“If you have the privilege of being born a black woman, it is my conviction that it is part of your divine mission to free yourself from all external and internal oppression and thus to liberate the world.”- May Angela
One thing is for sure, black women mothers (BWM) know how to take care of others. From the legacy of our Queen Mama ancestors like Nana Yaa Asanteuaa, who became famous for leading Ashanti’s revolt against British colonialism to protect the Golden Chair – it promotes women’s emancipation and gender equality – until our journey, surviving in bondage through the bold spirit of Harriet Tubman who escaped and sought the freedom of countless others through the subway and fought in the Civil War.
We come from an exceptional array of pioneering mothers in medicine, such as Henrietta Lax, whose cancer cells immortalized the human cell line, and Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first African-American physician in our country.
In the field of civil rights, we have well-known mothers of the movement, such as Betty Shabaz and Coretta Scott King. Hidden figures and on Colorful girls who dreamed of politics who have become powerful politicians, forcing our leaders to live in accordance with the ideals of the republic.
Yes, if we know the story of our Black Women mothers, then we know how we lived in the shadows as silent engines: forced, convinced and damn guilty to leave our mental and physical health on the sidelines in the name of others to save humanity.
Now that we begin to embrace survival through a devastating pandemic and the dawn of our nation’s first black Supreme Court justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, some would say that the measure of justice is directed toward justice for black women. However, our next big task is to take care of ourselves so that we can rest, rejuvenate, renew and imagine wellness, which includes our needs and our own survival. This is imperative.
As I am blessed to celebrate Mother’s Day 2022 after the biggest public health crisis of my life, the greatest gift I can give my family is good health. As an emergency physician, I have served with women like me as first-line clinicians, nurses, teachers, social workers, therapists, and nutritionists. We targeted foster children who lost their mothers to COVID, while we also died three times more than our non-black counterparts during their own pregnancies. It is time to turn to the powerful intuition that we need to take care of others myself, and to become our own advocates in this complex healthcare system. Our voice matters, and when we say that something terrible has gone wrong in our bodies, the medical community has a duty to listen to us.
Sometimes it is very difficult to even figure out where to start to be your own defender. As the founder of Shared Harvest, a social health technology company that trains health navigators to help reduce health inequalities and bridge the wealth gap, I know firsthand how challenging this task is. Balance is not always easy to achieve when you are passionate about the work and the people you serve. It is definitely in our origins to go all in and feel like you can’t afford to take a break.
On the contrary, WE cannot afford to burn. Our individual wellness care plan is needed, and grace and patience are also important. The world needs us to be whole, mentally and physically, because when we take the time to build whole, we lead, love, and thrive in an exceptional and inclusive way. Thus, taking the time to work on our mental health and understanding our collective trauma is becoming increasingly important.
However, I know this is easier said than done. So let me share some tools and simple tips that can help you as you create your wellness plan and shift your mind to mental health:
- Celebrate the dream: do your bedtime ritual, which you should not miss. Use your favorite sheets, spray your favorite scents on the pillow, light an inspirational candle, wear an eye mask and leave your phone on the door! Studies show that even 30 minutes of restful sleep can improve quality of life and focus. The value of sleep is cumulative. So, if you have to split up for 8 hours in one day, that’s fine too!
- Have a history and know your history: Take the time to write down your family medical history so you can actively work with your doctor to decide on the right screening tests for you.
- Take your seconds! Now I’m not talking about your second portion of lunch for Mother’s Day. I’m talking about your medical seconds; your second appointment with your doctor if all your questions have not been answered the first time, your second opinion if you find that the information you received makes no sense to you, and your second line of screening tests. Sometimes the first screening test can be negative or unconvincing. If you are at high risk of disease, follow your intuition and ask your doctor about this second level of safety with your second-order screening test.
- Build your tribe. Your tribe is your network of health advocates; people you respect for solid knowledge (not fabrications) and people in the health profession with whom you feel comfortable sharing your symptoms. Some great resources for you include An imperative for the health of black women, Black women for wellness, Health in its nuance and on Shared Harvest Community Health Partners Network.
I wish you all a happy Mother’s Day. Celebrate you with grace, patience, kindness and love. You are worthy.
Dr. NanaEfua Afo-Manin is an emergency physician, public health teacher, entrepreneur and health equity champion. In 2018, Dr. Nana is a co-founder of the Shared Harvest Fund, a social enterprise focused on spreading compassion through service and help.
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