Mother's Day can be hard for those who have pregnancy difficulties

Mother’s Day is a happy holiday for many families each year. But it also might be a difficult day for others.

People with pregnancy-related complications like fertility problems, miscarriages, or a peripartum mood or anxiety disorder like postpartum depression may have a hard time navigating the holiday.

“Mother’s Day can be difficult for anyone who has not had a traditional course to motherhood,” says Priya Gopalan, MD, medical director, Psychiatry Consultation-Liaison Services, UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, and chief, Psychiatry, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. “And I think if you factor in people who’ve had multiple losses or miscarriages, Mother’s Day can be a pretty bittersweet holiday.”

It can also pose challenges for members of the LGBTQ+ community who may feel excluded.

If you are having trouble with Mother’s Day, you are not alone. And there are options for you to seek help if you need it.

Pregnancy Complications and Mental Health

Several pregnancy-related complications can cause mental health burdens. Those emotional challenges may become even harder to handle around holidays like Mother’s Day.

Fertility problems

In the United States, about 12% to 15% of couples struggle with infertility — an inability to conceive after a year of unprotected sex.

Couples with fertility challenges are at risk for depression, anxiety, and other mental health burdens.

A 2021 Fertility Research and Access analysis found infertile women had higher rates of depression than the general population. Studies have shown that the rates of depression and anxiety in couples with fertility problems can be as high as 60%.

“This is a group of people who are already struggling,” Dr. Gopalan says. “Then you throw in a holiday that just celebrates motherhood, which might not be an easy kind of achievement for a lot of people. I think that makes it much, much harder and could even be traumatizing for some individuals.”

Postpartum depression and anxiety

Many women experience postpartum depression and/or anxiety after giving birth. These conditions can cause sadness, loneliness, emptiness, worry, and dread for an extended period after a child’s birth. Women may have trouble connecting with their newborns or their families.

Postpartum depression and anxiety are more intense and may affect your ability to do day-to-day activities.

About 1 in 7 women experiences postpartum depression. Some studies have reported even higher rates of postpartum anxiety. It’s possible to experience one or the other, or both at the same time.

Dr. Gopalan says a holiday like Mother’s Day could be tough for women with postpartum depression and/or anxiety.

“When someone experiences postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, their transition to parenthood might be a little bit different than someone who doesn’t have a postpartum mental health condition,” she says. “So, they may not feel that immediate bonding with their baby that other parents do. That can be really, really hard for people because they feel a societal burden of shame and guilt.”

If these feelings don’t go away after a few days up to a week, new parents can seek support. Read more about treatment for postpartum depression and anxiety and how UPMC can help.

Pregnancy losses

A miscarriage, stillbirth, or other pregnancy loss is a traumatic experience that can have long-lasting effects. A miscarriage occurs when a baby is lost before 20 weeks of pregnancy. A stillbirth happens when a baby is lost at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later.

About 10% to 15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, while about 1 in 160 pregnancies end in stillbirth in the United States. Also, about 24,000 babies die within the first year of their birth, according to the CDC.

Women who have any kind of pregnancy loss are at risk of depression, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A holiday like Mother’s Day could remind them of their loss and bring forward feelings of grief.

NICU parents

If your child is born pre-term or is ill at birth, they may end up in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Between 10% and 15% of babies end up in the NICU after birth.

According to the Journal of Perinatology, about 40% to 50% of parents with babies in the NICU “experience clinically significant levels of depression, anxiety, and trauma.” Other studies say up to 60%. Dr. Gopalan says they experience higher levels of postpartum depression and anxiety as well.

“There may even be shame, resentment, guilt, or other complicated emotions around celebrating motherhood or parenthood when they didn’t get to have that typical newborn experience with their baby,” Dr. Gopalan says.

Understanding these challenges can help us to be mindful of the complex emotions around having medically ill newborns — especially around Mother’s Day.

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LGBTQ+ Community and Mother’s Day

Members of the LGBTQ+ community may find Mother’s Day to be a difficult holiday for a number of reasons.

Even though LGBTQ+ people are increasingly accepted in society, many may have been rejected by their families of origin. Many create a “chosen family” to create a community lost with the loss of their biological family.

Holidays that celebrate the nuclear family can be alienating, as they emphasize the importance of the nuclear family and de-emphasize the importance of less traditional family units that are nurturing and life-sustaining for their members.

“Transgender and gender-nonconforming people may find Mother’s Day difficult due to either being inappropriately included or excluded from the concept of motherhood,” says Morgan Faeder, MD, PhD, psychiatrist, UPMC.

Navigating Mother’s Day Mental Health

If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental health challenges on or around Mother’s Day, you’re not alone. There are ways to get help.

An important first step is recognizing your feelings and validating them, Dr. Gopalan says.

“You’ve gone through this incredible loss, you’re grieving, and then you have this holiday that’s celebrating the thing that you’re aspiring to,” Dr. Gopalan says. “So, I think the first piece of advice would really just be to allow yourself to grieve and to know that it’s not wrong to feel that way. There’s no right or wrong for experiencing emotion.”

Beyond that, Dr. Gopalan says, it’s important to recognize signs and symptoms that you may need to seek treatment.

You should seek help if:

  • Your feelings are making it hard to navigate day-to-day life.
  • You’re experiencing changes in sleep, diet, or other everyday patterns.
  • You’re feeling disconnected from your loved ones.
  • You’ve lost motivation, energy, or interest in activities.
  • You’re experiencing long-lasting signs of depression or anxiety (racing thoughts, hopelessness, emptiness, dread, etc.).
  • You’re having thoughts of harming yourself or others. Suicidal thoughts are an emergency, and you should seek care in an emergency setting.

Treatment for Mental Health Challenges

If you do need to get treatment, there are several options available for you.

Often, the first treatment is talk therapy. Talking to a licensed professional about what you’re feeling can help with your symptoms. Dr. Gopalan says rapport with your therapist is important, and there are many ways you can find the right one for you.

Antidepressant medications can treat anxiety, depression, emotional trauma, and more.

Between therapy, medication, or a combination of both, Dr. Gopalan says many people who seek treatment are able to get the help they need. But it’s important to seek that help and not bury your feelings.

How Can I Be Sensitive to Someone Having Problems?

If you are a family member, friend, or acquaintance of someone who is having trouble around Mother’s Day, you can take steps to make things easier for them.

  • Recognize their feelings. Sometimes, people may try to hide what they’re feeling, or they may feel that it’s private. But if you see signs that they may be having a hard time, acknowledge their feelings. Don’t brush the situation under the rug.
  • Validate their feelings. Help them understand that they’re not alone and that they shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed if they’re having problems.
  • Ask them if they want to talk. If you see that they’re struggling, offer to be a friendly ear for their problems. Or recommend that they talk to a licensed professional who can help them.
  • Be inclusive. Mother’s Day may be thought of as a gendered holiday, but it’s important to be sensitive to transgender, gender-diverse, or other members of the LGBTQ+ community — especially if you’re doing something in a large group.
  • Normalize seeking help as being a point of strength. Many may view seeking help for mental health as a sign of weakness. Normalizing therapy and medication management can help people who are struggling.

Although Mother’s Day can be a difficult holiday if you’ve had pregnancy complications, help is available if you need it. At UPMC, we offer world-class women’s care from a team of experts. Visit our website to find a provider near you.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

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About UPMC Magee-Womens

Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.

Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.