Letting Go of the Mother We Think We Should Be

A while ago I watched a video of Karen Kleinman speaking at Byrn Mawr Hospital shared on the Postpartum Stress Center Facebook page. Karen Kleinman is a a therapist and well known expert on postpartum depression and author of several wonderful books that I will link at the end of this post. Part of the reason I’ll never forget the video is because it was from 1989 and Karen was rocking a polka dotted headband and very large purple button earrings. But most importantly she said something probably not many people had acknowledged before. She said, and I’m summarizing here,  “What we need to understand is that having a baby is a tremendous loss; loss of independence, loss of self.”

Letting Go of the Mother We Think We Should Be

This spoke to me for two reasons. One being that I really related to it. One of the most difficult things I’ve experienced is a loss of who I was after I became a mother. After being an achievement addict, a dedicated social worker, and a social butterfly I seemed to lose all of that when I had my children. When I didn’t have time to dedicate to my work, decided to stay at home, and couldn’t engage with my friends as much as I used to I felt lost. Secondly, I feel this is a concept that our culture doesn’t want to recognize. Many people say, “Being a parent is the best thing that will ever happen to you.” There is obviously truth to that in the love we all have for our children. But just because something is wonderful doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult. Changing our notion of accepting parenthood as a both a gain and a loss, as both an exciting time and a stressful time, as both a time to celebrate and a time to grieve empowers parents to navigate the journey with recognition of their emotions and grace with understanding it all as a process.

Something else that I’ve recently learned that is also a loss we experience is the loss of the expectations we had about parenthood to begin with. We also have to grieve that sometimes we don’t turn out to be the mother we wanted to be.

We all have these visions of the mother we’d like to be when we’re pregnant. And although I refer often to mothers in this post I think this same notion can apply to fathers using the societal expectations we place on dads also. We may envision ourselves joyfully playing with our children on a swingset, preparing fresh homemade meals for them to enjoy, making arts and crafts projects, providing comfort to our child when they skin their knee. I, for one, didn’t envision myself crying in a bathroom with hair that hadn’t been washed for three days as I binge ate Thin Mints.

But children teach us a lot of lessons and they are amazing at getting us to know ourselves a little better. Children are truly a gift when it comes to giving us a mirror to look at ourselves. It’s as if they say, “You thought you knew yourself? You thought you had life figured out? You thought you had total control? Oh boy, you thought wrong.” You don’t need an Eat Pray Love type of adventure to get to know yourself better. Just pop out a child or two, get in some sleepless nights, be pushed to the brink of your sanity every couple days and you’ll start to get to know yourself really well.  Maybe even better than you’d like to .

So when our reality doesn’t fit our expectations we struggle. We try to fit ourselves into the mold of what we wanted but no matter how hard we try we might not fit. So instead of taking a new shape we frustrate ourselves to no end trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole. But we often embrace as parents the notion that it is our jobs to raise our children to be the best version of themselves, not of anyone else. Why can’t we apply this concept to ourselves as parents?

Rejecting societal pressures or the pressures we place on ourselves to take on traits that we don’t have doesn’t mean there is something wrong with those traits. We can accept that those traits just aren’t who we are. For instance, I’m beginning to understand that I will never be the type of mother that is a good homemaker. I envisioned myself as a Pinterest mom with a well kept house, wonderful homemade meals every night, and having the walls of my home lined with my children’s monthly photos and handprints. But that didn’t work out for me. And I’m starting to learn that if I really wanted to be that way I would make it happen somehow. But I don’t. So I’ve come to understand that why being a great homemaker is an awesome trait I felt the pressure to be that way because of society and not because it was something that I truly wanted to be. So when I get down on the ways I’m not the mother I thought I’d be I start to think of the mother I truly am. I’m a mom who gets her kids outdoors, who lets her kids run wild, who is out of the house a lot meeting other moms for playdates and doesn’t have a lot of “routine”, who is not present 24/7 because I’m working on my own work projects, and who is trying everyday to give more grace to my children to make mistakes as well as myself.  Take it all with the good and the bad and I realize I’m the mother I’m meant to be. And I hope you can realize that too.


Self-Reflection Exercise-

Reflect on your own projections of what you thought you’d be like as a mother. Answer some of these questions or  complete these sentences to dig deeper.

What did you envision yourself being like as a mom?

As a mother I always thought I’d be more _____________________.

Where did your hopes for yourself as a mother come from? (i.e. your own childhood, watching others, society,etc).

What surprised you after motherhood in terms of the mother you’ve become so far?

What can you try harder to accept about yourself as a mother? What could be the potential benefits of those traits?

What can you start to let go of in terms of your expectations of motherhood? What has your children taught you about yourself?



Books by Karen Kleinman

This Isn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression

Dropping the Baby and other Scary Thoughts:Breaking the Cycle of Unwanted Thoughts in Motherhood

What Am I Thinking?: Having a Baby after Postpartum Depression

Recovery and Resilience

For the last installment of my Maternal Mental Health series I’m discussing the recovery and resiliency factors of maternal mental health.

Recovery and Resiliency and Maternal Mental Health


Healing is a process and therefore recovery from maternal mental health issues is a process as well. Unlike some medical illnesses its not as if mental health issues are simply cured and never return. For some of us symptoms will return here and there. The challenge is recognizing what we can handle on our own after treatment and when its time to ask for help again.

It’s normal to experience some initial relief in treatment from the serious symptoms you were experiencing. Once you seek help it can feel as if a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. Many people attend one or two therapy sessions and already feel “a lot better” so they stop attending. However, it is very normal for there to be slumps after you intially feel better so its important to stick with whatever treatment that is working for you to maintain your recovery for at least several months depending on your presentation of symptoms and struggles.

As a therapist one indicator I often relied on to show me if someone was maintaining recovery was being able to show resilience in the face of challenges and stressors. Sometimes when a stressor ends or is removed from our lives we feel better and thus think that all is well.  But when a new stressor comes up or the old stressor returns our symptoms and struggles can return as well. What we are seeking during recovery is our ability to bounce back from challenges without falling apart because of the new perspectives we’ve gained, skills we’ve learned, or stabilization we’ve achieved from medication.

After you’ve gone through some bumps in the road to your recovery and have managed them in more a healthy way you are starting to then work towards recovering your confidence in yourself as a mom and in life. You may start to take on more responsibilities and get yourself out more. Just remember to prioritize self-care and take things slow. Sometimes we can get ahead of ourselves and take on too much when we feel great and then start to get overwhelmed.

Another part of the recovery process is grieving. You may grieve time you have felt you lost with your child due to your mental health struggles. This is very normal. Many moms say this is one of the most difficult parts of recovery because it is accepting the past and learning to let go of it. It is okay to feel and experience this grief and talk about it. Try to write or talk with someone about it as you work through it while also remembering how far you’ve come and how you are different now.

