Veronica’s Story: The Art of Making Moms a Priority

Veronica Chandler’s north Wilmington home is her sanctuary, and it shows. From the soft instrumental music to the scent of lavender to the comfy seats that invite visitors to put up their feet, the message is clear – rest, relax, recharge.

Original artwork by Veronica Chandler.

In this space, Chandler celebrates her rediscovered self, and it’s a journey she shares with all who visit. Part of the cozy feeling in her home comes from the artwork that lines the walls – mostly her own paintings and drawings created over the last six years as she navigates the challenges and triumphs of motherhood and discovers new ways to care for herself and those she loves.

After experiencing anxiety, panic attacks and profound depression following the birth of her daughter in 2018, Chandler sought help at the ChristianaCare Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness, where a combination of medication and therapy helped her feel healthier and reconnected. She also returned to a former passion – art.

“When I started painting, I found a way of silencing my brain, of calming it down. Being able to just focus on one thing on its own let my body regulate my nervous system,” she said. “I didn’t know what was happening to me. I just felt amazing.”

More than ‘baby blues’

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are among the most common complications that occur in pregnancy or in the first year after delivery, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

To get help, contact the Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness at 302-733-6662 or call ChristianaCare’s 24-hour Crisis Line at 302-320-2118. If you feel you pose an immediate danger to yourself, your baby or others, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Although many parents experience feelings of anxiety, fatigue and sadness in the first days with a new baby, postpartum depression can occur several months after childbirth. Symptoms are often more severe and can include extreme stress.

Despite increased awareness efforts in recent years, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders – including postpartum depression, which occurs in up to 20% of all births – remain underdiagnosed, untreated or undertreated, even though the health impact extends beyond the person giving birth, said Malina Spirito, Psy.D., MEd, director of the Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness.

The center opened in 2013 to help patients and their loved ones understand the challenges associated with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Since then, the program has tripled the number of clinicians and expanded services to include inpatient and outpatient consultations, ongoing psychotherapy and psychiatric medication management.

“Just because we know something is common does not mean we have to put up with it, especially because the effects will be lasting if we don’t address them,” Spirito said. “Perinatal mood disorders have an impact on the overall health of a family. When a mom feels better, the relationships they have with the people around them are better as well.”

Breaking the ‘super mom’ stereotype

Looking back, Chandler recognizes her struggles with sleeping and anxiety following the birth of her first child may have been signs of postpartum depression. The symptoms went away only to return after her daughter was born two years later.

Veronica Chandler sought help from the ChristianaCare Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness for postpartum depression. Caring for herself helped her rediscover her love of creating art.

Although overjoyed by her growing family, Chandler deeply missed her mother, who lived in her native Ecuador. Added to those challenges were longer stays in the hospital for Chandler, who had a Caesarean section birth, and for her daughter, who had some minor health issues.

In the weeks after giving birth, Chandler battled dizziness caused by anemia. Though exhausted by caring for a newborn, she couldn’t sleep. She constantly felt on edge, and her skin itched without relief.

Behavioral health services are available in every ChristianaCare women’s health practice, including virtual and in-person care.

Worried when her symptoms didn’t abate after three months, Chandler’s husband broached the idea of postpartum depression. For Chandler, it was a relief another person noticed something was wrong, but she was scared to think about what might be needed to get better.

“I think we’re programmed by our cultures and by our beliefs to think that we need to be ‘super moms’ and give everything we have,” said Chandler, who grew up in Ecuador and moved to the United States after marrying her husband.

“I was in such a fog that I didn’t know I could still shine and be happy and content. The default for so many moms is to pour until there’s nothing left.”

‘Rediscovering who I was’

Chandler sought help at the Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness and soon began taking an anti-depressant as part of her treatment. She also saw a therapist to talk about the feelings she was experiencing.

“I was in such a fog that I didn’t know I could still shine and be happy and content.” – Veronica Chandler

“Therapy was such a big part of this whole journey of rediscovering who I was. When you talk and someone listens, you figure things out,” Chandler said.

While on a trip to Arizona with a cousin, Chandler discovered kachina dolls, a Native American art form often used to provide guidance to young people and instill the connection between nature and the spirit. The intricately designed images further fueled Chandler’s reignited passion for art.

That passion helped Chandler manage the additional challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic when her anxiety and depression resurfaced. Using painting, sculpture and other media, she has examined her own feelings relating to motherhood, family and society. Her work has been featured internationally in Vogue and closer to home in local art galleries.

“Some people like to cook, and some people like to write. Art is my creative outlet that allowed me to come back to who I am,” she said. “We all have to release that creativity in some way.”

Entering care sooner

While the Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness has always focused on pregnant and postpartum patients, it has grown to address mental health needs related to preconception health, including artificial reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilization, Spirito said. The center also sees patients grieving a pregnancy or neonatal loss.

More people are thinking about their mental health before they give birth, said Malina Spirito, Psy.D., MEd, director of the ChristianaCare Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness.

“One of the most notable observations I’ve seen over the years is that birthing people are entering care sooner. It isn’t uncommon for women to seek out consultation prior to getting pregnant about how to manage their mood disorder should they become pregnant,” said Megan O’Hara, LCSW, a behavioral health therapist with the Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness.

“Patients are educating themselves now and expecting their providers to consider their mental health as well as their physical health when getting care.”

“I think the best mom is a healthy mom who is in balance and harmony.” – Veronica Chandler

Women’s mental health care also has become more accessible, said Cynthia Guy, LMSW, MSCC, a women’s health behavioral consultant with the Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness. Behavioral health services are available in every ChristianaCare women’s health practice, including virtual and in-person care.

“I can be the bridge connecting the patient with the resources they need to help them manage symptoms and what they are going through,” Guy said.

Filling the cup

As a result of her own experiences, Chandler teaches classes to help other mothers create their own art as a means of expression. It’s a small way of helping them to fill their own cup.

The woman who once hid in her own closet to hide her feelings speaks openly about mental health with the hope people will lose their preconceived ideas about depression and anxiety.

“I am so thankful for the journey and the many people I’ve met that have postpartum depression,” she said. “When we talk about what makes the best moms, I think the best mom is a healthy mom who is in balance and harmony.”