Last year for World Maternal Mental Health Day I wrote an article about the beginning of my motherhood journey. In this article, I detailed some of the surprising facts I encountered regarding maternal mental health in my 1st year of motherhood. I went over the impossible societal standards put on women to be a “Supermom” by having a career, a healthy marriage, and being the perfect mother. To round out the article I gave some reminders about how to better support the Mamas in all of our lives.
This year’s theme for World Maternal Mental Health Day is #StrongerTogether. It’s almost as if the universe was listening. Every year the whole world comes together to bring awareness to maternal mental health; the disparities in access to care, breaking stigmas, and addressing barriers all in hopes of making a positive impact on the physical and mental well-being of mothers.
Why Mental Health Matters for Moms
According to 20/20 Mom, an organization that is focused on improving maternal mental health, the data collected in the US in 2021 is daunting:
- The leading cause of maternal death in the 1st year of motherhood is suicide (making suicide an even larger risk than dying due to complications of childbirth).
- Suicide accounts for 20% of maternal deaths in the 1st year post-partum
- The US has the highest suicide and maternal mortality rate among wealthy nations
Mama Tribes are #StrongerTogether
Having a baby in March of 2020 didn’t lend for the typical “mom” experience. Two of my best friends had their babies just a few weeks after me. We all had baby girls and during pregnancy we imagined our lives (and maternity leave) to be full of mom and baby brunches, “Mommy and Me” yoga classes, and playdates.
Instead, we had our daughters and spent the first months of their lives secluded in Covid lockdowns. The time we did get to spend together was uplifting and gave us a sense of normalcy. Two years later their daughters are now my daughter’s best friends.
As I reflect on this hashtag #StrongerTogether it brings to mind this natural evolution I have seen in my friendships over the past 2 years. Starting by texting my more “experienced” mom friends 5-10 times per day within the first few months of my daughter’s life to ask questions about how to do pretty much everything, to becoming that cliché mom who makes friends on Facebook mommy groups and with the other moms in my daughter’s swim class.
Before becoming a mom, I already had a really strong group of friends and a busy social calendar. I couldn’t have even imagined making room for new relationships but somehow the space in my life was created and I don’t know what I would do without my Mama Tribe.
The Benefits of Having Mom Friends
In an article for postpartum.net Clinical Psychologist, Alexis E. Menken Ph.D. talks about the struggles that mothers face as they transition into motherhood.
“This is a sensitive time when every aspect of a woman’s identity and body is in transition.” She shares that “There is a considerable amount of research indicating that having solid friendships is good for your health. Friends help us deal with stress, recover from illness, promote brain health, reduce high blood pressure” and goes on to highlight that “The transition to new motherhood is no exception.”
She also points out that while all social support is important, mom friends are providing a different kind of support. The support from mom friends according to Dr. Menken lies heavily in the shared experience, “someone who understands the unspoken flip side to the joys of parenting, a person who is also knee-deep in diapers, sleeplessness, feeding woes, who can directly relate to the enormous strain, emotional challenges, and myriad changes that confront women during these pivotal months.”
Changing What Motherhood “Should” Look Like
Having other mom friends sounds amazing right? We all know the benefits of having friends, we are human, and our brains crave connection. So, if the experts are all encouraging moms to ask for support and make mom friends, why aren’t we all doing it?
Danielle Zimmerman, LCPC, PHM-C is a therapist and perinatal mental health professional at Plainfield Counseling Center and I asked her about some of the barriers she sees her clients needing to overcome. She finds that “women don’t talk often enough about the struggles and real life of being a parent” she goes on “a lot of the work I do with mamas is to normalize the struggles and link them with local support”. She went on to share organizations in her area where moms can meet other moms and engage in activities together.
My friends and I keep our conversations honest and real. It always breaks my heart when another mom thinks she isn’t doing a good job. I’ve had many encounters with other moms in my daughter’s classes or even my friends who will make a comparison between what they think they are seeing with my child/parenting to themselves and then use that to judge themselves negatively.
I try to always take this as an opportunity to have an honest conversation and give support. Motherhood is hard, we don’t get enough sleep, food, alone time, time with our spouse, time to read books, time with our friends, and the list goes on and on.
As we think about the need for support and being #StrongerTogether we also need to collectively work to break the stigmas around what motherhood “should” look like. #Strongertogether means letting off striving to be “SuperMom.” The more honest, open, and vulnerable we are about our struggles, the better support we will all be for our Mama Tribe.
Written By: Tara Javidan, LCPC, CADC
At Clarity Clinic, we have highly trained staff who specialize in therapy and psychiatry services. To learn more about how we can support your mental health, call Clarity Clinic at (312) 815-9660 or schedule an appointment today.