When it comes to having babies and being a parent, it feels like everyone has something to say. From the moment you first announce you are expecting the pitter-patter of tiny feet (or more accurately you are expecting months of sleepless nights, being unable to touch your toes, reflux, swollen ankles and even the occasional haemorrhoid or two), everyone has something to say.
As soon as you switch from your favourite jeans to ones with a handy-dandy elastic waistband to accommodate your growing belly, you become public property. Not just because that change in fashion seems to be an open invitation for absolute strangers to randomly touch or rub your belly, but it also means everyone, from your granny to the man serving you at the supermarket checkout, seemingly has the right, and desire, to tell you stuff about pregnancy and parenting, and what they think you need to know.
There's your belly itself of course - guaranteed for every one person who tells you it is looking too small for the number of months pregnant you are, someone else will tell you the opposite. Once you have the baby, your belly size will remain part of the public conversation of course - who needs scales or a mirror when the mailman is happy to tell you how his wife lost her baby weight faster than you, or your neighbour says you've lost the weight too fast?
Then there are your breasts. They are also now public property - are you breastfeeding? Why not? If, as it is for a large number of new mums, breastfeeding comes with some issues or problems at the start, your breasts are also likely to not just get talked about but also physically handled by any number of well-meaning medical professionals, and probably the occasional family member or friend too as they try to help.
Are you planning to wean your baby at four months? Maybe six? Are you making the food yourself or buying it in? Baby-led weaning or a lamb chop to chew on? We talk about those choices a lot too - and by talk, I really mean everyone shares their opinion on it, asked for or not, telling the parents what they should or should not do.
And don't think you can relax once your child is born, fed and weaned. From the disposable to reusable nappy debate, to what age they crawl or walk, to signing them up for swimming lessons, baby gym or perhaps even signing them up to learn Korean by the age of one, everyone has an opinion on everything you do as a parent.
They tell you about their own pregnancy and birth stories, and those of everyone else they know, from their neighbour's uncle's boss's daughter to that time their cat had kittens.
In other words, there is an awful lot of talk and conversation and general noise around motherhood and parenting.
Until it comes to one particular part of that journey. The same people who are happy to discuss nipple colour with a person they barely know, to rub the belly of a pregnant person who just happens to be sitting by them on the train for the morning commute, or to hold forth about the varying shades of poonami they have observed in a friend's baby fall remarkably silent when it comes to the subject of maternal mental health.
And that is a serious omission. Because while choosing breast or bottle, disposables or cloths, puree or solids might make a difference in the day to day life of a new parent, talking about maternal mental health could actually do far more - it could save their life.
Last month, a report by the Helen Clark Foundation revealed the alarming fact that suicide is the leading cause of death among pregnant women and new mums. The report, Āhurutia Te Rito - It Takes a Village, revealed up to half of birthing parents experienced symptoms of perinatal distress.
It does indeed take a village to raise a child, and our villages, our communities, need to make sure we are doing our bit when it comes to ensuring that child's parents feel supported, safe, cared for and heard. We all know how to do our bit when it comes to visiting a new mum with a homecooked meal, or offering to fold laundry while they sleep. We know to bring gifts for siblings who might be feeling slightly displaced by the new arrival, and most of us even remember to choose practical baby clothes when buying a present for the new parents (translation - zips not ribbons, and don't buy anything in white). But are we also doing our bit when it comes to caring for mental health?
We need to tell new mums that it's okay to ask for help, that it's okay to have days when they don't feel they are coping, and more importantly, it's not just okay, but essential that on days when they don't feel okay, they let someone know and seek support.
Maybe we should talk more about that, and less about bellies and breasts, when we see pregnant or new parents.
Looking for support? It's available:
• Call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
• Call PlunketLine 24/7 on 0800 933 922
• Depression helpline: Freephone 0800 111 757
• Healthline: 0800 611 116 (available 24 hours, 7 days a week and free to callers throughout New Zealand, including from a mobile phone)
• Lifeline 0800 543 35
• Samaritans – 0800 726 666