Welcome to the second of my Journey of a PPD Survivor Series!
Laura Winters, LCSW, whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing since we met at this year’s Postpartum Support International conference in Philadelphia, is a therapist specializing in infertility and prenatal/postpartum stress. We are both members of the recently-established PSI-New Jersey chapter. Laura is passionate about helping women on their journeys through motherhood, offering individual and group support. Her practice, Postpartum Health & Harmony, is located in Chatham and Mountain Lakes, NJ. For more information or to contact Laura, please visit www.postpartumhh.com.
Thank you, Laura, for taking the time to provide my blog readers some insight into your journey as a PPD survivor!
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Can you please describe your journey to becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and what motivated your passion to help women with infertility issues (which I experienced) and mothers suffering from a perinatal mood disorder? How long have you been helping women experiencing infertility and perinatal mood disorder?
When I was considering careers, I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted a career that would enable me to make a difference in people’s lives. Social work was suggested to me and it was a perfect fit! I started out my career working with children and teens and I really enjoyed helping them through various challenges. In 2007, I started working in private practice, primarily focusing on families. It wasn’t until about 2011 that I first started seeing some women who were struggling with perinatal mood disorders. At that time, it wasn’t a specialty of mine, so I only saw a few new mothers.
In 2013, I became a mother and had an entirely new appreciation for parenthood. It was incredibly difficult in ways I never imagined. Breastfeeding was not going well, which caused me a lot of anxiety, sadness, and added to my exhaustion. My husband and I both felt more like roommates and our relationship was strained. This experience inspired me to make some career changes, most notably acquiring more advanced training in perinatal mood disorders and developing this specialty in my practice.
As I began to work with more pregnant and postpartum moms, I also started getting referrals for women experiencing infertility and postpartum moms who had gone through fertility treatments. Once again, I felt a need to learn more and was interested in adding this focus to my practice. I see these times in women’s lives, when you’re trying to conceive or newly postpartum, as being so precious and yet such a vulnerable period. For the most part, everyone assumes that they will get pregnant easily and that motherhood will be challenging but amazing. When things don’t go as planned, it can completely turn your world upside down and have you questioning everything about your life. My personal experience definitely fueled my passion for supporting moms as well as couples trying to conceive.
In your practice, have you seen a correlation between infertility and a perinatal mood disorder? Do you treat mothers who you’d also seen while they were struggling with infertility issues and ended up suffering from a perinatal mood disorder? Have you treated women suffering from infertility issues who ended up not suffering from a perinatal mood disorder?
Infertility treatment is a risk factor for a perinatal mood disorder and I do see this correlation in my practice, though not across the board. There are so many factors that influence whether a mother will develop a perinatal mood disorder. I’ve seen women who have been through infertility treatment and did not end up experiencing any perinatal mood disorders. Support and early intervention are very helpful in protecting a mom’s mental health.
Can you provide an overview of the services you provide? I see that you help patients in person, online, and even in a support group setting. Do you find one way of seeing your patients is more helpful?
I offer individual, couples, and group counseling. I see almost all of my clients in person. I offer online and phone sessions for times when clients may not be able to come to the office, such as not having child care available or in the first few weeks after childbirth. Online and phone sessions are a great way of continuing sessions when life gets in the way. The support group is open, meaning that you don’t have to register and can come as often as you need. The moms that come to the group tend to be looking for different support than those who come for individual counseling. The group moms are often looking to connect more with other moms going through similar experiences.
In your practice, what kinds of treatments for postpartum depression do you recommend?
In addition to therapy, I will recommend medication for those that are open to it or who have tried other things and are still struggling. I also encourage my clients to try to incorporate exercise and a healthy diet into their routine. For clients that are interested, I may recommend meditation or teach them an acupressure technique called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).
Have any medical healthcare practitioners–like IVF doctors, general practitioners, OB/GYNs or pediatricians–ever refer their patients to you?
Yes, medical healthcare practitioners are great referral sources. I definitely get more referrals from those healthcare professionals who take the time to talk to their patients about mental health.
What do you think medical health practitioners who come in contact with new mothers, like OB/GYNs, GPs and pediatricians, can do to help prevent, detect and treat perinatal mood disorders?
I would encourage medical health practitioners to take time to talk to moms about mental health. Ask them about their mood and stress level. Look their patients in the eyes and ask them how they are really doing. Normalize how challenging being a mother is. Making comments such as “motherhood is tough” or “you have a lot on your plate now” can go a long way in helping a mother feel comfortable to open up to you. And having referral sources on hand when their patients need more support is extremely important. Don’t leave it up to a new mom to have to find help herself.
Is there one key piece of advice you would offer to an expecting or new mom?
For expecting moms, I would tell them to make a postpartum plan that outlines things such as who they can count on for specific types of support (baby/childcare, cooking, advice, etc), how they will protect their sleep, and where they can turn if they need support. For new moms, I would advise them to take breaks, ask for and accept help, and know that challenges come in phases but do eventually end.
What would you want to say to women currently suffering with a postpartum mood disorder?
This is the most common complication of childbirth and not an indication of who you are as a mother. There is a lot of support available out there including counseling, support groups, and other moms who have been there and are happy to offer encouraging words. You will feel better once you get the support that’s right for you. Other moms have recovered and you will too.
What advice would you offer to friends/family members of a woman who is currently suffering with a postpartum mood disorder?
Reach out to her often – call, text, stop over. Be there for her when she’s ready to talk. Try to listen and validate her feelings. Consider what support you can offer her—including cooked meals, childcare, cleaning, keeping her company—and rather than asking if she wants that help, tell her that this is how you’d like to help. Tell her when you’re available to provide that support and then let her decide when you can come over. Most moms will turn down help initially, but when you are very specific with what you can do and when you can do it, it’s harder to turn that down. Also, it may help you better understand what she’s going through by researching information on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in helping a mother recover from a postpartum mood disorder?
Lack of support and lack of insurance coverage are big obstacles. It’s hard enough finding a therapist or psychiatrist, let alone when you have an infant and aren’t feeling like yourself. Whether you have insurance coverage or not can help or hinder the process. I find that the more support a mother has around her (people who can help with certain tasks and give her breaks), the easier recovery is. It’s really challenging when you don’t have enough support at home and are expected to do a lot of the childcare and household tasks. It doesn’t allow enough time for moms to tend to their needs.