MOTHERHOOD | UNDERSTOOD
This feature will highlight mamas, sites, brands, and communities, that are working to promote a vision of motherhood that sees and portrays mothers as real human beings, versus idealized concepts. These posts will showcase the brave ones who do not shy away from exploring the “unfiltered” sides of women — the parts that rage, that hurt, that lust, that are broken, and that are always shifting and changing.
Motherhood Understood (M | U) — is one of the few sites and communities that devotes itself to a darker side of what it can sometimes mean to be a mother — i.e. the experience of postpartum depression (PPD) and mood disorders. Jen Schwartz — the founder of (M | U) — and I, share a passion for tearing down the stigmas that surround “imperfect motherhood” and in helping mothers heal through sharing stories. I love how Jen encourages her readers to lay everything bare about their PPD experiences, without shame. Since we are so aligned in our missions, it felt like a great fit to have Jen, and the story behind her community — Motherhood Understood — kick off this series for NSFMG.
How would you describe Motherhood Understood (M | U), in a nutshell?
MOTHERHOOD | UNDERSTOOD (M | U) is a platform and community that speaks to the 20% of new moms struggling with mental health issues — serious stuff, like postpartum depression (PPD), and anxiety. As the founder, and also a PPD survivor myself, I’m committed to taking maternal mental health taboos public. I’m also on a mission to help brands learn to speak to those moms who don’t share in the typical, idyllic versions of motherhood that are generally portrayed in ad campaigns aimed at parents. I believe that moms — especially those who struggle emotionally — want connection. Moms want to feel seen and understood more than anything and that’s not happening enough for moms affected by mental health issues.
How does Motherhood Understood not “play it safe”?
M | U is focused on an area of motherhood (maternal mental health) that is much less pretty and much less popular than the typical mom blogger or influencer shares. We aren’t really concerned with what your kids are doing and we aren’t a lifestyle brand. We are 100% mom-centric. We unmask the uglier sides of motherhood, but we do it in a way that feels authentic, relatable, and we have a sense of humor about it. We focus on how a mom feels; not how she parents. There are so many resources and tools to help moms parent, but not a ton that deal with the feelings that come with being a mom. These feelings can be dark and scary. M | U isn’t afraid to go there and tell you: “No, motherhood isn’t always the best thing that’s happened to me,” or, “I didn’t like my baby until he was 6 months old.” We’ll openly admit that we take antidepressants to help us function as a good mom. Nothing is off limits because we want moms to be able to speak their truth without being scared of being judged or shamed.
What led you to create Motherhood Understood?
After surviving postpartum depression, I launched a blog called, “The Medicated Mommy.” I wanted to share the raw and intimate details of my story — every detail, from getting home from the hospital and knowing something was very wrong, to how I got better, and every feeling I had along the way. After sharing my story and writing for other online publications about PPD, and hearing so many similar stories in return, I wanted to go bigger. I realized that what all moms really crave at the end of the day is to be understood and so I decided to create a platform and community around maternal mental health, to fulfill what I saw was an unmet need. I wanted there to be a community for the 1 in 5 new moms who develops PPD (which is close to a million moms a year, by the way) to feel connection, to feel less alone, and to feel understood. I wanted there to be a platform where I could advocate for these moms to feel understood not just by me, but by everyone in the mommy-sphere. That includes medical professionals, parenting brands, media, and other mom bloggers and influencers. And I wanted there to be a place that keeps talking to and advocating for these moms because mental health doesn’t just magically become a non-issue when you “get better” from the PPD.
How would you describe the community you’ve built? Who are the women of M | U?
It’s like this big, virtual mom village where the fact that we are moms connects us and is enough to lift each other up, regardless of our individual parenting choices. And many of our moms don’t have an “in-person” village, so it’s really incredible to be able to provide that. Our community is made up of a group of supportive, empathetic warrior moms. I say “supportive” because we have had almost no instances of mom shaming since launch and I am so proud of that. I say, “empathetic” because whenever a mom shares her story, or I share something vulnerable, or I post a quote about a scary mom feeling, these women rush to like and comment.
What are some of the biggest issues/topics that your community feels are not being “understood” about them?
