Founder of MOTHERHOOD-UNDERSTOOD
Mom to Mason
Jen Schwartz is the Founder of MOTHERHOOD-UNDERSTOOD, a platform for the 1 in 7 moms affected by maternal health issues. She built the community she wished she had when she was suffering all alone six years ago when her son, Mason was born.
She created MOTHERHOOD-UNDERSTOOD to unmask the "not so pretty" sides of motherhood, and only after realizing how many women suffered in silence, ashamed, like she did. This platform creates an honest judgement-free place for moms struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety to empathize, share and connect with people who speak their language.
We are proud of Jen for creating such an amazing platform to help moms struggling, and proud of her for being brave enough to share her own story. Thank you Jen for inspiring us every single day with your platform, and for using it to better the communities we live in.
The Returnity Project: Tell us about yourself and MOTHERHOOD-UNDERSTOOD.
Jen Schwartz: I’m Jen Schwartz, the Founder of MOTHERHOOD-UNDERSTOOD, a platform for the 1 in 7 moms affected by maternal mental health issues. Basically, I built the community I wish I had when I was suffering in a very dark place all alone six years ago when my son was born. I created MOTHERHOOD-UNDERTOOD to unmask the not so pretty sides of motherhood and only after realizing how many women suffered in silence, ashamed, like I did. Women with postpartum depression and anxiety need an honest judgment-free place to empathize, share, and connect with people who speak their language—moms who understand that new mommy life isn’t always the way it looks on Instagram. MOTHERHOOD-UNDERSTOOD is committed to shining the light on the darkest of places, where mommy mental health taboos have been hiding out, doing an awesome job of convincing us that we are not enough. And we’re all alone. Not true by the way! The thing that all moms want, especially those struggling emotionally, is to be understood and at MOTHERHOOD-UNDERSTOOD, she is.
For some personal facts, I love unicorns, glitter, and consider myself a professional TV Binge Watcher and Chocolate Chip Cookie Connoisseur!
TRP: As you know, 1 in 7 moms experience postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. Your goal is to share moms' stories to help other moms be brave with theirs. Will you tell us a little bit about your story with Post-Partum Depression?
JS: I had an easy pregnancy. I was so excited to be a mom. I felt happy in the hospital after I delivered. All that changed when I brought my son home from the hospital and I started having thoughts about ways I could get hurt so I could go back to the hospital and not have to take care of a baby.
I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. Why didn’t I want to be near my son? Why didn’t I want to get out of bed ever again? Where was the magic and bliss all new moms experience? Why did I only feel anxious and sad? How come every other woman on the planet loved being a mom except for me? Why was I failing at the one thing I believed came naturally to all woman?
The abridged version is that I was the 1 in 7 women affected by a maternal mental health illness. I battled severe postpartum depression for almost a year. And in that time, I felt so alone. I didn’t know anyone else personally or through social media who had what I had or felt like I did. I became a mom and found myself going to weekly therapy appointments and taking antidepressants for the first time ever. My saving grace was finding a therapist who specialized in postpartum depression and she explained what was happening to me. She told me I wasn’t alone. She told me she treated thousands of moms who felt like I did. She told me there were risk factors for PPD and I had a ton of them. She helped me find a psychiatrist and the right medication. And although I thought I would never get better and every week as I sat sobbing on the red couch on her office, I thought she was lying to me when she promised me I would, eventually I did.
At my son’s first birthday party, I remember looking around the room surrounding by family and friends and the people who stuck by me that first year of hell and finally feeling love for my son and being his mommy and confidence that I got this. And I vowed that someday, somehow, someway, I would share my story and figure out how to advocate for all the other 1 in 7 women because I never wanted another mom to feel the shame and loneliness I did and here we are…
TRP: You've grown your community to an impressive 21.5K on Instagram already! Out of the stories you've heard from moms all over the world so far, what is the common theme you've seen? Anything that surprises you still?
JS: The common theme that I see with most moms’ experiences with PPD and PPA is the loneliness and isolation they feel. They don’t realize that the scary thoughts and feelings they have are common and they are not alone. Even though 20% of new moms will struggle with some form of mental health issue, most of us still aren’t prepared or educated at all about these emotional complications that can accompany childbirth.
