Season 3, Episode 4: Finding community in motherhood
How can moms care for themselves and their children? In this episode, we hear from Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan, a pediatrician and chief medical officer in Quality and Pediatrics at UPMC Health Plan, and Muffy Mendoza, author, speaker, and founder of Brown Mamas, about motherhood and parenting through every stage of life.
UPMC also offers a variety of groups for moms, whether just experiencing parenthood for the first time, or just working to balance work and home life. Check out this list.
Call 211, the United Way’s resource line, for information about resources that could help you.
Prioritize your needs: It’s not just going to the doctor. It’s making time for you! The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers an overview.
UPMC Health Plan members: Listen to more podcast content, with this episode of Health Break: Working moms: Caring for yourself and others
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: In this episode, we discuss motherhood and parenting through every stage of life with two guests, Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan, practicing pediatrician and chief medical officer in Quality and Pediatrics at UPMC Health Plan.
Welcome to Good Health, Better World, Dr. Vidal-Phelan.
Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan: Thank you so much, Ellen, for having me.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: And Muffy Mendoza, author, speaker, and founder and executive director of Brown Mamas. Muffy, thank you for being on Good Health, Better World.
Muffy Mendoza: Thank you for having me.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: Let’s discuss motherhood. And it’s probably worth mentioning that during this conversation, we will be talking a lot about individuals who identify as women and who begin a journey into motherhood. Even though we know that there are people who journey into motherhood who may not identify as women. And, of course, women’s health is much broader than parenting and motherhood.
Muffy, if I could start with you. Anything you’d like to comment on regarding the journey and the experience of motherhood or some of the challenges, some of the joys of motherhood?
Muffy Mendoza: That’s a big question. I always like to say motherhood is the most delightful rollercoaster ride you’re ever going to go on. It is an opportunity to improve yourself. It is the only opportunity you’ll probably have in your entire life to really guide someone from start all the way until your end. And it’s just a great chance for a person to be able to develop and grow, and aid in the assistance, and assist in the development and growth of another human being.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: Johanna, how about you?
Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan: Thank you for asking that question.
For me, I see motherhood as a gift. You know, I’m a mom of two boys. And I know since I became a mom, it has transformed me as a person. It has transformed me as a pediatrician. I think I have a lot more empathy and compassion for my families and patients because I’ve been there. I have woken up at two, three, four, five in the morning to feed my child. I have been sick with my child in the hospital, in the emergency room. I know what it’s like. So it’s a real connection that you have with families, but also as a professional, my children have taught me patience, have taught me grace, and have given me a great reason to wake up in the morning and be the best I can because I’m setting an example for them. And it’s truly embedded into everything I do.
So again, I go back to the original thought of It’s a gift. It’s not easy. It’s a journey. And there’s nothing wrong with folks that decide this is not going to be my journey and it’s OK. But for those that have been blessed to either have their own biological children, adopted children, or children in the family that they are helping raise, it is so important that you invest in these children.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: I am the mom of one child, a 14-year-old daughter. And I remember talking several years ago with the mother of multiple children and I said, “Oh, it must be so great that, you know, your 15-year-old, you must know exactly what to do because your 17-year-old, was 15 years old two years ago.” And she looked at me like I was crazy. She said, “No, they’re all totally different people.”
And that’s when I realized I feel like I am at the top of my mothering game for my child 18 months ago, who doesn’t exist. And it’s just like every day there’s sort of this new, you sort of have to discover who your children are every day, which I think is part of what makes it so exciting and challenging and just such an engaged, engrossing endeavor.
I would like to talk with both of you about your professional roles and would love to hear more about your personal perspective, as mothers yourself. But Muffy, can you tell us a little bit about Brown Mamas and if you could speak to how the work of Brown Mamas helps folks with the process of developing into mothers and parents?
Muffy Mendoza: So, we mostly focus on being and providing a safe space for Black mothers, for Black mothers in so many different stages of mothering. And we really do try to be a space where, no matter what your experience is in mothering, you can be seen, you can be felt, you can be heard, you can feel understood. We know that parents go online when they’re making parenting decisions, when they’re trying to figure out how to quiet a screaming baby or what to do in response to their teenager’s most recent rant. And so we began as an online community, and now we are an online and in-person community that does a myriad of things.
