For many of us who relocate to a new country, life can be lonely and daunting at times. As well as a new job and home we are plunged into new cultures, friendships and different ways of doing things. For some of us moving to a new country coincides with starting a family, thereby adding parenthood to the already combustible list of all things new. With one in five moms and one in ten dads struggling with depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD and psychosis in pregnancy and/or postpartum (perinatal depression/anxiety) it’s not surprising that for some parents it can all become too much.
Bay Area mom Cheryl Hart relocated when her sons were aged one and three, but vividly recalls how she felt after the birth of her first baby.
“I had some vague notion of what motherhood would entail,” she explains, “and knew I’d be sleep deprived and surrounded by diapers but I didn’t realize how hard I would find it. I was this desperate, wide-eyed, bone twitching new mom. I experienced dark flashes in my mind of someone who looked like me doing unspeakable things like tumbling downstairs, driving off a bridge and plunging knives into soft pink skin. I thought I was losing my mind.
I was never diagnosed and didn’t realize it at the time but I just needed someone to tell me that I wasn’t alone and wasn’t going crazy. This is the thing, you will get better and you will feel yourself again.”
New parents who have relocated may have left a family support system behind, might be struggling to navigate a complicated and expensive healthcare system, will be building new friendships and may not be ready to be vulnerable with strangers. Those who relocate for work are often focused on making a new job work or are trailing spouses, dealing with a career left behind in the move. All of these things can exacerbate symptoms.
Increasingly referred to as perinatal mood and anxiety disorders a parent may experience feelings of anger, fear, extreme anxiety, guilt, irritability, shame, obsessive thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, hypervigilance, headaches, stomach aches and panic attacks. Symptoms can occur anytime during pregnancy or within the first two years after the baby is born.
New dad Raj explains that becoming a father left him with severe anxiety that prevented him from doing anything that might risk him not being there for his new daughter. “I found myself unable to get on public transport, frozen as a passenger in a fast car. My overwhelming feeling was that I had to provide for her and I faced a daily fear about not getting it right.”
Cheryl explains what prompted her and fellow mom Allyson Schaeffer to found Supporting Mamas, a Santa Clara County-based not for profit, dedicated to helping new and expectant moms and their families deal with these perinatal depression/anxiety disorders.
“There is a stigma associated with being a mother who seems to be failing. Pressure to be the perfect mom can be overwhelming, and it’s often pressure we put on ourselves. I found it very difficult to ask for help. I remember once telling a new mom friend that I didn’t think I’d be upset if someone came and took my son away. She was appalled that I could think such a thing, but I was at a desperate breaking point. I needed time to recharge.
Our goal at Supporting Mamas is to help provide support and hope to women and their families. We are working to address the lack of comprehensive parental mental health services available in San Jose and the surrounding cities. On our website, moms and dads can find details of local support groups, therapists, postpartum doulas and maternal mental health experts throughout the south Bay Area, as well as nationwide organizations, books, blogs and links to websites dedicated to supporting women recovering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
We also run the free Adjusting to Motherhood drop-in emotional support groups for pregnant, new and “veteran” moms on Thursdays at 10-11:30am at Family Tree Wellness in Los Gatos as well as an evening drop-in group on the first Wednesday of the month at Tiny Tots in Campbell. We welcome anyone who is finding the challenges of motherhood to be different to what they expected, and anyone with a diagnosis of perinatal mental health disorder to share their struggles in our safe and welcoming space.
We want mothers to understand that what they are going through is temporary and treatable, and there is no reason to continue to suffer in silence.
In 2018, we are planning a pilot program to pair new moms with “Mentor Mamas” – someone who has lived experience of some form of perinatal depression and/or anxiety, who can help reassure them that what they’re going through is common, that it doesn’t make them a bad mom, and that there is hope.”
If you want to learn more about Supporting Mamas or need help with perinatal depression/anxiety disorders please visit the website: Supporting Mamas
If you’d like to donate directly to the organization please visit the website and click DONATE
If you aren’t struggling with perinatal depression/anxiety but are still looking for some support here is our Pregnancy and New Motherhood Survival Guide
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