Post by: Katayune Kaeni, Psy.D.
Have you ever really sat and deeply listened to a mother who was suffering after the birth of a child?
Have you ever heard what she had to say about herself, her new baby, her experience in the world?
After years of sitting with and supporting mothers to cope and heal through the devastation of feeling
unwell, mentally and emotionally exhausted, do you know what I hear so clearly and so often?
I hear a mother who is in so much emotional upheaval that she cannot accept herself as she is. I hear a
woman who has been told by society that in order to be a good mother that she has to
feel…be…look…act…behave a certain way.
Essentially, she is questioning her SELF. She is wondering if her fundamental self is capable of being a
mother and then (falsely) concluding that she is not good enough. It happens all too often.
Can you imagine? A new mother…sitting, holding a baby. From the outside looking in, we don’t know
what’s going on in her mind. She may look just fine. We assume what she’s feeling, thinking and
wanting. We usually assume that it’s all positive, that she’s happy and fulfilled. However, from the inside
for her…she may be worried, sad, overwhelmed, feeling inadequate, wondering if she can do it, thinking
that she can’t. For her, it may even seem obvious that she’s not good enough.
This is the suffering of a mother feeling overwhelmed by postpartum depression and anxiety. Really, this
is only a small part of what many women feel. Many suffer in silence. Not knowing that there are
resources, support and people who can help them.
There are so many people working diligently to address Perinatal Mental Health and all of its
complications. There are new organizations and non-profits that I hear about every day now. People
working on legislation, training health care providers, setting up support groups, having necessary
discussions with insurance company’s and really so much more. So many passionate and compassionate
people at the table having sea change conversations and opening doors for the movement.
While the big and small organizations are taking care of the larger scope issues, the rest of us really have
to understand our role in supporting that mother. It’s going to take all of us. It’s going to take neighbors,
friends, co-workers, family and really anyone who is in contact with a pregnant or postpartum mother.
May people feel like they don’t know what to do, or overwhelmed by not knowing what to do.
I’ll tell you the first steps. It’s simple in theory, but complicated by emotion and sometimes avoidance…
We have to ASK HER how she’s really doing. We have to LISTEN to how she’s really doing. Then we have
to SUPPORT her to get the relief she needs. Not simply say, “Let me know if you need help.” I mean,
bring food. Take care of the baby so that she can sleep. Clean up her home. Sit with her if she wants.
Help her find a therapist.
You don’t have to understand what is going on for her (but it helps immensely), you don’t have to agree
with her feelings (but you don’t have to say that either). Just believe her. She’s not making any of it up.
She does not want to feel the way she is feeling. She wants to feel heard, seen and to know that she’s
not alone. Can you imagine what it would be like to go sit with that mother we talked about earlier? Can you see how taking some time to talk with her could help? Especially if we were all doing that to some degree. Please, if you know someone who is trying to get pregnant, had a pregnancy loss, is pregnant, just gave birth or has an infant, reach out to her with compassion. Be there with her. You could be part of the
reason that she gets better.
Katayune Kaeni, Psy.D., is a psychologist specializing maternal mental health and the creator and host of the Mom & Mind Podcast. She volunteers with PSI as the area co-coordinator for San Bernardino
County. Dr. Kat works with San Bernardino County’s Maternal Mental Health workgroup to provide
training to local mental health and allied healthcare providers. Visit http://www.momandmind.com to learn more about the great work Dr. Kaeni is doing.