Jessica Zucker, Ph.D.: On Abandoning Shame

postpartum depression, mental health, maternal mental healthDear New Moms,

Whatever you are feeling, other new mothers have felt.

Our experiences might be different in texture and pitch, but the thread that strings feeling states together is well worn and might be eerily familiar.

You are not alone. The statistics are glaring. Postpartum mood disorders are indisputably the most silenced and psychologically ravaging public health crises today.

Speaking up and taking strides in an effort to get the help you deserve might be the most profound first step in parenting you take. Advocating for your mental well-being models for your offspring that self-care is vital, normal, and actually something to feel proud of.

Why are we whispering about this unfortunate epidemic? Are we cultivating more silence, more shame, and therefore actively participating in reproductive competitiveness when we are hush hush about something maddeningly mainstream? We trot to the doctor when we are incessantly coughing, throat aching, and nose dripping. We don’t think twice about seeking treatment for common physical ailments. We would never attempt to power through strep throat with the thought, “if only I were stronger as a person, I wouldn’t have become ill. Maybe if I’m a little tougher I can fight it off on my own.” Strength does not equal doing things solo. Suffering without arming ourselves with effective resources proves we are simply participating in a cultural phenomenon that compounds the notion that somehow mental health is something to shut up about. It’s heartbreaking that mental health is relegated to such a downtrodden place and as a result new mothers and their children are sequestered in silence.

Let’s change the language, and the lack of it. Let’s dare ourselves to abandon antiquated shame and move toward a more connected sense of sturdiness and courage. We are all flawed and luckily our children do not need us to be perfect in order to set them up to thrive.

All too often I hear new mothers talk about their “lack of drive” to “push through” their arduous and often debilitating perinatal and postpartum depression/anxiety. You are strong just as you are. Journeying through enigmatic challenges does not render us weak. We are not as in charge of every single thing that goes on in our minds or our bodies as we fantasize to be. Psychological wellness is something to cultivate, it’s not necessarily a given. So if you are currently in the throes of a whirlwind of thoughts that feel scary, overwhelming, or outright torturous, move toward it by taking care of yourself. The moment you lean into receiving help, you will begin to breathe more deeply.

We evolve exponentially through experiences of trauma. Though we might surrender growth for our previous selves in a heartbeat, this isn’t really an option when we live fully. Remember, it is a psychological truth that nobody gets through life unscathed, and this concept is essentially a basic tenant of motherhood. Resisting the transformative potential heartache can yield is futile.

Here are some nuggets I invite you to keep in mind in the midst of this rite of passage… Feelings are not facts. Postpartum mood issues are fully treatable. The sooner you get help, the faster you will feel whole. You did nothing to deserve this. If you think about it we are all bound to be a statistic of some kind. Harboring shame doesn’t produce change. Trust that trauma converts to growth in time and with effort.

Maybe as the maze of motherhood unfolds you will look back and understand that the journey you have been through, though potentially excruciating at times, was the birthplace of a more astute version of yourself. We can never actually return to our previous selves, in mind or in body. But why would we want to?

~ Jessica Zucker

Dr. Jessica Zucker is a Los Angeles based psychologist. She specializes in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health. Informed by her extensive international public health work, Dr. Zucker speaks and consults globally on projects related to women’s health and maternal wellbeing. She is an award winning published author and contributor to the Huffington Post, PBS, and Babble. Find her at www.drjessicazucker.com or follow her on Twitter @drZucker.

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Postpartum Progress, the world’s most widely-read blog on all things related to emotional health around pregnancy & childbirth, is a service of Postpartum Progress Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit devoted to raising awareness of postpartum depression and similar illnesses. Please consider making a donation today, Mother’s Day, so we can continue and expand our work supporting maternal mental health. Thank you!

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the top 20 Social Media Moms by Working Mother magazine. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

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Comments

  1. Dr. Zucker, bravo!

  2. Let’s all agree to write this on a notecard we keep on the bathroom mirror: “Feelings are not facts.” (and maybe we could add thoughts to the mix?)…”Feelings and thoughts are not facts.”

    Thank you for sharing…especially for the analogy about physical illness- most people run to the doc for the Flu or Strep, so why don’t we feel being mentally well is just as important to our effectiveness as human beings as our physical health?

  3. Cristi @ Motherhood Unadorned says:

    You’re so right, we need to stop whispering about this epidemic and keep screaming to fight for each other, and ourselves. Thank you!

  4. Your words resonate strongly and deeply Jessica. Thank you for voicing something so important and something that I, and i’m sure many, need to hear.

    • Jessica,
      I love what you have posted. I have been feeling like a bit of a pest these days as I constantly post information about maternal mental health on my facebook account or tell people about my experience with postpartum anxiety. While this type of sharing is welcomed here, there are times when people change the subject soon after I bring this important topic up. Your post reminded me that this topic will continue to be hush hush topic if I don’t speak up. You’ve encourage me to keep being a pest. Thank you!