A 'Mocha Manual' for Pregnant Women

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Farai Chideya talks with Kimberly Seals-Allers, author of The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy, which offers practical information to help black women navigate through their pregnancy, and with Dr. Andrea Price-Rutty, who wrote the foreward to the book.

ED GORDON, host:

I'M Ed Gordon and this is NEWS AND NOTES. While pregnant with her first child, Journalist Kimberly Seals-Allers couldn't find any books that offered support or advice to African American mothers to be. So she decided to write one herself. The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy offers practical information to help black women navigate through their pregnancy. Dr. Andrea Price-Rutty wrote the foreword. Both women recently spoke with NPR's Farai Chideya.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

Kimberly, in your book, you talk about something called the strong black women syndrome. How does that affect women who are pregnant?

Ms. KIMBERLY SEALS-ALLERS (Author, "The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy"): Well, I think first of all, black women in general, we tend to be nurturers, we tend to be caretakers for a lot of people in our families and our extended families, and so pregnancy is just an extension of our lives and we don't know how to turn it off. We don't know how to take off that red cape and those boots for those nine months and say, You know what, I can't really do this. And so what happens is you create unnecessary stress for yourself, which, again, goes to your baby, and has been linked through many studies with some of the poor birth outcomes that we're seeing amongst black women.

So, in my book, I ask women to learn how to, one, set more realistic expectations for yourself, learn to delegate, and learn to say now.

CHIDEYA: What about when pregnancies either are terminated or people lose the baby? You write about abortion, depression, loss. How do you write about those issues that a lot of women don't want to talk about, and what are some of the key issues that women need to look out for?

Ms. SEALS-ALLERS: Well, I think that's the key to why The Mocha Manual is so unique, because it does show the full spectrum of the pregnancy experiences. And sometimes it can be very difficult when you look in these pregnancy magazines and you see all the smiling faces and laying in the meadow. And sometimes that's not your experience. Sometimes there is depression. Sometimes there is loss. And I spoke to a number of women who had these experiences and wanted to share their stories and say, you know what, this is part of the pregnancy experience too, and we want other women to know that if this happens to you that it's normal, it's okay, you can get through it.

CHIDEYA: Let me go to you, Dr. Price-Rutty. In the November 2005 issue of Essence Magazine, more African American women were reported as having pre-term births. What are some of the medical issues that black mothers-to-be face in particular?

Ms. ANDREA PRICE-RUTTY (Physician): Black women not only are more likely to have pre-term birth and low birth weight babies as a consequence, but also issues such as gestational diabetes or diabetes of pregnancy, pregnancy-induced hypertension and all its different forms. We're more likely to have fibroids, which can also affect the pregnancy and cause pre-term labor and delivery, and the list goes on. And nutritional status also plays a big role, as well.

CHIDEYA: And what about just medical conditions in general that affect black women. There are issues like diabetes and sickle cell anemia that often affect African Americans. What conditions that affect black women are critical to take a look at during pregnancy?

Ms. PRICE-RUTTY: Any medical issue that you can come up with or that you have been diagnosed with can have an affect on pregnancy. A lot of black women that suffer from, for example, lupus, that is something that I really have not seen in my Caucasian population. Other medical issues such as multiple sclerosis, or asthma, or lung disease can play a factor.

CHIDEYA: And Dr. Price-Rutty, what about being a woman while you're pregnant, trying to look good, feel good. There's a lot of hormonal changes in the female body during pregnancy. What kind of advice could you give the moms to be listening today?

Ms. PRICE-RUTTY: Well, this advice is universal for women, in general, but it's particularly important for our African American women in our community. It's almost like a dirty little secret that we need to be taking care of and that we need to be nurtured. And a lot of looking good has to do with feeling good, and a lot of feeling good has to do with self-care. And if you don't make that your priority, you're very number one priority, your health and the health of your baby, no one else is going to. So you get your proper rest, you get your proper diet, you get your proper exercise. And then when others see you making that a priority, then your family hopefully will pick up on that and follow suit.

And it's also very important that you make your needs known. You have to speak up. You have to tell people what you need. I just can't even express to you how important it is that you take the lead in empowering yourself to be your own health advocate.

CHIDEYA: And that brings us to a final issue for you, Kimberly. You offer advice on how to cope with an insensitive mate during pregnancy. I guess, I don't have any kids, but I'm sure that there's nothing worse than being pregnant, and you're in love with some guy, and he says, no, honey, I'm not going to rub your feet. Is that what we're talking about? Or are we talking about things that are more serious?

Ms. SEALS-ALLERS: Well, there's a little bit of both. I think that there's two things. You have to understand that a man does not always embrace pregnancy or respond to pregnancy the way that you do. But just because he didn't read all eight books that you left out for him does not mean that he's uninterested and doesn't care about this pregnancy. So, again, it's about understanding. It's about communication. Use that time, again, to kind of get things set between you and your partner before you introduce the third person into the relationship.

CHIDEYA: Kimberly Seals-Allers is the author of The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy, and Dr. Andrea Price-Rutty wrote the foreword to the book. The Mocha Manual also includes celebrity stories from people including CNN host, Soledad O'Brien, and clothing designer, Kimora Lee Simmons.

Thank you both so much for joining us.

Ms. SEALS-ALLERS: Thank you.

Ms. PRICE-RUTTY: Thank you.

GORDON: That was NPR's Farai Chideya.

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The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy

by Kimberly Seals Allers

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