Shahar Lion is a social worker and yoga teacher specializing in counseling new and expecting moms. She reminds us of the importance of finding support when establishing your new identity as a mother.
Often, pregnant women have ambivalent feelings towards motherhood. This contradicts the socially enforced belief that women should feel “happy” or have a “pregnancy glow” inside and out. On the contrary, many women experience significant emotional distress during and after pregnancy. Anxiety and depression are very common during pregnancy and early motherhood but these types of symptoms are forbidden and unspoken. There are three major factors that contribute to such symptoms, which are social, biological and psychological in nature.
Pregnant women do not commonly like to share their ambivalent feelings regarding motherhood with their peers or partners because they believe they “should not feel this way” and perhaps feel afraid of the meaning that may be assigned to such feelings. Women often worry that their true feelings about their pregnancy, birth and motherhood in general are judged.
During pregnancy, women witness the limitation of their day-to-day mobility, an enormous change in their body and a sense of loss of control in the ongoing and inevitable changes in their body. In addition, hormonal changes can also contribute to mood swings and anxiety. To name a few concerns that often arise during pregnancy: “Will I have the same breasts I have had?” “Will I have stretch marks?” “Will I fit into my cloths again?” “Will I be as attractive as I felt before?” As understandable and common as these questions and feelings are, women are often left to struggle with them alone, suffering an additional layer of isolation in their experience. Community and support are therefore extremely important aspects of a healthy experience of pregnancy that are so often missing.
Individual therapy with an expert and/or an appropriate support group is essential during this transformational time because it allows the mother to discover her own voice in a supportive environment. This is especially true for women who have experienced trauma, loss or who do not have close family nearby. Mothers support groups are a valuable way to overcome those anxieties because they offer permission to talk about true feelings in a confidential and safe space with a professional therapist who facilitates the groups with deep care and respect. Being surrounded by other moms who may share similar feelings can be very empowering and reassuring. For some moms, being in a group can feel intimidating or too frightening and so they may seek individual therapy for support.
For example, in the case of a woman who suffered the loss of a parental figure, feelings about that loss became powerful during the time she was working to develop her identity as a mother. She experienced neglect in her early childhood, which she internalized and as a result she was afraid to become that neglectful parent herself. She sought support for symptoms of anxiety and depression, stating that she was suffering from lack of sleep, breathing difficulties and anxiety about becoming a mother. Individual psychotherapy was the right option for her because she was uncomfortable discussing these issues with other moms but was able to talk freely about her past experiences in one-on-one meetings. The individual therapy offered professional guidance and understanding of her confusing feelings, deeply needed support, and preparation for motherhood throughout her pregnancy, childbearing and eventually parenthood.
Whether private psychotherapy or group support – the importance of addressing feelings that arise during the process of becoming a mother are crucial for the health of the mother and her evolving family.
Shahar Lion holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work from New York University and has completed post-graduate training in Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic Psychotherapy. Besides being a mother herself, Shahar teaches and consulting clients privately and groups in New York City. She is a mental health provider at Maven Clinic, an online service for connecting women’s health practitioners through iPhone or iPad. She offers weekly support group for expecting moms and new moms at Carriage House Birth in Brooklyn. Her many years of experience teaching prenatal, postnatal, and general yoga in NYC and abroad has earned her a revered reputation amongst students and colleagues. For more info about her classes and counseling services please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.