A powerful tool during your recovery process can be sharing your story with others. It takes careful deliberation to figure out when and how to share it and if you are emotionally ready for that process. If you’ve been following my blog you may have noticed that last week I did not have a story from a real mom with maternal mental health struggles as planned. That is because the person who I had asked to write her story contacted me saying she had thought about it further and decided that she wasn’t ready as she was still struggling with some things. This was such a brave thing for this mom to do and I praised her for it because it takes a lot of self-awareness and strength to realize when you’re not in a place that you thought you were and need some more time. Take some time to think before you decide when you’re ready to tell your story. You can share your story a variety of ways during your recovery. I would advise to first share with those closest to you that have earned your trust and respect enough to hear your story. After you felt you have shared and processed with those closest to you, you can then begin to share in other ways like submitting to a blog or online support group. Your personal experiences are special and should be guarded carefully.


Other than the standard definition of resiliency which is the ability to recover from adversity Dictionary.com refers to resiliency as-

“the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched”

I absolutely love this definition because it’s a great metaphor for maternal mental health struggles. We are resilient and powerful when we are able to come back from being bent or sometimes even broken. Maternal mental health can bend and break us in signficant ways. We can be compressed and flattened to a shred of ourselves by feelings of depression, anxiety, shame, and anger. Motherhood sometimes stretches us to beyond what we feel capable of. Only I would challenge one part of the definition in terms of the resiliency I am referring to –“to the original form.” You won’t be your “original” self but you will be re-defined in a powerful way. Whether or not you had maternal mental health struggles motherhood can not return you to your original form. You have been changed by this experience and in some ways for the absolute better.

Here are some resiliency factors you can hone in on to continue to be resilient when it comes to maternal mental health struggles and even just the daily struggles of motherhood:

  1. Flexibility and Letting Go of Perfectionism – Life is grey and not black and white no matter how much we want it to be. When we let go of imperfections and learn to accept uncertainty we truly liberate ourselves from a losing battle of “never good enough.” So instead of focusing on being “better” or giving more all the time learn when to say “good enough” and “I’m worthy just as I am.” When it comes to flexibility I think this post from late great Dr. Wayne Dyer sums it up perfectly. He talks of the ability of trees to be flexible with the wind because if they didn’t -they would break.
  2. Support System– I discussed this last week in ways to build your village but I can’t stress enough the importance of making sure your support network is strong and diverse. Make sure there are people to go to in various situations that are physically and emotionally available to you. Strengthen those relationships by keeping in contact and lending your support to them as well. These people are your lifeline.
  3. Enjoy the Moment- The most beautiful moments of motherhood for me are when I am fully present for my son. When I am not thinking of the mistake I made earlier this morning or the stress I feel about what I have to do later. Take a deep breath. Look around you and just enjoy this moment. Try not to let those negative thoughts rob you of more time than they have already. And if you feel you can’t ignore or refute them then think about asking for help.
  4. Speak Your Truth- Remember how hard it was to admit you needed help and asked for it? How did that work out? How amazing are you for doing that? Remember that great life lesson from speaking your truth and asking for what you need. If it helped you the first time doing that over and over again will not only get you more comfortable with asking but also get you the support and encouragement you need and deserve to lift you up in times of need.


Stay strong Mamas, you got this and we got you.

I hope you found this series on Maternal Mental Health informative and helpful. I’d love to hear your feedback at fullmotherhood@gmail.com.

5 Ways to Build a Village: Support Networks and Maternal Mental Health

As a therapist I would say one of the best tools for recovery from any difficult life transitions or mental health issues is a strong support system. One of our basic human needs is the need to feel connected to others. And during times of stress, depression, or anxiety we need to feel supported and held by those that matter in our lives.

Building Your Village- Getting Support With Maternal Mental Health (1)



One of first things to consider when building and utilizing your support network are the traits and attitudes you will need to develop in order to actually utilize your support network.

Being vulnerable and opening up to others. Unfortunately our culture sometimes values people that are closed off and act as if nothing bothers them. But being a new mom is particularly vulnerable place. It may not be comfortable but it helps you becoming stronger and more courageous when you put it all out there. To those that you trust you do not need to put on a mask of happiness or having it all under control. Remember that those who love you unconditionally love you no matter what issues you lay at their door. So start simple by practicing sharing something vulernable with a member of your support network and when applicable asking for what you need. For instance saying to your partner, “I’m very tired today. I need some time to sleep” or saying to one of your mom friends, “I’m having a hard time being a mom today.” These are simple steps that tighten your web of support and lift some of that emotional weight off your shoulders.

-Asking for practical help. Independence is something that is heavily valued in our society but if you think about it, it is really not the way we are meant to function. We can not continue the human race without each other, we can not build pyramids or strength communities without each other either. We need each other. So remember when your pride holds you back from asking for help that you are going against the very nature of human existence–connecting with others and depending on others. Again with doing this over and over again you will get more comfortable. It may be helpful to set a small goal this week of asking someone for help such as “I’ll ask my mom to come over and watch the baby once this week so I can take a nap,” or “I’ll take up my cousin on that offer to bring dinner over.” And remember, if you wouldn’t judge someone in your shoes asking for help then your own support network is not judging you either.

-Being open to building new relationships. As we enter a new stage of motherhood we may look around and see that we don’t have many people in our existing support network that we can relate to in going through the same thing in the here and now with us. So that means we have to open ourselves to add some new relationships into our lives. For some people it can be hard to meet new people and let relationships grows. This can be especially hard for people that have trust issues due to their past. It is simply a fact of life that we have to put some blind faith into trusting others. We let trust grow with time and experience in our relationship with another person but there will always be an element of uncertainty in how things will turn out. Protecting ourselves from being hurt by someone by not opening up or meeting new people can hold us back from some amazing experiences. Sometimes we need to close our eyes, jump in, and let ourselves trust in connection.

-Make sure you have different types of support covered. Support from our network can come in many different forms. You need a person just to listen and provide emotional support and encouragement (a partner, friends, family, a support group). You need a person that can provide information when you need it (a doctor, professional, trusted community that specializes in what you need information for). You need a person that can provide concrete resources that you need (time, babysitting, assistance with daily living tasks, money when times are tough). Take a moment to reflect on your support network and ensure that you have various people in your life that can offer you each of these types of support.

So now let’s talk about how to actually build that support system.

5 Ways to Build a Support System

Join a local mothers group. For some new moms it can be intimidating to walk into a new sea of faces of mothers whom you are not sure will accept you, support you, or judge you. In therapy we know that anxiety decreases the more you expose yourself to the very thing that makes you anxious. Going out over and over again to meet new moms will become more comfortable as time goes on and you will find through your interactions those that you feel can be a part of your tribe. Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) is an international network of mothers groups that welcomes moms of younger children, usually 0-6. Usually there is a small fee for membership but at times you can attend a couple of meetups before you are required to pay. Meetup.com is also an excellent place to meet new people. This is where I found my own tribe and then started my own meetup group for Parents of 0-5 year olds. Meetup.com is free to sign up for an account and can link you with groups of any interest near you. Some groups on meetup.com may ask for yearly due (my own group is 5 dollars to help manage the monthly subscription to meetup.com). Another option is to see if there is an early childhood PTA in your community. This is helpful to meet other moms and some of them are very active. Also you can begin to befriend mothers that live in the same town as you and may send their children to the same school once they reach the age.

