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Why Trayvon Martin Has Everything To Do With Black Women’s Birth Outcomes

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Why Trayvon Martin Has Everything To Do With Black Women’s Birth Outcomes

 

By Kimberly Seals Allers 

For years I’ve been talking about all the research that shows that stress is a key cause of the ongoing poor birth outcomes of black women. Often, I get pushback and confusion. But the truth is, black women, regardless of socio-economic status, are still twice as likely to have a low birth weight baby, three times more likely to die during childbirth, and twice as likely to have a pre-term baby.

 

The fact that more African American babies are born too small, too sick or too soon is a key factor in our three times higher infant mortality rate–and my key motivation for getting in to breastfeeding advocacy work. These infants are the ones who need the nutritive and immunological benefits only found in breast milk the most–for them, it can literally mean their survival.

 

I have also received more than my fair share of *side eye* glances from people who ask me why black mothers need their own parenting destination, like the Mocha Manual I am often questioned as to how black mothers’ parenting experience is any different than a white mothers’ experience. 

 

To respond to Side eye point A regarding birth outcomes, I usually point to groundbreaking research, like that of Dr. Michael Lu on the life course perspective on birth outcomes. Watch the video above on how racism impacts pregnancy outcomes or Dr. Fleda Jackson’s many pieces of research at Emory University and for the Joint Center for Poltiical and Economic Studies

 

I share how Scientists know that stress on the mother causes her to produce stress hormones, which can adversely effect the development of a fetus’ hippocampus and amygdale, two areas of the brain associated both with the fight-or-flight response, memory formation and anxiety. And that prolonged stress in the mother decreases the sensitivity of those two areas of the brain to mediate its own stress response, which has been linked to, among other things, ADHD. Still, so many people don’t really get it. 

 

So I often share my personal story of how when I was first pregnant, I prayed to God for a girl–literally–because I was afraid that I was not capable of successfully raising a black male child in this society. I feared raising a black male child in this society. And that fear was a constant source of stress. That stress was probably rooted in growing up watching my own mother fear for the safety of my younger brother. I remember her constantly warning him to not wear baggy jeans and hooded sweatshirts because police (especially in New York City) stereotype young black men with that type of clothing and often shoot first and ask questions later. 

 

I remember her sitting by the window or pacing the living room on nights when my brother was not home by curfew. 

I remember both my parents giving my brother the “talk”–not the sex talk–but the life-saving one on how to respond when you are inevitably stopped by the police for no reason but for DWB (driving while black).

And let me just say, that I grew up in a middle class section of Queens, in a private home, with two cars, and a mother who was at home until I was in middle school. 

Even still, these were her fears. And she knew that neither money nor education–my brother attended Hofstra University–would not protect him nor assuage her. 

 So somehow my mother’s fears became my fears. God answered my prayers and gave me a girl as my first child, but my son came four years later. 

 

And so like many mothers, and likely every Black mother, especially those with a young black male in their care, I shed tears last week over the verdict in the case over Trayvon Martin’s unnecessary death. 

 

 I cried because I know the world is full of George Zimmerman’s–people who assume our young men are “assholes” and up to no good even when they themselves have no good reason to think that. And that in a jury of so-called peers, my innocent yet dead child would be referred to as “that boy”–unworthy of being called by his name. The real possibility that a George Zimmerman could come in contact with my son, and possibly brutally end his life, continues to stress me. And haunt me. 

 

And so I hope that in the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, there lies proof of exactly the kind of unique stressors black mothers contend with. I hope the people who have questioned how stress could be connected with pre-term labor or low birth weight babies or challenged me as to why black mothers face issues so unique that they are deserving of their own online community, can see exactly what researchers mean.  These are not the worries you can Calgon-bath or Yankee-candle away. 

 

And I sincerely pray that both of these issues, questions and challenges can be silenced, once and for all, and forever laid to rest in peace right alongside Trayvon Martin’s 17-year old, bullet-shattered body.

 

In motherhood,

Kimberly  

 

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7 Tips For Managing Pregnancy & Work

 

7 Tips for Managing Pregnancy & Work

From morning sickness and more frequent bathroom runs to that pregnancy brain making it harder to get work done, we’ve got 7 tips for managing the workplace while pregnant. Don’t worry, we’ve got tips for coping with morning sickneness too!

  Always know where the nearest exits and  restrooms are:  Think like you’re on the airplane. You never know when a spontaneous vomiting spree may hit.  Being able to identify the nearest stairwell, supply closet, or vacant cubicle will be very helpful!

 Adjust your routine: As you now know, morning sickness can last all day! It’s hard to take a meeting, write a report, or train staff when you’re barfing your insides out. The first thing is to remember you can’t pop out of bed, run through the shower, and get to work anymore. In fact, rushing around in the morning can make you even queasier. You need more time to manage the morning sickness. Try waking up a little earlier to get your morning sickness rebuff routine down pat.

 Start identifying an ally:  This may be a good time to seek out an ally in the workplace, someone you can trust.  I mean really trust.  The last thing you want is for your boss to find out about your pregnancy through the grapevine.

Delegate and accept help:  This is a good time to start asking others for help. You don’t have to do it all. And if someone offers to answer your phone while you close your door to grab a power nap, accept.

 Find a place for a nap:  Whether it’s at your office, the company medical room, your car, or at home. At some point every pregnant girl needs a nap, even it’s for twenty minutes.

 Be gracious and offer trade-offs:  Some of your coworkers may feel that they are doing their fare share to cover for you, now that you’re tired, off ill, or missing work because of doctor appointments. Try to make amends by being extra thankful of their extra work and offering to help them out when you’re rested and have your energy back.

 Lighten up:  Don’t make an unrealistic schedule. You may have to cut back on your extracurricular involvement to carve out time for rest and de-stressing.

 Dig out your sense of humor:  It may be the only thing that saves you sometimes. Know that despite your best efforts to be professional, there’s still a strong chance one of your colleagues will inevitably walk into your office and find you face down, asleep on your desk, drooling all over your desk calendar!

 These tips are excerpted from Chapter 2 of The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy (Amistad/Harper Collins) by Kimberly Seals Allers (http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B0013MT99W/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?qid=1373322269&sr=8-1&pi=SL75)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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