There’s no question that the Church is pro-life. In my parish, we have initiatives to pray at the local abortion clinic, raise money for ultrasound machines, and vote for pro-life politicians, and all this is good and important. We have a house that supports pregnant women, giving out clothing, diapers, car seats, and strollers to mothers in need. But what about the mental and physical health of the mother? Considering that at least 15 percent of women experience postpartum depression and a significantly higher number experience a range of issues such as anxiety, brain fog, and baby blues, I think it’s time that we look to taking care of mothers so they can better take care of their children.
After having four babies in six years, I was exhausted and in a lot of physical pain. I struggled with depression and resented the fact that I didn’t enjoy motherhood as much as I should have. This led me down the road to discovering the importance of vitamins, nutrients, stretching, and breathing to heal my worn-down body. By improving my physical state, I was able to turn my attention toward a postpartum spirituality that allowed me to draw closer to God and recognize the lies the devil was telling me about motherhood. I found that there is information out there, but you need to look for it and piece the material together for yourself.
As I began to solve the puzzles in my own life, a beautiful picture of motherhood emerged, but like I said, it was hard to find all the pieces. In an effort to help others struggling on their road to recovery—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—I wrote the book Baby and Beyond: Overcoming Those Post-Childbirth Woes. By sharing the stories of my own postpartum experiences, and how I eventually was able to overcome the pain, anxiety, and fear that accompanied them, I hope to walk with other moms having similar experiences and share the mercy of a God who loves them even in midst of the chaos.
In March 2020, the USCCB is launching a year of “Walking With Moms in Need” to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Evangelium Vitae. It’s a great time to start giving more attention to women struggling after childbirth—and beyond. In my opinion, here are a few things the Church could do to walk with and support postpartum moms:
1) Most parishes could offer a mom’s group for young mothers and provide childcare. When my second child was born, there was no group within 30 minutes of me, so I started one. It was essential to my mental health and to my faith to meet other moms in my walk of life and get a break from my kids to pray. When we moved, there still wasn’t one within 20 minutes of me. I asked my parish about starting a family potluck after Mass and they said I could join the monthly Religious Ed one. Most parishes have baptism class and offerings for families with school-aged kids, but little for families with babies and toddlers.
2) Ask dioceses to host a monthly postpartum exercise class to show mothers how to squat properly, stand up straight, and stretch out their hips and ligaments. You can’t just jump back into planks and leg lifts after giving birth, and it seems as if the only people who currently recognize this are steeped in yoga, giving few options to intentionally Catholic mothers. It could be a great community-building event as well.
3) Hand out pamphlets on physical recovery outlining the vitamins that are important for hormone stability, how to check for diastasis recti and pelvic floor dysfunction, the symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as mentioning some Catholic organizations (counselors, doctors, and physical therapists) as resources.
4) Start a book club on The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander or Holiness for Housewives: And Other Working Women by Hubert Van Zeller to learn how to imitate Mary in everyday, ordinary chores, and help mothers avoid drowning in mom guilt that they are “doing it wrong”. Encourage mothers to embrace God’s mercy at this time of life, a time when they are barely sleeping and don’t have it together. In the mess, God is still here and He is the one who saves.
5) Organize a meal service where people in the parish bring meals to a mother after she has given birth.
6) Offer free babysitting nights so parents can go out on a date.
Being a mother in this age of isolation is hard. Social media makes us feel we are not enough, not having family nearby makes it exhausting, and a lack of authentic community leads to terrible loneliness. If the Church is as pro-life as it says it is, we could do much good by looking at ways we can support a mother after the baby is born.
Photo credit: Shutterstock