Motherhood was supposed to be my “Cinderella” moment. I dreamed of a fairy tale motherhood all throughout my pregnancy that would begin with giving birth the old-fashioned way, followed by bringing my baby boy home where I magically transformed into a domestic goddess, champion breast-feeder, and talented Pinterest crafter. I would love on my baby 24-7, lay on the floor next to him during tummy time, happily bringing him everywhere and effortlessly floating from place to place, with a permanent smile on my face, as I told all my friends how amazing it was to be a new mom.
Here’s what really happened. I went into labor on a Monday night at 7pm. My son arrived the next evening at 6:10pm. I labored for almost 24 hours, pushed for two, and ultimately had a C-section. The day after my husband and I brought our son home, I started fantasizing about ways I could get hurt so I could be readmitted to the hospital where I wouldn’t need to care for my new baby.. I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I waited nine months, excited to become a mom and now, I was plotting my escape.
I cried. A lot. Anxiety paralyzed me. I never wanted to leave my bed. I had no interest in the adorable baby boy in the next room. I hated breastfeeding. My son struggled to latch. It was hard to keep up with pumping every three hours when all I wanted to do was sleep. I quit after five days, went on antidepressants for the first time, and with the exception of weekly therapy appointments, I barely left the house for six months unless I was forced to.
Why do I share all these scary, messy details about becoming a mom? Because I wish someone had shared them with me while I was pregnant. I wish someone, anyone, had told me about all the ways new moms struggle when they bring their babies home from the hospital, and not just the typical overwhelming and sleepless nights most new moms experience, but the anxiety, the sadness, the intrusive thoughts, and the guilt and shame because you don’t understand how you could be anything but grateful and happy.
Why didn’t my doctor talk to me about the importance of caring for my mental health postpartum? Why was everything only focused on physical healing? Two months before I delivered, I waited over an hour at my OB’s office for the results of my gestational diabetes test. What a perfect opportunity for her or a nurse to talk to me about postpartum depression and anxiety: the risk factors, the symptoms, the statistics of how common it is, and where to go for the right treatment.
It’s been more than six years since I won my battle with postpartum depression and anxiety, fell in love with my son and being his mom.
I vividly remember his first birthday party, where I looked around the room filled with family and friends and finally felt like, “Wow, I got this. I’m healthy. I’m happy. I love my son. I’m a mom who takes antidepressants and that’s okay.”
Since that moment, I have made it my mission in life to spread awareness about maternal mental health disorders and provide support, community, education and resources to moms. I don’t want any woman to ever have to suffer in silence, ashamed and alone, like I did. I share my story, so it doesn’t have to be your story, or if it already is, you can find the courage to share too—because story-sharing is one powerful way we can destroy the stigma and shame surrounding maternal mental health.
One in five new moms are affected by maternal mental health disorders each year. Of these moms, only a very small percentage (15%) receive treatment. That’s way too many women suffering when they could be getting the professional care they need to get better from illnesses that are so treatable.
If you’re struggling, I want you to know you are not alone. You are not weak. You are not a bad mom. You did not fail. You have an illness that is temporary with treatment. You are in the incredible company of hundreds of thousands of moms.
The most important piece of advice I can give you is to find a therapist who specializes in maternal mental health. Had I known to do that right away, I would have gotten treatment sooner, gotten better faster, and missed less milestones during my son’s first year. If you don’t know where to start, Postpartum Support International has a list of local resources as well as a helpline to call at 1-800-944-4773.
Be open to medication. While it may not be right for everyone, medication can help pull you up to the place where you find your will to fight and get better. At first, I thought needing antidepressants made me weak and less of a mother, but I quickly learned the opposite was true. Taking medication meant I was taking care of my health, which was the best way for me to take care of my baby. It was the combination of weekly therapy appointments and medicine (taken under the care of a psychiatrist) that led to my recovery.
Treat yourself with kindness. Let yourself feel the feelings. Be gentle with yourself. Sleep. Delegate and tell others exactly what you need from them, including your partner. Ask for help. When help is offered, your answer is always yes.
If you know five other women, chances are high you will know someone affected by a maternal mental health disorder. If you’re not the 1 in 5, and you recognize something “off” in a friend or family member, speak up. Ask her how she is feeling. If she responds with what seems like a fake smile and a vague answer or you just don’t believe her that everything is “fine,” ask again. Listen to her without judgment or opinion when she opens up, even if you don’t fully understand her struggle. Show her compassion and ask how you can support her.
The information provided here is not medical advice. It is provided for education only. If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety during-pregnancy or postpartum, contact Postpartum Support International at 1-(800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by going to the nearest ER, calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.
About the Author
Jen Schwartz is the CEO and Founder of Motherhood Understood, an online platform, community, and story-sharing hub for moms affected by maternal mental health issues. Jen is a speaker, writer, spokesperson, influencer, consultant, and content creator whose work and commentary have been featured on popular websites like Forbes, Romper, The Mighty, Healthline, The Bump, Pop Sugar Moms, Scary Mommy, and more. Connect with her on Instagram and join join her MU Mom Crew here.
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