Today is Mother’s Day. There's never a shortage of glossy marketing campaigns featuring a mother smiling while decked out with a bag, jewelry or an expensive-looking skincare product.
Yet for all the brunches, flower bouquets, scented candles and boxes of chocolates, not a single consumer goods brand I’ve come across mentions maternal mental health.
"It's become such a consumer holiday. Mothers need so much more than a pretty candle or a necklace," says Davida Lederle, creator of The Healthy Maven.
A fellow mama, Lederle drops honest snippets of life with a toddler through weekly newsletters from her site. Recently, she spoke up about how Mother’s Day can be distressing — which echoes how I’ve been feeling.
"It feels uncomfortable to celebrate something that many people don’t get to celebrate. Whether they’ve lost a baby, [are going through] infertility, or they’ve lost their mom, this day is complicated — and we don't talk about how complicated it is," says Lederle. "We glaze over that and buy mothers a necklace. I don't appreciate the lack of empathy."
"The onslaught of emails doesn’t help," she adds.
It's become such a consumer holiday. Mothers need so much more than a pretty candle or a necklace.Davida Lederle, creator of The Healthy Maven
Data suggests that in the United States, Mother’s Day is the third-largest retail holiday after winter holidays and back-to-school season, and consumers will spend billions on gifts. While companies are happy to profit and promote campaigns tailored to Mother’s Day, too few use their platforms to speak up on what really matters to mothers and why this holiday might be especially hard for so many people.
According to a 2023 survey, 49 per cent of mothers feel burnt out by motherhood and 46 per cent are seeking therapy for anxiety, depression, relationships and postpartum issues. Research suggests that one in five mothers develop mental health issues, like postpartum depression, which can have a debilitating impact post-birth. For individuals who can’t have children or are experiencing pregnancy loss or infertility, Mother’s Day can also be extremely painful.
"I've experienced so much loss when it comes to pregnancy, so I know how it feels to sit on the [other side] of Mother’s Day," says Lederle. Recalling the anxiety she experienced while pregnant, Lederle explains it was hard to feel joy while expecting on Mother’s Day because she was so scared a live birth wouldn’t happen.
"That's [what] people don't understand about pregnancy loss… It's everything you lose with the baby. You lose the ability to have a stress-free pregnancy… even small pockets of joy are robbed… I’m constantly reminded of everything that I lost in the journey to becoming a mom, and that's really hard."
I've experienced so much loss when it comes to pregnancy, so I know how it feels to sit on the [other side] of Mother’s Day.Davida Lederle
Even though Lederle now gets to celebrate Mother’s Day, she says "it’s a dumb holiday" that doesn’t fully encompass motherhood and what moms need throughout the rest of the year.
"I just [feel] like mothers and our wellbeing doesn't matter," she says. "It would be nice to live in a society that actually prioritizes and understands the value of mothers."
Prioritizing maternal mental health
Although May marks Mother’s Day, it's also as Mental Health Month and Maternal Mental Health Month. While we’ve come a long way when it comes to talking about mental health, maternal mental health is still not an easy conversation.
Maternal Mental Health Month aims to raise awareness and challenges the stigma and shame for women struggling with mental health, wherever they are in their motherhood journey. According to data shared by The Blue Dot Project, less than 15 per cent of mothers struggling with maternal mental health will receive treatment.
As a mother who's struggled with birth trauma, PTSD and postpartum mental health myself — and whose well-being, value and labour often go unseen by society throughout the year — I can’t help but wonder, who really gets to celebrate Mother’s Day? The burnt-out mom at brunch trying to take a break from her mental load, or the brands that push out Mother's Day campaigns?
Because I certainly don’t see myself reflected in those. While Mother’s Day is seen as a celebration, for many mothers, it can be a potent reminder of depression, grief, loss, trauma, sadness and anxiety, exacerbated by the lack of empathy, understanding and inclusivity surrounding the holiday. None of which is ever reflected in the seemingly endless marketing campaigns.
I can’t help but wonder who really gets to celebrate Mother’s Day? The burnt-out mom at brunch trying to take a break from her mental load, or the brands that push out Mother's Day campaigns? Because I certainly don’t see myself reflected in those.Sahar Aman
While I understand that consumer goods companies have to make money on holidays, May is a prime opportunity for them to raise awareness about maternal mental health and use their Mother’s Day marketing campaigns to give back. I would love to see more brands use this holiday to consider our well-being by making donations to charities or using their platform and influence to have conversations on the importance of maternal mental health.
Lederle feels that even small considerations can help.
"A couple of brands have sent out emails that [let you] opt out of Mother's Day emails and I think there's compassion in that," she says. "There's an awareness that this day is really hard for people."
While she understands we won’t be done celebrating Mother’s Day, at the very least acknowledging "that this is not an easy day for a lot of people is something I’d appreciate."
"Most people just don't even think about that."