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"Motherhood Moth: A Shame-busting Storytelling Event"

“Motherhood Moth” events will inspire mothers to share taboo stories and create supportive local and online communities.

Photo of Alexandra Sacks

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In no more than 3 sentences, please tell us who your idea is designed for and how it reimagines the new life experience.

Our series kicks off with a NYC performance event (for local mothers and broadcast online for wider outreach) to foster the healing power of telling motherhood's messy truths. Stories will be selected from submissions to our #motherhoodunfiltered social media movement that celebrates imperfect narratives of pregnancy and the postpartum to reduce social isolation and stigma. Our events will help mothers reimagine a new life experience where they can speak openly without guilt and shame.

The mission of "Motherhood Moth" is to improve equity and accessibility for pregnant and postpartum women by reducing stigma around mental health issues. Data from an August 2017 study found that 21 percent of recent mothers experiencing postpartum mood disorders do not disclose their symptoms to healthcare providers. Yes, screening is essential to treat mental health issues, but how do we break down invisible barriers that are keeping women silent even when asked about their symptoms? As a reproductive psychiatrist, I believe that cultural stigma around distress in pregnancy and the postpartum are behind this barrier to care. I have spoken to hundreds of women who feel that admitting anxiety or depression is the same as admitting a weakness. They fear that if they speak about these feelings out loud, it will make their problems more real. By saying, "I feel well," even when they’re suffering, what they really mean is "I'm a good mom and I don't want to be labeled as a failure.” Public health initiatives are needed to educate that anxiety and depression have nothing to do with being a bad mom. I believe that the best way to do this is by entering the cultural conversation about motherhood, to destigmatize narratives of distress. This project goes beyond tradition by using a storytelling performance to merge the clinical with the cultural. By making “Motherhood Moth” a performance event, we can engage women who would not otherwise sign up for a therapy group due to stigma that would make them avoid an experience viewed as "psychiatric". This NYC performance will start local, but will include and engage a broad and diverse population by soliciting stories from our national and international social media base on Instagram @MakeMotherhoodUnfiltered and Facebook (@MakeMotherhoodUnfiltered). After the local NYC performance, this event will be broadcast on our facebook stream to reach a larger number of women and networks. Eventually, our hope is to partner with larger social media communities to host additional online “Motherhood Moth” events to magnify our outreach to national and international communities of mothers.

At what stage is your idea?

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I have already engaged with local mothers to participate in the NYC event, and several performers/influencers/leaders (Zosia Mamet, Sarah Sophie Flicker, Christy Turlington) to perform stories submitted from women online who cannot attend in person. I have found producers who have volunteered to record the event so that we can stream it on Facebook for social media outreach, and have a secured a NYC based location to rent to hold the event.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

My mentor meeting with Brynn Harrington helped me learn how to use my current social media to engage more women to share stories and sign up for the live-stream of the performance on Facebook. She is helping by running a Facebook ad for the event and connecting me to "Mothers In Tech." I would love more social media mentors. OpenIDEO members @LesleyNeadel and @OliviaHinebaugh connected me to the This is My Brave storytelling. @Laurenito connected me to OpenIDEO's "I Know Something About This."

Tell us about your work experience:

I am a clinical Reproductive Psychiatrist who writes about women's mental health for The NY Times, and am coauthoring a related book (Simon and Schuster 2018). For more on my work and #motherhoodunfiltered, please visit,, @MakeMotherhoodUnfiltered

This idea emerged from...

  • A group brainstorm
  • An Individual

Are you an expecting, new, or experienced mom?

  • no

Are you a healthcare practitioner?

  • yes

Are you a current employee of UCB Pharmaceuticals or Sutter Health?

  • no

How would you describe this idea (in 2-3 sentences) while in an elevator with someone?

If women spoke openly to each other about the emotional ups and downs of pregnancy and early motherhood, they would feel more supported and less isolated. As a Reproductive Psychiatrist, I know that this kind of grassroots "talk therapy" would reduce PPD. "Motherhood Moth" is a night to inspire a new beginning for speaking out-- influencers and real moms will perform stories from real mothers at a live NYC event and mothers can continue to be inspired globally via Facebook live stream.

What is the specific problem your idea is trying to solve? 1 sentence.

Stigma and shame around the normal emotional ups and downs of pregnancy and the postpartum period cause social isolation which fuels postpartum depression.

How has your idea improved or evolved throughout the Refinement Phase?

I had a phone meeting with @Brynnharrington who focused in on my @MakeMotherhoodUnfiltered social media and gave me tips to increase accessibility to real moms to share stories, attend the event, or experience the event via Facebook live. I have prototyped my concept in the community by soliciting stories for a #motherhoodunfiltered project on my @MakeMotherhoodUnfiltered Instagram account and am learning what types of images and stories resonate most with mothers. My mentor @AlyssaNewton has been invaluable in helping me articulate the core value of Motherhood Moth: to breakdown the social stigma around the complex emotions of pregnancy and the postpartum period as part of improving barriers to quality health care. The "influencers" who are going to participate in Motherhood Moth are going to bring their talent and appeal to these otherwise stigmatized stories--when real mothers see powerful positive women sharing their hard truths at Motherhood Moth, they'll be able to imagine that sharing their own story could be profound and inspirational, rather than shameful. This ultimately would create an online village of support where mothers can continue to share stories via @MakeMotherhoodUnfiltered and @MakeMotherhoodUnfiltered and ultimately create their own local live Motherhood Moth events. As a Reproductive Psychiatrist, my social media community already includes healthcare practitioners, partners, extended family members, social workers, and community organizations who will be able to participate in the event in person or via Facebook. The project will cast a wide net for stories about experiences ranging from the decision to conceive, until 12 months postpartum. As @MakeMotherhoodUnfiltered Instagram reflects, the mothers engaged in #motherhoodunfiltered are diverse- that will continue as a value to engage mothers across cultural, socioeconomic, racial, religious, and LGBTQ communities.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

1) How many stories submitted to motherhood mother via social media 2) How many live attendees to event in NYC. 3) How many participants engage in viewing Facebook Lifestream of the performance 4) How many more followers join my social media accounts where I provide daily education on PPD prevention and treatment. 5) How many new live events can be planned in other local communities to follow. 6) Overall trends on social media to reduce idealized messages for women

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

1) solicit stories online 2) plan live event 3) plan facebook streaming 4) plan additional social media outreach to engage wider global audience for participation 5) Engaging with new additional influencers to expand outreach and project positive images of stigmatized stories.

How is your idea different or unique from what is currently on the market?

This idea is unique as never before (known to me) has a psychiatrist used social media/storytelling as a public health PPD project.
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Attachments (3)

Motherhood Is Hard to Get Wrong. So Why Do So Many Moms Feel So Bad About Themselves? | TIME.pdf

Recent cover story of Time Magazine about the cultural idealization of motherhood in part inspired by my NYT article (which is referenced in this article.)

EmmaSvanberg-The Guardian.pdf

A recent article about how mothers may not admit to symptoms of anxiety and depression due to stigma and shame.


An article I wrote for the New York Times about the cultural idealization of motherhood that contributes to stigma and shame.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Alexandra Sacks 

The refinement phase closes on Nov 5 at 3:00pm PST. Please reach out to me if you have any questions at all.

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