The first week of May is Maternal Mental Health week, however I believe this is a topic that deserves an entire month of attention. If you follow me on any social media platform, you have probably noticed at least a few of my posts regarding maternal mental health over the past week.
It’s one post in particular that stirs up a topic very near and dear to my heart. Not because I have first hand experience but rather because it is a conversation I have had with so many women with perinatal mental health conditions (the technical term for any pregnant or postpartum woman with a mental health condition including depression or anxiety).
It’s this one…
It says “A depressed and anxious postpartum mom, who is appropriately medicated is doing better than an un or under medicated depressed and anxious postpartum mom”
A bit controversial, I know… but I challenge the truth behind this…
Here is my thinking in short form…
A mom who is so depressed and/or anxious that she is struggling to take care of herself, let alone her baby, could have a completely different experience if she were to take an appropriate medication for a period of time.
This is a loaded topic, full of dynamic variables and individual circumstances that need to be worked through with a postpartum care team including psychiatrist, physician, counselor, partner, and other caregivers including midwives and doulas. Every woman's circumstance is unique and the decisions made with her care team is unique to her. I am making no suggestions as to what should be done in a certain scenario. What I am offering here is some food for thought to challenge your own biases and stigmas as it relates to women taking prescription medications in the perinatal period (pregnancy through postpartum).
When was the last time you heard a perinatal woman speak openly about taking medication for depression or anxiety… probably never. It’s simply not culturally accepted. When you are pregnant and postpartum society values your ability to care and nurture your baby, NOT yourself. You are simply a vessel.
But what if that vessel is cracking?
Take for example a mom who has had depression and anxiety her entire adult life and has been medicated all along. She is high functioning, successful, social, active and the picture of health… when on medication. When she becomes pregnant should she cold turkey stop her medications? What could happen to her health? Taking away her medications, as doctors so often do, could result in her having difficulty holding a job, maintaining her daily habits, and her mental, emotional and physical health can quickly spiral downward. Is this the best way to nurture her growing baby inside? What if she chooses to stay on her medications, is she hurting her unborn child? The challenge is real for many women. They have nowhere to turn, little support, if any, and no matter what they choose they face harsh opinions and judgment about their choice.
So they simply stay quiet. They don’t ask as many questions. They don’t seek out as much support. They don’t access the care they desperately need. Instead they wait for it to get better. They wait for the next phase. They wait and wait.
What if we trusted women to know what is best not only for their child but also themselves?
Medication for mental health conditions in the perinatal period is neither good or bad, it is merely a choice of treatment available to ALL women. Don’t demonize the choices. Let each and every woman choose for herself.
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Hilary Valentine, Owner of Windward Maternal Wellness
I was born and raised in Massachusetts but I have called Oahu my home for the past 14 years. I live with my family in Kailua, including my husband, Jason, my daughters, Victoria and Gwendolyn and my parents, Nanette and Geoff. This blog is intended to shine light on both my work as a women's health occupational therapist and postpartum doula, my personal views on lifestyle topics such as parenting and women's health as well as a resource for education on topics relevant to the clients I serve. I welcome any and all comments and feedback! Mahalo!