CommunityHealth

Annual Maternity & Infant Health Summit Generates Discussion on Mental Health

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser hosted her annual Maternity & Infant Health Summit featuring notable panel guests of medical professionals and advocates. The summit had a mix of virtual and in-person events that attendees could be part of.

On Thursday, Sept. 15, in a discussion moderated by Stacey Brayboy at the summit,  Bowser, along with Angelina Spicer, Dr. Robyn Jones and Dr. Lola Okito, discussed the importance of mother’s having access to maternity health resources

Angelina Spicer, a standup comedian, actress and social media influencer said she became an “accidental advocate” because of her experiences during pregnancy and post-childbirth. During her pregnancy she states that she had complications and later suffered a severe form of postpartum depression.

“I was so blindsided by just the physical pain… and how wrecked my body felt and the responsibility of now being someone’s mother,” said Spicer.

Through her experience she described how she felt like she was mourning her life prior to pregnancy because she felt like she lost a part of herself. To relieve her internal pain, she sought out therapy, going back to church, speaking to women in her family and turned to women in social media groups but still nothing felt like it was helping she says.

After constantly trying different methods to relieve her pain, eight months postpartum, Spicer says her therapist recommended she check into a psychiatric facility.

“That was the best gift that she or anyone could have given me because I was able for ten days to check into this medical facility that felt like a vacation…That was the gift I didn’t know I needed,” said Spicer.

Spicer  says she is on a “mission to normalize the conversation around maternal mental health and to normalize the conversation on what it’s really like after you have a baby.”

There is still a stigma in society surrounding mental health and even seeking help and Spicer says she thinks that stigma starts from the home because children and families may not feel comfortable to express how they are feeling. She says what helps her is her comedy and she realized that helped other women, too.

“I didn’t even know I was helping people or helping shed [light] on stigma by talking about my own stuff. But it’s just a byproduct of being a comedian and a byproduct of having a voice and making it tangible for folks. I feel like me sharing is helping. It’s helping me heal and I know that when I hear laughter that’s basically the audience saying, ‘yup me too’. I realized that sharing in whatever way is really the key to shedding stigma,” said Spicer.

In California, Spicer has helped develop legislation and had three bills passed to have women screened during their pregnancy and after they have their baby, to train health professionals to implement the screenings, and collect data to implement a resource center that women can refer to when additional care may be needed.

“My work really starts on the grassroots level, truly… The more we say something the more they have to care. The more noise we make, the more doors we knock on, the louder we are, they can’t ignore us. That’s what I realized, and my work starts at the grassroots level [to] really galvanize moms to share their stories and galvanizing moms to speak up,” said Spicer.

Maternal mortality rate was another topic that was highlighted during the panel discussion and how the United States is the only developed country with an increasing mortality rate. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 754 women died due to maternal causes in the United States in 2019 which is a rise in comparison to the 658 maternal deaths that occurred in 2018.

“The United States is the only developed country in the world that has an increasing maternity mortality rate… How can we possibly have the highest maternity mortality rate? And who’s being impacted? Women who look like me,” said Dr. Robyn Jones.

The Maternity & Infant Health summit continued until Thursday as attendees were able to connect with each other and other health professionals to discuss matters that impact women and their children.

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