What She Said: Motherhood and Mental Health

I’m a doula and a mother. I live in the world of motherhood. Increasingly over the last few years, we’ve been having conversations about mental health and mental illness. I see it in my mom groups, in my prenatal classes, in my social media feeds. It is so important that we talk about mental health; I’m deeply grateful to the mothers who have shared with me their challenges and their triumphs and for the mothers who have lifted me up when I myself was lost in the darkness.

They say 10 to 20 per cent of mothers are affected by mental health issues in the prenatal or postpartum period but I know the number is much bigger. In light of all the conversations we’ve been having, I asked dozens of young mothers about their mental health struggles and this is what they said.

What I struggled the most with was…

“Accepting my new identity as “mother” – or rather, letting go of the me I had been. This wasn’t just a job or role or thing applied to my former self – it was an identity shift that included how others now perceived me.”

Being at home alone with my baby. It was a big shift from working 50-70 hours a week.”

“My feelings of unhappiness around the pregnancy, when it was something that we wanted and had been trying for for awhile. My changing body was also a struggle – my prior 2 pregnancies were active, healthy ones. I felt so miserable and ill this time that my physical activity and healthy eating habits went out the window. I felt sluggish and yucky and unattractive.”

“The guilt. With my first, I felt guilty that I was so frustrated with my baby! He cried a lot and I didn’t have a lot of support. I felt like a failure and worried I would never be good enough. I missed time to myself and I didn’t ask for help or take me-time enough. With my second, I struggled with guilt over not having an instant bond (there was definitely instant love but there’s a difference). With my third, I struggled with postpartum anxiety. I felt guilty and ashamed, and to be perfectly honest, afraid.”

“The changes to my body…I lost everything I loved about feeling pretty/sexy after I had my first baby.”

“Meeting my daughter’s needs as best as I could without being too hard on myself. I had never loved anyone so much nor did I feel capable of doing right by her. I was so hard on myself. I had so much anxiety related to how I thought others were viewing me. It’s like I was 13 years old all over again! The constant advice and opinions from complete strangers only filled me with more self doubt. It was so hard to leave the house and I ended up isolating myself.”

“I struggled with postpartum depression after having my first. It took a few months for it to sink in. I really struggled with my feelings because I had struggled to become a Mom and I imagined it would just be this fairy tale. When in reality, it’s a HUGE adjustment and change.”

“Understanding my new role in life. I didn’t feel like myself anymore and wondered where I fit in now. I was also clueless and could have sworn I would fail. I actually believed this.”

“Our journey was complex and looking back I put a lot of pressure on myself, and felt like something was wrong with me because I was in pain.

Unresolved issues from my first birth bubbled to the surface pretty much within days of becoming pregnant again. It was like I woke up one day an anxious, sobbing mess. It hit me like a tonne of bricks.”

motherhood

What held me back was…

Admitting it wasn’t as easy as I thought or made it looked.”

Society makes you feel as though you must be happy and in love with your new baby, and while I was, there was another darker side that I never anticipated.”

My anxiety told me I didn’t need to get professional help. That if I just got a good sleep, just went to yoga, etc that I would feel better. That I would feel better once I got out of the first trimester, or after the first ultrasound, or after the winter had passed.”

“Not just trusting myself, I was nervous about lots of stuff! And just needed to relax a bit.”

What people would think of me if they knew.”

“My inability to ask for help from loved ones and caring too much about what others thought of me.”

“I was afraid to admit that I couldn’t do things perfectly.

Fear of asking for help because I’ve always been so independent.”

“All the challenges. Seeing others succeed and only focusing on my failures.”

I was afraid to admit…

“That the birth was traumatic. I was separated from my son at birth. Everything that could have gone wrong, did. And I don’t even remember meeting him for the first time.”

“That maybe I didn’t want this…maybe I don’t want to be a mother.

“Many things. The biggest being that I had depression. I am ashamed to be perpetuating the stigma that we see all too often surrounding mental illness and mood disorders. I couldn’t be one of ‘those’ people. Through the careful curation of online pictures and posts I appeared to be a woman who had it all together (I used to have it mostly together which was why I felt the pressure to keep it up). When at the time, the reality couldn’t have been further from that. that I didn’t have it all together. I felt like a fraud.”

I was unhappy and depressed during the first 6 months when I should have been in the happiest moment of my life, especially after being told for so many years I may never ever even have children.”

“That I couldn’t do it all on my own.”

