Perinatal mental health refers to the psychological experience during parenthood planning, the journey of fertility, the time throughout pregnancy, and the first two years after giving birth or after the loss of a baby or after bringing an adopted baby home. All of these stages can be quite emotional and tumultuous for a variety of reasons: Fertility journeys are often filled with obstacles that can be trying and disappointing. Women who've experienced sexual assault face both emotional and physical challenges when facing pregnancy and childbirth and child rearing. One's relationship to their parents and their own childhood informs their hopes and expectations of having and raising children.  The first months and years after adoption can be filled with issues of attachment, identity, and special needs. These are just some of the issues that I can help with in therapy. When these issues can be thoroughly processed it can free an individual up to be the parent they want to be.

During my pregnancy and then after the birth of my daughter I experienced acute anxiety and OCD for which I had to seek immediate treatment. This terrifying and life changing experience led me to information and resources for women struggling with perinatal issues. I dove in and learned all I could so that I could stabilize myself and be present for my daughter. I found that this was not something most other mom's were discussing at play dates, it was taboo to disclose how disconnected I felt from my child and how scared I was by the violent thoughts I was having. But when I scratched beneath the surface I found that women were having anxiety attacks, debilitating depression, and deep ambivalence about being mothers. I felt moved to speak to these women and let them know they were not crazy, they did not have to hide, they were experiencing postpartum symptoms, and they could, in fact, completely recover. At that point I focused my clinical work on perinatal mental health issues and I have been incredibly gratified by it.

I have been trained through various classes, workshops, and seminars in the treatment of perinatal mental health issues (Argosy University, Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Erickson Institute, CG Jung Institute, Birthways). I have pursued and received a certification from Postpartum Support International in the treatment of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. I continue to attend conferences and investigate the new research that is done in  perinatal mental health in order to share it with my clients.

Postpartum Anxiety and Depression

The postpartum period, or the year following the birth of a child, can be a miraculous and terrifying time for a woman.   As many women find, life with a new baby is a raw and fragile experience. There are many factors that come into play during this period; beginning with the labor and birth of the baby, women experience dramatic hormone shifts, inevitable adjustments to relationships (husband, parents, friends), new financial stressors, identity issues, and issues of social support. These are experiences typical of a postpartum period, but it is not uncommon for there to also be health issues, colic, a traumatic birth, or a loss, all compounding the stress and emotions following a birth.  Emotionally and psychologically, it is a dynamic time that can surprise a woman with depression and/or anxiety symptoms.

Psychological and psychiatric disorders occur for about 20% of women during their postpartum period. These disorders are on a spectrum starting from what many know as the “baby blues” -- which lasts only a few weeks and includes feelings of overwhelm, tearfulness, nervousness, and confusion -- to a much more rare and extreme disorder called postpartum psychosis -- experiencing delusions and/or hallucinations. In between lie postpartum adjustment disorders, postpartum depression, anxiety, and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder.  Aside from the “baby blues,” postpartum depression is perhaps the most commonly identified postpartum condition, and yet anxiety symptoms are also frequently reported. Postpartum depression or anxiety lasts up to 1 year after delivery and includes excessive sensitivity, low self-esteem, apathy, withdrawal, appetite disturbance, lack of pleasure, function impairment and marked distress.  Women may feel overwhelming fatigue or insomnia, disconnection, anxiety attacks, suicidal thoughts, and--in the case of postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder--intrusive thoughts of harm coming to their baby.

A new mom is expected to immediately fall in love with her newborn baby, and to naturally take to motherhood, breast feeding her baby, and connecting to her baby. To feel anything but this can be confusing and shameful. To whom can she admit that she doesn’t feel connected to her baby, that she has visions of dropping him down the stairs, that she doesn’t want to get out of bed to care for her baby?  It becomes the job of those around her--a partner, parents, friends--to connect her to support, as it is the mother’s health that comes first in these moments. Postpartum depression and anxiety are temporary conditions that are treatable, and the sooner they are identified and a mom finds the right treatment--whether it be therapy, medication, group support--the sooner she can enjoy being a mom.

 

Resources:

Beyond the Baby Blues - Perinatal therapeutic support groups in Evanston, IL beyondthebabyblues@gmail.com 847.864.7957

Perinatal Depression 24 hour hotline (NorthShore University HealthSystem) 1-866-364-MOMS

Family Picnic - Gathering place for families; perinatal classes and workshops in Chicago, IL 773-495-0656  chicagofamilypicnic@gmail.com

Postpartum Depression Alliance of Illinois - Resources for new moms and families all over Illinois 1-847 205-4455

Postpartum Support International - International resources for new moms and families 1-800-944-4PPD