Join an online group.  Although not at personal as face to face interaction the world wide web can provide you with the support and connection you need when getting out of the house seems insurmountable or you are having difficulties opening up to those closest to you. Facebook has an immense amount of groups based on your area of interest. Simply typing it in the search bar can help you find one. You may want to find smaller online communities that fit with a particular point of view rather than just general moms groups. General moms groups may be very active but can also be a hotbed of judgement and drama. Groups that focus on maternal mental health or postpartum mood disorders like postpartum depression are anxiety may be an extremely helpful resource. You can search “Postpartum Support Group” or “Postpartum Depression Support Group.” Also websites like thebump.com and babycenter.com also offer online communities and forums. You can also find Facebook moms groups that may be local to your city and state and may have their own meetups as well.

However, when it comes to sharing your emotional struggles and issues surrounding maternal mental health the best online groups are associated with nonprofits and community organizations that specialize in this. One of the most powerful first steps you can take towards recovery is learning that you are not alone and that comes from meeting other moms that are struggling in similar ways and are on their path to recovery too.

Postpartum Progress provides an online  forum of support for PMADs

– Postpartum Support International offers weekly online support meetings and a closed Facebook group.

-Find a local support groups. Usually local hospitals or churches offer free support groups or playgroups. I went to a new mom support group and a breastfeeding support group. Support groups are an excellent way to not feel alone and also be connected to someone who can provide you with local resources that you may need if you decide to seek treatment. Postpartum Progress offers a list of U.S. and Canada support groups here.

-Strengthen your current support system. Make sure you are keeping regular contact and connection with those that have already been a support system. Sometimes when we become moms we are so focused on finding moms that are going through the same things at the same time we forgot the people that have been standing beside us this whole time (friends, our moms, family, partners, etc.) Make sure you are calling them, talking to them, and opening up to them- most likely they are the ones to provide you with the most unconditional support.

Connect with others the “old fashioned” way. It may seem awkward to strike up a conversation with another mom while in line at Target but I have found random connections to be very healing and a form of support. When I took my son on his first flight and he got a little fussy an older women told me about talking her son on his first flight and how he cried the whole time. In that moment my anxiety decreased knowing I was not the first mom to deal with this situation and I certainly won’t be the last. We all survive somehow and get through it. When you offer a mom a kind glance when she’s struggling to get groceries in the car with a tantruming toddler or asking how old a mom’s newborn baby is you never know how you’re impacting them. And you never know where the conversation will lead. Whether or not you see them ever again it is a reminder that we aren’t alone, that we are all out there trying our best, and no matter how well we know each other, we’re all in this together.

When it comes to overcoming our fears of showing our pain to others and asking for support I think this excerpt from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams helps us think differently.

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”



Courtney’s Story

When Courtney sent me her story she told me I could feel free to edit it down as she was concerned it was too long. Although it may be long I promise you that you won’t regret reading it all the way through. As I read through I became so captivated and emotionally involved in her piece that I couldn’t even consider taking anything out.

Courtney’s story is about perinatal anxiety and also discusses how our previous mental health issues can be exacerbated during pregnancy and after birth. It is raw, it reads as a real story, and I hope you are as moved as I was.

Courtney's Story

My story actually begins long before my beautiful boy was born. At the age of 12, I was diagnosed with panic disorder after suffering from severe daily panic attacks. I went through months of therapy before it was finally decided that I also needed to add anti-anxiety medication to the mix. So, with a combination of therapy and Paxil, I became a much more relaxed and happy young adolescent. Things were not perfect, nor will they ever be, but I felt so much better and like a completely different person. I continue to take medication today, although I have switched to Zoloft. I have attempted a few times throughout my life to wean off, but I have never been able to completely. And despite what many critics may say, I’m okay with it for now.

When I found out I was pregnant in November 2014, I discussed being on medication throughout my pregnancy with my OB. We decided it was best that I continue on it due to my history. I knew that I would be at a higher risk for postpartum anxiety and depression, and I kept this in mind throughout.

Almost immediately after getting that positive pregnancy test, I felt my anxiety creeping back and getting worse. The medicine was continuing to help control my panic attacks, but I was having terrible thoughts that something was wrong with the baby. Was he not moving enough? Was he moving too much? What if something is wrong with him? Anything and everything concerned me and consumed me. I had a very hard time relaxing. Going to the doctor for my checkups was terrifying and a relief all at the same time. I would get all worked up until I heard the heartbeat and then feel complete relief for the rest of the day. It was short-lived relief though. I knew that I needed to reach out and get some help. I even asked my OB for a recommendation, but I never scheduled an appointment. It’s silly to me now thinking about it because I had gone through therapy off and on for years. I don’t know what was holding me back, and I don’t know that I ever will.

I continued through my pregnancy trying to tough out my constant anxiety. I refused to open up and wash all the clothes and new things. I only opened up the essentials. I feared the worst…that I would be coming home from the hospital without my son.

I ended up with high blood pressure toward the end of my pregnancy, which ultimately lead to my early induction at 38 weeks 6 days. I was induced around 8:00 p.m. and delivered my healthy, precious Camden at 11:45 a.m. the next day- July 16, 2015.

I felt a mix of emotions when he was born- relief, joy, love, but I also felt completely overwhelmed, anxious, fearful, and exhausted. It got worse when he wouldn’t latch when I tried to breastfeed. I tried and tried and the nurses also tried as well. It was difficult, and I felt helpless that I couldn’t give my baby the one thing he needed to survive. I was getting zero sleep because I had to hand express and start pumping to try to get my milk to come in. I was constantly trying to get whatever I could out to spoon feed/dropper feed him. Every little drop of colostrum I got was gold in my mind. But I had never been so tired in my life. I got him to latch twice throughout my 3 days at the hospital. I was feeding him from the dropper constantly, and I just knew we wasn’t getting enough. However, because I did get him to latch prior to being discharged, I was released and sent home with my new little bundle.

I can remember being wheeled down to go home with Camden in his carrier in my lap, and I was shaking uncontrollably. I was weepy and so nervous. I started feeling a panic attack setting in. I tried to control my breathing, but it was harder than I remember.  It had a been a long time since I had a panic attack. We got him in the car and set off for home. I sat in the back and just looked at him with a million different thoughts running through my head. How am I going to care for this little guy? What if I can’t do it? When am I going to sleep? What if I can’t get him to latch? I was absolutely terrified of SIDS. Some of it is a blur now,  but I don’t forget the sheer terror and panic I felt.

