Resilience Training For Mums And Trying Something New

Outside of the suffering that is brought by illness, modern parenting introduces a whole range of challenges to new mothers that can be upsetting, frustrating, surprising and sometimes painful. The outcome of these experiences may not be an illness specifically, but can make the process of adjusting to this new stage more challenging than anticipated (6). As a result, we want to talk about building resilience for Mum and why we need to try something new when it comes to preparing for Motherhood.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and the American Psychological Association, a new mother has anywhere from an 12%-14% likelihood of developing postpartum depression after the arrival of her child. (1,2) New mothers are five times more likely to develop obsessive compulsive disorder than women in the rest of the population (3). (To put this risk in perspective, smoking cigarettes makes you 3-6 times as likely to have a stroke (4).

These statistics become more alarming when one notes than only 15% of women who suffer from postpartum mental health concerns receive treatment. The remainder, for reasons of lack of access, inadequate screening and detection, or concern about the stigma attached with a diagnosis, continue to suffer while they work to raise their children.

At Well Made Mama, these statistics leave us with so many questions. Why, in an age when we have so much data amassed on human behavior, do we not work to improve the postpartum lexicon around the mind and its health? Why, when the statistics show that 1 in 7 of us will suffer from Postpartum Depression (2), are women given so little information about the mental and emotional transition to motherhood, risk factors for illness, health promoting practices, what is normal, what isn’t, and how and where to seek help if it is required?

If you could do something to reduce your risk ahead of time, wouldn’t you?

We would.  And sometimes inspiration can come from the most unlikely of places. In this case, the United States Army.

In 2008, fighting a war in two theaters, and realizing the enormous potential for trauma and resulting post-traumatic stress that modern combat brings, the army anticipated at least 150,000 soldiers per year could be expected to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their combat experiences. Suicides in returning soldiers were at an all time high. Combat carried tremendous physical risks, yet the emotional scars sustained could threaten veterans lives’ for years to come following the fighting. The US Army decided it was no longer going to sit and wait for its soldiers to suffer. It was time to act. (7)

The Army created a training program for soldiers that aimed to help them be as psychologically fit as they were physically and technically fit. (7) Since then, millions of US soldiers have been provided skill training that can help them better cope with the emotional trauma of war.   

Here are two quotes from a primary review of the program we find compelling:

‘The program is not meant to replace existing efforts to diagnose and treat mental health problems. Rather, it is proactive, providing soldiers the skills needed to be more resilient in the face of adversity. (7, p.6)

Waiting for illness or injury to occur is not the way commanders in the U.S. Army approach high-risk actions; and it is not the way we should approach high psychological risk activities. In any other area—whether it is risk of a mosquito-borne illness or risk of injury from an IED (improvised explosive device) exploding— commanders follow three basic steps: assess risk, mitigate risk at the unit level, then mitigate risk at the individual level.’ (7, p.5)

We don’t know about you, but in a world that can sometimes behave as if mental health is an afterthought, we find the US Army’s acknowledgement of its criticality for performance encouraging.

Now of course, the proof is in the pudding. This program has been subject to a fair amount of criticism - as any healthy scientific endeavor should be (8). It’s still experimental, and was implemented on a massive scale very quickly. The benefits to soldiers, as tracked, are in the right direction, but small (9). Much has still to be learned. Yet crucially (in our opinion) they are trying.  

Where does this leave us, as mothers? What can we learn from the experience of these soldiers, whose job descriptions are so fundamentally different from our own?

For starters, here’s our take:

  1. New motherhood is both beautiful and profoundly changing. It requires adjustment and coping and a return to baseline. As a result, some individuals adjust well. And some individuals find it harder.

  2. Adjustment can be helped with specific coping skills. Some of these are the skills the US Army seeks to impart to its recruits, but they aren’t specific to soldiers. When life becomes stressful, unpredictable, or downright bewildering, there are a wide array of techniques that have been documented to help people work through them with more success. Crucially, may of these techniques are trainable (13).

  3. Predicting an individual mother’s adjustment to her new life with a baby seems about as difficult as predicting an individual soldier’s experience of war. The amount of individual and situational variables to take into account appear infinite. Yet in both situations, it is agreed that preparation is crucial to increasing the chances of a successful outcome.

  4. Based on data around mental health outcomes, both motherhood and warfare can introduce challenges to emotional well-being (1, 2, 7). The US Army has added psychological preparedness to its tasks for new recruits. Why not try something similar for new mothers?

Of course, Motherhood is not warfare. As mothers, we are tasked with protecting the welfare of our children. Our motivation is love, not war. Yet what gets us there? How notable is the overlap between what strengths and talents a mother and a soldier might rely on? Courage. Discipline. Perseverance. Loyalty. Resilience. Different objectives. But the same, deep requirements for exceptional performance.

So here are where the uncharted waters begin. At Well Made Mama, we believe new mothers deserve better information on the part of mothering that happens in their minds. Yet to get there, we need to start here. In a world that has some answers, but needs more research on what works best for mothers. To date, there could be a lot more.

So while we will always endeavor to bring you good information, we don’t position ourselves as having all the answers. We are trying to change things for the better. But this is new. And good practice will continued to be informed by good research.   

We’re trying. We’ll keep trying. For you.

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/depression/

  2. http://www.apa.org/pi/women/resources/reports/postpartum-depression.aspx

  3. http://www.feinberg.northwestern.edu/sites/asher-center/mood-disorders/postpartum-ocd.html

  4. https://www.stroke.org.uk/sites/default/files/smoking_and_the_risk_of_stroke.pdf

  5. http://postpartumprogress.org/the-facts-about-postpartum-depression/.

  6. Figes, K. (2008) Life After Birth. Virago Press. London.  

  7. Cornum, R., Matthews, M., & Seligman, M. (2011) Comprehensive soldier fitness. Building resilience in a challenging institutional context. American Psychologist. 66, p. 4-9.

  8. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1009&context=pdharm

  9. Hefferon, K. & Boniwell, I. (2011). Chapter 6: Resilience, post-traumatic growth and positive aging. In Positive psychology: Theory, research and applications. UK: McGraw Hill.

  10. Hefferon, K. & Boniwell, I. (2011). Chapter 4: Eudaimonic wellbeing and Chapter 6: Resilience, post-traumatic growth and positive aging. In Positive psychology: Theory, research and applications. UK: McGraw Hill.

  11. Tedeschi, R.G. and Calhoun, L.G. (2006) Foundations of post-traumatic growth. In R.G. Tedeschi and L.G. Calhoun (eds) Handbook of Posttraumatic Growth (pp. 3-23) Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

  12. Luthans, F., Youssef, C. & Avolio, B (2007) Psychological Capital: Developing the Human Competitive Edge. Oxford University Press. New York.

  13. Luthans, F., Youssef, C. & Avolio, B (2007) Psychological Capital: Developing the Human Competitive Edge. Oxford University Press. New York.