Maternal Mental Health
Growing people is HARD. At baseline, an uneventful pregnancy, uncomplicated labor and delivery are difficult work that challenge our minds and bodies in ways we have never been tested before. In an instant we are tossed headfirst into motherhood which also comes with no manual or guidebook, no fair!
As a perinatal therapist (and mom myself!) I can attest that so many of us moms feel challenged, overwhelmed, anxious and at times frustrated or sad at varying points of pregnancy and motherhood. When there are additional bumps in the road along this journey, a woman may be left feeling angry, depressed, isolated, or they may harbor shame and guilt. Social media can exacerbate expectations as we quietly compare ourselves and our messy truths to others’ highlight reels. These exposures to others’ shining moments can fuel a sense of inadequacy or disappointment- when something goes really wrong in pregnancy or birth, complications for mom or baby, a delivery being experienced as traumatic by mom, partner, or baby, there can be profound impacts on the postpartum period. Society may send well-meaning messages that inadvertently disregard mom’s [and sometimes partner’s] experience. Countless women whom I have supported in counseling over the years have been told in one form or another, “Well at least you have a healthy baby!” or “well you’re both okay now!” These surface-level messages can dig deep at emotional scars and reignite traumatic stress symptoms such as flashbacks, avoidance of potential triggers, and re-experiencing the traumatic event- 9% of postpartum women meet criteria for PTSD, posttraumatic stress disorder, and 34% of women characterize their birth as traumatic. Women who experience medical complications in pregnancy or childbirth are at an increased risk for postpartum depression, anxiety, and PSTD.
It is estimated that 1 in 5 women experience perinatal emotional complications such as anxiety, depression or traumatic stress symptoms. The survivor moms who experienced a significant event are at an increased risk- in addition to healing physically from pregnancy and birth itself, they must heal medically, while caring for and bonding with a new baby, and then face the emotional aftermath of their trauma. It is not uncommon for moms to grieve invisible or abstract losses around their experience; the loss of innocence of pregnancy, the loss of the birth plan they imagined, a blissful postpartum period, a restful maternity leave from work, or the connection with baby they may have dreamed of and longed for in the months or even years leading up to baby’s arrival. The disappointment, guilt, and sadness that can come with these upsetting emotions—lack of others understanding their experience can increase the sense of isolation and lead women to question themselves and their feelings, or hide and try to mask those painful memories.
Motherhood can be enjoyable, you can connect with and build a strong bond with your baby, but that does not always come naturally or as quickly as one might have hoped. With help, it can get better.
If you are feeling strong or ongoing emotions about your birth or postpartum experience you can start by confiding in a trusted Obstetrician or Midwife about the lingering feelings you have and asking for a trusted referral, or reaching out to Postpartum Support International to find a perinatally-trained therapist who can help. You deserve to feel healed, you deserve to enjoy your family, and you deserve happiness! Motherhood is so very challenging and you don’t have to do this alone.
Catharine McDonald, MS, NCC, LPC is the Owner of Growing Well Counseling, located in Glastonbury, Connecticut. She specializes in perinatal mental health and birth trauma. Her holistic practice focuses on whole-woman integrative health and she is passionate about empowering women toward emotional wellness. You can learn more about her services at www.growingwellcounseling.com and find local perinatal resources around the country at www.postpartum.net.