When I got home, all I wanted to do was sleep. I was so tired. I hadn’t gotten more than maybe 6 hours of sleep in 4 days. Sleeping at the hospital was impossible. I also began to have no appetite. My uncontrollable shaking was getting worse. I tried to lay down when I got home, and it was pointless. I cried and cried in bed and my thoughts consumed me. Is he still breathing? What if he spits up and chokes? Why is he sleeping so much? Why won’t he latch? Is he dehydrated? Is he getting enough to eat? You name it, I thought about it. I was so sleep deprived, and I couldn’t eat a thing.

My parents and in-laws came over shortly after we got home to help with him and to try to let me rest. It was no use. My anxiety was out of control. I felt helpless. I couldn’t stop crying and shaking. My mom tried to calm me down, but it wasn’t helping. I couldn’t get Camden to latch, and my milk wasn’t still fully in. I was pumping nonstop and feeding him everything I pumped, but I just knew it wasn’t enough. I became obsessed with the pumping and breastfeeding. By 9pm that  first evening, my anxiety was getting the best of me. I decided I needed to call my OB’s office to see if there was anything they could do for me. The doctor on call was very nice, I will say, but she didn’t help me whatsoever. She told me to lean on other people and rest as much as I could. Easier said than done.

At that point, I hadn’t eaten for 14 hours and still hadn’t gotten any sleep. It was time for everyone to go to sleep, which was absolutely terrifying for me. Luckily, my parents were spending the night. My husband was so supportive and tried to do everything he could to help me, but he was just as nervous and clueless about taking care of this new little man. We laid down in bed, and my thoughts raced. I knew I wasn’t going to sleep at all. Every little noise he made, I panicked. I was constantly checking to make sure he was breathing. This, combined, with trying to get Cam to latch, followed by pumping and feeding him what I pumped, left no time for sleep. I continued to cry and shake. Around 3 am, Cam woke up coughing and sounded congested to me, which put me over the edge. I was losing control. I called the nurse on call convinced that something was wrong with Cam. He’s congested and just coughed. She reassured me that this was probably all normal behavior, but that she could get me in to see a pediatrician the next day (Sunday) if I wanted. I immediately accepted the offer and counted down the minutes until he would be back in the care of a doctor. By Sunday morning, I hadn’t eaten for 24 hours. I couldn’t get anything down. I hadn’t slept at all for a few days, so I was completely sleep deprived. I was a mess and still crying nonstop. I was down 35 pounds in just a few days. I felt like I was losing it.

I was grateful to see the pediatrician. Cam had lost more weight and the doctor confirmed what I had thought. He was definitely not getting enough to eat. His plan was for me to try to get him to latch, pump after, and then supplement with formula EVERY two hours. By the time I would be done doing all that, it would be time to start over. But I was adamant that I could try to make it work. It was after this that I became obsessed with tracking how much he was eating and monitoring the amount of times he peed and pooped. I had daily logs that I tracked all of this on and panicked when something was different from normal. I kept up with these logs for months!

After meeting with the pediatrician, we stopped and got formula on the way home. We immediately started feeding him it, and I was thankful he was getting more to eat, although I felt tremendous guilt that it wasn’t coming from me. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t breastfeed, but I wasn’t ready to give up. By the time we got home, I still had barely eaten anything. I was so tired I could barely function, and I wanted to give up. I once again tried to get some sleep, but I couldn’t relax, and by the time I would get close to sleep, it was time to try breastfeeding again

Later that day is when things took a turn for the worse. I was so sleep deprived and weak. I couldn’t stop crying and my mind started getting irrational. I started having dark thoughts about myself. I felt that I couldn’t continue any longer like this. I was terrified and had never felt so scared in my life. It’s hard to explain, but I was scared that I was going to start having suicidal thoughts. I wasn’t actually thinking about hurting myself, but I was scared that those thoughts were going to come. I was having awful scary thoughts about harm coming to Camden. I had these images of me holding him and falling down the stairs. I had images of waking up to see him no longer breathing. I never had thoughts of hurting him or anyone else, but I couldn’t get these scary thoughts and images out of my head. I came downstairs to my husband and mom after trying to sleep and told them I needed help. I was in a pure state of panic. I told them I was starting to have dark thoughts and I couldn’t take it any longer. My mom told me to call my OB right away. I got the nurse on call who suggested I go to the ER since it was a Sunday.

My husband and I got in the car, left Camden with my mom, and headed back to the hospital just 36 hours after we had come home. I was triaged and immediately taken back to a room. I felt so badly and embarrassed that all this was going on, but I knew I needed help. My husband once again was so supportive. He listened and comforted me as best as her could even though he didn’t understand why I was being so irrational. They ran a bunch of tests to rule out anything else. I spoke to several different people who asked me the same questions again and again? Do you have thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby? Do you hear voices or see things that aren’t there? Do you have an appetite? The list goes on. Of course, the questions began to trigger my anxiety even more. I now began to worry that I was going to start having these thoughts or things that they were asking me about. After their evaluation and being informed that they had a “full house” for psych patients I was given an option. I could stay overnight in the ER by myself away from my husband and baby and get transferred to a hospital in the morning, or I could go home with some additional anti-anxiety medication and instructions to follow up with my OB and a therapist immediately. Luckily they pulled my husband out in the hall to discuss this with him, and he decided going home would be best. He knew he had to monitor my symptoms and bring me back immediately if anything worsened.  I was relieved that I was able to go home and anxious to get some relief from the medication. The one caveat was that I could not breastfeed while on the new medication, Ativan, which was heartbreaking to me. So, being stubborn, I decided to “pump and dump” to keep my supply up. I only had enough of the medication to last me for a few days anyways.

The next day, I called multiple places trying to find a psychiatrist and therapist that could see me right away. Every place I called it was like a 2-3 week wait for an appointment. I was feeling defeated until I found a place that heard my desperation and said they would fit me in somehow. I was able to meet with a therapist within a few days. I met with the therapist and cried A LOT while in my first session. I let loose on her about everything I was feeling, my fears, my complete sense of panic, my inability to sleep or eat. Afterward, I was still crippled with anxiety, but I knew I was taking a step in the right direction. I had a plan in place and an appointment set up to meet with a psychiatrist about adjusting my medications.

At the point in time that I had met with the therapist, I had stopped taking the Ativan (only took a few doses), so that I could continue to pump and try to breastfeed. I had convinced myself that I HAD to breastfeed. I felt tremendous pressure from everything I had read and heard that it was not an option to fail.  In turn, it was causing me so much additional anxiety. I told myself that Cam wasn’t  going to be as healthy or was going to suffer from SIDS if I stopped. Camden still wouldn’t latch, and I wasn’t getting enough rest pumping every 2-3 hours . The time in between pumping sessions was not enough time for me to try to fall asleep. I was lucky to fall asleep at all with my anxiety and usually by the time I did, it was time for me to pump again. I was driving myself crazy and realized I needed to do what was best for me, so that I could be my best self for my son. After talking at length with the therapist that day and discussing it with my husband and family, I decided to stop trying to breastfeed. I felt horribly guilty and ashamed, but I had a lot of support from family and friends. I knew it was what I needed to do. I began to feel the weight on my shoulders begin to lift slowly. I was able to sleep for longer stretches of time now that I had my husband and mom to help with feedings. My mind started to clear a little bit with more sleep. To this day, I still feel some guilt and sadness that I wasn’t able to experience breastfeeding to its fullest, but Camden doesn’t know either way. He is a happy, healthy boy.

