Today my daughter is 9 months old - and it also happens to be World Maternal Mental Health Day. This is significant for me, because while I had a great pregnancy, labor, and delivery, postpartum hit me like a tidal wave and I still feel like I’m swimming back to shore completely discombobulated.
As a person who never struggled with depression or anxiety before, I found myself dealing with these emotions for the first time. Apparently I am not alone, because as many as 1 in 5 new mothers experience some type of perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMADs).
One of the goals of World Maternal health Day is to raise awareness. This will drive social change, with the goal of improving the quality of care for women experiencing all types of PMADs and reducing the stigma of maternal mental illness.
I hope this blog encourages you to ask the new mom how she’s really feeling and encourage her to seek help. Here are some practical tips that helped me - but it’s not the same for every mom, so check in with her AFTER she’s had her baby, as my needs were totally different than I had expected them to be.
She may not need you to hold her baby. What she may need is a hot meal, someone to unload her dishwasher, sweep her floors, start a load of laundry, refill her glass of water, buy her snacks, and feed her the snacks.
Check in with HER. It’s natural for people to want to know and ask how baby is but Moms need just as much care as newborns. Ask questions like, “How are you feeling emotionally?” or, “is there a chore or errand I can do for you?” It’s easy to feel invisible as soon as you’re discharged home from the hospital with all the excitement of a new baby.
Accept her as is. Bringing home a baby for the first time is scary. There is so much doubt, fear, exhaustion, and moments of “what was I thinking?” that joy may not come immediately. She might not feel that instant bond; she might not feel that joy like you may expect. Her hormones just did the biggest drop the human brain can do, going from an all-time high (pregnancy) to an all-time low (postpartum). Feeling overwhelmed and sad is super common but not a “normal” feeling and should be processed often with friends, family, doctors, therapists.
Don’t take it personally if she hasn’t invited you over. She may not be ready. If you would have come to my house the first 3 days after I came home from the hospital you might think you were in the amazon. You can’t wear tops because everything hurts and is leaking (sorry men if you’re reading this). For me there were burp cloths everywhere, a million granola bar wrappers, and half drunk glasses of water. My Mom and sister were about the only people I was ready to have in that environment.
Please don’t make the, “you don’t look like you just had a baby “comment. Regardless of how she looks, I can promise you she feels like she just had a baby. When I received this comment, I felt like it was undermining and devaluing my postpartum experience. Should I feel normal again if my body looks like my normal self again? Should I not be feeling so tired and so overwhelmed? We think that we’re helping with comments like this, but it really isn’t necessary! Also it’s best to avoid comments about physical appearance in general.
Don’t be hard on yourself if you haven’t done these things with a new mom. I did these things before I became a mom! Also, everyone is different. Everyone’s experience is different.
I am so thankful that God gave me the strength and the gentle nudge to get the help I needed. And Praise God we have each other as a community of believers that we never have to go though things alone.
If you feel like you have depression or anxiety, reach out to your doctor as soon as possible. Also, if you feel like you are a danger to yourself or someone else, please call 911. There are amazing treatments available! OBGYN’s are trained to discuss these issues with women, and if you don’t get the compassion that you need, go to a different doctor. As a friend once told me, “your OBGYN should lightweight kiss the ground you walk on.” Remember that they work for you and you deserve to be heard and treated.
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Nicole resides in the East Bay Area where she works in private practice as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She is a new Mom and serves alongside her beloved husband in their local church. She completed both her bachelors degree and her dietetic internship at California State University, Chico, where she was also a NCAA cross country and track athlete. Through those experiences, God prompted her to help people of all shapes and sizes discover body peace and acceptance through the unconditional love of Jesus. Nicole most enjoys spending time around a table and cooking for the people she loves.