The comics are part of a campaign to break the stigma around postpartum depression and anxiety
It’s no secret that many new moms feel stressed, overwhelmed, and exhausted. But what if you’re a mom having scary, dark thoughts? What then? At what point are your thoughts actually dangerous? The only way to find out is to talk about them, even if it’s hard. Even if it’s embarrassing. Even if you feel ashamed.
It’s often not easy to start the conversation, but Karen Kleiman, a licensed clinical social worker, author and founder of The Postpartum Stress Center in Rosemont, Pennsylvania is on a crusade to change all of that. The center launched #speakthesecret campaign this fall, which focuses on encouraging women to share their “scary thoughts,” while also “shattering the myth that all new mothers feel wonderful about being mothers,” according to HuffPost.
As part of the project, she teamed up with illustrator Molly McIntyre to create comics that capture the real, raw, and completely unfiltered thoughts of someone who may be struggling with postpartum distress (a term for the range of postpartum symptoms that include both depression and anxiety). The result is a refreshingly relatable and powerful comic series that will make every mom feel less alone.
The cartoons illustrate many aspects of new motherhood and our interactions.
Even how sometimes, we can’t open up to our partners about what we’re going through.
(Quick side note to partners- just take initiative. Notice a need, and handle it. It might seem helpful to ask a new mom what she needs, but often it becomes another thing she feels like she has to manage on her mental to-do list. Just do it.)
The truth is, moms don’t even ask their partner for things or discuss their feelings because they feel guilty. And terrified of judgement. They also feel scared to tell other women for the same reasons.
“Despite an increase in public awareness and recent attention to postpartum depression, women continue to be silenced by the taboo against expressing negative feelings and thoughts about being a mother,” Kleiman says.
The societal stigma and shame can also compound feelings of isolation.
New moms are also prone to a lot of second-guessing, which can sometimes turn into anxiety and obsessive thoughts.
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Self-doubt can present as a mere annoyance, or it can manifest as a harsh inner critic, always judging, never satisfied, setting you up for persistent negative ruminations and feelings of inadequacy. You might be sprinkled with tinges of anxiety or you might experience high levels of constant distress and obsessive thoughts. Be kind to yourself. Find a safe person to talk to about how you are feeling. #speakthesecret #sts ❤️ https://goo.gl/99ntNK . . #selfdoubt #inadequacy #selfesteem #anxiety #ruminating #depression #perinatal #postpartum #pregnancy #selfcompassion #rest #breathe #believe #healing #askforhelp @brooklyn_rabbit
The comics also powerfully tackle postpartum body image, including the judgement we put on ourselves and other women to “look a certain way” after having a baby.
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Social pressure. More and more women are beginning to protest the expectation that women should "look" a certain way. Some argue that it's more a matter of taking good care of yourself. Others say, it's nobody's business. Postpartum women are particularly vulnerable to this expectation and potential judgment from others. #speakthesecret ❤️
Instinctively we know that sharing our fears and vulnerabilities, especially to other moms, will give us relief and help us find support. But, it’s getting there, to the point of saying it out loud that seems to be the hardest.
“There are many reasons why women don’t reveal how bad they might be feeling or the thoughts they might be having,” she tells HuffPost. “Some women fear judgment from others, or they judge themselves as bad mothers, or they consider it a weakness or something terrible is wrong with them. Some women worry that if they disclose how they feel, they will be deemed an unfit mother, or worst of all, and their baby will be taken away from them!”
That’s why Kleiman also started a forum on her website for women to come and share their “scary” thoughts anonymously. The confession page is a beautiful and heart-breaking testament to how complicated motherhood is, and how we desperately need to support postpartum women more.
“After I had my second child, I imagined putting them both in my chest freezer so I could get some sleep,” reads one anonymous confession. “That’s when I decided to get on meds.”
“We stayed in a vacation house with a loft and I kept picturing my toddler daughter flying right over the ledge and smashing onto the floor below,” another writes.
“My daughter is going to die at daycare from ___ (insert any number of possibilities).”
“I worry I’m not sane enough to be a good mother,” another admits.
While a certain number of “scary” thoughts are deemed normal, especially the ones about some harm coming to your baby – the more gruesome ones are not. Again, it’s nothing to be ashamed of or feel guilty about – but it is something to explore because things could spiral to dangerous territory very quickly. The best way to figure it out is by talking about it.
“They should let somebody they trust know — ideally their partner and a healthcare provider who has experience treating maternal mental health,” Kleiman says. “Women carry around the shame and the pain that comes with these feelings, but they don’t have to, and they are not alone.”