Every Single Person — Thoughts for Maternal Mental Health Awareness
by Katayune Kaeni, Psy.D.
PSI Blog – May 1, 2017
Here’s a little thought experiment…. Think for a moment about a woman you really care about. It can be your mother, grandmother, wife, sister, daughter, aunt—anyone. Got her in your mind? Now imagine that she isn’t feeling well but she has no idea what is going on. She just doesn’t feel like herself. She’s confused, scared, angry, and worried about her health. She’s sad, crying, can’t sit still, but feels paralyzed too. And for some reason, she isn’t telling anyone about it. In fact, you hardly know any of this yet, but you’ve seen a change in her. You’re starting to wonder what’s going on and worry. What do you think? How do you feel about her? About who she is as a person? Do you have those impressions in mind? Are you judging her for feeling unwell? For feeling sad and worried?
Now imagine that she is feeling all of those things and just had a baby. Does that information change what you think of her? Is she any less of who she is because she feels those feelings and has a new baby? Do you find that you are thinking: she is supposed to be happy? She couldn’t possibly be depressed….
When we put a baby into the picture, our ideas about a person who is struggling shift. A certain amount of judgment creeps in. We impose ideas on her: she should be happy, she should be grateful, she just had a baby…. But, that’s not the reality for everyone and we need to talk about it.
For a long time, I’ve tried to figure out why it’s so hard to get people to talk about maternal mental health. I understand that things like postpartum depression are heavy and sad. Most people don’t know what to say or even if they should say anything at all. Most people don’t know that postpartum depression is just one of many different emotional challenges a mom can go through.
I have a couple of theories about the code of silence that ends up backfiring on new moms, their families, and society as a whole.
- Our idealized version of motherhood is deeply rooted in our thinking, so it’s hard to admit that new motherhood can be devastating.
- In order to understand that around 20% of moms experience perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, we have to take a hard look at our biases—at ourselves. We have to be able to move past our own ideas of what motherhood is “supposed to be.” And sometimes, we have to acknowledge our own pain.
- Our preconceptions prompt us to want to make jokes or tie things up in a pretty bow whenever we talk about pregnancy or postpartum mental health. If we don’t, we get uncomfortable.
But at the end of the day, we ALL came from a womb. Every. Single. Person. That means this is about all of us. Maternal mental health is about ALL OF US.
How we treat mothers and fathers and how we view motherhood, fatherhood, parenthood, shapes the lives of babies who grow up to become adults. Our attitudes and actions shape those very early years of life, which shape the years to come.
- When we support rather than shame new moms, they recover faster.
- When we help by stepping in so a mom can sleep and recover, we help the whole family.
- When we can set aside our own uncomfortable feelings about moms or dads who are suffering and honor them, then they know they are not alone.
Talking in a compassionate way about things like postpartum depression, pregnancy anxiety, miscarriage, birth trauma, and postpartum psychosis is necessary to protect the health of mothers, babies, and families, not just during pregnancy and postpartum, but for the rest of their lives. It reduces the stigma and focuses on the healing.
So, when you see a new mom, like the one you thought about earlier, don’t hesitate to support her, to reach out and offer compassion. The purpose of Maternal Mental Health Week (May 1-5, 2017) is to bring awareness and honor the movement to support moms and families. But we are also here for you every day. When we support new parents, acknowledge their truth, and reach out our hands, we are supporting our whole community as well. Every. Single. Person.
Call our support warmline for help 800-944-4773 or find our volunteers near you
About the Author
Katayune Kaeni, Psy.D. is a psychologist specializing in maternal mental health. She was drawn to this specialty after going through postpartum depression and anxiety with her first child. Dr. Kat hosts a Podcast focused on maternal mental health, called Mom & Mind. She also supports her local community by partnering with the county to provide training for health care providers. She volunteers for Postpartum Support International as the area co-coordinator for San Bernardino County. Dr. Kat looks for any soap-box or mountain-top she can find to raise awareness about maternal mental health.