"I never expected to be flooded with so many emotions".
"I feel intensely protective and utterly fearful".
"I feel helpless and sometimes, useless".
"I have this constant worry that something bad is going to happen".
"I was traumatised from seeing my partner in labour, but I knew I had to be strong for her".
"Work seems irrelevant but I feel a pressure to perform because my family is depending on me".
"I don't know who I am anymore".
"What's happened to my wife?"
"I feel exhausted all the time".
These are just some of the thoughts and feelings men have shared in the therapy rooms of the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network.
Depression, anxiety and stress is common in new dads, but the focus is often on new mums. This can mean that dads feel unjustified in seeking help, and worse still, they feel like seeking help in some way implies weakness.
New parenthood is a developmental stage (just like toddlerhood, adolescence, adulthood). With it comes change, uncertainty, new learning, and a need for re-definition (both for the self, and for the couple relationship). Struggling is par for the course.
New parenthood forces people to acknowledge the ways in which they were parented. This can be confronting, and can present challenges for new parents, especially when their parenting backgrounds were difficult, traumatic, or significantly different from that of their partners'. Some men feel paralysed with fear about parenting like their own parents, but don't know how to do things differently, especially in the toddler years. Parenting support and guidance can make an enormous difference.
Some men struggle because their partners become unwell in pregnancy or the postnatal period (with depression, anxiety, stress or in rare cases, psychosis). We often see men who have 'held the fort' while their partners were being treated, who then 'hit the wall' themselves - buckling under the unexpected pressure of taking care of their partners and babies, while trying to function at work.
Speaking to a mental health professional is about resourcing yourself to better manage in this new life role. Arguably, the most important role of your life. As the Royals William, Harry and Kate discuss in this youtube video, "talking is medicine".
If you are struggling as a new dad, you can contact the phone counsellors at PANDA on 1300 726 306, see your GP, or seek the help of a psychologist. You may have a work Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that you could access.
Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE) offers free emails to new dads (synced with the stage of fatherhood they are at), with trustworthy and supportive insights, strategies and advice. Dads can sign up for their emails here: www.cope.org.au/readytocope/
If you're interested in reading quality parenting articles (curated by a Clinical Psychologist), you can follow the Facebook Page of the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network. Stay informed about evidence-based parenting approaches that support you through the challenges of parenthood (especially through the toddler years).
You could also follow Dr Matthew Roberts's Town Hall Dads Facebook page - dedicated to fathers.
Written by Dr Renée Miller
Principal Clinical Psychologist
Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network
As the Principal Psychologist of the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network, part of my role involves communication. Communication to the public about specific help that is available for issues surrounding fertility, pregnancy, perinatal loss, the postnatal period, and the early parenting years. Communication about the importance of help-seeking at these vulnerable times in life. And communication that involves reassuring people that they will be met with acceptance, non-judgement, a deep caring for the fragility of the human psyche, and a belief in the capacity for human growth.
In my communications role, I made the assumption that inclusivity was a given. That without judgement, we see any woman, any couple, and any formation of a family. That people are people with similarities and differences, with every person being a unique compilation of their past experiences, temperaments, likes, dislikes, preferences, fears, aspirations, disappointments, and life challenges. I used to believe that a person's sexuality was just one of the things that makes them uniquely who they are, in combination with their past experiences, temperaments, likes, dislikes, preferences, fears, aspirations, disappointments, and life challenges.
With the therapeutic lens fixed squarely on the individual person in the therapy room (and the presenting issues at hand), I never saw the need to articulate that "we see same sex attracted clients", or "gender diverse clients". Indeed, I felt that stipulating this on our website, was in itself making a sexuality distinction where none was required - a potential discrimination in a back-to-front kind of way. In a similar way, I didn't see the need to state that we see people from all cultures, from all religions. Of course we do! It's our job to understand the unique aspects of the individual, who that person is, the formation of their identity, how they think, what they feel, where they've come from, what has influenced their past and current struggles, and what they want in life.
My rationale was that we see women, men, and couples, for issues surrounding donor conception, for support through IVF, single women, women with fertility issues, women experiencing reproductive loss, women struggling in pregnancy or the postnatal period, and parents dealing with parenting difficulties. So why did it matter if the woman, or the couple was same sex attracted, or gender diverse?
