When LaRenee gave birth to her daughter Aluna in March 2020, things did not go the way she planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I had Aluna, and then everything shut down," she recalled.
It was just LaRenee, her boyfriend, and her new baby girl. No family and friends, no birth announcement photos, and none of the usual fanfare that came with welcoming a new child to the family. LaRenee did her best as a first-time mom, but she felt scared and alone. Deep down, she knew she had postpartum depression, but at first, LaRenee did not want to admit it.
"You don't really hear about postpartum in the Black community, we don't talk about postpartum, we're expected to be strong, Black, independent women," said LaRenee, "I held in my anxiety and depression for so long that it was becoming overwhelming for me."
By June 2020, LaRenee had returned to work, but by September 2020, LaRenee didn't want to be alive anymore. She had trouble sleeping and bonding with her baby. After confiding in her mother about these feelings, LaRenee learned that her mother also dealt with postpartum depression, and with her mother's encouragement, LaRenee decided to get help.
"I didn't want to suffer in silence, and I definitely don't want any other Black women to suffer in silence, which is why I'm sharing my story" said LaRenee.
One in eight new moms will experience postpartum depression, but Black moms are 1.6 times more likely to suffer from postpartum depression than white moms, and less likely to receive treatment according to the National Institutes of Health.
LaRenee was determined to break the cycle. After spending a couple months in another intensive outpatient program, LaRenee was referred to El Camino Health's Maternal Outreach Mood Services (MOMS) Program in November 2020.
"We try to set a human standard, and we emphasize to the mothers and their families that Mom comes first, and to keep that perspective in mind, because when a mother is healthy, she can care for herself and the baby” said Dr. Nirmaljit Dhami, medical director of the Inpatient Perinatal Psychiatry Unit at the Scrivner Center for Mental Health & Addiction Services at El Camino Health, "We've treated patients from diverse backgrounds and try to connect with them on an individual level while considering their cultural values and norms."
The 12-week intensive program offers education, counseling, and evaluation for new and expectant mothers in a supportive, nurturing environment. The MOMS Program includes individual and group counseling to help mothers develop positive coping skills and learn how to manage stress.
"The program was life-changing because I was so hard on myself when I started, I always thought I was doing everything wrong," she recalled, "The MOMS program gave me a chance to make mistakes and not strive for perfection. I was always reminded, 'you're doing fine, you're doing a good job.'"
Aside from learning how to set realistic expectations for motherhood, LaRenee focused on getting enough sleep and developing skills to better communicate with her boyfriend, family, and friends.
"I learned how to ask for the support I need from others and compromise in a way where it's beneficial to everyone," she said, "I also learned how to allow myself to be happy."
Part of LaRenee's happiness came during the art activities during the program, which reignited her creativity. One year after enrolling in the MOMS program, all of the artwork is still hanging on her walls at home.
"It helped me get in touch with myself again," she explained, "Every day, I look at it and think, 'I did it, I did all of this.'"
As she learned more about herself in the MOMS program, LaRenee bonded more with Aluna, developed a stronger relationship with her boyfriend, and also decided to keep pursuing her creativity. She is planning to earn a graduate degree in Human Computer Interaction to become an UX Strategist. Reflecting back on her experience, LaRenee encourages all women who may be facing barriers to treatment due cultural stigmas to advocate for themselves.
"The first step is all that matters, that’s the beginning of the journey," said LaRenee, "people in your life may not understand why you're doing this, and you may lose some of them along the way, but this is for you, not anyone else. I am forever grateful for taking that chance and enrolling in the MOMS program, because honestly, I wouldn't be where I am now."