Before I became a specialist treating perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs), I was a postpartum therapy client. 6 weeks after our oldest child was born, my husband and I decided to check in with a wonderful and experienced therapist whom we knew both liked. At the start of the session my husband looked lovingly at our daughter and talked about overwhelming adoration and paternal bliss. I sat with my shoulders hunched as our daughter nursed, bracing myself against the intense pain I felt in my breasts. I described constant nursing without a break, constant severe pain throughout each nursing session, and insisted that I would be nursing for a year no matter how much it hurt. I said I was stressed, sad, and hopeless. With a caring and warm expression our therapist quietly and gently offered “sounds like it’s time for some formula” and shared stories about formula feeding her own children. When we left, my husband suggested we talk with our pediatrician about trying some formula, energized, encouraged, and empowered by our therapist’s suggestion. He was comforted by the experience of another mother and was relieved to have a solution for my apparent problem. I, on the other hand, was gutted. We never visited that therapist again.
I was gutted because deep inside I knew that nipple pain wasn’t my problem. That I was postpartum was my problem. I felt isolated, profoundly exhausted, confused about why having a baby seemed so easy for everyone else. I felt like there were right and wrong ways to do things, and I really didn’t know if I was getting more things right than wrong. I focused so much on breastfeeding, that I decided my nursing relationship must be the barometer for my success as a mother, a woman, a human being. Imperfection did not seem like an option. I was failing. I couldn’t believe I could be feeling such emotional pain at this time in my life. I couldn’t believe the therapist said what she said.
Almost 8 years later I am a therapist specializing in PMADs. Here are a few things I’ve learned from sitting on both sides of the couch:
- A lesson for you and a lesson for me: good therapists say the wrong thing and can still be good therapists. Speak up if you are triggered or if your feelings are hurt. Your therapist will learn from you and that will benefit you and others. Be braver than I was and use your voice.
- If you are a few days or a couple weeks postpartum and you feel a little sad, weepy, or teary, you might have the baby blues. Baby blues lasts for a few hours or maybe a few days and feels better with self care- rest, eat well, enjoy Netflix, and surround yourself with good company. If you are more than a few weeks postpartum and you are still feeling “blue” you may need a little more help overcoming your symptoms. At this point, see suggestion number 3.
- Remain hopeful and do not give up. There are an incredible number of resources for pregnant and postpartum women around the world. Specialists, groups, and online communities are eager to help you. Don’t stop asking for help until you find it. Your person is out there.
- MOST important, there is no such thing as not sick enough for support. All mothers, happy, sad, anxious, blissful, depressed, all mothers, are entitled to support. Becoming a mother is a monumental change and no matter how you spin it, it’s hard. No matter how well or how bad you feel, reach out if you want to talk or grow your support network.
Bonus tip: I learned that if you show everyone who will look your bleeding and cracked nipples eventually a pediatric nurse might recommend antifungal medication and all purpose nipple ointment…. Which just might miraculously clear up that nasty 6 week old case of unusually presenting thrush that was causing So. Much. Pain.
Hilary Waller, LPC