Then we invited Jacqui Tomlinson (from Rainbow Families) to talk at our Mental Health Professionals Network meeting about same sex attracted couples, IVF and loss. It was here that I appreciated the extent of the anxiety that same sex attracted/gender diverse people can feel when seeking a health professional (especially around creating a family in a heteronormative culture). When Jacqui spoke about the fear that LGBTIQA+ people can experience around not being accepted, or being treated with disdain (even by health professionals), I recognised that by virtue of their minority status, and the wounds they may carry from backgrounds of discrimination or lack of acceptance, inclusivity needed to be stated.
LGBTQIA+ people need to know that we see you, we accept you, we respect you, and we welcome you, with your human frailties, your identity wounds and your capacities for resilience. Like all people from all backgrounds your identity is central to your experiences of conception, pregnancy, perinatal loss, and parenting. Whether you are doing it solo or in a gender diverse relationship, whether you are using a known or unknown donor, or surrogate, we are here to understand who you are and what you are experiencing, without judgement.
We get the unique difficulties faced by LGBTIQA+ people including the prejudices of some people regarding the creation of rainbow families. We get that the sad irony of societal homophobia is that some queer people unconsciously internalise heterosexist ideas, believing that they do not have the right to be parents, that they won't be good parents or that they have to be 'perfect' parents. When there are difficulties in the childbearing years (which there are for many of us), these deep seated schemas can be sitting just under the surface of one's struggles.
We get that same sex/gender diverse couples can experience some of these difficulties:
So now, as the communications person for the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network, not only do we overtly state this inclusivity on our website, we ensure that our ongoing training and professional development includes LGBTIQA+ specific topics, and that LGBTIQA+ populations are represented in the topics we cover.
Written by Dr Renée Miller
Principal Clinical Psychologist Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network
The ‘mental load’ of motherhood is a hot topic at the moment. Mums find themselves managing a heap of hidden tasks that involve researching, planning and organising for the family. Remembering to buy those thoughtful birthday gifts for little friends, meal planning that caters to the health and idiosyncrasies of the family; organising, researching, scheduling and booking after school activities and play dates. Reading countless social media parenting posts with their children’s emotional well-being in mind. And this is just a snapshot of a mother’s brain.
The work that goes on in our minds is invisible. You might see mum buying and wrapping the birthday gifts, shopping for food and cooking meals, driving to after school activities, going to play dates at friends’ houses. What you don’t see, is the thinking that goes on behind the scenes.
Many of my clients struggle with this load, especially when their expectations of themselves are overly high or unrealistic. Many modern women say that they thought their partners or husbands were ‘modern guys’, men who valued gender equality, equal rights, in some cases even espousing the virtues of feminism. Then the children came.
It can take women some time to realise the inequality that slips in behind the scenes. The default to traditional roles embedded in the psyche of their partners, and ironically, of themselves.
The unfortunate result can be overwhelm and resentment. Resentment at their partners for happily allowing the load to fall on their shoulders, resentment at their partners for not understanding the extent of the load, and anger at themselves for enabling this inequity.
Dr Gwyn Rees, psychologist at the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network, makes the following suggestions:
I’ve talked with many frazzled parents in the past few weeks. Mums and dads who have been grappling with the transition to life with a baby at home, or returning to paid work after a period of time away. Young children starting kindergarten. Older children anticipating and adjusting to the new demands of school life.
Mums and dads have spoken of the flow of life being turned upside down. Tears, sleepless nights, anticipatory anxiety, self doubt and exhaustion. It has struck me that much of the stress we parents feel around these transitions comes from expecting things to go smoothly.
Many of us approach these life changes with expectations that are unrealistic and unfair. Then, when we experience adjustment struggles, often trying so hard to get things ‘right’, self criticism and self blame can quickly follow.
For example, adjusting to life with a baby. The antenatal classes, the reading and the daydreaming don't prepare us for the upheaval, chaos and sleeplessness that inevitably occurs. Stepping into parenting for the first time is one of the biggest transitions we make in life, and many of us expect to move seamlessly from one stage of life to the next, without missing a beat….or perhaps we do allow ourselves a period of adjustment but soon start saying things like, "I should know what I’m doing by now!"….and feeling inadequate as a result.
Then there are the unexpected, unwanted events and experiences that arise…the ‘curve balls’ that life throws us from time to time and the ‘adjustments’ that are made to accommodate these experiences. Infertility, loss, illness. Interestingly, even these events seem to come with a set of expectations or judgments; “I should be over this”, “what’s wrong with me”’ “I should be able to cope with this.”
