Nothing compares to the levels of pure joy and, for some moms, the lowest of lows felt in those first weeks, months and even years after giving birth to a child. Why, then, in such a vulnerable time for both mothers and their children, when both are learning how to take care of one another, do we neglect to recognize the emotional toll?
Postpartum Support International, an organization dedicated to increasing awareness about the emotional changes women experience during pregnancy and postpartum, is sponsoring Cleveland’s Climb Out of the Darkness walk on June 24 at Lakewood Park. Thanks to collaborative efforts from local resources, including Resilient Mamas, Nurtured Foundation, Mother Rising and Circle of Life Birth Services, the unifying event will provide education about prevention and treatment for families facing Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs).
Climb Out of the Darkness walks are scheduled in 115 locations around the world. As of this writing, Cleveland’s walk is ranked third in funds raised from all participating teams. Join the Cleveland team and learn more about donating here.
Cleveland mom Rachel Bowers’ struggles began after the birth of her son in 2014 with the all-too-familiar challenges of breastfeeding. The first six months of her son’s life were filled with worry, anxiety and insurmountable pressure to produce enough, pump enough and ultimately be enough for her child.
“You can’t go into motherhood striving for perfection,” says Bowers. “You’re trying to raise a human being who in and of themselves is imperfect, so when we set that standard, we are setting ourselves up for failure.”
Bowers, a social worker and therapist, had a history of anxiety, but this felt different. Her all-consuming depression inspired her to pursue maternal mental health training with Postpartum Support International.
At the 20-week ultrasound appointment of her second child, Bowers learned her baby would possibly be born with a serious genetic disorder due to a narrow aorta. The physician said her child might not live very long and told Bowers to consider terminating the pregnancy. The delivery of the news, while direct, was less than sensitive and set a difficult tone on the pregnancy.
Months later, Bowers gave birth to a baby girl who spent a week in the NICU to ensure she wasn’t showing signs of heart failure. Each day, Bowers would walk back and forth from her recovery room to the NICU to be at her daughter’s bedside, patiently awaiting any news.
“No one asked us how we were feeling,” Bowers recalls. “I found it interesting in this unit full of high-need babies, there wasn’t really a point person to check in emotionally with the parents. There was no regard for the emotional side of recovery.”
After being sent home in good health, Bowers’ daughter eventually required open heart surgery to address one of her heart defects and spent a week in the PICU.
“Not once did we get a visit from a social worker or anyone who wanted to just sit down and ask us how we were feeling,” Bowers says.
The mother of two was screened for symptoms of postpartum depression at her six-week obstetrics & gynecology postpartum appointment and at her daughter’s two-month wellness check with the pediatrician. While she’s familiar with the process through her own work, she was surprised at the results.
“I was pretty sure I screened positive, but nobody ever said anything to me,” Bowers says. “No one gave me any referrals or talked to me about the symptoms I was having.”
Bowers is determined to make changes for Northeast Ohio moms with the help of Postpartum Support International. The organization promises to give back 75 percent of the proceeds raised from the Climb Out of the Darkness event to fund her community project, Reach Out to Mom, which will offer free, in-home emotional wellness visits for moms. Bowers says the visits will screen moms around 12 weeks postpartum, link them to local mental health providers and support groups and provide general emotional support.
One in seven women experience a mood or anxiety disorder during or after pregnancy. This number increases to one in three for women of color. And one in 10 men have a mood or anxiety disorder during or after pregnancy.
Welcoming a child into the world of your own creation is all at once beautiful, humbling and terrifying. New mothers are vulnerable, yet resilient, and their journeys should not be forged alone.