Mental Health Resources
We had the opportunity to connect with Kristen Hurrell, a Clinical Psychologist with an almost three year old daughter who is balancing the act of completing her doctorate, while juggling the adjustment of parenting. She recently opened up a private practice in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan where she's choosing to focus her clinical work on maternal adjustment, perinatal and postpartum mental health, and other women's health issues.
We wish we would have known more about maternal and postpartum mental health post baby, so we wanted to provide some medical advice from an expert to all the moms out there. Kristen was gracious enough to do a full Q&A with us, along with put together a "Self-Care" document to help all working moms out there! Please check out the Q&A below, and Kristen graciously provided her contact info for any moms that want to connect. Self-Care doc coming to you soon!
Q&A with Kristen
Q: Tell us a little about yourself:
Hello! My name is Kristen Hurrell, a wife, mother to two-year-old daughter as well as a clinical psychologist practicing in the Metro-Detroit area. After graduating Michigan State University in 2009 with a degree in psychology, I went to graduate school in Chicago and obtained a Master’s of Art’s in Forensic Psychology. I moved back to Michigan in 2011 and obtained a Master’s of Art’s in Clinical Psychology (2014) and completed my doctorate in clinical psychology in 2017 from the University of Detroit Mercy. My research focus during graduate school centered mostly around psychological assessment, sexuality, and victimization. It was not until after I became a parent that my clinical interest changed drastically to maternal mental health. In my free time I love spending time with my family, trying new restaurants, cooking, reading, and watching reality television. My husband and I also love wine tasting and have visited several wine regions in the United States with more on our bucket list.
Q: What made you interested in becoming a clinical psychologist with a focus on maternal adjustment, perinatal and postpartum health?
My original career path was to become a forensic psychologist and focus on diagnostic assessment, expert witness testimony, as well as psychology in a correctional setting. My dream job after obtaining my doctorate was to work in the federal bureau of prisons and assess for criminal responsibility and mental fitness. It was not until I became a mother in 2015 that I realized there is a huge need for clinical focus on perinatal and postpartum emotional wellness.
Q: What are some common misconceptions about postpartum depression?
I feel like one of the most common ones is that postpartum is rare, when almost one in ten women will experience it after childbirth. It is much more debilitating than the commonly described “baby blues,” and can endure for many months beyond the child’s birth. This can impact the mother in various and often debilitating in many ways, including a woman’s ability to take care of herself as well as having difficulty bonding and taking care of their child.
I also think another common misconception is that postpartum depression means that something is “wrong” with a woman; in that this is a sign she is a “bad” mother or should not have had children. These maladaptive thoughts lead to more shame, guilt, and reluctance to reaching out because our society paints a naïve picture that being a mother is supposed to be this innate and easy undertaking when it can be incredibly daunting and stressful.
Postpartum depression does not mean the mother does not love their child, it involves psychological, biological, and hormonal factors that influence a woman’s susceptibility and can be effectively treated by medical and mental health professional help.
Q: Can you tell us a bit more postpartum anxiety and how it affects women who've recently given birth?
Anxiety after the birth of a child is normal and is somewhat adaptive after childbirth in that it allows us to be more in tune towards the safety and care of a newborn. However, it can manifest into a more serious problem known as postpartum anxiety. It differs from postpartum depression in that the main cluster of symptoms are centered around worry.
Postpartum anxiety is another mood disorder that affects women primarily after birth, but it can also begin for some in pregnancy. It includes pervasive symptoms encompassing various aspects of anxiety including intense worry, anxiousness, and fear that vastly impacts a woman’s life. It can also include physical symptoms like shortness of breath, changes in appetite, heart palpitations, difficulty sleeping, and nausea. Women who have a family or personal history of anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder are particularly vulnerable to this disorder, and it is best to speak with your OB-GYN or primary care provider if you begin to experience these symptoms in pregnancy or after childbirth.