Transitions, losses, unwanted experiences will continue to happen for all of us…these things are part of being human. However, there is a more supportive way to approach these experiences which can ease the associated suffering.
There is a growing body of research behind self-compassion, demonstrating that it can be extremely helpful at times of struggle. Self-compassion is the antidote to our inner critic. It is the kindness we bring to ourselves when we feel like we’ve failed, or when we experience pain or loss due to forces beyond our control.
You may be thinking thoughts like these:
“I should love being a mother, what’s wrong with me?”
“Why am I the only one who’s not coping?”
“I should feel better by now ”
“My child is never going to be happy at school”
”I hate feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing”,
Self-compassion (with a deep breath and a kind voice) sounds like this:
“There are no rules about how parenting should feel”
“We are all learning as we go”
“I can cope with making mistakes and learning from them”
“Most new experiences are stressful at first. My child will adjust over time”
“I can cope with not knowing what I’m doing, and can ask for help if I need to”.
An important ingredient in taking a kinder, more compassionate stance towards ourselves is acknowledging that it is part of being human to sometimes make mistakes, to not be who we wanted to be, or to have unwanted experiences happen to us. Tapping into this universal experience of human suffering or struggle can be comforting and reduce feelings of isolation…”why am I the only one not coping?” becomes “we all feel like we are not coping at times.”
Self compassion can be as simple as thinking about what you would say to a friend or a loved one who is experiencing the same struggle or difficulty as you, and applying your kind words to yourself. It won’t change the difficult situation, but it will remove the added pressure of self criticism and increase your capacity to adjust to whatever it is you’re struggling with.
If you’d like to learn more about Self Compassion, Kristen Neff (a self compassion researcher) has a great website: www.self-compassion.org
Mums often feel stressed and overwhelmed by the never ending ‘to-do’ list. When we become parents, there are countless things to be done.
Attending to the many and varied needs of our child/children, washing, cooking, cleaning, shopping, folding, tidying, arranging outings, drop offs, pick ups, medical appointments, and on it goes.
In the midst of the perpetual ‘to-do’ list, mums often just keep doing - driven by the desire to feel a sense of completion. The problem is that the completion is rarely attained. We chase our tails trying to finish the list, only to bear witness to its endless regeneration.
We stay up late to get things done, we permanently feel exhausted, becoming less efficient and more overwhelmed by the looming list. As a result, we beat ourselves up for not achieving what we’d hoped. With the weight of this inner turmoil, we can become more stressed, less patient, and more snappy. Then, we feel even worse about ourselves.
So how do we change this vicious cycle?
CHANGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Let go of the need to experience the full completion. Allow yourself to feel satisfied by achieving one thing at a time. Change your relationship with the idea of “getting it all done”, and let yourself feel gratification from getting something/some things done.
In other words, change your expectations about what is achievable. By all means, keep a ‘to-do’ list so you don’t have to store things in your head, but accept that the list is ever evolving.
ADD THE REALLY IMPORTANT THINGS YOU DO TO YOUR ‘TO-DO’ LIST
Mums are notoriously bad at recognizing and valuing the things they do achieve. Yes, these are the things that may prohibit certain other tasks from getting done, but they are the things that matter the most – attending to the needs of our children.
Instead of feeling frustrated that you haven’t achieved the tasks on your list, write down what you actually are achieving. For example, “respond when baby cries” (tick), “feed baby” (tick), “keep baby safe” (tick), “cuddle baby” (tick), “talk to baby” (tick), “settle baby” (tick), “change baby” (tick)… you get the idea.
“Play with toddler” (tick), “soothe toddler” (tick), “attend to sharing issues” (tick), “feed toddler” (tick), “read to toddler” (tick)…
These things can take a good part of the day (and much of the night), but if you value them, you might feel less frustrated by not having achieved other tasks on list. This might allow you to feel a sense of mastery over what you have achieved, rather than a sense of inadequacy over what you have not.
ADD ‘TO-BE’ TO YOUR ‘TO-DO’
Step off the ‘to-do’ treadmill and think about adding ‘to-be’ to this list. Do you set aside time to stop? Do you give yourself time to just think, sit and have a cup of tea, read, breathe deeply, contemplate, talk to a friend? It’s ludicrous to think you can just keep going, without time to relax, reflect, and rejuvenate.
The other part of ‘to-be’ is to think about how you want to be. How do you want to be as a mother? How do you want to be as a spouse? How do you want to be as a daughter, friend, individual? For example, you may want to be “more calm”, “more patient”, “more fun”.
