Every mother knows that becoming a mom, especially in the beginning is extremely challenging. However, our society idealizes motherhood as nothing short of complete bliss and effortlessness. There are countless misconceptions, assumptions and attitudes that are quite damaging to our mothers. “Good mothers” are those who can manage every detail in an organized, flawless way. They keep a perfectly clean and tidy home and support their child’s every interest and need, putting herself last on the list of priorities. Her identity, interests, social life, etc. don’t matter anymore because now she is a mother. And for that, she is absolutely joyous! Her marriage is ten times stronger since the baby has come. Those warm, fuzzy moments do occur but not in every minute of every day. This romanticized image of motherhood is harmful as countless mothers compare themselves to this impossible and unrealistic ideal and chronically feel like they aren’t good enough. Many come to know the feelings of inadequacy and guilt very well.
Women across the world struggle with the transition of motherhood and because of the above mentioned message we receive, they are left to feel ashamed and alone. With professional experience working with new mothers as both a life and transition coach and a licensed psychotherapist, I’ve witnessed countless women who have shared their feelings with family, friends, doctors, and are told by them (usually with good intentions) that they might have Post Partum Depression (PPD). This hasty labeling, too, can be harmful as many women feel incredibly ashamed, judged and inadequate. This article is meant to clarify the differences in struggling with the transition of new motherhood and in actual PPD and gives some background on the different approaches and viewpoints that a psychotherapist might have vs. those of a life coach.
Post Partum Depression (the actual diagnosis is Major Depressive Episode with Post Partum Onset) is a serious condition that should be treated by a trained mental health professional. The prevalence of PPD is debatable as the statistics range greatly. Post Partum Depression is not recognized as being diagnostically distinct from Major Depressive Episode (depression) according to the American Psychiatric Association (2000), however, a trained professional would specify that a Major Depressive Episode is, “With Post Partum Onset” only if the onset of symptoms occurs within four weeks of delivery. For this reason, the criteria for PPD and “depression” are the same. PPD is a period of at least two weeks where there is either a depressed mood or the loss of interest or pleasure in nearly all activities (“not caring anymore”). Also, at least four other symptoms must be present that include changes in appetite and/or weight, sleep changes (insomnia or sleeping too much, not the changes that naturally will occur with your baby’s schedule), decreased energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty with concentration and thinking or making decisions, psychomotor activity changes (others might notice that you move slower or faster than usual) or recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. These symptoms must persist for most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two consecutive weeks. Also, they must cause significant distress or impairments in your ability to function. The degree of impairment ranges from mild to severe and a careful interview is necessary to make this diagnosis. In severe cases, a person might lose the ability to perform minimal self-care or personal hygiene tasks or they could even experience delusions or hallucinations. Specific to women who have had a baby within four weeks of onset of symptoms, fluctuations in mood and preoccupations with the well-being of your infant (intensity could range from being over-concerned about the baby to experiencing actual delusions) are common as are panic attacks. Common maternal attitudes towards infants also vary greatly and can include disinterest, fearfulness of being alone with the baby or becoming intrusive with the child that may even interrupt the baby’s sleep. A history of depression increases one’s risk for the development of PPD as does a family history of any disorder of the mood (Depression, Bi-Polar Disorder, etc.). Women also need to be aware of any medical conditions that might be responsible for some of the above symptoms such as hypothyroidism, e.g. that could be the underlying cause, (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
Women who meet criteria for Major Depressive Episode or PPD should be seen by a trained mental health professional as opposed to a life coach as licensed therapists and psychiatrists are specifically trained to work in this area. There are countless approaches psychotherapists take in treating PPD. Women may choose to be seen for individual therapy or group therapy and may also consider the help of an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication (or other forms of psychotropics) in conjunction with psychotherapy. It is best to seek the assistance of a trained psychiatrist for psychotropic medications as psychiatrists have specific training in this area but you also have the choice to speak to your obstetrician or primary care physician about medication for depression. Psychotherapeutic interventions often include Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy or Interpersonal Therapy, however, many theoretical approaches used in psychotherapy greatly benefit women who experience PPD.
