When Mother' s Day Is Not Happy

May is Women's Health Month. As we approach a holiday that focuses on the beauty of motherhood, I would like to take a few minutes to talk about an issue that impacts women everywhere but rarely discussed.

Mother’s Day is this Sunday, and whether you are scrolling through social media, walking through Hallmark or watching commercials on TV, it is celebrated as the joyous blessing of motherhood. But what if being a mother isn’t exactly joyous? What about the mothers who struggle to find peace and balance? Postpartum depression and anxiety disorders are a difficult reality for approximately 15% of new mothers, with the numbers growing and the mental health community working to bring it out of the shadows.

These women love their children fiercely but have a challenging time adjusting to the demands and the new life they are now responsible for. The stories are heart-wrenching of women who carry tremendous guilt for feeling lost, sad, immobilized with fear at a time when they should be elated and happy; their newborn or toddler a constant source of anxiety, always wondering if they will be a bad mother; unable to properly take care of and protect their child. The stress of a newborn is overwhelming for all mothers, but women with this condition feel a crushing weight of dread or even panic. They experience crippling fear watching their infant sleep; checking to be sure they are still breathing and afraid to fall asleep themselves in case they are needed. They become hyper–vigilant on anything and everything that gets close to the baby and reluctant to allow anyone else to hold, feed, or care for them.

As they grow older, it demonstrates itself in not allowing normal outside play, or play with other kids including an irrational fear of playground facilities or toys and activities they cannot personally control. They are extremely hesitant or do not allow at all the opportunity for play dates or sleepovers, always hovering with a fearful eye. Then there is the constant worry of illness. Every cough, every cry, ever fever brings a calamity of epic proportion.

What are the effects on the children? Children who grow up with an anxious mother believe the world is full of danger and peril and even as adults some lack the courage to explore or try new adventures. The mother sees this nervousness and believes her child is shy or timid and not able to handle problems, which reinforces the co-dependency that can easily occur. Separation anxiety is common with children who are raised with a mother suffering from depression.

Tension and anxiety can transfer to the child and they will find themselves feeling stress and acting out. This can create a damaging cycle where the mother then witnesses her child acting stressed and it starts her own cycle of worry again. Mothers set the tone for the household; so if she is worried, upset or depressed, the child will see this atmosphere as normal and acceptable.

These kinds of behaviors are crippling to both the mother and the child, but there are resources and help available to find healing, and healing is exactly what is necessary as this is a real health concern. Women who have diabetes are not told to just ‘stick it out’, ‘get over it’, or ‘it will pass’. They are provided with support, education, coping skills and medication. Anxiety and post-partum are no less a legitimate issue that needs that kind of attention.

Many are fearful to request this attention, however, especially medication. They are afraid of being labeled a bad mother or judged as unfit. This is where education is necessary to take away the stigma and shame. Medications such as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Antidepressant) are often prescribed as they are usually quite effective and most women can tolerate them well. In addition to medicine though, a complete treatment plan includes working with a professional therapist who is trained in anxiety and postpartum issues.

There are also self-care steps that women can learn and practice when they feel a panic attack approaching. Go for a walk or get outside for some fresh air. Find a hobby; something crafty that will release creative energy. If you need a break from your child, put them in a safe place and walk away for 10-15 minutes to regroup. Have a cup of chamomile tea. Practice relaxation and deep breathing techniques. And if you really need help, call a friend or family member to help out for a while.

A diagnosis of anxiety or postpartum depression does not have to rob you of the joys of motherhood. There is help and there is hope. Being a mother should be a rewarding, wonderful and loving experience. If this Mother’s Day is not shaping out to be one of joy or peace for you or someone you love, take this opportunity to start on the path to healing. Every mom deserves a Happy Mother’s Day!. 

Hope With Abandon

Hope Out