Why is our shortest month the one in which we explore Black history and honor Black Americans? Why not January or May or even September? I can not answer that question. However, since February is a time of focus on Black America and the contributions for all that have come from the Black community, it seems right to consider Black women and peripartum inequities.
In the state of Texas, Black women experience postpartum mortality at 4 times the rate of white women and 2 times the rate of Hispanic women. That's right. The inequities are those that impact life and death. These numbers are not mitigated by economic or educational factors. A wealthy Black PhD is still 4 times more likely to die of postpartum complications than a white woman. Inequity at these levels should be unacceptable to all of us.
What about mental health? A study from Mt. Sinai1 indicates that Black women are twice as likely to experience postpartum depressive symptoms. Black women with PMADs are less likely to reach out for help. This is a problem. While none of us can flip a switch and remove inequities embedded in our cultural systems, we can make an impact on the people in our lives.
For those who are Black, if you are experiencing physical symptoms call your provider and follow up. If you do not feel respected or heard, get a second opinion. Identify a friend or relative who can encourage you or assist you as you advocate for your health and safety. If your symptoms are less clearly medical but involve things such as mood changes that impact your function, poor sleep, lack of appetite, inability to focus, please reach out to your provider for support, contact PSI, or contact a therapist for support.
In the US, Postpartum Support International provides support groups free of charge to parents experiencing mental health challenges. Their Black Moms Connect support group is a way to build a strong supportive community that will not minimize your experience. Additionally, in Travis County, Texas, Black Mamas ATX was created to help mitigate inequities. They are also free of charge and have an online community called Sister Circle.
Encourage your friends, encourage yourself to pursue physical and mental health and help the people in your life to shift the balance toward equity. Not just in February, but 365 days a year.
1.Howell EA, Mora PA, Horowitz CR, Leventhal H. Racial and ethnic differences in factors associated with early postpartum depressive symptoms. Obstet Gynecol. 2005 Jun;105(6):1442-50. doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000164050.34126.37. PMID: 15932842; PMCID: PMC4302723.