Sadly, I never paid much attention to my mental health prior to having a child. I had a toxic parent who didn't think mental health was a "thing," and I lived with an idea that sacrificing oneself constantly, and for the betterment of others, was the way to go; even if those sacrifices were unhealthy or dangerous. Yeah, not really the way to go. Then I had a child and realized that my mental health not only matters, it's vital. I also realized that there are people who can negatively impact a mom's mental health, and now that I'm aware of just how important my mental state is, I'm not about to let anyone jeopardize it.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Social expectations of motherhood and relationships I treasure (and are, in turn, hard to let go of) and simply being a woman who uses the internet, can make protecting my mental health somewhat difficult. For example, I breastfed my son because it was something I honestly wanted to do, but also something I felt I was supposed to do. I was suffering from postpartum depression and experiencing PTSD triggers stemming from a past sexual assault, yet "soldiered on" and continued to breastfeed because it was what (I thought) was expected of me. I didn't want to be a "bad mom." Eventually, I stopped breastfeeding my son after seven months because it was all too much and I realized (with the help of a supportive partner) that what my son needs more than breast milk, is a mentally healthy mother.
When mothers are constantly told, by an unforgiving society, that they need to sacrifice every single part of themselves in order to be "good mothers," it can be difficult to take time for yourself and maintain your mental health. However, it is arguably the most important thing you can do, for yourself and for your kid. So, if you have the following people in your life and they're jeopardizing your mental health or making you suffer in any way, it's time to let them go. The best thing you can do for your child, is take care of you.
One of my parents knows that I have a baby and is a very involved, loving, wonderful and supportive grandparent. My other parent was not made aware that I procreated and is not part of my son's life. While there are moments (especially around the holidays) when it makes me sad to think that my toxic parent isn't part of my or my son's life, and my son will never know his grandfather, I know that this decision is necessary and healthy (for all involved). I know that if this particular parent was still in my life, and allowed to be in my son's life, my mental health (and possibly even my son's mental health, eventually) would suffer, and I'm not about to make that sacrifice in the name of some "picture perfect" family dynamic.
I'm pretty lucky in the pseudo in-law department. Granted, my partner and I are not married so his parents are not my in-laws, per say, but they are very supportive and loving and nurturing and they treat my son like he's a mini-king. Do we always agree? Not at all. In fact, sometimes I really do need a break from my pseudo in-laws (even though we do not live next to them in any capacity).
While we don't see eye-to-eye on everything, including parenting techniques or choices, I have made a point to let my partner know that what we decide to do with our son is what will be followed when he is with his grandparents. I've also made it known how I feel about said in-laws, at times, so that I protect my mental health and make sure that when something inappropriate is either said or done, it is addressed. Of course, I want to be respectful of the people who raised my partner and have been so supportive of our own family (and who have helped us in numerous ways), but I also want to protect my family and my mental health above all us.
Unfortunately, becoming a mother meant that I had to say goodbye to some mom friends. There are so many ways to parent, and when friends don't parent in the same way, there can be tension. Don't get me wrong, I still have some wonderful mom friends who make very different decisions than I do, and I respect them and they respect me. We swap stories and bounce ideas off one another and never judge. They're wonderful relationships that I cherish, and am thankful for.
However, I had other mom friends who weren't supportive or understanding. Instead, when they witnessed me making different decisions than the choices they've made (or planned on making) I was judged and shamed, sometimes publicly. It's hurtful when anyone calls your parenting abilities into question, but it's infinitely more painful when it's someone you considered a friend. For mental health purposes, it was best to cut these toxic friends out of my life. While I wish them well and hope that they're happy and healthy, I know that I am happier and healthier when I'm not being attacked for doing what is best for myself and my family.
My non-mom friends are amazing, in ways that are (honestly) difficult to articulate. I can't tell you how supportive they've been throughout this entire, life-changing process known as motherhood. In fact, I had two non-mom friends in the labor and delivery room with me the day my son was born, and they watched me and encouraged me as I brought my kid into the world. So, in other words, I'm lucky.
Others aren't so lucky, and I'm well aware that there are some non-mom friends that don't understand or support or accept the changes a woman endures when she chooses to become a mother. If someone can't support and celebrate your life choices (even and especially when they differ from their own) that's honestly not someone you should have in your life, in any capacity. You shouldn't be made to feel guilty for your choices or for living your life the way you want to live it. You shouldn't be forced to feel bad for not having as much "free time" or being as "available" or not being as "spontaneous," as you were in your pre-baby life. If a friend can't love you for exactly who you are, I think it's time to let them go.