But the thing that we do best and the thing that we do most is we give moms space to just celebrate their mothering journey and to really learn about other moms. You know, as a professional, when I look back on it, we’ve been doing this work for over a decade now. I’m a mom of three boys. My boys have literally grown up as Brown Mamas babies.
And it’s really allowed me space to grow as an individual, but also allowed me space and grace in terms of motherhood. We have a mentoring program. We have monthly meetups, we have monthly support groups that we offer to moms. And during these, you know, during these happenstances where moms allow us to be a part of their lives, we as women, the women who are producing the community, and keeping them, maintaining the community, keeping them on track, are also offered this opportunity to broaden our horizon in terms of what it means to be a mother.
So, you know, Brown Mamas, in so many ways, has broadened the definition of what it means to be a mom for so many women, because oftentimes we go into motherhood with this singular understanding of how to do it right. Right? And what we find when we meet other moms is that there really are a million ways to be a good mother.
Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan: That’s right.
Muffy Mendoza: And that’s what we do. We show moms the myriad of ways to be a good mom.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: I’d love to hear your thoughts Johanna, as a pediatrician or in your role as a health care executive, building on what Muffy has talked about.
Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan: Thank you, thank you so much. And I love that sense of community that you just shared about, it’s so important. You know, also from a cultural perspective, I’m a Latina mom and, you know, family is huge. The family influences a lot of my motherhood decisions. And also there’s expectations, I think, culturally, and your families will put on you, that sometimes you have to think a little bit like, is this what I want to do with my kids?
So, as a mother, having that sense of community is so important and not to be isolated. Also, I love when you say grace, because we have to give ourselves grace. We are trying to do a lot. And expectations sometimes we feel from society are that we can have a full-time job. We can be full-time mom, we can run a household, we can keep, take care of our health, we can do community work, we can be at church — all of these things. And I realize one of those balls is going to fall, right? And which ones are the most important that I have to hold in my hand? And as a pediatrician myself, it’s something I talk to my new moms a lot about to realize there’s not one way to breastfeed your baby.
There’s nothing wrong, if you want to add Similac versus Enfamil. The diaper brand is OK. And to allow them to make those decisions, not to feel judged, but also to know that they have the whole collective wisdom of so many people that are there to support them. And that it is OK to make a mistake.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: I’d like to ask you both a little bit about motherhood and health, and specifically about some of the ways that being a mother affects the health of the mother. So, for folks who are parenting and for mothers in particular. And Dr. Vidal-Phelan, if I could start with you, what are some of the things that come to mind as you think about ways that women can prioritize or tend to their own health, even in the context of mothering their children?
Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan: That’s a great question. You know, I’ve been practicing medicine for over 20 years, and I have this discussion with my parents all the time, especially brand new moms. I remind them, you have to have that postpartum visit. That postpartum visit is critical. I know that you also need to come to the pediatrician for your baby. And there’s all these, many things that are happening. But if you don’t take care of you, you cannot take care of my patient, which is your baby. So, I selflessly tell them, you have to do this for yourself so that my patient is going to be OK. And they laugh. And I say, “And I care about you.”
And as mothers, we continue to grow with our kids in our journey, you know, we really have to purposely and intentionally — and I speak to myself — to take time to take care of ourselves. And I encourage folks in your family or your friends to hold each other accountable. I have to say, my sister has held me accountable to some screening tests that I have to get done at my age.
My own father reminds me, “Have you had your annual physical exam this year?” And I say, “Yes, dad.” And it’s just so important that your family, your friends, your spouse, even your kids remind you, I need to go to the doctor. I need to take care of myself. I also eat vegetables and fruits. I have to exercise. I have to sleep. And you’re setting that example for your children.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: Yeah. Setting that example for children I think is so important. I’m curious, Muffy, in the community that has been built by Brown Mamas; is talking about how the community members should be taking care of themselves, does that come up along with how we can take care of our children?
Muffy Mendoza: Absolutely. All the time. It comes up all the time. I think in our community, a lot of times what we’re seeing is moms who have school-age kids who’ve just put off their own well-being and their own care for so long that it’s like having to get on a horse and learn how to ride all over again.