“I was struggling. I thought something was seriously wrong with me and I wasn’t meant to be a mother. Turns out, it’s way more common than I thought! I feel like no one talks about it but we should. There is this stigma that shouldn’t be there.”

I knew I needed help when…

I cried when no one was looking.

I met other moms and they were like ‘Whoah, you’ve been through a lot.'”

“I was afraid to leave the house. I started crying in the shower so my kids wouldn’t hear. I knew it should be the happiest time of my life but I was so scared and sad. So I spoke with my mum, my midwife and my Dr. I started to open up to my friends.”

I cried. All the time.

“I would cry at work multiple times a week, in front of clients. For any or no reason at all. But I think my breaking point came on a family vacation, where we were supposed to be having fun and enjoying our kids and the company of our friends and I couldn’t do those things. I knew I couldn’t continue on the path I was on alone. With help from my midwife I got connected with the help I needed later that week.”

“I started having fantasies about getting hit by cars or getting sick. Having suffered from depression and anxiety in the past, I could see the warning signs only this time I wasn’t having suicidal thoughts since I could never abandon my daughter. I didn’t recognize myself anymore and I was beyond exhausted.”

I felt like all other aspects of me was slipping away, that I was obsessed with figuring out the problem and fixing it. Luckily had supportive family and I got to a point where I needed one final medical opinion which helped to resolve our issues.”

“I was constantly in tears and just felt like I couldn’t handle it anymore, even when things were good.”

lonely

The most helpful person in my life was…

My husband. He would have done anything for us, despite challenges in life (sick parent, new job). He was our biggest cheerleader and still is!”

“A friend with a med degree. I’m not an emotional person and I don’t like sharing my feelings with friends and family. She kept things real and straightforward.”

“I couldn’t have gotten through it without my husband’s support. He never made me feel bad about my feelings and always told me how amazing he thought I was. He was a huge help and my rock.”

My dad for taking the baby out every afternoon for two hour walks and my husband’s support getting through the evening hours.”

“My husband for telling me how strong and brave I was for facing the issue and asking for help. A couple friends for their love and support. My counselor for helping me identify all of my emotions and mainly for being a good unbiased listener.”

“My sister, who understood anxiety. My husband, who might not have understood but listened without judgement and supported me 24/7. My midwife, who encouraged me to get help.”

“My husband and sister and mom group.”

My fiancé. He shared the madness with me and understood me when I shared my fears and doubts.”

The best resource I found was…

“The help from my family and my OB-GYN.”

Mom support groups!

“The family counselling centre. Talking to a person who didn’t know me or have any preconceived ideas about the person that I was helped tremendously. I didn’t have to pretend while I was there. I let my walls down and talked openly and honestly about everything. And it felt good, to spew out my thoughts, feelings and worries to this neutral third party listener.”

“Talking to other moms. It is SO common and NORMAL to experience a whole array of emotions after your baby is born. The worst part for me was the guilt and shame I felt for having these emotions but I SHOULDN’T. Almost everyone I’ve opened up to has a similar story. We’ve all been there and we all need to support each other.”

My intuition.

“My social worker.”

The Public Health Unit.”

My Mama group. It made me realize I wasn’t alone and my fears and doubts were NOT irrational.”

The hardest part was…

“When people said, ‘At least you have a healthy baby’…it cut me like a knife. I’m sure they were trying to make me feel better but to me it felt like they were shutting down what I was going through.

Taking time for myself without feeling guilty.”

“Accepting that it wasn’t as peachy and moving forward in a positive direction.

Opening up to family to tell them I was anxious and stressed.”

“Making time in our busy schedule for the actual appointments was the most challenging. Between work, my kids soccer, my husbands hockey and the busy life of my own mom and mother-in-law I found it hard to arrange for someone to look after the kids while I took the 2-3 hours needed to attend my counselling sessions. to be out of the house and then getting to the appointments with my counselor. I always felt guilty asking for someone to take time out of their busy life to watch my kids so that I could attend my appointments. But the truth is you need to care for yourself first in order to care for the ones you love. It’s like they say, you can never give more than you have.

Having to work through the difficult emotions to get to the other side. It was like that song, ‘You can’t go over it, can’t go under it, gotta go through it.'”

“Trusting my intuition and letting go of being scared of being judged. Everyone is on their own journey and us mamas have to stop the criticism!”

I started to feel better when…

I sought help from my doctor and went on some medication.”

“I accepted getting a break and asking for help was okay. Accepting I was not failing. Accepting that even though I am the mom I’m also human. And getting outside more and doing more activities outside the house either one on one or with other moms.”

