By Danesha B. Deloatch, MS, LMFT
“One day you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went thorough and will be someone’s else survival guide” – Brene Brown
In the Black community mental health and reproductive concerns are not openly discussed. Black women tend to not ask for help and minimize their concerns for many reasons. Many people in my life were not even aware of the day to day battles I was enduring. My experience with mental health and reproductive issues started when I was a Sophomore in college. I noticed gradually each month my cycle became longer and heavier. A few months after being diagnosed with Anemia my menstrual cycle started and it did not stop—
one month passed, two months passed, and on to the third month. I went to my OB/GYN and the doctor looked me in the eyes and stated, “you are fine, everyone’s cycle is different, and they can change.” She sent me home. Now I am not a medical doctor, but I can guess that this was not normal. I sought a second opinion, and I received the diagnosis of fibroids, a foreign term to me. I was now at the other end of the spectrum going from I am fine to I was about to have immediate surgery without any explanation. It made me curious why as Black women we do not discuss reproductive matters more often.
Fibroids are a known cause of infertility and adverse pregnancy outcomes, but also some procedures can impact infertility too. A few years of “waiting and watching,” which consisted of experiencing immense pain and constant bleeding, I ended up having an abdominal myomectomy (laparotomy) after my fibroids started to degenerate. I was ready to be out of physical pain. I was not ready for the emotional impact surgery would have on me. After surgery there were still hurdles. My doctor pointed out that if I did not have a period by a specific time, I would have permanent Amenorrhea and would not be able to conceive. I attended my post-operation appointment and my doctor said that I could never go into labor because my uterus would rupture, and I would die. I had no idea how to process that information during recovery and what that meant for my future. Being told you can never labor makes you feel like a failure. The one unique gift a woman has is birthing life and I will never be able to experience that. It makes me feel broken and less of a woman. Being told that I could never go into labor brings feelings of self-blame. I questioned myself— maybe if I had done this or did not do that; I wouldn’t have this condition. Grief of all the possibilities that were taken away from me set in. Since reproductive issues are often not discussed because they are seen as intimate, private matters, I felt alone. It seemed like I was the only one experiencing this. Its emotionally draining; I felt lonely, afraid, confused, sad and isolated. These were just some of my immediate feelings. After surgery I was also diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age. Due to the constant stress and pressure of trying to be strong and hold it all together I developed adrenal fatigue and my doctors told me to consider freezing my eggs due to the possibility of pre-ovarian failure.
As a black woman, we are natural caretakers and givers. We are resilient and “strong women,” but the strong black woman stereotype takes a toll on our mental and physical health. Our mind is not separate from our body. Our stress, worries, and anxiety impact us physically. Practicing self-care is making sure we take care of ourselves physically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Many known conditions including Premature Ovarian Failure, Endometriosis, Fibroids, Infertility, Preterm delivery complications, recurrent pregnancy loss, Breast and Ovarian Cancers, are sadly, subjects that are taboo within the Black community. Black mothers are also disproportionately affected by other conditions that can affect their health before, during, and after pregnancy. As a Black woman it is imperative that we start to engage in our wellness and find communities of support where we feel safe. So, let us have a conversation.
For a long time, I did not speak on my health, and for a long time I felt I was the only one and that no one would understand or could relate. The more I inquired information and started asking questions the more I noticed that was not true; and I was furthest from being alone. I did not meet a woman in my life that has not had a reproductive concern even though these were not conversations that occurred in my family. Everyone I open up to had their own story they were silent about. Women are suffering in silence, whether that be from shame, fear, or simply they are unable to speak out about their reproductive health struggles or mental health challenges. Finding a therapist who has experience in maternal mental health means getting treatment with someone who can empathize with your symptoms and provide you the help that you need. The most important things I stress to women of color are:
- Find providers who you feel safe, seen, heard, and supported by.
- If you have experienced challenges with conceiving, pregnancy loss, or infant loss, you may be feeling hopeless, fearful, and devastated. But you are not alone. Women choosing to not remain silent allows the next woman to feel safe and seen and to be vulnerable enough to seek services.
- Know your personal and family history as it relates to infertility and pregnancy.
- Also, advocate for yourself! You know your body best. If I did not speak up for myself, I would have not been diagnosed, or even more devastating, I would have had an unnecessary procedure that could have led to a hysterectomy.
- If you go to the doctor and feel like you are not getting proper care or testing, and they refuse to address your concerns you requested ask them to document in your medical chart that you requested a service and the reason they are refusing treatment.
- Get a second opinion and a third opinion if needed.
So, let’s empower ourselves by asking those difficult questions to our mothers and grandmothers, despite how uncomfortable it may be. In this process of ‘sharing our truth’ you will not only share experiences, but will likely improve outcomes, and encourage someone else along the way.
Additional Resources: 20 Champions of Black Maternal Health by Jesi Taylor Cruz: 20 Champions of Black Maternal Health (whattoexpect.com)
About the author: Danesha B. Deloatch, MS, LMFT, is a graduate of the Valdosta State University Marriage and Family Therapy Program. Danesha is licensed in the state of Washington and her home state of Georgia. She is an AAMFT Clinical Fellow, Washington State Affiliate member and an At-Large Board Member of WAMFT. Danesha currently works full time for the military and is the founder of Breaking Barriers Therapeutic Services, PLLC, a private practice for therapy and consulting. Furthermore, she is conducting supervision under an AAMFT Approved supervisor mentor. Danesha is devoted to work with underrepresented populations and is dedicated to reducing stigma and improving access to high-quality clinical services to underserved populations through advocacy.