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Maternal Mental Health

During May, the Southern Oregon Doula Collaborative teamed up with 2020Mom to host a Diaper Drive in honor of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month.

“Low-income mothers who don’t have enough diapers for their babies are more likely to report symptoms of depression and anxiety than other low-income mothers, according to new research from Yale University. Three in 10 poor mothers reported that they cannot afford an adequate supply of diapers, the study found.”

— Psych Central

This Diaper Drive was geared towards alleviating stress, a potential trigger for Postpartum Mood Disorders, by helping families keep their babies’ bottoms clean and dry.  As Doulas, a lot of the work we do is to help alleviate the stress that can come during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.  A research paper I wrote on Postpartum Mood Disorders has statistics on how Postpartum Depression, Anxiety, and OCD, among other mood disorders, are more common than many think or want to believe, and this is all the more reason to work within our communities, supporting families as they are welcoming and parenting their children.  The Diaper Drive was one way to offer help, but there is so much more that can be done, which leads me to this month’s question from our local community, this time from Noelle Olmstead who asked for “practical ways to help mental health in healing from a birth experience that did not go as hoped for.”

Sometimes, birth don’t unfold the way it was planned.  This can look like having a cesarean when you wanted to avoid one, or using pain medication even though you didn’t think you would.  It can also be a vaginal birth that had traumatizing moments or not being able to get pain medication when you wanted it. Sometimes, we can be disappointed in the subtlest ways, such as moving or sounding different that we thought we would or “should”.  And that is the KEY word to consider: “should”.  Us Doulas want our clients to know that there is no one way we all “should” give birth.  Life is different for every person, and birth is, too.  When we can remove our expectations that birth “should” be a certain way, we can open up to all the different ways birth happens and prepare for how we want to birth while being flexible in the moment.  This is a preventative step to avoiding a negative birth experience.  Hiring a Doula to support through the process can also help, as we are there to encourage empowerment and informed decision making every step of the way.  This doesn’t mean that Doulas are responsible for the outcomes of birth; we are simply there to support the birth experience as it unfolds moment by moment.

So what if you have already given birth, and it didn’t go as hoped for? Some people say “all that matters is a healthy baby.”  THIS Doula is here to say, that is NOT all that matters.  It matters how the experience felt as well.  YOU matter.  There is a saying that in the years and decades after, the details of our birth don’t always remain with us, but we remember HOW WE FELT.  We are more at risk for developing a Postpartum Mood Disorder if we are not able to acknowledge any loss we feel, be heard by those who will listen to us tell our story as many times as we need to, get the questions we have answered, and answered again, and be completely nurtured as we grieve.  We may need to heal from our broken expectations and that is VERY important.

So when healing mentally, we tap deep into roots of self care and community.  Water is extremely healing, so baths and showers daily can help wash away our grief.  You can have a rebirth ceremony if it resonates with you.  Being connected to the natural world through flowers and plants inside your home or being outside by a river, in a park, in the woods, walking, sitting, resting.  Drinking calming teas and at least half your body weight in water every day as well as eating nourishing foods and resting.

This is where community comes in, because it is next to impossible for most of us to do anything at all with a newborn/infant/toddler.  Will your neighbor or friend come and sit with baby while you shower or bathe? Can family or friends take you for a drive and carry your baby or help you with a wrap or sling to walk through the woods? Can someone bring meals over every other day to keep you and your family fed while you heal? Will your partner take over all newborn care while you get four solid hours of sleep at a time? All of these tasks are so helpful when combined with a listening, non judgemental ear.  Who can come over and make tea and listen to your story for the third time and understand how important it is to be there?  Reaching out for support is essential, because we aren’t meant to do this alone.  There are parenting groups that specialize in emotional and mental health support.  And if you have scary thoughts that won’t go away, or you remain in a depressive or anxious mode throughout most of each day for more than a few days, it is time to reach out to your primary care provider or mental health professional.  You are not alone, and it will get better, but it takes time. Surround yourself in support, and start by forgiving yourself and allowing the loss and grief to be there while you heal.  And here is a great handout of practical tools to help mental health.


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