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May 6, 2024

The Longterm Effects of Postpartum on Mental Health

Let’s open a dialogue about a topic that often remains in the shadows: postpartum mental health, particularly for women of color. As we delve into this discussion, it’s essential to recognize the systemic disadvantages faced by women of color, compounded by a lack of support structures in the United States compared to other developed nations. The journey into motherhood is often depicted as a time of joy and fulfillment. However, for many women, especially women of color, it can also be a period of profound emotional challenges. The pressures of societal expectations, coupled with systemic inequities, can exacerbate the already complex emotions experienced during the postpartum period.

The Facts

Research consistently highlights the disparities in access to healthcare, socioeconomic resources, and social support networks experienced by women of color. Black women are three times as likely to die in childbirth as white women in the United States. The statistics for other women of color are not better. Even if they escape mortality, they are also highly likely to experience medical oversights that result in near death experiences or long-term problems with their health. These disparities can significantly impact mental health outcomes as well, leaving many feeling isolated, overwhelmed, and unable to seek the help they desperately need. The United States also lags behind other developed nations in supporting women and children during the postpartum period specifically. Our healthcare system often fails to provide adequate mental health resources, leaving many women to navigate their struggles alone. This lack of support contributes to a vicious cycle of untreated mental health conditions, leading to long-term consequences for both mothers and their families.

Most developed countries have parental leave and greater access to healthcare. This ensures that parents are supporting each other and bonding with their baby rather than having to split into gendered roles in order to support a child. Sometimes, the leave is up to a couple years. This honors the importance of breastfeeding and bonding with one’s child. It also honors the importance of creating secure attachment with a child right from the beginning and having a positive early childhood experience. Once the leave is complete, other developed nations give parents financial support in sending the children to childcare. Mothers and fathers are not burning themselves out to support their family. Rather, they are able to make conscious decisions with their finances while also maintaining other important relationships and their own health. Not only does this impact early childhood and postpartum for parents, but the impacts are felt for years to come. With greater federal care for children and better sick leave, parents are taking ample time with their children, especially when they are sick. When parents don’t have to allocate their own sick time to use for their children, they can take sick time for themselves as well. This creates healthier families, which in turn, creates healthier systems.

America is quite different. Without the support of another parent at home, the birthing person embarks on parenthood alone. They are responsible for breastfeeding, caring for the baby, and doctor’s appointments, all while re-balancing their hormones, excessive bleeding, and extreme stress. When this is ultimately unsustainable, mothers turn to formula feeding, especially because they only have 4-6 weeks to stay home with their babies before returning to full time work. The United States champions this dichotomy to such an extent that lobbyists for formula fight to make sure better parental leave does not pass. Lack of support, leaving her baby after only a few weeks, and early termination of breastfeeding can all contribute to the development of postpartum depression, anxiety, or both. But how does this continue to affect women several years later?

Young mother of color looking at newborn baby

Social Impacts

It is said that once you have a baby, you are always postpartum. The long-term effects of postpartum on a birthing person’s life are numerous. Here are just a few. Women stop putting their own health and needs first. Their sex lives are permanently altered. Their mental and physical health are never quite the same. Mothers lose years of sleep over the course of their lifetime. Sleep is incredibly important to regulating the nervous system and being a quality person as well as parent. Our society consistently expects this kind of sacrifice from mothers. On the flip side, it does not expect it from fathers. In fact, most fathers are patted on the back for simple things like changing a diaper or taking their child to a doctor’s appointment. This kind of double standard is dangerous and draining for women.

As women, we are often conditioned to prioritize the needs of our partners and children above our own. While this selflessness is commendable, it can also be detrimental to our mental and physical well-being. Ignoring our own needs can lead to burnout, resentment, and ultimately, a shortened lifespan. This is a serious change that happens to many mothers. We give and give until we have nothing left to portion off. Choosing to prioritize ourselves again is difficult, as we are fighting cultural voices that would see us as selfish. However, how can we be there for our families if we have nothing left to give? We have to advocate better for our health. However, mothers are fighting against systems that offer no financial support, access to healthcare, or better access to childcare. Women, especially women of color, are working as hard as they can for their families to support them financially and emotionally. There is little time left to relearn toxic hustle culture or to create a slow life that supports better health outcomes.

Postpartum Therapy

It’s crucial for women of color to recognize that seeking help is not a sign of weakness but an act of strength. Therapy, support groups, and community resources can provide invaluable assistance during this challenging time. By prioritizing our mental health, we can better care for ourselves and our families, breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma that plagues our communities. Healing begins with acknowledging the unique challenges faced by women of color and advocating for change on both individual and systemic levels. It’s time to shatter the stigma surrounding mental health in our communities and demand equitable access to resources and support. Together, we can rewrite the narrative of postpartum mental health for women of color and create a brighter, more hopeful future for generations to come.

Therapy also acts as a powerful tool in creating boundaries with our families. We need our partners to be as involved in our healing journey as we are. We need them to be equal parents. We need support systems that watch our children so that we can attend to our pelvic floors, our hormones, and reframing harmful ideals. The postpartum journey is lifelong. As we return to our bodies, we rediscover who we are as healthy mothers. Who are we when we’re not in fight mode constantly?

Our partners should be most excited about this journey for us because it ensures consensual and joyful relationships. Moms that feel sole pressure to parent have little energy for reciprocal romantic relationships. They desperately need support and reassurance that is not conditional on sexual performance or continued emotional sacrifice for the family. Partners that take action to obliterate weaponized incompetence and coercion from their relationship will see their partner flourish. Action that removes responsibility from their plate is even better.

At WOC Therapy, we are actively working to create a community that facilitates this return to self. We want our clients to know they can attend groups and workshops, getting support from other mothers, as well as therapists who are moms. By attending yoga classes, Ayahuasca ceremonies, and energy healings, your body will awaken to itself again. Yes, you had a baby. And it will always be a part of your story. But how can you learn to weave this experience into who you are now? This is a process of integration versus being overwhelmed by motherhood. Being postpartum does not have to be a death sentence. It can be beautiful through the pain when supported properly. Click here to schedule a consultation: Reach Out for Support | Contact Us | WOC Therapy

Remember, you are not alone in your journey. Reach out, speak up, and embrace the support that surrounds you. Together, we can overcome the obstacles that stand in our way and emerge stronger, wiser, and more resilient than ever before.