It’s so important to develop those wellness rhythms early on, when the baby is still a baby, because then those go with you. Whereas if you develop habits that are not centered around you, not centered around your health, it’s so easy to just continue those habits and then they become habits of your kids.
So, like Dr. Johanna said, whether it’s just eating fruits and vegetables, making sure everybody gets a healthy breakfast, I know that’s something that most working moms struggle with. Like how? Like what grab-and-go options can I give that are still healthy, that aren’t loaded with sugar? Because then we’re talking about sending kids to school. And now the kid didn’t have a good breakfast. And, so, especially when we’re talking about Black women because we’re under an enormous amount of stress, to just, number one, many times be something that there’s no way that we could possibly be. And, then on the other hand, that is just the stresses and pressures that we put on ourselves, because we’re trying to oftentimes live up to unrealistic expectations that we have.
So, I think a lot of what we do with Brown Mamas is around wellness. Most of the things we do are around wellness — emotional, mental, social wellness — helping moms see that other moms have different norms, and it’s OK to stop and start a new norm. And it’s OK to even start a new norm and fail at it miserably, and start it again, you know? So just really giving moms the opportunity to have spaces where they feel like it’s OK to fail, because being a Black mother in America, that’s one of the hidden messages that we receive is that it is not OK to fail. Like once you fail, you’re devastated. I’ve had so many moms come to me and just say, “I tried to do this and it just didn’t happen. And I never tried again.” And so it’s really important. Those 0 to 5 years with your baby are priceless.
And it’s so important that we make space for moms to be able to make healthy decisions during that time, so that she feels comfortable advocating for herself. She feels comfortable putting herself first when necessary, which is most of the time, and she feels comfortable making decisions that may not, may go up against the reality that she may believe she faces, so that she can build habits that will allow her to see clearly that she is actually the author of her mothering journey. And it doesn’t belong to anybody else. Nobody else is writing the book. She’s writing the book herself.
Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan: That’s amazing. You know, I’m here, clapping. And I appreciate that, you’re writing your own journey, book, motherhood, and to give permission to yourself to do that, that’s just — similar to your experience with Brown Mamas, I feel the same about our Latina mamas. There’s so much expectation. Many of us are trying to parent when our parents are not in this country, and they’re far away. And definitely they have a lot of words of wisdom that are very important. Yet we are in a different culture and language, and it’s a very different experience from the one I grew up in. And really acknowledging that, understanding that you are in between these two worlds, and how do you incorporate the best of where you came from and the best of this culture and try to bring up these children into accepting who they are, but also who, as a mom, I’m not going to raise my kids the same way my mom or my grandmother raised me. And, so some of those decisions are tough to make, yet I’m making them myself because I know it’s the best for my kids, and it’s OK.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: I think we have to acknowledge that the things you’re talking about — women prioritizing their own well-being, ensuring that they tend to themselves as they mother and parent — that, while I doubt anybody would overtly disagree with that being important, I think we have to acknowledge that it still takes a lot of courage and that it still is, in a way, like a radical act, something that — and I think it’s more of a radical act for some populations than for others and for Black and Brown mothers, for Latino mothers, and for mothers who come from underrepresented populations I think it’s a more radical act because there are a different set of expectations. You know, health is one of the things that I think we still can’t and won’t ever be able to figure out how to engineer time out of the equation for.
And, so, I do think that you have to take time to be healthy, which I think then either means you are very privileged, because I think one of the biggest markers of privilege is having control over your own time, and that is not an equitably distributed privilege by any sense. And, so if you aren’t in that small percentage of people, then you’re engaging in a radical act because you’re taking time from someone who’s got power over how your time is spent. But it is just critically important.
So, I guess I would say this certainly doesn’t change the fact that women taking time for their health, especially while they’re playing the role of a parent, is important. And it doesn’t change the fact that it’s difficult. But I think it’s important for us to begin to acknowledge while we talk about that importance, that most of the time it’s not going to be easy and you might get pushback for doing that from any number of people in your life and in your sphere. But, nonetheless, we have to continue to advocate for that being the norm, even though it’s not, for sure.
Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan: And ask for help, I know that’s one of the toughest things. But, you know, if you’re a mom with three kids, two jobs, and you don’t have PTO, you have to ask for help many times. “Could you watch my kids so I can go get taken care of and go to meet the doctor and take care of my, my medical needs, my spiritual needs, my behavioral health needs and mental health?”
