It's Not All Sunshine & Rainbows.
When talking to a pregnant woman, most well-wishers – including friends, family and random strangers on the street are usually sunshine and rainbows – and rightly so. It is such a miraculous and amazing time, and giving birth is an incredible experience. It makes sense that people don’t want to bring up the negatives that *could* happen.
But I am not that friend, or family member, or stranger on the street. I will not tell you to enjoy every second, because that is impossible. I will not tell you that it is all sunshine and rainbows, or even laugh when telling you about the blowout diapers and sleepless nights that you can expect, making you think that poop and exhaustion are the worst of what is to come. I will tell you that it’s the craziest roller coaster ride you’ll ever go on, and to accept help in whatever form it comes, and to make sure to take care of yourself.
I do this because maternal mental health complications like postpartum depression and anxiety are the number one complication of childbirth.
I do this because conservative estimates say that 1 in 7 moms suffer from some sort of perinatal mood or anxiety disorder (PMAD), and that it’s likely more around 1 in 5. I do this because only 15% of the women who suffer get help for these temporary and treatable conditions, and the other 85% slog through and suffer in silence because of the shame and stigma that are associated with having and articulating these feelings. I say this because suicide is one of the leading – if not the leading – causes of death of new moms within the first year.
Please know, I don’t spout these statistics to scare mamas-to-be or to make their nerves and anxiety skyrocket – I simply do it to bring it to their attention. Because more than anything, I wish women thought about, considered and even prepared for what *could* happen. I wish they understood that information – about risk factors, potential signs and symptoms, and help that exists – can quite simply save their life.
Why don’t people talk about the mental health of new moms more? After all, we all have multiple ultrasounds to check for complications with the fetus. We all gulp down the gestational diabetes glucose drink. We all read up on ways to make labor (hopefully) go more smoothly, to help our children eventually sleep and / or eat better, and sacrifice certain foods and behaviors to make sure we are in top physical conditions while creating a life. Why should making sure our mental health is in top form be any different? I am of the belief that it shouldn’t.
Like all of the things listed above, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are not contagious, and can’t be “given” to anyone. Talking about them in hushed tones or shouting about them from the rooftops won’t make more women “get” them.
But, it may help more women recognize that they are suffering.
It may make more women realize that they have one of the multiple risk factors, and prepare herself for what could happen. It may make more women feel less alone and reach out for help.
And, it just may save someone’s life.
Lesley lives in Hoboken with her husband and two daughters. She is a freelance writer and PR consultant, as well as a peer advocate for women battling perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. She blogs (when she can find the time!) at Real Life, Real Laughter.
Lesley is one of the guest speakers at Little Bee Learning Studio's Nesting Series. To learn more, or to register visit Little Bee Learning Studio