Q: When we are in our postpartum days, there are so many emotions, new experiences, fears, anxieties and hormones running through our bodies. Particularly for first time moms, it can be hard to know what's normal, and what's not. How can we know when we should be reaching out for help?
Welcoming a new child into the world takes a toll physically, mentally, and emotionally. There is a staggering shift in our hormonal levels after childbirth- progesterone and estrogen are raised during pregnancy and essentially plummet during the first 24 hours after childbirth. Couple this huge change with sleep deprivation, changes in your relationships with your partner and family, and recovering from the physical demands of childbirth this can cause some women to experience symptoms that become overwhelming and impact their ability to take care of themselves or their family.
I would say that airing on the side of caution is best, in that if a woman begins to feel excessively depressed, hopeless, or anxious and it is inhibiting their ability to function adequately, it is best to speak with a medical or mental health provider. Postpartum mood disorders typically do not go away on their own and not reaching out for professional help can make a woman’s difficulties worsen over time. Help IS possible and it is best to speak with someone sooner rather than later.
Q: Returning to work after having a child is an emotional and anxiety filled experience. How do you work with women to manage their emotions during this time of massive transition? What can we all do to be better prepared mentally?
There is a lot of complicated emotions that women are faced with when returning to work after the birth of a child. Having a supportive and warm environment in therapy to help process these emotions can help validate and empathize with what they are experiencing. Some women are very excited and looking forward to returning to work while others are faced with returning due to their financial circumstances.
I like to help normalize their emotional experience and help come up with some effective strategies to mitigate their concerns with childcare and balancing their new life as a working mother. I believe that coming up with some solutions prior to the mother returning to work can help women feel more “in control” and having a plan to put into action may make the experience less anxiety-provoking.
As far as mental preparation I think its important to have the mother be well-informed and comfortable with their childcare options and have them do their research in terms of who they trust with their child or children. Having that peace of mind that their child is safe and secure while the woman is at work is integral in their level of comfort. In terms of a woman’s preparation mentally, it may be effective if prior returning to work they do a small try out in what a day would be like away from their child. Wake up at the time that you would have to get ready for work while getting the child ready for wherever they will be during the day. Take the time to prepare yourself and the child with meals for the day, packing a bag for daycare, and whatever else they will need and practice drop off. If you have not been away from your child for a long period of time prior to returning to work it may also be helpful to have your partner or a family member watch them for a couple of hours while you run errands so you can become more used to being away from the child.
This makes the return to work less daunting and you’ll be more prepared mentally and emotionally should the “practice run” not go as effectively as you would like. Change is always scary and you may have to adjust your timing and preparation tactics prior to returning to work. Once back at work, the emotions don't stop!
Q: We all have so much on our plates, it can be overwhelming. And the transition can take a long time to adjust to. What are some tips you have to help women manage the stress of their new normal?
SELF-CARE!!! It is such a crucial part of one’s emotional health, especially for women who are adjusting to motherhood. Often women are given the message that our first priority is to our family, but I have found that if you are unable to take time to “re-charge” and take care of yourself, you will not be as effective in taking care of others.
Self-care is a term I use to describe our physical and emotional needs that allow one to combat stress and live our best life. Some self-care strategies that everyone needs include proper sleep, eating a balanced diet, exercise, and going to the doctor for preventative care (e.g., annual physicals).
What is also crucial is incorporating activities that you enjoy and are valuable to you personally. These are often the activities that women tend to sacrifice, giving the excuse of not having enough time, money or energy. It is so important to make that time for yourself- whether it’s lunch with a girlfriend, a workout, a manicure, or a massage. Being able to schedule that time for yourself is essential is helping a woman feel more relaxed while also retaining a sense of their own identity in the midst of taking care of a child. It doesn’t need to be expensive- taking the time to speak to a friend on the phone or waking up 20 minutes earlier to enjoy a hot cup of coffee in peace can make all the difference!
A happy mother means a happy, healthy household. YOU are worth it mamas.