I think as a society, we really need to acknowledge how important mothers, parents are. And we have ways to go, in regards to how, as a society, we focus on families, we focus on children and parents, and we support them. The isolation that you mentioned earlier is real. And many times people are asking for help and there’s nobody there to support them. So, connecting with organizations like, for example, Brown Mamas. I talk to my families about who is in your community that you can work with. Is there a part-time daycare that can help so you can run to take care of you? We really have to do a better job and really highlight how important it is not only for ourselves, but is for the next generation. Because healthy mom, healthy baby, and we have to invest in our next generation, too.
Muffy Mendoza: Absolutely. And also just taking some of the onus off moms in our communities to always be the ones asking for help. At the end of the day, there’s tons of data, people who have privilege, and I even include myself in that because I’m a person who gets to choose what I do with a lot of my time.
So the people in our communities, the institutions in our communities, we have to take the onus off people that don’t know because a lot of times our moms, they don’t even realize they’re on this time race because they’re just, this is their normal, this is their baseline. So it takes for someone to acknowledge like, “Hey, I see that, you know, you’ve worked 40 hours-plus this week. And I know that my son said that your son didn’t have a lunch. Can I pack a few extra things? Is it OK if I do that?” Or not asking at all. Just saying, hey, I told my son all the time, if he comes to me and says somebody didn’t eat lunch, I’ll just say, “Hey, we’re going to pack a couple of extra things for him,” and that’s it. Like, take the onus off of the parent to always be the one to ask for help, because sometimes they don’t know how. Sometimes, most of the time, there’s so much shame, guilt associated with them asking for help.
I’ve had so many moms tell me, like, I would never ask for help because I wasn’t allowed to ask for help when I was a kid and I was experiencing poverty, or, you know, when my mom wasn’t home for hours at a time or my dad wasn’t present, like, we weren’t allowed to ask for help. So, really normalizing, not forcing people to ask for help, but really just doing the right thing as a society. So we have to look out for each other, you know, regardless of what anyone else is doing in our community.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: I love that. I think that the function of a good community is so important. And, as you said, you know, don’t put the onus on the people who need help to then also have to ask for it all of the time. And good community fabric and structure can certainly help there.
I think we all may share the attribute of having a child who’s getting ready to enter high school. You both have children who have been in high school, so I’m particularly interested in your ideas about parenting teenagers and parenting as children enter into adulthood. But, Muffy, if I could start with you. If any of those stages of parenting or becoming a grandmother or how communities can really kind of be a village that helps raise children, thoughts that you have on any of those topics?
Muffy Mendoza: Yeah, that is something that’s really palpable for me. I have a child entering high school, I have a child in high school, and I have a son in college right now.
And I think for me, the one resounding truth the last two years is that, you will never stop being a mom. It doesn’t go away. There’s not a magical 18. Your child is away from you, but in so many ways, I’m guessing this is going to be the rest of my son’s 20s, he’s still there. He still doesn’t know how to call and make a doctor’s appointment. He still needs me to take him to renew his license. He still needs me to do so many things for him. And the one thing I can reflect on right now is how important my mother has become to me. I am at the point where I call my mom every single day because there’s always something new that I’m like, “I have never experienced this before. Like, what do I do? Like, what do you do with this seemingly grown person?” And so I always had a saying when I first started Brown Mamas to remind my moms, “We are raising adults,” because people always say, “I’m raising my kids, I’m raising” … you’re not, you’re raising adults. So, be mindful of what you do now. Because that behavior, that habit, it becomes an adult habit that you now have to contend with.
Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan: I’m a mom of two teenagers, one entering high school and one entering his senior year. And you couldn’t be more specifically right about this. And, I think, you know, to those that are listening, this is a journey. And if you raise one teenager, that does not mean you know how to raise the second one or the third one. They’re all different human beings. Different needs. It’s a rollercoaster. And it’s just, you know, understanding that their journeys are different.
I also wanted to talk about the new mom, because that’s one stage I love as a pediatrician. I really love especially when you become a mom for the first time and you see that transformation. It is enormous. It’s the most life-changing event in my entire life. It was just becoming a mom for the first time. And I love to talk to moms about their feelings, how are they doing? [There’s] so much focus on this little baby, and remind them, “you need to take care of yourself.”
