In Asian culture, the traditional belief is that all women are supposed to have kids. And that trying to conceive, pregnancy, giving birth and postpartum are just normal steps women must go through. Even today, this bias still rings true among modern Asian families.
To start, there is pressure to have kids in the first place. Then, there is also the assumption that women should not be concerned or fearful about any aspect of getting pregnant or giving birth. For example, when I worried about the pain at birth, my mom told me, “Every woman goes through that. Not a big deal.” Bear in mind, this was coming from a woman whose generation never had epidurals—most of them had a vaginal birth without anesthetics.
Beyond giving birth, the postpartum period can also be challenging. For example, among my friends where both partners are Asian, it is very rare to see male partners provide major baby care postpartum. It is against the “hidden belief” that everyone follows but doesn’t talk about—raising kids and housework are the women’s job (regardless of what job or education she had prior to pregnancy) and when men take care of kids, it’s considered extra “help” that is done as a favor.
Unfortunately, these cultural biases have a real-life negative impact on the mental health of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) moms. This is supported by research showing that compared to white women, Asian women are nearly 9 times more likely to report thoughts of suicide in the immediate postpartum period. Despite this statistic, we also know that there still remains a huge gap in culturally competent mental health resources and support for Asian moms.
4 ways to boost maternal mental health for AAPI moms
While we can’t completely eliminate these centuries-old cultural biases overnight, we can be aware of them. Beyond that, we can leverage this awareness to make more informed decisions for our health. Here are a few tips based on my personal experience that may help.
1. Learn about maternal mental health
It’s a simple fact that hormone and lifestyle changes throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period can be difficult to manage. This is not something to feel shameful about.
Especially in the postpartum period, it’s easy to feel helpless, overwhelmed and even guilty for not doing the very “best” for your child. Most of the time, you may not even feel like yourself because your lifestyle has changed so drastically. It’s important to remember that you are a new mom, and it is actually normal to feel like you are on a neverending emotional rollercoaster.
To help, my recommendation is to learn all you can about maternal mental health. That may look like reading up on the signs of conditions such as postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression, asking your partner to help you spot those signs, working to identify your ‘trigger’ areas and biggest fears, and finding proactive ways to address those fears throughout the perinatal period, whether that’s through one-to-one therapy, group therapy, medication, mindfulness and meditation techniques or a combination.
2. Be aware of your own cultural biases and norms
Like any culture, there are biases and norms within the AAPI community that shape the way we view situations and ourselves.
When it comes to pregnancy and giving birth, the traditional view in the AAPI community is that having a “mental illness” (such as postpartum depression or anxiety) is scary. This is because traditionally, there was very little understanding of the difference between daily psychological care vs needing psychiatric treatment. The lasting impact of this bias has created a hidden sentiment that may cause Asians to feel like mental health support is something they do not want to be associated with.
Other cultural biases that may influence thoughts on motherhood include the traditional image in Asia that a mom should be caring, devoted, soft, gentle and never aggressive. For me, this bias caused internal struggle and stress as I did not feel like I could be a successful mom while also being a successful CEO at Mira.
By simply making ourselves aware of these biases, we can spot unhelpful thought patterns and aim to make more rational decisions. Working with a therapist or taking part in a support group can help here, as well, as identifying those thought patterns can be hard to do on your own.
3. Demystify your fertility
Previous generations in Asia did not know much about fertility or pregnancy. This is partially due to their journeys being physically easier, as they typically gave birth at a much younger age compared to AAPI moms today.
However, for many of us now, fertility can feel like a mystery. To relieve some of my own stress related to getting pregnant, I used Mira to track my hormones while trying to conceive. With support from Mira, I no longer needed to Google every new symptom I was experiencing, which was so comforting. That knowledge was powerful.
For AAPI couples looking to get pregnant, I recommend gathering resources to understand your fertility, hormones and reproductive health. That may look like first scheduling a preconception checkup with your OB-GYN, who could refer you to a fertility specialist if you have more questions or would like to pursue testing. Reaching out to friends to ask about their fertility journeys can also be enlightening—and put a stop to the stigma around using assisted reproductive technology (ART) or other tools to get pregnant.
4. Seek supportive communities online and offline
Another thing that the Mira community helped me with was that I got to see what other women are going through. Through our users, I got to see their stories, emotions and experiences. This helped to broaden my understanding of the definition of a “mom”, and it made me less focused on many of the downsides of pregnancy and motherhood that I was afraid of.
This is why I will always recommend joining a community of other women who are going through what you’re going through. Whether virtual or in-person, they can provide you with much-need support and perspective about your journey as a soon-to-be or new mom—and help you feel less alone.