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Breaking the Maternal Mental Health Stigma
When you hear postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, what image pops into your head? Is it a woman crying in a corner while her kids are outside playing? Or a woman who can’t leave her home with her baby because she’s so afraid of what might happen? While those are what PPD and PPA can look like, those are also the extremes. Often we forget that maternal mental health disorders can look a lot more normal. They can look a lot like me.
Maternal mental health disorders face a massive stigma. One of them is that we immediately visualize the traditional stereotype of the ‘baby blues’; and it’s far more complex than that. Recently there’s been a surge of posts from various media outlets about high functioning depression and anxiety. I’d argue that there are high functioning maternal mental health disorders as well. There isn’t one true way that MMHD present themselves; it’s a spectrum.
How do I know that? Well. Because with my firstborn I had horrible postpartum anxiety, but I didn’t realize that’s what it was. I assumed that I was okay because I was still able to leave the house. I was able to go to work, travel, and do things around the house. So there was no way I could have a maternal mental health disorder.
Looking back, I realize that was so, so wrong. I used to get so irritable and worked up about the smallest disruptions in our routine. I’d snap at my husband or other loved ones over change. My daughter could never be out of my line of sight. Never. I couldn’t handle leaving the room, even if she was sleeping. My heart would start racing; my palms would sweat. ‘This is normal,’ I’d tell myself. All first-time mothers go through this. Nope. No, they don’t. I was rationalizing what my normal had become.
Maternal Mental Health Disorders Look Like Me
It wasn’t until I had made more mom friends that I realized that my experiences during my oldest’s infancy weren’t typical. One of my friends mentioned that she suffered from postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. I had no idea that postpartum anxiety was even a thing!
I thought it was all baby blues! A few days after falling down the googling hole, I realized that I had PPA and never knew it and never sought help. That’s the exciting thing about making other mom friends; they teach you that even at your darkest moments, you’re never alone.
Before the birth of our second child, my husband and I chatted. We agreed this time that if he or I started noticing changes in my behaviors, that I’d make an appointment and see my doctor. Sure enough, around four months postpartum I had some horrible mood swings, my fuse was entirely too short, and everything (seriously, everything) was irritating me.
There were moments that the sound of my child’s crying didn’t even phase me. This time I was aware. This time I had more knowledge. I was sinking fast. I’m forever grateful for my friends and my husband that held me in solidarity and support when I went to the doctor. And they were still there once I started my medication and came out of the fog.
It’s ok to ask for help.
Maternal mental health disorders are so diverse and involve more than depression. I’m forever grateful to my friends for being so open and honest about their experiences, and by doing so, they challenged me to become more knowledgeable and prepared for my second child. If you’re struggling today, I want you to know you’re not alone. It’s ok to ask for help. And it’s ok to talk about your experiences. If you are experiencing signs of a maternal mental health disorder, you can find help at 2020mom.
If your situation is urgent, please call 9-1-1 or go to your nearest hospital emergency room if you can safely get there.
Navigating the extreme feelings after giving birth is so, so hard. One minute you’re in a state of pure bliss and the next you’re crying in the kitchen because your spouse forgot to unload the dishwasher. And this is normal. But that’s also why so many of us have a hard time recognizing when it’s a maternal mental health disorder.
If you think you might have a maternal mental health disorder, it’s ok. Reach out to someone you trust, make an appointment with your doctor. There is no shame in asking for help, in fact, it’s one of the biggest acts of self-care that you can do.
For more information on maternal mental health disorders, check out The Blue Dot Project.
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