And many times it’s like we cannot be the perfect mom if you haven’t slept more than three hours in one month. We need to change that. That is not good for you. That means let’s have a partner, family, friend — for those that have the ability and the privilege of having family close by. But this is where we need to make certain decisions that are really prioritizing basic things that sometimes we take for granted, like sleeping, eating, having some time for yourself, doing something fun that rejuvenates you, connecting with people, even if it has to be by phone, by Zoom. But being there with that person, with your child as part of the journey is the most amazing privilege. So enjoy the ride.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: I think that idea of grace is important here as well. I mean, the idea that you’re speaking to, that, you know, motherhood is a journey and it doesn’t end, but that we as mothers have to adapt and change and shift.
And those times of adaptation and shifting are fraught with getting it wrong and fraught with, you know, failing. And I think we have to have the grace for ourselves and for the communities that we’re a part of with other mothers that that’s OK. You don’t have to get it right the first time, the second time. And why I think, you know, I don’t know if you have had this experience, but I’m guessing that you’ve had the chance to be part of a village for helping to mother other children. And I know if I’m talking to a good friend’s child, sometimes I feel like I can see things so much more clearly. You know, it’s not fraught with everything that, you know, the expectations probably, mostly that I put on myself, that I bring to some of the interactions with my daughter. And, so, I really enjoy getting to be a supporting cast in other children’s lives. And I think it helps bring me some clarity as I work to mother my own child. And I’m so grateful for the other people in my community that are my supporting cast for my daughter, because it helps me understand I don’t have to have and nor will I have all of the answers ever.
Muffy Mendoza: I think that also speaks to the value of stepparents, aunts, uncles. They just see so much. I don’t think we understand that. I remember when they put my oldest son in my arms for the first time, there was nothing you could do to tell me he wasn’t perfect. And as he got older, you know, kids do things. They tell lies, they punch their cousins. And even still, I think as a mom, it’s hard. It’s hard to not want to be like, ”Well, why did they do it?”
And I think that’s where that village comes in, because the village is like looking at you like, “Mom, he punched cousin and he did it on purpose.” And I think they just give you that ability to be more, you know, objective about your kids. But they also, if they love you, are doing it in a way that shows you grace. They’re not blasting it on social media or, you know, telling people you’re a bad mom. They’re telling you because they want you to be better. And that’s what motherhood kind of is. It’s like I always describe it as when you first have the baby, the first thing that happens is you’re like “goo goo gaga.”
And then I feel like somebody shoots a shotgun and then you just run and you’re like, floating. And then over time, you look behind you and you look and then you’re like, I kind of don’t have to run and I can kind of slow down and it turns into like a jog and you can, like, look around you and say, OK, I can do this a little bit better. And I could maybe slow down here and actually stop and pick up a flower. Or maybe I need to stop at my friend’s house and get a drink of water. Like that’s what, that’s what the stages of motherhood is like. It’s this opportunity really for self-mastery. I mean, I love the kid, but I also love who I’m becoming because I get to be around the kid, because kids are the most truthful people. So, the older my kids get, the more I just realize that it’s about them, but it’s about mom, too.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: I totally agree with everything you just said. I love that. What are you thinking, Dr. Johanna?
Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan: You know, the image of the children as little sponges is real. There is this, you can’t see it, It’s an invisible umbilical cord with these children. My children know when I walk through the door, if I had a good day or not. My children can tell if I’m stressed. I don’t tell them. They know, they’re in their rooms and they already know. It’s something that just vice versa — they don’t have to tell me, I kind of feel it. And, so, when you were speaking, I was thinking of, you know, this amazing power of the mama bear feelings that I had never felt before until I had my children and many times in my life, if something happened to me personally, I’d be like, I can’t handle this.
But when my child is hurt by somebody else, my child is bullied, my child has a negative experience, I have to mentally tone it down, calm myself down, and that just shows the power of the love that you have for these children. You want them to not experience these things. And you know, life is life, and you have to let them experience life.
