I recently had the pleasure of sitting down to coffee with Vanessa, a licensed marriage and family therapist about the work she does in Lincoln, NE. I was drawn to her work because she is one of the few counselors in Lincoln who is thoroughly knowledgeable of perinatal mood disorders. I personally suffered with postpartum depression and I wish I would have known about Vanessa at the time because when you go to a counselor who doesn’t understand the complicated world of postpartum depression, it makes things much, much worse.
I had no idea what exactly a marriage and family therapist does, so Vanessa explained. Being licensed as a LMFT doesn’t mean that you only work with married couples - it is a way of viewing problems within the context of marriage, couples and family systems.
Unfortunately, marital satisfaction plummets after the arrival of baby, resulting in a decline in relationship satisfaction nearly twice as steep for couples who have children than for childless couples. As a therapist, Vanessa helps couples go back to the drawing board and remember what brought them together in the first place.She encourages them to talk about their hopes and dreams for parenthood and to discuss their expectations together. She also encourages them to express their emotions - even if they are negative - in a safe place.
I asked Vanessa why she thinks the perinatal year is so hard. There isn’t a simple answer to that question, but pregnancy and birth brings an incredible amount of change. If parents are not prepared for that change and all its possibilities, it can throw them for a major loop. The lack of sleep and insecurities that most parents experience also contribute to making the postpartum period challenging. There are lots of expectations about what new parenthood is supposed to be like and the myth of parental bliss. You’ve heard the myths before - the one that parents are immediately going to fall in love with their baby or that parenthood is going to bring a couple closer together. And certainly, on some level there may be some truth in those myths but they aren’t the only possibility and they aren’t necessarily the blueprint for how things “should” or will go.
My next question for Vanessa was easy. If the perinatal time is so hard and marital satisfaction goes down after the birth of a child, what can you do to make the perinatal period easier? Her tips:
Be open and honest with your partner. Think back on what your hopes and dreams as a parent are and talk about those hopes and dreams.
Create a culture of open communication, friendship and respect - and express that respect.
Find couple friends for mentors and advice and don’t be alone.
If you are struggling or having a hard time communicating, seek professional help.
Another thing that Vanessa does is help families who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy, both with miscarriages and stillbirth. “I haven’t lost a child,” she said, “But when I think of it, I think about a weight on my chest and not being able to breathe.” When parents come to her for this kind of counseling, she sits with them and helps them narrate their child’s story and create a story of meaning behind it. There is no coherency in a loss, which is unsettling to parents. Being able to sit and create a coherent story from beginning to end is soothing and will hopefully help to ease the grief - make it a little more manageable. She is also specially trained to work with women and men who have experienced trauma, especially as it pertains to traumatic birth experiences and attachment disruptions suffered in childhood.
Lastly, I asked Vanessa why she got into marriage and family counseling. She said it was because she worked with children before she became a therapist and saw how the family dynamic affects them. She saw the link between thriving children and healthy family dynamics and she wanted to get in with those families to create that support and encouragement. She had first baby in grad school and while it was a wonderful time in her life, it was also stressful for her and her husband. "I felt very lonely, even when I was around others, and incredibly overwhelmed most of the time,” she said, “I'd like to help other women recognize, manage, and challenge those feelings of isolation and self-doubt in ways I wasn't able to as a result of not reaching out for support."
Vanessa is a licensed marriage and family therapist right here in Lincoln, NE, although she was born and raised in California. She is married and has three beautiful children. She loves documentary films, road trips, reading, watching movies that make her cry, and her current hobby is figuring out how to squeeze date night in with her husband.
Vanessa sees patients by appointment only, Monday-Thursday. You can schedule online at her website www.newlifepysch.com or by calling 402.937.8410.