It Takes a (Virtual) Village To Raise a Mom

Research says social support is critical for pregnant people and new moms. In light of this, Black millennial moms are turning to social media and digital spaces that are safe, accessible, and created for us.

Pregnant woman having a video call at her kitchen table
Photo: Getty Images

When most people think about support groups, images of strangers gathered on folding chairs in a church basement often come to mind. And while those spaces certainly have their value, modern-day support groups are more likely to take place from the comfort of your bed or living room while wearing your pajamas with your hair tied up.

By now we all know the saying "It takes a village to raise a child." But I'm a firm believer that it also takes a village to raise a mom. While experiencing infertility and multiple failed IVF cycles, I turned to support groups like Fertility Rally and Fertility for Colored Girls to help cope with the loss and trauma.

When I suffered from perinatal depression during pregnancy, I reached out to Regina Townsend, founder of The Broken Brown Egg, to join her support group for those experiencing pregnancy after infertility. I needed to speak with, and be surrounded by, people who "got it," who understood what it was like to be consumed by a lethal combination of PTSD and anxiety during what many bill as the "happiest time of your life."

I was grateful to finally become a mom. I also felt lonely and guilty because I wasn't performing pregnancy the way I thought I should be—the way society, and even some friends and family members, expected me to be. I needed help, and after attending Townsend's group and later the virtual support groups through pregnancy and parenting meditation app Expectul, I found help, my mental health, and community.

Historically this support often came through proximity to grandmothers, aunties and church moms. Nowadays parents are building a virtual village of sorts.

As a millennial mom, I'm more likely to turn to social media than my own relatives when it comes to parenting questions, especially the ones that occur to me in the wee hours of the morning when everyone else is sleeping and I'm up nursing my daughter.

I can't count the number of times I've tweeted into the abyss for suggestions on what to do about newborn sleep or lack thereof. And when I considered quitting breastfeeding three months in, it was my virtual village that gave me the strength, hope and encouragement to dust myself off and try again.

Just ask Nadia N. Mbonde, a doctoral student in sociocultural anthropology at New York University. A birth and postpartum doula by trade, Mbonde unexpectedly became her own first client when was pregnant in 2019.

"I came across a lot of mental health challenges that I had no idea I would be experiencing," Mbonde shares. "I have a bipolar diagnosis, which is a preexisting mental health condition, and I wasn't really warned about what that would entail for my pregnancy."

Toward the end of her second trimester, Mbonde found a variety of resources to help her, including support groups.

"Although I had been living with this diagnosis for a couple of years, this was the first time I really gained insight into what was going on with me, because as you know, mental health is very stigmatized and taboo within the Black community, especially a diagnosis like bipolar," Mbonde explains.

Mbonde gave birth in January 2020. Three months later, the COVID-19 pandemic began and the in-person support groups she'd grown to love shifted to virtual platforms, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness' new group, Black Minds Matter.

"It was the first time I'd encountered a group that was specifically supporting Black people and that was a great space to process my feelings," Mbonde shares. "I was a unicorn in these spaces. There's this weird silence around people with mental illness being parents."

The experience led Mbonde to join Postpartum Support International, a perinatal mental health organization, and later help launch their first perinatal bipolar support group. "I felt it was important to facilitate as a Black person so people can feel safe," she says. "If you see a facilitator leading your group who looks like you, you're more likely to feel safe."

While virtual support groups tend to be more accessible, they're not a cure-all. "If you're someone who is struggling with depression, it's a lot easier to stay in your pajamas and log on a call than get dressed up and go somewhere," says Mbonde. "At the same time, telehealth is excluding a lot of people who don't have access to the Internet."

Another benefit of online support groups is that most of them are free, or low-cost, and don't require the level of commitment, or health insurance, that therapy does. For people who are curious about joining online support groups and wary about opening up to strangers, Mbonde advises taking it slow.

"It's a very vulnerable thing to start attending these groups," she acknowledges. "But know that you're in charge and you don't have to disclose anything you don't want to. You can also really benefit by listening. It's up to you."

"Attending support groups has definitely changed my life," Mbonde shares. "I would not have the level of awareness I have about my own mental health condition if I didn't go to support groups, because the people in the room really reflect back my own lived experience, whereas, prior to that I thought I was the only one."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles