Sitting with Sylvie

Black Maternal Health and Suicide

There are health disparities across the board for Black people. When it comes to maternal health, it is no different. Studies show that Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women and have the highest mortality rate of any race/ethnicity. Black women in the US die at the same rate as women in some third-world countries. This is regardless of education, income, or any other socio-economic factors. Infant mortality for Black babies is 2 times higher than that of white babies. Imagine the impact that that information has on Black pregnant women. Imagine the impact that the experience has on Black women in postpartum. If you read a study, it will list the leading causes of death as things like hemorrhaging and infection. If you talk to Black women, they did not feel like the health professionals were listening to them.

There is no evidence that shows that Black women suffer more from perinatal mental health disorders, but we can assume that it’s there. There are studies that show that racism and oppression affect the mental health of those who experience it. According to NAMI, Black adults are more likely to report symptoms of emotional distress and are less likely to seek help for their concerns. As a Black American and mental health professional, based on my experiences, I know this to be true. Add on to that the normal challenges of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. Black birthing people have a lot to navigate through!

Now, let’s talk about Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs).

“Perinatal” is the time between conception to the baby turning 1 year old! Birthing people don’t only experience mental health concerns in the postpartum period, it can happen during pregnancy as well. The most common PMAD is Perinatal Depression, commonly known as postpartum depression. According to ACOG, 1 out of 5-7 women are affected by perinatal depression. I know that this week is about Maternal Mental Health, but I want to mention that 1 in 10 men are also affected by postpartum depression. Birthing people also experience perinatal anxiety, panic disorder OCD, psychosis, and PTSD associated with their pregnancy and/or childbirth.

How do you know that you’re experiencing PMADs?

Oftentimes, it will be noticed by a partner or family member, and not by the person experiencing the feelings. Some symptoms of these disorders include:

  • feelings of sadness
  • hopelessness
  • loss of energy
  • insomnia
  • agitation
  • constant worrying
  • persistent thoughts
  • constant fear
  • and/or feeling like you’re “going crazy”

Of course, you can experience some of these named symptoms and not have a disorder, so it’s important to pay attention to the severity/intensity and how long the symptoms last. If you’re experiencing these symptoms for more than a few weeks and they’re getting in the way of daily functioning, you should seek help from a medical professional. If you’re having thoughts of harming yourself or your child, you should seek help from a medical professional. Do not ignore your symptoms. Partners (husbands, wives, boyfriends, family members, etc.) do not ignore these symptoms in your loved one. Seek help through your primary care provider or through a mental health professional who specializes in Perinatal Mental Health. The credential may read “PMH-C”.

In closing…

There are many stigmas attached to the perinatal period. People say pregnancy is beautiful, they say the birthing person is “glowing”, we assume that the pregnancy is wanted or that the birthing person is happy, we think that birth has to be “natural” in order to be deemed successful, and we assume that a pregnancy will end with a living baby. These things aren’t always true. Not experiencing these things doesn’t make someone “bad” or “weak” but can cause someone to develop a PMAD. 

Black birthing people have the added stress of disparaging maternal mortality rates and stigmas related to mental health. The only fix is more culturally competent health professionals.

BLACK BIRTHING PEOPLE: It’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to get extra support if you need it. You do not always have to be “strong”. You do not have to strive for perfection. Be honest, be you, be vulnerable, lean on your loved ones, get a Doula, and get a Therapist.

BLACK PEOPLE: Become Doulas. Become mental health professionals. Become Midwives. Become OBGYNs. We need us. We are all we got!







This post was written by Ambrial Ugoji. Ambrial is a CAPPA Certified Labor Doula, Licensed Social Worker and a therapist at Oasis Wellness Group. She has completed training for Perinatal Mental Health through PSI. Ambrial’s goal is to help birthing people to feel empowered, to trust their bodies, and to have an amazing birth experience!​ To connect with Ambrial you can follow her on Instagram, and Facebook, or contact her at A. Doula by Ambi today!