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Session 255: Honoring Black Maternal Health Week with NATAL

The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.

In honor of Black Maternal Health Week, we’ve collaborated with NATAL, an award-winning audio docuseries about having a baby while Black. This week we’re passing the mic to Black parents to share their own stories on their own terms and highlighting those caring for and advocating on behalf of Black rural families at every stage of pregnancy, and beyond. In this crossover with NATAL, parent storytellers Shayla and Erick Brown, Anasia Sturdivant and Ciara Hunter adjust to life postpartum and the powerful transformations they’ve undergone. This episode also explores ancestral care practices passed down generations, postpartum mental health, the push for a national paid family leave program, and Crystal Starr Flowers, a Georgia-based lactation practitioner on her journey to birthwork.

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Read Full Transcript

Session 255: Honoring Black Maternal Health Week with NATAL

Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 255 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into the episode after a word from our sponsors.

[SPONSORS’ MESSAGES]

Dr. Joy: In awareness of Black Maternal Health Week, we're collaborating with NATAL, an award-winning audio docuseries about having a baby while black. This week, we're passing the mic to black parents to share their own stories on their own terms. It also highlights those caring for and advocating on behalf of black rural families at every stage of pregnancy and beyond. In this crossover with NATAL, parent storytellers, Shayla and Erick Brown, Anasia Sturdivant and Ciara Hunter adjust to life postpartum and the powerful transformations they've undergone. The episode also explores ancestral care practices passed down generations, and features a Georgia-based lactation consultant and her journey to birth work.

Black Maternal Health Week is a week of awareness, activism and community-building intended to deepen the national conversation about black maternal health in the US, and center the voices of black mamas, women, families and stakeholders. If something resonates with you while enjoying this episode, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession or join us over in the Sister Circle to talk more in depth about the episode. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com Here are their stories.

Narrator: You're listening to Chapter 9: Metamorphosis. “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” – Maya Angelou.

From Nigeria: There are certain rituals that Nigerian moms, immediately after birth, straight out of the hospital, they do, they need to do, they have to do. Number one ritual or tradition that I’d like to share with you guys that Nigerian mothers do is the sitting on hot water/vaginal steaming.

From Ethiopia: In Ethiopia, after you give birth, you count 40 days or 80 days. If it's a boy, you count 40 days, if it's a girl, 80 days. When they get to that age, you celebrate. Your family members and your friends would take care of you. They would wash your clothes, they would make your food, they would bath your kid, they would do whatever you need to do in order for you to relax and for your body to heal.

Narrator: All around the world and across the black diaspora, countries like Nigeria and Ethiopia honor the period after birth (a postpartum) in their own ways. As the Atlantic slave trade brought millions of black people to the US, African midwives, healers and childbirth attendants aboard those cargo ships also brought with them their traditions and vast knowledge of the human body. The African American midwife–or granny midwife as they’re commonly referred to–would emerge as a vitally important health care worker for enslaved people and many poor women in the rural south.
[Mary Coley clip]

Narrator: As birth moved into hospitals and the field of gynecology became more prominent in the early 20th century, public health departments launched campaigns to eliminate granny midwives. But midwives like Miss Mary Coley of Albany, Georgia, who you just heard, they found ways to maintain a foot in both worlds–modern medicine and folk healing practices. This delicate balance was supported by the deep relationship these women had with the spirit world, as many granny midwives believed their skills were ordained from God and acquired through divine revelations. As time went on, those ancestral practices and beliefs about pregnancy and postpartum carried over, ultimately making up the very core of the Southern tradition.

Narrator: We know that the Southern traditional practices come from Africa. When a new mom has her baby, the Southern tradition is that this mom is fussed over.

Narrator: As historian Kelena Reid Maxwell writes, postpartum rituals were an acknowledgment that a new parent had been on a journey and had now returned. And that return home required a whole lot of care, attention and fussing over by loved ones.

Narrator: Mom's feet should not touch the ground. She should have her feet up, she should be rested, she should not sit on any cold surfaces for these first six months. She should not be doing that. If she has to, there needs to be a pillow placed in between her and that surface.

