Why It's Important to Talk About Mom's Mental Health
May is an important month. Not only is it my firstborn’s birthday month and Mother’s Day, but it is Mental Health Awareness Month.
If you had told me that a few years ago, I would have shrugged it off. It wouldn’t have matter much to me, and truth be told, I had little sympathy for those who struggled with mental health issues. I told myself that it was all in their heads.
And it was… But they couldn’t help it.
It wasn’t until I had my oldest that I understood. Because I struggled with Postpartum Depression. Me. The person who didn’t “believe” in mental health issues. The person who thought it was weak and vulnerable to admit there was a problem.
The truth is, 1 in 5 women suffer from some form of postpartum illness. There is a nasty stigma that follows postpartum depression and that stems from a deep history of keeping quiet and pretending that everything is ok. The more we (moms) stay quiet, the worse the stigma becomes and the harder it feels to reach out for help. Mental illness is hard enough to talk about, but if there is shame and embarrassment associated with talking about it, that makes it even more difficult.
For the love of all things good, let’s talk about it. We can’t afford to not talk about it. In order to give our best selves to our children and provide a loving, nurturing environment, we need to take care of ourselves first. Not to be mistaken with being selfish, taking care of your mental health is crucial for caring for your children and marriage.
One of the biggest myths about postpartum illnesses is that is only happens right after childbirth. Mothers of all stages can suffer from PP illnesses in some form - anxiety, depression, OCD, and even PTSD.
It could never happen to me.
I remember being pregnant with my first and being terrified, but thinking that PPD would never happen to me. That was my first mistake.
I was thrown into motherhood in the the worst way. I wasn’t given any time off work, and that should have been a red flag. But I was so hellbent on working and being a mom that I allowed it to happen and I didn’t take time to recover and really learn how to be a mom. I went to a meeting the day after I came home from the hospital. It was awful. I wanted the cry the whole day and was engorged and didn’t know what to do. But I sat through the meeting and swallowed all my negative feelings because I felt like I needed to be a good employee.
I was unable to breastfeed, despite trying for a month. My daughter was hungry, I was frustrated, and our pediatrician wasn’t helpful. All in all, it was a hard month. My husband didn’t have off work (or any kind of paternity leave), which made it even harder. I was fortunate to have my mom and family help a TON.
What I didn’t realize (until it was too late) was that I was slipping into a dark, dark place. I was irritable, sad, miserable, and lonely. I had just given birth, had more family and friends around than ever, and never felt so awful. But I shook it off, blaming the balancing act of hormones that was going on.
It wasn’t until a few months down the road that my mom suggested I try talking to someone. A therapist. I shuddered at the thought. Therapists are for people who are weak and unable to handle their own crap, I thought.
Boy, was I wrong.
My therapy sessions were all done over the phone, so in a way, it was easier to open up. I didn’t have to look anyone in the eye, I could sit in my own house and talk openly, privately, and it a comfortable environment. And although we never met in person, my therapist was an older lady who reminded me of a grandmother-type person.
If for no other reason, talking to her gave me someone that would listen to me vent, and be an objective 3rd party. I could talk about what I was feeling without feeling like I was getting judged or an “I told you so” by anyone in my family. None of my friends had kids yet, so I couldn’t really talk to them and have them understand what I was going through.
It took months for me to get back to normal, feeling like I wasn’t in a consistent fog.
My second birth was approached differently. Not because I knew what to expect going from one child to two, or because I knew how my body would react. But knew that since I had PPD before, I could get it again. I talked to people this time. I made it known when I needed help, or when I didn’t feel okay. I didn’t let myself slide into that same pit of sadness.
The most helpful thing we did as a family was have a clear plan as to what was going to happen once the baby arrived. Brian was staying home the first week (or so) to help, and I took a solid month off work and didn’t even check my work email. I spent time cherishing every baby snuggle and letting Caroline “help” and get used to her baby sister and her new role as a big sister. We had time to really get used to our newest addition without work or other commitments getting in the way. In a way, it was an unspoken “postpartum plan” that focused on our family - nothing else.
That’s not to say I didn’t, and still don’t, have days when I feel heavy. Days when I can’t get out of the fog. The “baby blues” sometimes feel more like I’m seeing red. My patience wears thin and I have days when I want to get out of the house for a few hours by myself to recharge my battery - even if it means going to a coffee shop to work for an hour or two. There is support from my husband and family where I can take time to sleep, breathe, and refuel so I can give 100% to my girls.
Floodgate of Communication
PPD can be debilitating. But talking about it can be rewarding. It can get you out of the dark and can teach you a lot about yourself, your baby, and your needs as a new mom. First and foremost - you are not alone.
An average of 15% of mothers have reported having some form of postpartum illness. Based on the near 4 million births in the U.S. annually, this means approximately 600,000 women get PPD each year.
That’s a lot.
I think it’s important to remind people that they aren’t alone in their struggles as a new mom, seasoned mom, or with mental health issues. It’s hard to talk about, but the vulnerability that comes with opening up is incredibly freeing.
For any new mom who feels lost, alone, sad, or struggling, let’s talk about it. Breaking the stigma will only happen if we consistently and purposefully talk about it. Talk to a friend, a family member, or go to support groups at local hospitals for new moms. A lot of women's centers have breastfeeding support groups that also double as a chance to get out of the house and socialize with moms who are in the same boat as you.
The point is - find someone you can talk to. Openly discuss your challenges and struggles and I guarantee you'll find someone who is, or has, gone through the same thing.
If you or someone you know needs to chat, drop me a line. I'd love to talk.