Mama of the Month: Jen Schwartz
Posted on May 01 2020
Q&A with Jen Schwartz,
Founder and CEO of Motherhood Understood
My son, Mason, 7 and fur baby Harry Potter, age 11
What are you currently working on?
This past month, we finished up some new guides that launched on our website. We call them “cheat sheets” and they break down the symptoms of the different perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, the different types of medications used to treat them, and how partners can support mom when she is suffering and it included what you should NEVER say to her. Right now, I’m working on a project that will provide easy-to-understand, accessible pregnancy and postpartum mental health education to women and their families. It’s a project I won a grant for and I had planned for it to go live around May 1st, but it will be slightly delayed due to Covid-19. I am so excited to introduce this necessary resource to the world. I am also in the process of creating a new service Motherhood Understood will offer where we work one-on-one with expecting moms and their partners to create a customized postpartum mental health plan. If you’re interested, feel free to sign up here to be notified when it launches. And lastly, we will be launching merchandise this year, which I am SO excited about.
* I should note that amid Covid-19, I’m also currently working on just getting out of bed each morning, being present, and feeling my feelings. Social-distancing and this “new normal” which is anything but normal has taken a toll on my mental health. It’s like a rollercoaster of ups and downs. Some days are good. Other days not so much. A lot of this has made me feel like I have postpartum depression all over again, especially as so much is unknown, out of my control, and feels like it will be this way forever. I wanted to say this in case anyone else feels like this and needs to know they are not alone.
Motherhood Understood was born from your personal experience with postpartum depression and anxiety. Can you tell us a little more about that and how this community was born and has grown alongside your own family?
Basically, I ended up building the community I was looking for and couldn’t find when I had postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth of my son. When I was pregnant, no one talked to me about pregnancy and postpartum mental health. No one educated or prepared me for the scary feelings I experienced. I thought becoming a mom was a fairy tale moment in a woman’s life. But my fairy tale involved going to therapy twice a week, taking antidepressants for the first time ever, and barely leaving the house for the first six months unless I was forced to. I thought I would rock breastfeeding and I quit after five days because it was taking too much of a toll on my mental health. I had no idea about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and as a result, I thought I was the only mom on the planet suffering. I didn’t know anyone personally who suffered with postpartum depression or anxiety and I didn’t see any moms on social media talking about it. When I started to educate myself about the maternal mental health statistics in our country and learned just how many other women suffered in silence, alone and ashamed like I did, I knew I had to help make it better for the moms who came after me. If I had been educated and known where to go for help, I would have felt less shame and less alone, gotten help sooner, gotten better faster, and would have missed less milestones in the first year of my son’s life and that’s what I wanted to for all new moms. When my son was two, I started blogging as “The Medicated Mommy” just to share my story. When I started sharing the raw, intimate details of my illness and recovery, I receives so many messages and stories form other women who went through or were going through similar experiences. I also realized that women didn’t have enough education and weren’t getting help because they had no idea where to find it. My blog grew into what you see today as Motherhood Understood, where it’s not just about me anymore, it’s about all women affected by pregnancy and postpartum mental health issues. It’s about their stories and providing the education, resources, support, and community that empower them to speak up and get help so they can get well and have the motherhood experience they deserve. Motherhood Understood is a little over two years old and I’m so proud of our community. Our moms are so honest and vulnerable and brave. They are so supportive of others, women who they have never met before. We have had so few instances of mom-shaming. And above all, I’m so grateful and humbled they trust me with their stories. They make me feel seen and understood too.
As a mom working from home, what do you use to help get you through your workday?