Narrator: There's a transformation that happens after birth, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It's inside out and back again. Postpartum, whether after a healthy baby or after a loss, for many, is a lifelong journey.

Narrator: September 27, 2020, was a beautiful Sunday in Mississippi. It was the day Shayla gave birth to a healthy baby boy named EJ in the comfort of her own home.

Shayla: The next morning, his parents got up with the other kids to get them breakfast and stuff and we slept in a little bit. But also, my sister came back and my mom came over and his mom had cooked all this food. That's always my favorite part. Catfish (that's my favorite) and sweet potatoes. We pretty much had a fish fry the next day.

Narrator: Erick was also enjoying being a new dad again.

Erick: I was kind of on a high, so for those first few days, I was like excited to cook breakfast and help the babies and help Shayla and there was like festive atmosphere. It was all real cool and I was signed up for it. I was ready.

Narrator: Everyone was keeping an eye on Shayla, even her Instagram followers who were so really interested in seeing what happened next.

Shayla: My mother-in-law, his mom, was like how are you feeling? Are you okay? And I was like, yeah, I’m a little sore, I’m okay. Like his mom and my mom just went back and forth like, okay, don't you think maybe you should go like lay down or something? You just had a baby, you know? And I was like, okay, I guess I should go lay down. I sat there with everybody but something about them saying that... And there was a midwife, I think, who messaged me on Instagram and was like are you resting? And I realized like, no, I'm not, so I'm gonna go lay down. And then I just kind of became more intentional about trying to rest and recover and stay in bed.

Narrator: In the days following the birth of her son, Isaiah, Anasia wished she could have just stayed home.

Anasia: Yeah, those first two, three days were so stressful because I had to come back for him. His jaundice test wasn't right or something like that. And so I had to come back and walking through the hospital after just giving birth, I was like I can't do this. And I'm trying to carry him, I couldn't carry him in a car seat when I got out of the car, like I was so weak still. I had him on a harness on my body and I still was like wobbling through the hospital.

Narrator: It was the first winter of the COVID 19 crisis. Reactionary hospital policies, including who and how many visitors patients were allowed to have, was constantly changing. Anasia was confused about who could or couldn't be there with her so she didn't have anyone. Not her doula Jasmine, not her support person Lori. No one.

Anasia: Even some lady was like, are you okay? And I was like I'm just trying to get upstairs. And she was like, oh man, can I help you and stuff? But I didn't want her to touch me, it’s COVID. I felt like they could have handled that better or set that up differently.

Narrator: Anasia’s on and off again crush was back on again and very much in the picture. While she wasn't able to be at the birth, it just so happened that she lived down the street from the hospital in Ames so it was pretty easy for her to come scoop up Anasia and baby Isaiah.

Anasia: I went there and she was like you okay? And I was like I just want to sit down for a minute. And then I woke up like an hour and a half later. I fell asleep at her house and Isaiah was just like laying right there and she was just watching him. She was like you went to sleep and I didn’t want to wake you up. I thought you might have needed that sleep.

Narrator: Ciara could relate. Giving birth at home in Hawaii to her daughter Lilinoe had taken its toll.

Ciara: First, you can't really walk, you’ve gotta heal. I didn't rip or tear but, you know, you still have to go back. You do like the sitz bath, the herbs, and like every time you pee, you spray yourself with the herbs. And then it's just like keeping the baby safe.

Narrator: Ciara’s midwife came by a few times to check on her but Ciara still wasn't feeling her. That didn't really matter because Ciara had a whole wealth of ancestral traditions to tap into, like an herbal sitz bath and even staying inside that house for 10 days after the baby arrives.

Ciara: Some women don't leave for 30, 40 days. Some people from different places, like that's their culture. You don’t leave for 40 days. They're like, girl, I can't leave the house for 40 days, my mom won't let me. And I'm like it's okay because it's their culture.

Narrator: Shayla is one of those people. Growing up in Mississippi, the 40-day laying period is and always has been the norm.

Shayla: You know, it's typical for you to be expected to stay in the house for six weeks and some people even want you to stay in bed for six weeks. At this time, I was like, you know what, we went through a lot, I'm gonna try to stay in this bed as long as I can.

