Did you think about what maternal mental health even meant before you found yourself diagnosed with or experiencing a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder? I didn’t—and I already possessed risk factors for postpartum depression. I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder and lived through bouts of major depression in the years leading up to giving birth.
So why didn’t I think about how important maternal mental health is before I sat in a rocking chair weeping over my newborn son?
It was 2005. The Internet wasn’t quite what it was. I hadn’t discovered Postpartum Progress yet. My husband knew I experienced anxiety, but it was something we lived with, dealt with on a daily basis. Surely it didn’t mean I would have a hard time adjusting to motherhood.
We paint motherhood with rosy tones and tell stories about how the pain goes away right after birth. I spoke with a new mom yesterday, checking in on her as I cuddled her adorable newborn, and she commented about how no one told her about how long the physical pain of vaginal birth lasts, about sitting down and cringing. If we’re not telling moms that, oh my goodness, yes, your nether regions are going to be sore, are we really telling them what they need to know about maternal mental health?
If we tell them that the pain of childbirth dissipates as soon as your baby is placed in your arms, aren’t we setting them up for emotional and mental failure when they don’t immediately feel that bond? Are we doing them a disservice when we walk into their hospital room or visit during that first week and say, “You look so good! You must be so happy to finally have her on the outside!”
I’m not suggesting we go full Gloom and Doom on motherhood. There is beauty. It is deep and real and can change the lives of both parents forever. Some births go exactly as planned and dreamed. Some postpartum experiences involve very little hormonal crash during that first two weeks when the Baby Blues are expected and then go swimmingly for the first year.
But for one in seven women, it doesn’t go that way. Birth plans get tossed aside and mothers end up with traumatic births, even PTSD. Babies end up in the NICU, which is another risk factor for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Situations with the baby’s other parent aren’t supportive, leaving the new mom feeling alone and helpless. Poverty, an inability to provide basics, and fear of what that means leave some moms scrambling from day to day. Well-intentioned comments from friends and family about the beauty of motherhood leave other moms feeling silenced and as if they’re broken, as if they can’t even do motherhood properly.
And that’s just in the United States, you guys, where we have access, albeit sometimes difficult to attain, to both medical and mental health care. What about the rest of the mothers across the globe?
That’s why World Maternal Mental Health Day matters. That’s why the #AskHer campaign we’ve been participating in this week with the May Campaign matters. That’s why calling up or texting new moms in your life matters. Those of us who have been here, done this, have the Warrior Mom tattoo (literal or figurative!) to prove it are a real, legitimate lifeline to those who find themselves confused, hurting, and feeling oh-so alone. Peer support matters. You matter. Those new moms matter.
We encourage you to #AskHer this week, and all weeks, how she’s really feeling. Maternal Mental Health matters. Always.