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May is Maternal Mental Health Month

Kali Kerstetter, MSW, LSW
Counselor, Insight Clinical Counseling and Wellness, LLC

Maternal Mental Health – You are not alone!

Becoming a new parent is difficult. There is so much pressure to be a certain way, so many expectations to act a certain way and so much to consider and make decisions on! Boy or girl? Do I even want to know the gender? Pink, blue or neutral? OB/GYN or midwife? Hospital birth or home birth? Lamaze or hypnobabies classes? Natural or medicated birth? Breastfeed or bottle feed? Visitors or none?

During pregnancy, we fantasize about what parenthood will be like. We make plans – lots of plans about their future and your own future as a mother or father. But babies don’t really care about our plans. Do you know what else doesn’t care about our plans? Maternal mental health disorders like postpartum depression and anxiety.

After working in the maternal and child field for years, I realized there is one thing we don’t talk about enough with new parents. Postpartum. The first year after birth is called the postpartum period, or ‘the fourth trimester.’ This is a vital timeframe for new parents to adjust to new responsibilities, heal physically and process their new role. Notice I said ‘parents,’ dads are affected, too!

Bare with me, I am about to get on my soapbox: Doctors and nurses monitor a new mom’s physical health closely throughout pregnancy, but who check-ins for our new mom’s and dad’s mental health? There are tons of classes offered about birth positions, breathing exercises, how to be a better birthing partner and how to take care of the babies, but where are the classes that teach new parents to care for themselves? Who is helping them manage their expectations? What happens if they don’t bond with their baby right away, feel overwhelming sadness and/or anxiety, experience scary, intrusive thoughts, and/or messy emotions? These are things that are assumed to be “normal” because “well, everyone goes through this right? I’m supposed to feel this.”

As a society, we don’t educate or normalize mental health struggles for new parents. Let alone a new mother. Postpartum is a mixed bag. Mental health disorders do not discriminate. Mental health doesn’t care about whether you are mom or dad, your race, your annual income, the six degrees in child development, your wonderful support system, or how excited you are for a new baby. Women and their partners need to become their own maternal mental health advocates.

Let me educate you so you can be prepared! Plus, May is Maternal Mental Health Month. It’s a wonderful time to learn new things! The most common maternal mental health disorders are postpartum depression, Pregnancy and Postpartum Generalized Anxiety, Pregnancy and Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Birth-Related Posttraumatic Stress.

For more information on Postpartum Depression, click https://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/depression/

For More information on Pregnancy and Postpartum Generalized Anxiety, https://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/anxiety/

For more information on Pregnancy and Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, https://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/obsessive-symptoms/

For more information on Birth Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, https://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/postpartum-post-traumatic-stress-disorder/

The best piece of advice (for everyone, not just expecting individuals) is that it’s so important to find the right therapist to help you navigate your experience. Finding a therapist who specializes in maternal mental health is so important to help you process and navigate your experience. It can be important to start early so you can develop a trusting relationship with your therapist. Insight Clinical Counseling, LLC has many trained therapists in the area of maternal mental health. For further information on providers, look to Postpartum Support International. They have a list of local resources, online support groups, as well as a helpline to call at 1.800.944.4773.

More than that, we also need to understand and accept that it’s okay to not be okay. Parenthood will test you in ways you didn’t think or even imagine possible. You’reallowed to struggle. Have you done this before? Maybe, it’s your second or third child but none of them came with a manual or rulebook. You’re allowed to fall apart. You’re allowed to say how you are really feeling without justification. You’re allowed to feel like giving up. Don’t keep the ugly, messy parts and feelings to yourself because every single parent has had them and it doesn’t make you a failure. Treat yourself and your partner with kindness and grace. Allow space for mistakes and frustrations. Let yourself feel all the feelings. Be as gentle with yourself as you are with the baby and (try) to sleep.
It’s ok to ask for help. Everyone offers to help, take it. Delegate and tell others exactly what you need from them, including your partner, family, and friends. Consider hiring a postpartum doula. They are there to help you with the things you really don’t want to do, like cleaning the baby bottles or folding the laundry.

It’s so easy to feel alone and isolated in parenthood. It takes time to find your people, especially when so many of us have babies and live hundreds of miles away from our own families. While it may feel scary, do some research into local moms groups or dads groups. If there isn’t any, start your own! Sometimes, just sitting in a group with other parents in the exact same place as you are is the best way to find your people.

So, that was a lot of information. To summarize, it is ok to ask for help or even take others’ help when offered. Having a baby is a big deal that comes with big changes both physically, and mentally. There is nothing wrong with you if you aren’t happy or in love with your baby and/or your new reality. You are capable. You are worthy. You are going to be an incredible parent.

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