Narrator: Resting for this long never would have happened in Arizona when her middle children were born. But at home in Mississippi, postpartum was serious business, and trust they weren't playing around.

Erick: They will rap you on the hand if they catch a newborn baby out before six weeks. Somehow, they know whether or not it’s six weeks. They do know.

Narrator: This rest period was also a moment for Shayla to have time to herself, to bond with EJ and to appreciate the simple things like holding and feeding him.

Shayla: That also meant accepting a lot of help from Erick, watching him do a whole bunch of stuff, and it was hard. But that's what it looked like. Me trying to rest and me spending a lot of time in the back with EJ nursing, just the first days of nursing and dealing with engorgement and pumping and Erick taking bags and putting them in the freezer. That's mostly what the first days consist of. Nursing and pumping and just recovering.

Narrator: Over in Ames, the doctors wanted to see Isaiah one last time to run additional tests. Stuck at the hospital for a second day in a row, Anasia found a silver lining in the situation. If she had to be there, she was happy that she could at least meet with a lactation specialist.

Anasia: And she was a really sweet lady, even though I had to walk around the hospital with this baby on me. She was really sweet, older lady and stuff. She was like you want me to carry him? And I was like no. But the next time she was like let's get you a wheelchair.

Narrator: And this visit was on top of all the other prep she'd already done, learning about breastfeeding essentials on her own and alongside her doula.

Anasia: Jasmine did like this PowerPoint thing with me about breastfeeding and about other ways to feed your child. I told I want to breastfeed so then she re-centered it around that. And then I also took the breastfeeding classes with the hospital, those were also virtual. The next few days were great, it was just cuddles and trying to figure out the best way to breastfeed, make sure he got enough milk and all that.

Narrator: While this wasn't Ciara’s first time at the rodeo, trying to wean off one baby in preparation for another still took some getting used to.

Ciara: The treat you exactly the same. They latch on and they don't leave. When Lilinoe was in my womb, right before she was born *[inaudible 0:15:32] and she would hold it. She was like can I just hold it? She would fall asleep with my boob in her hand, after she stopped breastfeeding. And I finally told her like hey, there's a new baby coming, your dirty little grubby hands from preschool cannot touch my chichi because the baby's gonna be drinking it. And now Lilli’s attached to it and she's still breastfeeding. She has to hold it in the same way *[inaudible 0:16:00]. I’m like you can hold it, I guess.

Dr. Joy: More from NATAL after the break.

[BREAK]

Narrator: Ciara, Anasia and Shayla all decided to breastfeed or body feed, just one of the many ways that a parent can feed their baby. There are a number of benefits associated with nursing. For one, it lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure in birthing parents. For infants, the parent’s milk gives them critical nutrients like calcium and potassium, plus essential proteins and antibodies that build up their immunity. And nursing skin to skin also creates a really special bonding experience for parent and child. At about 83%, the US has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding among high income countries. Of all racial groups, when it comes to attempting to breastfeed, black woman in the US have the lowest rate at 69%.

Narrator: And there's a whole lot of reasons as to why. According to the ACLU, black people are less likely to have jobs that offer higher pay, greater flexibility, and paid family leave–benefits that are all associated with longer continuation of breastfeeding. This is especially the case for black families in rural areas who already face limited access to services like breastfeeding education and a longer commute to even get to the places that do have the services. For centuries, black women were forced to serve as wet nurses–breastfeeding and caring for their enslaver’s white infants during and even after slavery. This not so distant history only creates more stigma, confusion, and a whole lot of myths to debunk.

Starr: The number one is my mom couldn't breastfeed so I can't breastfeed either.

Narrator: That's Crystal Starr Flowers who is affectionately known as Starr. She's a certified lactation counselor, yoga practitioner and a mother in Wrens, Georgia, a small town of 2200 just outside of Augusta. Given the town size, Starr is a well-known birth worker in the area. She's dynamic, full of life, and in a category all her own.

Starr: They would probably call me... Yoga Girl, I get a lot. But first, my name is Crystal Starr Flower so it's already random. I have so many aliases because no one believes it. Barbie is my nickname so then that also makes me like really non-believable. Then they meet me and I'm all like sunflowers and moons so they’re like what is going on with this girl?

