You want the first days and weeks home with your new baby to be idyllic, but you never know how your body and mind will fare in the aftermath of pregnancy, labour and delivery. That’s why a postpartum plan is essential to help prepare yourself for the wonderful journey ahead with your new babe.
Emily Claire Blackmoon is a social worker who has been providing holistic mental health support for over ten years. She has a private practice in the Annex and is a member of The Healing Collective on the Danforth. She will be presenting a workshop called “Creating A Postpartum Mood Support Plan” at the 4 Trimesters conference later this month. We chatted with her this week.
SDTC: What drew you to the field of holistic mental health support?
ECB: When I was in my late teens/early twenties, I set out on a journey to reconnect myself with my family’s Indigenous Anishnaabe ancestry, and I began working as a social worker in the Toronto Indigenous community. Indigenous folks in Toronto are very diverse, and there is a lot of diversity within Indigenous perspectives and approaches to therapy, but a common value is the importance of relationships, and the importance of understanding that we are whole people—spirit, emotions, body and mind.
I am also a Gestalt therapist, which is a type of therapy that developed its approach to care through sensory experiences in the body and phenomenology: what is unfolding, what do you sense, what do you feel in the moment? It’s about what is happening between the therapist and the client, in the here and now, as the client speaks their truth.
Finally, I am a feminist and anti-oppressive therapist; this approach informs me that what is happening for a client is not all “in the head” but is informed by their environments, their social location, the trauma they’ve experienced from marginalization etc. Combining all three of these approaches creates a fulsome, holistic and critical lens to mental health.
What is important to keep in mind when creating a postpartum mood support plan?
That it is a living document completely unique to the individual. We can be planned to the teeth for what we may think we’re going to want and need once the baby is born, [but] once they’re here, we may have to edit that plan or scrap it altogether. That’s perfectly okay, and birth parents need to be supported in being flexible and creative with this.
There is also a trend in mental health support that says self-care looks a certain way (often fun, or glamorous, or expensive). Sometimes self-care is just a goal to remember to brush your teeth. Or a cup of tea with your mom. Or a great breast-feeding playlist. Or connecting with a support person to help you leave the home with the baby for the first check-up or outing. It’s whatever you want and what is feasible and realistic for you. The birth parent must be listened to, for they are the absolute authority on what it is that they need to do to feel like they can survive and thrive through the postpartum months.
What are some needs that we don’t necessarily anticipate going into the postpartum period?
The fear of being “inadequate” for this child can be very strong, and it is also extremely common. It’s hard to see your baby cry, especially after you’ve done everything you could—cuddled and soothed and fed and changed—and yet they still won’t settle. It can take a brutal toll on a parent’s self-esteem about their own skills.
It’s so important that parents know they don’t have to chase this idea of knowing what to do at all times and being completely confident and connected with their baby 24/7. You really have to cultivate trust in yourself, and trust that you and your child will move through the tough times together.
Why is the postpartum period so crucial in terms of both maternal mental health and infant development?
Before Western neuropsychology, many cultures around the world knew that the bond between birth parent and child was sacred and co-dependant; the relationship between mother and child was one of powerful intimacy and co-creation. Now we know that the brains of infants and their caregivers are wired to pick up on each other’s voices, sounds, smells, body languages and cues, and that the birth parent and their baby go through this beautiful dance of recognition, response and reciprocity. So it’s absolutely crucial that both the infant and the parent be supported in having a healthy, strong attachment to one and other in order for both individuals to thrive after birth.
What do you wish more people knew about this period of life?
That if you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re in very good company, and that having a baby can be as difficult and sad as it is sweet and joyful.
If you could offer any wisdom or mantra to keep in mind for the period after giving birth, what would it be?
This is your time to get to know yourself—what you really need and want out of life, what makes you feel strong and what makes you feel vulnerable.
It’s a beautiful thing when you see parents claiming who they are, asking for what they want, celebrating their style of parenting and making no apologies for it. As long as you and the child are safe, you can’t go wrong.
What do you hope participants take away from your workshop at 4 Trimesters?
More hope and intention about how they will support themselves and their partners postpartum, and the sense that they can get through whatever comes their way.