Lakeisha Steele, 40, found fitness as a way to combat postpartum depression. (Courtesy photo)

The birth of a child can be one of the most defining moments in a woman’s life, but simultaneously, a whirlwind of physical and psychological issues most commonly including postpartum depression. While new, and recurring mothers struggle to balance their way through the “fourth trimester” of motherhood, others have found a highly effective antidote to fight the grueling stretch; the healing power of exercise. 

When we observe the maternity health outcomes for new and expecting mothers, Black women are found to experience a greater prevalence of maternal mental health conditions, particularly as it pertains to postpartum depression and anxiety. According to the American Psychological Association, Black women are more likely to undergo long-lasting mental health concerns post-childbirth in comparison to their non-Black counterparts, while more often receiving less treatment for postpartum depression. 

“The reason we have paid little attention, I believe, to Black maternal health is because we don’t listen to Black women.  If we listened … we would understand that mental health is playing a role,” said Angela Neal-Barnett, Ph.D., a psychologist at Kent State University, and expert in the research of anxiety disorders among the Black community.

But for new mothers like D.C.-area resident Lakeisha Steele, 40, experiencing postpartum depression inspired her to set out on an empowering journey of fitness, landing her in the best shape of her life, both physically and mentally. 

Steele was one of many mothers who were considered high-risk, having her first child at the age of 39. After a few months of experiencing heavy bouts of sadness following the birth of her daughter, Steele became inspired to find non-pharmacological methods to bounce herself back to a healthy state of mind.  

Having had a cesarean birth, the healing process was a total blur for Steele.  While regaining her strength and mobility, Steele’s stressors stagnated her lactation experience and complicated her ability to nurse. The physical, mental and emotional weight became all so heavy on her psyche.

“I thought it would just be a matter of time before my milk started to come in, but when it started to come in, it wasn’t enough. Your body is trying to do so many things at the same time; it is trying to heal from the c-section, it is trying to produce milk for you to be able to get the proper nutrients,” she said while recalling that sensitive period. “If I could point back to when I remember that something wasn’t well with me, it was when I wasn’t producing enough milk for my daughter. Between that and all the hormonal changes is probably when I first started to really feel the blues.”

Realizing that she was not feeling herself, Steele felt the changes but lacked the language to communicate what she was experiencing. Her daily bouts of crying, sleep deprivation and fluctuating emotions prompted her husband to suggest contacting doctors to figure out what was occurring at only four weeks postpartum. 

The screening results helped Steele and her medical team ascertain a proper diagnosis for her sporadic traits. After six months of trying various remedies to balance her hormonal discourse, Steele put a pin in the monotony and started taking herself for daily walks to jolt her energy. The daily walks gradually turned into full workouts at the local Ultimate Performance gym, where Steele explored weight training, cardio routines and hardcore exercise to help combat the effects of the disorienting postnatal condition. It is with the professional guidance of a personal trainer that Steele began to get herself back on track physically and mentally.

“They were having a discussion [with me] about the challenges I was having as a new mom, and how I was feeling in my body postpartum so that they could understand the level of training that I needed that would be personalized for me,” said Steele. “Once I saw that there was something that just clicked. I [decided] that this was going to be a love letter to myself.  This is going to be so hard, but this is going to be the time that I am going to pour into myself so I can be my best self for my daughter.”

With consistency in her workout and the help of a balanced diet, Steele has successfully re-stabilized her emotional and mental state postnatal era, developed a killer physique, and significantly heightened her energy levels allowing for a better version of herself with her family. She is completely sold on the correlation between exercise and the cease in postpartum symptoms. Her greatest hope is for more women to walk the path of their exercise journey, as the benefits have shot beyond what she had ever imagined would come before changing her health habits.

“It just makes so much sense.  When you think about everything that is happening in your body and all of these changes, a lot of it is hormonal. And then when you are active, the way in which your body’s endorphins and serotonin levels increase – there’s something to it.  I am certainly not an expert, but I can only share how my body was responding,” Steele explained.

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