Photography by Meghan Rowe
By Savannah Crocker
Maria White says she had a pretty easy pregnancy, but soon after giving birth to her son, she realized something wasn’t right – she wasn’t sure what.
With the help and support of her husband, she sought help and was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety as well as postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder, which eventually led to depression.
“It was pretty terrifying; it was definitely the darkest point in my life,” says Maria, “but I was very fortunate to have the care and help to come out of it.”
Maria says she did not hear much about the possible aftermath of childbirth from doctors or her friends.
“Nobody talked to me about [maternal mental health] during any of my appointments leading up to giving birth, so I wasn’t prepared for it,” Maria says.
Maria is one of many mothers who experience maternal mental health issues, but many women don’t speak out about it due to fear of judgment. According to Postpartum Support International, it is estimated that about 15-21% of mothers experience perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. A common misconception is that maternal mental health is only postpartum depression, but mental health struggles can manifest in many different ways.
Maria overcame postpartum anxiety with help from a positive support group and resources from her community. She realized she wasn’t alone.
Now, she is paving the way toward an open conversation surrounding the subject. Maria speaks about her experiences and helps to raise awareness for survivors and connect them to resources like Postpartum Support Charleston.
“I began to be very curious about the topic of maternal mental health, and I started to ask questions and began diving deeper into what is going on, why I got it, and if I could get it again,” says Maria.
When her daughter was born two years after her son, Maria realized she was not suffering from the same perinatal anxiety and OCD that she had with her first child, but her interest in the topic continued to grow.
“I started to become angry because there was such a stigma around the conversation,” Maria says. “I was frustrated to realize many women don’t want to talk about it due to the fear of their children being taken away, being ostracized or judgment from others about being an unfit mother.”
She realized that the more she spoke out about her experience, the more courageous she became and the more other mothers dealing with similar situations would reach out to her and share their own stories.
“I just started to post more about it, sharing any research that came my way and getting involved with local nonprofits to volunteer,” says Maria, who is a potter and filmmaker. “I started filming a documentary about maternal mental health during my third trimester with my daughter, and interviewed survivors, psychiatrists, obstetricians, anyone that I could find so I could learn more about what’s being done to help moms.”
When Maria attended a conference in Atlanta about maternal mental health, she met Elaine DeaKyne, the executive director of Postpartum Support Charleston. Maria began to volunteer with PPSC and was asked to join the board.
Postpartum Support Charleston offers free support through its Moving Into Motherhood online support community, in-person support groups as well as access to Mom Mentors who are trained as peer supporters to moms in the community. In 2019, it is estimated that as many as 2,000 moms will suffer from postpartum depression and anxiety in the Charleston tricounty area. Postpartum Support Charleston hopes to reach over 200 moms this year and have 12 trained Mom Mentors.
Maria was inspired by the work that the organization does for women in the community, so she founded the Mugs for Moms event, which was held in April. Mugs for Moms follows a similar format to Empty Bowls, an international campaign in which potters make bowls potters make bowls for fundraisers in an effort fight hunger in their own communities.
“I shared my idea of Mugs for Moms with Postpartum Support Charleston, and they loved it,” says Maria. “I fortunately had the help my fellow ceramic artists at Cone 10 Studios, colleagues, and former students to help create over 100 mugs for this event, and 100% of the proceeds go to benefit PPSC.”
The inaugural brunch event, which included a silent auction, raised more than $6,000. Postpartum Support Charleston hosts its Moms’ Run fundraiser at MUSC Health Stadium from 7 to 11 a.m. May 11.
Maria wants mothers dealing with maternal mental health issues to know that they aren’t bad mothers for struggling with perinatal disorders and that they deserve help in every way.
“Just remember that no one chooses this, and there is support for you out there,” Maria says. “My hope is that for my children, that if they become parents one day, there will no longer be stigma surrounding this and that everyone can get the help they need.”
If You Need Help:
If you think you might be feeling symptoms of perinatal mood disorders, please seek help. Visit ppdsupport.org/oneonone for more information about the different support systems that Postpartum Support Charleston offers. Call the hotline for Postpartum Support International at 800-944-4773. You are not alone.