Reflecting on Postpartum Anxiety: A Psychotherapist’s Journey

postpartum anxiety baltimore
Written by Emily Souder, LCSW-C, Nesting Space Therapy LLC

It’s 7:30 on a Monday morning. I’m snuggled up with my 2-year- old in jersey-knit sheets, his legs tucked next to my body, his hair smelling faintly of lavender from last night’s bath. Nearby, my newborn stretches and grunts, waking from a peaceful sleep. This moment is a gift, and yet my stomach has already started to tighten and acid has started creeping up in my throat. The clock has started.

During my waking moments I have often felt as if I’m racing against some invisible clock which can be heard only within my mind and body. I’m on high alert, waiting for the next time my baby wakes, anticipating the next tantrum, imagining the next time my children might have conflicting needs. There is a constant awareness of a countdown until the next mini “crisis”, accompanied by a never-ending script of what-ifs, while I’m scarfing down lunch or scrambling to load the washing machine.

Is the baby going to wake up soon? Do I have time to take a shower? What if she cries? What if my son feels rejected when I can’t play with him because the baby needs to eat?

On that Monday morning, I somehow pull one leg out from under the sheets, and then the other. I announce that we’re going downstairs for breakfast. And I feel terrified.

We’re barely down the stairs before the tears start. I feel like I’m trapped, like something terrible is going to happen, like I’m unable to handle whatever is about to come my way.

I go through the motions- getting breakfast for my son, feeding the dog- while trying to hold it together.

How do I do this? What do I do? What do I do??

Breathe.

***

After the birth of my first child, the daily anxiety I experienced and the panic I felt upon waking each day caught me off guard. Even after having a history of some generalized anxiety, I did not anticipate the hormonal shifts, lack of sleep, and other postpartum factors impacting me the way they did. Although I felt attached to my son, the anxiety impacted my enjoyment of our time together, and my ability to have confidence in being a mother. I was convinced that I would always feel that way- unable to enjoy my new baby, panicked and miserable.

This time, after the birth of my second child, I knew more of what to expect and when I noticed those familiar feelings of anxiety and panic returning, albeit with less intensity, I made sure to seek out a therapist and ask for help in other areas of my life as well. I was fortunate after the births of both children in that I had a great deal of support, as well as access to and knowledge of resources which would help point me toward wellness. I am incredibly grateful I was able to continue caring for my children despite my uncomfortable symptoms.

Though I am currently on maternity leave, I plan to return to work as a psychotherapist. My passion is working with pregnant women and new moms, and I have completed a certificate training in Maternal Mental Health. Last year, I started my own business, Nesting Space Therapy LLC, to offer in-home psychotherapy to pregnant women and new moms. May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, and I felt moved to be honest and say that I have been where so many women are and have been. I’m not really even out yet. Each day I am still continuing to heal. It’s not helpful to hide behind my profession and pretend I have it all together.

Mamas (and partners), there are resources out there for you. Please use them! Don’t feel ashamed. A great place to start looking for resources and assistance is Postpartum Support International. I wish all of you wellness. I’m on the other side of the darkness, and I can tell you that it gets better.

Breast+Skin+Sling: An interview with Austin Rees

Babywearing Baltimore

My guest on the blog today is Austin Rees. Austin is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and a Certified Babywearing Consultant through the Center for Babywearing Studies. She is the owner of Breast+Skin+Sling, and the co-founder of Sacred Milk. Austin prepares mothers prenatally with the foundations of breastfeeding, skin-to-skin, and babywearing. She facilitates personalized ceremonies to celebrate life’s transitions. Austin also provides one-on-one babywearing consultations in our community. (featured image credit: Kate’s Takes)

It is common today for parents to take a birthing class. Why should parents seek out a breastfeeding and babywearing class before the baby arrives?

An out of hospital birth class is essential to gaining the information on how to facilitate the process of birth and know your choices in birth. Skin-to-skin, and the breast crawl (infant independently moves to the breast to nurse) occurs immediately after birth. Understanding how to facilitate this instinctual experience before the birth is beneficial. I find mothers profit from the knowledge and foundations of how Milk works, the importance of skin-to-skin, along with an understanding of the normal newborn before the baby arrives. With this knowledge I have witnessed mothers step into motherhood trusting their bodies, their babies, and their Milk. I help mothers discover their innate instincts and wisdom so they enter their unique Milk relationship secure, confident, supported, and connected to their baby. Armed with the knowledge of how to initiate a good start is key to avoiding difficulties. I observed working with mothers postpartum that a majority of the issues they experienced could have been prevented if they had the proper information before the baby arrived. Babywearing can also start immediately, and knowing how to comfortably and confidently use a carrier can be a valuable tool.

