Left Behind: Black Motherhood, Mental Health, and Representation

Editor's Note: This blog is part of Frayme's BIPOC Series in which voices that have been historically/presently silenced or dismissed are given a platform. The BIPOC series was created to highlight lived/living experiences, successes, failures and strengths of the BIPOC community maneuvering the YMHSU system. These stories are their truths and realities. This particular blog is written from the perspective of Kiana and Taneah Ugwuegbula; sisters both in their 20s becoming new-moms amidst a pandemic. Their goal is to talk about the many contributing factors to mental health amongst youth and how they continue to cope with mental health struggles in motherhood.

It is often a misconception that youth mental health revolves around clinical services and medical treatments. In reality there are multiple crucial aspects of societal living that affect one’s mental wellness. A lack of adequate resources for youth is bound to cause ongoing mental health issues. Financial instability, food scarcity, racial injustices and outright inequality are just a few concrete issues that play a large role in the deteriorating mental health of many youth in our African-Canadian community. It is critical that we as a society treat youth mental health as more than just a clinical issue. We must tackle the pressing issues that are lack of resources, funds, and equity in our society and watch how the mental health of many will improve. The sooner we admit that youth mental health is far more than a medical concern, the sooner we will be able to see the crisis begin to subside.

Motherhood on its own is extremely trying, both mentally and physically. Being a young first-time mom puts an additional weight on one’s shoulders that is bound to negatively impact mental wellness in the first year of motherhood especially. Without adequate resources to address and improve the mental exhaustion and life-altering changes that motherhood brings, it is inevitable that the mental health of young moms will deteriorate. There are almost no youth mental health resources in our community that aim to provide a service for young parents specifically to access the support they will need. It is a failure to our youth to not consider those who are navigating parenthood during these years in the resources that are offered.

Q: What is your experience as a young Black mother?

Kiana: I feel like it’s a very heavy question just because we are looping it all together. Young is one thing, Black is one thing, and just being a mother is another thing. I have noticed that most of the mom groups are mainly white which can feel kind of isolating. It can be isolating being a mom anyway.

Taneah: Isolating for sure. As a Black mom there is also a stigma that you have done something wrong, that pregnancy is a negative thing for you. You tell someone that you’re pregnant and find that they will ask your age or, you know, if you’re married - your relationship status, your career status. None of that should matter, but as a young Black mom it always always does.

Kiana: When you’re young, too, people assume that when you’re pregnant that it was not by choice. Both of us had our children by choice and we would not change that for the world, even if mental health struggles come along with it.

Kiana: Becoming a mother in late 2019 and having to mother a child in 2020 has also been something else. It has definitely been a lot of negativity and just a lot of pressure. Raising a young Black woman - during the Black Lives Matter movement, amidst a pandemic, and with this rise in consciousness among us has become a great pressure. We are supposed to raise daughters that are able to weather these storms and break the molds that we [Black women] do not fit into.

Taneah: In the midst of doing that and feeling that pressure around raising our girls, we, ourselves, are going out into the world and feeling that same pressure we hope to protect them from. What’s going on is sad and tragic. It’s hard to wake up and see videos of Blackpeople being killed, and then going on to take care of our kids like that is normal. It’s happening daily.

Kiana: And just think of the conversations we are going to have to have [with our kids].

How do you manage your health and wellness as a young, Black mother?

Kiana: Maintaining mental health a lot of the time is about community. Black mothers have to seek out other Black mothers in order to find them.

Taneah: It’s not to say that there are no resources in our society for mothers because there are, but there’s no representation. The resources are always targeted toward white mothers; and never young mothers. There are few support groups for teen moms and youth. Most mom groups are targeted toward white, middle-class women - people who have the money to spend, people who have the time - and they have the resources made readily available to them.

Kiana: Yeah. When we talk about maintaining our mental health in motherhood - we need those support systems.

Taneah: We need them, and we don't have them. If we want them, we create them for ourselves.

Kiana: Exactly! We [BIPOC] feel this pressure to identify it [problems with underrepresentation], to educate everybody on it, to then fix it because they say “wow, that is a problem.” How are we going to solve the problem in the end? It’s not important enough to people that have never felt underrepresented in their own community. It’s the same old, same old. Managing your health as a young Black mother is about finding a balance.

Q: In what ways do you wish you could better maintain your health, and why aren’t you?

