Mentoring Mothers
Sponsored by
Emergence: Reproductive Mental Health Services
Helen Marlo, Ph.D.
Psychologist, Psychoanalyst
Emergence: Reproductive Mental Health Services, Founder
Professor, Notre Dame de Namur University
Director, Master’s of Science in Clinical Psychology Program
PSYCHOLOGY OF PERINATAL PERIOD: A time of profound personal reorganization,
transition, and development, involving a normal period of increased anxiety and (unconscious)
conflict in women which manifests to encourage self-evaluation to meet new developmental
challenges, and to mobilize care and sensitivity to the newborn. (Klaus, Kennell, & Klaus, 1995).
COMMON PERINATAL STRUGGLES: Perinatal issues are normal and universal while significant
struggles occur in over 20-25% of women and frequently co-occur in partners and children.
Trauma including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Grief and Loss
Personality Patterns:
High expectations
Bonding and Attachment Problems:
Detached or overly, inconsistently, or
chaotically attached
Developmental challenges and transitions
Relationship/Marital/Partner Issues
Unresolved Past Issues
Concerns about Parenting and Parenthood
Pregnancy Related Concerns
Psychosomatic Problems
Eating Disturbances
Substance Abuse
While estimates of perinatal depression range from 10-20% of new mothers,
perinatal anxiety appears to be more prevalent (Jaffe & Diamond, 2011) and
frequently co-occurs with depression.
to prehormone
Increased pregnancy fears and anxiety, not general stress is related
term births possibly from elevated corticotropin-releasing
(Dunkel-Schetter & Mancuso, 2010).
Up to 75% of mothers with preschoolers report significant anxiety
(Maushart, 1999).
➢An experience of childbirth where one believes her life or her baby’s life was
threatened; and includes feeling helpless, out of control, alone, and unsupported.
➢Research has increased as this has gained more reputable clinical attention.
When Survivors Give Birth (2004) by Penny Simkin and Phyllis
Core symptoms revolve around re-experiencing, avoidance, and
Rates of postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder range from 1.5-9%.
 Between 25%-34% of women report traumatic births and 1.5-3% of women with
clinically normal births developed PTSD (Soet, et al, 2003, Creedy, et al, 2002,
Czarnocka, et al, 2000, Beck, 2005, 2006, Ayers, 2007).
➢Nationwide study of 1,373 postpartum women found 9% met diagnostic criteria for
PTSD while 18% had significantly elevated symptoms (Beck, 2011).
➢A review of 31 studies on post-traumatic stress after childbirth concluded it is common
and under-recognized (Olde, 2005).
 Risk factors included: a history of psychological problems, trait anxiety,
procedures, negative contact between birth professionals and mother,
feelings of
loss of control, and lack of partner support.
➢PTSD/PTSS have significant, negative, long-term impact on: mood, behavior, social
relationships, future pregnancy and childbirth, partner relationship, sexual functioning,
mother-baby bonding and attachment, long-term attachment problems, especially
avoidant or anxious attachments.
