Many times we expect a smooth transition after having a baby. After all, we do expect it to be the happiest time of our lives, right? Well, what happens when it doesn’t turn out to be the happiest time of our life? Let’s take a look at Grace’s story (fictionalized client).
Grace is a new mom who had her first baby four months ago. She called Move Forward Counseling when she found herself crying uncontrollably, unable to get to work, and excessive and frequent thoughts of something happening to her baby or her spouse.
“I don’t feel like myself”
During her first session, Grace began crying and said “It wasn’t supposed to be like this! I absolutely love my baby but I feel so bad all of the time. I don’t feel like myself”.
I spoke with Grace about how difficult this transition can be and how it can differ from the expectation that caring for newborns is an easy task. I spoke with her about how these can be common thoughts and feelings that new parents have due to lack of sleep, difficulty identifying what the baby needs, hormonal changes, etc. However, there are differences that help to identify if this is the very normal “baby blues” or if this is something more.
I asked Grace how long she has been feeling this way, she responded that she felt like this since her baby was born but noticed the symptoms to be worse in the past 2 months. With this information I knew that Grace was experiencing more than just the normal “baby blues” where it is typical to have moods fluctuate except these symptoms usually only last about two weeks after birth. Also, she stated she is unable to work and has excessive thoughts of harm happening to her baby, this shows that her distress is significant and impairing her life.
These feelings won’t be present forever
After further exploration of how she has been feeling lately, I told Grace this may be a perinatal mood disorder and as we continue working together we can figure out if it’s postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, or a mixture of both. I told her that therapy could help her learn skills to use during these distressing times so that she could return to feeling herself again and be able to enjoy being a new mom. Grace let out a long sigh which I took as a sigh of relief that these feelings were not going to be present in her life forever.
Throughout the next few sessions, Grace began to learn aspects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and mindfulness. These are two of the most effective treatment approaches for perinatal mood disorders. Grace learned ways to implement mindfulness as a first response when symptoms arose. Mindfulness allows us to calm ourselves down during times of distress so we can limit our emotional reactions. It also provides a buffer between thoughts and the feelings we attach to them. Grace returned to session saying this was a difficult task and she was right, mindfulness is a skill that takes practice but once learned provides many positive benefits.
Our thoughts impact our feelings
Next, CBT was introduced and Grace learned that our thoughts impact our feelings. If we think about a situation in an unhelpful way it increases sadness, anxiety, or other distressing emotions. CBT skills were implemented to help Grace identify when her thoughts were cycling in an unhelpful pattern so she could restructure this pattern to healthier ways of thought.
During this process, Grace was able to utilize these skills and noticed that her anxiety and depression decreased within a few weeks.
There is help
At our last session, Grace reviewed what was helpful during her time in therapy, she responded with, “Well, I believe knowing there is help for this provided me with hope. It was motivating to continue using the skills because I saw that they were actually helping. It was hard, but I know that communicating with my support system was key, sometimes I needed extra help and now I know that it is very healthy. I’m unable to do it all and that’s ok!”
She continued, “This helped improve my relationship with my spouse, baby, and myself. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. I realize that it was the anxiety and depression making me feel bad, and once I gained control over those emotions, I found myself again and now I have control.”
Author: Melissa Sauder, LPC
Melissa is a licensed professional counselor who loves helping women learn to empower themselves so they can lead a healthy, fulfilling life. Her therapy is spending time with her dog, a labradoodle named Sammy.