Oppression and the Effects of Prolonged Stress on the Human Body

In order to understand the variables that led to our high percentage of maternal mortality, we need to break down the complications at hand and the consistencies with the outcomes people of color have when birthing their child. We must explore oppression and the physical affect on a person’s constitution, as well as look at the endocrine system and it’s reaction to stress. With all of this brought to light, I want to address the elephant in the room and our role as human beings in this prominent discovery. I will do my best to unfold the material with ease, but truly this sort of information should be shocking. It is important that we take our pride, and tuck it away for these discussions, admit our wrong doings, apologize, and do better. My hope is that this blog will give you the tools to do so.

In my research, I have learned that there are an abundance of side effects and health concerns caused by prolonged stress. What is oppression, if not a prolonged state of stress? It’s no surprise that our government has introduced a reparations bill, as this oppression began with the colonization of America. After decades of fighting for equality (still to this day), it has had negative effects on singled out populations. The history of racial oppression has defined feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. It only makes sense that depression and anxiety are also factors in this equation. This is the result of an overactive nervous system. If we spend our entire existence in a state of fight or flight, we will loose the ability to produce the chemicals in our body to quiet the nervous system.

It is impossible for a family to build roots on the fact that, no matter how hard you work, you still end up on the bottom. In my experience working with postpartum families, I have witnessed strong individuals outnumbered by the hoops they have had to jump through in order to be approved for financial/housing/educational support. It is defeating. This doesn’t just effect a family presently. We are now seeing in science that our everyday experiences shape our offspring’s DNA. Creating long lines of heart disease and diabetes.

Lets factor in financial oppression. In order to have a job, you must have a residence and reliable transportation. In order to feed your family, you have to work. African American history comes with the rights of individuals that got a late start to society. White supremacy is the reason for these financial gaps. Devalued, disrespected, and paid less. When you start already behind, it trends in several ways throughout the family tree. One of the most prominent trends is lack in morale. Take gangs and gang culture. If you corner an individual enough, they will rebel and begin to define how to survive. Survival is a powerful thing, and when family is involved we will do whatever it takes to make sure we make it. All of these factors are stressful, and our statistics are telling the story.

I want to focus on the two main health concerns of prolonged stress, heart disease and high blood pressure. According to The American Institute of Stress, if we look at this from an endocrine stand point, our adrenal glands produce more adrenaline and cortisol as a reaction to stress. High cortisol levels directly affect our cardiovascular system by making our heart pump faster, making the muscles work harder. A consistent raised heart rate will directly affect your blood pressure, and as a result will damage your arteries, raising the risk of heart attack. The liver also reacts to stress by releasing more glucose into your blood stream, giving you a burst of energy to fight. When our body has more glucose, the insulin may not be able to keep up, and this raises your risk for type 2 diabetes. “Every year, Americans suffer more than 1.5 million heart attacks and strokes. Nearly 44% of African American men and 48% of African American women have some form of cardiovascular disease that includes heart disease and stroke” (CDC: African American Heart Disease and Stroke Fact Sheet) As for diabetes, African american adults are two times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than non-Hispanic white american adults. *(U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). The science is there, and supports the disparaging effects of oppression.

As a birth professional, it is my duty to educate my birthing people of color, and honor their understanding of their own body. The continued stereotyping of people of color is literally killing people daily. This is another clear example of white supremacy’s effect on our culture. Women of color tend to be viewed as uneducated and outspoken, and this is creating a major disconnect in the full spectrum care of an individual. Rather than take their concerns at face value, they are ignored and brushed off with the assumption that they are just overreacting. Blood clots go undiagnosed until it is too late, causing strokes and heart attacks. These are treatable. Even more so in a hospital environment. It is the need to soften these issues and protect our pride that has cloaked such concerns. This is now fueling our struggle to care for birthing people as individuals

This is hard to learn about. It is hard to believe that humans can be so oblivious, but it is embedded in our history. It is our duty to know and understand these variables and change the way we lead our lives.

Keep an eye out for my next blog. I will be focusing on the Maternal Mortality rate, and the numbers for the US compared to International standards of care. Please feel free to reach out to me, I could always use other perspectives on these topics!