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Why the stigma around young parenthood is on the rise

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There's been a notable shift in lamaze classes, playgroups and preschool orientations: Moms who had a child before 25 are in the minority for the first time.


According to newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, birth rates fell by 4% among women in their 20s during 2017. During the same period, only women in their 40s saw a rise in birth rates. As a result, the average age of first-time mothers is now older than 26, which is up from 24 in 2000 and way up from 21 in 1970.

This is largely credited to the options women have in planning their families—whether through birth control when they aren't ready for children or through fertility assistance options that give them more confidence in waiting.

But as some women who had children earlier than average tell Motherly, the flipside seems to be a stigma against younger moms, even if the women themselves felt prepared for motherhood. "The most hurtful stereotype I endured was the assumption that young mothers are uneducated and live unstable, directionless lives," says QuaVaundra Perry, who had her first child during her junior year of college. "Nothing was further from the truth."

'People make assumptions about me'

Perhaps contributing to the stigma against young mothers is the fact that the rate of unmarried, first-time parents stood at 39% in 2016, according to the CDC—and many people automatically associate young parents with unmarried parents. "If 30 is the new 20, today's unmarried 20-somethings are the new teen moms," asserted the authors of the Knot Yet report in a 2013 op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. "And the tragic consequences are much the same: Children raised in homes that often put them at enormous disadvantage from the start of life."

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But children born to young mothers aren't necessarily born into single-parent or disadvantaged households. In fact, CDC data shows fewer women under the age of 35 are having non-marital births than in years past while non-marital birth rates are at an all-time high for women aged 35 and older.

Either way, the relationship status of a mother, regardless of her age, should not be a concern to others. Yet probing questions are just one way in which there seems to be less respect shown toward younger mothers.

"I can remember being asked some of the craziest things, like, 'Did you plan that? Are you still with his dad?'" says Sara Goldstein, who had her first child at 23. "Things that none of my older friends with kids were ever asked."

Of course, getting unsolicited advice is a nearly universal experience for expectant or new mothers, regardless of their age. But among young mothers, there seems to be even less of a filter. "I've gotten every rude question from being outright asked if we had a shotgun wedding, if my boys were planned, if I wanted to be a mom so young, if I wish we'd waited," says Morgan Wieboldt, who had her first child shortly after graduating from college and getting married. "People make assumptions about me that I don't believe they wouldn't make with an older mom. I can't tell you how many times I've been asked if I was their nanny."

The positives get lost in the conversation

With so much focus on the perceived shortfalls of young motherhood, there isn't enough attention paid to the benefits that many parents say they experienced by having babies earlier than average.

"I often received unwarranted advice about raising my son or underhanded compliments like, 'Oh, you're a good mom compared to most moms your age,'" says Perry, who obtained a doctorate degree and established a successful counseling practice after having her son during college.

Despite what people seemed to think, Perry says this is largely because of her son. "Becoming a parent was the most precious gift ever," she tells Motherly. "Being a mother provided me with increased motivation to not only achieve, but to excel academically and occupationally."

Wiebolt also says young motherhood has positively shaped the way she parents and prioritizes. "I think that in some ways, not having it all together really forced me to be a better mom," she says. "We value family time and making memories over getting our kids 'all the things.'"

As the first of her friends to become a mother, Wiebolt says the experience led her to connect women she may otherwise not have known. By opening up in this way, there is a lot young mothers can learn from others.

But it's just as important to recognize how much there is for others to learn from young mothers, too.

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Before I had a baby, postpartum depression (PPD) was something I only heard about on the fringes of motherhood. It would occasionally get brought up among mom friends, but only in the tightest of circles and usually in whispered tones conveying depths of shame I couldn't quite understand.

Every so often, I would see a magazine article citing women who admitted (again, in voices heavy with shame) that they didn't immediately bond with their baby. That they felt soul-crushing sadness after giving birth. That they felt wholly unable to mother properly.

When PPD was mentioned (which wasn't often), it always seemed to follow the same formula: a lack of bonding with the baby, followed by extreme sadness that could last for months―or even years after birth. And long before I ever had a baby, it was clear to me that the majority of women I knew who suffered didn't want anyone to know about it.

Years later, and with two births under my belt, I'm grateful to say that I've seen some things change. Slowly, but with increasing pace, I see more and more parenting communities shaking off the stigma of PPD. I see more and more women breaking the silence and coming forward with stories of their own. I see more and more compassion for the one in every seven moms who experience postpartum depression each year—that's over 500,000 mamas.