Narrator: Starr is clearly no stranger to misconceptions so when it comes to breastfeeding, she's literally heard them all.

Starr: My milk is spoiled, I couldn't breastfeed. Or my boobs are too small, I can't hold my baby like that and breastfeed my baby so long, that's gonna spoil my baby. I tried but it hurt real bad and so, you know, I thought it was supposed to hurt. The craziest one is my breasts are for my man and so my baby can't nurse on them.

Narrator: Even from a young age, Starr always knew she wanted to help people and she had ideas about how she would do that. But becoming a birth worker never crossed her mind. Just like so many before her, Starr was called into this work.

Starr: My aha moment is happening every day. Every day, I have an aha moment because being a birth worker, to write that down and say that's what you are, I would have never thought in a million years I would be a birth worker. But that's who I am and that's who I was bred to be, from my grandparents to just everything about me.

Narrator: Born in Cairo, Georgia and raised in Florida, growing up, Starr would come back to Wrens often to visit her grandparents. That precious time being nurtured by them is one of her earliest memories of seeing black folks caring and watching out for their own.

Starr: I think my grandmother's house was the doctor for me, that's just what it was. My grandmother was a pastor's wife and principal so I saw a really good healthy balance. Because, as a principal, I know she had books and would educate us. But then her history is so strong in her family where her grandmother, her mother and her father (which were tobacco farmers), they literally wanted us to go to the country, be with them, sit around your great grandparents, get to know your people, enjoy the stories that they're telling. And that was the thing that I liked the most. I really liked sitting down listening to what they did way back then, it was so interesting to me. And I think it just was a calling, I don't like the word calling but it was just a feeling. Like I want to know.

Narrator: As puberty rolled around, Starr was encouraged to be curious about her body and how it was changing.

Starr: My body has always given me problems. At a very early age, fifth grade, I was known as Starr with the breasts. I developed breasts really early but I was very fortunate because I had a mother and a father who were not afraid to talk to me about my body. And because my mother was raised in a home where you did not talk about that, she was very open to talking to me about my body. That really helped me cultivate a really great relationship with my body and kind of helped me help my friends with their bodies, and that's probably where it all started.

Narrator: Back in her early twenties, Starr was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Shortly thereafter, she found out she was pregnant. Those two things together were a lot to process in a short amount of time.

Starr: I went from brain tumor to pregnancy to a mother within eight months. It was never a time for me, one, to grieve the tumor. I literally just jumped into being pregnant. I didn't even want to be a mom. My first six months of being pregnant, I hid it from the world.

Narrator: A month before her due date, Starr was rushed to the ER. Her cervix was opening too early. In order to prevent premature labor, doctors told her she would need a cervical cerclage, a procedure to stitch her cervix back up. It was in this moment that Starr decided to completely change her mindset about this pregnancy.

Starr: One, being a brain tumor mother that's having a baby and now having to go into surgery to keep a baby.... On March 21, I told myself, if I'm gonna be a mom, I'm gonna be the best mom ever. And those words have anchored me because I didn't choose parenting to be my style of practicing but that's what I decided to do because it was what I was already doing.

Narrator: This was the sign, the confirmation Crystal Starr needed to keep moving forward.

Starr: And then I had my daughter and from there people were coming to me. I just literally had my baby, I'm breastfeeding and I'm telling everybody about breastfeeding. Because while I was pregnant, I was researching like a fool. Like, what about this? What about this? I'm talking to my neurologist about this, I'm talking to the pediatric doctors about this, I'm talking to my OB-GYN, like all of my doctors, and I had a really good health care team. As I questioned, I gained knowledge which then I just gave away because that's what we do.

Narrator: As she continued to share her pregnancy and breastfeeding experiences with families, word eventually got back to folks in Decatur, Georgia. One of the local WIC or Women, Infants and Children programs was looking for engaging health care workers like Starr.

Starr: I got a phone call saying hey, you want to work here? Yeah, I want to work here. I didn't even really know what the job was. I just knew it's about mommies and breastfeeding. And once I started working there, the aha slowly rolled in, like wow. I get to do what I love? Talk to people, help people? This is not real! And then the spirit just said, “Learn, Starr. Learn all you can. Everything you can learn in this department, you get it.” And that's what I did and I went from there to Emory Hospital. Same thing. Learn, Starr.

