Sisters Lauren Jones and LaShay Melton launched Mom.ME. in 2017 after their pregnancies overlapped and they realized what they were able to offer each other in terms of emotional and physical support was missing for many women. The non-profit supports, educates and advocates for Mississippi mothers experiencing perinatal mood disorders such as postpartum depression and anxiety. With separate groups for moms with different needs, the organization also brings in outside health professionals to help pair women with medical support that matches their exact needs.
Editor’s note: Interview edited for length. Photo shows co-founders LaShay Melton (left) and Lauren Jones (right).
MT: Both of you had been moms for awhile by the time you launched Mom.ME., how has the group changed your relationship to motherhood?
Jones: With my oldest daughter, I went through a rainbow assortment of mood disorders — postpartum, depression, anxiety, OCD and PTSD. And I had no clue why I was feeling the way I was feeling. I had some really, really, really dark thoughts with her, to the point of she couldn’t leave my eyesight for the first year. But at the same time, I had a disconnect from her. I loved her, I didn’t want any harm to come to her, but I just didn’t feel the mother-daughter loving bond that you see in society.
My family didn’t understand it. Nobody in the medical field asked me about my mental health. So I didn’t know it was a thing that actually had a name.
I now have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old as of a couple of weeks ago. There’s a big gap in those ages between my 15- and 3-year-old because I never, ever wanted to have kids again. It was such a traumatic experience for me that I did not enjoy it — I was scared of having those thoughts again.
MT: What happened to change your understanding of maternal mental health?
Jones: I educated myself. I found out what these feelings were and that they had a name. I took maternal mental health courses to become certified. I feel like it is my job to tell my story because there is someone else out there experiencing it who feels like I feel and has those internal feelings that “It’s something that I did to cause this.” Not knowing there’s nothing that you did wrong to cause this, it just happens to one out of seven moms.
But how Mom.ME. came to be was LaShay and I were actually pregnant at the same time and I noticed the significant difference in my feelings with my second baby. By having (LaShay), I wasn’t alone. I was able to ask those questions when I felt a certain way.
MT: One you started naming the support you needed, what did you prioritize for bringing others on board?
Jones: We had a lot of our friends around the time who were pregnant or had just had babies too, so we formed our own little coalition. And we really, really loved on each other. We had monthly gatherings where we made sure that we stayed active. But when I tell you it made a tremendous difference, that’s when we knew that we had to share our models with other women that were there that didn’t have the support. Because again, I don’t know where I would be without my support. And there are plenty of women in Mississippi that do not have support. And even if they have support, they’re not educated on maternal mental health. We’re in the Bible Belt, everything is “pray about it.” But some things you can’t pray away.Our number one thing is to educate our mothers and our community of what perinatal mood disorders are. The second thing that we teach them is self advocacy, so they’re able to effectively communicate with their doctors to say, “This is how I’m feeling. I know that perinatal mood disorders can start when I’m pregnant. So I need you to pay attention to me in this aspect. Are there any medications, what do you recommend?” — but they’re knowledgeable. So they go in with that knowledge able to equip their own medical provider, because that’s something that we have found that Mississippi is lacking … You have to trust your own instinct.
MT: We see over and over again that the key to emotional and physical maternal health is support. You two have always been that for each other, but did you see it at home and around you growing up?
Melton: I would just say we never saw women “be weak'” or what was really going on. Even when our mom got sick and was in the hospital, we were told not to say anything, not to tell anybody about her having to have surgery.
I think that that kind of fed into us, like women are built tough. We have to carry our family, so whatever you’re going through, you have to suck it up and be there. But I guess it’s different because I didn’t so much as experience (perinatal mood disorders), but I saw what (Jones) was going through and didn’t know how identify with it. So it kind of opened my eyes like, what is this?
It’s kind of hard to describe it because we didn’t know what it was and hadn’t been told anything about postpartum. (But now in the group) we’ve always believed we kind of always have feed off each other in motherhood. Our paths are different, but at the end of the day, we’re all mothers.
Jones: I’ve always had the support and we’ve always supported each other as a family whenever and wherever needed. So we know what support looks like, but if we don’t know or understand what’s going on, then it’s hard to support emotionally. There was support there physically, but emotionally, our parents didn’t understand because like LaShay said, it was all about being strong. The emotional understanding support is what we’re pushing to the world now, of how we do that and how that looks.
More information about Jackson-based Mom.ME. here.