Rolling Out

Shaenor Ishmael shares 3 things mothers must keep track of after giving birth

The maternal mental health expert says there are several things to take into account as a new mother

Maternal mental health is a big topic among new mothers, and Shaenor Ishmael, Ph.D, is an expert in the field, which allows her to find different approaches to help these mothers. A psychotherapist, Ishmael has committed to providing her expertise to help mothers navigate the challenges of anxiety, depression and other perinatal mental health conditions.

Ishmael spoke with rolling out about mental health in new and expecting mothers and having advocates during doctor visits.

What should new and expectant mothers know about their health?

Whenever we talk about preconception planning, so that is you’re thinking of having a baby — it’s important to note that often, the journey does not go as expected: the timeline may not go as expected; the delivery process may not go as expected; and the postpartum period may not go as expected.

It is also a major life transition. Introducing a child — especially if it’s your first child — in your everyday [life] is a stark adjustment. You’re adjusting your whole [life] to care for this whole human you’re solely responsible for — and it takes a lot. We talk about the sleepless nights and not being able to prioritize at birth.

One of the main concerns I hear a lot of women face is that they don’t feel like themselves. It’s a loss of identity. Interestingly enough for Black women, oftentimes when we have mental health concerns — whether it’s postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety — it often shows up as that we’re failing. So, we’re failing as a mom; we’re failing at work because we are conditioned with this notion to be able to do everything. We have that Strong Black Woman narrative where you have to be strong, you have to push through, and you have to get through. Oftentimes, the symptom that shows up is a sense of, like, “I am failing in this aspect of life” when in reality you’re not. You are just having a mental health diagnosis that is impeding your forward progress.

What do you suggest women do as it relates to having advocates during their doctor visits?

What I do in my private practice with my clients is we go over questions, prepare questions, have a birth plan and have a postpartum plan. That’s just to set the foundation. From then on, we go over concerns that the mother may be having and anything [they’re] dealing with regarding [their] postpartum period. How are you navigating your postpartum period? How have you navigated medically in your postpartum period? Are you feeling OK? A lot of times we go to our physician’s offices and … just kind of glaze over everything when, in reality, we really are not OK — and it’s OK to say you’re not OK. It’s the change in the narrative as it pertains to conversations around maternal mental health.

One of the things that I say is I will always have conversations about maternal mental health. Not in the euphoric, superficial way to say you just had a baby and you should be happy, but how are you really doing? How are you navigating this transition? Do you have support? How are you doing medically? The three components I always tell mothers are are you taking a shower? Are you eating? Are you getting outside once a day? Those are the three main things. When you go to your provider, if you’re having challenges in doing any of these things — even if you’re in any kind of pain — bring that up; do not dismiss it. Make sure your provider adequately addresses it.

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