I have worked as a clinical psychologist in both intensive inpatient and outpatient settings for 16 years. My experience with post-partum depression caused by PTSD in 2010 following a natural birth with my daughter led me to focus my work on the experience of psychological trauma during labor and delivery. Current studies are suggesting that there is an increased risk of birth trauma and PTSD when mothers undergo natural birth without pain relief. One is also at risk when unexpected procedures become necessary for the health of the mother or child. Ultimately, any experience of helplessness and perceived trauma (i.e., coping with something that feels beyond one’s ability to cope) during labor and delivery can lead to traumatic symptomatology that puts a mother at risk for postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. Birth clearly has a psychological outcome in addition to the physical one.
My first goal is to insert the mother’s psychology – her very real pain, her feelings, her needs – into birthing discussions in an effort to prevent PTSD and postpartum depression / anxiety. My second goal is to broaden the understanding of what accounts for “healthy” postpartum parenting by moving conversations from the common child-centered approach to a more relational, two-person, collaborative model of parenting where it would be impossible to maintain a one-size-fits-all view of hot topics such as breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and “crying it out”.
In raising my daughter, I was surprised to find that most American parenting “experts” were focused almost exclusively on the psychology of the child despite the fact that relationships are a two-way thing — two psyches interacting in a complicated way. I believe that the greatest challenge and adventure in raising our children is that our relationships with them involve (at least) two sets of needs that have to interact and negotiate with one another. A mother’s personal idiom should not be left on the back burner.
If natural birth and natural parenting is meeting the needs of both mother and child, then the maternal couple is probably doing well and should carry on with it. But if a mother feels constrained by parenting expectations that consider only one side of the nipple, then it is not the right way for her. My work is dedicated to this mother’s journey to find her “right” way outside of any ideology or external parenting expertise.
Boukje Eerkens, Psy.D., QME