Narrator: Whether at a hospital, in a clinic or at home with clients, Starr learned how to address new parents’ feeding concerns. Everything from remedies for cracked nipples and slow infant weight gain, to sharing advice on the best ways to store milk and get a baby to latch on. Today in Wrens, Starr is still asking questions, still learning and still creating these aha moments with everyone she meets.

Starr: My business cards say imagination builder, that's what I call myself. I'm an imagination builder and it's very different because it's like, what? What do you mean? But when people begin to ask questions about what's imagination builder, then I can go into, well, based on your breastfeeding goals or your health goals, I'm here to help you imagine what you want and believe in it so you can achieve it.

Narrator: And no two days are ever alike.

Starr: Well, I will say, first, I'm blessed because my daughter gets to see all of this with me. As soon as we hit the ground, we wake up and she knows what mommy does and she's like that same question–what are we going to do today, mommy? I have a calendar and I have people scheduled so I know nine o'clock is this person 12:30 is this person, yoga at 7:00. I help moms find solace and peace in their journey of becoming who they need to be. Not only as a mother, but as a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a neighbor. And if that mother has a family member or a cousin or a brother or husband that they would like to introduce to their practice, I'm willing to work with them as well because I like to work with the whole family and not exclude anyone.

Narrator: Every conversation starts with her asking, what do you want? Maybe it's nursing, maybe it's formula or maybe it's both? The only goal Starr has for her families is nourishment and growth. So instead of a breast is best approach, “fed is best” is the bottom line.

Starr: I'm coming into it saying, hey, first and foremost, we want to feed your baby. So what are we feeding the baby? And we're talking about not feeding *[inaudible 0:27:52] and making your own formula, because that was my important thing. I knew how much you wanted to be a natural... And these words we live in, natural mom. She wants to be this natural mom, so now she wants to make this breast milk because what's on the shelf is not good enough. So we talked about what's in formula, how to make formula.

Narrator: No matter if she's working with extended family members, parents of multiples, or same sex couples, Crystal Starr’s trauma informed care allows her to support postpartum parents in the ways that heal and transform them from the inside out.

Starr: In the space and in the season I am right now, I know that my spirit is going to take me wherever I need to go, based on whoever needs me. And that's what I use to keep me here in Wrens, Georgia (first and foremost.) I let my spirit ground me and say this is where you are right now and you're here for a reason.

Dr. Joy: More from NATAL after the break.

[BREAK]

NATAL message: Speaking of postpartum, one resource that you definitely want to check out is Coddle. Ruth Martin-Gordon, a mother and birth worker based in Florida founded Coddle to share her postpartum struggles to empower others. Along with this, Coddle offers a line of postpartum self-care recovery products rooted in African, Asian and Caribbean traditions. The hope is that through community and healing herbs, parents can better navigate life postpartum. To shop and learn more, visit Coddle.co.

NATAL message: Have you ever heard the saying she get it from her mama? If the answer is yes, then you should definitely tune in to the award-winning hip-hop inspired science podcast In Those Genes. Hosted by Dr. Janina Jeff, the show uses genetics to uncover the lost identities of African descended Americans. Through narrative storytelling, skits and all your favorite beats, their latest season explores long held myths like the genetics of rhythm, athleticism, and even the notion that black don't crack. You can listen to In Those Genes wherever you get your podcasts. Now back to the show.

Narrator: As beautiful as the coos, cuddles and new baby smells are, there's a reason postpartum is called the fourth trimester.

Shayla: Postpartum was always hard for me. It's the lack of sleep thing, you're not getting much sleep and that's just hard. It's just hard to function and not get sleep. And then this new person is depending on you, it's just hard and I never really know. It’s just always that thing that I just make it through. I just make it through it. I know month ten, he'll be sleeping on his own, we’ll be fine. And that's usually what I'm shooting to. Like let me just get to 10 months when he can sleep on his own and then I'll be fine.