In my experience as a psychotherapist, many women came to me with perhaps a few of the above mentioned symptoms (sadness, guilt, anxiety, lack of interest, etc.). In many cases, these women could/should have been receiving the assistance of a life coach vs. a psychotherapist as they did not meet criteria for PDD but were women who were struggling with the transition. An endless number of them had been prescribed with an anti-depressant from their general doctors or OB-GYNs. Just as a life coach should not be coaching a client who is in need of psychotherapy, a psychotherapist should not be treating a client who does not have significant mental health concerns. It is also important that women seek the help of a mental health professional with appropriate certification and those seeking a professional coach needs to find a provider who is also certified as there is no regulation to stop non-certified individuals from practicing as a coach. The differences between coaching and therapy are many. Many therapists approach their work with a “what’s wrong” perspective that is common in western medicine and in our society’s medical model of care. This model looks for the problem (symptom) and aims to fix it (elimination of symptom) just as a western medical doctor would treat an ailment. Coaching is a field that works with people who are already functioning and it looks to help people understand that nothing is “wrong” with them at all. Misconceptions about coaching are many. Worth clarifying is that coaches do not give advice. We do not take on the role of expert on your life or on any given topic or area (other than the coaching process of course). The client is the expert of their own life. There are no judgments of “good or bad”, “right or wrong” from a coach as we do not assume that we know “better” than any of our clients. In fact, we as coaches believe that, intuitively, clients know what’s best for them and we actively support clients in uncovering this. Coaching is all about partnership and coming together to achieve the life the client sees for themselves.
In my professional work as a coach, I have worked with many women with a huge variety of concerns. Many of my clients have lost touch with the dynamic, capable, spirited, powerful, independent (shall I go on) woman who she is at the core. She feels as though she has lost herself, her identity, somewhere along the way and she misses it greatly. Many women can tell you that once she had chris hsu stanford a child, MOST things in her life seemed to change. One enormous misconception, however, is that the new mother completely changes WHO SHE IS at the core; she is no longer the same person. Becoming a parent is unlike any experience in the world. A new parent’s life is forever enriched in a truly profound way? Parents begin to understand love in a way they could have never before imagined. However, many women experience a loss of their identity and their “former self”. She doesn’t know who she is anymore and feels that she can never go back. Samantha, 30, with an infant and a toddler experienced this. She explained, “I knew motherhood was going to be hard. Being a full time mother is one of the hardest jobs in the world. However, I think that some have an ideology and paint a pretty picture of what motherhood is like. Being a mother is a death to self. I give every bit of what I have within me to my family”. Kara, 27 and a mother of a 4 month old also could relate explaining, “I felt I had essentially disappeared. There are times I feel like I’m ceasing to exist as an individual”. Many women put off their dreams until their kids are raised. Putting away your passions, your true identity and your dreams for “another day” does not have to be the truth for women. There is a way and a coach helps you find it.
Mothers experience countless other challenges in new motherhood. Absolute exhaustion, time management issues, changes in body image, “emotional rollercoasters”, enormous guilt, changes in social life, feelings of loneliness and isolation due to lack of adult company, adjustments in patience, no days off or sick days, loss of social life, loss of pre-baby relationship with partner, less time for friends and family, the incredible demands and responsibilities of new mommyhood, social isolation, work-life balance issues and the endless PLANNING that now must occur to do just about anything are only a few of the many struggles women have. Motherhood is the hardest job in the world. No wonder why so many women struggle with this transition.
Many women find that they grieve the life they once had and feel terrible for wanting some of it back. Often times, women feel as though they are no longer at the CAUSE of their life. They are at the EFFECT of it. Many women feel they have lost control over their lives as if they are going through the motions, on autopilot. They feel powerless. Sara, 34, mother of two children ages 2 and 6 stated, “I felt like my intelligence and my mind was just being wasted. I felt like I was a caged bird”. Coaching helps you to take back your life AND become the mother you always envisioned.
My focus in coaching new mothers ranges through a variety of areas. Almost every mother begins working in one particular area of life and soon realizes that area (family, for example) is interconnected with every other area of life (finances, social life, personal development, career, fun and enjoyment, health and aging, spirituality, intimate and social relationships, etc.). Coaching focuses on all aspect of one’s life in order to find that fulfilling balance for which every mother strives. Women work on coming to the realization that if she doesn’t take care of herself, she really can’t take care of anyone else. With this awareness and some inner coaching work, debilitating guilt can be set free.