I was starting to see that maybe things were going to be okay. I still had horrible thoughts of something bad happening to Cam and had a lot of trouble sleeping. And I had a new fear to conquer….being alone with him. I was TERRIFIED. The first day my husband was at work and my mom wasn’t there (she had stayed for a week) I cried most of the day. I was scared to be alone with him. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to handle taking care of him alone. I was terrified that something bad would happen.  I would fall while carrying him or drop him accidentally. He would stop breathing while he was sleeping. Then, I started getting sad all the time. I was confused. I loved this little guy so much, and I was terrified of harm coming to him, but at the same time, I longed for the simplicity of my life prior to him. I missed being able to do what I wanted when I wanted, to get a full night of sleep, to not have someone so dependent on me. Once again, I felt terrible about myself for even thinking these thoughts. I was tired of the monotony of my day and the constant anxiety.

I decided that I needed to start getting out of the house. I felt better when I was out and about. I started going anywhere and everywhere. Babies R  Us was my first adventure because it had a room that I could easily feed and change Cam in.  Next, I went to Target and eventually the grocery store. It seems silly but these moments out of the house really began to help. I also reached out to a neighbor who was a stay-at-home mom. She knew I was struggling and offered for me to come over whenever. I walked down with Camden a few times and just sat and talked with her.  That made me feel a lot better.

I finally met with a psychiatrist after a few weeks, and she worked with me on adjusting my medications. After I tweaked my medication dosages, I started to feel like a new person. Combined with the therapy, I was seeing huge progress. I developed a daily routine with the little guy and started to enjoy my days and my time with him. My anxiety greatly decreased, and I felt like me again.

Each day got better. I began to venture out on my own while others watched Cam. I treated myself to a monthly massage and went shopping alone. I also joined a weight loss program, which helped me feel even more in control of myself. I began to lose weight and felt good! Eating the right things for my body was a huge help. Therapy was helping me tremendously too. Every day, I used a wonderful app, called Pacifica, that my therapist recommended. It helped me to relax, focus on my breathing, and journal about my thoughts.

Obviously, I wasn’t “cured” and I still am not today. I don’t think my anxiety is something that will ever go away completely. I am thankful I have learned so many strategies for coping now though. I am still working on myself, and I still go to therapy 10 months later. I can proudly say now that I am the happiest I have ever been and my anxiety is under control. I love my son more than anything in the world. I can’t wait to see him when I get home from work or when I wake up in the morning. He is the light of my life. I love him more and more each day. I never knew that I could ever feel this kind of love. My husband and I have a wonderful, loving relationship as well. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive partner. He was there for me through the worst of it. He didn’t always understand it, and would get frustrated with my irrationality at times, but he never gave up on me. He was patient and understanding and still supports me every day. When I have a rough day, he immediately takes on the duties of caring for Cam or getting things around the house done. He has been my rock through it all. I feel so incredibly blessed to have him and our beautiful baby boy. I couldn’t be happier.

My advice to anyone struggling, is to reach out for help! The sooner you can get some professional help, the better. I should have gone during my pregnancy when my anxiety started getting worse. If I had, I may have avoided some of what happened after. I would also suggest to go out as often as you can. Force yourself to go for a walk, go to the store, find a support group, anything you can to keep yourself from being cooped up in your house with your racing mind. My other piece of advice, which is something I still struggle with daily is to stay off the internet. I developed a bad habit of Googling anything and everything. Even before I became pregnant, I would look up stuff about my health and convince myself I had some disease. During my pregnancy it got worse. I was looking stuff up on the Internet daily. I was reading worst-case scenario stories and convincing myself that something was wrong. I continued to surf the Internet after Camden was born and get myself all worked up. This is something I am still working on today. There is a lot of information out there…some good and definitely some bad. My best advice is to discuss health concerns with a doctor instead of looking it up on the Internet. Finally and foremost, tell yourself that you are not alone. You will get through this. There is hope for  you and you are already an AMAZING momma.


Courtney is a Cleveland, Ohio native where she lives with her husband and son. She has been a teacher for 6 years and currently teaches kindergarten. She enjoys traveling, spending time with family and friends, and reading. She is bless to have such a wonderfu  support system in her life. she continues to work on herself daily but feels confident in the progress that she has made. 

How to Seek Treatment for Postpartum Mental Health

When you feel you have identified that you need professional help for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) there are some things to consider.

Make The Call- How to Seek Treatment for Postpartum Mental Health Issues

Finding a Provider

When you are looking for a provider you will need to know if they accept your insurance through contacting them or checking their practice’s website. You may also want to contact your insurance to inquire as to any limitations or co-pays that exist with behavioral health services. Insurance companies may only provide coverage for a certain amount of sessions per year (many times this is 52 sessions per year). If you receive Medicaid it is also important to inquire about service limitations as well as each state may have their own coverage limits.

Mental health professionals come from various educational backgrounds. Therapists can be psychiatrists (MDs), psychologists (Ph.Ds), counselors (their credentials may vary from state to state but LPC or PC are common) and social workers (also varied credentials but LCSW, LSW, or LISW are common). For counseling you will most likely see a psychologist, counselor, or social worker. Like counselors, social workers that specialize in mental health received training in graduate school in mental health interventions.Many people have a stigma towards social workers when it comes to seeing them for therapy because of the negative stereotype of us being people that take children away from their families.  This article from Lifehacker explains the differences in these specialities in greater detail. The credentials of your therapist are not as important as finding a therapist that specializes in what you are seeking services for and the rapport you feel with them.  

Visit Postpartum International’s link  for a list of regional coordinators that can provide you with a list of local professionals here.

 Visit  Postpartum Progress’s page here for providers.

In Australia you can access PANDA’s directory of services and providers here.

If you have difficulties finding a provider that specializes in PMADs such as postpartum depression or anxiety you can seek professionals that specialize in depression, anxiety, OCD, or psychosis. Interventions will be similar whether or not your therapist specializes in PMADs, although therapists that specialize in PMADs may have better resources and experience that are tailored to pregnancy and postpartum.

It is perfectly common and acceptable to seek a therapist of your own gender or have a gender preference. It is always helpful to have a provider in mind when you call a large practice by doing research first but if they are unavailable and you are offered alternatives it is acceptable to request a female or male depending on your preference or trauma history.

