Statistics show that women of colour are more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than white women. Stylist investigates the challenges faced by Black mothers in the Baby On The Brain podcast.
No two women have the same experience of motherhood and pregnancy. But one thing that remains clear is that for women of colour, pregnancy brings another layer of challenges. From childbirth complications to dealing with postnatal mental health, the experiences faced by Black mums have too long been overlooked.
On episode five of Stylist’s Baby On The Brain Podcast, executive editor Fliss Thistlethwaite hands over her hosting duties to Nina Malone, founder of Dope Black Mums, and is joined by psychotherapist, author and coach Keeley Taverner to discuss what being a Black mum in 2021 in the UK means.
Malone kicks off by drawing attention to the importance of women of colour talking about their mental health and why establishing safe spaces is crucial when it comes to dealing with the demands of motherhood.
“This conversation is really important, and we need to keep on having it, and having it, and having it,” Malone says. “The anxiety around the social isolation caused by the pandemic has added so much more pressure and it’s really crucial that we keep on talking.”
For Malone, this pressure took its toll on her feelings of adequacy as a parent. “It plays into everything,” she says. “If that’s a day where you’re not feeling strong, where you’ve had less sleep, I’d sometimes start crying and I’d think ‘am I an awful person? Did I forget all thousands of things I should be bringing? Have a remembered this? Am I an awful mother?’”
“I think, culturally, there’s a massive challenge around asking for help. I’m hyper strong and I’m a go-getter – I proudly describe myself as an alpha female. Feelings of inadequacy and weakness have to be rejected and suppressed,” Taverner adds.
“That’s where therapy is incredibly helpful to get people to begin to connect with their vulnerability. For many of the clients I’ve worked with, even the word depression isn’t used. Many of my Black clients will say ‘I’ve got low mood’.”
Aside from the stigma surrounding mental health preventing women of colour from talking about their mental wellbeing, statistics show the stark reality of gaps in medical care when women do seek help. Staggeringly, Black women in the UK are more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than white women. In fact, the chance of death is four times as high for Black women.
This is something that Taverner, a mother of two, is reminded of almost on a daily basis. “I’m very much aware of the news stories of the disproportionate amount of deaths of Black women.
“It’s incredibly shocking and concerning and brings another tear to my eye thinking about discrimination, and generally what it may mean for being a mum who is Black and the challenges that may come from that in terms of lifestyle, birth order, career, class,” she says.
“What’s difficult is, historically, Black women haven’t been believed. So, part of the reason why these numbers are rising for maternal death rates among Black women is you’re going and talking to your GP and you’re getting shunned away,” Malone says.
“I think there’s always a fear of being diagnosed, labelled and having medication that goes alongside that. I think that’s a very real fear for people,” adds Taverner.
“Personally, it’s one of the reasons why I work in private practice,” she says. “I don’t necessarily come from the medical model.”
In spite of these challenges that Malone, Taverner and countless other women in the UK continue to face, there’s common agreement that motherhood is undoubtedly a joyous time. And as the hosts discuss in the podcast, the more that women feel able to reach out, trust their guts and question the care they give and are give, motherhood need not always be so disproportionately tough.
Besides, as Malone says, “no-one knows what they’re doing. Everybody is making it up.”
Been thinking about your fertility? Or perhaps you’re pregnant and worried about what happens next in your career? Stylist’s new franchise, Baby On The Brain, is here to answer all your motherhood questions.
This new digital space will be filled with discussions from different women airing their thoughts on motherhood, or the considerations around motherhood. But you won’t find information about the practicalities of sleep or feeding on Baby on the Brain. And this series is not about birth, either. This space is all about you, as women.