After her own pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum experience was filled with stress in 2017, and learning that her late mother’s medical concerns were normalized by doctors, UNC Greensboro doctoral student Jasmine L. Garland McKinney’s path became clear. Her studies and personal experiences led her to research the mental health impacts of race-related stressors that are specific to Black women during all perinatal stages.
“After my mom passed away in 2015, I learned that she had swollen legs following surgery related to her scoliosis,” said Garland McKinney, who is in the Counseling and Educational Development (CED) department. “Though she had voiced this concern to her doctors, she was told that these were normal experiences post-surgery. These experiences, which I now know are common for Black women in medical settings, lie at the root of the health disparities that Black women face.”
Many people express great joy following the birth of a child, but Garland McKinney realized that her own pregnancy and postpartum experiences were not what she expected. She says she felt stressed, especially during labor, and wanted other Black women to have a different experience.
That has led Garland McKinney to where she is now – the recipient of a two-year fellowship ($30,000 in year one) from the National Birth Equity Collaborative for her research into disparities in Black women’s maternal health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the maternal mortality rate for Black women is nearly three times higher than the rate for White women in the United States. Her research will look specifically at race-related stressors that have an impact on both the mental and physical health of these women.
“This is an amazing opportunity for me, particularly as I am fortunate enough to bring a counselor’s perspective into national discussions surrounding mental health, maternal mental health, birth equity, and reproductive justice,” said Garland McKinney.
Her research will use an instrument she has developed that will identify and assess how race-related stressors, specifically those experienced by Black women, impact someone’s mental health during all stages of the birthing experience – preconception, pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. After concluding a Delphi study of maternal mental health experts and review board approval, Garland McKinney will conduct cognitive interviews with Black women to determine if what she currently has on her instrument relate to the perinatal experiences of those women.
Garland McKinney hopes her dissertation will help lead to a decrease in the disparities that Black women face regarding their personal health, particularly during perinatal care. She wants to “emphasize Black women’s voices within assessment tools.” In doing so, providers of both physical and mental health care can better understand the unique experiences Black women face during and immediately following their pregnancies.
Said Garland McKinney, “My hope is that my research makes a nationwide impact so that Black women across the country may receive physical and mental perinatal health care that is equitable. I hope that this instrument shines a light on the unique experiences of Black women so that they do not continue to reside at the root of systemic disparities related to maternal health care.”
Her journey through the UNCG CED program has also helped Garland McKinney reach this point in her career. As someone who says she has many big ideas, Garland McKinney worked with her dissertation chair Dr. L. DiAnne Borders through numerous meetings to talk through ideas and create a plan to bring them to life.
Faculty members in the program have continually expressed excitement when discussing Garland McKinney’s research goals with her. She said, “I am able to experience faculty members whose faces light up when I discuss things that I am passionate about – they share in my excitement, and for that I am grateful.”