But that thing came up again, a lot of anxiety. Like I said, watching him do all of that stuff. Especially when he was working, I was mostly managing the home. So, one, it felt like he was taking over my job so I had some, you know, like control, letting go... of me not doing it, that was hard. And then just watching him being tired and not being able to help. It was hard, I guess. Yeah, it was mostly anxiety, I would say, more than depression. It was more anxiety than depression, just feeling like I need to hurry up and be able to help him.

Narrator: Shayla saw how much Erick was doing around the house. Everything from taking care of the older four boys, to looking for a new job, to caring for her and baby EJ. It was a lot. Day by day, the afterbirth high that Erick had initially felt was wearing off and wearing off quickly.

Erick: Maybe week four, that's when the burnout started to set in and I was like... We were slowly getting off our diet a little bit because it was a lot. Managing a natural lifestyle for yourself is a lot; managing a natural lifestyle for five people under the age of six is even harder, and doing that by yourself. But not having her help at that time, that was extremely hard, that was extremely difficult. For me, that was the hardest part of the whole process. Taking care of her with the baby inside her while going to work and all that different stuff on the other side of the country, that was hard. But waiting on her hand and foot and waiting on the baby hand and foot as much as she can't, and then taking care of the other kids who do not understand what dad or mom is going through...

And they're excited, they want to be a part of things too. And I'm trying to manage how they interact with their new brother, how they interact with their mother because she needs rest, etc. And trying to keep them on schedule with homeschooling and trying to get a job myself or like reestablish income so we can get out of here as fast as possible. Like all of that stuff, that was a lot. That was a whole, whole lot. I think I've dealt with postpartum depression more this time than maybe any time. And it's something that I've experienced before. Partners do deal with postpartum depression. Even if you don't deal with it yourself, you're dealing with what your partner is going through if they are dealing with it.

Narrator: While there's a good amount of research around maternal postpartum depression and anxiety, studies looking at paternal postpartum mood disorders are much more limited. In 2019, the journal Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience estimated that postpartum depression affects at least eight to 10% of fathers.

Erick: I think this time was worse because there were so many other things connected to it. Like just a year earlier, I had withdrawn from med school and that was a hurtful decision. And I don't think I took enough time to process because med school was our income, so I had to go get a job. And I had to work overtime at that job to make those ends meet. You got that then I'm back in my mom's house. It put me through something that I think I'm only just now coming out of.

Narrator: At least this time, they weren't isolated in Arizona. They were back in Mississippi with Erick's family. And as they found their way through the low moments, Shayla and Erick had each other and their entire village to lean on.

Narrator: And that, Anasia could relate to. While she had decided not to co-parent, she wasn't alone in raising Isaiah. She had a whole bunch of friends nearby and that included Jasmine who continued to follow up with her for her wellness checks.

Anasia: I was doing okay. I didn't have postpartum depression and I think it was mostly because I had already started my medication sometime during the third trimester and I’d already been talking to counselors and stuff. Jasmine would ask still and make sure I was okay that way.

Narrator: Ciara’s doula was consistently checking in too, dropping off hot soups and tinctures to the house. She even brought over Ciara’s encapsulated placenta pills. Some studies show that safely digesting the placenta can boost oxytocin levels, help stabilize moods and even stimulate milk production.

Ciara: If you think about it, animals eat their placenta right after birth. It's like all the nutrients are in that placenta. It literally fed the baby everything that was in your body. And in the hospital, they take it. They don't throw it away because it's magic. All those nutrients are in that placenta. It just comes out of your body and then they get rid of it. So as soon as you take that capsule, that placenta capsule, you start lactating.

Narrator: The magical and spiritual nature of the placenta, cultures all over the world have been knowing about this, including right here at home. For example, the Gullah Geechee people, the Coastal Carolinas, trace our ancestry back to West and Central Africa where the placenta is used in a variety of ways. Typically, the placenta is birthed right after the baby but not always. For instance, in Gullah culture, if the placenta covers the baby's face at birth, the elders use it to brew a tea for the child to drink. They believe this will ward off evil spirits. But Gullah Geechee aren't just going through the motions with these rituals. Fundamentally, these rituals are about protecting the parent and infant as they hang between the two worlds. Anasia's friends were also protective of her, rallying around her, and they were asking all the right questions.