If you believe medication may need to be part of your treatment it is a good idea to look for counseling practices that contain a psychiatrist and mental health professionals that provide counseling services. In many circumstances psychiatrists only provide medication management and not counseling. Having a psychiatrist and therapist in the same practice is beneficial because your therapist and psychiatrist are more likely to communicate if they are in the same practice which provides you better care. Your therapist can also help you advocate to your psychiatrist when you have concerns about medication.

What to Expect From Your Therapist

In your first couple sessions with your therapist you will be asked a lot of questions. This will consist of why you sought treatment, your current presenting symptoms, history of medical conditions or previous mental health history, family medical or mental health history, any history of traumatic events, and your current family situation. Understanding your symptoms, your history, and your environment all help the therapist form a context to help you.

Depending on the therapists own style they may or may not be writing things down as you speak. If they don’t write down while you talk know that they will probably be writing down notes after you leave the session. If you have any concerns about your privacy you should ask your therapist for their privacy policy and how they keep records. Your records should be kept in a locked cabinet to ensure your privacy. Just like medical records you are protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). For more information on your rights under HIPPA go here.

Your therapist should inform you of the limits of confidentiality. Everything that is said in a therapy sessions is confidential with the exception of 1) plans to harm self or commit suicide, 2) a plan to harm someone, 3) child abuse/neglect. In this case the thearpist may contact an emergency room or police depending on the situation. This should not deter you from sharing thoughts of wanting to harm yourself or others. Therapists are able to deciper thoughts from an actual plan and if you are a potential harm to yourself or others it is best that the safety of yourself and others is protected. Therapist are also mandated reporters of abuse/neglect of children. If you disclose that your child or a child you know is being abused the therapist may work with you to contact family services so that the child’s safety is protected.

Your therapist should be conducting an assessment and may come to a mental health diagnosis. Diagnosis is an important part of being able to provide you with treatment because many insurance providers require a diagnosis for billing purposes. But in my first posts I mentioned the important of understanding diagnosis as a billing ticket and not a label that needs to follow you around for life. Diagnosis helps therapist receive compensation for services and also helps the therapist plan a course of treatment.

Your therapist should also inform you of the course of treatment and what approaches they will be using. This may vary as many therapists use an eclectic approach based on what you share in sessions. However, it is helpful to know the course of your treatment and what will be asked of you in sessions.

What You Need to Do in Therapy

It’s simple but difficult. Be open, be honest, be vulnerable. Be willing to hear feedback. Be willing to change your thinking. If it helps write symptoms, thoughts, or problems you experience during the week and bring that into the session. Sometimes the day of therapy is a great day and you may show up not thinking you need anything and forgetting that 3 days before you felt you were an absolute mess.

Try to think of what you want and need from therapy and communicate that. How would you like your life to change? What would that look like? Having a vision of what you want therapy to achieve will help your therapist get you there. Be prepared to talk about what is on your mind each session.

Some Signs That You May Want to Seek A New Therapist

He or she talks more than you do in sessions. Sometimes people that seek this line of work find the work more therapeutic for themselves. Sometimes therapists that want to connect to you find it important to find ways to relate and then end up monopolize the conversation. If you feel you can’t get a word in edgewise it might be time to look elsewhere.

He or she offers a lot of life advice. It may seem strange but it is really not our job to offer you advice. We offer you tools to develop insights into your own life so that you can arrive at the choice for you. We are taught to value self-determination which is to respect the client’s authority to make their own choices. We may offer information, tools, and provide you with questions or ways to brainstorm solutions but it is the cornerstone of our work to ensure that you are making your decisions based on your own values and opinions while knowing their impact.

He or she is acting like your best friend. It may sound harsh but therapy is not a reciprocal relationship. If a therapist becomes too emotionally invested in your relationship then their judgment is clouded when providing you with treatment. Therapists should not be meeting with you outside of your sessions for coffee. The boundaries in your therapeutic relationship should be clear.

You feel you aren’t making progress and you’ve communicated with your therapist about this. Sometimes thearpeutic relationships can reach a plateau and something the way a therapist is approaching your problems may not be the best way for you. As therapists we know this and understand that a different perspective may work best for you. But to show respect it is always best to have the conversation first and explore if there are ways your therapist can change her approach before you begin trying to find a new one.

You feel judged by your therapist. One of the most important parts of therapy is that if feels like a safe place. If you feel your therapist has responded with judgement or shamed you in any way for some of your choices you need to find a new therapist that validates your feelings, helps you find a path to self-forgiveness for mistakes, and helps you change shameful thinking patterns. You shouldn’t be hearing things from your therapist like “Why in the world would you do that?!” or “Well that wasn’t a good choice!” Any therapist that perpetuates your shame is not working in your best interest.


Making that phone call for help is sometimes the hardest part. But it is strength. It is vulnerability. It is love for your child, yourself, and your family.



Erica’s Story

Each week for Maternal Mental Health Month I will be bringing you a story of a real mom’s struggle with mental health issues. These moms so graciously volunteered their stories in hopes of inspiring others through their journey. I owe much appreciation to the writer of our first story this month: Erica.

Erica's Story-Don’t isolate yourself, get yourself out of the house, even if you are tired and anxious. Don’t let the walls close in. There is light at the end of the tunnel. You will be OK.

When did you notice or realize that your struggle were beyond “normal” baby blues?

6 weeks post birth.  My mum, visiting from the UK, left to go home.  Around the same time, I made a decision to stop breast feeding because it just wasn’t working out.  I felt my world fall apart.  I didn’t know what I was going to do without my Mum around, and hadn’t felt I’d ‘bonded’ with my son, either.  He didn’t sleep very well, and I wasn’t getting enough rest.  I felt tired, isolated, anxious and lonely.  I cried most of the day, wasn’t sleeping well, and stayed home rather than face going out.

At what point did you decide to seek help?

6 or 7 weeks post birth.  My husband encouraged me to go to see my GP [general practitioner].  I had a few, what I call ‘breakdowns’, which at one point in the middle of the night, had my husband debating whether to call the ambulance because I lost control and became terrified of what was happening to me.  Unfortunately, the GP I went to see, didn’t really talk to me about my options. He prescribed me with antidepressants and shooed me out the door.   I took the antidepressant for a week, felt awful, and stopped.  I can’t recall if I was my decision to change GPs, or whether someone else told me to, but I did.  My new GP proved to be a much better support, and referred me to a counsellor straight away.

The second time around, with my second son, I started seeing cracks in my moods during pregnancy.  Because my first birth and first year of motherhood hadn’t gone to plan, I started to get anxious about how I’d cope with baby #2.  This time, I was able to seek help sooner.  I went back to my GP to organise a mental health care plan and referral to a counsellor.   After a few sessions it was established I’d suffered from anxiety for most of my life, I hadn’t actually realised until that point.  After baby #2 was born, I coped a bit better than I did the first time, but unfortunately PND [postnatal depression] reared its ugly head again.  After many months of counselling, it got to the point where I needed medication. At that point, I felt suicidal, that my family would be better without me.  After initially rejecting the idea of being medicated, I accepted that’s what I needed to do to help me out of my dark place, so I started taking antidepressants.

