How One Recent Client Went from Depressed and Resentful to Content and Calm with A New Baby at Home
*Disclaimer: this story represents a typical client and is not the account of an actual client. A fictitious name was used.*
Having a baby is a joyous occasion. So much so that we often spend a lot of time focusing on the positives and overshadowing the negatives. But, the truth is, bringing home a new family member is emotionally overwhelming. The fantasy you had pre-baby likely focused on how wonderful everything would be, but the reality is that becoming a mother is a lot more complicated than that.
As a new mom, you may feel ashamed that you’re not enjoying motherhood. You may also believe that there is something wrong with you because you are struggling to embrace your new life as a parent. Left unchecked, these feelings can spread a mixture of anxiety, depression, sadness, guilt, and worry. And as a result, may hold you back from being open to growing into your new role, seeking help, or talking to your friends about what you are going through.
What’s worse is that believing you are a failure or a bad mother can prevent you from talking with people about what you’re going through, be it friends or loved ones or a trained professional.
A recent client, *Courtney, realized she was struggling postpartum when her baby was 3 months old.
She was feeling exhausted all the time. She hadn’t slept for more than 2 hours at a stretch since before her baby was born and she couldn’t imagine how she could possibly keep this up. To top it off, breastfeeding wasn’t the natural, beautiful experience as she had expected. In fact, nursing was painful and she often worried about whether her baby was getting enough milk. Her husband and mother suggested she stop breastfeeding, but this idea only made Courtney feel like more of a failure, another thing that was supposed to come naturally that she was not capable of.
Courtney also constantly compared herself to other moms. She saw how easily they breastfed their babies, how well their bodies had bounced back, and how adjusted they seemed to be to their new life. Whenever friends asked how things were going, she faked her best “we’re great, tired, but I just love her so much,” while in secret she was feeling totally overwhelmed, confused, and not so in love with her baby.
Eventually, she wound up in a place where she couldn’t continue to live like this anymore, secretly fearing that she was a terrible mother with zero maternal instincts. Courtney knew something had to change or she was going to fall deep into postpartum anxiety and depression. But the truth is that many mothers face challenges after giving birth.
It’s true that postpartum anxiety and depression are more common than anyone talks about. And the tendency to keep these negative emotions secret can lead to feelings of shame and unworthiness of the joy of your new life. However, when you see others overcome something similar, it can inspire you to take the steps you need to achieve a sense of peace and calm. When you follow a similar path it is entirely possible to find a sense of relief from postpartum mood disorders and feel like yourself again.
Postpartum Depression Can Leave You Feeling Ashamed
Before scheduling a session, Courtney said her life was exhausting and unhappy. She cried a lot and had trouble sleeping even when the baby was asleep. She often found herself feeling like her days were spent pouring all her energy into her baby and second-guessing everything she did. Courtney also admitted she was not enjoying motherhood and was feeling a lot of shame about this. Living this way impacted her ability to be present and happy in her day to day life.
Courtney’s romantic life also looked very different before therapy. She fought with her husband often, especially around spending time together. It was as if their new baby had taken over their marriage . Her husband tried to help her adjust to life postpartum, but he didn’t understand what she was going through. As the weeks passed, he seemed to be losing patience with her struggles and their relationship felt distant.
When it came to friendships, Courtney didn’t see her girlfriends often because she was feeling ashamed about not enjoying motherhood. She wasn’t taking the monthly milestone photo shoots, posting perfect, happy images on social media, or enjoying baby snuggles. She felt like a total failure as a mother. She couldn’t identify with her other mom friends who seemed so happy and she couldn’t be honest about what she was going through because she felt too guilty.
Right before Courtney scheduled her first session, she was feeling incredibly overwhelmed and depressed. She went to her OB appointment and she tried to hold back the tears, but she couldn’t hide how she was feeling anymore. When she finally expressed what she was experiencing she felt a mix of anxiety and relief. Her doctor offered to prescribe her medicine and suggested she contact us here at Postpartum Health & Harmony. She admitted she wanted to avoid taking a prescription, but she was eager to give counseling a try. She knew something was wrong and wanted to feel better for her baby, so she decided to schedule a session.
When Courtney came to her first session she told me she was feeling nervous, as she had never been to counseling before, but found comfort in the cozy room where we talked. She sipped a cup of tea while we talked about why she thought she might benefit from counseling.
