The words echoed out of my husband’s mouth and pierced my heart. It was the response that his brother provided to him when he mentioned his own struggle with depression. His brother stated, “I think you are both depressed. Jasmine walks around as if she is just a mom. As if, this is it.” Although I was not present in the flesh to hear this dialogue, the words impacted me through the phone like a head on vehicle collision with no escape route. I felt my chest cave in as I sat in the Walmart parking lot and the tears began to stream from my eyes. In that moment is when I dialed a crisis hotline. I could no longer continue to bottle the emotions. To allow my mental capacity to deteriorate in silence. No longer would I victimize myself, or accept the narrative of those viewing my life from a distorted lens.
You see, this is not simply a mental health issue. It is not just a postpartum depression issue. This problem is deep rooted and culturally concerning. Never stop. Never cry. No time to be angry, to vent, or even rest. The ideology that the black woman must work endlessly and cater to the world with no room left inside to just be. To exist as we are without appeasing to the masses. One truth that I know is that the slavery of African-Americans in this country has caused traumatic wounds that run deep through many generations. As a black, millennial mother, I could not have fathomed the amount of disregard to my postpartum experience I would receive. Particularly, from my own “people.” Where is the safe haven for the black, millennial mother?
It is courageous for an individual to step up and check on a loved one. Yet it is dangerous to extend a hand of support with your own pre-conceived notions. The idea that words can never hurt you is dismissive and just plain senseless. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but those bones will heal. Those negative words and phrases become imprinted in your mind. Memory never fades. In the aftermath of this exchange was a time of deep reflection, acceptance, and generational differences. How could I expect a 24 year old single, black man with no children to resonate with my postpartum depression? I mean he witnessed the birth of his nephew, so is this not enough education? Too often as humans we project our experiences and help onto others without understanding how the individual truly needs to be healed. During slavery and for many generations to come, the black man was non-existent in the household due to the horrific injustices of slave ownership, violence, Jim Crow, and a false war on drugs that destroyed the black family. The black woman became the matriarch of the family and through the years I had no idea that the ramifications of this social concept would impose great harm on the mental state of the black woman. If she is to constantly give, where can she go in solace to freely discuss her own internal struggles? When she chooses to seek help, she is met with opposition and sometimes it may even be from those who share her complexion and ethnic descent. Sometimes it is the grandmother, the aunt, the cousin, or even her partner. The reality is that she cannot carry all burdens and uphold to all expectations.
After the calm soothed over my raging anger and sadness, I realized that I was not upset that my husband’s brother was concerned about my depression. Sometimes the person who is not okay needs that reckoning force, but that is not what I received. I was not allowed to be present for the dialogue. There was no way to defend myself. I was judged and placed into a box. When I expressed my frustration to my husband his response was, “I mean is it true? You are depressed, so why are you mad?” At the time I had no words, but later is when it began to make complete sense. I was in a box with no room to breathe and no space to cry. It dawned on me that society (and black men) expected me to get back to reality. You birth the baby and then you when you look for a place to rest your head, there is no safe haven to be found. You are met with a list of duties that you are expected to morph into with ease. The problem with this is that no one considers that healing takes on a whole new meaning as a mother.
That mom who is posting and sharing content about her baby on a daily basis is filled with love for her child (it is life changing). When she is dragging her feet down the hall to her crying baby, it is because her back is in excruciating pain as a result of diastasis recti. The leggings and t-shirts provide comfort and ease while they are ruined by vomit, poop, or urine. The dad hat is covering up mom’s bad hair day as you relentlessly tend to the cradle cap that is ruining the luscious locks your baby was born with. She left that career because she realized a job is always attainable, but time not spent with your developing baby will never return. When the mother discusses her latest social circle developments and play dates, she is basking in the joy of getting out the house to breathe fresh air and interacting with other people (moms) who get it. Understand that this mom is fragile because she is no longer who she once was, but she is also growing into a beautiful being. The next time you think about diminishing the black woman to being just a mom, ask yourself if you are providing a safe haven for her evolution into womanhood?
As for me, I refuse to take responsibility for how others react to my presence. There is however, a space and opportunity for education. In the meantime, I will be unfolding and rewiring a social ideology that embraces the concept of the black, millennial mother to simply be. Because that is enough.