"Prioritizing our maternal mental health before and after baby needs to become the norm — not the exception." -Jen Schwartz founder of MOTHERHOOD | UNDERSTOOD
Women who are pregnant will likely spend most of their pregnancy anxiously awaiting appointments, deciding on a birth plan, learning how to care for their baby (and who will help if they return to a career), researching baby items and preparing a space in their home. But what about learning how to care for themselves?
After having grieved the loss of a pregnancy, and spending several months "trying", I became pregnant again. Rather than feeling relieved, I was overwhelmed with thoughts about how this pregnancy might "end". As a mental health provider, I had supported numerous women on their motherhood journey, and not just through 40 weeks of readiness, but also through infertility, pregnancy loss and postpartum complications such as depression and anxiety. I knew all too well that my mental health might suffer pre- and post-pregnancy and that this is common and treatable.
Still, I was less than prepared when postpartum anxiety hit me in the delivery room. My birth had not gone as planned, and I was now healing from a large incision in my abdomen. My baby was not latching properly, but I was discharged engorged, on the verge of mastitis and without a proper pump with the reassurance from my doctor that my previous experiences in the medical and mental health community would be enough for me to sort things out at home. Yet, the joy of seeing my newborn was quickly overshadowed by guilt that I "couldn't even feed him". Then came weeks of sleeplessness, more breastfeeding issues, dairy allergy, exclusively pumping and increased stress. Thank goodness I had education and experience on the issue and was able to recognize I needed extra help. Still, I was new to the community and the lack of education I received during pregnancy led me on a scavenger hunt for support. On a follow-up OB appointment, I asked for an evaluation for postpartum anxiety and a referral to a counselor. The name and phone number of one therapist was written on a piece of paper for me. Yet, the lack of understanding I received from that professional led me to discontinue services after just a few sessions and to pledge I would create better support services for women and families in my community.Thank goodness family was able to travel to help care for me and my baby those first weeks. It was a blur.
Here’s what I wish was provided as part of every woman's conversation from the moment women begin to discuss the possibility of becoming pregnant.
Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders don’t just happen to other people. It didn't matter that I was a "subject expert". It didn't matter that I was excited to be a mom, married to a supportive partner, financially secure. Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders don't care, and I probably suffered more because I thought I was immune.
Depression doesn’t mean you're going crazy. While depression occurs in 1 in 5 moms and 1 in 7 dads, psychosis affects only 1 to 2 out of 1,000 women who give birth. Find out more about the common symptoms women experience on the road to motherhood.
Take it seriously. Mothering is the hardest job you will ever love. It does not resemble the perfect pictures you see on social media, and to believe it should is why pregnant and new moms struggling with mental health often suffer in silence- shame. Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders are real illnesses that need professional treatment. They often require counseling, peer support and even medication, all of which carriy a stigma as many people still perceive mental health concerns as a character flaws.
Accept the help you deserve, for yourself and your baby. You don’t have to face pregnancy or motherhood alone and you don’t have to feel guilty asking for what you need. If you have a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder, you cannot fix it overnight and alone. You need a village of peers and time to heal. If your partner, family member or friend offers to bathe and rock the baby so you can sleep, say yes. If your neighbor offers to come over to help with the laundry and dishes, let them. If a coworker offers to set up a meal train or walk the dog, say yes. And if your parents or employer want to pay for a baby nurse, postpartum doula, or a few hours of babysitting, accept their offer.
There is nothing "wrong" with you. Having trouble leaving the house? Don't want to get out of bed? Difficulty concentrating? Mad at the world? Frustrated that nobody at homes "gets it"? Wondering why you have the difficult baby? Overwhelmed by nervousness? Unable to sleep? Don't like being a mom? You are one of thousands of women (and men) who were dealing with the same thing as I did. Still feel too ashamed to get help?
Motherhood will test you in ways nothing else can. You’re allowed to struggle. You’re allowed to fall apart. You’re allowed to feel like quitting. You’re allowed to not feel your best, and to admit that. Don’t keep the ugly and messy parts and feelings of infertility, pregnancy, loss and motherhood to yourself. Be gentle with yourself. Find your people — the ones who always keep it real, but never judge. They’re the ones who’ll support and accept you no matter what. If I can be one of those people for you, let me know. One of the gifts of my postpartum experience was a greater passion for helping other women. Please find the counseling tab to learn more about my services. Additionally, check out my passion project, MomSquad Napa Valley.