But when things like that, disappointments, broken hearts, happen to them, for me personally, it’s even worse than it happened to myself. And so, that is just the beauty of the power of motherhood and parenthood, and how it’s important for children to have that connection, to have a safe space and place to come home to.
I tell this to my kids all the time, doesn’t matter where you are, doesn’t matter where you move, doesn’t matter where you go to college — this is your home. Wherever I am, you can come, you can tell me anything. I’m not going to be shocked. I’m a pediatrician. I’ve heard it all. And so definitely just opening that door for communication. It’s going to be another important aspect of this journey, too.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: I do think that tolerating our children’s distress is so important. And it is so remarkably painful to see your children be in pain. But if you, as the mother, can model that this can be contained, right? I can tolerate this, I can sit in this pain or sorrow with you. You know, it teaches the child it is containable. Right? We can’t let ourselves get overwhelmed by it, because that’s not the lesson that we want our children to learn, that, you know, that we have to tolerate distress and figure out ways through. But certainly (it’s) part of the rollercoaster for sure.
Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan: I think it’s important to also, as parents know, when to intervene. There are times where our children cannot verbalize — “I need you to help me.” But you are there and understand that whatever is happening, you can’t change the world. You can’t change people. But if there’s something that you can do to advocate and that’s the other thing that my child, especially my eldest, taught me,
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: Absolutely. Advocating for your children in a way that helps them learn how to embody advocating for themselves. Absolutely.
Muffy Mendoza: Advocating has a lot to do with community, I think, because the older your kids get, in my opinion, I think young kids absolutely need us to advocate for them, especially when they’re nonverbal, especially if they have, you know, some type of special difference about them, then they absolutely need advocation. But the older your kids get, the more advocating your kids really becomes about knowing your kid and knowing where your kid sits in terms of their community, understanding, you know, what their strengths are, and where their strengths are going to be appreciated, and where their strengths are not going to be appreciated. And really having an honest viewpoint about that.
We talk about advocating for our kids a lot in the Brown Mamas community because we have a lot of parents who have special needs kids. And, so, we talk a lot about developing those relationships early on.
Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan: I agree. It’s a proactive approach.
Muffy Mendoza: Right?
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: Well, let me end by asking you both a question about what you’re most hopeful about. And Dr. Johanna, if I can start with you, when it comes to parenting and women’s health, is there anything that you’re especially hopeful about?
Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan: You know, I think that it’s truly a privilege to raise the next generation, you know, from a society perspective, from a family, cultural perspective. I am really excited about this new generation of children growing into adulthood and how they’re so curious and they’re asking questions. And sometimes they say things because they see how things are happening in society. And I’m like, ”I never thought of that.” ”I didn’t know that.” And really, to create that space of creativity and empowerment for them to think, and for them to really go there and change the world, you know, I’m very positive about that. From a woman’s health perspective, I advise folks, find somebody who’s going to hold you accountable. It is so important.
When my sister sent me a text and said, “Hey, did you do this test that you had to get done?” “No.” She said, “When are you doing it?” And it’s like, oh my gosh, she really cares. And, so, for a woman health perspective, find a buddy, find a partner, find a friend, find a family member that is going to hold you accountable, is going to help you, is going to make you feel guilty if you don’t finish your testing and it’s going to be there for you and care for you.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: Muffy, how about you?
Muffy Mendoza: I am most hopeful about the self- and communal-care movement that is taking hold in the United States, especially among Black and Brown populations. I think it is beautiful. A decade ago, when I started Brown Mamas, there were just a few women doing this kind of work, and now there are tons.
Literally, there are Black mommy groups popping up in cities, Latina mommy groups popping up in cities. You know, pretty much any affinity group you can think about. There are mom groups for those individuals. And, I think that that is going to have such a beautiful ripple effect into our future. Just the ability for moms to really center their need for social, emotional, mental, physical health.
And I think that’s what’s happening. I lead conversations oftentimes with organizations getting moms to think deeper about self-care and not just thinking about pampering, but really thinking about like, am I keeping my doctor’s appointments? You know, am I taking a walk every day to center myself? Have I spoken to my best friend? Like, when was the last time I talked to my friends? But really getting them to think deeper about that.
