Whilst motherhood is a beautiful journey there can be a lack of discussion towards some of the complications one may face during both pregnancy and postpartum. Subjects that are still treated as a taboo include postpartum depression and anxiety, despite the fact that up to 1 in 5 women may experience a perinatal mental health related condition during pregnancy or postpartum. Alongside this 70% of women who are affected by perinatal mood and anxiety disorders may hide or downplay their illness. With the first week of May marking Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week here at Merci Maman we have decided to place a spotlight on the lovely Chelsea Stivers to hear about her journey to motherhood. As well as her experience in finding treatment for her PMADS.
Chelsea Stivers, who you may know as @thebalanceafterbaby on instagram, is a soon to be mother of two. A well accomplished academic Chelsea holds a Masters of Science in Occupational Therapy along side an A.A. and B.S. in psychology (and a cosmetology license!) Following improper support and treatment for her postpartum depression and anxiety, Chelsea started The Balance After Baby. A platform that aims to provide women with balance between their mind and body after giving birth, and into motherhood. Keep reading to find out more about Chelsea’s struggle with maternal mental health and her mission with The Balance After Baby.
Our Maternal Mental Health Interview With Chelsea
Can you please introduce yourself?
My name is Chelsea Stivers and I’m the creator and founder of The Balance After Baby. I’m currently living in the Seattle area with my husband, son, and soon to be baby daughter, who’s due this July! I have just graduated with my master of science in occupational therapy. For the past year I’ve been focusing my energy on maternal mental health, postpartum care, and new motherhood. I have also launched a positivity and self care brand, Brigid, and love what I get to do with that! There’s nothing quite like seeing moms truly thrive. I live for it.
Can you let us know a little about your motherhood journey?
I had a bit of a rocky start into my own motherhood journey. My pregnancy with my son was pretty uneventful (and dare I say easy?). Postpartum hit me HARD. It’s the first time I was really forced to slow down in my entire life and I did not adjust well. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety at 5 months postpartum and was treated up until around 2 years postpartum. Being over 3 years postpartum now and pregnant with my second (something I never imagined I would do again pre-treatment), I feel more confident everyday in my mothering abilities.
I think like much of life, motherhood is such an ebb and flow. You’re constantly adapting and learning and it’s the most humbling experience. No one is truly a “master” of motherhood… but I do finally know that I am the perfect mother for MY children. And that makes me joyful.
What inspired you to start your Instagram account @thebalanceafterbaby
Honestly, I was pretty angry with the lack of support and education regarding postpartum care and maternal mental health when I was struggling to figure out what was going on with me. I was an educated, very in-the-know type of pregnant person. I was working in the healthcare field. And I had my Bachelors in psychology. As well as having to take medical pre-requisites for my Master degree. And I STILL had no idea how to get help when I was struggling mentally after having my son.
We prepare and educate so much for pregnancy and the baby’s birth but are literally left with ONE postpartum check up. And it’s often a very quick check in like “okay your stitches look fine, you can exercise again.. see you in a year for your normal exam!” It’s pretty absurd and disheartening that we have virtually no postpartum care in our country (the US), and we still face immense stigma when mothers are struggling mentally. So I really just wanted to start my page as a place for education, support, and connection.
As soon as I started speaking my story out loud, I was flooded with messages from women saying they were going through the same thing but never got help or were ignored. There’s no reason for it. There are real and serious consequences from PMAD that go unreported, undiagnosed, and untreated. We need to change that.
Were you aware you were suffering from your own mental health after giving birth?
I knew that I wasn’t “myself” but I just thought this was what motherhood was for me. I thought I would feel that way forever. Or that I was biologically flawed or didn’t deserve to be a mother. I reached my very bottom when I told my husband that him and my son would be better off without me in their lives and that they deserved someone better. My husband urged me to speak to someone and I did shortly after that.
Although, the only way I knew how was to ask for a pap smear/annual exam at 5 months postpartum and then bashfully bring up the topic of PPD once there. Now I know that I am my biggest advocate and I should never be ashamed to just say “I need help”. I started seeing a maternal mental health specialist after that and was under her care for almost 2 years.
Do you think there is a stigma around maternal mental health?
Absolutely. I think in some ways, we’ve come a long way with breaking this stigma. I mean not too long ago, women were institutionalised or separated from their babies for having a PMAD. Not saying that doesn’t still happen in some cases, but largely I think we’ve started to understand how to recognise and treat Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders at a clinical level.
However, on the other side… we have SO much access to information now and we get bombarded by images and people have direct access to us at all times that I think it exacerbates stressors that can contribute to Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. I hope we can find a balance of having access to information and resources we need while also being able to maintain boundaries and protect ourselves from those stressors.
What support systems were in place for you?
My husband was the first person to really pull me aside and say “hey, I’m here for you. Let’s figure out what’s going on together.” Without him, I’m not sure what would’ve happened, honestly. Everyone, friends and family-wise, has been supportive as well but I also have lived far away from most of my friends or family for a while which really impacted my Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety.
I was able to find a babysitter to give me a few hours a week of alone time which really helped but that’s a luxury and privilege that I recognise not everyone has. I also was going to a therapist and I saw a maternal mental health specialist (psychiatrist). It’s so crucial to find care providers that are trained in maternal mental health if possible, in my opinion. It makes a world of difference to have an objective ear and voice in your care.
We see you are expecting baby number 2! Congratulations. How are you feeling about your second pregnancy?
Thank you! Yes I’m due with #2 in July (a girl)! I wasn’t ready to discuss or even think about having another baby until I was about 2 years postpartum. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go through a postpartum period again. After going through treatment, I started feeling okay with approaching the topic and that feeling got stronger.
The fear I had surrounding having another really went away and I started feeling like it was the right choice for us collectively as a family and for me individually. I don’t think anyone should ever feel pressure to have a second child just because society tells us that’s what a “complete” family looks like. And the decision to have a subsequent pregnancy after experiencing a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders is just a much heavier decision for so many of us. Everyone deserves the peace and space to make that decision for themselves and I had that (which I’m thankful for). Overall, I’m really excited to meet my baby girl and I have a postpartum plan in place with plenty of open communication
We want to massively thank Chelsea for sharing her journey with us.
Below we have linked some useful websites that may aid those who are currently struggling with maternal mental health.
As always, feel free to share your journey with us over on our social media.