Motherhood Together: The Light of Community
Kentlee and her partner desperately wanted a baby and when, after trying for a year, she finally became pregnant and the baby finally came, what one might have expected to be a sweet time of joy and bliss was anything but. Kentlee lost her appetite. She couldn’t sleep. She felt doom and despair like she had never experienced. Elaine had her little girl in her early thirties. After an easy pregnancy and a delivery, she was ready to ease her way into mothering her new baby girl. She began to worry though – a lot. She couldn’t sleep. She had difficulty breastfeeding. She was overwhelmed, feeling helpless and doubting her worth as a mother and as a woman. Caitlin experienced a long and traumatic birth that resulted in an emergency c-section. Her son experienced a seizure while she was breastfeeding him. She felt completely alone. She was anxious. She doubted her ability to be a mother. Kentlee, Elaine, and Caitlin all come from very different backgrounds and had very different birth experiences but shared an experience that is more common among new mothers in the United States than many realize. They each suffered from Post Partum Depression.
The idea of the Baby Blues has been around for years. The French physician Jean‐Etienne Esquirol was one of the first to record the experience of a young mother during the 18th century who was suffering from what we would describe today as Post Partum Depression (PPD). For many years following Esquirol’s first recording of this ailment many physicians seemed to lump the experience in with any number of other troubles faced by women that doctors of the time simply described as hysteria or female insanity and for which they treated with opium or other narcotics. 
PPD is not a modern phenomenon. It is not a uniquely modern issue. It is apparent that women throughout history have struggled with anxiety uncertainty and worry following the birth of a child to varying degrees of severity. There are a variety of factors in our current day however that we can see contribute to PPD and can exacerbate the difficulties which are attendant to caring for a newborn child.
Social isolation, a lack of connection, and a breakdown in community are all issues that have major ramifications for the physical and mental well-being of our society. What role does a lack of strong community play in putting women at risk of PPD? How has this changed from the experiences of previous generations in the experience of child-rearing? How can communities respond to the issue of PPD by creating spaces for connection to support mothers? A lack of connection and weak community are threats to women in their postpartum journey and establishing spaces of intentional community and mutual support are essential to combatting and protecting against the dangers of PPD.
The Unspoken Struggles of Motherhood
A new mother's life is often painted with images of blissful baby giggles and tranquil moments of bonding. Yet, beneath these picturesque scenes lies an undercurrent of struggles. Sleep deprivation, anxiety about baby's well-being, and the overwhelming emotions attendant to the birth of a new child all take a heavy toll on the mental health of mothers. The arrival of a child, rather than being an exclusively joyful occasion, is a complex blend of emotions and challenges that can often trigger postpartum depression and anxiety.
One in seven women can develop PPD . The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that among Southern Californian women the rate of PPD has increased by 13.9% from 9.4% in 2010 to 19.3% in 2021 . This dramatic increase, though perhaps in part injust the result of better surveying and increased reporting, considering the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic it is not unlikely that a real spike of PPD occurred as well.
Many women will experience what is commonly referred to as the Baby Blues, difficult emotions and anxiety, or a feeling of downness following the birth of their child. Often triggered by a lack of sleep, uncertainty in parenting, and the reality of a major life change, these Baby Blues tend to pass within several days to two weeks and fluctuate in severity. When a woman has persistent unshakeable feelings of sorrow and despair though, when she feels obsessive worry and anxiety, experiences a significant loss of energy, and has difficulty taking care of herself, and all this lasts for an extended period of time she would be diagnosed with PPD.
The causes of PPD are nebulous, to say the least. A variety of factors (including but not limited to predisposition to depression, family mental health history, number of children, age at the time of birth, and so on) have all been identified as possible causes. Just as concrete explanations for typical depression are not always clear, it is the same here as well.
But in both, there are circumstances that can predispose a woman to suffer from PPD as well as exacerbate it. A lack of social connection and a weak community of support have been seen to be factors that can contribute to or worsen the experiences of PPD.  A strong community of support is essential to, not just protecting against PPD but also in preparing a woman for motherhood.
Low Community Connections and PPD
Social isolation and a lack of strong connection, companionship, and social engagement is something that has been identified as an indicating factor of various health risks across populations . People who are isolated, and who lack strong community engagement are at elevated risk for heart disease, dementia, anxiety, and generally lower levels of overall quality of health . We are incredibly social creatures and our whole well-being requires connection. Increased levels of social engagement have been found to decrease the experiences of depression among the elderly  and in many contexts, high social engagement is conducive to overall healthier life practices .
High social engagement and strong social support provide, not just mothers, but every member of a community, with assistance, comfort, and resources from their family members, friends, and other people around them. This network of support provides us with emotional and practical help during many different seasons of life. For a mother, this support is particularly essential during the peripartum season of life.