I slept and took time for myself to exercise.

“I started to feel better when I finally connected with other mothers who had been through the same experiences as me, being separated from their babies after birth. Just hearing someone else put it in their own words helped me to heal.”

I asked for help. My mum was with me every day for almost two weeks. I started anti-anxiety medication (I had taken this before my pregnancy). I started to get outside and tackle things one small step at a time – a walk to the park, a short drive to the gas station, etc. I made sure I was getting enough sleep and started going to be at 9 pm every night. I made myself eat regular, healthy meals. I slowly got my life back to normal and felt a little better each day. It can be so hard but just take each day at a time. It will get better.”

I cut myself some slack!

“I started going to counselling, eating better, and exercising again.”

“I opened up to others about my feelings, realizing I’m not alone, and understanding that it was all very very normal...then I could finally realize how lucky and truly fortunate I was.”

I was able to have some time away from my daughter in order to focus on work or self care. I needed a break.”

self-care

What I wish I knew then was…

It gets better. Bear through it all and know that it really does get better. And not to be afraid to open up to those going through the same things…I found great solace in this.”

“Being disappointed in and/or traumatized by your birth experience does not make you ungrateful for your baby.”

Life lessons are coming your way!

“It’s better to work through your feelings than to bury them That it gets better, patience is key and accept your faults. Let the normal things go like dinner, laundry, etc… but never sacrifice your showers or sleep.

“That we are all fumbling along and perfection is a myth.”

“That being a mom is hard. It’s hard to comprehend until you actually become one. But, once you do all these fears pop up that you never knew you had. And you’ll ALWAYS second guess yourself.”

I could’ve felt better sooner had I talked to someone instead of waiting for so long.

“It’s okay to ask for help! And it’s okay to not be okay.

My advice for pregnant and new mothers is…

Ask for help. Talk to other new moms. Reach out to your new mom friends to let them know you are there. Give yourself a break!”

“Everyone has a unique birth story. While yours is different, listen and respect the thoughts and feelings of others. Simply saying ‘That must have been difficult for you’ or ‘How are you doing now?’ is enough to give comfort to a mom recovering from a stressful event.”

“You won’t know it all and you will suck at so many things…this isn’t a reflection of you or your ability as a mother. Love your child, that’s all you can do and once you do that you’re already doing everything perfectly.”

“Be kind to yourself, let go of your expectations, follow your instincts, ask for help, allow yourself to feel; it truly takes a village.”

“To ask for help and don’t isolate yourself. Practice guilt-free self-care and reach out when you need it.”

“I guess I’d say just follow your heart and do what you feel is right. There are a million answers for one question, only you’ll really know what works for you and your baby. And try not to stress about what others are doing. It’s soooo easy to compare but you’re the momma and you know best.

Don’t be scared if things aren’t perfect. Don’t put pressure on yourself. Enjoy your time with your baby…I feel like I missed some precious moments with my first born because I didn’t embrace it. And if you’re feeling blue ask for help. Even ‘stay at home moms’ who are supposed to handle it all need help.”

My advice for spouses and other supporters is…

“Be patient, understanding and on standby. Look for signs of unhappiness and ask what you can do to help. Take the baby out for walks, take your pregnant wife out for drives. Tell her she’s beautiful and keep the compliments coming. Confidence is everything. Just being told you’re doing a great job goes a long way.”

“For people like me, we keep things bottled up because we want to achieve everything on or own. Sometimes we are afraid to ask for help, so instead ask ‘Can I help?’ And hugs…lots of hugs for those tough days!”

“To hold space for those going through difficult times. Listen, sit with them, let them know you love them and you care and you will not judge them for their feelings. It should not change how you see them as a person.”

To listen.

“Just be there. Notice the warning signs and just be present. It will make all the difference.”

Offer help and keep offering even if it’s refused the first time.

“Support. It’s hard, and sometimes it may seem like your partner has disappeared and been replaced by a sleep-deprived monster. But love them, support them when they need it, even when they don’t ask. And don’t give your opinion always (more for families not spouses).”

“Listen and support. Sometimes you just need to hold a crying baby while new mama showers or pees. Just give love.

love

I’m in awe of the mothers who shared their stories. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart! Every time you talk about your struggles, you might be helping someone else.

Check out my other posts to learn more about prenatal and postpartum mood disorders and to find local resources if you’re in the Halton, Hamilton or Peel Regions.

3 thoughts on “What She Said: Motherhood and Mental Health

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