In 2018, The Center for American Progress reported that African-American women are three to four times more likely to die from childbirth than non-Hispanic white women, and socioeconomic status, education, and other factors do not protect against this disparity. Celebrities like Beyonce and Serena Williams have also helped to bring awareness to these claims, as they both shared the trauma surrounding their emergency C-sections in their respective documentaries Homecoming, and Being Serena.
Additionally, Black mothers' anxiety surrounding childbirth has increased significantly during COVID-19, due to hospitals limiting the number of people that can enter the delivery room, leaving many expectant moms feeling defenseless and unsupported. In tandem with that, a recent meta-analysis researching over 20 years of studies revealed Black patients were 22 percent less likely than white patients to receive any pain medication as they were perceived to have a higher tolerance for pain, have thicker skin, and less sensitive nerve endings.
On the other side of the statistics and fears, is holistic doula, and founder of Mama Glow, Latham Thomas. The Oprah Super Soul 100's Teacher established the first company to offer doula support at every stage along the childbearing continuum - including fertility doula service for women looking to conceive. Her company, which currently has over 400 doulas worldwide, has been at the helm of this resurgence of Black women reclaiming their birth experiences and seeking midwives and doulas to assist them in various stages of their pregnancy.
Here's what the author shared with us the state of home births during COVID-19, how we can show up for Black moms, and self-care:
The Current State Of Home Births
"They're a bunch of clients who were primed for a home birth, but systemically, midwives of color have been marginalized. Dating back to the 1600s, Black slaves acted as midwives and doulas until the mid to late 1700s. When obstetrics was introduced into America, white male physicians replaced midwives, and by the 1800s, legislation was created to ban midwives from practice altogether, and in some states, midwifery is still illegal. So, they are working at their fullest capacity and because there's not so many. Our county has created legislation that's undermined the sustainability of midwives and midwifery, so, unfortunately, it's not accessible to everyone."
How Expectant Mothers Can Stay Encouraged
"While there is a one support person rule that some hospitals have enacted, there are many things that a doula can assist you [with] via Zoom during childbirth. And if you're a single mom or single by choice, you can still bring your doula to act as your one support person.
"This is a challenging time, but it's also an exciting time in how you can prepare yourself in this process. It shouldn't be about being afraid but feeling empowered; I really want Black women to know that reclaim joy, I know tons of people who are having amazing births at this time. We can't allow fear to seep into our consciousness."
"It shouldn't be about being afraid but feeling empowered; I really want Black women to know that reclaim joy, I know tons of people who are having amazing births at this time. We can't allow fear to seep into our consciousness."
For Moms Who Can’t Afford A Doula
"There are doulas everywhere that do community-based work, and they will work with people regardless of the rate. This is a part of our scope of service at Mama Glow; it's my duty to put you in contact with someone who can help you even if I can't. We also have new doula trainees, and those doula services are much less expensive."
How We Can Support New Moms During This Time
"When thinking about Black mothers and how we are as a culture, we're with our people. We don't do this alone, we're a community that raises our children together, and not having that village surrounding us right now can impact new moms mentally. They're struggling; they don't have the support. There's no one cooking for you, holding the baby while you shower - we need to show up for them.
"I'd suggest sending them gift cards for groceries and having daily Zoom calls to check in on them so that the mom sees people every day, so if she has markers for postpartum depression, they're being seen. They should also consider reaching out to a licensed healthcare partner, as many therapists are offering that service online, with a sliding scale so they can work with you from home."
"For us, self-care is not just a frivolous thing, it's a necessity that allows us to combat things that can fry us emotionally."
What Self-Care Should Look Like For Black Moms
"I want us to figure out what self-care rituals that you can practice daily so that you can design a life you don't have to escape from. You might need to declare, 'I need a nap. I'm going to take my iPad in the bathtub and watch my favorite show, or I'm going to throw on some Beyonce and twerk.' We need to explore happiness. Recently, self-care for me has been putting together my 'stop doing list' where I proclaim what I won't take in. Black mothers accumulate so much.
"As I was thinking about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, I couldn't help but appreciate that my 16-year-old child son is home with me during this time. I sleep at night soundly, because I know where he is. The spikes of anxiety Black mothers face when we think about the safety of our children can destroy our nervous system. We need to think about the stress level that exacerbates our mental health; for us, self-care is not just a frivolous thing, it's a necessity that allows us to combat things that can fry us emotionally. I want us to practice self-preservation and self-love and use it as a model for ourselves and our children."
For more of Latham, follow her and Mama Glow on Instagram.
Featured image via Latham Thomas/Instagram
Originally published on May 22, 2020
Dubbed one of the "21 Black Women Wellness Influencers You Should Follow" by Black + Well, Yasmine Jameelah continues to leave her digital footprint across platforms ranging from Forever 21 Plus, Vaseline, and R29 Unbothered discussing all things healing and body positivity. As a journalist, her writing can be found on sites such as Blavity, Blacklove.com, and xoNecole. Jameelah is also known for her work shattering unconventional stigmas surrounding wellness through her various mediums, including her company Transparent Black Girl. Find Yasmine @YasmineJameelah across all platforms.