Obviously, this is not mom-specific. I mean, like, at all. If you're a woman on the internet with even an ounce of an opinion, you are probably going to be on the receiving end of rape threats, death threats, sexual harassment and everything in between.
However, when you're a mother you get the added bonus of random strangers telling you that you're a terrible mother or you're screwing up your kid or your kid is going to die because of something you did or, well, you get the idea. It's incredibly hurtful. When I shared a picture of my son sitting on Santa's lap at our local mall (he was crying) I had someone tell me that I was raising a rapist, because I wasn't teaching my son about body autonomy and consent. I was shocked. I was devastated. I was extremely hurt.
I have absolutely no experience in this area, and for that I am incredibly grateful. I had an amazing team of dedicated nurses and doctors, throughout my entire pregnancy, labor and delivery. Every wish I had was met with enthusiasm; I was talked to, not at; I was respected in every aspect of the word, and supported in my birth plan and process.
However, so many women (especially women who choose to give birth in a hospital) don't receive the same kind of treatment. A dear friend of mine was not listened to during her labor and delivery, and her experience still haunts her. When a medical professional doesn't listen to a mom and/or a woman who is going through something as drastic, personal, potentially painful, empowering and serious as birth, and instead uses fear tactics or their authority to coerce her into something she's not entirely comfortable with, the affect can be damaging and long-lasting. I know so many women who have experienced traumatic births that brought on unnecessary mental health problems. In fact, many women who suffered through traumatic births experience PTSD.
I mean, science. Like, I really don't know how to respond to people who don't think postpartum depression is a thing. As someone who not only believes in science, but who has experienced postpartum depression first hand, I can tell you that it is very, very real.
Still, when a mom suffering from postpartum depression is told that her experience isn't only invalid, but fictitious, the damage is done. In fact, our society is witnessing the lasting effects of that damage. Women are afraid to openly talk about postpartum depression, because the stigma associated with mental health is so prevalent. Instead, mothers are suffering in silence and are being told to "suck it up" and it's just the most debilitating.
No one, absolutely no one, should be able to tell a person suffering from a mental illness that they're a liar or that their suffering isn't real. I honestly can't stress this (this thing that should be so freakin' obvious) enough. This isn't mom-specific, to be sure, as countless people regardless of whether or not the've chosen or are able to procreate live with very real mental illnesses. Still, moms are told that they shouldn't be depressed or anxious or bipolar because those things aren't "real" and hey, after all, they just had a baby so what should they be upset about, right? Absolutely not.
If you have a person like this in your life, please ask them out of your life at your earliest convenience. You should never allow someone to invalidate your experiences, your thoughts, your feelings or your life.
Sadly, so many people have unrealistic expectations of mothers because, well, our society does. A mother should never feel so overwhelmed that she needs a "break," because a mom should never be anywhere without her children. She shouldn't give up on her dreams or career goals but she shouldn't work after she has children. Her body should look like she's never had a baby but she should be proud of her stretch marks and, honestly, not care what other people think. I mean, it's endless and cruel and so hypocritical.
There's no reason a mother should have someone in her life that perpetuates these social obligations and unrealistic standards. Instead, she should have someone who encourages her to take time for herself, cultivate her individuality, take mental health breaks and do what is best for her, instead of sacrificing every single part of her existence for her children.
Look, society is pretty unkind to mothers. Yes, on the one hand there's Mother's Day and women, for the most part, are celebrated and encouraged to have children because it's "just what women are supposed to do" (yay sexism and gender stereotypes, right?). On the other hand, there's no mandatory paid family leave, women are openly judged and shamed for breastfeeding in public, and mothers are constantly told that they need to sacrifice themselves for their children. Childcare options are ridiculously expensive, women are paid less than men for doing the same jobs, and a woman's postpartum body is scrutinizes relentlessly.
Clearly, most mothers can't quit society. I mean, I guess you could, but it would be pretty difficult. For me, when it all seems like too much, I simply shut the world out. I close my computer and stay off my phone and spend time in my home with my partner and my son. In those moments, the world only seems three people big, and things don't seem so heavy.