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Why Women's Wellness Matters More Than Maternal Mental Health

Early on in my career in psychotherapy, I felt like there was something missing from the work that I was doing. I really didn't like how focused my work was on fixing a problem, because it meant that people felt there was something wrong with them that needed to be fixed.

Sure many of them qualified for a diagnosis of some kind, which actually validated how they had been feeling for months or years - major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety, etc. But our work was so much about fixing a problem and that didn’t leave a good taste in my mouth.

As much as I loved solution-focused therapies, it bothered me that the focus our work together was so negative.

Life will always be imperfect, filled with challenges

What I realized is that I’m really drawn helping people function most optimally even if they have life circumstances or health issues that complicate their life.

Truth is, there really isn’t anything within the field of clinical psychology or psychotherapy that allows for that: optimal functioning. Psychotherapy and mental health counseling is very much built around the medical model: assess, diagnose, treat.

That never sat well with me but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what to do about it.

It wasn't until I started looking into alternative forms of support that I stumbled on this idea of wellness.

The more I read, learned and studied it, the more it was exactly what I had been looking for. I loved the idea that we can help improve the functioning of our bodies, minds, and souls even when there are medical or mental health challenges.

Achieving wellness became really personal

This didn't really hit home though until I was going through fertility treatments and my very high-risk pregnancy.

The whole process of trying to grow our family was riddled with this feeling that I was broken. Of course none of my doctors said that to me and my husband never, ever led me to believe that he thought I was broken either.

But when I found out my fallopian tubes don’t work. Or I don’t ovulate. Or I can’t carry a pregnancy safely….When my medical chart became stacked with new medical diagnoses, the feeling that overcame me was: broken.

There was such a sense of failure every step along the way as we tried to grow our family.

After my son was born and I had a chance to breathe again, I returned to my study of wellness.

It opened my eyes to all the different ways that we can still help our bodies function optimally even when there are health complications that are making it difficult to do so.

A recent conversation with leading obstetrician Dr. Raja Gangopadhyay really hit this home.

We discussed how, though important, the awareness on maternal mental health - through critically important - is still focused on treating a problem, fixing an issue, instead of optimizing women's health.

The reality is that our health is a combination of a variety of different factors that impact our body and mind’s ability to function optimally.

It's wonderful that in recent years so many celebrities are talking about mental health awareness, especially maternal mental health. Mental health in general is shrouded in a cloud of stigma, maternal mental health even more so.

Adele, Chrissy Teigan, Aarti Sequeira all sharing their experiences living with postpartum depression and anxiety helps normalize this conversation.

But to have a deep and profound impact on how we support women going through mental health challenges, we have to start talking about it not from a place of what's broken and how to fix it, but how to really help women thrive despite the circumstances they find themselves in.

That is the only way we can prevent these challenges from arising in the first place!

What is perinatal wellness?

To me, perinatal wellness is our ability to have our bodies function optimally to help us get pregnant and have a healthy pregnancy.

That’s not to say that it will cure or make disappear existing health issues. It’s more about the different ways that we can help our bodies do the best that it possibly can...despite those physical and mental health challenges.

When you make the necessary changes to improve your overall wellness, you’ll find incredible changes happen to your health.

  • Menstrual cycle regulates

  • Pain decreases

  • Inflammation lessens

  • Preterm contractions slow

  • Blood pressure declines

  • Blood glucose levels even out

This idea of wellness is essentially to help our bodies be the best that they possibly can be given the circumstances we have to deal with. All of that is critical to helping you get pregnant (even if you have medical complications causing infertility) and help you stay pregnant (even if you have pregnancy complications threatening your baby and pregnancy).

Where do you begin?

If you’re like me, and many of my clients, this is all super exciting and you’re ready to dive in to help yourself achieve your family building dreams.

But it can feel overwhelming because there’s so much to change and...can you even do it all? Achieving wellness can sound like a really tall order and almost impossible to achieve!

The intention of working toward wellness is not about perfection but about can you make your body work better? Even small improvements to your wellness will have a profound impact on your fertility and pregnancy health.

What’s included under the umbrella of wellness?

Factors that impact wellness include (but are not limited to):

  • Physical and emotional stress

  • Sleep hygiene

  • Nutrition

  • Hydration

  • Relationships

  • Mood and anxiety

  • Pain management

There are so many free resources with tips and strategies on these various aspects of wellness that you can check out here.

Now I know what you might be thinking. I don't have time for any of this stuff!

I've got a job, I've got a partner to take care of. I have other children to care for. I've got a house to manage.

I get it. We all have tremendous responsibilities on our plate.