While mental health concerns impact all of us, the topic of maternal mental health has often been a taboo subject. After all, the birth of a baby is supposed to be a joyful time, and motherhood is supposed to a fulfilling, happy experience.
Except when it’s not. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 13% of women who have just given birth experience a mental disorder. A 2013 study puts the numbers even higher, with nearly 22% of women experiencing postpartum depression during the first postpartum year. While postpartum depression has received some attention, much less focus is placed on postpartum anxiety, which impacts many new mothers.
Parenting coach and owner of GIT Mom, Eirene Heidelberger is no stranger to the darkness that surrounds first-time moms. An experienced mom herself, Eirene had a difficult time adjusting to motherhood. With a first-born son that was a challenging baby, Eirene found herself missing her pre-baby life.
“Many moms are incredibly unhappy, but no one wants to talk about it. We hide it behind shiny Facebook posts and happy holiday cards. No one desires to discuss the ugly and the dirty, but the truth is, many women are needlessly suffering in silence,” Heidelberger told Mothering Magazine.
Heidelberger’s company, GIT Mom, is a full-service parent coaching firm that put the focus on mom, rather than the kids. Heidelberger teaches that when we care for moms and ensure that her needs have been met, she is able to give so much more to her children.
“Self-care is so important, and while it’s something we encourage mothers to do, many of us do not know how to care for ourselves after we give birth,” said Heidelberger. As a result, she has created a five-step process to achieving better self-care.
Step #1: Admitting and Identifying the Problem
“The first step to solving any problem is admitting there is a one,” says Heidelberger. Mothers should ask themselves, “Why am I yelling at my children?”, “What is making me so stressed out?”, or “Why do I feel so unhappy?” Only when we identify the problem can we begin to move in a positive direction.
Step #2: Speak up and Communicate Your Needs
As mothers, we are the doers. When something or someone requires attention, we take care of it. Heidelberger urges mothers to use their voices and to let their partners, family, and friends know that they are suffering.
Step #3: Activate Your Village
“Mothers are not meant to handle parenthood alone,” shares Heidelberger. With help from others, moms should begin to formulate an extended support system. One suggestion includes forming a shared babysitting support group. Heidelberger relied on other moms to share babysitting with, which allowed her some semblance of independence and some much-needed adult-time.
Step #4: Compartmentalize Your Tasks
If there is one primary emotion that moms often feel besides love, it’s guilt. There is an incredible sense of sadness when a baby is crying as you leave the home. Taking care of yourself does not make you a bad mom, Heidelberger shares. Exhaustion, however, will contribute to decreased patience and less-effective parenting skills. Heidelberger recommends taking care of the tasks that you need to take care of so that you can be fully present when you are engaging with your children.
Step #5: Practice, Practice, Practice
As with anything in life, self-care takes practice. The more a mom takes care of herself, the easier it becomes to take care of her little ones. Heidelberger encourages moms to be gentle with themselves as they navigate motherhood.