by Wren Davern
The truth is, being a mom is not easy.
We know that, we’ve been told, and we’ve experienced it day in and day out. But how often do we really, truly, talk about it? In August’s blog post, we discussed why moms don’t reach out for help for their postpartum troubles. This ranges from stigma, honest self-report, and incredibly high expectations. September is Maternal Suicide Awareness Month, and we need to have the difficult conversation about what happens when we allow the stigma, the dishonesty, and the avoidance to win.
The statistics on maternal suicide are staggering.
Death by suicide is a leading cause of maternal mortality, beating out medical issues such as hemorrhage or sepsis. Maternal suicide is said to be responsible for 20% of maternal deaths within the first year of a birth. In the United States, this rate has shown to increase when studied, and it is reported that the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate in developed countries.
This means two things:
- You are not alone in having these thoughts, these urges, or these concerns.
- This is an issue that needs awareness, discussion, and addressing.
There are a few reasons why a discussion about postpartum suicidal ideation goes by the wayside…
First, you may not present with symptoms during your pregnancy. You may not have a history of mental health, no symptoms of postpartum depression (PPD) or mood disorders, and be completely in the clear by medical standards. And then… delivery doesn’t go as planned. It’s scary, it’s complicated, it’s the opposite of what you had hoped. Suddenly, it feels like your fear and trauma from delivery overshadows your new addition, and the door is open for postpartum mood disorders (PMADs). The traumatic experience of birth can lead to consistent symptoms of PPD or even post-traumatic stress disorder. If your providers are not consistently screening both you and baby for symptoms and difficulty, these new symptoms can be overlooked or missed entirely.
Moms of color are statistically more likely to suffer from postpartum disorders, and are also less likely to seek assistance for these issues. Not only is it uncomfortable to discuss the bias and influence in the healthcare world alone, adding the stigma of mental health on top creates a horrible opportunity for these moms to be overlooked. Women of color are often in lower-income and lower-access communities, where it is both more difficult to seek and receive support for PMADs. Even in instances where women of color do have access to these resources, they often experience more complications in pregnancy and childbirth. The stress of daily life for a mom of color is an influence as well, creating greater risk for trauma and hardship for moms of color before they even become pregnant.
Another avoided topic in these discussions is the impact of substance abuse on maternal mental health and maternal suicide rates. It has been reported that more than two-thirds of moms who lost their battle with postpartum suicidal ideation had a history of past or current substance abuse. The stigma around substance abuse can make this topic difficult to address, for a healthcare professional or for a new mom. If we aren’t honest about our engagement with substances, this could put us at a higher risk for PMADs and maternal suicide.
Additional risk factors can include
- Young moms, unmarried moms, and moms in turbulent relationships
- Previous suicidal ideation
- Having a postpartum mental disorder diagnosis
- A history of childhood trauma or abuse
- Domestic violence or intimate partner violence
- Sleep disturbances
- Feelings of guilt, shame, or worthlessness
We want to have this discussion to continue to raise awareness.
It is hard, heart-wrenching, and raw to talk about maternal suicide, risk factors, and statistics so openly. And yet, the only way that this crisis can be addressed is to first talk about it. To shine a light on the statistics, and to realize that this problem is prevalent and growing. This is why we want to spread awareness, and why we want to have open and honest discussions about the truth of maternal suicide. Awareness is the first step to finding greater solutions, more widespread and accurate research, and creating communities and care providers who are willing to have difficult, taboo, and stigmatized discussions.
We are willing to have difficult, taboo, and stigmatized discussions. There are many others who share this mission, share their stories, and are working toward a world where new moms, no matter their race, class, background, or history, can find love and support.
We do not want to lose any more moms. We want to fight alongside moms. We’re so happy you’re still here.
Cherished Mom is proud to be a resource for education, understanding, and support. If you or someone you know is in need of help and support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the mental health resources below:
PSI PPD HelpLine (call or text): 1-800-944-4773
National Maternal Mental Health Hotline: 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (1-833-943-5746-667)
988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: Dial 988