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Postpartum care falls short for Black women. One mother is trying to fix that

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

When Jade Kearney had her first daughter in 2017, she felt totally prepared. She had a doula, and she was clear with her doctor about not wanting to die during pregnancy. Kearney is a Black woman, and she knows the statistics well. For example, Black women are more than three times more likely to die during pregnancy than white women.

JADE KEARNEY: But the real work started for me the moment I left the hospital. I had crippling postpartum anxiety in the form of intrusive thoughts about harming my daughter.

SUMMERS: Jade Kearney turned to friends and family for help, and she got nowhere.

KEARNEY: I felt like I was failing the cultural norms of suffering in silence, and I knew I wasn't going to get any help from friends and family at that point because mental health is a huge cultural stigma in the Black community. And so from there, I went to my health care provider, and my physician's words were, hey, a lot of women get this. I'm going to send you Zoloft. I have breech twins. I'll check back in with you in six weeks. Oh, my God. (Laughter) You know, just like, no one is talking to me, no one is helping me. And I felt lost. I felt alone.

SUMMERS: That experience inspired Jade Kearney to launch She Matters. It's a digital platform designed to address postpartum depression and other comorbidities of Black mothers.

KEARNEY: The way we support our Black mothers is through connecting Black mothers to culturally competent health care providers that go through our training, offering them community to validate those experiences and giving culturally relevant resources. My co-founder likes to say, you can find more about the mental illness within dogs than Black women. We just don't have enough stats that relate to us.

SUMMERS: You've mentioned a couple times the idea of cultural competence in the health care setting, and I can say I've certainly run into problems with that myself. But for people who may not understand what you mean when you're talking about the importance of culturally competent care, can you just give us an example?

KEARNEY: An example is, when a Black mom is experiencing stress, she might say, God spoke to me, and I really feel like I should be here. Some therapist, psychiatrist may feel like she's having psychosis. But in the Black community, to say that you're speaking to a higher power is actually very normal, and it's a part of our spirituality. So being able to be culturally competent is, like, to plug in to colloquialisms and build your lexicon and be able to communicate with Black folks from a place that they are familiar with so they can get the best care.

SUMMERS: I'm hoping that you can share a success story with us - one example of how She Matters has helped a Black woman navigate this system, the experience of motherhood and postpartum effectively or to navigate it well.

KEARNEY: I can give you a story of a woman in Maryland, actually, who had terrible pelvic pain during sexual intercourse and had gone to her doctor many, many times. And her doctor started to say, this is in your mind. You're not really experiencing this pain, and offered her immediately an antidepressant. She would cry about this. She would talk to her husband. It was creating problems within their marriage. We paired her with an OB-GYN who was culturally competent, and it turns out she had a huge cyst that was creating the pain. So it just took somebody listening - just listening - and believing her to get her the help that she needed. And this is the story that we hear more often than not.

SUMMERS: When I hear about - that is - you actually were able to take this one woman, this patient in Maryland, and connect her with a different medical provider than the one that she had previously been seeing. That sounds like a pretty labor-intensive intervention and support. Is that the common level of assistance that Black mothers receive through She Matters?

KEARNEY: It is. So it's not too difficult. We have a bunch of culturally competent health care providers within our network, and we - it goes by state. So we just connect you with one.

SUMMERS: Right now, you are focused on the experiences that Black women have in the health care system, but I can imagine there may be people from other backgrounds, other expectant parents who are hearing the conversation that you and I are having and wondering if one day there will be a platform like She Matters that serves their communities. Do you have plans to expand it further?

KEARNEY: Yes. At the end of the year, She Matters will turn into We Matter. And She Matters will be product one. Ella Importa, which is she matters in Spanish, will be product two. Native Her will be product three, and They Matter will be product four. And so Ella Importa is for Hispanic women. Native Her is for Native and Indigenous women. And They Matter is for the LGBTQ plus trans community.

SUMMERS: Jade Kearney is the CEO and co-founder of She Matters. Thank you so much for your time.

KEARNEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.