In striking contrast to the happenings in the U.S. Congress, Kate Middleton, future queen of England, spoke these words at London’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists on the occasion of a launch of educational films dealing with maternal mental health:
Nothing can really prepare you for you the sheer overwhelming experience of what it means to become a mother, It is full of complex emotions of joy, exhaustion, love and worry all mixed together. Your fundamental identity changes overnight. You go from thinking of yourself as primarily an individual, to suddenly being a mother, first and foremost.
Her normalization of the struggles of this transition, heightened by absence of the kind of support she acknowledges she, unlike many mothers, has in abundance, provided exactly what is needed to decrease stigma and shame.
When after the House had to admit defeat and pull legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, it occurred to me that perhaps the late removal of 10 essential health benefits, including maternity and mental health care, done to appease the conservative Freedom Caucus, in fact, contributed to the final demise of the American Health Care Act.
Both maternity care and mental health care are exactly what we need in abundance to turn our country around. In his highly acclaimed book, Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance comes to the conclusion that the problems afflicting the communities who feel unheard and unrecognized, and so voted in large numbers for President Trump, have their roots in Adverse Childhood Experiences.
When parents feel heard and supported, they are available to be present with their children in a way that promotes healthy development, both physical and emotional. In contrast, when parents struggle- with things such as mental illness, substance abuse, marital conflict and domestic violence — it impacts upon their children’s growing bodies and brains in ways that have long-term negative consequences.
In my rural community in Western Massachusetts, we are bringing together clinicians who work with newborns and parents-including pediatricians, maternity nurses, early intervention specialists and home visitors- to insure that all babies and parents feel heard and supported from the moment of birth. An abundance of scientific evidence shows us that investment in the earliest days and weeks of life offers the greatest opportunity to promote development and prevent transmission of trauma to the next generation.
I recognize that the politics are complicated. However, the idea that perhaps members of Congress, all of whom have mothers, could not bring themselves to vote against mothers in such an explicit way gives me hope.
Perhaps we needed to come face-to-face with the importance of maternal and mental health care in a dramatic, high-profile, and potentially dangerous way. Now that we are here, I am hopeful that momentum will move us forward to address this issue in ways that are broad and far-reaching. Kate Middleton, and her program Heads Together, serves as an excellent model.
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