Anasia: My friends, they were pretty sincere and pretty concerned with like does Isaiah need anything? Do you need anything? Can I run to the store for you? I know you’re picky, you buy your oranges... Because I don't order fruit on the apps because I don't like the way the store people pick it. And so I have a few friends that were like my fruit pickers and stuff and they were all being pretty helpful with that. Some brought me meals and put them in my freezer. Like my deep freezer is in my garage and so I’d open the fridge and I'm like, oh! Because I’d leave the garage door unlocked but the door to my house is locked and so they would come in and drop it off and stuff. And then I’d be like, did you leave this here?

Narrator: Crystal Starr Flowers has also found deep solace in communal care, something that she's learned from her work with the Atlanta based breastfeeding organization ROSE or Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere.

Starr: I was a black mom that also needed the village. Because no matter how smart you are, no matter what you know, there's always something you don't know. And I had a lot of feelings that I had to undo because I had a brain tumor before I had a daughter. So all of that undoing came through ROSE. I met a bunch of people who were willing to listen to my birthing story. While I was listening to everyone else's, somebody came and said tell us about you, and that balanced out my giving. As I was giving, I was able to receive someone listening, which then helped me even more. Like, oh wow, this is what it feels like? Oh, you gotta go even harder, find more women to talk to, find more women to tell you what's going on.

Narrator: And there's a whole lot going on beyond adjusting to a new body. There are new feelings, new sounds along with new fears and new joys. Parents need the time and space to process it all and the Southern tradition provides just that. And yet, so many American families, rural and urban alike, aren't afforded that chance. Studies show that one in four new moms goes back to work just 10 days after childbirth, a big difference from the six-week recommendation by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Despite the ample evidence pointing to the overwhelming benefits of a national program, as of March 2021, just 23% of American civilian workers have access to paid family leave. The US remains the only high-income country in the world that does not mandate paid leave for birthing, non-gestational or adoptive parents. And the consequences have been disproportionately felt by the 57% of black workers who lack access to any paid parental leave and tend to live on the economic margins.

Narrator: The pandemic has brutally upended life as we once knew it. There isn't a going back but only a going forward. The social distancing, quarantining, working from home, all of it has revealed new possibilities for work-life balance, including paid family leave. On Capitol Hill, this fight has only intensified with champions in Congress like Pramila Jayapal and Cory Bush, along with US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York (all of whom are parents themselves) still pushing for this critical piece of legislation. So unlike any other time in recent memory, the pandemic has provided a glimpse into what a slower pace might look like for people to fuss over themselves and their loved ones. For Anasia, this time has been a gift she's needed to adjust to it all and fully embrace this beautiful new chapter of her life and who she's becoming.

Anasia: I was using the bathroom while I was holding him and, in that moment, I was like is this going to be our life, man? Like from this point on, I guess I'm never gonna get to use the bathroom with total privacy. And he just kept looking at me, he just started blinking his eyes at me and I think he understood me. And in that moment, I was just like okay, we're here, we're connected. Because I was trying to set him down on the thing and every time I set him down, he started crying. I was like, I just really have to pee and so I picked him up. And he was usually a chill baby, like never cry, but whatever was going on this day, he was just not having a good day. And so I picked him up and I was holding him while I was using the bathroom and he was just staring in my eyes and I was just like, oh my god. Then I laid him down, I had this thing right on the floor waiting and I was able to lay him down. And then I washed my hands and everything and I picked him back up and he just fell right asleep and I was just like, he totally heard me and understood, like he knows it's gonna be us. And I was like somedays are gonna be stressful, man, but it's just the two of us, we got this. He calmed right down and I was like, ah, this is my man. Okay, cool.

Narrator: Next on NATAL, we head home for a final goodbye. We hear from Anasia, Ciara, Shayla, Erick and more about the legacies they're building for their little ones, exactly where they are.

Dr. Joy: A huge thank you to the NATAL team for sharing this episode with us. To check out more of their incredible series, visit NATALstories.com. And be sure to share this episode with two other sisters in your circle. If you're looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory. And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.