Jackie Schoemaker Holmes never thought she would get married and have children. As an academic, she was focused on her graduate studies in gender and sexuality at the University of British Colombia, and having a family just wasn’t on her radar.
However, in 2014 she had met her partner and they decided to embark on the adventure of having a family. Jackie says her pregnancy was great. Even though she had struggled with anxiety and depression in the past, she wasn’t really worried about how she would cope once her baby arrived. Motherhood was supposed to be this magical thing, another life adventure to be savoured and cherished.
The difficulty started when her birth didn’t go as planned. This seemed to send her into a tailspin of anxiety and depression which she just couldn’t seem to shake. “I tried to take her to an early-years centre, and left in tears,” she remembers.
Jackie was also finding breastfeeding very difficult, which was contributing to feeling that she was failing as a mother. “Women have been doing this for thousands of years,” she told herself. “You should be able to too.”
Two weeks after having her daughter, Jackie told her counsellor (who she had kept in touch with from her days at UBC) how she was feeling. Her counsellor told her that feeling overwhelmed and teary was just a part of being a new mom. It would get better. At the six-week mark, Jackie still wasn’t feeling any better. She had heard about postpartum depression, but she had always thought it meant that suffering new mothers wanted to hurt their babies. Jackie didn’t want to hurt her daughter, but she also didn’t have the overwhelming love and adoration towards her that she had expected to feel.
When Jackie went back to her counsellor and told her how she was feeling, she was diagnosed immediately with postpartum depression. “I was insanely relieved,” she remembers. “There was a reason I was feeling like this.”
She sought out the help of her family doctor, and got a local counsellor to help her deal with her depression, anxiety and, ultimately, the adjustment into motherhood. She was put on medication, which she had hoped would stop her from breastfeeding, giving her an excuse to stop forcing herself to do something that was making her feel horrible. When she was told it wasn’t an issue, she had to come to the difficult conclusion that she had to stop trying for her own mental health. “There is a lot of unfortunate moralising around it,” Jackie says. “In my experience, every mother is doing the absolute best she can for her children.”
With a lot of support, work, and professional help, Jackie was able to learn to manage her postpartum depression. Her experience has inspired her to try and help other moms who may be going through something similar. She realised that, even as someone who spent over a decade studying what it means to be a man, woman, and mother in graduate school, she still wasn’t able to escape the insane societal pressure that is placed on mothers. “Even knowing these things on an intellectual level did not inoculate me from the unrealistic expectation that is put on mothers,” she says. “It wasn’t until I lived motherhood that I found it to be overwhelming.”
Jackie wants to eradicate all the shame that surrounds sharing all aspects of motherhood. The good, the bad and the ugly. “It’s as though speaking about the experience of motherhood being difficult reflects on how much you love your children,” she says. “It makes no sense.”
In 2017, she created the blog “Eating Her Young”, and also established the online support group Mummy Voices on Facebook which currently has over 1,000 members. She says she wanted to create a space online where mothers can give and receive support without any judgement. “The community is so important, because we normalize the reality of motherhood,” she says. “Different women experience different things, and that’s ok.”
Jackie encourages all new mothers who are struggling to reach out for support. “You are not alone,” she says. “You are not failing, not dysfunctional, and you are not a bad mom.”
Jackie’s future goals are to continue to support women and mothers, both online and in her community. “My whole purpose is to disrupt motherhood,” she says. “The trope of being a perfect mom.” She is also adamant that women are not being bad mothers if they have to put their health and needs above their children. “The fact that we are encouraged to put ourselves last is insane,” she says. “Motherhood is a part of our identities. Motherhood should not swallow us whole.”
For more information and to access support visit www.eatingheryoung.com, or find Mummy Voices on Facebook.