Dr. NanEfua Afoh-Manin (Courtesy photo)

“If you have the privilege of being born a Black woman, it is my belief that it is a part of your divine mission to liberate yourself from all external and internalized oppression and thereby liberate the world.” – Maya Angelou

One thing is for sure, Black women mommas (BWMs) know how to take care of others. From our ancestral legacies of Queen Mommas like Nana Yaa Asantewaa who became famous for leading the Ashanti rebellion against British colonialism to defend the Golden stool – she promoted women emancipation as well as gender equality – to our journey surviving enslavement through the audacious spirit of Harriet Tubman who escaped and sought the freedom of countless others through the Underground Railroad, and fought in the Civil War.

We come from an exceptional stock of medical pioneer foremothers like Henrietta Lacks whose cancer cells immortalized the human cell line and Rebecca Lee Crumpler, our nation’s first African American woman physician.

Throughout civil rights, we have well known mothers of the movement like Betty Shabazz and Coretta Scott King to the Hidden Figures and the Colored Girls Who Dreamed of Politics who became powerful political operatives, forcing our leaders to live up to the ideals of the republic.

Yes, if we know the history of our Black Women Mommas then we know how we have lived in the shadows as silent engines: forced, persuaded and darn right guilted into putting our mental and physical health on the sideline for the sake of others to save humanity.

Now as we begin to embrace our survival through a devastating pandemic and the dawning of our nation’s first Black Supreme Court Justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, some would say the justice meter is primed in the direction of equity for Black women. However, our next big assignment is radical self care so that we may rest, rejuvenate, renew and re-envision wellness that is inclusive of our needs and our own survival. This is imperative.

Being blessed to celebrate Mother’s Day 2022 post the greatest public health crisis of my lived experience, the greatest gift I can give to my family is my good health. As an emergency doctor, I have served with women like myself as frontline clinicians, nurses, teachers, social workers, therapists, and nutritionists. We have stepped up to foster children who have lost their mothers to COVID, while we also are dying at a rate of three times more than our non-Black counterparts during our own pregnancies. It is time to turn to the powerful intuition that we have to care for others to care for ourselves, and become our own advocates in this complex health system. Our voice matters, and when we say something terrible is going wrong in our bodies, the medical community owes it to us to listen.

Sometimes it is very difficult to know even where to start to be your own advocate. As the founder of Shared Harvest, a social enterprise health tech company that is training health navigators to help reduce inequities in healthcare and close the wealth gap, I know first hand how challenging this assignment is. Balance is not alway easy to attain when you are passionate about the work and the people you serve. It is definitely in our ancestry to go all in and feel like you cannot afford to take a break.

On the contrary, WE cannot afford to burn-out. Our individualized wellness care plan is necessary and having grace and patience is also important. The world needs us to be whole, mentally and physically, because when we take the time to make ourselves whole, we lead, love and thrive exceptionally and inclusively. Thus, taking the time to work on our mental health and understanding our collective trauma is ever more important.

Still, I know that this is easier said than done. So allow me to share some tools and simple tips that may help as you create your wellness care plan and make the mindshift towards mental wellness:

  • Celebrate sleep: make your bedtime ritual a party not to miss. Use your favorite sheets, spray your favorite fragrances on the pillow, light an inspirational candle, wear an eye mask and leave your phone at the door! Studies show that even 30 minutes of restful quiet sleep can improve quality of life and focus. The value of sleep is cumulative. So If you have to break up 8 hours over the course of a day, that’s okay too!
  • Own your story and know your history: Take time to write down your family medical history so that you can actively work with your doctor to decide on the right screening tests for you.
  • Get your seconds! Now, I’m not talking about your second serving at Mother’s Day Brunch. I’m talking about your medical seconds; your second appointment with your doctor if all your questions were not answered the first time, your second opinion if you find that information you received doesn’t make sense to you, and your second line of screening tests. Sometimes, the first screening test may be negative or inconclusive. If you are at high risk for a condition, then follow your intuition and ask your doctor for that second level of assurance with your second line screening test.
  • Build your tribe. Your tribe is your network of health advocates; people who you respect for sound knowledge (not fiction) and individuals in the health profession that you feel comfortable sharing your symptoms with. Some great resources for you include the Black Women’s Health Imperative, Black Women for Wellness, Health In Her Hue and the Shared Harvest Community Health Partners Network.

Wishing you all a joyous Mother’s Day. Celebrate you with grace, patience, kindness and love. You are worthy.

Dr.NanaEfua Afoh-Manin is an emergency doctor, public health educator, entrepreneur, and a champion for health equity. In 2018, Dr. Nana co-founded Shared Harvest Fund, a social enterprise aimed at spreading compassion through service and relief.


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