And I think the deeper we go into really examining, not only self-care itself, but the reasons why we’ve put off self-care as a society for so long, I think, you know, we will get to a place where people really begin to understand how important it is that we value individuals in the workplace and our communities within any institutions, and also that helps kids to understand why they should value their parents, like when they see that they need to take care of themselves and they see how they feel when they don’t take care of themselves.
It’s changing the whole way we think about care in our country. It’s changing the onus for who should be taking care of who and how we should take care of each other, and also taking some of the onus off of professionals to always be the ones with the answers. Like, it’s important for professionals to have answers, but it’s also important to have educated, well thought-out questions, right? That actually leads to real systemic change. And so the self-care movement and the communal-care movement — and I always like to say not just self-care, but the communal-care movement — I think is just beautiful. And I’m hopeful about what it brings back to us, you know, generations from now.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: I agree. Well, Muffy, Brown Mamas is such an important organization. I want to thank you so much for the work that you’re doing and say thank you for being on Good Health, Better World.
Muffy Mendoza: I’m excited. Thank you.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: And Doctor Johanna, thank you for taking time to talk with us on Good Health, Better World.
Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan: Thank you so much, Ellen, for having me. Truly an honor.
Muffy Mendoza: Thank you too, Dr. Johanna.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: Good health and well-being are key in helping people feel equipped to be caregivers. Check the show notes at postindustrial.com/goodhealth to learn more about Brown Mamas and all of the ways that UPMC Health Plan helps women and their families enjoy the best health possible.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: We’re excited to bring you some bonus content to accompany this episode on parenting, and that’s a short conversation that I was able to have with my daughter, Louise Hope Burke. My identity as a parent is a big part of who I am and I was really happy to have a chance to talk with Lou about her perspectives as an adolescent on health and on women’s health in particular.
So I’m here with Louise Burke, my 14-year-old child, who happens to be a young woman. And just wanted to ask you, from your perspective as a young woman, tell me a little bit about what you think about health and if you think health is important.
Louise Burke: Well, I think that for teen health especially, I think the two things that are really important is eating healthy. You know, in America especially, we have a lot of grease in food and that can really affect our health. And being confident. I think that’s a big thing as a teen, because especially in middle school, you can definitely be very insecure and not really know who you want to be, your gender, your identity. But if you’re confident, it changes a lot about who you want to be and who you are, as a teen, and that’s still, you know, complies with your health because it makes you confident.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: So you think that health is about how your body physically is and how your sort of heart and soul emotionally are.
Louise Burke: Yeah.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: They’re both important.
Louise Burke: Definitely.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: Do you think that we pay attention to one more than the other?
Louise Burke: I think that people pay attention to physical health with teens a lot more than mental health. You know, teens go through a lot of, most of the time, you know, I don’t know how many times my friends have gone through really depressing times because of people saying things about their physical appearance, you know? And I think that’s a huge thing in teen health because once they, you know, get judged on their body or anything like that … that complies, that goes back to their mental health, of where they (aren’t) confident. And they’re not, you know, they’re just not confident in their own self or their own worth. And that can lead to depression or lead to insecurities and that can really go down with health.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: Do you think that people your age are comfortable asking for help for their emotional health?
Louise Burke: That’s a really hard question. Personally, I am.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord: I’m glad. That’s a really good observation. Well, Louise, I want to thank you for having a short conversation with your mama on Good Health, Better World.
Louise Burke: I appreciate it.
Dr. Ellen Beckjord, MPH, is host of the Good Health, Better World podcast.
Ellen is a behavioral scientist, epidemiologist, and licensed clinical psychologist working at the intersection of population and digital health. A long-time member of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, Ellen currently serves on the board of directors as president-elect.
Her work focuses on promoting health, wellness, and health behavior change. She is vice president of population health and clinical optimization for UPMC Health Plan based in Pittsburgh.
Ellen trained at the University of Vermont, where she worked with cancer survivors and their families, at Vanderbilt University, and at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
She completed post-doctoral research at the National Cancer Institute in the Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch within the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences. She spent nearly five years in academic medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and Hillman Cancer Center.
Ellen also is the co-author of “Porchtraits” in which she interviewed people in Pittsburgh during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic about what they were learning, missing, enjoying, what surprised them, and what they felt hopeful about.
Ellen’s guiding principle: “Lead with love.”
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