To help you to make these changes, Dr Renée Miller from the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network and Dr Nicole Highet from COPE (Centre of Perinatal Excellence) designed a ‘to-do to-be’ list for you to download and use for 2019.
HOW TO USE IT
Change your expectations about what is achievable, and you might be kinder to yourself.
Gain some perspective on what you actually do achieve, and you might feel better about yourself.
Keep a ‘to do’ list to stay on top of what needs to be done, but don’t expect to get it all done, and don’t attach your self-worth to completion.
Value your role as a mother and your self-worth might get a boost.
Incorporate and schedule just ‘being’ so you can rejuvenate and be a better version of yourself (without guilt). This might help you to feel less stressed.
Decide how you want to be, and set your intention with each new ‘to-do to-be’ list, so you can reflect objectively on your expectations in line with the person you want to be.
When you’re clear on how you want to be, your ‘to-do’ might look a little different.
Download our 'To-do to-be' list here
The death of a baby brings profound sorrow, the depth of which can exist beyond words.
Throughout pregnancy, mothers are primed to nurture and protect their babies. A relationship has been formed. A future has been imagined. A woman’s identity has been changed.
When a baby dies, mothers can feel heartbroken, lost, empty, isolated. Bereaved mums can anticipate future milestones with trepidation, commonly wanting to hide away from the world.
They can feel that healing is impossible and that no one really understands what they are going through - except other bereaved parents.
Bereaved mothers often seek outlets to express their grief, share their grief, and mourn their much-wanted babies.
Anne Riggs is an artist whose PhD explored art practice for healing grief, loss and trauma. Anne developed Art for Soothing & Strengthening. She facilitates art-making for bereaved groups of people, clustered according to their specific shared experiences.
I spoke with Anne about her Bereaved Mothers Art Groups. “I run two Bereaved Mothers Art Groups. One group works with clay, and the other with mosaic. Each medium represents aspects of women’s grief in different ways. Clay is earthy and smooth. The stroking of the clay can feel like skin. The moulding is soft and gentle. The piece each woman creates can be about her grief, her hopes, her memories – the expressions are endless.
Mosaic on the other hand is a more brittle medium. There is cutting of tiles and crockery and a re-forming of the ‘broken’ into something beautiful - a meaningful piece that commemorates the woman’s loss. Both art forms provide women with something to take away and keep forever.”
Along with the creative expression, is the shared experience with other bereaved mothers. In these small groups, there is a deep knowing, an implicit connectedness – whether women choose to openly share their experience in the group, or not. A community is formed, and ongoing bonds can emerge.
In her gentle, affirming way, Anne guides and encourages each woman to draw out her creative expression. She takes care to provide a soothing environment in her garden studio – an environment that fosters nurturing and healing.
For further information on Anne Riggs and upcoming groups please visit www.anneriggs.com
To book a Bereaved Mothers Art Group
Written by Dr Renée Miller
The birth of a baby brings about significant changes to new parents - changes to their identities, their life-responsibilities and their relationships. The same can be said for new grandparents. At a time when they may be appreciating a new-found freedom, new grandparents face a re-orientation towards participating in their children’s and now grandchildren’s lives.
New parents are often exhausted, vulnerable, and desperate for practical and emotional support. They can hold expectations of their families based on assumptions they haven’t verbalised. As a result, new parents can feel disappointed when these expectations are not met.
Similarly, when a baby is born, new grandparents can hold their own ideas about their grandparenting roles and about the involvement they wish to have in the lives of their children’s offspring. Some grandparents can feel shut out of their grandchildren’s lives, and others can feel overly responsible to be available at all times.
What about when there are no grandparents?
Although family dynamics can be complicated, some new parents have no family support and can feel alone and isolated. For these families, the charity organisation, Caring Mums, trains older mums who volunteer their time to make weekly visits to families needing practical and emotional support. As part of their training, these volunteers learn to withhold their opinions, and to focus on fostering confidence in new parents, by supporting them to find their own way with their babies.
I was invited by Caring Mums to give a fundraising talk, entitled “Grandparenting in the 21st Century”. Drawing from many years as a perinatal (pregnancy and postnatal) psychologist, I had heard many stories about the ways in which grandparents become involved in families’ lives – in some cases providing invaluable support and fostering beautiful relationships with their grandchildren, and in other cases being uninvolved or even undermining the parents’ wishes. Needless to say, I had much to draw upon.
