May is home to Maternal Mental Health month, with Maternal Mental Health Awareness week this year from May 3 – May 7.
What exactly are we being asked to become aware of? Here are just a few facts:
• The most common complication of childbirth is Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMAD), with the 5 most common PMAD’s being major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
• One in 5 to 7 women experience a PMAD.
• Suicide is one of the leading causes of death within the first year postpartum.
The perinatal time period is a time of transition and change for women, biologically, emotionally and socially. We are being asked to learn. We are being asked to validate and support. We are being asked to acknowledge the needs of mommas not to suffer in silence. We are being asked to step-up for the mommas in our lives and community as a whole.
In reflecting on my own pregnancy and postpartum journey, I recognize that as prepared as I thought I was to bring this new little baby home and take care of them, I sure wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was.
In the event that labor and delivery go well and mom and baby are healthy, mom is discharged from the hospital with baby after a day or two with the tasks of, 1) healing from childbirth (whatever form that birth took), 2) ensuring baby is fed, clothed and diapered on their schedule (because after all, baby makes their own schedule and you aren’t privy to that information until they are here, so no preparing for that), 3) feeding, clothing and “diapering” yourself, 4) ensuring you get enough rest…and the list keeps going. And the “advice” we give and receive can sometimes be extremely invalidating and not helpful at all: Sleep when the baby sleeps. Laundry and dishes can wait. Just ask for help. It gets easier. (The last two personally make me cringe the most). To borrow a quote from an article published this week in Parents Magazine: “The pervasive cultural attitude of ‘all that matters is a healthy baby’ is a cancer to our collective consciousness…It harms the most vulnerable among us and perpetuates trauma.”. We (family members, friends, healthcare workers) need to stop, learn and listen. That is what the collective “we” are being asked to be aware of and recognize.
And finally, to all you mommas, You are not alone. And the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing are valid and real. Healing takes time, physically and emotionally. I highly encourage the moms-to-be to link with a mental health counselor during pregnancy- We are encouraged to have regular appointments with our OB for the physical oversight of pregnancy, so why wouldn’t we treat our mental and emotional health with just as much priority? Also, pregnancy education groups are a great resource to prepare you for what to expect in the area of labor and delivery, breast/chestfeeding and caring for baby when they arrive, however the intrusive thoughts and challenging feelings that accompany the birth of baby? And the possible grief that accompanies a birth not going as planned? Well, that’s an area that is often neglected, resulting in moms feeling alone, confused and emotionally numb.
You are not alone. You are not to blame. With help, you will be well. – PSI
Some resources to check out during this week, and beyond:
The Blue Dot Project
Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance
Postpartum Support International
National Perinatal Association
Buffalo Prenatal-Perinatal Network, Inc
WNY Postpartum Connection