This might sound ridiculous, but I build in rest or nap time. I typically drop my son off at the bus, then go home, eat breakfast and start working. I’m trying to get into a routine where I work out after drop-off before coming home to work, I’ve just been so swamped with projects. I really try to lay down for at least an hour at some point before I go back and pick up my son at the bus around 3:30pm. Sometimes I nap and other times I just lie there in the quiet. It really helps me. I’m not my best self when I don’t get to rest or nap. I make sure I stay connected to my girlfriends too. Sometimes you need that connection to recharge when you’re home alone all day staring at a computer screen. I also take breaks when I start to feel burnt out or overwhelmed because I’m not productive in that space anyway. Once in a while I will go see a movie by myself during the day. This always helps me reset. And I have to women in my life I call my work wives (hi Alexis and Erin!). They are also entrepreneurs running platforms and communities for moms and we have a group text that is such a lifeline. Not only are we close friends and talk about mom and life stuff, but we run ideas by each other, get and give advice, share tips and resources and it’s been so helpful in this line of work. Just like motherhood, you can’t do this type of work in isolation. They have made me so much better and have really been instrumental in helping me up-level.
* I wrote the above before Covid-19 came into our lives. I wanted to leave my response because I think it’s important to remember how I functioned before. Obviously, all of the above has drastically changed as I am home all day with my son while my husband goes to work and I try to run my business and be a school principal, kindergarten teacher, art teacher, gym teacher, cook, guidance counselor, picker upper of all the toys, etc. The meaning of “workday” has completely changed right now. If I’m being completely honest, putting my son in front of the TV or iPad is what really gets me through the day. Same with the fact that my son has always been good at independent play because he is an only child. I am not the mom who likes to get on the floor and play. There is a lot less work getting done right now and also a lot less motivation because I’m so overwhelmed. I pretty much check out after I feed my son dinner and then let my husband take over when he gets home from work. Then it’s couch and Netflix time.
Every mother needs to find balance, what does your personal village look like?
It looks a lot different now that he is seven. When he was a baby, I had a night nurse for two months who basically sleep trained him. I think if it wasn’t for her, which allowed me to sleep at night, the postpartum depression and anxiety would have been even worse. Then we switched to a part-time nanny who we had until this year when he started kindergarten. Having that extra help made such a difference. It allowed me to be able to take care of my own mental health and needs while also taking care of my son. I also include my husband, our parents and siblings, and some really amazing girlfriends in my village. My husband is pretty good at sharing the load of parenting, as it should be. Our parents and siblings have always pitched in when it comes to babysitting and just spending quality time with our son. And I would be nowhere without my girlfriends who I can vent to, fall apart to, who offer to help when things are really rough, celebrate my wins, are my biggest cheerleaders, and put me in my place when I need to be put in my place.
* Right now, the village looks and feels different because we are so limited when it comes to real life human contact. I miss my sister and parents. I miss my in-laws. I don’t know when I will see them again. I miss getting a hug from a girlfriend. And I really miss being able to have a babysitter come to my house and I have several that I consider to be part of this village. I connect with my village right now over text, Zoom, Facetime, and Facebook Portal.
What are you working on improving about yourself as a woman and mother?
* This hasn’t changed since Covid-19, in fact it has only been amplified because I’m home all day with my son feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and a lack of emotional bandwidth - My presence and my patience. As a work from home mom who runs an online platform and community, I spend a lot of time on screens. I’m on social media, particularly on Instagram a lot. I answer tons of messages and reply to tons of comments daily, often giving advice to women who are suffering from a pregnancy or postpartum mental health illness and need help and don’t know where to get it. My son tells my I’m always on my phone and I really hate this. And it’s happening more during the global pandemic because we are home all day together. I don’t want that to be how he sees me. I’m really trying to remember that the hours I am with him during the day are short and I can absolutely be present fully in them. We have also started having a “one-song” dance party at night before he goes to bed and that has been awesome. It’s also really easy to lose patience. Sometimes I might be stressed or frustrated from something that has nothing to do with my son, but then he does something, or I have to repeat myself to him and I lose my cool, but it has nothing to do with him. I’m really working on taking a breath and staying calm because I don’t mean to direct my stress and frustration towards him. Also, the times I do start to raise my voice or lose my cool, it never helps. It always makes it worse. I’m getting better at it. Oh, and my sister and parents would be mad at me if I didn’t say I’m working on trying to be more connected and answer my phone more regularly. I think I’ve gotten much better at this since being quarantined at home and the phone and video chats our only means of connection right now and I miss them tons.
Learn more & follow along with Jen and Motherhood Understood:
Facebook: Motherhood Understood