You might think…
“Wow, what a sweet, happy family.”
“Their outfits match so well!”
“She looks like a happy mom.”
“She seems like she has it all together.”
It’s so easy to think these things. How can you not? But let me tell you, I did NOT have it altogether…
In fact, while these pictures show a side of me—a side of motherhood—that we so often choose to reveal to the rest of the world, it’s not the complete picture.
It’s not the full truth.
There were so many emotions behind my smile. So many situations going on in the background that weighed heavily on my mind… and my heart.
But you would never know it just by looking at these photos.
And that truly is the case with social media nowadays. I have felt exactly what you’ve felt while looking at pitch-perfect pictures and flawless posts on motherhood, quietly thinking,
“Why isn’t my own experience the same…?”
So, let me pull back the curtain even further, and tell you what was really going on.
Because while my pictures say one thing, my story tells quite a different one.
As a wise psychologist once told me, “You cannot compare your “insides” to someone else’s “outsides.”
At the time that we took the photo with me and my five-month-old son, Owen, I found out I was expecting another baby—his brother, Andrew.
I was also in the midst of recovering from Postpartum OCD, which I didn’t even know was something that could happen until it hit me hard shortly after Owen was born. Truthfully, my unexpected pregnancy scared me.
I was worried about going through Postpartum OCD once more.
What if it was worse the second time around? I could barely stand the idea of going
through that experience again.
After this photo session, our family went bowling, but I was a nervous wreck the whole time. My mind was racing thinking about Owen.
Would he start crying uncontrollably in the middle of the bowling alley with everyone looking our way? Would we have to leave? How embarrassed am I going to be when that happens?
Questions like these were constantly on repeat, skyrocketing my anxiety, making me unable to enjoy the company of my family or be present in the moment.
Not only that, I was exhausted. Tired from the first trimester of my pregnancy and adjusting to weaning Owen off nursing, I was struggling both physically and emotionally. It affected everything.
And I didn’t know how to handle it. I was overwhelmed, terrified, and lonely. I had so few people
I could share my thoughts with.
But those aren’t details you would have noticed in my photos.
Motherhood is a rollercoaster of emotions, a journey that shapes every woman differently. It’s important that we talk about what our experiences can really be like and what we can do to proactively
protect our mental health.
This is so that we can embrace motherhood with a full heart.
Taking care of ourselves means taking care of our family.
I knew that having a Postpartum mood disorder was a possibility when I was pregnant with Owen, as do all pregnant women. We’re given a couple of brochures, maybe learn a little more about what to expect in postpartum in a prenatal class, or even hear from some other mom, midwives, or doctors what it may be like.
But that’s the extent of it, and it’s easy not to prioritize this part of our journey when no one talks about it, especially when it seems that healthcare providers focus more on our physical health. In truth, we must devote as much attention to our emotional and mental well-being as we do to our physical health.
When you’re excited about your pregnancy and the little one you’re about to welcome into the world, thinking about your fourth trimester and its many complexities is often the last thing on your mind.
We prepare so little for our postpartum journey, focusing more on what the baby needs rather than our own after childbirth. Maybe we grab a few items here and there that help us ease the pains of birth. Maybe we buy more underwear, pads, and comfortable clothing, but what do we do for our mental health? Is there truly anything we can do to prepare?
The range of our emotions takes us completely by surprise, especially if our experience of motherhood isn’t matching our expectations.
The tools that we need to gain the skills and knowledge about how to handle these situations are few and far between. Only in recent years has the motherhood narrative started to shift positively forward.
More and more professionals in the motherhood and fatherhood space have been leaning on their own experiences, shining the spotlight on the hardships and realities of parenthood and how much it directly impacts our emotional well-being.
This begins with being more open about our needs and vocalizing the need for more awareness surrounding the different types of Postpartum mood disorders and how to address them.
You may have heard of the term “baby blues” in your prenatal classes, from other mothers, or even during your own research. Approximately 70-80% of women experience a case of “baby blues” during their postpartum journey.
You may feel tired, restless, sad, and even angry in some cases, but the primary difference between baby blues and Postpartum Depression is that the symptoms of the baby blues only last a couple of weeks before they slowly start to subside on their own.
One in seven women may experience Postpartum Depression in the year after childbirth. Even more startling, approximately 50% of women who develop PPD begin experiencing the symptoms in pregnancy. Pregnant women with a history of depression or other major mood disorders are more likely to develop PPD.
But did you know that there were different types of
Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMAD’s) that exist as well?
● Postpartum Anxiety
● Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
● Postpartum OCD
● Postpartum Psychosis
We rarely talk about these different diagnoses out of fear of judgment, afraid to reach out and ask for much-needed help, but they can be serious enough to the point where we need professional, guided support to find balance in ourselves again.
You will find it. You will feel like yourself again. Recovery isn’t linear, but you will get through it.
Postpartum OCD, in particular, can be extremely scary.
I know it was for me because it was such a visceral part of my motherhood experience with Owen.
As one of the most under-diagnosed perinatal mood disorders, approximately 3-5% of new mothers experience unwanted, intrusive thoughts, often involving images related to harm coming to the baby or to themselves. This leads to obsessive compulsions to do certain behaviors over and over
again, to reduce these fears.
These vivid images can feel appallingly real to the mother and can sometimes lead to issues bonding with the baby, and yet, there is a persistent fear to be left alone with the baby as well.
Women with Postpartum OCD know that these images aren’t normal and are likely to not act on them, however, if left untreated, it can grow in severity.
There were many things I wish I knew about Postpartum OCD—or any of the postpartum mood disorders for that matter—to improve my resiliency and experience in the early stages of pregnancy.
As mothers, we need to be better equipped to handle one of the most sensitive and transitional stages we go through as women.
I wish I had learned about resiliency skills when I was going through my first pregnancy. I would have had a much different experience as a mother, and I know that I’m not alone.
My goal is to teach proactive resiliency so parents can put their “smart brain” to work in order to overcome their “fight” or “flight” tendencies. This is fueled by the Driven resiliency program, which is composed of 6 domains: composure, health, tenacity, collaboration, vision, and reasoning.
Put simply, if women learned how to build mental resiliency during the early stages of pregnancy, it’ll help protect them when those “fight” or “flight” feelings try to dominate their minds and situations.
I am passionate about teaching these skills to mothers so they can avoid the same frightening experiences I had with my first son. Informing parents about perinatal mental health in the early stages of pregnancy can provide them with the tools they need when they start seeing symptoms arise and the knowledge to help them handle even their toughest struggles.