As Jamil Norman, PhD, RN, CNE, a co-author of the research study Insights into fear: A phenomenal study of Black mothers (other authors of the study are Sharon L. Dormire, Jodie C. Gary, and Idethia Shevon Harvey), discovered, the greatest fear that Black mothers have is that their sons will be killed, and they won’t be able to keep them safe.
“The purpose of this phenomenological study was to identify the stressors Black women experience as mothers. This paper focused on the most striking stressor, which was living in fear. Fear for personal safety has been identified in previous research with Black populations,” says Norman, academic coordinator for Walden University’s Tempo programs. This study, she says, was the first of its kind that identified these mothers fear that their children will be killed—and it specifically referred to their sons.
“Mothers normally express fears related to raising children. The fear expressed by mothers in this study was different in that it is much more specific,” explains Norman. “Historically, Black Americans have struggled to deal with injustice, unfair treatment, threats to safety and racial inequality. These challenges are arduous as Black mothers learn to navigate raising their children to endure racial discrimination.
In this study, several stress themes were identified from the data. However, the most pervasive stressor was living in fear. Living in fear focused not on the mothers themselves but on the fear of ‘them being killed’ with ‘them’ being a Black son. Another subtheme of living in fear was the resultant concern of whether the mother could keep him safe.”
While there were some finds in the study that surprised her, the themes of “them being killed” and “can I keep him safe?” weren’t. “Although I don’t have a son of my own, I have a husband, brothers, nephews, family, and friends whom I have worried about being killed and keeping safe. These stressors were not new to me as a Black woman,” she says.
In order to help these women in the study—as well as others in the Black community—Norman says, “We need to give Black women a voice that is heard. This can be done through continued research and community outreach. It is imperative that we educate others in the community about these fears and how they make an impact on the health of Black women not only during pregnancy, but overall.”
Nurses, Norman says, can take action to help with this. “Nurses must educate themselves and advocate for their patients. It is difficult to advocate for something that you are not educated about. That’s why I believe nurses must have a general understanding of the disparities associated with maternal and infant mortality and morbidity in the Black community,” Norman says. “After nurses are educated, then they can truly advocate.”
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