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5 easy ways to get active in supporting maternal mental health

As 2020 is the #yearofthemother, more people are becoming aware that perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are one of the most common complications of pregnancy, impacting nearly a quarter of new moms. Despite that huge number, or maybe because of it, it can be hard to feel like we have the power or ability to do anything about it—especially when we have so many other responsibilities in our lives.

The good news is that there are many, many ways to make a significant difference. Here are five to try:

1. Be gentle with yourself

Activism weeks like this always rev us up to do more in the world—and that's a really good thing. But, it has to start with you. Being good to ourselves is a powerful force for change. If you're feeling like your cup is a little empty, fill it—practice daily self-care, put yourself higher on your priority list, and tend to your health. That will make the world better, promise.

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If you are concerned that you are experiencing depression or anxiety (check out this list of symptoms), speak to your therapist right away, or call 911 or go to an emergency room if you feel like hurting yourself or your child.

2. Speak up

It can be hard as a mom of young kids to make it out to rallies and advocacy events. But there are definitely still ways to make your voice heard regarding policy development. 2020mom shares many resources for getting involved on their website. We also love Resistbot—it's an app that allows you to find and contact your representatives (for free) through a text (that turns into a fax).

3. Get a Blue Dot

The Blue Dot Project, part of 2020mom.org, was started by a woman who lived with postpartum anxiety and wanted to help other women realize they aren't alone. The Blue Dot is a symbol, in the form of a magnet! The hope is that women who have experienced postpartum mental illness will display a Blue Dot in an effort to, "Raise awareness of maternal mental health disorders, proliferate the blue dot as the symbol of solidarity and support, and combat stigma and shame."

Want a Blue Dot? Get yours here!

4. Be aware

Social media is awesome for staying connected, but sometimes things get a little lost in translation. Before you post something, think about how someone with a mental illness would feel reading it. For example, posting something like "My kids are driving me crazy!" may be hard to read for someone who is living with a postpartum mental illness.

Additionally, we need to be careful of judgment. The stigma surrounding mental health is still alive and well, and it is not hard to get caught up in feeling like someone, "should just snap out of it," or "should feel lucky to have her beautiful, healthy baby." Remember that this is not a choice for her. She wants desperately not to feel the way she does but she can't. And she needs your support.

5. Talk about it

You are, of course, under no obligation to talk about your own struggles with mental health if you have them—everyone handles these experiences differently, and there is no one right way. But if you are comfortable talking about, do so! You may be surprised how many people around you jump right into the conversation.

If you haven't had a postpartum mood disorder, you can still talk about it. Asking questions, staying informed, and verbally supporting friends and family is hugely meaningful.

We've come a long way with mental health care, but we have a long way to go. I believe with all my heart that we are the generation to really make this change. So let's go.

We've got this.

If you are struggling with your mental health right now check out these resources to find the help you need, mama.

This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades, "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4-year-old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year:

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keep an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Follow children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.


And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3

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