Updated: Dec 13, 2021
How to overcome the obstacles blocking your path to maternal mental wellness.
Do you even know how long it takes me to straighten my hair...and other ridiculous excuses I have used to avoid taking care of myself.
If you know me I know what you are thinking-”you don’t ever straighten your hair”. Well, that is not true. I just never straighten my hair well. AND I’m pretty sure it takes longer when you don’t know what you are doing and your hair doesn’t cooperate.
It isn’t my fault I don’t have these skills. I have tried. But in my defense until I turned 38 again I never really had to straighten my hair. I could sleep on wet hair, wake up, brush it and go and it would be perfectly straight. Like MAGIC. And I didn’t even appreciate it because I have been 37 enough times that there were important years of my life when big hair was the goal and my hair didn’t cooperate then either. Oh, I miss my straight hair.
Which makes it so obvious that it is really difficult for me to exercise and get sweaty (my hair has frizzed and lumped ever since I turned 36 again) even though I know it makes me feel better and is important to my health which is a value I hold dear (along with enough vanity to want to appear fit and have decent hair). And before you get all judgy (or point out I also don’t look “fit”), let me reframe “vanity”. My goal is to maintain some semblance of personal appearance because my value is to treat and be treated with respect and taking time with my appearance works toward that value by expressing to others that I respect and care for myself...except when I don’t…
Uggghhh. Because I also value assertive communication and when I don’t get enough sleep (because I have to wake up earlier to straighten my $%^ hair), I get cranky and my communication becomes loud and irritable and grumpy.
Just stop with the judgment now. Going to bed earlier is not an option. My schedule is full with numerous other things (let's call them kids) that cannot be taken off of the jigsaw puzzle that is my schedule. The housekeeping standards have been lowered as low as they can go (I value cleanliness also and we are at the bare minimum already).
It’s like my core values are in competition with each other and the only loser is me. And my hair. And as ridiculous as this sounds (thanks for sticking with me), it is all so very true and so frustrating because not having mastered this by 35 again makes me feel like a failure. So like that mouse with the cookie, I get distracted by what it appears everyone else is doing which does not make me feel better and wastes the time I could be using to straighten my hair (I mean exercise;).
And just like that you understand why our maternal mental health statistics are so dismal. Even though perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are the MOST COMMON complication of childbirth, the majority of women do not get diagnosed and, even when diagnosed, they often do not receive adequate treatment and support. AND IT IS NOT THEIR FAULT...they need to straighten their hair.
Stick with me. Becoming a mother changes everything. It requires new skills. Values start to run over each other in the scheduling fast-lane. Values get confused with goals and goals start taking up more time than is available and it can be just so exhausting. And in the fatigue and overwhelm it is so easy to look for the quick fix of what someone else is doing and before you know it you missed your exercise and your hair is still a mess and your guilt and shame have worsened. This is natural and extremely common during the transition to motherhood. And even though many moms have never heard of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, they know they are tired, and overwhelmed, and irritable, and stressed! That’s ok. Because there are safe and effective ways to treat and, better yet, prevent the motherhood overload so that recovery and mental well-being are possible.
Treatment for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders only works if you get it.
Just the facts please. At least 1 in 7 women will experience significant depression or anxiety during pregnancy or the postpartum period. This incidence is greater in women of color with as many as 1 in 3 being affected. Fathers also experience increased rates of depression and anxiety during this time with as many as 1 in 10 being affected. 50% of partners of a mom with depression or anxiety will also have postpartum depression. Suicide is one of the top three leading causes of maternal mortality. In fact, a woman's greatest lifetime likelihood of being hospitalized for mental illness is in the first year postpartum. At least half of all women diagnosed with bipolar disorder, receive this diagnosis in the postpartum period. MOOD AND ANXIETY DISORDERS ARE VERY COMMON DURING PREGNANCY AND POSTPARTUM. They do not resolve spontaneously or quickly. They are not the fault of the new parent and they are not a reflection of their parenting skills or love for their children (even if it feels that way). So why don't they get care and what steps can a mom take to get the support she needs?
It really doesn't have anything to do with hair...except it kinda does. You cannot do everything but you can do something. What I hear consistently from moms is:
1. I didn't realize how much I needed this until I was able to look back. In hindsight, I let my depression, anxiety, and overwhelm go on too long from denial, embarrassment, or logistical challenges.
2. No one I know talks about this so I thought I was alone. The people I would normally talk to for support were not what I needed for my pregnancy or postpartum mood or anxiety symptoms.
3. I thought if I just stayed busy and kept working harder, my depression and anxiety would go away.
Hear me out. When it comes to getting help, there is really only just the first step. This step is dependent on one core value and longing-many moms describe it as the desire to be their best self for their children. It does not matter how much you do to complete all the tasks and do all the things, if you are not mentally well, you will not be able to offer your full presence and find the joy you deserve.
What is this first step? It is the easiest and the hardest-simple in statement but complex is action. Just ask for help. Ask again if needed. And again. Ask with clarity and confidence. And if this is too much, ask someone to ask for you. EVERY mom needs support.