World Maternal Mental Health Day (May 6) is a day to recognize the importance of mental health during pregnancy and the immediate postpartum period.
2 in 10 women suffer from a mental health problem during pregnancy and the first year following birth, but most women don’t know it. Over 75% of those women don’t get the support and help they need.
It’s hard to understand the difference between mental health issues like postpartum depression and anxiety and the typical baby blues and mass emotional, physical and mental chaos of pregnancy and bringing home a newborn.
This day, May 6th and the first Wednesday of May every year, is being declared World Maternal Mental Health Day to raise awareness for mom’s everywhere.
Pregnancy and Bringing Home Baby
I walked into the experience of pregnancy and bringing home a baby completely unprepared and uneducated. Even as a licensed therapist, I had no idea what was a normal emotional and mental experience during pregnancy and postpartum and what needed extra attention.
I would often wonder to myself, and aloud to others, if my experience was normal. But I didn’t really know who to ask or where to go for the answers I needed.
At any given moment during pregnancy, you can experience about one million different emotions all at once. Amidst the incredible physical changes you experience, your emotional and mental health is also undergoing rapid changes and fluctuations.
The emotional experience of pregnancy tends to get downplayed- “oh is it pregnancy emotions?”… our emotions get downplayed anyway, but especially if there is any correlation to hormonal changes.
Whether you’re crying over the ending of Cars 1 (true story) or you’re experiencing real anxiety or grief, your emotion is valid. Our emotions are always valid (also true story) and don’t ever deserve to be demeaned or ignored or shoved aside. But especially during pregnancy, your emotion is valid and deserves attention and care.
Bringing home a baby is a wild ride. It was the most joy-filled, confusing, fun, exhausting, and weird time of my life. Trying to step into the role of mother (and new again mother) while recovering from birth is kind of like a game of chess. I think I understand the game, but somehow I always lose. 🤷♀️
Most moms I know feel the same way about the postpartum period- whether they are bringing home their first or fifth baby. The experience is wonderful but also so very layered.
The “normal” pregnancy and postpartum emotional, mental, and physical chaos doesn’t account for moms that have pre-existing mental health diagnoses. Some moms experience a reprieve from symptoms of mental health disorders, whether its depression or an eating disorder, but others experience an increase or new symptoms.
The fear of how pregnancy will impact their mental health can keep some moms from deciding to pursue pregnancy. For some moms, this is the right decision. For others, there are options. As a whole, we need to step up and support ourselves and each other.
It can be hard to recognize when we need extra support and care. If you have trouble trusting your gut, ask your spouse/partner, family, friends, or even trusted coworkers or a boss how they think you’re doing. Those around us can often see when we can’t.
Lean into your physical sensations, attitudes, and emotions. Maybe you’re someone who is in tune with your emotional experience- trust it, mama.
If you don’t have that emotional skill set- it’s okay, you can build it. Start by noticing your physical sensations: tightness in the chest, headaches, stomachaches, nausea, trouble breathing, feeling sluggish. Also look at your relational patterns: are you snapping at your kids or your spouse? Are you withdrawing? Notice any changes- sudden or subtle- in the way you connect with those you love.
Moms have this innate ability to take care of others and put themselves last. It’s a pattern that starts when the kids are babies… they literally can’t take care of themselves so you have to do everything for them. If you’re starving, but they need to eat or sleep or want you to hold them- that food has gotta wait. 😫 But it can easily become the way we function as moms and how we see our role in the family.
So the hardest thing after you recognize you need the extra support is to ask for it.
We stand in our own way 99.9% of the time because we feel like we don’t deserve the support we so desperately and crave. Whether you need 20 minutes to shower and fix your hair and put on some fresh underthings or you need to find a trained perinatal mental health therapist, you deserve it.
You are worthy of the support you need.
If you’re a mom that is so far removed from pregnancy and postpartum, it feels like a blip on your screen, please support the moms of littles around you.
When we discuss our anxiety or sadness or anger, please don’t tell us to enjoy the chaos because one day we will miss it. We know we’ll miss it.
As a mom of littles, I get it. I understand that truly the days are long, but the years are short. I spend every day longing for bedtime but also dreading it because in the morning, my precious ones will be one day older. When someone tells me to enjoy this time, it only demeans my emotional experience and screams that what I’m going through isn’t important- which reinforces what many moms are already struggling with!
So if a mom of littles is in tears or seems a little disheveled, sit with her. Listen to her. Don’t fix it. Don’t offer advice. Offer a listening ear. Hold the baby. Let her drink a hot cup of coffee or a coke before the ice melts. Sit with her.
And raise awareness for maternal mental health! It matters to us all and is a very important topic we need to be discussing- for the sake of our moms, kiddos, and families.
If you are a spouse/partner, family member, friend, or pastor of a new mom, this applies to you as well. Maternal mental health matters and its up to us to support the moms around us.
Want to learn more about World Maternal Mental Health Day? Visit the website to learn signs of maternal mental ill-health, get resources, and learn how to get involved.