• Brettney Douglas-Al Hindi

WELLNESS WEDNESDAY: Why Mental Health Should Be At the Forefront of Preparing for Motherhood

With the month of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, and coming off of the high from the powerful conversations around reproductive/vaginal health, fertility/infertility, and more during Breathe by OMNoire's Virtual Wellness 3.0 retreat, I deemed it necessary to take it a step further to uncover some important truths about mental health and why it should be at the forefront of decision-making when it comes to childbearing.

While all of the sessions on "The V Spot" were amazing, one conversation in particular resonated with me, and that was hearing this beautiful, same-sex couple's testimony about their journey to motherhood. Selma Harleston Lust and Tami Lust spoke candidly about their experience with IVF, but more importantly about how they were intentional about working individually, and collectively to get to the root of their childhood traumas and facilitate healing, before bringing a baby into the world. Their story gave me chills because I think more people should approach parenting with intentionality and purpose, and do the self-work of dealing with their demons head-on, rather than avoiding them. So many of us, black women, in particular, are so used to being strong and carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders, that we don't realize how badly it's affecting our bodies, and/or how it may affect our seed. "Everyone doesn't have trauma per se, but we've all got emotional muck and when afforded the opportunity to address and clear some of that hurt before the children come, its one of the most transformational acts of love one can do for the whole lineage."

Doing all this healing so I can be a wise grandmother to divine daughters who get to live outside the cycle I broke for us--Anonymous

It wasn't until recently, that I learned of the harmful effects that "keeping things in" has on our bodies. Dr. Bobby Price, Plant-based Pharmacist, Nutritionist, and Detoxification Specialist, noted that toxic emotions weaken immunity and if we don't routinely cleanse and detoxify those toxic elements in the form of emotions, people, and/or our thinking; it will literally make us sick. The only way to build our immunity is to remove what he calls "immunity compromisers," like the SAD (Standard American Diet is also known as processed foods), toxic build-up, worry/anxiety; and replace it with Alkaline builders like love, laughter, compassion, yoga/meditation, and eating high vibrational foods.

When we don't practice self-care and routinely cleanse and detox those toxic emotions, it weakens our immune system as well as our reproductive system. While there are other factors that are out of a woman's control that affects fertility like age, underlying health conditions, and genetics; the emotional baggage that we carry in our bellies can cause a blockage in our Sacral Chakra, which also can cause challenges with conception. The ramifications of that, result in fertility issues ranging from Premature Ovarian Failure (POF), Polycystic Ovary Syndrome(PCOS), Fibroids, Endometriosis, etc. which create some overwhelmingly difficult hurdles to overcome not just physically; but mentally, and emotionally as well. Thinking of these from a holistic standpoint, we must take into account not only the foods we eat, but our environment, the people we interact with, and our frame of mind; because our overall wellbeing is impacted by all of these things. When we are out of balance, or not in tune with our energy and/or emotional reserves, it has a domino effect on our overall health because everything is connected.

Women are more susceptible to mental health issues because we internalize our feelings and oftentimes feel tapped out and psychologically depleted; it's time to address the elephant in the room and normalize the stigma around women's health, especially as it relates to motherhood and provide a safe space for us to feel seen, heard, and understood.

Let's be honest: aside from finding a lifelong partner/marriage, bearing children is the second most talked about life decision that is a topic of discussion at nearly every family gathering. People rarely ask about how you are doing on a personal level, or even care to ask whether or not you have the ability to conceive/or the desire to have children; they just assume that motherhood is apart of every woman's journey.

Newsflash: asking a woman her timeframe for conceiving or reminding her that her biological time clock is ticking is not only insensitive, and inconsiderate, but it's also rude AF!

This element of choice is one that we always forget or shame women for. You are damned if you do, and damned if you don't. Rather than come from a place of compassion, and empathy, people are quick to judge and question your womanhood if you do not have children.

Contrary to popular belief, not every woman’s dream is to become a mother. Some of us are career-driven and goal-oriented, focused on filling up the pages on our passports and manifesting the desires of our hearts; which does not include having children. There are plenty of insanely successful women who are happily single, and childless. Look at Tracee Ellis Ross, Sanaa Lathan, and Regina Hall, for example.

Not wanting to have children does not make you any less of a woman.

It is okay to be the fine, rich aunty who gets all the tea from her nieces and nephews at the cookout.