The lack of education and awareness women get during their pregnancy and the lack of care and attention women receive once they become mothers. We are one of the few cultures that don’t care for the mother. So many moms wish someone had talked to them about their mental health before the baby arrived. There is also a lack of discussion about the necessity of having a mom tribe as a place to go that understands you and the idea that making your mental health and happiness a priority is not selfish and is one of the best ways to be a mom to your child. We shouldn’t judge mothers for this. We should celebrate them.
Are there any PPD stories in particular that have stuck with you, that you can’t shake?
When I first launched, I received a story from a mom that left me sobbing while I was strolling the aisles at Target. It wasn’t that she just suffered from PPD. She suffered from loneliness and isolation. She talked about how she didn’t have anyone to buy her a cup of coffee or ask her how she was feeling. She had no idea who she was anymore. She would watch other moms hang out, laughing with their babies in tow at Starbucks, and she envied that connection more than anything. I just wanted to wrap her in a huge hug. And when I shared her story on Instagram, something amazing happened: Hundreds of moms commented, offering to be her friend and buy her a coffee. It was so inspiring to see just how many supportive, empathetic, non-judgmental moms really are out there.
Agree or disagree: Did you create the community that YOU needed?
I never really thought of it that way, but the answer is, I absolutely agree. When I had postpartum depression, I craved raw, intimate stories from other moms who were struggling too, or who struggled and got better. I didn’t know anyone personally who had PPD, or who had had a baby and quickly needed to start taking antidepressants and seeing a therapist. I decided to create this platform and community so no other mom would ever have to feel alone, confused, and like the failure that I did. I wanted moms to know how common postpartum depression was and how to reach out for the help it takes to get better. If I could take every mom suffering, have her over my house and take her pain away, I would. M | U is my way of doing that. I always thought of it as a space I created for other moms, but it is definitely what I was looking for all along. And, I have connected with and collaborated with so many incredible moms in this space as a result. I guess I did build myself my own virtual village in the process!
Do you feel like the landscape is changing, in terms of how we perceive motherhood, or is it still culturally seen through a filtered, rosy lens?
Yes, and no. There are so many more moms sharing their personal stories of struggle than five years ago when I was sick. There are tons of publications giving moms the forum to do so and the fact that influencers dealing with taboo topics like postpartum depression, infertility, and miscarriage have thousands of followers proves that there has been positive change. With that being said, there are still plenty of curated motherhood images that give women an unrealistic expectation about what it’s like to be a mom and that sets every new mom up to feel like a failure when she can’t meet them. I still follow plenty of women who post these images but it would be nice to see some images of struggle and imperfection. Also, maternal mental health is still not part of mainstream culture, and it should be. We need more women in books, on TV and in film portraying moms who have PPD and when they do, we need to name it what it is and not just label these mom struggles on normal baby blues, exhaustion, and overwhelm. The other missing piece is that brands are not incorporating the subject of maternal mental health into their campaigns and that needs to change. When was the last time you saw a Pampers commercial showing a new mom going to her first therapy appointment or a Dove ad showing a mom picking up her prescription for antidepressants while buying Dove baby products?
Who are some other sites/communities/brands that you admire?
I have a thing for empowered women wanting to empower other women, because I don’t think that happens enough and we need each other. Campowerment is a brand that plans sleepaway camp retreats for adult women and has really changed my life, and showed me the power of women supporting women. It’s this ever-growing tribe of women who just want to help you succeed and be the best version of yourself. I also admire and am grateful to places such as Maven, Hello My Tribe, Fertile Girl, I Had A Miscarriage, The Perfect Mom, Mom Culture, Well-Rounded NY, and of course, Not Safe for Mom Group (just to name a few). These sites are actually rebranding the experience of motherhood and empowering moms to be more authentic about their lives and struggles — all the while making them feel part of a tribe that understands them.
Jen Schwartz is the creator of The Medicated Mommy Blog and Founder of MOTHERHOOD | UNDERSTOOD. Jen is a published author, speaker, thought-leader, and contributor at the TODAY Parenting Team, Pop Sugar Moms, Motherlucker, The Mighty, Thrive Global, Suburban Misfit Mom, and Mogul. She has been featured on top websites, such as; Scary Mommy, CafeMom, HuffPost Parents, Hello Giggles, and more. Always a New Yorker first; she lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband Jason; her tiny human, Mason; and her dog, Harry Potter.