A New Kind of Birth Story Can Foster Postpartum Mental Health

Written by Golzar Selbe Naghshineh

I remember standing in Blockbuster. I was probably 12 years old. We were standing at the counter. I was much shorter than the counter. My dad picked up a movie and showed it to me, ďLook! Itís you!Ē The movie was†Natural Born Killers.†My dad is a wonderful man, incredibly loving. He never knew that joke would stick with me. It was part of a theme. That theme: my birth story.

You see, I was born on my dadís birthday. They were sitting at the dinner table and eating Chelo KabobĖthe quintessential Persian meal. My godfather called my mom and told her to go to the hospital. She didnít feel like she was in labor; it was too early. He persisted, ďsomething is wrong with one of the twins.Ē He had a feeling and as always she listened. She begged them to do an ultrasound. When they did, they found that I was sitting on my brotherís head and my umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. He was dying. There was no time for any type of painkiller or anesthesia.

The story goes: they cut into her full feeling, she screamed so loud my dad passed out, my twin brother was born blue and my mom went to some kind of coma or shock. I was fine. Healthy really. A full 8.5 pounds. Everyone wiped out by something I did at birth and I was fine. I was the survivor.

Really, itís a story. It is†just†a story. It could have been told differently. I was sitting on his head. What if he wedged himself under me? What if he played with the cord until it wrapped around his neck? But the story I carried was that it was my fault. Was that I was dangerous. Murderous. And that I always had to survive, even when no one else could.

I think when it comes down to it, this is why I do this work. This is why I built NAPS (Network for the Advancement of Perinatal Support). I run a perinatal support program that implements into OBGYN practices. I piloted the program at Downtown Women OBGYN in Manhattan. The program is designed to routinely (and as needed) check on the mental health of pregnant and postpartum women, help them prevent any perinatal mood disturbances, and in the event they occur, I make sure these new moms are getting the help they need. The program has touched thousands of women.

In our culture we talk about the medical aspects of pregnancy and childbirth, but weíve avoided discussing the mental health aspects until very recently. As a culture we have encouraged women to enter parenthood preparing their bodies and their physiology. Many women learn about parenthood philosophies so they can have the right parenting behaviorsóbut what hasnít been encouraged is how to enter parenthood with the right emotional and psychological well-being. So instinctively, new parents end up repeating patterns.

I want parents to understand what they are really telling their child when they build a narrative. I want a motherís traumatic labor experience to be worked through emotionally before the child is old enough to build their narrative in their tiny heads. I want to help new moms let go of their own history in their own new lives as a parent.

See, when we have a baby, our own childhood and history comes rushing back to us in a way it wasnít consciously present before. The doctor is talking about the health of the baby and telling the mother how she can be best physically for the baby, but no one is listening to her thoughts and fears of the mother she wants to be and helping her achieve that.

I had a patient who immediately postpartum was flooded with memories of being left in a playpen in front of the TV as her parents slept. They worked opposite day/night shifts and took turns caring for her, but that left them needing to sleep in the time they were with her. They werenít bad parents, they were doing the best they could, but she was flooded with memories of feeling alone and she desperately didnít want her child to have the same feelings. She deserves to understand her own experience and take the parts of that she wants to pass on to her child and let go of the ones she doesnít want.

I am giving a new mom the chance to face that history, face the narrative her mother carried and gave to her daughter. I want that mom to work through her experience as a child, the failures, the fears the inevitability of becoming the parent they had. Thatís not always a bad thingóI have wonderful parents and it would be a pleasure to be like my mother, but it shouldnít be an inevitability. I want that choice. And sometimes becoming their parent is not what that new mom wants.

But this work isnít just for the moms, itís for the babies. I am giving the baby the opportunity to have a more attuned mother who wonít make that baby live through her narrative in the same way, who is more conscious and intentional about what she is emotionally passing onto her baby. This program helps create better, more emotionally secure motherís and we know that a more emotionally secure mother raises a more emotionally secure child, especially in those critical first two years of life when the baby is learning its emotional capacity.

You know what those babies grow into? More emotionally sound adults, who are willing to get support and who intentionally create more emotionally sound babies. I want that to pass down the generations, rather than the pain and the hardship.

Sometimes I work with a patient and I get to watch them grow into a different person than the parent they donít want to be like. Talking about it, understanding it, exploring it, and the deep emotional healing gives them that chance. It makes me think of a patient. She came to me prenatal and continued to work with me for a long time postpartum. She carried so much pain when she came in. She was a perpetual victim and her mom had been the same and so had her grandma. She came from a long line of victimhood. That was the direction she was headed in before she started with me.

She came to me anxious, because she saw it and it terrified her. She wanted to be different. And now, after so much dedication and hard work, she gets to be a different mom. She gets to be different with her daughter. She gets to give her daughter a different experience and not expect her to grow up with the same victimhood mentality she was raised with. She is giving her child a very different narrative and that child is so lucky to have her as a mom.

I love working with perinatal women. Itís the greatest gift I could get. Typically, when women become pregnant, something instinctual, biological happens. They start to take care of themselves in a different wayónot for themselves, but for their babies. They are willing to treat their own bodies differently because they want something for their babies that they werenít able to expect for themselves. It blows me away every time I see that motivation in a patient. She starts to eat super healthy, exercise, take vitamins, do yoga, meditate, be super aware of her body, emotions and lifestyle.

So here they are, more willing to want more for themselves than they ever have. Through their OB doctor office, NAPS gives them the opportunity to extend that care into their mental health. And often they do it for their babies, but they also get the benefits. The side effects get to make their lives better, happier. They make leaps and bounds where other patients would move slowly, because pregnancy and postpartum period makes you so aware and it brings up so many memories. Because they want so much more and there is a time limit, so they work hard. Itís so gratifying for me. I feel so lucky to experience it.

But they are also lucky. They are lucky when their OB doctor sees the importance of that kind of comprehensive health care and gives them the chance to have such a unique experience.

This post originally appeared on Ms. Magazine

Photo Credit: Omar Lopez/Unsplash

50 comments

DAVID f
Dave f4 months ago

Thanks

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Mike R
Mike R4 months ago

Thanks

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Chrissie R
Chrissie R4 months ago

Thank you for posting.

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Mike R
Mike R5 months ago

Thanks

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Mike R
Mike R5 months ago

Thanks

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Sonia M
Sonia M5 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Janis K
Janis K5 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Angela J
Angela J5 months ago

Thank you.

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Leanne K
Leanne K5 months ago

Oh people didnt mind hurting my feelings when i was pregnant or a new mum, that external criticism has its impact too

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Veronica D
Veronica Danie5 months ago

Thank you so very much.

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