In that same session, Courtney explained why her doctor referred her, crying as she described the pain she had been keeping from most people. I assured her that postpartum depression & anxiety is common. I further explained how feeling like a terrible mother is a common thought and symptom of postpartum mood disorders. By the time Courtney left the first session, she felt a sense of relief and hope that motherhood could get better.
As we continued therapy, Courtney knew she was working toward feeling like her old self. We created a treatment plan to address these goals which included: establishing a support team, improving communication with her husband, increasing coping skills, prioritizing sleep and diet, socializing with new mom friends, and developing a healthier perspective on her struggles. By the time Courtney left our office she felt ready to take action as she saw what was possible for herself.
Overcoming Your Feelings Of Shame And Anxiety By Increasing Your Mind-Body Connection
When Courtney and I sat down to work together, we talked about how she had been feeling and what was helpful for her at home. If some strategies needed modifying, we spent time examining how to better tailor these to her needs.
Typically, when I practice with clients like this, I use a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Tapping (acupressure technique). The beauty of Tapping is that it’s a quick, simple technique that clients can do on their own, even while holding their baby. My favorite way to get results for this type of client is to combine these approaches, as the mind-body connection is important in healing.
Evidence shows that CBT helps to change the negative beliefs that are holding clients back and keeping them caught up in a shame spiral. Research also shows that tapping is very effective for anxiety, relieving intense feelings, and helping clients shift their thinking and perspective.
The process included examining how her thoughts were contributing to how she was feeling. While exploring these thoughts I also supported her in challenging these beliefs and asking what evidence she had to support them.
For Courtney, it sounded something like this:
Me:“You say you are a terrible mother. What does it mean to be a terrible mother?”
Courtney: “You regret having a child and wish you could go back to your old life.”
Me: “But do you love your child?”
Courtney: crying “yes”
Me: “So you love your child but you’re not loving motherhood right now”
Me: “Maybe it’s possible that you love your child but you are also having a hard time right now. And maybe that has nothing to do with the type of mother you are”
We also talked about how anxious thoughts were not real, even though they may feel so intense. For example, when Courtney found herself thinking about something terrible happening to her baby, she used this idea as a mantra, “this is an anxious thought and not reality, my baby is ok, I’m ok” to stop her anxiety from rising.
Courtney attended sessions weekly. As we continued to work together, she and I outlined a way to measure improvements using a holistic treatment, including such things as experiencing less anxious thoughts and having more compassion for herself. She explained she knew things were getting better when she had met some new mom friends at Momique and she actually felt comfortable and confident enough to meet them at Panera for coffee.
After several weeks of therapy, it was obvious that Courtney felt more confident in herself as a mother and less anxious in general. She started to see improvements in her relationships as her anxiety was no longer preventing her from reaching out and being open with others. It was clear the tapping, focusing on the present, and relaxation techniques she had practiced in session had greatly increased her ability to cope.
She also began to confide in some of her new mom friends and she stopped comparing herself to other moms so frequently. Courtney also said one of the things she was most happy about was that she finally felt more connected to her spouse as she was able to communicate her needs to him. Finally, she developed more self-compassion and patience for herself.
Therapy at PHH is not intended to last forever, and Courtney knew she was ready to wrap up her sessions because she had a much better handle on her emotions. She wasn’t crying every day or dreading getting out of bed. When she had a difficult moment, she was able to recognize it for what it was, a moment in time that would pass. She felt more connected with her spouse, friends, and baby, and she admitted she had learned a lot of valuable parenting skills.
Together, we reviewed her progress and determined that she was coping well with anxiety and stress. We finished therapy with an understanding that she was welcome to check in by phone or email if she felt she needed to. Courtney was proud of herself for overcoming her struggles and happy to be feeling like her old self.
You Can Feel Good Again
Courtney’s story likely resonates with you if you are feeling less than thrilled with your motherhood experience. But, although you struggle with some feelings of shame and unworthiness now, you have the potential to feel like a confident mother. It is possible to experience more joy and connection with your little one.
Now that you’ve seen that it has happened for other moms, you can take action and find relief for yourself as well.
Achieving a sense of calm can give new energy to the way you experience motherhood. You can channel this energy into bonding with your baby and find more peace with this major life transition. This includes feeling less anxious and more present in your interactions together. When you make changes, you will feel empowered that you sought help and overcame your postpartum struggles.
To work through your own postpartum struggles, click to schedule a session.
Disclaimer: Models in photo above are posing to depict a mother and baby relationship and are not actual people who have been affected by postpartum depression or anxiety.