From a Pea to a Pumpkin:
A Prenatal & Postpartum Psychotherapy Group for Mothers & Their Babies
Angela Wurtzel, MA, LMFT, CEDS-S

A change gradually takes place in the feelings as well as in the body of the woman who has conceived. The direction of her interest turns from outward to inwards. She slowly but surely comes to believe that the center of the world is in her own body.”

— D. W. Winnicott

Pregnancy can be understood as a normal life event of a positive nature, while at the same time, anxiety producing that facilitates growth and change. The experience of pregnancy and having a baby involves psychological processes of change and integration. Working through these changes involves some feelings of depression and anxiety. It has been important for women in this group to share their feelings in a situation which is continuous and accepting. As the therapist, my approach has been thoughtful, curious and interested for each woman and baby to succeed psychologically in the group. By creating a psychotherapy group in contrast to a support group for mothers and their babies, I ask each mother before participating in the group, what she might imagine happens in group? I listen to her desires, wishes and fantasies, and then am able to clarify that this group refrains from advice giving or problem solving but rather offers an unusual opportunity to learn a lot about herself during a time in her life that is unlike any other.

The birth of a baby affords an opportunity for a woman to work through psychological conflicts, to reshape her perception of herself and others and incorporate a new experience. Like the birth of her baby, after group therapy, she will will not be the same as she was before, blending with the developmental model of life and psychology. The changes a woman experiences during pregnancy and postpartum can be of such significance, so strong and even sometimes alarming, that for some women, this may be the first time she becomes focused on making sense of her feelings. For women who have received therapy for an eating disorder and found relief and recovery, becoming pregnant provides yet another moment to make sense of her emotional life.

The physical and psychological experience of being a woman with a baby inside her and then a mother with a baby outside of her is examined throughout the life of this group. Pregnancy involves physical and psychological preparation and reflection, a time to reexamine the past and assimilate thoughts for the future. Furthermore, it is a time to think about oneself in the natural cycle of life and death. This time period can inspire a certain amount of anxiety, if it is not overwhelming and consuming, that is a signal that psychological growth is taking place. A woman is becoming sensitive to the natural fears in the face of many unknowns. It helps to be in a group to investigate these anxieties, to be prepared for not being prepared, to expect panic and to be open about the dread of not being able to cope.

Postpartum, on the other hand, is perpetually full of tasks and being called upon to respond to her baby. With limited time for herself and to reflect, women are often alone with paramount feelings prompted by her involvement with her dependent baby. These feelings are part of the woman and separate from her and group psychotherapy offers the use of each other as raw material to learn about themselves.

An overarching theme in this group is how becoming a mother rekindles in each woman conscious and unconscious memories of being mothered. The perplexing and poignant feelings women experience with their babies during this time is exhausting and enriching. No two experiences are the same yet there is one process, pregnancy and birth, with different landmarks. The group process is to pay attention and see where the mind goes because different group members have different feelings and reactions about the same thing. My job is to facilitate rather than get invested in change happening in group members. Their own use of self knowledge, being in the here and now of the group dynamic and to talk about their feelings helps each woman know herself emotionally.

In this episode of EDMatters Podcast, I am interviewed by Kathy Cortese about the evolution, process and facilitation of this unique psychotherapy group for prenatal and postpartum women and their babies. https://www.edcatalogue.com/episode-83-angela-wertzul-postpartum-women-babies/

 Author Bio:

Angela R. Wurtzel, MA, LMFT, CEDS-S, has been in private practice In Santa Barbara CA for 21 years, specializing in the treatment of eating disorders, self injury, compulsive shopping and prenatal and postpartum concerns for mothers and their babies and children. Angela offers individual, group and family psychodynamic psychotherapy both in person and virtually. Angela also provides supervision, consultation and presentations nationally and locally. www.angelawurtzelmft.com

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