However, prior to the talk, I decided to do a little additional research. I posted a question on a mother-baby social media site asking mums to share their experiences regarding the “Dos and Don’ts” of grandparenting - "...what helps and what hinders?". Many mums responded, both publicly and privately. I collated their responses and shared this list with the grandparents who attended the talk.
• Call before coming over
• Only give advice when asked
• Ask what support is needed
• Just help, don’t offer
• Help with practical tasks such as cooking, shopping, washing
• Never do our washing
• When visiting, bring a meal
• Just do what needs to be done
• Ask before you do things around the house
• Don’t take the baby unless asked to. Let the new parents learn about their baby and develop good bonds
• When you come over, offer to take baby and let Mum shower
• Turn visitors away in the first 3 weeks
• If you had a similar problem, tell the parents what you did, not what they should do
• Get your vaccines done
• Give predictable times when helping with grandchildren
• Don’t compete with the other grandparents
• Remember things have changed since you had children
• Don’t say “we survived without….”, “we never did…..”
• Don’t stay all day or expect to be waited on
• Don’t force children to kiss/hug you
• Babysitting is a privilege not a right
• Listen without trying to solve problems
• Don’t criticize without giving a solution
• Don’t criticize!
• When we do things differently to you, don’t take it as a personal criticism
• Don’t judge a messy house
• Don’t talk about mum’s pregnancy or post-baby weight
• Don’t say “my baby”
• Stick to the same rules as the parents
• Don’t undermine the parents’ rules
• Don’t give junk food to children if parents have asked you not to
• Don’t say to the child “I’ll get into trouble if I give you that”
• Do special things with the grandchildren
• Tell the parents they are doing a good job
Two things struck me
1. There were obvious differences among mums about what constitutes support. Largely, the differences around asking about what can be done versus just doing it. Differences were evident between mums regarding the things they feel comfortable about grandparents doing for them. What is helpful and non-judgemental to one woman can be considered to be intrusive and laden with judgement to another.
2. When I shared the list of “Dos and Don’ts” to the grandparents who attended the talk, it was met with a resounding applause. The grandparents in the group agreed wholeheartedly with these requests. I was surprised. I was expecting to be met with some defensive responses about grandparents feeling used or misunderstood. But this was not the case. These grandparents agreed that the requests were reasonable.
Now it could be argued that the grandparents who chose to attend this talk were a group who had put a lot of thought into their grandparenting roles already - a group who had considered carefully how to best support their offspring and grandchildren. A group interested in doing the best they could as grandparents, hence their attendance at a talk such as this.
What I discovered
Notwithstanding that I may have struck a particularly supportive group of grandparents, a number of things became evident from my informal research across both groups:
Take home messages
There is an intrinsic complexity in these relationships, given the shared histories (joys and hurts) between grandparents and their children (the new parents). But what can we learn from what parents and grandparents told me?
1. Don’t assume
As was evident in the list, what is helpful for one person might not be helpful for another. Everyone is different. Similarly for grandparents, the role and the extent to which grandparents want to be involved differs from one grandparent to the next. It is not helpful for either party to assume that they know what the other is thinking, expecting or wanting.
It is vital to talk to one another. When grandparents ask the new parents what they can do to help, this communicates not only a willingness to offer practical support, but it allows grandparents to tune in to their adult children’s needs and to really be there for them at this challenging time. It is ok for grandparents to express their desires to help as well as their conflicts around not wanting to interfere. This may be better for new parents to know as opposed to grandparents holding back, leaving new parents to make assumptions (e.g. “they don’t care”).
Similarly, it is ok for grandparents to put limits on their time. In fact, many new parents have told me that they appreciate knowing what the grandparents feel is a reasonable amount of time spent with the grandchildren. Many new parents appreciate a predictable commitment of time so they can schedule breaks or time to get things done. And this can give grandparents precious time alone with their grandchildren.
Parents crave respect for their parenting choices, particularly when parenting opinions and judgements are rife in their everyday lives. They may ask for the grandparents’ opinions and they may not. This is their time to discover what works and what doesn’t. Remember, parents want to do what they believe is best for their child.
Sleep-deprived new parents can feel sensitive to well-intentioned comments or perceived judgements by grandparents. Many new parents grapple with defining the kinds of parents they want to be to their child. Their values come in part from what worked and what didn’t work for them in their childhoods. As this unfolds, closeness, differences, unresolved issues and stress can be triggered between new parents and grandparents.
