.4 deaths per 100,000 live births for white women versus 40.0 deaths for Black women between 2011 and 2014. And considering that not only everyday Black women but also outspoken famous Black women with access to the best healthcare are facing down some very serious health issues while preparing to deliver their children and soon after, it’s time to pay attention to this health crisis and figure out ways to quell it. Congress’ investigation into it is a good first step.

While it’s hard to get some medical professionals to take the concerns of Black women seriously, one thing expecting and new mothers should invest in taking care of when it comes to things that can impact the health of a woman and her child is mental health.

Northwestern University’s online counseling program published a resource article called Supporting the Physical and Mental Health of New and Expectant Black Mothers recently that noted the importance in new moms seeking out counseling to deal with the highs and lows of pregnancy. They provided resources for organizations dedicated to reproductive health to aid women in getting necessary mental health treatment at all stages of pregnancy and after. And considering perinatal depression impacts one in seven women, it’s time to take advantage of such assets.

We spoke with Dr. Tonya Davis, clinical training director and core faculty for the online Master of Arts in Counseling program for The Family Institute at Northwestern University, who is featured in the article. She educated us as to why it’s necessary for Black moms to be and new mothers to protect their mental health when there are so many stressors and things that seems to be against us, threatening our pregnancies. Here is the insight she offered.

MadameNoire: With all of the medical care needed and the struggle it is to get scheduled and be seen while trying to juggle the stress of preparing for a baby, why is it important for moms-to-be to consider seeking out a counselor to help them before and after pregnancy?

Dr. Tonya Davis: There is power in knowledge. Preparation and awareness can minimize stress and anxiety inducing circumstances correlated with unknown variables. There are many studies in the literature speaking to the idea that mothers experiencing depression may not be as engaged in child care and/or child rearing process compared to mother’s not experiencing this challenge. Counseling can help new and expecting mothers identify, understand, and resolve what mental health is, why it’s an important aspect of their overall health, and what is common versus not so common.

If moms are skeptical about the doctors they deal with and how serious they take their concerns, what would you say to those who are also skeptical about counselors/therapists?

It’s not uncommon for counselors and doctors to have varying perspectives. Counselors tend to work within the paradigm of wellness thereby focusing on what is going well/right and they are intentional about being preventative in nature. Because of the very nature of what doctors do, they may find themselves functioning from a medical-model and focusing on the problem, the presenting cause, or issue and reacting to the concern at hand. Counselors usually have the time to help people understand their experiences, identify the nature of the problem, and establish effective resolutions before a reaction becomes the requirement.

What questions should new and expectant moms ask or say to advocate for themselves if they end up uncomfortable with not just a counselor but also their obstetrician?

A fear of the unknown is quite a real variable and let’s face it, doctors are known for delivering scary results. But that’s not all doctors are known for and by asking questions about their health, a precedent for other family members can be established. The following questions are just a few examples of where to start with your questioning process:

As an expecting mother, what are the most common type of mental, emotional, and physical changes?
What is not considered common?
How can I identify what is common for me?
What do these symptoms mean for me?
How can I be more informed about my changing body?
Where might I find additional support in managing these changes?

A lot of times, once you ask the first few questions, your unique medical experiences will lend a hand in allowing space for many more questions to follow.

Check out Supporting the Physical and Mental Health of New and Expectant Black Mothers here.

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