No one is immune to the symptoms of mental health disorders. Not even moms or trained mental health professionals.
As a believer in the power of talk therapy, I’m here to talk about my own postpartum mental health journey and the importance of creating awareness and change in how we handle maternal mental health. In doing so, I hope more women choose to talk about their mental health and that we all do better asking about it.
7 out of 10 women hide or downplay their symptoms and do not receive understanding, support and treatment, which can lead to devastating impacts on themselves and their families.
Let’s talk motherhood.
Motherhood is beautiful, and it also very messy.
There is the literal mess. As a mom of a toddler and newborn this means the release of every form of bodily fluid on the bed, couch, floor or myself. I’ve given into the fact that I don’t leave the house without some sort of something on my clothes.
Then there’s the figurative mess; the stuff that is happening internally. The overwhelming feelings of fear, guilt, frustration, sleepiness and isolation. These feelings manifest in arguments with my husband, comparing myself to others, not being present with my kids and crying.
Physiologically, a postpartum body is experiencing hormonal hurricanes it hasn’t seen since puberty. This turbulence, plus lack of quality sleep, is the perfect storm for impaired mental health. This is why I look at my snoring husband at 2:30am and think, “What do I need him for?” Or why I start crying when my toddler has her fifth tantrum of the day because I opened her string cheese package for her.
Seems normal. I should be able to talk about it right? Wrong. The truth is, not a lot of people know how to ask a mom how she is really doing and not a lot of people want to hear about the mess. Especially if she’s had 12 weeks away from work. That is like a lifetime of vacation! What could be the issue?
The issue could be that 7 out of 10 women hide or downplay their symptoms. Why? Because we aren’t asking with genuine curiosity and compassion. And if we are asking, we aren’t staying engaged long enough. Most women experience postpartum symptoms for up to a year after having their baby. For some it lasts even longer.
Here’s how we can change our support to amplify maternal mental health:
Instead of: “How is the baby sleeping?”
Try this: “How are you sleeping?”
Follow up: “How is the sleep change impacting your day?”
Instead of: “How are you feeling?”
Try this: “What has been some of the challenges?”
Follow up: “Thank you for your honesty.”
Lastly, moms. Let’s continue talking to each other. Let’s keep the focus on building one another up rather than throwing judgment and comparison. Motherhood is hard enough. Let’s band together to provide space for vulnerability and growth. No one should feel like they need to hide their symptoms. Let’s work together to make a change.
Jessica Nickels, LPC
Mother of two