And, even more surprisingly, I see a greater understanding of just how varied the symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety can be. Because, the fact is, PPD rarely looks the same for any mama―and it can be especially hard to explain feelings that feel unique to you. The experts at Allegheny Health Network get it. They've made it their mission to not only bring more understanding to postpartum mood disorders, but also to help every mom break their silence and remove the stigma of postpartum depression and anxiety.

Here's what some of the women they've worked with want you to know.

When I say "I'm feeling lonely," what I mean is... I feel alone in my suffering.

The trickiest part of PPD? You probably look exactly the same on the outside. In many cases, women continue to power through their daily routines so it can be easy to miss their suffering. "You feel like you're drowning," says Heather, a PPD survivor and an Allegheny Health Network patient. "[But] physically looking at me or at anyone that suffers from something like this, you can't see it. That's what makes it so difficult."

How to help: If you know a new mama, don't assume she's doing okay just because her life isn't obviously going up in flames. Check in. Ask about her health, not just her baby's. And let her know you're a judgment-free place to share.

When I say "I'm not feeling how I thought I would," what I mean is... motherhood isn't bringing me joy.

As moms, we're expected to feel an almost blissful happiness every second of pregnancy and motherhood. But for many women, that happiness seems to evade them―and it often doesn't come the moment they're handed their new baby―leading them to feel like they're already failing as a mother. "I felt so guilty because, here I am, I have this new, adorable baby who doesn't cry and is fantastic," says Ashleigh, a PPD survivor and Allegheny Health Network patient. "I didn't want to seem ungrateful."

How to help: Many mothers with PPD feel guilty for it. One of the best ways to lessen the load? Sharing your own story. It's normal not to immediately connect with your baby (you did just meet them, after all!), and the more stories we hear of strong connections that took a bit of time, the easier it will be for new moms to talk about it.

When I say "I don't feel like myself," what I mean is... I'm getting overwhelmed with anxiety and/or anger.

Sadness is just one of the possible symptoms of PPD. For many women, the condition manifests itself as extreme anxiety, OCD (especially worrying about bad things happening to their babies), and even rage. "Before I personally experienced postpartum depression, I thought, that's only for people that feel like harming themselves or harming their children," Heather says. But the truth is, PPD can look different for everyone―and it can affect anyone. "I never thought that I personally would have postpartum depression because I like to laugh and make jokes about everything," Ashleigh says.

How to help: Postpartum depression and anxiety doesn't discriminate―anyone can be affected. Look for signs that your new mama pal is feeling out of sorts. She might say she lost her temper or that she feels extra frazzled, not necessarily that she's feeling sad, but these can still be symptoms of a greater issue. You can have a more objective view of her feelings even when she can't.

When I say "I don't know how I feel," what I mean is…we still have a lot to learn.

So many symptoms of PPD are similar to general depression and anxiety, it can be scary for a new mom who isn't sure what's wrong with her. "I didn't know how to distinguish from it being...depression or anxiety versus it just being motherhood. I think part of the cure was just discovering that I had postpartum," says Chrissy Teigen, who is Allegheny Health Network's partner. "It was just such a sigh of relief that we can fix this."

How to help: Remember that you don't need to fix her symptoms―you just need to be there when she needs you. Be a listening ear, and remind her that there's no shame in needing help.

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When you're pregnant there are so many medical appointments, and many moms look forward to each one. We want to know what is going on with our bodies and our babies. But once the babies are born, many moms aren't able to keep their own medical appointments and experts are worried.

New moms are missing key appointments in the critical fourth trimester, or the first three months postpartum, according to a new study from Orlando Health.

Nearly a quarter of new mothers surveyed admitted that they did not have a plan to manage their own health in the first weeks and months postpartum. The numbers are alarming as nearly half of new moms have admitted to feeling their most overwhelmed, anxious and depressed during that time period.

Worse, the incredibly stressful first few days and weeks of their baby's life is the time when many mothers have admitted to feeling the least supported by their doctors. According to a survey from Healthy Women and 2020 Mom, nearly 30% of women have felt "no support" from their health care provider. This even as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has recently adjusted their guidelines to suggest that women see their doctors within the first three weeks after birth, rather than the traditionally recommended six weeks.

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"Seeing your doctor within a few weeks of delivery and sharing any concerns is critical to getting the care and treatment you need," Megan Gray, MD, an OB/GYN at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, told Orlando Health. "The fourth trimester can be difficult and overwhelming for women as their bodies go through physical and emotional changes, and this time deserves the same support and attention as the first three trimesters," Gray said.

