Moms are sharing mental health challenges to change 'false narrative of motherhood' on social media

Four motherhood influencers weigh in.

May 29, 2024, 12:31 PM

Alexis Adegoke, a Dallas-based content creator and mother of three, says her first memories of motherhood centered around fear.

She gave birth to her son, Zion, in early 2020 while living in New York City. Already active on social media, as an influencer and model, she began sharing her motherhood journey during those early days.

"I was just sharing my journey, and what I was going through as a first-time mom in the global pandemic," she told "Good Morning America."

PHOTO: Alexis Kristiana
Alexis Kristiana
Alexis Kristiana

"I was dealing with the fears of what's happening with the world. And I just had my son, I just became a mom, and we were just all so unsure of what it [COVID] was, and then to be in the epicenter of it all, in New York, and hearing the ambulances every second. It was just so scary," she added.

Adegoke said her postpartum mental health journey has been varied and challenging with each pregnancy. With her firstborn, she said she experienced what she describes as "postpartum blues" in the first few weeks.

"I know that in those first early weeks [after giving birth], I was crying all the time," she said. "I felt really disconnected from my new reality of being a mom."

As she navigated motherhood with each child, Adegoke said she faced different mental health ailments. She said she struggled with postpartum rage, a condition she's relieved to see more moms talking about now.

’I was just mad’

Postpartum rage, also known as postpartum anger, is when a person feel anger, frustration or lose their temper easily after having a baby, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Changes in hormone levels is one of the main factors.

"I feel like we can feel internally like maybe we're the only ones battling with it or like something's wrong with us," she said. "You can have a partner who's like, 'Oh, you're so angry,' but it's 100% normal. That's definitely something I struggled with each postpartum journey—just my hormones regulating after giving birth. I was just mad at everything my husband was doing."

Body image issues also compounded her struggles, she said.

"I had difficulty just appreciating my body and how it changed," Adegoke said. "Before [becoming a mom], I was modeling full time, so I had a completely different mindset when it came to body image, and that was what I struggled with the most."

Adegoke started sharing her mental health and motherhood experiences on Instagram to bring more awareness on these issues.

"When I started my creator journey, I wasn't really seeing a lot of that conversation, and that was my point," she explained. With 89.2k Instagram followers, she now shares content daily to "help build community and for women to not feel alone."

Adegoke also draws inspiration from her own mother, who faced similar challenges. She often wonders how things might have been different for her mother, who was in the Navy, had she had access to the conversations on mental health happening now.

"Looking back and seeing what she went through, I know for sure that she had postpartum depression and mental health issues," Adegoke said. "If she could have maybe felt that connection with other moms and had the right resources around her to build that community to really help her out and not feel so isolated. That's what I hope that I'm able to do—just to continue to build that community."

Maternal mental health problems can encompass a wide range of issues, from postpartum depression and anxiety to less commonly discussed conditions like postpartum psychosis. These conditions can have profound effects not only on the women experiencing them but also on their families.

The March of Dimes reports that 15% of mothers suffer from postpartum depression, while Massachusetts General Hospital states that "During the postpartum period, about 85% of women experience some type of mood disturbance." Despite this high prevalence, the stigma surrounding mental health and motherhood persists, often preventing women from seeking the help they need.

Like Adegoke, when Cassie Shortsleeve, a mom of three and Boston-based journalist, struggled with her mental health postpartum, she said it helped to share it on social media.

"When I got pregnant with my first in the fall of 2018, I had been a health reporter for almost 10 years," Shortsleeve told GMA. "And while I had been writing about fertility, pregnancy, and women's health for years, nothing in my training had prepared me for what these times actually felt like.”

She continued, “I think we all tend to have a picture in our head of what something like pregnancy or having a baby is going to look like or feel like. It can be scary when things don't look or feel the way you had anticipated.”

Shortsleeve highlights the emotional complexity of pregnancy by revealing that she felt a lot of ambivalence, something she did not expect.

"Ambivalence is a term that people often get mixed up with 'indifference.' But while 'indifference' means a lack of caring or caring very little about something, ambivalence means caring a lot about something—and having 'mixed' or contradictory feelings about it," she said. "I remember feeling deeply grateful for my pregnancy and also deeply uncomfortable, fearful and excited, happy and sad. At the time, I didn't quite realize how common these feelings were."

When she was pregnant with her first daughter, Sunday, Shortsleeve started a virtual community called Dear Sunday Motherhood; it is an influential space that's changing the conversation around motherhood.

"At the time I started it, not many media outlets or online platforms were speaking about the very normal ups and downs of motherhood," she said. "I felt as though most depictions of motherhood were largely romanticized and that, as a journalist, I was doing moms a disservice by not talking about some of the things I experienced and the things that so many other moms were telling me they were experiencing."

Combatting a ‘false narrative of motherhood’

Nathalie Walton, founder of Expectful, a hub for evidence-based health and wellness resources for fertility, pregnancy and postpartum, echoes these sentiments about the influence of social media on maternal mental health.

"Social media has portrayed a false narrative of motherhood. Social media sets a high bar as to how motherhood is supposed to look and feel, which can make many moms feel inadequate," she told GMA.

PHOTO: WALTON 2021
Nathalie Walton and son
Christine Coakley Photography

"The antidote to this false narrative is to show up as yourself. As more moms feel comfortable portraying motherhood as they experience it, others will feel less alone—and ultimately feel better navigating the diverse array of emotions and experiences that is motherhood," she added.

This authenticity is increasingly visible on platforms like TikTok, where a simple search of the term "Maternal Mental Health" yields dozens of videos, many with upwards of 200k views, and some reaching millions.

These videos feature women (and some men) discussing maternal and postpartum mental health.

One such video, with over two million views, is a call to action for dads to do more to help their overwhelmed partners. Commenters on the video expressed their struggles, saying things like, "Literally sitting in my bed in the dark crying because I'm so tired! I feel so guilty for always yelling at my kids I'm really not ok 😭." Another confessed, "I burst into tears at 'she's not doing okay'. I thought I was doing fine. I am not." This underscores the importance and need for this type of content.

Dr. Whitney Casares is another mom who says she is not immune to the mental health issues that come with being a mother. Casares said she is committed to showing working moms how to focus their time, energy, and attention on what matters most to them and how to adopt a framework that prevents all the other (way less important) to-dos on their lists from defining their lives.

She does this through her practice as a Seattle-based pediatrician and her books, including the recently published "Doing it All: Stop Over-Functioning and Become the Mom and Person You're Meant to Be."

"Modern moms are doing it all, all the time. More than any generation before them, they face conflicting, unrealistic pressure to excel in their careers, maintain Pinterest-worthy homes, and parent with perfection simultaneously," Casares told GMA. "They carry the mental load of their family's day-to-day lives but, increasingly, as primary breadwinners, also shoulder more responsibility for their families' financial success. Add their growing awareness for the frustratingly slow-to-change inequities facing them at home and on the job. It's a recipe for deep discouragement and, yes, even crisis."

Despite growing awareness and increased dialogue around maternal mental health issues, many experts and advocates believe that there is still a significant journey ahead in providing adequate support and resources to mothers across the globe.

Social media platforms, however, are becoming vital spaces for these discussions, helping to reduce stigma and offer much-needed support. As more mothers like Adegoke, Shortsleeve, Walton and Casares share their stories, the hope is that more women will feel empowered to seek help and build supportive communities.

If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal, substance use or other mental health crises please call or text 988. You will reach a trained crisis counselor for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also go to 988lifeline.org.