As far as the stuff that still surprises me, I’ve seen and read a lot, but I still can’t understand when one mom shames another because I truly believe, postpartum depression or not, we are all in this together and it’s our job to lift each other up. The other thing I can’t believe I am still seeing are the stories I receive where moms are turned away or written off by their doctors when they admit their feelings of intense anxiety, sadness, overwhelm, and sadness.
TRP: The stories we share on The Returnity Project focus on both the challenges, and beautiful moments of motherhood; specifically the return to work. Returning to work is already hard enough for moms--what was it like for you while also dealing with PPD?
JS: I actually left my job in the middle of maternity leave. I was a middle school English teacher and the plan was always for me to transition to stay-at-home-mom and not go back to teaching. That transition was anything but smooth and nothing what I thought it would be like because I was hit with postpartum depression the day after I brought my son home from the hospital.
To me, my new job title as mom meant I would transform into a domestic goddess, a breastfeeding star, a Pinterest queen who made my own baby food, spent hours cooing at my baby, taking him everywhere, loving every minute…because that’s what happens when you take on the role of mom (at least I thought it was).
And when none of that happened and instead, I found myself in weekly therapy appointments, taking antidepressants for the first time ever, not having any interest in my adorable baby boy and barely leaving the house or getting out of bed for six months except when I had to, I felt like I was failing at what I believed came naturally to all women. I had no interest in doing this new job. I had to let others like my husband and mom step in and do the job for me. All I could do was make my mental health a priority so eventually I could show up to my new job the way I wanted to.
TRP: What advice would you give to other working moms on how to cope with these challenges?
JS: This is so hard because a mom’s mental health and self-care needs to be at the top of her to-do list. We can’t power through or will ourselves to get better from mental illnesses like postpartum depression and anxiety.
For me, I didn’t start to feel any shade of better until I started seeing a therapist who specialized in postpartum mood disorders and finding the right antidepressants to take under the care of a psychiatrist. Since I was staying home, I was able to fall apart all the time, even stay in bed while others helped with the care of my son.
With all that being said, it can be extremely difficult to find time for all of the above when you have to leave the house and show up at work each day. I would say, prioritize the things you can while having to show up at work. Use a lunch break or right after work to see a therapist or just take a walk and get some fresh air. Have an open-mind when it comes to medication. If pumping at the office so you can breastfeed at home is taking its toll, consider all the options before making yourself crazy about it.
If there is a way to have extra help initially for the hours when you get home from work because you are exhausted and need that time to fall apart, put that in place.
And most importantly, be gentle with yourself and know that this is temporary with treatment and doesn’t make you weak in any way.
TRP: What are you most proud of?
JS: I’m extremely proud of the woman I have become as a result of surviving postpartum depression, because I fought my ass off to become her. I wouldn’t trade my experience. I’m a stronger, better mom for it and I truly believe I got postpartum depression for a reason because fighting and winning my battle with PPD led me to this space where I get to use my voice and strength to make a difference and help other moms so they don’t have to suffer in silence or alone.
I’m also very proud of the MOTHERHOOD-UNDERSTOOD community. These moms are so supportive of each other. They jump in to comment and let each other know they get it. And we have had very few instances of mom shaming.
TRP: Anything else you'd like to share?
JS: We need to do a better job of taking care of moms and the work place is no exception. When a woman becomes a mom, everyone wants to gush over the new baby and make sure the new baby is healthy and well-fed and sleeping. Why isn’t anyone asking if mom is healthy and well-fed and sleeping? It’s unfortunate that a woman is often viewed as weak or emotional when returning to work after a baby. Um, SHE JUST HAD A BABY. Her body literally produced life and now she is showing up to work every day. She is a strong, bad-ass and deserves to be seen and treated as one, even if she takes extra sick days to take care of her mental health. Even if she has to leave early to meet her therapist. Even if she works from home one day a week.
And to any woman struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety, you are not alone. You did nothing wrong. You are not a bad mom. You are not a failure. You have an illness that is temporary with treatment. Be kind to yourself. Ask for help. Say yes when it is offered. And please look for a therapist. It MUST be someone who specializes in postpartum mood disorders. If you don’t know where to start, check out the local resources by city at Postpartum Support International.