Mama Self-Care: Reflections on Maternal Mental Health
By Jaja Chen, LCSW, CDWF
I am often asked why I enjoy working with maternal mental health, birth trauma, and perinatal depression and anxiety.
After all - full disclosure - I am not currently a mom myself!
While I hope to one day be a mom, I attribute my passion for maternal mental health to my experiences working in the field of domestic violence.
It was there that I had the opportunity to walk alongside hundreds of women as they sought to heal from the physical, emotional, and even spiritual impacts of abuse. Through these courageous women’s lives, I became envisioned in supporting moms in their journeys of recovery - not only from childhood and/or interpersonal trauma - but also birth trauma and maternal mental health concerns.
Why maternal mental health?
Because you see – for many moms, the experience of pregnancy and postpartum is not always smooth, happy, and filled with a glow.
Maternal mental health concerns can impact any mom regardless of background or location and can be further exacerbated by birth trauma. Birth trauma can include complications experienced throughout pregnancy and/or delivery and can also include not having full informed consent for medical procedures and/or feelings of helplessness or threat throughout pregnancy and the birth process.
Many moms may not realize they are experiencing depression or anxiety during or after pregnancy. This is due to variety of reasons.
The transition of being a new mom is already filled with change, tireless hours, and lack of sleep. Moms may attribute their feelings and symptoms to the “baby blues” (which should resolve naturally within 2-3 weeks on their own). And ultimately, many may blame themselves for not being able to handle motherhood or being a failure of a mom.
As women, we already experience paramount pressure in society and through social media to have our families, lives, and bodies put together and perfect. There is immense shame that we often feel when we experience mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression.
Brené Brown, through her research on shame, vulnerability, courage, and authenticity, found that the antidote to shame is empathy.
It is crucial for each of us to support our fellow mama’s throughout pregnancy and/or postpartum in whatever ways we can.
We may be like Willow Sage Photography and play a key role as a birth photographer in capturing the moments of pregnancy and/or birth process to help remind mamas about the strength and beauty they walk in. Or perhaps we are a postpartum doula like the ladies with Postpartum Doula & Lactation Services of Waco supporting mamas in-home after birth and helping mamas learn to breastfeed.
While we may not all be birth professionals, each of us are a friend. And can seek to provide empathy and dispel mama shame through being a compassionate friend.
Simple ideas to supporting our fellow mamas in self-care postpartum may include bringing over a homemade meal, watching newborn baby for 30 minutes so mama can shower, gifting mama with a pre or postnatal massage at the baby shower, or even offering to run and buy groceries.
Every little way we can contribute can help to spark mama self-care and dispel the myths that we need to do it on our own and have our lives together throughout pregnancy and postpartum.
Mama self-care can look like many things for each person. For some, an act of emotional self-care may be to pursue counseling. An act of physical self-care may be to take a nap, when possible. And an act of professional self-care may be to take a maternity leave. But for all, self-care starts with recognizing that asking and receiving help, support, and care is an act of strength, courage, and self-compassion as opposed to being a failure, weak, or bad mom.
For Immediate Help Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
About the Author
Jaja Chen, LCSW, CDWF is a social worker and therapist by day, Waco Cha co-owner by night. Jaja is a Certified EMDR Therapist and specializes in trauma, maternal mental health, and helping fellow helping professionals and entrepreneurs manage and work through the impacts of compassion fatigue and burnout. Jaja and her husband Devin run Waco Cha at the Waco Downtown Farmer’s Market each Saturday 9am-1pm and are currently working on renovating their food truck to expand beyond the farmer’s market.
Jaja can be reached via e-mail at Jaja@enrichmenttcs.com or through her webpage here.