Maternal Mental Health
Are You A New Or Expectant Mother Who’s Struggling To Cope?
Have you recently given birth and feel overwhelmed by everything? Is breastfeeding a lot more challenging or painful than you anticipated? Are you disappointed in how the birth process went? Or are you preoccupied with finding out something bad will happen in pregnancy to either you or the baby?
Perhaps the combination of sleep deprivation, hormonal fluctuations, and the new demands of taking care of a newborn have led to symptoms of anxiety or depression. Rather than the happy time you expected motherhood to be, you may be feeling unfocused, irritable, and ill-equipped to take care of yourself or your family.
What can be particularly upsetting is if you experience intrusive or distressing thoughts surrounding the baby. Perhaps you are preoccupied with uncontrollable worry about whether your baby is okay and need to check on them continuously. Or maybe you haven’t felt an emotional connection toward your baby yet. Instead of experiencing the unconditional love you’ve heard so much about, you may feel detached and emotionless.
You May Be Ashamed About How You Feel
It might be embarrassing or shameful for you to admit to others how you’re feeling, especially since your loved ones expect you to be elated by the arrival of your baby. You may have gone through a lot to bring your baby here, such as IVF or other fertility treatments, which makes you feel all the more guilty for not enjoying the motherhood you worked so hard to achieve.
Or perhaps you’re experiencing anxiety or depression while still pregnant. You may be worried and fearful about what lies ahead—childbirth, round-the-clock breastfeeding, and the daunting task of raising a child. But rather than confide in others about your misgivings, you may feel ashamed to confess that you’re struggling.
The last thing you probably want to do is to seek therapy for maternal mental health. However, if you’re suffering from postpartum depression, therapy can help you address the symptoms you’re experiencing, allowing you to transform into the parent you want to be.
Postpartum Depression Affects Parents Indiscriminately
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) are the most commonly underdiagnosed complication of childbirth. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “it is estimated that every year, more than 400,000 infants are born to mothers who are depressed.”¹ Further, the National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates that “10 to 20 percent of women and 10 percent of men suffer from postpartum depression (PPD).” ²
Because PMADs impact so many new mothers, theories abound as to why some of us develop them while others don’t. Some studies suggest perinatal hormonal changes or having a family history of depression or anxiety increases our likelihood.³ PMADs have also been attributed to psychosocial factors, such as ambivalence to parenthood, marital dissatisfaction, and poor social support.
With postpartum depression especially, our symptoms can be exacerbated by sleep deprivation and adjusting to 24-7 caretaking of our newborns.
We Commonly Blame Ourselves When We Suffer From PPD
Sadly, the social expectation of being a “good mother” above all else often leads us to blame ourselves for our symptoms rather than seek the help we need. We may perceive how we’re feeling as a sign of weakness or evidence that we’re not doing something right. Or we sometimes downplay our symptoms, rationalizing our low mood as simply the normal “baby blues” that all new parents experience.
Another common reason we neglect to prioritize our maternal mental health is our lack of time. Whether we’re currently pregnant and busy attending routine prenatal appointments or taking care of our newborn, finding time for therapy may sound impossible.
However, if you are struggling to cope while pregnant or postpartum, it’s worth your time to make therapy a priority. By simply dedicating one hour per week to your well-being, you can begin to feel more like yourself again. Postpartum depression or anxiety does not go away on its own if it is untreated.
With Therapy, Your Maternal Mental Health Comes First
After undergoing the life-changing transition of childbirth, it’s understandable that you would expect to feel differently on the other side of it. You may assume that the sadness and overwhelm you are experiencing is just a normal part of the experience. However, if your symptoms have persisted for more than two weeks and your mood is persistently gloomy, agitated, or full of rage, you may be experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety.
As a therapist specializing in maternal mental health, I will provide you with empathy, compassion, and tangible coping skills to reduce your distress and help you move forward with confidence. Ours will be a safe place for you to share your thoughts, fears, and any difficult emotions you’re feeling that you might not be comfortable sharing with anyone else. We will talk about whatever concerns you may have about seeking therapy for postpartum depression or anxiety without fear of judgment so that you can relax and be yourself.
What To Expect In Sessions
Our sessions will be dedicated to helping you process any self-doubts you may have about your new role as a caregiver. Together, we will address the challenges, adjustments, and expectations you have about pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood. An important aspect of postpartum therapy will be to grieve the loss of your former self, acknowledging this oftentimes bittersweet transition with neither shame nor embarrassment.
As we reconcile your mixed feelings surrounding parenthood, we will explore your relationship with your own parents and, perhaps, process any unresolved trauma. Understanding how those relationships influenced the beliefs and feelings you bring to motherhood will give you a deeper insight into how you may want—or not want—to parent. We will also address any issues you may be experiencing with your partner that could exacerbate your sense of being overwhelmed, isolated, or lacking support.
A Holistic Approach To Supporting Your Maternal Mental Health
To ensure that whatever PMAD you are experiencing is addressed comprehensively, I emphasize a holistic and often multidisciplinary approach to treatment. In addition to utilizing a combination of supportive psychotherapy and practical Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), I may refer you to a postpartum support group, or we may discuss the risks and benefits of psychopharmacological intervention, if appropriate. If we mutually decide that medication would be helpful, I will refer you to a well-qualified provider.
With CBT, we will examine the thoughts and beliefs you have surrounding pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting that may be distorted or unhelpful. For example, perhaps your idea of being the “perfect” mother contributes to an overall sense of inadequacy—when you can’t fulfill the unrealistic expectations you’ve imposed on yourself, you become anxious. By challenging these flawed thought patterns, you will begin to shift away from perfectionism and adopt a more realistic picture of what parenting looks like.
The good news is postpartum and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are treatable—with therapy, you can get back to feeling like yourself again.
But You May Wonder Whether Maternal Mental Health Is Right For You…
It’s difficult for me to find time or childcare to come to postpartum counseling.
When you’re in the midst of perinatal anxiety or postpartum depression, your symptoms can get so severe that at times you feel like you cannot breathe, think, or move. How, then, are you expected to find time for therapy? Fortunately, I offer telehealth—if need be, you can bring your baby to therapy and fold your laundry while we talk. Because your maternal mental health is vitally important, all you have to do is commit to one to three sessions initially. From there, we can re-evaluate the best path forward.
I’m ashamed to admit how I’m feeling.
The social pressure and family expectations we experience while pregnant or postpartum can be intense. You might be asking yourself, “What’s wrong with me? Everyone told me this would be the best time of my life.” But seeking support from a therapist who values your maternal mental health is an act of self-care. Acknowledging you need help benefits not only you but also your family. After all, we cannot take good care of others unless we care for ourselves.
I doubt I need postpartum depression therapy—what I’m experiencing is normal right?
If you’re a first-time mother, it’s hard to have any perspective on the severity of your symptoms. You might downplay what you’re experiencing as something that all new mothers go through, not realizing how much you’re struggling to cope. However, postpartum mood and anxiety disorders are not just the “baby blues"—they are diagnosable medical conditions that need treatment, such as therapy and, perhaps, medication. Listen to your gut—if you are not feeling like yourself, help is available. You don’t have to suffer alone.
Restore The Joy Of Parenthood
Talking to someone who understands is the first step in lifting you out of shame and into empowerment, so you feel like yourself again. If you would like to find out more about the maternal mental health services I offer, please visit my contact page.