My name is Kimberly Seals Allers and I’m the editorial director of the Black Maternal Health project at Women’s eNews. BMH is dedicated to providing unprecedented news coverage of the issues behind the high infant mortality rate among African American babies in this country and embracing all mothers in the journey of motherhood. The truth is black women are at a greater risk of losing their baby before its first birthday regardless of her education level or socioeconomic background. That’s a problem.
The solution is complex.
But it starts with a keen awareness of the problem by all black women and a commitment to take better care of ourselves in general so that we enter motherhood in a healthier state.
I know this may sound simple, but it involves a complete shift in our mindsets. After all, we black women are notorious for being eternal Super Women–we put on our red cape and boots and go out to save our respective worlds. We are so good at nurturing others but fall short at taking care of ourselves.
The legacy of black women in this world is so rooted in hardship that it has become a defining element of the black female experience. Our foremothers are repeatedly portrayed as strong and emotionless creatures who took care of white women, their white children, as well as their own family. When enslaved children and adults were split up and moved to other plantations, it was the slave women who took care of the extended families who remained. In fact, as long as history has documented our existence, we have been taking care of other people. Sometimes we had no other choice, as refusing to do so could mean severe punishment or death.
Today, it’s a different story. And taking care of others while neglecting our own health, is just one area of our lives that creates stress that can have serious health implications.
Even in the strongest of women, prolonged stress can lead to chronic upper respiratory infections, hypertension, heart disease and obesity. During pregnancy, stress has been clinically proven to adversely affect birth outcomes. Many experts now conclude that stress causes the release of hormones that weaken the uterus, leading to premature delivery or infant mortality. The hormone changes can occur over a lifetime, not just in pregnancy. They can build up from fear of violence, worries about paying bills, job insecurity, or standing for long periods of work. One study found that pregnancy complications were more frequent among black women who said they were dealing with racial discrimination at work or in housing situations.
That’s why it is so important for us to start this new conversation. Here at SisterSpace, we’ll be talking frankly about what our experience is really like and how we can manage the many stressors that may be affecting our babies’ health. We’ll probe into old research and ask why there isn’t much new research on why our birth outcomes and maternal health statistics severely lag our white counterparts. Most importantly, we will still crafting solutions, our solutions, for saving our babies and saving ourselves.
Please join me.
Kimberly Seals Allers is also the author of The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy,(Amistad/HarperCollins) the first-of-its kind pregnancy guidebook for black women, and editor in chief of www.mochamanual.com, a daily online magazine and lifestyle destination for Black moms. An award winning journalist, Kimberly is a former writer at Fortune and a former senior editor at Essence. She lives in Long Island with her two children.