Coaching in the Postpartum Grey Area: What is it, and Who is it For?

There is a false dichotomy in the postpartum period that has been set up for us culturally and medically between experiencing postpartum depression and being okay. Some OBs and pediatricians give new parents assessments for postpartum depression and choose the level of follow-up needed based on these; clients score as either having postpartum depression or not.

New parenthood, however, is much more complex and nuanced than one assessment, targeted toward a specific condition, can measure. This leaves a lot of new parents floundering in the grey area: not classically depressed, but exhausted and struggling nonetheless. 

For some parents, this looks like increased worry and anxiety. For others, it may simply be confusion around their shifting identities and roles, and a sense of not understanding how to embody their new role as parent while still being and feeling like themselves. For still others, unresolved trauma from their own pasts is triggered by the massive shift in status, lifestyle, and family constellation and by the physical changes (structural and hormonal) that birthing parents experience. Finally, many people become parents with massive expectations about what parenthood will look and feel like, and when the reality differs from these expectations, it can be a shock. 

If you recognize yourself or your partner in any of these descriptions, you might be floating in the postpartum grey area. 

If you are having this experience, you are not alone. A father I was speaking to at school drop-off the other day said that he had not met a single person who had a seamless, easy postpartum experience. We are doing parents (and, when relevant, older siblings) an enormous disservice by asking them either to identify as having PPD or simply to white knuckle their ways through the first year of their babies’ lives. 

I created my version of postpartum coaching to fill this gap and to address the challenges of the postpartum grey area. I knew firsthand from my own two postpartum experiences that it’s all too easy to spin out on our babies’ health, and even, depending on the cultural context in which we give birth, to focus on our own physical recoveries through belly wrapping, pelvic floor therapy, sitz baths, diet, or the unhelpful cultural imperative to “snap back” after birth by losing weight quickly. But the health and resiliency of our minds and nervous systems take a hit arguably as big or bigger than our physical bodies, even if that hit does not show up as classic postpartum depression.

What do we do with this? And how can postpartum coaching help?

In postpartum coaching, we start by identifying the areas that need the most attention: Are you preoccupied with worry and anxiety? Are you finding it difficult to connect with your partner? Are you having a difficult time dividing your time and energy between a new baby and older kiddos? Are you feeling unmoored from your own identity? Are you struggling to meet your own basic needs as you pour all of your energy into being a parent? Are you experiencing chronic irritation, resentment, or impatience?

Once we know where you want to start, we shift to looking at the strengths and resources you already possess to help you through this period. When you or your partner has just given birth, and you are exhausted, vulnerable, and questioning your own competency in this new role, it can be extremely difficult to remember your strengths. 

I then support you in learning new tools to incorporate into your day-to-day, whether it’s improving communication with your partner or extended family, remembering to meet your basic needs, creating a healthy, loving relationship with your physical body, managing worry and stress, or navigating relationships between your new baby and older siblings. 

We spend a few weeks implementing these tools and processing their effects, one by one, until you begin to see shifts in your alignment, attunement, sense of self, communication, and nervous system activation. 

The beauty of this system is that it gives you a strong emotional foundation for parenthood without asking you to plumb the depths of old traumatic memories and events. If you choose to go on to do therapy—either with myself or another therapist—in order to dive deeper into your patterns and wounds, this gives you a set of tools that help to resource and ground you in that therapeutic process.

Typically, unless you are experiencing deeper and more cataclysmic changes in mood, nervous system activation, or mental health, the first year postpartum is more about getting through day-to-day than about doing deep therapeutic work. In doing postpartum coaching, you lay the groundwork to do deeper therapy when you and your family system are more stable physically and emotionally (and are getting a bit more sleep!). 

Bringing a child into your family is a major transition, and you deserve support in the postpartum grey area. Throughout most of history, families have had cultural and community support during this time, but this is not true for a lot of us now. Culturally, we are starting to fill this gap with midwives and doulas, and even doctors, who understand the necessity of support during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, but your mental, emotional, and nervous system deserve and require as much support as your physical body. Postpartum coaching provides that support, and sets you up to be the parent–and human–you want to be.