Yet, with many women going back to work at six weeks postpartum, up to 40% of moms are missing that first appointment entirely. For most mothers, that represents a rapid and drastic shift in their approach to maternal health care, as prenatal care is full of regularly-scheduled appointments and check-ups. Given that the US remains the most dangerous industrialized country to give birth in, the statistics can't be ignored. As the survey notes, it is impossible for mothers to take care of their babies without taking care of their own health as well.

Still, the onus shouldn't be placed solely on new mothers, who are already riddled with exhaustion and anxiety. With doctors and employers failing to support them, it's hardly surprising that they are struggling to keep up with their appointments or feeling comfortable enough with their doctors to open up about their physical and emotional changes.

In fact, a recent study from Maven reported that as many as 54% of new moms were never even screened for mental health concerns during their pre and postpartum care. Of those who did raise concerns, nearly 30% were not given concrete steps to get treatment.

All of this contributes to the cycle of shame that leads to nearly 60% of new moms experiencing depression and anxiety in silos, only furthering their feelings of extreme isolation. "I thought everything would come more naturally, but it was so much harder than I expected," one mama, Rachel Kobb, told Orlando Health. "Women have been raising babies forever, and I felt selfish for feeling like I couldn't handle it," she said. "I felt very lonely, but I didn't know how to ask for help," she added.

Still, there is hope for new moms, even during those incredibly difficult early months. Medical professionals like Gray and the ACOG are continuing to push for proper training for doctors, midwives and doulas to help new mothers cope with the emotional demands of motherhood, in addition to improved programs for mothers like lowering costs for mental health care and urging companies to provide paid maternity leave for at least the first half of the fourth trimester.

Moreover, simply reminding women that they're not alone is a critically important shift in how society treats new moms who are struggling emotionally.

"There is no perfect mom out there," Gray noted. "Taking some of that pressure off yourself will help you be the best mom you can be and help you better experience the many joys of motherhood."

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Having a baby changes a lot—your relationships, your life and your body. In the earliest days when you're dealing with sleep deprivation and finding your feet as a new parent, having sex with your partner is likely pretty far down your list of concerns.

That's why we are concerned that the results of our 2019 State of Motherhood survey revealed that nearly a third of Millennial moms (31%) say they had sex with their partner before they felt ready to do so.

When it comes to postpartum sex, no specific waiting period is right for everyone, but many doctors and midwives recommend waiting four to six weeks after a birth, or until the mother feels comfortable resuming sexual activity. The Mayo Clinic says that when it comes to postpartum sex, you should "set your own timeline". Some moms want to have sex at six weeks postpartum, but many don't just yet.

Our survey found that 53% of moms start feeling interested in sex again by the six week mark, and 11% of moms find they're interested in getting intimate before they are six weeks postpartum. Mothers under 30 are more likely to report being ready for sex by six weeks—with 67% reporting they were—while 54% of moms between 30 and 34 felt ready by six weeks, and 44% of moms over 35 did.

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But for a large number of mothers, nearly 40%, it takes a lot longer than six weeks—between six months and a year—to want to have sex again and there is nothing wrong with that. Whether you wait six weeks or six months, what's important is that you feel ready.

"Resuming your sex life, on your terms, after giving birth can be empowering, and let's be honest, fun! If a woman feels ready both mentally and physically to have sex, she should listen to her body and all that she knows about it, and go for it," says Diana Spalding, midwife and Motherly's Digital Education Editor.

After reviewing the findings of our survey (which saw 6,457 respondents answer questions online between March 28 and April 11, 2019, and was weighted to align with US Census demographic data), Spalding is concerned about why so many millennial moms are having sex before they want to.

"Having sex after birth before she is ready is troublesome. First, if she has sustained any pelvic floor dysfunction or vaginal, anal, or vulvar injuries from pregnancy and birth, she needs proper medical attention before engaging in sex, which could further injure her," she explains, adding that a lack of education around and attention to birth injuries is an unacceptable shortcoming of our healthcare system.

Spalding wants women to talk to their medical providers about any postpartum healing concerns they may have, and for our partners and society to put less pressure on new mothers to resume sexual activity.

"The emotional ramifications of having sex without feeling ready are significant. Feeling pressured into sex is simply not okay. Healthy and fulfilling postpartum sex is a wonderful thing, but we have to do a better job of conveying to women that they matter."

Yes, mama. You matter. Your comfort matters. Your pleasure matters. Your postpartum recovery matters and your partner and medical providers should understand that.

Research published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology suggests about 17–36% of mothers report experiencing painful sex at six months postpartum and that only about 15% of new moms bring this concern up with their doctor.

