Maternal Mental Health

Today marks the first day, of four long work days in a row, afte four days away from work.  

I’m suprised at how my unhappiness at work manifests itself.  After five weeks here it’s more of a chonic pain than an acute injury.  Just as with physical pain, the chronic can be worse than the acute.  Chronic pain is insidious; one becomes used to the constant ache and forgets that there is a better way to live at all.  The general vibe from my fellow lactation conultants here could be summed up as “tired and beaten down”.  I haven’t had more than two days off in a row since I started working here and I don’t think I fully appreciated how toxic the enviornment is until I had a significant amount of time away from it.  

On Monday I had the pleasure of going to a seminar day on breastfeeding and maternal mental health.  I am a total lactation nerd and I was happy to take one of my off days and devote it to learning about such things as postpartum OCD and breastfeeding compatible medications.  One of the talks was given by a woman who consults for neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) on the issue of infant mental health, and by extenstion, parental mental health.  One of the themes of her talk was that the NICU staff needed to be mentally healthy in order to facilitate the mental health of their pateints and their parents.  She went so far as to say that the two mental states, of caregiver and patient, were inexorably linked. She made compelling, reserach based arguements that healthcare systems need to treat their empplyees well and make sure they were satisfied on the job and that doing so had a direct impact in the metal health of their patients.  

I felt like she was speaking to me.  I see nurses not picking up crying babies in the nursery; not because those nurses are terrible unfeeling monsters, but because they are completely desenstized to the crying.  I work with several lactation consultants (my manager included) who consider a “good” consult one where they didn’t observe a breastfeeding session because “that just takes too much time”.  I see my manager focusing on how many patients per hour we see rather than on the quality and effectiveness of the care that we provide.  Now, I am a “get it done”, “don’t take no for an answer”, “fight the patriarchy” kind of girl.  I thrive on a challenge.  But at 38 years old I know what a brick wall looks like and I am up against one.  I am going to give myself a concussion, or worse, beating my head against this one.  I’m already feeling the effects.  I’m having trouble sleeping on the nights before work.  I hold in my emotions all day at work and themn I snappish and on the verge of tears all evening.  I feel like my brain is rotting away doint he same thing over and over again

Something else happened on Monday too.  The seminar finished early enough that I was able to catch the last half of Middle’s three hour gymnastics practice.  While I was watching she leanded a perfect roundoff back handspring on the floor (without mats) on her first try.  The first thing she did after throwing her hands up in the air in a gymnast’s salute was to look up and search the faces above for one of her parents.  I was there to smile back and her and give her two thumbs up.  She was even more delighted when later that evening I showed her that I had caught a video of her new skills.  “I’m so glad you were there Mama!”  It felt amazing to see her reach a goal she had worked for months to attain.  And then later that night I felt the crushing weight of the knowledge that I normally wouldn’t have been there to see it but for a quirk of my schedule that week.  

I want to work.  I love what I do and I am damn good at it.   But I can’t go and take care of other mothers and babies and then not be around to mother my own.   It feels terribly selfish to say “I’m not happy at work”  when I really have a safe job with good pay and great benefits.  And yet…I’m really not happy at work.  Just because I’m prividlged to have this job, doesn’t make it a good one.  Maternal mental health doesn’t just refere to my patients; it needs to refer to me too.

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