When people think of pregnant women they often have images of a woman with a round belly, big smile on her face and laying in a field of flowers. Okay, maybe that last part is only reserved for television commercials. However, this carefree, happy impression of pregnancy leaves many women feeling inadequate for being anything less than joyful.
Unfortunately, not all pregnant women work up until the day their baby is born, or have natural vaginal deliveries. There are numerous conditions that can cause a woman stress during and after her pregnancy as well as impact her mental health. This can include being in an abusive relationship, struggling with addiction, having a pregnancy after a miscarriage or infant loss, having a high-risk pregnancy, or a number of other factors.
With one in five women experiencing mental health problems while pregnant or in the months following her pregnancy, why aren’t more people talking about prenatal mental health?
As a mom who has endured two high-risk pregnancies, with a combined six months of bed rest, I have experienced my own mental health struggles. Both of my children are rainbow babies, each pregnancy following a miscarriage.
Anyone who has endured a pregnancy loss knows how incredibly painful, terrifying, isolating and intense the loss of a baby is for a mother (and partner). Each pregnancy brings so much hope, joy, expectations and dreams for the future. When the life growing inside of you dies, so do all of your dreams for that child.
Even though one in four pregnancies end in a miscarriage, it is a topic that is rarely talked about, with very few women receiving mental health counselling or support. While miscarriages may be a “normal” part of pregnancy for healthcare providers, it is a devastating loss for the mother.
So if these women are not getting the support they desperately need, with miscarriages being so common, you can see why the mental health of pregnant moms is often overlooked.
During my two-month hospital stay while pregnant with my son, the medical team did an amazing job in monitoring baby’s heart rate, movements, my blood pressure, urine, weight and iron levels. However, my mental health was completely overlooked.
Emotional Roller Coaster
As I spent weeks on end confined to a bed, over an hour from my daughter and husband, I struggled with the isolation from family as well as anxiety for my growing baby. I felt torn between being away from my daughter and giving my son the support he needed to grow. Whether I went home or stayed in the hospital, I was failing one of my children. Or so I thought.
For six weeks, I went to bed crying, feeling I was somehow damaging my young daughter for being away from her. I would cry when other moms’ children would come to visit. I would cry when I heard a child laughing.
Since I shed a lot of tears, there were many occasions when medical staff walked in on my crying fest. Sure a couple patted my hand and told me all would be fine. But most just said it would all be over soon, not to worry. No one ever sat down with me, looked me in the eye and asked me how I was truly coping with the stresses of my pregnancy.
Mental Health Check-In
If we truly want to support women through all stages of her pregnancy, as well as after baby is born, we need to include mental health check-ins throughout the journey. You’ll notice I said we, not the medical system. I truly believe we ALL have a role to play in supporting moms.
Yes, OBs, midwives and doctors need to spend time during their visits to dig a bit deeper in finding out how mom is doing emotionally and mentally. And when there are concerns, the moms shouldn’t have to weeks or months to get the support she needs, which is too often the case.
As for family and friends, you too need to ask the uncomfortable questions and find out how mom is truly doing. Don’t ask the superficial — how are you doing question and take fine as an answer. Dig deeper. Way deeper. Keep checking in. If you have struggled with mental health, share your struggles. Let her know she isn’t alone. And if she admits she’s struggling, take her to her medical provider and help advocate with her so she gets help.
If we can all take a role in supporting pregnant and new moms, we are also helping baby.
To read more about pregnancy challenges visit www.bedrestmom.com