"Motherhood Was Nothing Like the Brochure." Advocate Tina Cartwright on Navigating Postpartum Depression

"Motherhood Was Nothing Like the Brochure." Advocate Tina Cartwright on Navigating Postpartum Depression

We feel each other's pain. We communicate “been there” with a hug. Being a woman is characterized by the shared experiences of what it means to inhabit bodies and navigate conditions that are still clouded with outdated taboos.

Our series But Really, How Are You? is dedicated to shining a light on these stories at the intersection of reproductive and mental health, from postpartum depression and fertility detours to the long fight for an endometriosis diagnosis. Our hope is to bring radical visibility to the struggles that, as women, inherently connect us—but so often go unsaid.

Today, we feature the words of Tina Cartwright, a mom, creative, and the founder of Rebranding Motherhood.

Postpartum depression snuck up on me. I adored being pregnant with my first daughter so much—I enjoyed all the beautiful changes that were happening to my body, mind, and life as the baby was growing inside of me. It felt like I was receiving magical superpowers all while growing this special gift that was just for our family. 

This all shifted after giving birth. I’ll never forget the confusion, emptiness, and visceral coldness. It was so stark; up until the delivery of my baby, I felt a connection and attachment with the baby growing in my womb. After the birth, I was experiencing a swirl of confusing emotions that differed completely from the sanitized imagery sold to me. I was under the impression that the birth of my child would be seamless and simple—that I would fall instantly in love with this new being. None of that happened for me. Instead, what I was left with was never-ending reconciliation between the sanitized imagery of motherhood and the reality of what motherhood felt like for me. It was nothing like the brochure… and this disconnection led me deeper into a feeling of isolation. 

It came to a head when this isolation began taking the last bits of my personality. My world felt like an alternative universe: I was not able to find any joy in the things I once loved, I was overwhelmed with emotions I couldn't understand, and I was feeling a darkness of emotions that were taking over my thoughts. This, along with almost crippling anxiety—constantly worrying if my baby was okay—was a truly tumultuous storm that took over my world. 

I thought I should be able to self-treat this situation. I’ll never forget the nagging thought that “I should be able to figure this out on my own.” Society says motherhood is easy… so I must be ‘doing it wrong!' It was that moment that gave way to the realization that my PMAD (postpartum mood and anxiety disorder) was being exacerbated by the sanitized imagery that haunts all mothers in America. This imagery tricks us into believing that motherhood is easy, uniform—that motherhood doesn’t require support and resources, and that motherhood doesn’t entail a transformation of your world as you know it! It was that belief system that convinced me that if I admitted to having this (a PMAD) I was a bad mom and the world would never forgive me for that. 

Luckily for me, right around this time, my husband came to me with support and asked me if I thought I might be experiencing a PMAD. I had one of those one-of-a-kind OB/GYNs who made sure to educate my husband on postpartum depression at each of my third trimester appointments. My doctor told him what it might look like, how to spot it, and what he could do to support and help me if need be. My amazing husband did all those things, and luckily, I was ready to receive that support and began a treatment plan immediately after. 

For a long time, I dealt with so much shame feeling like my PMAD was a declaration of my 'self' that would always define me. But it's actually this super common thing that many new mothers and birthing people experience. In the US, 1 in 5 new and expecting mothers experience a PMAD. For so many mothers in the world, motherhood is not easy. For many, it can be filled with isolation layered with a deep desperation for a safe, supportive community. 

Through this experience, I learned that raising a child required comprehensive support. Motherhood unlocks real magic in each mother, but only if she’s able to receive real support and care throughout her postpartum journey. I know that for me, my personal lack of support and knowledge of motherhood left me crippled with postpartum depression after the birth of both of my daughters. As I worked to shift through the dark storm that is PPD, I began a process of finding my own survival system. I began to slowly gather a strong team comprised of a dietician, acupuncturist, an OB/GYN clinician, a mental health therapist, a pediatric nurse, Pelvic Floor Therapist, some chill mom friends, and a plethora of other resources. Once my TEAM of support was assembled, it became clear to me what a tremendous and essential role ‘active support’ plays for mothers throughout motherhood.

The best thing we can do to individually support women’s health and well being (specifically mothers) is to check in on them, often and consistently. It's wild how often a birthing person is checked on while pregnant… and then all of sudden, we have to wait six weeks until our formal postpartum check up. Mothers need to be asked if they are okay, reminded that they are doing a great job, and then offered unconditional support to empower them to prioritize their mental health. It’s time to plant a new truth in our society; it's time to internalize that raising a child was never meant to be done alone—rather with a matrix of support. 

The greatest breakthrough I experienced as a PMAD survivor is knowing PMAD’s are treatable. Knowing that it's treatable hopefully gives people some motivation to build and create their own treatment plan—versus remaining stuck in this mindset of hoping it will just go away on its own. Getting on the other side of postpartum depression (now twice!) illuminated the importance of unconditional self-compassion, combined with a deep self care practice, as important ingredients to maintain balance throughout motherhood. It taught me that I am not forced to accept any narrative that does not serve me. I am in control of defining my own self-worth as a parent—not society. I have learned to empower myself to define what a healthy version of motherhood looks like for me. I think it's so important to reinforce that motherhood is different for all mothers. There is no one way to be a mother! In fact, there are infinite ways to be an awesome mother. 

For me, sharing my story has been monumental to healing my own traumas; sharing my story forever binds me to the strength and growth that I am continually yielding from motherhood. Sharing one's truth can be freeing and transformative. The world is finally waking up to the fact that mothers are in need of real support—and newsflash: we still don't have it! My own healing started with rebranding motherhood for myself. Then I knew I had to do the same for every other mother/birthing person out there if I had any chance of making a sizable difference for the future world my daughters may become mothers in.

Learn more about caring for your mental health during the postpartum period with these doctor-backed tips.