Postnatal depression is the most common difficulty and often goes unreported due to pressing need to look after a new baby. Depressive symptoms may persist for months, or sometimes even for years, after childbirth. This is associated with the changes in lifestyle, looking after a baby, lack of social life, changes in relationship with husband and others and alteration of self-image. Other postnatal conditions such as obsessional neurosis, anxiety and psychosis are not uncommon.
Taking time for yourself in the form of self-care that includes psychotherapy is an important step towards healing. In psychotherapy you will be able to explore the origins of your depression. Some of the common root causes of postnatal depression:
- The idealised image of what a mother should be like and the inability to live up to high inner standard result in overly harsh inner critic and self-perception as a bad mother.
- Ambivalence towards the baby. It is not uncommon to feel ambivalent due to the intense demands placed by a baby on the new mother. There may be a terrifying mixture of feelings of love and hate alternating at a rapid speed. Ambivalence is an important aspect of any relationship, and will prove to be crucial in helping mother-baby dyad to separate at the right time.
- Unresolved difficulties with one’s own mother may be influencing one’s own feelings towards the baby.
- Regression and identification with the baby manifested in difficulties with coping with motherhood. Motherhood is especially difficult for women, who were themselves neglected or their needs not satisfied in early childhood. New mothers are confronted by the needs of their babies and inevitably compare their mothering with the mothering they received. Such comparison may stir up difficult feelings towards one’s own mother.
- Hostility towards the new baby. Motherhood inevitably entails anger, irritation, disapproval, antagonism and depletion of the self. Some try to cope by controlling the child and trying to change it, others respond by trying to achieve impossible levels of self-control.
- An absent or unresponsive partner may be putting an additional burden on the new mother.
- Lack of perceived support from one’s own mother or others.
- Absence of a mother image/model in your life or not knowing what to do with the new baby.
- Feelings of helplessness and lack of control.
- Broken expectations around the imaginary meaning of motherhood and the reality of being a mother. There may have been a conscious wish to become pregnant that did not have motherhood as its ultimate goal. Pregnancy can be an unconscious means of confirming a female sexual identity or adult physical maturity.
- Difficulties with the triangular relationships often manifested in preferring dyads to triads or groups, feelings of jealousy and a tendency to form a strong one-to-one relationship.
- Trauma of childbirth.
- Unresolved imaginary bond with one’s own mother may lead to its repetition with one’s own baby, creating symbiotic relationship that excludes a man.
Guided by your needs and wishes, your therapist will devise psychotherapy sessions uniquely suited to your difficulties. It may include relaxation, exploring your beliefs, assertiveness training and personal care from the menu of cognitive behavioural therapy and skills to improve mother-baby interactions, such as “mirroring”, importance of eye contact, child emotional regulation, joining with the baby, learning to get to know your baby from the psychoanalytic psychotherapy menu.