When my first child was born, I was in the middle of the second year of my Ph.D. program.
I was in a new city a thousand miles away from my support system. While I was grateful to have a healthy, beautiful baby boy and to be doing research at my dream school, I was constantly worried about balancing the expectations of a rigorous graduate program with the demands of new parenthood. On top of that, I was struggling to recover from a difficult delivery and keep up with pumping and breastfeeding. These things, plus the normal stresses of navigating the world as a new mom, were a lot.
I found myself swallowed by grief: mourning the loss of my body, my autonomy, and the graduate school experience that I expected to have. Months after my son was born, I was measuring myself and my worth using every ruler imaginable. Each time, I felt I was coming up short in every way. Inside, I felt worthless. My feelings grew darker by the day, and I hid my feelings from others because I was so overwhelmed with shame. At the time, I just assumed this must be my “new normal” – something I needed to get used to as my body and mind adjusted to life as a parent. In reality, my experience wasn’t just something I needed to adapt to: it was postpartum anxiety.
The funny thing is, I thought I was prepared to identify postpartum depression and anxiety if it happened to me. I was well aware of the symptoms of postpartum depression, but I was convinced that it didn’t apply to me because I didn’t experience the more common “baby blues” in those first couple of weeks postpartum. I chalked what I was experiencing up to something else – after all, my symptoms didn’t line up exactly– I just wasn’t sure what.
It took me a long time to realize that I needed help.
It took even longer to find the support I needed to manage my condition and grow more confident as a new mom.
Maternal mental health conditions, namely depression, and anxiety are the most common complications of pregnancy and childbirth, affecting 1 in 5 women.1 After pregnancy, all women are vulnerable to maternal mental health conditions, regardless of age, education level, or socioeconomic status. However, the risk of developing one of these conditions increases with a history of prior depression, recent stressful life events, or inadequate social support. Unfortunately, 75% of women experiencing maternal mental health conditions go untreated, which can have long-term and adverse implications for the mother, child, and family.2
By the time I had my second child, I made sure I had systems in place to support me.
I found a doula to help me overcome my fears of another traumatic birth experience. I saw a counselor to help me track my changing emotions before and after birth. I practiced yoga regularly to connect with my body and mind. I was lucky to have a much smoother birth and recovery and was able to bond more with my daughter during maternity leave thanks to this support. However, I know my ability to put these systems in place isn’t the reality for everyone. Care can be costly, at capacity, or downright inaccessible – none of these should ever be a barrier to providing new parents the support they need.
In present day, it’s so exciting to see Pack Health’s new digital maternal health coaching program. This program incorporates validated screening tools to detect perinatal mood disorders, combined with a personal Health Advisor to serve as a support anchor during the pregnancy and postpartum period. It will be available to new mothers across the country, regardless of location, socioeconomic status, or any other barriers to care access. I am personally thrilled to see Pack Health expanding into the maternal health space and developing programs to support maternal mental health. With something so common and natural as pregnancy, an accessible option for quality postpartum support should be a consistent standard of care.
By coupling screening for maternal mental health conditions with one-on-one support from a personal Health Advisor, I am confident that we can provide meaningful support to new parents and help them access the community resources and clinical care they need.
Article updated 8/2/2023
Article written by Blakely O’Connor, PhD
- Bathija P, Syeda A. Making Maternal Mental Health a Priority. American Hospital Association. April 7, 2022. Accessed August 2, 2023. https://www.aha.org/news/blog/2022-04-07-making-maternal-mental-health-priority
- March of Dimes. Into the Light for Maternal Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders Act (S.3824/H.R.7073) [Fact Sheet]. Accessed August 2, 2023. https://www.marchofdimes.org/sites/default/files/2022-12/Into-the-Light-for-MMH-and-SUD-Act-Fact-Sheet.pdf