The Importance of Maternal Mental Health
I’ve been recently thinking about the early years of motherhood and the state of my mental health. There were some good times no doubt but the majority of the past 4 years have been spent with me feeling depressed, anxious, listless, tired, unmotivated and just plain unhappy with my life. I just kept thinking how motherhood had not enriched my life but had the opposite effect. And it’s a hard realization.
We get told from an early age about how being a mother is the best thing in the world and how it will complete us. So what happens when it doesn’t? Honestly, nothing good. We get more depressed and draw into ourselves. We obsessively scroll through social media feeds and compare ourselves to the beautiful and peaceful mothers there. All the while feeling worse and worse about ourselves as mothers. Our mental health suffers and in turn we suffer, usually in silence.
But here’s the beauty: we can change that. We don’t have to be miserable our whole life and allow our motherhood experience to be a negative one. At the end of the day, we are in control of our lives regardless of all the outside influence. Yes, the outside influence can make it much more difficult and sometimes downright impossible for us to make positive changes but it just means we have to find a workaround.
Notice how I didn’t say we have to work harder to overcome those difficulties. Afterall, isn’t that the message we constantly receive in this society: if you just try harder, you will succeed. Let me tell you something: It’s pure BS! It’s not about trying harder, it’s about finding the key to every situation. And each situation has a unique key that is sometimes hard to find.
So what to do when you are at the mercy of your PMADs (perinatal mood and anxiety disorders)?
1. Seek professional help
If you read my post about my PPD experience, you will know that I did not practice what I’m preaching. I vehemently denied that I had PPD and did not get treatment. And because I regret it so deeply (it has stolen years from my older son’s childhood), I will be screaming at you to go find a therapist and treat your mood disorder. Professional help works!
You may need a combo of a therapist and psychiatrist to see if you need both medication and talk therapy, but it will be worth your time. You may also consider finding a practitioner who works with natural supplements, if you are worried about traditional medication. There are many herbs that help almost as well or as well as psychotropic medications. Just make sure you find a qualified practitioner who can help you get the correct doses and explains all the herb interactions. Just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it has no side effects or interactions. In fact, most herbs do. So use only under professional care.
2. If you are not healthy, the rest of the family is not healthy
So this goes hand in hand with the above point. Whether you like it or not, your health affects your entire family. I know some of you just went “Gasp! I’m screwing up my child’s life with my mood disorders” and I’m not sure I’ll be able to fully alleviate your concern. Your concern is valid. Your mental health will have an effect on your child. How deeply it will affect your child remains unknown. Children can absolutely surprise us with their resilience. But don’t necessarily count on it as a safeguard. I’m writing this not to make you feel guilty but to spur you into action. Take care of your mental health! It is important!
I’ll just share why I believe it’s so important for family members (especially parents) to take care of their physical and mental well being. My master’s concentration was in Marriage and Family Therapy. One of the main principles we learned and applied to therapy was Family Systems.
I will not bore you with too many details but the main point of a family systems approach is exactly that: a family is a unique ecosystem. This ecosystem relies on all members to be functioning properly, otherwise the system starts falling apart. So while you may feel that your mood disorder is only your internal burden, it actually spills out and affects everyone in your ecosystem, and it no longer functions as intended. That is why you, mama, are so important. You can’t just take care of everyone if you’re struggling. You need to take care of yourself.
3. Identify what external forces are affecting your mental health and make a change
While PMADs do have a biological and hormonal component to them which makes them inique in the mood disorder category, there is no denying that our environment can make our disorders worse. When you are suffering from a mood disorder in an unsupportive environment, it is much harder to feel that you can have a handle on the situation. Thus a change in the environment is necessary for the healing process to happen. I know some of you are rolling your eyes at me and thinking, “How can I change other people or things around me. They are not in my control!” And I get it.
I’ll let you in on a little secret though, every client thinks that before working with a therapist or a coach. I did too before I went through therapy about a decade ago. But I (just as many other clients) can report that if you’re willing to dig deep and put in the work, magic happens. You change! And with your transformation, you end up changing and transforming your environment. (Remember the Family Systems Approach)
I’ll share a little of my own experience with this. As I said before, PPD hit me hard. I hated being a mother and taking care of my kids. I dreaded being by myself with my children. And this happened pretty much every single day. I still sometimes fear being alone with them and have to remind myself that I’ve got it. So I’m still working through this, even though I’m no longer depressed.
So what happened that helped me finally climb out? My husband took a well deserved and needed break from his extremely stressful job. He started sharing the parenting load with me more evenly, which allowed me to take more time to myself to relax, think, breathe, read, write. I also started a regimen of mood boosting supplements and saw the last bits of my depressive symptoms disappear. And having another adult to socialize with on daily basis didn’t hurt either. And so I started to feel better.
Sneaky thing about anxiety and depression, it isolates you and gets a better grip on you. And now with a more evenly distributed parental load, I have the space to work on my issues. I finally have the mental and physical space to care about something other than kids and it’s beautiful. I feel like a full person again!
4. Learn to communicate better
In order to create a life that is more supportive and fulfilling, you need to learn to communicate effectively with those around you. If you need help, you need to ask for it. No matter how much the people around you love you, they are not mind readers and don’t actually know what you need unless you tell them.
This means you need to be able to tell your partner that you need him home at a certain time so you can go work out or have a girls’ night. Or you need your mom to watch the kids, so you and your partner can have a date night or attend an event. Or you need your friend to hang out with you at your house because you can’t yet leave the baby’s side. But unless you explicitly state your needs, they will not be met. And you will end up disappointed. So speak your mind!
5. Create a support network
Without a doubt raising kids in isolation is not healthy for anyone. But so many of us are not next to family or supportive friends. We usually have no one to rely on but ourselves. And this makes parenting extra hard. So in order to change that, you need to work on your support network. And you may have to get creative.
For a lot of us this support network will include paid help (like babysitters, cleaning people, people who cook for us) and it’s ok. You gotta do what you gotta do if you don’t have friends and family to help. But finding friends and neighbors who can help share our load would make life not just easier but much more fulfilling. You would have people to connect and socialize with. People who you can help as well. And at times there is no better feeling that to be of assistance to someone.
So go ahead, seek out local mom groups, go to neighborhood events, strike up a conversation at the playground. You never know where you may find your next friend.
And again, you matter!
I hope you now see why your mental health matters! You are important! You deserve to take breaks, you deserve to have time away from children, you’re allowed to not love motherhood and have other interests besides your kids. First and foremost, you are a human. You are a mother second. So take care of yourself and make yourself a priority!
And to further support you on your motherhood journey, I created a FREE PDF Guide “Your Motherhood Story” that will help you create a better motherhood experience.