Here's the truth: When women are ready for postpartum sex, it can be really fun, but being ready is the key. If sex hurts it is a sign that something is wrong. If a medical provider tells you that this is just normal or the way sex is after a baby, that's unacceptable and you should seek a second opinion.

And if sex isn't painful, but just not something you want to do right now, that's just fine. Resuming sexual intimacy after a baby can be wonderful (if you have the energy for it). If you would rather just cuddle or go to sleep tonight, that's okay, too, mama.

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It's been more than a year since Khloé Kardashian welcomed her daughter True Thompson into the world, and like a lot of new moms, Khloé didn't just learn how to to be a mom this year, she also learned how to co-parent with someone who is no longer her partner. According to the Pew Research Center, co-parenting and the likelihood that a child will spend part of their childhood living with just one parent is on the rise.

There was a ton of media attention on Khloé's relationship with True's father Tristan Thompson in her early days of motherhood, and in a new interview on the podcast "Divorce Sucks!," Khloé explained that co-parenting with someone you have a complicated relationship with isn't always easy, but when she looks at True she knows it's worth it.

"For me, Tristan and I broke up not too long ago so it's really raw," Khloé tells divorce attorney Laura Wasser on the podcast. She explains that even though it does "suck" at times, she's committed to having a good relationship with her ex because she doesn't want True to pick up on any negative energy, even at her young age.

That's why she invited Tristan to True's recent first birthday bash, even though she knew True wouldn't remember that party. "I know she's going to want to look back at all of her childhood memories like we all do," Khloé explained. "I know her dad is a great person, and I know how much he loves her and cares about her, so I want him to be there."

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We totally get why being around Tristan is hard for Khloé, but it sounds like she's approaching co-parenting with a positive attitude that will benefit True in the long run. Studies have found that shared parenting is good for kids and that former couples who have "ongoing personal and emotional involvement with their former spouse" are more likely to rate their co-parenting relationship positively.

Khloé says her relationship with Tristan right now is "civilized," and hopefully it can get even better with time. As Suzanne Hayes noted in her six guiding principles for a co-parenting relationship, there's no magic bullet for moving past the painful feelings that come when a relationship ends and into a healthy co-parenting relationship, but treating your ex with respect and (non-romantic) love is a good place to start. Hayes describes it as "human-to-human, parent-to-parent, we-share-amazing-children-and-always-will love."

It's a great place to start, and it sounds like Khloé has already figured that out.

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Mornings can be so rough making sure everyone has what they need for the day and managing to get out the door on time. A recent survey by Indeed found that 60% of new moms say managing a morning routine is a significant challenge, and another new survey reveals just why that is.

The survey, by snack brand Nutri-Grain, suggests that all the various tasks and child herding parents take on when getting the family out the door in the morning adds up to basically an extra workday every week!

Many parents will tell you that it can take a couple of hours to get out of the house each morning person, and as the survey found, most of us need to remind the kids "at least twice in the morning to get dressed, brush their teeth, or put on their shoes."

According to Nutri-Grain, by the end of the school year, the average parent will have asked their children to hurry up almost 540 times across the weekday mornings.

We totally get it. It's hard to wait on little ones when we have a very grown-up schedule to get on with, but maybe the world needs to realize that kids just aren't made to be fast.

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As Rachel Macy Stafford, the author of Hands Free Mama, Hands Free Life, writes, having a child who wants to enjoy and marvel at the world while mama is trying to rush through it is hard.

"Whenever my child caused me to deviate from my master schedule, I thought to myself, 'We don't have time for this.' Consequently, the two words I most commonly spoke to my little lover of life were: 'Hurry up.'" she explains.

We're always telling our kids to hurry up, but maybe, maybe, we should be telling ourselves—and society—to slow down.

That's what Stafford did. She took "hurry up" out of her vocabulary and in doing so made that extra workday worth of time into quality time with her daughter, instead of crunch time. She worked on her patience, and let her daughter marvel at the world or slow down when she had to.

"To help us both, I began giving her a little more time to prepare if we had to go somewhere. And sometimes, even then, we were still late. Those were the times I assured myself that I will be late only for a few years, if that, while she is young."

It's great advice, but unless we mamas can get the wider world on board, it's hard to put into practice. When the school bus comes at 7:30 am and you've gotta be at the office at 8 am, when the emails start coming before you're out of bed or your pay gets docked if you punch in five minutes late, it is hard to slow down.

So to those who are making the schedules the rest of us have to live by, to the employers and the school boards and the wider culture, we ask: Can we slow down?

Indeed's survey suggests that the majority of moms would benefit from a more flexible start time at work and the CDC suggests that starting school later would help students.

Mornings are tough for parents, but they don't have to be as hard as they are.

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