What to expect emotionally when you’re expecting.
That’s the focus for Dr. Alexandra Sacks, an NYC-based reproductive psychiatrist who often sees patients dealing with the highs and lows of the transition to motherhood.
To spark the conversation around this unique time, Sacks launched a podcast with Gimlet Media this month called “Motherhood Sessions” that features women sharing their struggles with parenting. She also is the co-author, along with Dr. Catherine Birndorf, of the book “What No One Tells You: A Guide to Your Emotions from Pregnancy to Motherhood,” out this week.
“There’s been so much written about the emotional development of the baby that a lot of literature for mothers is how to understand the psychology of a growing baby, which is of course important, but the emotional health of the mother really had been a limited area for research and education,” Sacks said.
amNewYork spoke with Sacks about her work.
What drew you to this area of expertise?
My work took a turn when I realized that in addition to needing to educate and treat about postpartum depression, there was a whole wide range of experience that had nothing to do with mental illness that had to do with identity shifting and adjustment period to motherhood that involved distress, involved change, involved transition. But we didn’t have a way to talk about it in the popular culture. … I realized that people did not know that the transition to motherhood has so many more complex emotions as part of the natural process than just happiness and joy. My work expanded into educating them about that.
What appealed to you about the podcast format?
It’s an amazing opportunity to share real women’s stories. These brave women have volunteered — we changed their names, but they have wanted to share their stories in a public setting because they agree that we need to reduce stigma and shame around these very common emotional struggles. There’s nothing like hearing someone else’s real life. I think the stories are so powerful, and it’s such an intimate space for people to see that they’re not alone and to learn from each other in a therapeutic conversation.
How did the book come about?
We don’t do enough education in the medical community about wellness and about development and growth. We talk more about disease and treating conditions. So we really wanted to come together to create a guidebook to help people understand their own developmental transition. … This book is an emotional guide for the natural transition that women go through psychologically. Because there’s some pressure to experience this as joyful, there is less discussion in our culture about the hard patches. I think we both found that it’s helpful to hear from doctors that ambivalence is natural, that anxiety will happen in moments and that sadness is also a part of this major transition.
Why do you think this conversation is happening now?
I still think there’s a lot of stigma about talking about difficult emotional processes. We still need to expand our language and lexicon for how to talk about life experiences that fall in the gray and that aren’t black and white, which are most life experiences. I think we need to continue educating and conversing and providing examples for people to talk about the complexity of their feelings. I’m really encouraged to see that this is a welcome moment now, both in terms of interest in women’s experiences and remembering that motherhood is not just about taking care of a child, it’s also a new phase for the woman, too.
For readers, how can they further the conversation?
Take a risk and try to share something about your experience that you think might help another mom. And ask another woman how she’s doing and try to listen openly because there’s no way to know what another person is feeling. Everyone has their own journey through motherhood and life. So to try to both share and listen, keeping in mind there are very few right answers in this process.
IF YOU GO
Dr. Alexandra Sacks is in conversation with Jenny Galluzzo, co-founder of The Second Shift, on May 2 from 9-11 a.m. at Luminary | 1204 Broadway | Tickets $25/General public, FREE for Luminary members at eventbrite.com