This last week or two has been marked by lots of strategy building in my psychotherapy practice. This is an important part of the work for women as they move towards wellness in the postpartum period. At the same time, in the work that I do, there is attention paid to a very careful balance between the “being” and the “doing” pieces involved in recovery from a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder like postpartum depression. Often, women want nothing more than to get themselves the heck out of where they are—both emotionally and logistically.
“I cannot feel like this for one more second,” so many of these moms say. “I want out,” they acknowledge. “I want to just get on a bus and disappear,” they determine. “ I should have never decided to have children,” they mourn. “I do not want to have to be in this therapy office,” they declare.
And, oh, how much I wish I could push that big red shiny button for these mamas and make all of the pain and suffering disappear. That would be so wonderfully poetic and such a relief. Being in that place of great despair is so heart-wrenching and conflicting for the women who find themselves there.
And so acknowledging this place of great hurt is difficult. But it is also an important part of the recovery process. Wishing it all away is a natural reaction but also is, quite frankly, self-defeating. Most of us will find that the more we try to feel differently, the less likely we are to move in that direction. Instead, and against all that seems rational at the moment, meeting yourself right where you are during postpartum depression or anxiety is the place that all recovery stems from.
Instead of judging ourselves for our shortcomings, we try to validate. Instead of telling ourselves it is wrong to feel a certain way, we empathize. Instead of getting out the punching bag, we muster up a hug. For ourselves.
With all of the amazing and empowering gifts that motherhood offers, being a mom is also bloody hard work—especially if you are struggling with a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder like postpartum depression. It is back-breaking. It is heart-breaking. It is confusing. It is exhausting. It is overwhelming. It is draining. It sometimes feels suffocating. It requires us to face our shortcomings. It asks us to be willing to make mistakes. It beckons us to revisit old hurts. It pushes us to look at who we are and where we have been. And all of this can catch moms off guard when the most “expected” thing is maternal bliss and happiness. Yes, this happens too, but often not for quite some time for many women.
There is a difference here, I must add, between meeting yourself where you are with acceptance, compassion, and understanding and “settling in” to this uncomfortable place as a way of giving in to the power of these challenges. I am not asking you to give up or to hand yourself over or to decide that this is how you will feel forever. I am asking you to simply open yourself up to what is happening for you as a way of looking it straight in the eye as if to say, “Okay. Here I am. I see you despair/anxiety/overwhelm/sadness. I am looking at you for what you are and I am now going to hug myself, hold my own hand, and do my best to close the door on your company.”
And once you do that, you can begin to move forward with an authenticity and a pace that will lead you in the direction that you desire.
Kate Kripke, LCSW