For Maternal Mental Health Month: Awful and Awesome
May 18, 2015
Along with being National Mental Health Month, May is also National Maternal Mental Health Month. To celebrate, today I’m finishing up a four-month Maternal Mental Health Provider certificationprogram. Yippee!! And congrats to everyone else concluding the training today. (If you are looking for a Maternal Mental Health Provider, you can find a list of certified professionals here!)
I enrolled in this program because for all of the attention parenting has garnered in the United States in this day and age, we still struggle with a sad lack of support when it comes to maternal mental health. My hope has been to learn more about the resources available for assessment and support of postpartum mood disorders and I’m happy to say that I will end this program with many more tools in my therapeutic belt than when I began.
But the other end of this work needs to happen outside the doctors’ and therapists’ offices. As a culture, we need to start calling out the myths around parenting that now do us more harm than good. And to start, I’d like for us to tackle this one that I have repeatedly heard in some form or another from parents in both my personal and professional lives…
“Having a newborn is a struggle but it’s all worth it.”
Of course if you asked a new mother or father on day 11 of 45 minutes of sleep a night, no one would say “it’s all worth it.” At that stage of the game, no one has the brain capacity to do the math of struggle vs. worthiness. Maybe if you returned to these parents three years later they would say “yes, it WAS all worth it” with genuine smiles as they scrubbed Sharpie off the couch. But here is why this myth of “no pain, no gain” is still something we need to shelve…
In parenting and in life, our pain and our pleasure do not work in some tandem balance. To put it super simply: it can be both awful and awesome. Because we are complex beings with complex emotional grids, we can hold lots of feelings and experiences within our selves. And for some reason this makes us very uncomfortable.
So when our friend is looking at us with tired, red eyes, drained from her first week with the noisiest, smelliest yet tiniest house guest ever, we feel helpless and we say something like, “it will all be worth it.” Problem is that this conveys something like,“I see you’re struggling but I’m not sure what to do and this thing, this ‘having a kid deal’ is generally a good thing, right? So try to remember that and just hold on. Help is not on the way.”
The terrible news is that I’m not 100% sure how we go about eradicating the problem. The less terrible news is that if I know one thing it’s that listening is healing. Listening to our selves, to our people, to not our people. Being heard is actually the miracle cure we’ve all been waiting for. So here’s how we start.
First, we can believe the mothers and fathers when they tell us that what they’re going through feels like hell. Secondly, we can take this seriously and rather than cards and flowers we canbring them an extra set of hands and a clear, calm mind that will direct them to their beds for some rest.
When we get the sense that a friend or family member is truly in the throes of a postpartum mood disorder, we can go with them to the doctor or we can research support groups and go with them a few times. In other words we can get them moving in a good direction when they feel like they are going nowhere but down.
Lastly and what seems like most importantly, we can start spreading the word: parenthood (and again, life) is awful AND awesome, ugly AND beautiful, hard AND great. Maybe if we can get the word out about this, we can then start practicing being with each other in the midst of both.