When Motherhood Feels Overwhelming
“Every new mom – except for me – is posting pictures with big smiles, sharing stories of the miracle that is motherhood. I must be doing something terribly wrong.”
There are few, if any, new moms who haven’t felt exactly this way as the dreams of baby’s arrival become the reality of the cascade of changes – in their bodies, minds, hormones, diet and relationships – that are part of becoming a parent.
Avera Medical Group Behavioral Health Outpatient Services has worked over the past year to form a new postpartum group therapy for these new moms to share insights and realize the truth that they are not alone.
“Most moms get a touch of what’s called the ‘baby blues’ shortly after giving birth, but about 10-15 percent of new mothers experience more depression and anxiety, and that subset is the focus of our group,” said Nancy Wise-Vander Lee, PhD, LP, a licensed clinical psychologist with Avera Medical Group Behavioral Health Outpatient Services.
Wise-Vander Lee, along with Sarah Varilek, LPC-MH, leads the meetings. “We began the program in part because many physicians told us they were noticing an uptick in patients reporting concerns with anxiety and depression during postnatal visits.”
Expectations Meet Reality
Joining with other new moms can help the wave of feelings that come from the change in one’s entire life. Expectations for “joyful” motherhood are often hard to endure when this period of time has so many challenges.
“It’s rarely ‘all good’ for any mother, and in our group we can really give patients tools to deal with the experiences they feel, as well as that sense of isolation that many feel,” said Wise-Vander Lee. “A good place to start is a conversation with your OB provider.”
Wise-Vander Lee said the possible signs of “baby blues” developing into something more serious include:
- Feeling sad and hopeless, or worrying to the point of being overly anxious
- Moody, irritable or restless, with trouble concentrating
- Withdrawal from friends and family, or intense anger
- Anger or rage, along with withdrawal from friends and family
- Trouble forming an emotional attachment with baby, or thoughts of harming yourself or baby
- Feeling overwhelmed and unable to ask for help
So far, the response from participants in the group has been simple: we want more.
“We extended the length of our group, from four weeks to six, and increased each session to 90 minutes,” she said. “As a group, we can talk about those many life adjustments after baby arrives, and help members reframe negative thought processes. We teach them to challenge the critical, negative voice that can come with this time in life.”
Coping with the many changes that come after having a child can begin with these ideas, as well as open communication with your OB care provider and family:
- Talk with someone you trust about your feelings
- Ask for help and accept help
- Maintain a well-balanced diet
- Keep a journal and practice self-care
- Spend time outdoors or socialize
- Accept less than perfection
- Participants also learn relaxation techniques and address the many ways relationships can change, with a focus on communication and the importance of self-care.
“Each session we do see those looks of relief and these connections form ,” Wise-Vander Lee said. “It can be very rewarding, and there’s a sense of relief that comes with it.”
In this age of social-media “semi-authentic” living, Wise-Vander Lee reminds new moms that all of us edit and market.
“Posts from new moms on Facebook and elsewhere tend to show only the successes, and that can add to the burdens,” she said. “This group shares experiences, both good and bad, and it can be an understanding place for any woman facing that overwhelmed feeling that can come to all new moms.”
The group meets at Avera Medical Group 69th and Cliff in Sioux Falls. You can call 605-322-3300 for more information about the group.