Today is World Maternal Mental Health Day. The irony in that statement is that maternal mental health has become my world. Every day, since even before the birth of my son.
My feed has been full of stories and support of maternal mental health today, because they are everywhere. One in 7 women will experience postpartum mental health concerns. And out of those, 70% will not complete treatment. The stigma prevents many women who would otherwise have access form seeking care – to put it simply, they’re afraid because they’re “crazy,” someone will take their children from them.
My own story, despite having the support of my family and community, was an extraordinary struggle because of the lack of awareness of maternal mental health disorders. I sought help from my obstetrician, my primary care physician, a women’s psychologist, a private psychiatrist, crisis services, and was finally brought into a specialized perinatal mental health outpatient program. Each step was an exercise in struggling to advocate for myself.
My OB was only able to give me a dated, photocopied single page of business cards, psychiatric practices, most of which could no longer be contacted.
The private psychiatrist we paid $200 an hour out of pocket joked about my complaint of excessive sweating – a symptom of anxiety.
The psychiatrist at a crisis stabilization unit I was admitted decided I was bipolar after a ten minute interview (while I was pumping breastmilk for my child at home), and prescribed Depakote, a schedule D medication that is incompatible with breastfeeding. The last time I nursed my son was in the visiting area of a psychiatric unit.
Nursing was one of the few positive parts of motherhood for me. It wasn’t easy or simple, but it was fulfilling in a way nothing else can be. I was also producing exceptionally well, a fact I am strangely proud of. The nurses would exclaim at the amount of milk I could pump, and I would jokingly reply that I was “a dairy.” Looking into the eyes of my son as he nursed were some of the only peaceful moments in his infancy. And it was taken from me by a careless doctor, untrained and unsupportive.
Pregnancy, birth, and motherhood are not the stuff of soft-curtained nurseries and sleeping, sweet-smellling newborns as every diaper commercial would have us believe. It is also exhausting, fraught with fluctuating hormones, and in some causes traumatic, like my experience. We must bring awareness and acceptance of the true aspects of motherhood, including mental health.