This post is in partnership with Amgen.
The seemingly simple task of taking a breath is something most of us don’t think twice about. But for people who live with severe asthma, breathing does not always come easily. Asthma, a chronic respiratory condition that inflames and narrows the airways in the lungs, affects millions of people worldwide – 5-10% of which live with severe asthma. Severe asthma is a chronic and lifelong condition that is unpredictable and can be difficult to manage. Though often invisible to the rest of the world, severe asthma is a not-so-silent companion for those who live with it, often interrupting schedules and impacting day-to-day life.
Among the many individuals who battle severe asthma, Black women face a unique set of challenges. It's not uncommon for us to go years without a proper diagnosis, and finding the right treatment often requires some trial and error. Thankfully, all hope is not lost for those who may be fighting to get their severe asthma under control. We spoke with Juanita Brown Ingram, Esq. and Jania Watson, two inspiring Black women who have been living with severe asthma and have found strength, resilience, and a sense of purpose in their journeys.
Juanita Brown Ingram, Esq.
Juanita Ingram has a resume that would make anyone’s jaw drop. On top of being recently crowned Mrs. Universe, she’s also an accomplished attorney, filmmaker, and philanthropist. From the outside, it seems there’s nothing this talented woman won’t try, and likely succeed at. In her everyday life, however, Juanita exercises a lot more caution. From a young age, Juanita has struggled with severe asthma. Her symptoms were always exacerbated by common illnesses like a cold or flu. “I've heard these stories of my breathing struggles, but I remember distinctly when I was younger not being able to breathe every time I got a virus,” says Ingram. “I remember missing a lot of school and crying a lot because asthma is painful. I [was taken] to see my doctor often if I got sick with anything so I was hypervigilant as a child, and I still am.”
Today, Juanita says her symptoms are best managed when she’s working closely with her care team, avoiding getting sick and staying ahead of any symptoms. Ingram said she’s been blessed with skilled doctors who are just as vigilant of her symptoms as she is. While competing in the Mrs. Universe competition, Juanita took extra care to stay clear of other competitors to ensure she didn’t catch a cold or virus that would trigger her severe asthma. “I would stand off to the side and sometimes that could be taken as ‘oh, she thinks she's better than everybody else.’ But if I get sick during a pageant, I'm done. I had to compete with that in mind because my sickness doesn't look like everybody else's sickness.”
Even when her symptoms are under control, living with severe asthma still presents challenges. Juanita relies on her strong support system to overcome the hurdles caused by a lack of understanding from the public, “I think that there's a lot of lack of awareness about how serious severe asthma is. I would [also] tell women to advocate and to trust their intuition and not to allow someone to dismiss what you're experiencing.”
Jania, a content creator from Atlanta, Georgia, has been living with severe asthma for many years. Thanks to early testing by asthma specialists, Jania was diagnosed with severe asthma as a child after experiencing frequent flare-ups and challenges in her day-to-day life. “I specifically remember, I was starting school, and we were moving into a new house. One of the triggers for me and my younger sister at the time were certain types of carpets. We had just moved into this new house and within weeks of us being there, my parents literally had to pay for all new carpet in the house.”
As Jania grew older, she was suffering from fewer flare-ups and thought her asthma was well under control. However, a trip back to her doctor during high school revealed that her severe asthma was affecting her more than she realized. “That was the first time in a long time I had to do a breathing test,” she describes. “The doctor had me take a deep breath in and blow into a machine to test my breathing. They told me to blow as hard as I could. And I was doing it. I was giving everything I got. [My dad and the doctor] were looking at me like ‘girl, stop playing.’ And at that point [it confirmed] I still have severe asthma because I've given it all I got. It doesn't really go away, but I just learned how to help manage it better.”
Jania recognizes that people who aren’t living with asthma, may not understand the disease and mistake it for something less serious. Or there could be others who think their symptoms are minor, and not worth bringing up. So, for Jania, communicating with others about her diagnosis is key. “Having severe asthma [flare-ups] in some cases looks very similar to being out of shape,” she said. “But this is a chronic illness that I was born with. This is just something that I live with that I've been dealing with. And I think it's important for people to know because that determines the next steps. [They might ask] ‘Do you need a bottle of water, or do you need an inhaler? Do you need to take a break, or do we need to take you to the hospital?’ So, I think letting the people around you know what's going on, just in case anything were to happen plays a lot into it as well.”
Like Juanita, Jania’s journey has been marked by ups and downs, but she remains an unwavering advocate for asthma awareness and support within the Black community. She hopes that her story can be an inspiration to other women with asthma who may not yet have their symptoms under control. “There's still life to be lived outside of having severe asthma. It is always going to be there, but it's not meant to stop you from living your life. That’s why learning how to manage it and also having that support system around you, is so important.”
By sharing their journeys, Juanita and Jania hope to encourage others to embrace their conditions, obtain a proper management plan from a doctor or asthma specialist like a pulmonologist or allergist, and contribute to the improvement of asthma awareness and support, not only within the Black community, but for all individuals living with severe asthma.
