Earlier this week while scrolling on Instagram, I learned that May 4-8, 2020 is Maternal Mental Health Week. I quickly stopped and began to think about my own mental health post-delivery to my now 15-month old son.
While I was never professionally diagnosed with postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, I know that I wasn’t myself in the months following my son’s birth. I was not prepared for how tired I would be. The fatigue was next level. I also struggled with breastfeeding and beat myself up about it. Even with the parenting books and blogs I had read, advice from other new moms, a specially blended “mother’s tea” from my mother-in-law and expert tips from my doula, my breastfeeding journey wasn’t going as planned. I felt like a failure.
I had many other moments of doubt, isolation and frustration on my journey to new motherhood. My body had drastically changed. I still looked about three months pregnant several weeks after giving birth. Also, there was so much unsolicited, even if well-intended, advice. This “advice” can sting. You shouldn’t do this or that to/for your baby. And everyone was eager to know how my precious baby boy was doing – how he was adjusting to life outside my womb. Yet few people seemed genuinely as concerned about how Mommy was adjusting to life with him outside of my womb. We’d just spent the last nine months together after all. We were both getting used to a very different way of life. However, unlike him, I was expected to have all the answers. Oh, and then there were the comments on how good my husband was with our son. He received kudos for simply changing his pamper. In hindsight, it is laughable. Now don’t get me wrong, my husband is an awesome father. But ask me how many times I was complimented for changing that same bum? Zero.
When I was discharged from the hospital on the afternoon of January 15, 2019, a polite nurse carefully read a checklist to my husband and me while our son, wrapped in his new outfit I thoughtfully picked out for this occasion, waited for us to take him home. I vividly remember her saying to me, if you have any thoughts of wanting to hurt you or your baby, contact a medical professional immediately as this could be a sign of postpartum depression. So, I thought as long as I didn’t want to physically harm myself or my son, I was “okay”. Plus, my village was vast. My mother, who lives 600 miles away, had traveled to be with me and help out with the baby during this time. She did laundry, cooked meals, went to the grocery store and cleaned. My mother-in-law was also a huge help as we transitioned to a family of three. I endured three surgeries, a painful miscarriage and IVF before giving birth to this child. How dare I complain now? Not to mention, I had just given birth naturally to a healthy baby boy with zero complications roughly six weeks before my 43rd birthday. As a Black woman in America, this is (sadly) important to note. Therefore, I tucked my feelings of an unexplainable funk aside because I had a baby to tend to and a bevy of reliable resources so many new mothers don’t get. I needed to be grateful and figure it out.
Fast forward to a year later and I’m in a better place mentally, emotionally and physically. My son is running, talking and causing me to laugh daily. My therapist (who I didn’t begin seeing until nine months or so after giving birth because I didn’t have the time or money to do so before then) has helped me to understand some of what I experienced like extreme fatigue was normal. However, feeling as though I had to navigate that challenging time by myself was not helpful. I, like so many Black women, had resolved that I was supposed to instinctly have it all figured out. My therapist, who is a new mom herself, helped me to identify some of my triggers which was quite helpful. I did have to supplement my son’s diet with formula and that is okay. He is healthy and happy. I now take unsolicited parenting advice with a grain of salt. I accept that most people honestly do mean well and those who don’t do not deserve my time. I’ve admittedly had a few mom meltdowns and I know there are more to come but I’m built for this. I’m so much stronger than I used to give myself credit for. And admitting that I feel off isn’t a sign of weakness but rather an indication of wisdom.
Happy Early Mother’s Day to all those who are celebrating this Sunday and especially the new moms who feel out of sorts, lonely and yes maybe even depressed. Give yourself permission to cry, to ask for help, to ask for space and to just be. Lean on your village when necessary and as much as necessary. Own your evolution and all the peaks and valleys that come with it. You got this.
MATERNAL HEALTH RESOURCE GUIDE FOR NEW AND EXPECTING MOTHERS
Dona.org: Use this site to locate a certified doula in your area
@MamaGlow: Doula and women’s wellness influencer Latham Thomas uses her platform to educate and empower expecting and new mothers
TheBlueDotProject.org: An initiative helping to raise awareness of maternal mental health disorders while eliminating the stigma and shame often associated with postpartum depression + anxiety
PostPartumDepression.org: Founded and inspired by a couple following the birth of their daughter, this organization’s mission is to encourage women and educate families about PPD
BlackMamasMatter.com: A safe space where Black mothers are given the rights, respect and resources to thrive before, during and after pregnancy
Amadoma Bediako, MS, CCCE, CLC, CD/BDT(DONA): Well respected and certified African American doula, birth doula trainer and lactation counselor who works with families throughout the New York tri-state area