We must stop shaming women for not wanting to fit into some invisible box or standard based on what society deems as normal or acceptable.

Has anyone ever thought about how this makes a woman feel, or thought about the fact that not everyone's journey is the same? Or about the fact that this pressure to conform to society's unrealistic expectations as a woman of color contributes to depression, anxiety, stress, and a list of so many other health conditions?

To be honest, I did not think that having children was an option for me, given my medical history. At the age of 12, I was told that I was infertile due to Endometriosis, and in the off chance that I was able to conceive a child, it would be a High-Risk pregnancy. It didn't bother me back then, in fact, growing up I never wanted to get married or have children, but when I met the man of my dreams at the age of 21; all of that changed. I told him up front that there was a possibility that we wouldn't be able to conceive our future children naturally; and thankfully, he was very supportive. I think for a lot of women, we tend to think that our fertility is a barrier for love and that self-imposed insecurity or burden that we carry comes with a lot of shame and guilt. When we got married, I remember carrying the weight of that and feeling like I was disposable, because I couldn't give him babies. I felt like our lives would be "complete," if we had a baby.

My femininity was wrapped up in my ability to conceive a child, and the possibility of having that option robbed from, made me question a lot about myself and who I was as a woman. I remember grocery shopping with my mom a few days before Thanksgiving, back in 2013, when I got a call from my best friend at the time, telling me that she was pregnant. I was overjoyed for her because she too had been told that she may have troubles with fertility due to an underlying condition; so her news was a big deal, and it gave me hope.

A few months later, while at an appointment with my gynecologist, I asked her a series of questions about my chances of having a successful pregnancy naturally, and she gave me some great insight on diet and lifestyle changes that I should make, and encouraged me to start actively trying to get pregnant and to see where things go. For four months I kept "trying," and I still was not pregnant. I was eating right, exercising, and even started anointing my stomach with holy oil, praying that God would answer my prayers.

Aside from what the doctors told me, I did not believe that I was nurturing enough to take on such a task as motherhood. To me, motherhood had a certain level of selflessness and responsibility that I did not think I would ever be prepared for, and I didn't want to have any regrets. I have seen far too many examples of women who have sacrificed their dreams, and even their health, trying to live up to what the world says a woman should be. In the same way that my husband and I worked hard to lay down a foundation for marriage, I approached motherhood the same way; and that was mapping out what it meant to me; what I wanted to feel like, and what type of parent I wanted to be. I thought it was important for me to be honest with myself about the potential stressors that could come with motherhood like work/life balance, mommy guilt, sleep deprivation, and other unforeseen circumstances. Without realizing it, I was preparing my heart and my mind for my future journey; and overtime my life started to align with those desires, and I eventually did get pregnant, when I least expected it. I had been offered what at that time felt like my dream role, and during my overnight training, I became extremely ill which I found out was "morning sickness," and without hesitation, I had to make the tough decision to leave training and figure out my life so-to-speak.

Thankfully, my boss was very understanding and even encouraged me to make peace with the fact that I was indeed making the right decision, given how unforgiving and demanding the job would be and how it would affect my pregnancy. I'll never forget how heartfelt and comforting her email was, and what she said that I'll never forget, that "we as mothers, must make the conscious choice every day to show up for ourselves, first. Your kids don't need a perfect mom, they need a happy one." As cliché’ as it sounds, “you cannot pour from an empty cup.” I'm not good for anyone if I don't take care of myself first. When we commit to loving ourselves fully, and unapologetically, and work on healing ourselves; everything we want in life will come naturally.

When it comes to deciding which path is best for you, make sure that you have the mental fortitude to deal with the ramifications of those decisions. Whether you become a mother through natural conception, or via surrogate, or with the help of fertility treatments; or decide that motherhood just isn't for you; do it with the mindset that the journey is your own, and you have the power of choice. Do it for the right reasons; not out of fear of other people’s judgment, or racing against your biological clock.

Remember, that no matter which path that you choose, that you matter, you are loved, and your life has meaning. Your self-worth should not be wrapped up in whether you choose to/or can have children. Wherever life takes you, if it’s with a healthy mind, and an open heart; know that it is the right decision for you. And know that you have a village of sisters, crowding around, who are rooting for you, and who are journeying alongside you. You are never alone.

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