When Nicole Grocki was five months pregnant with her second child, she was diagnosed with placenta previa, a condition in which the placenta covers all or part of the cervix. Though her doctor had told her about the complications that could cause, Grocki expected her C-section to go smoothly, like it did when she had her daughter two years earlier. But immediately after the February 2010 birth of her son, she was rushed into surgery for an emergency hysterectomy—a “horrifying experience” that she didn’t get over quickly.
“I wouldn’t say that I had postpartum depression, but I definitely had a traumatic birth,” says Grocki, 41, who describes her condition after her son was born as post-traumatic stress disorder. “You have flashbacks, and you’re preoccupied with it, and you have intrusive thoughts. And at the time, you’re just muddling through. You have a new baby and you’re tired.”
She wanted to have more kids, and the following year she fixated on the idea of using a surrogate. Eventually she turned to a therapist for help and decided not to pursue surrogacy. Her experience made her want to help other women when she returned to work after being a stay-at-home mom.
“Everybody has a story about what happened to them,” says Grocki, who was a marriage and family therapist for 10 years and now specializes in perinatal health, working with women who are pregnant or postpartum. “Their child was born with this thing, or they had to do this many days in the NICU, or their birth happened this way and they thought it would happen this way.” Some moms she sees have had a miscarriage or lost an infant; others feel unsupported because they have a husband who travels; some have had postpartum depression in the past and want to be proactive in dealing with their feelings.
“Around 80 percent of women get baby blues,” says Grocki, who sees patients at her Bethesda office or in their homes through her practice, Maternal Wellness Services. “If you’re past the three-week mark and things are getting hairy or they’re getting worse, then I say, OK, this is something—depression or anxiety—let’s look at this.” She helps pregnant women and new moms with the transition to parenthood. She offers tips to help, including staying hydrated, getting much-needed sleep, asking a relative to help out, and having groceries delivered.
Grocki, who lives in Kensington, says some women feel the need to hide negative feelings during what those around them consider a joyous time. “They don’t feel like there’s safety and normalcy in talking about it,” she says. “There are so many women who are so overly independent. I don’t need help. I got this. I’m good. I’m a type A. Asking for help is a sign of weakness. Asking for help is actually a sign of strength. You need to change the mindset of I can do it myself to: It does take a village. You need to depend on others—you just have to.”
In Her Own Words….
The Real Story
“[It used to be that] no one talked about postpartum depression. Thankfully, people are doing that more. But then we’re getting the picture of Kate Middleton [hours after having a baby in April]. It’s such a disservice to women. It’s an image that is just not the truth. Fine, do that, but then maybe there can also be the second part of the story, which says how grueling the birth was. Let’s have a commentary on that, rather than just you in the beautiful red dress holding the baby. It’s like, I just plucked the baby from the tree.”
“Working moms have a hard time because they’re like, I like my job. I worked really hard to have this position. I don’t want to leave my job, and why should I have to? But at the same time, they’re feeling that pull: I don’t feel like I’m doing a good job at work, and I don’t feel like I’m doing a good job at home. That is a major theme: I’m a bad mom. And that has tremendous shame associated with it.”
Then and Now
“The struggle can be when you’re trying to have your after-baby life mirror your before-baby life. It just doesn’t work. You have to measure your expectations. At the end of the day, moms are like, I haven’t showered. The laundry’s up to here. The house is a disaster. I don’t even know what I’ve been doing. Well, what you’ve been doing is that monotonous routine that I remember. You’re in the weeds. Remind yourself that that’s OK. That’s normal.”
“With some moms, if I go to their homes, we’ll actually walk together. It accomplishes three things: the physical movement—which a lot of times they’re not getting—the therapy, and the self-care. And they’re getting the baby break. Well, the fourth [thing] would be fresh air. To stay in your house all day long—you’re sleep deprived, you’re nursing your baby, you don’t have any help, you’re not moving your body. That’s the recipe for depression.”
“Women think nursing is gonna be easy. The babies get thrush and the moms get mastitis and then they’re engorged. And [there’s] the pumping. The moms’ anxiety is so high, and no one says to them: You don’t have to nurse. Your baby will be OK. Lactation consultants have this thing of breast is best, breast is best. Breast is best for who? Because if it’s not good for mom, it’s not going to be good for baby, either.”