RISK FACTORS DURING LABOR (Beck, 2011; Waldenstrom 2004; Soet, 2003;Creedy,
2000; Thom, 2007; Soderquist, Wijma 2002; Olde 2005: Ayers, 2007 Gamble, 2005;
Gross, 2005; Cigoli, 200)
 Unexpected medical problems
 High level of obstetric intervention
 Cesarean birth
 Perception of inadequate labor support
 Instrumental delivery
 Infant in NICU
 Poor experience with pain
 Lack of choice and loss of control over labor
 Unmet expectations especially without explanation
 Negative interactions with hospital professionals and staff
 Poor partner support
 Feelings: powerless, alone, defeated, thoughts of death
 Prenatal depression and anxiety
 Traumatic life events and (childhood) sexual trauma history
 Dissociation
➢An inability to talk coherently about her birth story, coupled with negative perceptions
of professionals and staff, are significant risk factors for PTSS or PTSD
Factors associated with Perinatal Emotional Problems
➢ Physical factors:
 Previous psychiatric history and care
 Menstrual problems
 Imbalances: hormones, neurotransmitters, nutrients
 Fatigue and disrupted sleep
Socio-cultural factors:
 Inadequate cultural recognition
 Absence of traditions/rituals including “transition and
reintegration rituals”
Insufficient social support and social isolation
Socioeconomic problems
Birth and Infant Factors:
 Difficult or traumatic pregnancy, labor or birth
 Discrepancy between expectations and subsequent
 Disappointment with birth and experiences with professionals
 History of obstetric problems, infertility, stillbirth, or
 Significant problems with infant
Psychological Factors:
 Poor relationship with partner/marriage
 Negative perceptions of parental care during one’s childhood
 Poor relationship with parents especially absent or poor
daughter relationship
Less paternal involvement and support of infant’s care
Ignorance of infant development
Distorted self-esteem and self efficacy (high or low)
Unrealistic expectations of motherhood
Lack of satisfaction with educational achievement
Little previous contact with babies
Prolonged conception period in women over 30
Oppressive past memories
History of sexual or physical trauma and abuse
Fear of childbirth
Unresolved traumas or losses
Stressful life events
Maternal age (younger and older)
Lack of control over returning to work
Developmental Considerations: Transitioning to Motherhood
"What’ll I do with it now”
Developmental Considerations: Transitioning to Motherhood
Developmental Considerations: Transitioning to Motherhood
“The mother having been a child and having introjected the memory traces of
being… cared for…relives with her infant the pleasures and pains of
infancy…Parents meet.. not only the projections of their own conflicts
incorporated in the child, but also the promise of their hopes and ambitions.”
(Benedek, 1959)
“Motherhood is earned first through an intense physical and psychic rite of
passage—pregnancy and childbirth—then through learning to nurture, which
does not come by instinct.” (Rich, 1995)
➢ Pregnancy and birth is often a time of maternal rebirth. A vulnerable
it triggers a process of self-reorganization and personal evaluation.
(Stern, 2002).
Motherhood is characterized by paradox, contradictions and opposites
that generate anxiety (deMarneffe, 2004; Maushart, 1999; Raphael-Leff, 1993).
Mothers can have innate capacities for nurturing and yet sustained
nurturance over time is learned.
Mothers can feel instantly connected with their child and yet genuine
bonding and attachment is a long-term process.
Motherhood is accompanied by many gains and losses.
Mothers who are less reflective and less tolerant of ambiguity suffer more
perinatal problems (Siegel, 2002; Raphael-Leff, 1993)
Birth into motherhood is filled with powerful myths, images and
expectations, and sanctioned by cultural assumptions about motherhood
and “good mothers:”
➢ Images: “Good” versus “bad” mothers; traditional versus non-traditional
images of mothering; being like or unlike one’s childhood experience
Personal evaluation during maternal rebirth (Stern, 2002):
Imagined mother meeting real mother: Will I be like my mother? Will I be
better or worse than my mother/parents? Will I replicate my childhood?
Imagined baby meeting real baby: “good” or “bad;” divine child or devil;
flawless or deformed
Imagined birth meeting real birth: perfectly as planned; “perfectly” natural or
“perfectly” medicated; completely in control or completely out of control
Imagined baby’s effect on mother meeting real effect: unconditional love;
replacement baby; antidepressant; conciliator for family of origin; restoring and
stimulating new relationship with mother; escaping the destiny of one’s past
Imagined baby’s effect on marriage meeting real effect: marital glue or
marital threat; competitor
Imagined family meeting real family: baby as carrier of flaws; baby as gift;
social mobility; role in the family mythology
 The Reciprocator-Facilitator-Regulator Model: Patterns of relating to
pregnancy, birth, post-partum, and mothering (Raphael-Leff, 2005):
The Reciprocator:
 Ambivalence and contradictory reactions
 Tolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty
 Maintains parts of self while losing and developing new
 Attuned to needs of infant and self
The Facilitator:
 Immerses completely
 Expects to relish
 Relinquishes self and previous life
 Adapts “devotedly” to child’s life
The Regulator:
Strives to control and regulate
Detachment and minimization
Determination to minimize, deny, control changes; and
maintain “pre-pregnancy” self
Regulates and controls the baby
 Marital conflict increases dramatically, and marital quality
for 40-67% of couples within the first year of baby’s life.