Read more stories from others like Juanita and Jania on Amgen.com, or visit Uncontrolled Asthma In Black Women | BREAK THE CYCLE to find support and resources.
Monique Rodriguez Of Mielle Organics On How Identifying Your Hair Love Language Is A Radical Act of Self-Care
Monique Rodriguez, CEO and founder of award-winning textured hair care brand Mielle Organics, is one of the most in-demand natural hair care companies and a dominating force within the billion-dollar hair industry. The wife, mother, and beauty boss credits much of her success to taking calculated risks versus playing it safe. She says, "Being comfortable and playing it safe will produce mediocre results. When you take calculated risks, you're betting on yourself."
Stemming from a passion project to building a multi-million dollar empire and having nearly a decade in the game, the global entrepreneur's philosophy that the "risk is worth the reward" has proven vital throughout her career.
"The journey to success includes a lot of failures. You have to have the mindset of knowing that you're going to try something and will likely fail. You're going to make a lot of mistakes, but that's part of the risk-taking," Rodriguez exclusively told xoNecole.
But more importantly, her undeniable desire to level the playing field by helping to encourage, uplift, and educate women on how to fall in love with their natural curls and learn their specific hair type needs is a concept that has allowed her company to thrive in the marketplace by intimately connecting with consumers.
Photo courtesy of Monique Rodriguez
It's no secret that for many women of color, our curls and coils have taken on an intricate self-discovery journey through self-love, for some, self-hatred, and for others, self-awareness. This sentiment is shared even among natural hair care crusaders like Rodriguez.
"I would describe my relationship with my hair over the years as a love-hate relationship. When I was younger, I really didn't embrace my hair. I didn't like the fact that my hair was super curly. I couldn't find ways to manage or style it, and I became very frustrated."
But learning to properly love and tend to individualized hair care needs extends far beyond the surface. It is a radical act of self-care. Women's (and men's) hair and identity of African descent have been closely interconnected for centuries, another reason she has made it her mission to empower the next generation, specifically her daughters, with the confidence to embrace their natural curls.
"When I was younger, I didn't see examples of women that looked like me, whether on the red carpet, on TV, or on a movie screen, embracing natural curls. Now, my girls have the opportunity to see more women of influence rocking their natural curls on the big screens because that really influences and pushes our culture forward."
So, how does Rodriguez suggest building a healthy relationship with one's hair? "Number one, embrace the uniqueness of your hair, and number two, do not compare your hair journey to someone else's. Just like our DNA and our fingerprints, no fingerprint or DNA is exactly the same. The first step in learning to love your hair is to be patient."
She further emphasized, "Even though we see different curl patterns and we see different women on TV, on social media with curls and we say, 'I want my hair to look like that.' It's great to use it as inspiration but not get your head set on it. You have to think about what's healthy for you and your body and what representation you want to give your kids and your community."
This is why her vision for Mielle is built on being more than a beauty brand but a purpose-driven company with the mission to lift as you climb, evidenced by her recent HBCU partnerships with Howard University's swim team and Florida A&M's (FAMU) cheerleading squad.
"Our goal is to bridge the gap between sports and beauty. We know that one of the huge barriers with women athletes, and especially with swimming, is that I can probably swim, but I don't want to get my hair messed up. I want to ensure that these women on these teams have access to quality products, so they don't have to worry about their hair."
With ongoing TikTok trends for various textured hair and other viral social media hacks, the Psychology of hair is a universal conversation. Several studies suggest that it can drastically affect our crowning glory mentally, emotionally, and physically, contributing to the types of extracurricular activities we involve ourselves with to how we look, feel, and view ourselves. A belief Rodriguez agrees with.
"I always style my hair according to my mood. However I style my hair, it can uplift my mood, and that's the goal behind Mielle: it's a movement to empower and excite women, men, and the whole family about healthy hair. I strongly believe that when you look good, you feel good and feel very confident and can go out and conquer the world."
For Rodriguez, her go-to styles that ignite her confidence to step out into the world and own any room she walks in are rotated between "a wash and go, a bun, or I'll straighten my hair." With time, patience, and gentleness, the mompreneur has learned that her hair love language is quality time.
However, even for the self-proclaimed Queen of Hair, discovering her unique hair love language through the years has not been easy. So whether you are just starting your hair care journey, overwhelmed with figuring out what works best, or don't know where to start, she urges you to "give yourself grace."
Establishing a healthy relationship with your "natural hair takes time. It is not going to happen overnight." It is more than skin-deep; it is deep-seated and is also a reflection of developing a healthy relationship with oneself because the two are closely linked.
This is where Mielle Organics steps in as not just a beauty brand but a movement to close the gap—armed with not only products but also the support, community, and resources to pass the crown from "One Queen To Another" to have the freedom to rock your natural curls with confidence, style, and ease. It is liberation, and it is your symbol of your personal identity.
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Feature image courtesy of Monique Rodriguez