Before my kids were born, I thought my time as a pediatric nurse would set me up well to be a mother. I had years of practice with basic skills and some more complex ones, how much different could it be to have your own? As Jen Hatmaker would say, Bless. As the nurse handed me my sweet baby, tears of joy and anxiety pricked my eyes. That combination of feelings hasn’t gone away for nearly three years.
If you have read anything I have written, I am sure you can guess to which side of the anxious spectrum I tend to lean. Certain things, like major transitions draw out this side of my personality even further. Motherhood has done just that. Although, I was never formally diagnosed with a postpartum disorder like Postpartum Anxiety or Postpartum Depression, I can see aspects of them in some of the behaviors I exhibited especially after my son was born. Since I am far from an expert, I invited my friend Kelly Houseman, a licensed professional counselor with her own private practice in Detroit to share some of her clinical expertise with me on the blog.
Kelly, why did you choose to specialize your counseling career on women’s health issues?
Since becoming a mother, I suddenly felt a kindred bond to other moms and moms-to-be. It is a beautiful time filled with so much love and happiness, but it can also be a challenging experience for almost all of us too. I wanted to work with my peers specifically because I had such a fresh frame of reference and understanding for all things postpartum and child related. If I could give even one person some symptom relief and help them enjoy pregnancy or parenting a little more it is worth it.
This is something I was not very aware of either until I started to experience it as well. Some of the same feelings associated with PPA and PPD can be present for women during pregnancy. This topic is not nearly as widely discussed.
Tell me some things people commonly misunderstand about PPA?
Anxiety can take many forms. From worrying that your baby is going to stop breathing if you’re not constantly watching them. Or being so frazzled about a schedule (or lack thereof) that you just break down and scream or cry. I’ve even had a patient worried she would throw her baby off a balcony if she went anywhere with a ledge.
Another less talked about symptom is anger. Anxiety and fear can lead to angry outbursts to your partner or other children. Lack of sleep can make you say and do things that you would normally never do.
So this section really hit home for me. I was the one constantly googling schedules and crying when I could not make them work. So terrified of SIDS. And the sharp tones I would throw around…Yikes! I am pretty sure my husband may still have some scars. Hormones/lack of sleep? Yes, I maybe could have equated those two with anger, but I wouldn’t have connected anxiety. Fascinating!
What is some advice you’d give to a woman or a loved one struggling with PPA?
Find someone to talk to! Get out there and talk with other moms via a playgroup, mom and me classes or even online forums. Keeping these feelings in and isolating yourself can be common especially in the early stages. Knowing that there are other parents out there with the same struggles and questions as you can be so comforting. Also other parents usually give the best advice because they have been there.
I wouldn’t be a good counselor without mentioning the power of therapy. We have so many tools aside from talking things through we can use and share with you that can be used in between sessions.
Lots of women waffle on if they are really a good candidate or “need” therapy. I say go anyways and try it out. There is healing power in talking to an unbiased, non-judgmental person who just gets it. We are here to help you live life the way you wish you could. Anxiety, depression, anger, past trauma we have seen it all.
What are some good resources if you find yourself having difficulties after the birth of your baby?
Psychology Today has a great find a therapist option, also many OB/GYN’S/midwives with have therapists specially trained in women’s health they can referrer you to as well. At your 6-week checkup (or sooner or later really anytime) bring up these feelings and your doctor should listen.
Many counselors including myself allow moms to bring their babies to session or offer virtual counseling so you can work around the baby’s schedule too.
What approaches do you find work best for healing?
Medication certainly serves a great purpose in PPA/PPD and if one’s doctor is carefully monitoring it I am all for it. But I always tell people you need to work on the other life triggers as well and the therapy portion is just as important.
Finding out solutions to worries, stress relief, challenging intrusive thoughts. All things we can teach you so that when/if the time comes to get off medication you will feel able to take on the world.
I cannot thank Kelly enough for serving as my professional resource on this widespread topic. I hope that if you are reading this and you feel that heavy weight of anxiety stealing joy from you, that you find the strength to reach out. You, sweet mama, deserve a life as lovely as you. Where you feel like yourself again. Don’t let these feelings, that are so so so common steal time away from you. Also, if you are seeing changes in a friend, REACH OUT! You never know the difference you will make.
More info on Kelly Houseman, LPC
Kelly is a mom of two with a passion for women’s mental health. She is a licensed counselor with her own private practice. She documents her professional and personal journeys on her blog Kellys Reality. Her hobbies include barre classes, brunches and following boy bands around on tour. You can also follow along with her adventures on Instagram