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Postpartum Care and Maternal Mental Health

Unfortunately, today's modern society expects moms to "do it all." From navigating child-rearing and meal-planning to housekeeping and working, women have somehow become acclimated to obliging the juggling act. If you thought you were alone in the overwhelm until you watched the Barbie movie starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, notice where you got your much-needed validation. The cathartic monologue about the impossibility of living up to the expectations of being a "standard" woman was far overdue. Mama, if you're feeling overwhelmed, now is the time to start talking about it because it's not your flaw or fault that led you here. It's the innate, human need for connection and support that you were born with asking to be fed.

Moms don't speak up about the mile-high daily demands because it could sound like "complaining" or worse, "nagging." Yet, the frustration doesn't get vented and the support remains minimal because.... no one is talking about this issue.

Maternal Mental Health is the umbrella term for any conditions or treatments that arise for women who have given birth or have been/are pregnant. Mental health issues can arise anytime from during pregnancy (perinatal) to after pregnancy has ended (postnatal). This does not always refer to a mother that has given birth, allowing the inclusion of women whose pregnancies did not sustain the full term.

The state of maternal mental health is of great concern not just from lack of social support, but also lack of resources and societal structures that make juggling life during and after pregnancy almost intolerable for some women. Now, more than ever, women are culturally expected to do it all and with a smile, lest they be categorized as "difficult" or "high maintenance." Surely, there has to be a better way for women to exist during and after pregnancy...

From hormones and body changes to role and identity changes, pregnancy and the arrival of a baby is for many the change in life that pushes every single button for a woman. Some women will be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Birth-related PTSD, Bipolar disorder, and Postpartum Psychosis. A few of these are diagnoses that explain a collection of symptoms for unresolved issues that were present for a woman even before pregnancy. Often, symptoms are simply heightened during a woman's pregnancy or birth resulting in a diagnosis (nearly any of the above listed illnesses). On the other hand, some of these conditions only occur as a result of a woman's first experiences as a mother (postpartum depression, anxiety, etc.) Regardless of when the issues began, support is an absolute requirement for recovering well from these conditions. Prescription medications absolutely have their place and as a mental health therapist, I'm an advocate for using all tools at your disposal. However, the good news lies in the fact that women can do more beyond taking medication to feel themselves again.

One of the most effective practices I've found in treating maternal mental illnesses is the practice of reparenting. It's a necessity to recover from any wounds women might have experienced through the pregnancy or birthing process in addition to any baggage they might have been carrying from generational trauma or lack of needs being met in other relationships, such as with significant others or primary caregivers during childhood. I use the term "Reparenting" to refer to learning to care for yourself as you would for someone you're responsible for. This might sound redundant, but hang in there and let's answer some questions together...

When is the last time you excused yourself to the restroom as soon as you felt nature calling, or did you squeeze in a few tasks first?

Do you wait until you're cranky to eat rather than feeding yourself as soon as you feel hungry?

Do you go to bed when you feel tired, or do you struggle to make your sleeping space comfortable and inviting?

Check your clothing. Are you fully comfortable with what you're wearing, or do you sometimes ask yourself to go through the day in discomfort because you don't have time to find something more comfortable?

When is the last time you asked for a hug just because you needed one?

If any of these popped up on your radar, you might need to consider reparenting. A good parent would accommodate any of these reasonable requests from their child. Particularly, an infant. We don't ask our children to hold out their needs until we absolutely can't wait any longer to meet them. We are attentive. We are loving. We try to be attuned and anticipate needs. When did we learn to not do this for ourselves? How much more frustrated will you be with requests made of you if you don't first have your own cup filled? Forget all the social media memes about self-care for a minute. This isn't about bubble baths and glasses of wine. This is about meeting your own needs as they arise. This also includes making your needs for connection and support known to others, because you are responsible for advocating for yourself just like you do for your children. Treat yourself like someone you're responsible for taking care of.

If this starts with making an appointment 1:1 with a therapist or spending more time taking care of yourself physically, that's great. Go for it. If this means a conversation about boundaries with your significant, that's also great. But, if you're needing to make new connections, consider joining a group of moms just like you. If you're interested in learning more about the Online Postpartum Group Therapy with Amber Fender, LISW-CP/S click here, or visit

Regardless of how you choose to move forward, know that I wish you the best in your pursuit and that the light in me sees and honors the light in you.

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