Including the “Mother” in Motherhood

I have worked as a clinical psychologist for over 15 years.  My experience with postpartum PTSD in 2010 following a natural birth with my daughter led me to research the experience of psychological trauma during labor and delivery.  Current studies are suggesting  that 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.

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 all relationships are a two-way thing — two psyches interacting in a complicated way.   I believe we too often fail to appreciate the mother’s psychology – her very real pain, her feelings, her needs – when considering childbirth and postpartum life.   When we remain child-focused, we forget that relationships always involve (at least) two sets of needs that interact and negotiate with one another in a unique way.  There can therefore be no one-size-fits-all recommendation for hot topics like breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and “crying it out”.   Paying better attention to the mother’s psychology would help reduce PTSD and postpartum depression / anxiety while broadening our understanding of what accounts for “healthy” postpartum parenting.

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.  I am dedicated to the mother’s personal recovery and journey  outside of any ideology or external parenting expertise.

Boukje Eerkens, Psy.D., QME