I remember being pregnant and veteran moms confiding in how much my life was about to change. “What does that even mean?” I thought. My partner and I wanted this baby so much and we felt as prepared as we could have been. I was so supported throughout my pregnancy and took care of every aspect of my well-being. And still, motherhood hit me like a ton of bricks.
Maternal mental health is getting more attention these days as more moms are speaking out about their experiences with postpartum depression and anxiety, birth trauma, and parenting struggles. And, it wasn’t until I had my daughter that I started to understand the gravity of “Mom Guilt”, felt the effects of sleep deprivation, and experienced my body’s involuntary reaction to hearing my daughter in distress that I realized both how much moms need support and how much stigma there still is in asking for it.
What are some of the reasons why Moms don’t seek help?
- A real or sensed belief that someone will deem you an “unfit parent.” Sometimes a deep want to protect your baby takes a twist in your mind into thinking about the worst possible thing happening to them. Intrusive and repetitive thoughts of hurting your baby are horrifying to think about and very hard to find a health professional you trust enough to tell. Let’s be clear though. Any professional who’s had training in perinatal and postpartum mental health knows that there are ZERO cases of moms fulfilling these fantasies if she finds them upsetting. Moms will go to extraordinary lengths to protect their babies and no mom should be criminalized for her mental health.
- You’ve had 10, 20, or 30 years of being independent. If you’re like a lot of women these days, you’re used to taking care of yourself, doing things on your schedule, and not relying on other people for your happiness and well-being. New motherhood is NOT the time to assert your independence though. In fact, isolation is a huge risk factor for perinatal mood disorders. Birdie Meyer, past president of Postpartum International says, “In our lives we have seasons of giving and seasons of receiving… As a new mom, you are in the season of receiving.” This means asking for help and allowing people to give it.
- You don’t have a sense of what’s normal and what’s not. Sleep deprivation or postpartum depression? Baby rash or something more serious? If you haven’t spent much time around other moms and young babies, the learning curve for taking care of a newborn is staggering. Not only is everything with your baby new, but you’re not sure what you’re feeling and whether it’s in the realm of normal. One gauge that may be helpful is whether you have a sense of “not feeling like yourself”. Postpartum depression and anxiety looks different for different people. Depression doesn’t necessarily look like crying all day or not being able to get out of bed. It could be not feeling anything at all. When it’s well outside of YOUR normal it’s a red flag to check-in further. If none of your care providers are screening you, take it upon yourself to take the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale to start to quantify how you’re feeling.
- You feel like you’re the only one struggling. If your only gauge of how your mom friends are doing is by their instagram and facebook photos, let me be the first to burst your bubble that everyone is struggling in their own way. You are not alone and if you can find a space where moms are being vulnerable and honest, you will find stories of heartbreak and fear of judgment. While the content of the stories is always different, the feelings are relatable. Building a community of people who “get it” is enormously validating and reassuring.
Even in the most beautiful births and happiest of circumstances to bring a baby into the world, there is still an incredible amount of grief and loss inherent in becoming a parent. There’s a metamorphosis that happens with our bodies and a sense of sacrifice in the physicality of what we give to our babies. There’s a sense of innocence lost as the gravity of responsibility for life weighs on us. There is also profound joy. And so much cuteness. Those first yawns can melt your heart. And there are times when the miracle of it all is almost impossible to believe. These feelings don’t happen in isolation from one another. They happen in tandem and it can be overwhelming to hold it all.
For me, asking for help looked like going to support groups. I met with a lactation consultant when I got mastitis and a sleep consultant when my daughter couldn’t rest without being bounced on a yoga ball with the vacuum running (no joke). I had a meal train and regular visitors. A friend started a therapist mama group where we met monthly. I created a secret facebook group with my friends from our birth class so we could talk with each other about what our very similarly aged babies were up to. And, I made art and wrote in my journal, knowing those spaces could hold my feelings while also shifting how I was thinking about myself.
There’s no one answer, rather, asking for help is a process of checking in with what you’re feeling, what you need in the moment, and reaching out to those who can offer care. Check out this list of resources in the Asheville area and I hope you make good use of them as our community of mothers is growing into an incredibly validating, supportive, and non-judgmental space where we come together and raise each other up.
*Note, I will continue to update and add to the resources page. Feel free to send me additional information if you’d like to add to this page!*