Reflections on Motherhood and Mental Health

For me the anxiety started early. I checked multiple times per night that my son was breathing. I’d stop several times when driving places just to make sure he was safely buckled in his car seat. At first, I thought these worries were normal for a new mother and that they were something I’d easily outgrow.

When I realized that maybe my anxiety was something more serious was when I experienced difficulty breastfeeding. Each day became a battle of counting ounces and pumping and feeling like a complete failure. I started to unravel. My head became filled with thoughts that I was a complete failure, that my son’s health was in jeopardy, and that this was somehow indicative of how the rest of my motherhood journey would feel.

I felt surrounded by a cloud of darkness, unable to enjoy the day to day moments with my son. I cried daily and was consumed with worry that if I failed at the first major part of motherhood I was destined to fail at everything else. When I turned online for support in breastfeeding I was met with my efforts being questioned, judgment for giving my son formula, and pity that I wasn’t able to exclusively breastfeed him. It wasn’t until one lactation consultant congratulated me for doing what I needed to in order to keep my baby healthy that I actually felt the weight had been partially lifted.

I think if every new mom encountered one person who could tell her that she was doing okay, that she was enough, that she was a good mom, the weight would be lighter on all of our shoulders and we could walk taller and stronger.

It was hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that something I wanted very much created so much stress, sadness, and worry. I guess motherhood isn’t very different from the other goals we strive for in our life. When we search for greatness it doesn’t mean the road will be smooth and well-paved. Many times the road to what we truly want is bumpy and full of holes, leading us to question if we can keep going. The major difference with motherhood, however, is that you can’t turn back. There is no choosing comfort and shrinking away from the responsibility.

After months of just struggling to get through the day, I realized that my self-worth was so wrapped up in society’s expectations that I had completely lost touch with the mother I wanted to be. I gave up my battle with breastfeeding to save my mental health. I started researching maternal mental health. I went back to work part time. I decided I had to find myself again, both inside and outside of motherhood.

I’ll never get back those first six months with my son. And although sometimes I feel sadness thinking I could have enjoyed it more, the anxiety and depression I felt breathed a new purpose and life into me. I completed a certification course in Maternal Mental Health from Postpartum Support International. I started blogging about maternal mental health at Full Motherhood,  and then a fellow blogger brought the gift of service into my life.

Julia Henrichs had an idea. She wanted to start a community of moms who supported each other without judgment. She envisioned a community where decisions over feeding, diapering and parenting philosophies were put aside to help moms grow. She wanted to create a space where moms could be focused on being the best versions of themselves regardless of what society wants them to be.

And before long, our shared experiences combined to create the Mentoring 4 Moms community, a free online mentoring program for any and every mom. We pair up moms from across the country and world to spend 30 minutes of online contact per week providing support, encouragement and connection. Our weekly articles and resources focus on self care and personal growth, so you won’t find recipes, breastfeeding tips or the latest parenting trends on our private Facebook page. But you will find a welcoming space for self-awareness, shared coping skills and support without judgment.

I believe that maternal mental health really matters. I needed it to matter. The 1 in 7 mothers who suffer from postpartum depression need it to matter. We are a generation of women who matter, raising an entire new generation of people who matter. We deserve the support, tools and resources to be the best version of ourselves for our children, our friends, our partners and ourselves.

How-can-I-help?

Take the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Stigma Free Pledge. Help change the way the world sees mental health. Share your story and experiences to help others know there is hope and understanding. Click here to add your name to the millions of Americans who believe that mental health is not a secret that should be kept.

Donate to Organizations that Educate and Advocate for Maternal Mental Health. Postpartum Progress and Postpartum Support International are key organizations that offer services to mothers and fathers through access to local providers, support groups, and online support. The 2020 Mom Project is an advocacy organization that is focused on closing gaps in services through working with healthcare professionals, mental health providers, and health insurance companies to ensure adequate screening and treatment of mothers with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs). Perinatal Outreach and Encouragement POEM is a local organization that offers local support groups and access to providers that accepts donations and volunteers.

Volunteer your time to offer support or spread awareness. Postpartum Progress hosts their annual Climb Out of the Darkness hike or walk that is usually scheduled on or near the longest day of the year to “help shine the most light on perinatal mood an anxiety disorders’ This event was held locally last year and an excellent raise to participate in fundraising and raising awareness.

You can also become a 2020 Mom Ambassador and participate in a variety of ways to help raise awareness through distributing materials on maternal health in your community, holding a diaper drive for mothers in need, or advocating to local and state officials about the importance of legislation that provides more access to mental health services. You can also become a mom mentor through Mentoring 4 Moms and provide your support to a mother who needs it.

Ask a mother you know how she’s doing. Most likely she will say “fine” or “okay.” Then ask her how she is really doing. Offer nonjudgmental support. Tell her about the organizations that offer help. Offer practical support to the mothers in your life. Had a friend that just had a baby? Go over with a meal or offer to watch the baby while she takes a nap or shower. Help her take care of herself so she can take care of her child.

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