Congratulations, you’re a new parent! Whether this is your first child or your fifth, your brand-new baby is a whole new adventure. Sometimes that adventure can be unexpectedly difficult – and that’s an issue that we really need to talk more about.
Did you know that approximately 80% of new moms will experience baby blues? Baby blues is a phenomenon that is actually considered a normal part of the postpartum experience, appearing up to a week postpartum and lasting approximately 2-3 weeks. Yet, despite the likelihood that 8 out of 10 moms in your neighborhood experienced this, we still rarely “go there” when talking to expectant and new moms about the realities of the postpartum experience.
In addition, did you know that an estimated 85% of women experience a significant amount of emotional distress during and after pregnancy? Or that approximately 90% of all new parents (partners included) experience intrusive or scary thoughts about the welfare of their baby?
Outside of those realities, it is estimated that 20% of new moms will experience something we refer to as Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, or PMADs. Postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety are two types of PMADs, for example. Did you know PMADs are actually the most common pregnancy complications according to many sources?!?! PMADs can arrive up to a year postpartum (and some argue even longer, especially when considering breastfeeding and other factors that impact hormones) and can have a prolonged stay.
So, what are some factors that impact whether a new mom will develop a PMAD? Many different factors come into play, including genes, hormones, nutrition, sleep, personal history of mood and anxiety disorders, history of pregnancies and pregnancy related complications (and yes, you can experience a PMAD around a subsequent pregnancy even if you didn’t around the first few pregnancies), thought processes, core beliefs, distress tolerance levels, emotion regulation skills, personality traits, interpersonal history, cultural expectations, social expectations, socioeconomic considerations, stressors – and perfectionists and introverts are especially vulnerable.
We have to talk about this more. If 9 out of 10 parents in a given area experience some sort of intrusive thought related to being a new parent, why on earth do we continue to pretend that everything is perfect? The title of a recent book released by Karen Kleiman and Molly McIntyre expresses exactly what I hope everyone begins to assert to one another – Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts. The thoughts only torture us when they are kept secret, pushed down by shame and locked away by a fear of judgment.
If you have been suffering in silence, reach out for support. You may begin by reaching out to a professional. Our perinatal clinicians are specially trained to support gestational and non-gestational parents. The perinatal mental health services at The Healing Collective are directed by a Perinatal Mental Health Certified (PMH-C) clinician. This is the highest level of certification for practitioners who specialize in perinatal mental health. Our perinatal clinicians utilize evidence based practices to treat the individual and the system supporting the individual. This may include couples work, group work, trauma treatment, and other individualized treatment options.
Therapy for PMADs works to support the health of the whole parent, who is comprised of the mental self, physical self, emotional self, expectations, and dreams about the future. Your journey to recovery can start today. You can feel like yourself again and you are doing the right thing by asking for help.
Treatment at The Healing Collective for perinatal mental health concerns starts with an assessment. One of our highly skilled clinicians will meet with you to identify priorities for treatment and identify the members of our team who will work to support you. When you work with a clinician at The Healing Collective, you will primarily work with one clinician, but you have an entire team of varied specialties working together to support you. You will have access to all of our clinicians, groups, and workshops across North Carolina and South Carolina thanks to the access provided by virtual therapy.
Once your primary clinician works with you to develop a treatment plan, healing begins. You may work with your clinician weekly for the first 8 weeks as you work to regulate your nervous system, enroll coping skills, and get to the root of your pain. Additional recommendations may be made depending on a variety of factors. Those recommendations may include our perinatal support group series, group psychotherapy, individual or couples intensives, energy work, EMDR, or workshops.
All of our clinicians are trauma specialists, and unhealed trauma is frequently at the root of dysfunction. As you work through this first phase of treatment with your clinician, you may uncover core wounds that are directly related to the distress you are experiencing as a new parent. New parents frequently begin to experience upsetting echoes of the past once they hit this new stage of life that are unexpected and often overwhelming. This may be even more confusing if they are generational patterns that a parent made strong intentions to not repeat, or if they seem to come out of nowhere. Exploring our backstories is important to identify where the pain points are, utilize trauma treatment to heal, and integrate recovery.
Clinicians at The Healing Collective utilize a top-down and bottom-up approach to treating PMADs. We can’t think or plan our way out of pain and distress when the nervous system and body are activated. For treatment to be successful, we must work with the brain, nervous system, and body all at once to support regulation. If you have heard the phrase “the body keeps the score” you may be aware of times where your body is activated but your brain can’t figure out why. An example of this may be when you are jittery and anxious and everyone keeps asking what is wrong, but you don’t have an answer. You may also be aware of times where you are trying to logic your way out of a situation, but your body just won’t cooperate. An example of this may be when you are trying hard to get yourself to take care of basic activities of daily living, like brushing your teeth or eating breakfast, but no matter how you try to motivate yourself your body just won’t cooperate.
We often need a more tailored approach that starts with understanding the “why.” When we have language to explain what is happening to us, our nervous system gets an opportunity to regulate. Often anxiety and depression, among other symptoms, increase when our brains are unable to make sense of what is happening to us. Your primary clinician will support you with psychoeducation, helping to make sense of what is happening and giving you language to be able to explain it.
Next comes the body. We must be able to connect our brain and body to have full understanding of what is happening to us and what we need around that. Often, due to traumatic events, childhood trauma, emotional neglect, and a variety of other contributing factors, we are very skilled at being able to check out of our bodies. This is also known as dissociation. As we begin to connect with our bodies again, the integration between brain and body begins to happen. This is essential to the recovery process because if body and brain are unable to connect and share information, the nervous system continues to experience activation leading to ongoing dysfunction.
Often during body work we encounter a very special part of ourselves, which we often refer to as Inner Child. All of our defenses are adaptive skills we learned to keep Inner Child safe and protected. As we enter recovery, we begin to create trust and safety with Inner Child. Prioritizing Inner Child’s needs and using recovery to protect and support is an act known as reparenting. Reparenting work has incredible benefits for the relationship with self and the relationship with your child.
After that, we make the connections. Once trauma is healed and the body and nervous system have achieved regulation, we begin to make new connections that are recovery focused. We learn and practice new behaviors, such as boundaries and asking for what we need, we use new skills in our relationships, and we learn to take care of ourselves in a different way. Reparenting becomes the new norm and recovery is the path we walk going forward.
If you are ready to take the first step towards healing, please reach out today. Our care coordinators will support you in scheduling your first appointment and will answer any questions you have about the process. Hold on, pain ends.