Mental Health & Motherhood

Mothering is a whole new level of mental work

Welcome to February. This month we will be exploring the intersection of Mental Health + Motherhood.

I’ve confessed how motherhood was no walk in the park for me, mentally, many times before. When my book comes out, you will really get the full scope of what life was like during those early years of parenting.

While the topic of mental health is crucial for anyone to learn about, it holds a special (dark & terrible?) place just for moms. So. I’m dedicating February to the moms. And if you’re not a mom, I encourage you to support your friends who are moms because God knows we need it.

To paint you a realistic picture of what modern motherhood looks like — you know, in the wake of the completely inaccurate and actually quite harmful momfluencer culture that depicts momming as twirling through wheat fields and laughing off spaghetti stain’d white couches — I have spoken with everyday mothers on what a typical day looks like for them and how they keep it (mentally) together.

That said, this first interview is from Edith Doron, PhD, writer, and educator. She studied Modern Thought at Aberdeen University, and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two boys. Here, she talks openly about her experience with postpartum depression, opening with a quote from “Fleabag, Series Two”:

Women are born with pain built-in. It’s our physical destiny. Period pain, sore boobs, childbirth. We carry it within ourselves throughout our lives. Men don’t: they have to seek it out. They have to invent all these gods and demons and things just so they can feel guilty about things which is something we do very well on our own…we have it all going on inside…for years and years and years.”

19 years ago, I walked into traffic. I was lucky to have survived this amidst the regular bouts of dark and devastatingly frightening thoughts that plagued me in the year following my son’s birth. Postpartum depression (PPD), like any other question involving the health and well-being of women during key moments in our lives — moments of profound initiation cannot be understood as simply a ‘disease’ on the merely molecular or biological level.

It involves a massive upset in hormonal balance. Ask yourself this: How often has the fact of hormonal imbalance throughout our lives been used precisely to dismiss the severity, if not the very reality, of our experiences? How often has the biological materiality of women’s health been belittled, if not entirely disavowed, as being ‘natural?’

And how often do we as women normalize this pain, agree to keep the secret and internalize these attitudes? How often do we accept, incorporate, and pass on these stigmas—stigmas which result not only in the perpetuation of our pain and our body’s suffering, but also in harming our relation to ourselves—that is, our mental health, and our relation to all those around us? 

As a 48-year-old woman, a wife of 22 years and mother of two remarkable, loving boys, I can look back at what happened to me and to my family with the advantage of time and with the gift of having lived in Europe, where I had my second child.

Thinking of PPD as an illness and a sickness, we might ask how PPD is intensified and perpetuated at the level of social relations — in the realm of expectations, prejudices, roles and responsibilities of women — generated mostly from our partners, friends, family and employers?

When did your PPD subside? How did you overcome it? Is it still "there?”

 Since I didn't know I was going through PPD with my first son, it's hard to say when it really stopped. The whole experience is a work of memory and reflecting on a situation of being alone, scared, fiercely independent and uninformed.

But I think that once I was able to get regular sleep — even if it was only about 6 hours a night — I was able to get my life back. Changing employers was also key. When I was invited to work for the Long Island Children's Museum, I experienced a much better work-life balance that was supported by an executive director who was a kind of old school feminist.

When I had my second son and was living in Scotland, I had the help of a caring physician who would speak to me weekly, a husband whose work didn't take him elsewhere, an employer who was shocked to find that I was only taking six months off instead of the expected year that every Scottish woman still finds far too short, a non-profit nursery who made me feel like I was dropping my baby off with a tribe of the most loving women in the world, friends whose children joyously surrounded mine with laughter and adoration, and a healthcare system with midwives who were there for me every step of the way. I overcame my PPD with the help of all these people. 

Is it still 'there?’ That's a great and difficult question. When PPD was plaguing me after Emmanuel, my behavior toward my older son changed. I had developed poor parenting habits where he was concerned and was often impatient, indifferent and unloving. That thankfully all changed, especially when I finished my PhD and came to the States having won a Fellowship with the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. I was totally enthralled with the prospect of being in charge and taking my family out to follow me in my career endeavors.

Somewherein this success and excitement, my relationship with my firstborn healed and we became incredibly close. He is now like a best friend as much as my son. He has saved me during this quarantine — lifting my spirits every time I began to feel despondent.

As someone who struggled with PPD, what advice do you have for women struggling with mental health issues, and who don't know who or where to turn to for help?

If you are living in America and have health insurance, seek a referral from your GP or OBGYN for a therapist. Tell them you are feeling more than just the 'baby blues' as PPD is often dismissed to be. The fact is that the 'baby blues,’ if not addressed properly, will develop into PPD.

When I had my first son, the internet was brand new and blogs didn't even exist. There are many forums and blogs out there where you can hear and share in the stories and struggles of others.

Also, accept help with your baby. I had colleagues coo over my first son and beg me to let them take him for a half day, and I declined, laughing it off. Don't do what I did. Accept help. Ask for it. If you know others who have a baby, help each other. Taking care of two babies for a couple of hours is not that different from taking care of one but what it can do is give you or your friend a chance to sleep.

And, if you already have a mental health issue that you are managing, like bipolar disorder, you are at higher risk for PPD or worse. So get help, educate yourself, and try to find, create, and advocate for those structures, laws and social networks where we can help and support each other.  

Are there certain warning signs women should be looking out for with PPD? 

Look for a feeling of despair, or being constantly overwhelmed, of crying often and with no set pattern or instigation, of snapping at or finding small acts of carelessness enough to make you explode, feelings of paranoia — that your husband or family member or friends are betraying you or want you to fail.

Also of course, the darkest thoughts of suicide, of actually finding the idea of death soothing, a way to make it all stop, to stop fighting — because that's what it will feel like if you're not sleeping for months and lack the physical and emotional support.

Feeling alone in the fight, perhaps more than anything else — or perhaps what comes first before anything else — is something to be careful of because those feelings can quickly turn into the logical follow-up of ‘I cannot do this alone, I will fail at doing this alone, and my baby will pay the price, so I will pay the price too.’

This is Edith.

Thank you for reading today. If you want to be featured in an upcoming newsletter, you know where to find me.


Be you.