For as long as I can remember, issues surrounding health have always been interesting to me. So interesting that I obtained degrees related to just that…health. While I believe in exploring all avenues of health, a few are high on my list. Those being women’s health, people of color and mental health. These are there areas that show significant issues and high disparities. It’s why I champion loudly for these three areas and focus primarily on them. Needless to say, when I was given the opportunity to give personal insight on a topic that really addresses all three I jumped at the chance.
The discussion of mental health is seriously lacking in our society. The discussion of mental health and women even more scarce. Mental health, women, pregnancy and breastfeeding…well that’s rarely ever talked about. However, these variables are actively engaged within society yet no one really want to acknowledge their existence. I will acknowledge their existence. I will be the voice of that person. Will tell someone’s story. That person’s story is my mother.
While my mother doesn’t really like to talk about it, she remembers what it was like to be a mother with 6 children and navigating the world of postpartum depression. My mother’s issue didn’t manifest with the first child or, for that matter, the second or the third. It manifested with her sixth child who was almost two. Now whether there were symptoms present before it became an actual manifestation, she doesn’t remember. I don’t remember. What I do remember is that when it did manifest, it was scary for not only me but for her. The details of the manifestation are not important. What is important is how the manifestation affected her as a black woman and nursing mother.
For the first time ever, I had a conversation with my mother about how she felt as a black woman dealing with postpartum psychosis and how it affected her ability to nurse my then 18 month sister. Her answers were inspiring, informative, and awakening.
Me: How did you feel about your diagnosis?
Mom: I was happy that what I was feeling had a name and treatment. I was also happy that my feelings were not because I was possessed as some would have me believe. It helped a lot that the hospital staff was compassionate. Granted, they were compassionate because my illness wasn’t drug induced or illness such as HIV/AIDS related. It was such a relief to gain an understanding of what the illness was and not have to walk around with no answers.
Me: Did your diagnosis impact your ability to breastfeed and if so how did it make you feel?
Mom: I was told by doctors that I needed to bottle tfeed because it was “bad milk.” They explained it to me as because my mental state was not the healthiest, even though I was producing milk it was as if it had spoiled. While some mothers may be bothered by not being able to breastfeed anymore, I was not. I was already used to supplementing for you and your two sisters behind you because I was a vegetarian and did not make enough milk. My concern was that I get better so that I could take care of all of my children. Not just my nursing infant. I was concerned after the second time with making sure that it was the last time. I was happy with the amount of time that I had already nursed my children and did not let me having to stop early bother me.
Me: How did you feel as a Black woman with postpartum depression?
Mom: For me, it was not about being black or white. It really wasn’t about race for me period. The doctors and other hospital personnel were compassionate to me because my illness was through no fault of mine. They treated me with dignity and did not make it about race. My only concern was getting better and it never happening again.
After speaking to my mother I realized a few things. One, that she is strong woman. Here is a woman who bore 10 children and mostly raised them by herself. She is a woman who, after two episodes of postpartum depression took steps to center herself so that she would not have any more episodes. Her centering included being more faithful in her relationship with God, not letting things stress her, finding ways to de-stress, and taking the reins of her happiness in her own hand. She went on to have two more children after her second episode and never had a episode again.
Here is the thing about women, we are resilient. We are strong. We are determined. These are all positive traits when it comes to battling any type of mental illness. There are great traits to possess when mental illness may affect your ability to be the mother that you want to be. My mother’s word of advice; while breastfeeding is important, it is even more important that you get healthy and stay healthy. It is okay if because of your mental illness you are not able to breastfeed. You can still love your child. By loving yourself and striving to get better, you are indeed loving your child.
Words of wisdom: Focus on getting better and not the fact that you can no longer breastfeed. ~ Mom
Maliyka is a 30-something year old woman who is passionate about the state of Black America’s health. She holds a B.S. in Community Health from Hofstra University and an M.A. in Community and Health Education from Brooklyn College. December 2014, will have her adding another degree to her collection when she receives an MPH with a certification in Health Policy & Administration from Benedictine University. “Each one teach one,” is her mantra and she does just that via her blog which can be found here: Maliyka is health. She is also an active member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and The Junior League where she shares her expertise where needed.
This post is part of the Black Breastfeeding and Mental Illness: Struggling with & Surviving blog carnival.