Parents, tell grandparents what is helpful. More often than not they are wanting to do what helps, but they get can get it wrong when their actions are based on assumptions. Show them that you appreciate their efforts. Encourage them to forge special relationships with their grandchildren. Let them have some autonomy in their grandparenting without compromising the things that are really important to you. When you are not happy with something they are doing or not doing, express it in a calm, respectful way.
Parents, remember that grandparents have done their hard yards in parenting and working. Check in on how involved they want to be with the grandchildren. Respect this time in their lives by asking for help, not expecting it, and by showing your appreciation when you receive it. Indeed it could be argued that grandparents' care of your children is a “privilege not a right” - your privilege.
Grandparents, remember that parents won’t get it all right (they are human, just like you). They will be stretched physically and emotionally as parents. They need to know that you are there, and that you care. If they want your advice, let them ask for it. If you want to give advice, ask them if they would like to hear it.
Parenting and grandparenting are profound roles that shape families and leave enduring memories in children’s lives. Consider how you would like your children and grandchildren to remember family life. Share these goals with one another, express yourselves respectfully, show gratitude, and look after one another.
Written by Dr Renée Miller (Perinatal Clinical Psychologist)
Founder of the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network
Thank you to the mums who generously shared their experiences on Babies Toddlers Kids Melbourne.
Thank you to the grandparents who attended the fundraising talk for Caring Mums, who shared their compassion and wisdom.
Further information about Caring Mums and donations to this important charity can be made here.
Life feels hard. You’re feeling anxious, stressed, overwhelmed. You’re feeling flat, lost, unhappy. You’ve been through difficult life experiences that are weighing you down. Perhaps you’re not functioning as well as you’d like to.
Let’s face it, we all struggle at times in our lives, especially when it comes to becoming parents, and everything that goes with this tumultuous life stage.
You might be contemplating talking to someone, but also wondering “what would be the point?” “How could talking to a psychologist help me?”
Nowadays we rely on reviews to find out about other people’s experiences. As psychologists, we are prohibited from eliciting and publishing client testimonials, making it difficult for people to find out how therapy works for others.
However, the psychologists at the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network constantly receive feedback from our clients about their experiences of therapy. So we decided to pull together feedback we’ve received over the years, to bring to light the commonly reported benefits of therapy.
Please note that no identities have been revealed in the compilation of this list. The headings are written in the first person and are in no particular order.
Feeling heard, accepted and validated
Some people come to therapy reporting that when they were growing up, their feelings were not heard. With the best of intentions, parents can minimize or dismiss the feelings of their children, sending messages that their feelings are a sign of weakness, that they should just get on with things, or that their feelings signal catastrophe.
Clients have reported that therapy provides them with a safe environment in which to identify and share their feelings. Once a good relationship and rapport has been established with their therapist, clients value that their feelings are accepted, are encouraged to be ‘felt’ (rather than shied away from or feared), and that their feelings are valid (“it makes sense that you feel that way”).
Feeling ‘lighter’ by getting things off my chest
In some instances, a client’s therapist is the first person to whom they have disclosed past experiences, distressing thoughts, or shameful feelings. By simply getting this information out, clients report feeling lighter – less consumed by their self-criticism, shame or fear of being judged. Within a trusted client-therapist relationship, repair can begin with the acceptance, validation and non-judgement the therapist brings.
Learning that all feelings pass
Interestingly, many clients report that being allowed to feel and express their feelings, along with having their feelings accepted and validated, provides an environment within which they learn that feelings evolve and change over time. By talking things through, feelings shift, and the intensity of the original feelings (often shame) diminishes.
Understanding why I think and react the way I do
In exploring the past, people learn about the ways in which they experience, and deal with their feelings – both internally and in relationships with other people. With insight into why they think and feel the way they do, their responses can be de-automated, giving them more choice and capacity to respond more adaptively. Clients learn to bring self-compassion to what was once habitual self-criticism.
Recognising that my expectations and assumptions underlie my feelings and behaviours.
In exploring the past, people learn about how their expectations were formed and how their expectations cause them to feel and react in certain ways. In therapy, clients learn to challenge their expectations, and to defer to their values as their guide, rather than to their habitual internal narratives.
Examples of unhelpful beliefs:
As a mother, I should know exactly what my baby needs at all times.
