Finding her new purpose
I remember the 2019 incident as if it were yesterday. Nervously trying to peek at the ultrasound screen to search for any signs of Blu moving, listening impatiently for a heart that would never beat, my eyes darting between the screen and the technician’s blank stare, waiting to hear her casually tell me, “Your doctor’s office will call you with the results.” The technician’s poker face was the worst. And that day, one of my greatest fears was confirmed — Baby Blu had miscarried, most likely due to a “genetic defect.”
I was wrought with grief and desperately needed time to process the life I had envisioned, that would unfortunately never be. I began to work on healing myself — and trust me, even as a psychologist, on some days grief blanketed my being and seeped through to my core, leaving a cavernous hole in my heart that would never quite feel whole again.
During my grief journey, I decided to seek therapy for support, as I wanted to be proactive and work through any thoughts or feelings in a supportive environment.
I realized quickly that people in our lives have the best intentions, but they say the dumbest things to people who are grieving. After smiling through the caring but hard-to-hear comments — “At least you already have a child” and “Thank God you were not that far along” and “It was a blessing, you never know what kind of defect it was” — I knew that I did not want to go through such deep pain without a professional. I am not the cursing type, but I had a few urges to let loose with some people, realizing that death is one of the most uncomfortable topics, and most people rarely get it “right.”
While doing consistent self-healing work and meeting with my therapist, I found many ways to honor Blu’s short life, and most importantly, I started my perinatal practice: Blu’s Rainbow. And during this time, though considered high-risk based on medical complications and recent loss of pregnancy, I was blessed with a baby boy. I continued to seek support from my therapist throughout my pregnancy, as I feared losing him and having my heart re-broken.
Discussing pregnancy loss
The more I advocated for myself, conducted research on perinatal mental health, and worked with my team, the greater my passion for perinatal mental health grew. The statistics were astonishing, and I was surprised at how little people and doctors in the field openly discussed pregnancy loss, postpartum depression and anxiety in women and men, postpartum psychosis, and the importance of social-emotional health during and after pregnancy.
I also shared my story and received messages from women who had suffered in silence and were still grieving the loss. Did you know that 10 to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage? Why do we feel the need to hide our experiences? Many mothers I have worked with are ashamed to tell their stories due to fear of judgment and feeling like a failure. They may blame themselves for pregnancies not being viable and suffer in silence, believing they are alone. Research also shows that fathers grieve, but struggle with talking about their feelings, due to societal pressures to “man-up” and support their partners. Talking about the loss and finding ways to honor the life, no matter how young or old, can be therapeutic.
After having a successful pregnancy following pregnancy loss, advocating for myself, and working on my mental and medical health, I now know that maternal health is sacred. I know that I had privileges others may not have, and I want to empower women and families to take control of their maternal mental health.
If left untreated, perinatal mental health issues can have a devastating impact on mother, baby and family. Perinatal mental health screening, assessment, and treatment are imperative for the health of the family system, as perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) remain under-diagnosed and under-treated. Moreover, perinatal depression affects 1-in-5 to -7 women and 1-in-10 new fathers will suffer from postpartum depression. According to the CDC, 20 percent of pregnant women were not asked about depression during a prenatal visit and 50 percent of pregnant women were not treated. These numbers are higher for women of color and those in lower socioeconomic communities.
My mission at Blu’s Rainbow is to ensure that families feel seen, heard and supported during pregnancy, following delivery, or in the unfortunate loss of pregnancy. My goal is to advance maternal mental health through individual and group therapy programs specifically designed for women and families throughout the perinatal period or grief journey. As I treat perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, I am most proud of my ability to connect to women and families on an “I get it” kind of level, which makes all the difference.
Baby Blu’s memory lives on in every story told and each life touched.
Charie Motley. Psy.D., PMH-C, is a therapist who does individual, family and couples counseling. She is a licensed clinical psychologist in Missouri and Illinois, and a certified perinatal mental health professional. You can contact her at 636-344-6766 or firstname.lastname@example.org.