Babies. Lots of people love them. They are compact, cute, innocent little guys with a clean slate on life. It’s awesome watching them grow into toddlers. They experience things for the first time that bring them such joy! I remember the epiphany my son had when he learned how to use a spoon; he was so proud! My husband and I truly enjoy watching our kids experience new milestones.
Motherhood has been rewarding, but I’m reminded of all the hard times too. There are late nights and early mornings with our 5-month-old, explosive diapers, ear infections, tantrums, constant questions. It takes energy only God can give to be present, attentive, and patient.
Self-care is a new buzzword that encourages us to be mindful of personal needs; filling our tank so we are able to be those present, attentive, and patient moms. Maybe that means we carve out a certain amount of time in the day to take a bubble bath. It could also mean binge watching Netflix for part of a Saturday. This is something I recommend for many of my clients. As a therapist, it’s important that I make it clear how important it is to engage in healthy routines that addresses stress … it’s also a nice reminder for myself!
But what if it goes beyond stress? What if we need more than a Netflix binge session to help us forget how sad we are because that sadness hasn’t subsided in several weeks? What if we really need, dare I say, treatment?
Let’s talk maternal mental health!
What is Maternal Mental Health?
Allow me to put on my clinical hat for a few minutes…
Feelings of anxiety, irritability, sadness for long periods of time, angry outbursts, and trouble eating or sleeping are all symptoms every mother experiences from time to time. Remember those tantrums and late nights I told you about? Yeah, I definitely have all the feels. The truth is, those things are normal reactions to a huge life-altering event … so we’re all allowed to lose our minds at some point.
The key is to pay attention to patterns in the symptoms and determine if they’re unsafe for us or people around us. This is also where you try to pinpoint the triggers. When did those things start? Unique to maternal mental health, consider your ability to bond with the baby. Are you having issues regulating your emotions? How long does it take to get back to your normal? I understand that hormones come into play, sleep deprivation is a real thing during this time, etc. But, ideally, you know yourself the best. So, a self-assessment is going to come in handy here. You know when something is feeling off.
The key is to slow down so those changes are more obvious. Check in with yourself. And because I know things can be hectic, I recommend even setting an alarm on your phone to do so. Also, if you already have a mental health history, please be aware of how much more the symptoms may be exaggerated. Consult with your doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, etc. to ensure you’re taking care of yourself and your child.
You think you know, but you have no idea…
Somehow, there is this notion that mothering is an innate set of skills accompanied by an automatic protective factor that allows us to bounce back mentally, because, well, we’re so happy to have kids. It’s what we’ve all worked on our entire lives, right? Wrong.
For some moms, their kids weren’t planned. Talk about an added stressor! Perhaps our kids came after hard work and dedication at a clinic. Maybe the plan for one baby turned into multiples instead … or there were two partners in the beginning of the road to parenthood who are no longer together. There are moms who just watched their kid walk across the stage on the way to college to find out they’re pregnant with their boyfriend’s third child.
Being sensitive to those who need help
Starting over can be a beast! Especially if you weren’t planning to do it. But the point is this: don’t assume. Don’t assume every pregnant mother is happy to be pregnant. Don’t assume she is with a man. Don’t assume she will be happy when the baby gets here. Don’t assume her anxiety will disappear when she finally drafts a “plan” for mothering. Don’t assume she had a life without trauma, which could be triggered by birthing her kids or watching her daughter go on her first date.
Whether she had a mental health diagnosis before or not, believe that her mental state will change. Remember that even on an unofficial level, we’ve all experienced these symptoms. And no one person’s presentation of these symptoms are the same.
There is help!
Postpartum Support International is an amazing, comprehensive website with a wealth of information about various mental health disorders with details about how they are connected to pregnancy and postpartum depression. There are links to support networks, professionals who specialize in maternal mental health, and more. Connecting on this website is a great way to learn more information if you are dealing with mommy mental health issues yourself or if you want to share information with significant others.
Laura Reagan’s Therapy Chat Podcast, episode 83, “Maternal Mental Health-What Moms & Therapists Need to Know: An Interview with Dr. Kat Kaeni” is a great interview. Dr. Kat Kaeni, a specialist in the area of maternal mental health, gives a wonderful overview of what maternal mental health is. She also has her own podcast dedicated to the subject called Mom and Mind Podcast, which you can find on her website.
Psychologytoday.com is a resource that allows you to search for clinical providers in your area. Specialists in this particular area of mental health treatment are rare, especially with the new information. But don’t fret … make your therapist work! If you’re already seeing someone, be sure to understand your rights for help with referrals; we are held to ethical standards to ensure we do what’s best for our clients.
Evaluate your support system and be a support for others
Above all, evaluate your support system: are they healthy? Understanding? Helpful? Available? Assess your needs and make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Are you the support system for a mom you know dealing with her mental health? Be all those things and more! Read and try to understand–ask questions if you don’t. It will be worth it in the long run.
I’m excited for you to take this necessary step to know more about yourself so you’re a better person, and therefore a better mommy. Be mindful of your mentality at every stage in life and take heart…you’re not alone.