If I can’t exercise 3 times per week, I won’t exercise at all.
Everything I do should be done perfectly otherwise I’ve failed.
If I don’t get enough sleep tonight, I won’t be able to function tomorrow.
I am uninteresting to others, so I avoid meeting new people.
My child should know to behave well when we go out.
Examples of assumptions:
She thinks I’m a terrible mum because she uses cloth nappies, and I don’t.
My partner won’t know what to do if I leave the baby with him.
The mothers at mothers’ group think I’m a bad mum because my baby cries more than the other babies.
No one cares about my grief after my miscarriage.
I’m a bad person because I had that awful thought.
Learning to see another person’s point of view /emotional experience
It can be enlightening when people realize that they have been making assumptions about other people’s behavior or responses to them. They learn that there are many potential explanations other than the ones they were subscribing to. When people learn about their own projections onto other people, they also learn that other people project their fears too. When clients see that everyone sees things from their own perspective, they can come to recognize that trying to please others is futile, and that even if theyarejudged by another person, this is tolerable.
Learning how to live in the present and not engage in ‘what if’ thoughts
Clients learn the value of living in the present moment, of asking themselves “what’s required of me now”, rather than entertaining a litany of catastrophic thoughts about what could go wrong in the future. With practise, recognizing and stopping “what if” thoughts can liberate clients from worry.
Learning to accept what I can’t control
Clients can become practised at recognizing what’s not in their control. As a result, they can develop more confidence about acting on what isin their control, and accepting what is not controllable.
Learning of skills
Skills learnt in therapy include
Overall, clients have reported becoming better versions of themselves - more tolerant of their own and others’ imperfections, feeling worthy of being cared for and seeing the value in caring for themselves. And, as a result, clients have reported an improvement in their moods and relationships, and a strengthening in their sense of selves and their meaning in life.
Written by Dr Renée Miller
Principal Clinical Psychologist
Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network
Four years ago today, the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network was formed. We began with 5 colleagues with shared backgrounds and a passion for perinatal mental health. It wasn't long before the demand for our service propelled us to join with other respected colleagues in the field. Practising in various locations around Melbourne and Victoria, this expanded collaboration meant that women, men and couples (often with babies in tow) did not need to travel vast distances to find the help they needed.
From there, our Network flourished into what it is today. A service of 16 highly qualified and experienced perinatal clinicians in 18 Melbourne locations (including the Mornington Peninsula and Ballarat). Our psychologists work tirelessly to ensure that clients are seen in a timely fashion with care, compassion, and the expertise this specialised field demands. We stay up to date with ongoing professional development - both teaching and learning, and we share valuable resources that enhance our work with our clients.
We work closely with services that support perinatal clients including Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE), PANDA, Sands Australia, and Caring Mums. We also work alongside the Perinatal Psychiatry Network to ensure that the full spectrum of perinatal care is provided.
Needless to say, we LOVE what we do. I feel so grateful to be surrounded by such talented clinicians who together, contribute to a caring and supportive collegial culture, and who share a deep-seated belief in the capacity for human growth.
Thank you to the psychologists in our Network for your commitment and endless enthusiasm. And thank you to the gps, obstetricians, midwives, Maternal & Child Health nurses, and other health professionals who support the emotional health of perinatal patients, and who continue to recommend our service.
Dr Renée Miller
Principal Clinical Psychologist
Conception, pregnancy, the postnatal period, and the early parenting years can pose difficulties for many people. Practitioners like to stay abreast of the common challenges people face, and the treatments that may help their patients with such challenges. In order to do this, ongoing research is vital.
The Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network provides an online research portal for academic researchers (in the perinatal field) to post their studies to reach women in pregnancy and the postnatal period.
If you are pregnant or new mum, and you have the time or inclination to participate in a research study, your participation could further inform practitioners who work with hopeful parents, pregnancy, birth, the postnatal period, and early parenthood?
Click here to see if you are eligible to participate in one of the listed studies.
The latest listed studies explore emotional wellbeing in same sex attracted women, and 'baby brain' in pregnant women.
Emotional Wellbeing in Sexual Minority Women in the Perinatal Period
Same sex attracted pregnant women and new mums
Does late pregnancy affect women's cognitive functioning?
Women in third trimester of pregnancy and women who are not pregnant, have never been pregnant and are not planning to become pregnant in the next 12 months
Thank you for your consideration and potential contribution towards these important research studies.
Posted by Dr Renée Miller