Describe your journey to recovery. How have things gotten better?

Weekly counselling helped me immensely.  Much of my weekly sessions involved tears and lots of them.  Slowly, that changed.  I could confide in my counsellor in a way I couldn’t with anyone else.  Because I had no connections with him in terms of friendship or family, it helped me talk about what was really going on in my mind, and helped me understand (to some extent) why.

After a few months, I changed my weekly visits to fortnightly then monthly.

I stopped keeping my thoughts to myself, and worked on releasing some of the guilt I had of burdening my loved ones with my woes.  Communication has always been a little difficult for me, but I’ve got better (although forever working on it) and find I can talk more freely than I used to with my family and friends.

Baby #2 is now 2.5yrs. I am still taking antidepressants but I’m down to minimum dose.  At some point I may not need to take them anymore, but right now, I’m running on about 95% and feeling so much better.

What was the most helpful thing to you during your struggles?

When my baby reached 6 months, I made the tough decision to quit my job because I wasn’t coping.  My baby was in childcare three days a week and I worked in the city; an hour commute each way.  When I didn’t work in the city, I still worked, with my son at home with me.   My baby didn’t sleep well at night because of reflux, which meant none of us were getting enough rest, nor enough time to recover.

The job I quit, wasn’t just a job, it was my everything.. before kids.  I had a fulfilling career, in a job I thought I’d be in for the rest of my working life.  All of that changed when my son arrived and my priorities changed, but when I quit my job, I felt so lost and didn’t understand my purpose anymore.  Was ‘being a Mum’ all there was for me?  Was it enough?  I hadn’t planned for that.

My husband said to me “you need to get a hobby”, and I laughed in his face.  A hobby?  When would I have time to find a hobby in between the daily chores of motherhood?  Well, I did find a hobby, I started to write.  A blog to start with.  My blog give me a creative outlet and something I could focus on, other than my daily struggles through motherhood.  My blog gained momentum and recognition.  I made blog friends, and taught myself to sew.  I started to get paid to share my words so I made my blog my job, and that made me happy.  I found my purpose again, and new doors opened, which I hadn’t thought possible.  8 years on, and I’m still writing; not just a blog, but for agencies and websites, too.  I didn’t find a new job in the same field of work I did prior to having kids, instead, I changed my career and turned my hobby into my job.  Lucky me.

What also helped me in the early months, was getting out of the house.  Even in my sleep deprived, anxious state, I went to playgroups, music groups, mother’s group meet-ups, sometimes to the café by myself, just to break up my day.  A year down the track, I found an occasional care centre; a community run facility offering low cost, short term childcare.  I enrolled my son into the centre, and slowly got both of us used to the facility before I left him in caring hands for a few hours a week.  Those few hours, increased to 5 hours, and eventually x 3 days a week, when he got a little older.  Not only did I meet some amazing friends (who are still my amazing friends, today) through the centre; other mothers who didn’t have local support nearby, but the short break meant the world to me.  Doing a little creative work, or simply running errands during that time, gave me the opportunity to appreciate being a Mum.  I couldn’t wait to see my son at pick up time, to see the smile on his face, and jump back into my important role as MUM again.

Do you have any advice for moms in seeking professional help or outside support/resources?

If you sense you aren’t coping, or think your ‘baby blues’ aren’t going away, please talk about it.  See your GP and get a referral to see a counsellor/physcologist.   If you aren’t confident with your current GP, change.  Ask your friends for a GP recommendation if you’re not sure.  When you see your GP, ask for a mental health plan to see a counsellor, or speak to your counsellor about it because you should be entitled to receive a rebate for sessions from Medicare [in Australia].  If you are really lost and don’t know where to turn, call the PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia telephone counselling service) helpline.  I did, on more than one occasion, and can’t thank them enough for helping me through my most difficult days.

What would you like others moms to understand and learn from the most about your experience?

Don’t keep things bottled up and don’t think you are burdening other people with your troubles.  I know it’s hard, but you have to talk to your friends or family.  When you find someone you feel comfortable to talk to, even if that person happens to be your counsellor, keep in regular contact.  Don’t isolate yourself, get yourself out of the house, even if you are tired and anxious.  Don’t let the walls close in.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  You will be OK.


Erica was born and raised in England, but now calls Australia home.  She lives in Melbourne Bayside with her husband and two young sons.

Erica writes all about sustainable fashion for her personal blog Recycled Fashion, and she specialises in writing entertainment and event reviews for WeekendNotes all things kid-related for KidTown Melbourne and Melbourne Mums Group.

Erica’s number one passion is to write, although op shopping, travelling and craft related activities all fall a close second. Erica might live in the coffee capital of Australia, but she is 100% fuelled by chai lattes and chocolate.

Erica is a qualified in Business and Finance, although for a large chunk of her working life managed a volunteer travel business, saving little corners of the world in the name of wildlife conservation research.


What are PMADs? How Do I Know if I have one?

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore.To begin my posts on Maternal Mental Health Month it’s best to start with the basics- the what, why, when, and now what?. Just what are Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs)? And how do you know if you have them?


Before I even begin to describe PMADs its important that I have a brief disclaimer about mental health diagnoses. There is much stigma surrounding these labels but its important to note their function. We need to give these symptoms a name for two important reasons-1)so we can classify them for research and best practices and 2)so we can bill health insurance. Mental health diagnosis are not labels that have to follow you around for life. They are not something to be ashamed or fearful of what it will mean for the remainder of your life. Nor do they come with judgements within in the mental health community. Any good therapist looks past the diagnoses to see the person that is uniquely you. You may have the same diagnoses as another mother out there but your treatment will be unique to your own needs which includes your symptoms, your culture, your life situation, and most importantly – your thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.  Labels serve the mental health community a purpose but they are not you.

Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders are a group of mental disorders that occur during or after pregnancy. They include anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and psychosis also being disorders that can occur postpartum. Disorders accompany the period during and after pregnancy have different terms associated with when they occur that may be confusing. When it comes to recognizing your symptoms and getting help these terms are not really that important. However, for your understanding here is a brief breakdown.