Kiana: I have desperately wanted therapy to deal with the things you realize later in your life. When you become a mother - even if you’re in a good relationship and everything’s great - motherhood is going to rock your relationship. All of your time and energy goes to your child, and then you don’t really have that time for anyone else. I think that can be hard to understand. I could better maintain my health with therapy, but it can be hard to find therapy that feels like it is for you. It’s hard to talk to someone about issues that could only affect a minority, or just issues of oppression or issues with underrepresentation since these are things that white people just don’t understand. Seeking out a therapist can be a job of its own.

Taneah: Agreed. We also don’t necessarily have the financial resources to do that. Therapists are extremely expensive.

Do you feel seen in your community as a Black mother?

Taneah: Definitely not.

Kiana: Black motherhood in our community is only represented as a majority below poverty.

Taneah: That is the only way we are represented, so that’s the only way people are viewing us. People assume that if you’re young, Black, and you’re a mom that you’ve somehow gotten yourself into a negative situation. When in reality, it may not be that way at all. But that’s the stigma we are forced to deal with. That’s the way we are viewed no matter how happy or successful we may be in reality.

Kiana: Just like when we were kids and they would always show poor Black kids on TV, starving, in Africa. I had never seen Lagos as a booming city, just like New York, until I was probably around 20 years old. No one is showing all the homeless people in America - the white people.

Taneah: It conditions us to feel a certain type of way. A huge stigma. It’s a very deep-rooted issue.

Q: What has the pandemic been like as a Black mother?

Taneah: It’s a lot.

Kiana: That week where George Floyd was killed was a bad week. It was raining and I remember the world felt it, we all felt it. It was just one of those heavy weeks where you feel the world shifting and something horrible had to happen to get you there. Since that time, everything’s been different for me. I unfollowed anyone that says they’re not political that will put forward a meme of Trump, making fun of are political.

Taneah: Ya, and to say you’re not political is such a privilege, to be able to brush off things that directly affect people’s ability to live or not, is such a privilege.

Q: What are the available youth mental health resources in your community?

Taneah: There are a few. Front door agencies allow youth to walk in and consult with someone about their mental health concerns. But, as we talked about before, there is no representation in these agencies. I guarantee whoever you will be speaking with will be white. I work in a children’s mental health agency and I am the only Black employee down a long, long list.

Kiana: Yeah, exactly. That, and the resources available are more clinical and less holistic. Mental health needs to be viewed as a holistic approach to you being okay. How do you expect your mental health to be in check if nobody cares? And there’s nobody to take care of you, no professionals, nobody diagnosing you properly.

Taneah: Yes, because there are so many aspects in mental health services aside from the clinical services. It is about way more than that. We need resources in the community like housing stability, financial subsidies, and employment opportunities. These types of resources will do wonders for the youth who are struggling with their mental health already. And for those that aren’t, it may prevent their mental wellness from ever getting bad. It is important to understand that in order to be okay we need to look at the life around us, the things that are hard that should not be hard, the things that we struggle with accessing that should be accessible. All of these things impact our ability to be okay.

Kiana: Yes, and because the services available are not for us (BIPOC). It has to be maintained by us alone. I feel like we need to remember that Black people are traumatized by these events, like macroaggressions, intergenerational trauma, experiencing racism in our institutions from a young age. We can develop PTSD from these things.

Taneah: It’s hard to navigate. There’s not enough resources to deal with it or research that’s been done on it. We are left stranded with all of this information and all of this trauma and no one is trained or hired to help us deal with it.

Kiana: It’s a system that directly benefits...more food is going into the mouths of White people and so they’re kind of ok with it.

Overall, motherhood is a dream. It’s a magical space you are in that allows you to connect with your baby on a level one could never imagine. Needless to say, motherhood comes with a long list of hardships. Without adequate and accessible resources for all people, motherhood can feel like a sinking ship. Young moms, minority moms, and new-moms alike are at a high risk for deteriorating mental health if not properly taken care of with resources, support, and community engagement. It is important that we as a society have resources for everyone, not just support groups and services that are geared towards the majority - White, wealthy parents. Young moms and moms of a visible minority are most often left out of the benefits of youth mental health services. It is time for this truth to change for a better society, a better future, and better mental wellness for our youth.

Katharine Chan's picture
About the author

Taneah (she/her) is a recent graduate from Wilfred Laurier University. Currently, she is working in housing and youth mental health services. She is driven to advocate for the rights of youth, the homeless, and the Black population. She is learning to navigate her own health and well-being as a new mother. Kiana (she/her) is a registered Early Childhood Educator working at a Forest and Nature School program for early learners. She is passionate about quality care and inclusive education for all children. She continues to be vocal and advocate for Black representation within her field of work, always pushing for a better world for her daughter.