The Pressure To Be The 'Perfect Mom' Is Literally Killing Us

How Modern Motherhood Can Be Downright Dangerous

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THANASIS ZOVOLIS/GETTY IMAGES

Trigger warning: postpartum psychosis, suicide ideation

My twins had just been released from the NICU, I was a brand new mom, my husband was learning how to be a dad, and I was trying to breastfeed/bottle-feed my twins every two-three hours whether they had woken up hungry or not. 

I’m going to go out on a limb to freely say, my husband was no help at all during this time. In fact, he was close to useless. We lived in a house where our attic was our bedroom, and truth be told, he spent most of his free time up there while I stayed downstairs with the babies. 

It sucked, and I totally loathed bedtime. Bedtime for my little ones meant agonizing hours of awake time for me. I struggled to nurse them because they were preemies, and being a first time twin mom, I had no idea that I should’ve been feeding my twins at the same time. So instead, I was taking the time to separately feed them both every two-three hours. 

Between the feeding, burping, changing, pumping and storing of the breastmilk (entirely by myself, mind you), I was averaging twenty minutes of sleep for every two-three hours awake.

But then it started getting to the point where I wasn’t sleeping at all. I was exhausted and when I looked at the clock, seeing another baby would be up soon, I figured, what’s the use?

After about a week of complete and utter sleep deprivation, I started getting incredibly disturbing and intrusive thoughts. Not to mention, my entire emotional and physical state of being made me feel constantly wired and somewhat jittery.

Even though I was doing the best I could (and looking back, I was rocking it), I struggled with feeling like a failure. I wanted to be the perfect mom and give my babies everything they deserved and more, but my intrusive thoughts stood in my way. 

I was obsessively worried that something would happen to my babies and, if it did, it would rest entirely on my shoulders. One night, at two in the morning, I called my mom and semi-opened up to her about all of it. Thankfully, all that I really had to voice to her was, “Mom, I’m having really scary thoughts that aren’t me. I don’t know what to do.”

Within 10 minutes, she was at my house and insisting I go to sleep upstairs. I slept nine solid and sound hours that night for the first time since my twins were born. My mom didn’t wake me for a single feed or change that night, and I couldn’t have been more grateful. She and I both knew I needed the rest that I was given.

And first thing the next morning, she demanded that I see my doctor and tell him how hopeless and “not myself” I was really feeling. 

Looking back, I now realize that I probably had what most women do not know much about today — postpartum psychosis. 

Postpartum psychosis (PPP) is a rare psychiatric emergency with symptoms ranging from high mood, racing thoughts, depression, extreme confusion, loss of inhibition, paranoia and hallucinations, beginning right after childbirth or up until a year after childbirth. 

Knowing just a sliver of what I do about the medical world of America, I didn’t tell my doctor the entirety of my symptoms. I should’ve been more open, but I was scared of what might happen if I were.

Why? Because most of America is lacking a fundamental rehabilitation center for moms struggling with postpartum psychosis. For the majority of mothers dealing with PPP, they are often separated from their new baby (or, in my case, babies) and placed in a psychiatric ward pending evaluation for visits with their newborn(s) and older children as well on a case-by-case basis.

There is research dating clear back to the 1940’s which shows that the ideal type of care, when dealing with psychiatric cases in a postpartum state, is to admit the mother and baby together while treating them as a pair.

In the United Kingdom, they have built 21 of these mother-baby psychiatric units. France has 15 of them. They have popped up in Belgium and New Zealand, and there is also one in India.

But as of right now, there are 0 mother-baby psychiatric units in America.

That is a problem.

Recent studies estimate that out of every 1,000 moms, there will be one to two PPP cases among them; and some doctors believe there are many more which go undiagnosed (ding, ding, ME!). We need proper treatment and care for the new mother, while establishing a nurturing bond with her and her new baby.

We need more of these units like the ones we are seeing in other countries, and we need them before PPP starts claiming more new mothers joy and lives.

Postpartum psychosis can and is known to lead to postpartum suicide. Although the rates of postpartum suicide are low compared to the overall population, it accounts for one in five postpartum death and is the second leading cause of death for mothers in the postpartum period.

Postpartum psychosis is real and happening all over the world today, and you could never be “too normal” for this to happen to you, because it is not about being “abnormal.”

Postpartum psychosis is not a choice, it is a chemical imbalance due to the rise and fall of hormones. And most of the time, it happens when a mom cares so damn much that she’s worked herself into a manic state.

There is nobody this could not effect. It’s time to speak out and speak loud. Not one of us gets the honor of wearing the “perfect mom” title, because she does not exist.

So please, if you show postpartum psychosis symptoms, talk to someone. See a doctor, and actively seek the treatment you and your new baby deserve.