This year, from 1 to 7 of May we bring awareness to maternal mental health, a vitally important subject that is quickly forgotten by community and birthing professionals.
I myself have suffered from postpartum anxiety, due to a traumatic birth experience. I have often spoken openly about my experience, with the hope of breaking the ice about it and getting the conversation going. It is not an easy one to have, but the more we talk about it, the easier it gets to share our experiences and resonate the one with the other. Mental health for mothers is completely stigmatized, as we have to be the perfect caregivers and be completely in love with our new motherhood. If we do not fit into this picture, we are quickly marked as “bad mothers”. This is so dangerous, as it makes us scared even to mention our worries, anxieties, or even unhappiness.
1 in every 5 new mothers will experience either postpartum anxiety or depression, and 25% of women experience mental illness during pregnancy. These are big numbers and we should really start talking about it more openly.
“The lack of detection, monitoring, and treatment has long-term consequences for the health of the mother, but also for the health of the baby and the rest of his family. That is why it is essential that all women, regardless of their background, age or income level, have access to quality perinatal mental health services.” – Salud mental perinatal.
Psychology doctor Sharon Dekel of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School is leading a study on the link between mode of delivery and post-traumatic stress disorder. They conclude that the experience and the type of delivery are directly related to the mental state of the mother in the puerperium. Women who have received obstetric interventions during childbirth, such as cesarean section or instrumentalized vaginal delivery, develop greater psychological distress. In addition, going through a cesarean section increases a woman’s vulnerability to psychiatric problems.
Another study conducted by 4 Spanish nurses concludes that women who suffer verbal obstetric violence are at greater risk of developing postpartum depression. OV is a major risk factor for perinatal mental health. Infantilization, ridicule, being a mere spectator and not having the main role in your own birth. All of this plays a very important role and all health workers present at deliveries and births should be made aware immediately.
“They yelled at me that my vagina was too small to give birth, and they continually threatened me with a cesarean section. All they did was stress me out more and literally ruin my labor. The person who helped me the most was the midwife from the last shift, I felt that she was my defender.”
I spent months with mega postpartum anxiety, with a tremendous fear of being separated from my baby, fear of not being a good mother, fear of not being able to give milk, and with 0 help from the professionals around me. I was (mis)diagnosed by a psychiatrist in less than 2 minutes of DPP. He wanted to give me antidepressants, something that wouldn’t have helped me at all. Luckily, I found a psychologist who specialized in the perinatal field. With her, I worked through the traumas that the delivery and birth of my daughter left me, and I was able to resolve my postpartum anxiety in order to enjoy my motherhood again. But who can privately afford a psychologist? How long is the social security waiting list?
A great help during childbirth is the companion of course, or as I like to call it: “the Guardian of childbirth.” In charge of making decisions and defending the parturient, so that she can travel to the birth planet without interruptions. Couples play an important role here but with their own emotional and knowledgeable imitations. That is why the accompaniment of a doula, both during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum, can be the missing piece of the puzzle.
Research finds that having a very supportive partner or companion during labor works as protection. “It is feeling that you are not alone in this, that your emotions or your needs are validated, that they support you in making decisions if you prefer to wander if you want to drink water during labor… Having a supportive companion can even make professionals modify their performance”, adds Martínez-Galiano.
The role of a pregnancy and postpartum doula is to educate, nurture and empower families and especially mothers. We listen to all concerns and emotions without prejudice, support informed decisions, and provide aid where needed.
Certified doulas receive training that includes basic knowledge about perinatal disorders. These include (but are not limited to) postpartum depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. Doulas play a valuable role in screening, often spending many hours or weeks with parents and parents-to-be, while medical professionals may only spend a few moments. If a doula is concerned that a mother may be having mental health issues, she often refers to a mental health professional.
I have known many great doulas for years and some are very good friends of mine, just as I have many wonderful midwife friends. But since I began to provide training in perinatal mental health open to anyone interested in January, I have become even more convinced of the importance and necessity of the presence of doulas in this country, especially for emotional support during pregnancy, childbirth and puerperium and in mourning. Throughout this year and in this training in which midwives, nurses, doctors, psychologists, educators, journalists, social workers, etc. and many doulas have delved into perinatal psychology and psychopathology. The contributions and reflections of the participating doulas have been a luxury, really. Thank you!” – Ibone Olza, Perinatal Mental Health.
On the other hand, the lack of community and individualism play a big factor in perinatal mental health. We are very lonely. We used to gestate, give birth and raise in a tribe, surrounded by wise women. Today it is required that you must be able to cope with everything, breastfeeding, lack of sleep, continuous attachment, housework, work, and conciliation (Non-existent). Today’s society certainly does not protect or support the mental health of mothers. Both due to a lack of information and simple disinterest. That is why I believe that this week we must place special emphasis on teaching about the subject, in order to improve the care of future mothers, and thus, the care of our future generations. Because, for the babies to be well, the mothers must first be well. The first months, especially, they are an interconnected being. If we want to change the world, we must take care of mothers.