In the last year, several of my friends became pregnant or welcomed a new baby. Many of them were first time black mothers. I offered congratulations and gave each them a “Welcome to the club” speech. But underneath my joy, I was nervous for them. Black motherhood is filled with unique high and lows. Yet no one prepares us for the challenges we face during or immediately after giving birth.
Dear new Black moms, I want to encourage you as well as provide insight to several of the obstacles that are often unique to Black motherhood. Below are four important things to keep in mind as you navigate his journey.
Mind Your Health
Welcoming your bundle of joy is only the first step — your work has just begun. Black mothers and infants have the highest rates of mortality in the time immediately following birth. This means it’s exceptionally important that Black mother prioritize their health — all of it. Mental, physical, and spiritual health require attention, and unfortunately, there be many times institutional racism limits access to quality medical care.
Exercising can provide an outlet for self-care. Improving diets and increasing water intake are vital, and breastfeeding is something to consider because it has tons of benefits for mom and baby. You might be the first in your family to do one or all of these — and you might get some backlash. That might seem scary at first, but sometimes it’s okay to break from tradition.
Know When To Alter Tradition
Black Americans have done an excellent job of establishing our own sets of customs and norms, despite severed connections to our homeland. Part of being a good parent is knowing which traditions are helpful and which traditions should be abandoned.
Cultural scripts for Black Americans emphasize authoritarian parenting. It’s okay if you choose to embrace the “crunchy mom” style and practice attachment parenting. Don’t let anyone give you crap about “spoiling your child.” Our children can’t thrive on the tough love style we developed to keep them out of trouble. They need active and engaged attention from us if we don’t show them unconditional love, no one will.
Everyone will have an opinion, but you get the final say.
Be Prepared To Advocate For Your Child
Black children are literally born at risk. First is the risk for premature birth, then there is a risk for infant death. The rest of their life will be marked by risks in education, health, and often the criminal justice. Black children don’t get the same presumed innocence as other children. And their institutional experiences reflect that.
As a Black mother, you will have to be prepared to advocate for your child. This doesn’t mean having the unrealistic belief that your child is perfect. But it will require being an authoritative parent for your child, knowing what is normal behavior for them, and arguing on their behalf when necessary. This could happen anywhere—at school, at the playground, or even with some of your own relatives. Show your child you refuse to let the world stereotype and limit them.
Seek Help And Community
Black motherhood is tough, and can easily weigh heavily on your mental health. It’s important that Black mothers create an understanding support network. Your support might not be in close proximity but the need to be easily accessible. The Internet and online groups provide the ability to connect with people from all over the world. Use that resource.
Sometimes, daily experiences will require professional assistance. This could be due to postpartum depression, anxiety, or just the cumulative effects of being black in America—known as toxic stress. Being hypervigilant of signs like chronic sadness, loss of interest in things you usually enjoy, and lashing out at other can save a life. Don’t be afraid to seek help. It isn’t easily to get past the stigma the Black community places on mental health issues but it’s a key step to becoming the best parent you can be.
Black motherhood is a lesson-filled journey. It has desperate high and ocean deep lows. The pressure of parenting under the effects of sexism and racism has literally killed people. Understand that as a Black mother you have a legacy of perseverance that precedes you. We have and will continue to be survivors. Now get out there, and don’t forget to enjoy your baby.