Perinatal- during and after pregnancy

Prenatal-during pregnancy only

Postnatal or Postpartum– after pregnancy

When it comes to what you may experience psychologically during or after pregnancy symptoms fall under several main categories:

Depression- a period of low mood or heightened irritability and can be accompanied by symptoms such as fatigue or low energy, sleep difficulties, weight gain or loss, lack of interest in the baby, lack of pleasure from things you usually find pleasurable, as well as feelings of low self-worth, guilt, or hopelessness (this is usually labelled as Major Depressive Disorder or Persistent Depressive Disorder if you have had the symptoms for 2 years)

Anxiety – a period of heightened worry, racing thoughts, fear of something bad happening, and physical symptoms such as nausea or dizziness, sleep difficulties of changes in appetite(this is usually labelled as Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Panic Disorder)

Obsessive Compulsive Symptoms– similar to anxiety in terms of heightened worry but accompanied by unwanted and intrusive thought patterns that are very distressing to the mother (usually surrounding the safety of herself or her baby) as well as urges to engage in certain behaviors (compulsions) in order to reduce anxiety (for example: continuing to check locks, repetitive washing of self or baby, or counting or placing things in order)

There are two other important diagnoses that can occur in the perinatal period

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder– if you may have experienced a very difficult pregnancy or traumatic birth  this may have led to symptoms of high anxiety or distress when you recall the event, avoidance of anything that reminds you of the event, feelings of detachment, flashbacks or nightmares, hypervigilance, and sleep difficulties

Psychosis– a more rare condition but very important to pay attention to Postpartum Psychosis presents with symptoms of paranoia, mood swings, strange false beliefs that lead to distress (for example-irrational fear of someone harming the baby or the mother herself) and sometimes hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there)


There are many factors that can contribute to the occurrence of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. It is difficult to pin down exact causes due to the fact that many of the potential causes co-exist in each mother. Causes can be medical, psychological, or situational. Some believed medical causes of PMADs are a genetic predisposition or a sensitivity to the levels of hormones released during and after pregnancy. Psychological factors that have been researched to be potential causes include tendencies for perfectionism, previous mental illness, or past trauma. Situational or environmental stressors can also contribute to PMADs occurring such as health challenges in the mother or baby, lack of access to resources, traumatic birth, and lack of social support.



A common misconception with PMADs is that you experience them shortly after childbirth. However, we know that not only can women experience these symptoms during pregnancy but they can also begin to occur up until a year postpartum. Many women report onset of symptoms even as late as 6-9 months postpartum. Does that mean if you experience these symptoms and have a 2 year old you shouldn’t seek help? Absolutely NOT. Mental health symptoms can wax and wane and sometimes we are unaware of how they are truly affecting us. What’s important is to get educated and get help.

So, what now?

So how do you know if you are experiencing any of these disorders?

  • Complete a screening tool. Screening tools are instruments designed to take a brief picture of your symptoms to see if you possibly meet critieria for a PMAD and should follow up to get professional help. They are NOT a diagnosis. Once you contact a mental health profession you will participate in a full assessment that is unique to you.

The Edinburgh Depression Scale is the most commonly used screening tool for PMADS. Print and complete and share with your healthcare provider. Download a copy here or take an online version here.

One very important thing here to note is that if you have only one or two symptoms of any of these disorders but feel very distressed you should still seek help. Seeking professional counselling or the advice from a doctor does not require you to present with all the symptoms of one disorder. What is most important to focus on here is how these symptoms are impacting your daily life, not necessarily whether or not you have them all.

  • Ask yourself some questions.

Do I feel safe? Do I feel safe with my baby?   Answering No to either of these questions means you may require immediate help. Tell a family member or trusted friend and contact your local emergency room or general practitioner immediately.  Check out my resources page for suicide hotlines in the US and Australia here.

Do these symptoms impact my day to day activities? Are there days where it seems impossible to get out of bed? Do you never leave the home due to anxiety or depression? Do you avoid certain everyday situations because you are worried that someone may be trying to harm you? If you are not functioning in your usual manner or engaging in the daily activities you used to because of these symptoms it is time to seek help.

Do I have a support system? Are there people in your life you can turn to when you are struggling? Is there someone to help with your baby? Is there someone to provide you with emotional support? A support system is an integral part of recovery. Having one in place can be of great value in being able to make counseling appointments, have someone help with the baby when you are struggling, and provide essential emotional support.

How would I describe my quality of life? You may be completing your daily responsibilities but if you feel that each day is miserable or full of distress and you are just keeping your head above water it is important to still seek help. You deserve to have a good quality of life and not carry through life just trying to make it through the day.

Do I know where I can go for help?  Do you have access to a general practitioner? Can you contact your insurance provider to get a list of local mental health professionals? Do you know local agencies that have support groups for moms? Be proactive and do some research to find out what is out there. Help is available. Keep speaking up until someone hears you. Click here for my resources page that will point you to national and international organizations that specialize in PMADs. Their pages are amazing and contain directories of local resources as well as online support communities.

Stay tuned for next week’s post on what to expect from treatment and the many avenues you can seek for support with PMADs.


May is Maternal Mental Health Month

Maternal Mental Health Month- You are Not AloneWhy dedicate an entire month to maternal mental health? Because of the mom who stays inside all day because she is afraid to put her baby in a car. Because of the mom who quickly wipes her tears and fakes a smile when her partner comes home but feels empty and alone inside. Because of the mom who feels that her mind is playing tricks on her but is afraid if she tells anyone her baby will be taken away. Because if we don’t help these moms it’s not just the moms that lose, it’s the babies that lose as well. Because if we don’t bind together as moms and truly live the “It takes a village to raise a child” attitude by telling each other it’s okay to break down, it’s okay to be unhappy, and it’s okay to ask for help then we don’t stand a chance to raise a compassionate generation to follow our own.

The reason we have campaigns like this is because of one powerful message that can change a person’s life: you are NOT alone. When you feel you are suffering in a way no one else has you can lose all hope. You may think, “how can I cope if no one else experiences this?” You compare and worry that something is wrong with you if you are the only one suffering. You think, “there must be something wrong with me.” When you realize you aren’t alone it’s like a weight has been lifted. You start to hope that if someone else has experienced it and survived, you will too. I hope my posts reach out to you moms out there that feel alone in your struggles and help you realize that so many other women out there share in your challenges. There is hope, there is healing, and there are people out there to help and support you.

As May is Maternal Mental Health Month I thought I would use this week’s post to give an introduction to what you can expect from Full Motherhood next month. In an effort to spread awareness and information, break down stigma, and remind mothers who are struggling that they are not alone I will be posting weekly educational posts, stories from real moms who have had maternal mental health concerns, and resources from various organizations that are providing education and services to mothers around the world.

My weekly posts will follow the following format:

Week 1: What are Maternal Mental Health Issues? How do I know if I have them?

Week 2: Getting Help and What to Expect from Treatment

Week 3: Building Social Support and Knowing You aren’t Alone

Week 4: Recovery and Resiliency

Each week will also have a second post that is the story of a real mom who volunteered to answer my questions about their own maternal mental health struggle.

If during this month of reading my materials and posts you have questions please contact me via my Facebook page here. I would also like to take this time to remind my readers that my blog is not meant as a substitute for mental health treatment and those that are currently experiencing mental health concerns should seek the treatment and advisement of their local doctor of mental health professional.

For the time being if you are looking to connect with other moms and gain support please visit one of the following organizations that provides online support. If you are having serious struggles please contact your doctor or insurance provider to obtain a referral for a mental health practitioner.

Get Hope: Hope for Warrior Moms

http://postpartum.net  (Look under “Get Help”)

http://www.panda.org.au (Australia)


Let’s break the stigma. Let’s stand together. Let’s give all moms hope.