The Mamas Gon’ Be Alright: Birthwork and Mental Health

By Iresha Picot

2012: I trained to become a birth doula after a yearlong stint providing services as a full-spectrum doula at a clinic in center city, Philadelphia. I left the birth workers training, feeling prepared and ready for the offerings that I had for the mamas to-be. I had my birthing balls; I had my rebozos, a rolling pin and oils. I felt equipped and confident in guiding the mamas along in bringing forth life. I just needed to show up, and be present for the labors.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the onsite mental health training that came along with the birth work. I had read extensively about post-partum stressors that developed into mental health issues, but none of the literature points to the mental health issues the mothers’ exhibit before the birthing process even begins. The prenatal work. (Side note: I’m also not new to emotional work. I have worked for several years as a Clinician in behavior and mental health). In my mind, I prematurely separated my mental health work from the birth work. I compartmentalized them as being mutually exclusive. And yet, almost every mother that I have provided prenatal service to, ended up in long, intensive conversations of childhood and present day traumas with me.

Birth work and mental health work often intersect:

--There was the sista who grow up in foster care homes of eminent abuse, most of her life and was planning to give birth while still residing in a shelter.

--The mama who told me that she had no positive models of women in her family. They all were drug addicts. She had been on her own since age 17.

--The woman who had been kidnapped and raped while standing outside one summer night in North Philadelphia.  

Many of these mothers have never thought about entering therapy, as age old stigmas kept them from seeking out help (“Only weak women go to therapy”, “I’m not crazy”). Others didn’t even know where to begin. I found myself putting the birth plans to the side, and using my best practices of listening to these mamas’ stories, offering up support, affirming to them that their fears were valid, and bearing witness as they vocalized their challenges.  

Birth work is emotional work.  We need more people--more mothers, to enter into a space of healing. One reoccurring theme I have found with mothers, who have suffered from trauma, is that they believe that they are broken beyond repair, and that bringing forth new life into this world, would signal a new start to making things right for once. But when we are the same people, who haven’t worked through the issues that bought us to the women that we are now, we aren’t offering our children anything new.

I recently read something on Instagram that said “I want to raise children who doesn’t have to recover from their childhoods”.

What better gift to offer to our children then to be healed, whole people.

Suggestions:

Seek out professional mental health support. Therapist comes in many models—Community Outpatient, Private Practice, post-partum hotlines, and talk therapy apps.

Join an online and in person support groups for new mothers, breast feeding mothers, peer support, etc.

Write your past pain into existence.

Ask for help (its ok!)

Iresha Picot, M.Ed, LBS, is a birth doula and peer breastfeeding counselor. Iresha works as a Licensed Behavior Specialist and Outpatient Therapist in a community mental health model. 

Iresha Picot, M.Ed, LBS, is a birth doula and peer breastfeeding counselor. Iresha works as a Licensed Behavior Specialist and Outpatient Therapist in a community mental health model.