Babywearing is commonly seen around the city. How would you react if you see someone wearing a baby improperly while at the store?

I am always excited to see another parent or caregiver wearing their baby while I am out. I usually try to make eye contact or say, “It’s great to see you wearing your baby.” If I notice someone wearing their baby and the straps are twisted, or it does not look to the carrier direction guidelines I may observe to see if they are interested in striking up a conversation. When I engage with someone who is wearing I ask how they feel. If they are happy and comfortable, I praise their excitement. If they say this is great, but xyz, I will share some babywearing tips that may help that situation.
motherblessing baltimore
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On your website it lists you offer facilitating ceremonies for families in the DC/MD/VA area. What are some reasons for someone to reach out to you to create a ceremony for themselves or someone else?

I enjoy designing personalized ceremonies to create a circle of support for someone. I have been facilitating Mother Blessings for pregnant or adopting women for 10 years. In place of a traditional baby shower, a Mother Blessing is a special ceremony designed to acknowledge, honor, and celebrate a woman’s journey into Motherhood. Family, friends, and mothers contact me to create a ceremony and provide a loving place where the honored mother can explore the challenges and joys that lie before her as she approaches childbirth or adoption, and mothering her first or multiple children.

I also facilitate Birth Story Ceremonies; a place where a mother can experience deep listening, and allow the power of sharing her story to heal, celebrate, grieve, release, process and acknowledge her experience, her journey. These are designed to make way for the mother to experience her birth story. We open our heart and commit our undivided attention to her. This allows her to fully express her experience, reflect upon it, and take the steps she needs to move forward. We step aside and create a safe space so she has complete control, and unconditional support.

A Weaning Ceremony is a time we can come together to honor a Mother’s Milk relationship. We make way for the mother to experience her Milk story by opening our heart and committing our undivided attention. This allows her to fully express her experience, reflect upon it, and take the steps she needs to move forward. We step aside and create a safe space so she has complete control, and unconditional support.

I also create customized ceremonies. Recently I designed one for a special woman who was about to undergo radiation for breast cancer. We designed activities that supported releasing fears, created personal power, and we weaved a web of support, pledging our assistance throughout her treatment and beyond.

Sacred Milk is a sister program under the Sacred Living Movement. Can you share what is the Sacred Living Movement, and more about your involvement with Sacred Milk and Sacred Pregnancy?
Sacred Milk Baltimore
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Photo credit: Kalimana Birth Films

The Sacred Living Movement acknowledges all aspects of our life’s journey need to be honored, and embraced with reverence and respect. The Sacred Living Movement was designed to bring back the age-old tradition of women sitting with one another during a time of transition, witnessing each other’s process and BEING there for one another. We have a local, active Sacred Living Movement Maryland group.

Sara Goff and I created Sacred Milk after attending a Sacred Pregnancy retreat. Sacred Milk is a movement inspiring women to trust their bodies, their baby’s and their Milk. Our mission is to nourish the wholeness of each mother’s journey and shift our culture to see Milk as a holistic practice, rather than simply a feeding choice. In the last century our culture has been saturated by marketing that has conditioned us to see breasts as sexual, and human milk as just a food source. The Journey to Milk program is focused on opening space for women to remember their innate wisdom and then surround themselves with a supportive community. Milk is instinctual, natural, normal, and necessary. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or filled with bliss. Milk is not something that can be fully learned from a book or taught on the internet. Milk cannot be told. Milk must be modeled, supported and nourished in community because it is a way of living not a way of feeding.

I recently co-hosted a Sacred Pregnancy + Sacred Milk 2-day mini retreat for pregnant mothers in our community. It was a gorgeous event full of women showing up and witnessing to each other. In September I will be facilitating a retreat to certify Sacred Pregnancy instructors in Nashville, TN. I am excited for more women to have the option to attend these classes or retreats prenatally.

Austin is such wonderful resource for mothers and families in our area and has such a beautiful way of bringing our community together. If you are looking for breastfeeding or babywearing education in the Baltimore or surrounding area, you can contact Austin here.

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