Strangers and Maternal Mental Health

I was recently at Science World with my son and baby daughter. My son was off climbing and exploring an indoor park, I had my daughter asleep in a carrier on my chest. Another mom approached me. She had two kids, around 2 and 4, playing in a sandbox. She made some exclamations over my daughter–the normal kind about how cute she was and how tiny. Then this perfect stranger stood right next to me and asked with deep sincerity: How are you doing? She said it with knowing concern. She said it with the weight of having experienced being a mother of two herself, and having had an infant not so long ago, apparent on her face. This woman clearly knew what it was to be in the trenches of parenting, and she reached out to me as if we were old friends catching up.

I was a bit startled at first. There was an intimacy happening that I wasn’t used to encountering in the play room at Science World, but the other mother’s genuine concern could not be ignored. So I told her my story–I told her how much I had struggled after my son was born. I told her about the postpartum depression, about my crushing anxiety, and about my fear of having a second baby. Then I told her how much better the second time around has been. I told her that I have learned to experience joy in motherhood, and that I have a million ways to cope that I didn’t have the first time around. She told me her story too, pouring out struggles and triumphs. We talked for about 20 minutes, sharing things well beyond the small talk of regular interactions with strangers. Then we parted ways.

This week is Maternal Mental Health Awareness week, and I want to send my gratitude out to that stranger at Science World, who managed to make me feel less alone in my parenting journey and helped to normalize my struggles. So many women are silently suffering as new mothers. They put on a strong front and pretend that everything is fine, when really they’re crumbling under the strain of exhaustion and isolation that can come with a new baby.

Small connections can make a huge difference when it comes to maternal mental health and we can all help to forge connections that will help ease difficult transitions to motherhood. Something as simple as checking in with the mothers in your life–seeing if they’re getting their needs met, checking to see what their mental state is like–can completely turn their day around. Conversations and connections help to break down the stigma around mental health issues and work to build strong communities for mothers and their children.

Pacific Post Partum Support Society was integral to my formation of a community of mothers. The conversations I had in PPPSS support groups lead to lasting friendships and a highly developed support structure. But formal support groups aren’t the only road to connection. We can all reach out to our friends and neighbours to make the work of parenting lighter. Gathering with other mothers at the park can be a weapon against mental fatigue if everyone is willing to speak honestly about their experiences and buoy each other up.

This week, consider sharing your stories of connection. Where has a connection with another person improved your experience of mothering? Where do you find strength? Where do you struggle? Sharing our stories helps to dispel the motherhood myths that drag us down. Add your voice, and help to foster non judgemental communities in which we can all thrive as mothers.

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