It has been found that higher levels of social support are associated with a reduced risk of PPD and are essential to supporting and encouraging a mother during what can be an incredibly difficult time physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Greater social support reduces PPD risk through a range of means. This includes both practical and emotional support, with individuals available to listen, help, and be a source of comfort. This translates into help with childcare, household tasks, and more. Additionally, social support plays a vital role in reducing isolation, as the birth of a new child is a transformative experience that can otherwise lead to feelings of isolation and being overwhelmed by the responsibilities of caring for a newborn.
Postnatal care, throughout all of human history, has been a communal effort to support a mother and her family. Across the world, through time and history, leading up to and following her birth a woman should have had many people around her who would be able to support her. Midwives, her mother, her sisters, her aunts and cousins and neighbors, her older children, and (of course) her partner, all would have been there to help provide postnatal care.
Social isolation is on the increase in the United States and other wealthy modern nations.  It of course makes sense that isolation during the postnatal period would be radically harmful to a woman’s well-being. Distance from family or friends, a lack of relationship with neighbors, and few forums for connection and community are all factors that can lead to a feeling of being completely and entirely alone. The United States lacks a national parental leave policy and as such parents must quickly return to work. A woman’s partner, depending on his job, will likely only be able to get a small amount of time off of work following the birth of their child to help care for mother and baby before having to return to work. The stress of needing to return to a job, and wondering how to provide, can be a particularly relevant factor in PPD for low-income women. If a woman does not have a social network of support of course she will wonder how she will ever be able to care for herself, her baby, and her home all by herself. She cannot. She was never meant to.
An Answer: Strengthening the Support System
In response to this pressing issue, there are a variety of ways in which we, as a society, need to respond. A lack of adequate social services means it is necessary to ensure that every woman can access the help she needs. Spaces of strong community are essential to combat what is apparently an epidemic of postpartum depression.
An August feature from the Wall Street Journal demonstrated the very real and imminent dangers of PPD and the way that a lack of proper support and help can endanger the health and well-being of a woman and her child. Many women and their families fall through the cracks when it comes to proper social and welfare support. The lack of a strong safety net leaves them rudderless often and without assurance and peace of mind. But these policy issues can sometimes seem so massive and impossible to tackle.
There are real impactful ways that individuals and communities can support peripartum mothers. Facilitation of groups like Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPs), joining a mom’s support group, a mom’s bible study, or just being intentional in creating community are all ways that women can support each other as they navigate pregnancy. Mutual support and aid are essential elements of a healthy community and simply knowing that others are there to support you through your own time of difficulty is an encouragement, not to say anything of the very real and practical blessing that others can be in our lives.
Thriving Heart: Building a Community of Support
Our organization, C.A.R.E. Medical Center exists to provide holistic and evidence-based reproductive healthcare as well as to support and aid families in need. We support parents in our community through programs like Thriving Heart which provides opportunities for relationships of support and guidance in one-on-one parent mentoring. In light of everything we have just considered we recognize the vital importance of community to healthy families and successful parents. We prioritize creating community in Thriving Heart and intentionally create a space where mothers of varying ages and seasons of life can come together in mutual support and aid of one another.
As we navigate the complex tapestry of modern motherhood, it becomes evident that the journey is not meant to be traveled alone. The search for community is not a nostalgia-driven longing for the past but a necessity for the present and the future, a lifeline for mothers in a world that grows busier and more disconnected with each passing day. In the quest for nurturing motherhood, communities like the one in Thriving Heart offer hope, healing, and the promise that no mother should ever feel alone in her journey.
The challenges of modern motherhood are vast and often daunting. The lack of a strong community and support system can leave mothers feeling isolated and overwhelmed. However, initiatives like Thriving Heart provide a glimpse of hope—a reminder that by coming together, by sharing the burdens and joys of motherhood, we can build the strong support systems that our modern society so desperately needs. We must recognize that the success of any mother is deeply intertwined with the strength of her community, for it takes a village to raise a child and support a mother. In nurturing motherhood, we find the resilience and power to face the uncertainties of parenthood.
The darkness of Post Partum Depression can be suffocating but a community of family and neighbors who are there to help along the way can be the light you need.
If you or someone you know is experiencing postpartum depression there is help available. 1-800-622-4357 is a 24-hour toll-free helpline that can offer support and guidance. Or click this link.
C.A.R.E. Medical Center is a reproductive health clinic and family support services center in Mount Vernon WA that is here to help you navigate your journey of parenthood. Whether you just found out you are pregnant and are not sure what to do next, or if you already have a couple at home but need help figuring out what parenthood looks like for you, we are here to support you along the way. All of our services are FREE OF CHARGE. Call or email to make an appointment today. Walk-ins welcome.
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