“Bringing Baby Home” program decreased postpartum
depression (22.5% versus 66.5% in control group) by
improving couples relationship, educating on infant
development, involving fathers in infant care.
(Shapiro & Gottman, 2005).
➢ Preventive care: Preparation before or during pregnancy. Address family
of origin issues, unresolved traumas, losses, and relationship patterns.
➢ Professionally facilitated support groups have been especially helpful
perinatal problems (Jaffe & Diamond, 2011).
 Integrative Treatment: Psychosocial and educational interventions,
individual and group psychotherapy, medication, peer interventions,
somatic work; and integrative/complementary medical and
treatments including relaxation therapy, yoga, massage, mindfulness,
meditation, and hypnotherapy are effective with perinatal problems (Jaffe
Diamond, 2011; Siegel, 2003).
 Psychotherapy: Brief to long-term. Relevance of trauma therapy. May
involve individual; parent and infant; couple; or family and include
integrative/complementary treatments.
MENTALIZING AND NARRATION: Their power in therapeutic work
Mentalizing: Understanding mental states in self and others—holding mind
in mind. The process of thinking about thinking. Capacity to “feel thoughts,”
and “think feelings,” in self and others. Includes explicit and implicit
Narrative: Construction of a story. Coherent narratives relate to mental
 Coherence: Story is believable, congruent, undistorted,
sufficiently elaborated, collaborative, & reflective of self/others.
Narratives that are coherent and demonstrate mentalizing
better relationships and mental health, including with
Research on Mentalizing [Reflectiveness] and Narrative:
Pregnant mothers who were self-reflective [“mentalizing”] about
their early histories and able to share a coherent story of their
early life [“narrating”], when three months pregnant, had less
anxious children who demonstrated secure attachment at
eighteen months (Fonagy, et. al, 1993).
 mothers with significant adversity and deprivation, but high
reflectiveness ratings, demonstrated secure attachment
relationships with their children, while only one of seventeen
deprived mothers, with low reflectiveness ratings had secure
children (Fonagy, Steele, Moran, Steele, and Higgitt, 1991a)
The relevance of the narrative of “the reproductive story”: “the,
at times conscious, but largely unconscious, narrative” created
“about parenthood.” (Jaffe & Diamond, 2011)
➢ Initially align with challenging emotional states with empathy.
 Complementary reactions where patient is challenged, provided
“the other side,” encouraged “out” of her experience, is a more
natural and common response, but usually less helpful initially.
 Acknowledge limits to empathically knowing her experience.
➢Attunement to language: Process not content; engagement with non-verbal,
verbal, and somatic dimensions of experience
Affirm the benefits of an integrated approach to her health: Help target one
area that is within her capacity to influence.
Attunement to PTSD symptoms particularly: re-experiencing; avoidance; or
arousal. Affirm benefits to child and her of receiving earlier treatment.
➢Affirm the healing power of telling her story. Less coherent narratives related
to more problems and indicates greater need for treatment.
 A mother who develops and articulates a “coherent narrative” of
her life story shows greater mental health, healthier
improved relationships with her partner and
children, and has
children who demonstrate more security and
better capacity for
relating (Siegel, 2003).
The un-narrated past, not the past, impacts the present.
Narration fosters neural integration of the right and left
hemispheres (Teicher, 2002), which leads to improved
emotional regulation, and more conscious choices.
Meets the human need to be heard, seen, and valued.
➢Affirm the influence of “the reproductive story,” and the value of working
mindfully with it.
➢Consider referring a patient to “Mentoring Mothers,” a group that provides
mentoring, education, consultation, community, and support that focuses on
fostering emotional and psychological development for a more conscious
transition to motherhood.

transitioning to motherhood - Emergence Reproductive Mental Health