Depathologizing Mothering Transitions with Dr. Richelle Whittaker
Dr. Richelle Whittaker shares from both her professional knowledge and personal experience about the natural developmental challenges of motherhood and how these are too often pathologized or made into disorders. She shares how viewing matrescecne, or the transition into motherhood, within a wellness perspective can help us support ourselves and others throughout the many liminal spaces on our mothering journeys.
Our conversation covers:
- Dr. Whittaker’s own challenging transition into motherhood
- Her goals for who she is becoming as a mother now
- Why she started Mahogony Moms podcast
- Why we need to normalize the challenges of motherhood
- Institutional racism in maternal mental health
- Barriers to postpartum mental health support
- Why we need to depathologize mothering transitions
- How to support mothers through natural progressions versus saying something is “wrong with you”
- How journaling can support your mental health
- How faith supported her through her mothering transitions
- Why spirituality is good for your mental health
- Why she chooses to work within a coaching model versus a medical model to support mothers
- Why it’s important to ask for help
Dr. Richelle Whittaker is an educational psychologist board certified in perinatal mental health, a parenting coach, trainer, and author. She is devoted to educating, equipping, and empowering women struggling with emotional challenges through pregnancy, postpartum, and parenthood. Her primary goal is to help moms become strong advocates for themselves and their children when it comes to making decisions about their mental health & education.
Dr. Whittaker has more than 17 years of experience in the education and mental health field. She is the author of Burps, Bibs, and Breakdowns: A 90 Day Journal for Moms and Embracing What’s Next: A 30 Day Journal for Parents. She is also the host of the Mahogany Moms podcast.
Drafted by AI. Please excuse typos.
Today I’m talking with Dr. Rochelle Whittaker. She’s an educational psychologist board certified in perinatal mental health, a parenting coach, trainer and author. Dr. shala. She’s sometimes called is devoted to educating, equipping and empowering women struggling with emotional challenges through pregnancy, postpartum and Parenthood. Her primary goal is to help moms become strong advocates for themselves and their children when it comes to making decisions about their mental health and education. Dr. Whitaker has more than 17 years of experience in the education and mental health field. She’s also the author of burps bibs and breakdowns a 90 day journal for moms and embracing what’s next, a 30 day journal for parents. This week, she shares from both her professional knowledge and personal experience about how natural developmental challenges of motherhood are too often pathologized and how we can find guidance within a wellness perspective on how to support ourselves throughout the many liminal spaces along our mothering journeys. The future relies on the wellness of mothers. Welcome to rewired mothering, a podcast about holistic maternal wellness for soulful mothers to help us grow into the mothers we envisioned for ourselves, our families, and our planet. Each week, in just about 20 minutes, were weaving together modern research and ancient wisdom, exploring paths and practices that help us reclaim mothering as wild initiation with Mother Nature’s guide. I’m your host, Dr. alley Davis, a maternal mental health counselor and a mother walking this path with you. Thank you for being here. Let’s dig in. Well, thank you for being here. Dr. Shell, I’m excited to talk to you about your work and your book and your podcasts. But wanted to start with a question I often ask professionals that work with bombs. Can you tell me a little bit about your own mature essence or your rite of passage into mothering and who you’re becoming as a mother now?
Sure, thank you for having me. Um, so motherhood or my rite of passage into motherhood was challenging. I had a miscarriage starting out. And then seven months later, we were able to get pregnant again. But that was fraught with lots of complications. So not to mention the anxiety from the miscarriage was with me going into the next pregnancy. And so that was there. And then at four months I had I had fibroids and they degenerate it, or one of them degenerated, meaning it died off when I was four months pregnant, so I had to be hospitalized. And that was a whole ordeal. And then just had complications throughout my pregnancy. And then had a dramatic birth. And then I had surgery. After I gave birth, I had surgery five months after giving birth. And so I had postpartum depression. So
rite of passage into motherhood had lots of challenges. And so when I think about who I’m becoming as a mom now, and is different, right as you go through the different stages, so who I was when my, you know, when my oldest was was just born is totally different than who I am now, with him being nine and then having a six year old as well. And so, what I am, who I’m becoming or attempting to become, is a mom that is more present. And that’s something that I had prayed for and wanted to, to do. Pre pandemic, just was trying to figure out ways to do that. So the pandemic has definitely helped with it. Especially since now I’m homeschooling. Now I will say, that’s a whole nother story in and of itself. And while it is a has been great being present with my son, I don’t know that I want to homeschool after this year. But I will say though, that who I’m becoming is trying to tune into who they are, who are who they are becoming and so nurturing their natural gifts, talents and abilities and recognizing them as such, and so and then fostering whatever those things are, whatever their interests are, whatever their creativity, whatever their interests are just trying to foster that and helping them to tie who they are into, you know our belief system and who they will become as as men. And so that’s who I am attempting to become I am a work in progress.
I wanted to ask you also how your own difficult experiences thank you for sharing that and people should know you also share more on your own podcast mahogany moms about transition mothering and motherhood. But how did your experiences inspire you to start that podcast? And? And what are you holding space for with that work?
Sure. So one of the things that I was looking for, that I wasn’t able to find was someone who looked like me. And that was doing the work that I needed help me. And so I knew I was dealing with postpartum. And so I was looking for someone that look like me. And they could work with me in that because I have, I was worried or concerned that someone would take my son away. If I said, Okay, this is what this is. Some of that is, there is some truth to that. And there is some untruth to that if you will. So my own experience, and then talking with mom working with moms, and hearing them say that they felt what they were dealing with was just something that they were dealing with, like no one else was dealing with what they were dealing with, and seeing how whenever a mom would put out some of the challenges that she faced in motherhood, that she oftentimes would be, you know, condemned or shamed. And so she did not have the place or the space to talk about some of those challenges. And so I wanted to give space to moms to talk about both the highs and the lows, about what motherhood looks like. And so out came, the birth of the podcast is what really inspired me to, to do that. So we could kind of normalize the challenges of motherhood.
So the podcast is one thing. I’m now doing parent coaching, for parents for moms. And so that’s something else, and then having discussion. So you may see me on Instagram or on Facebook, having conversations about things that moms experience and giving them some tools and resources in how to navigate some of those challenges. And so those are ways that I’m holding space for for moms. Wow.
I want to ask you a question about some of that motivation, especially the institutional racism and Mental Health and Family protective services. We know that is really well documented, especially in Texas, it’s a really real concern.
It is. And so one of the ways that I found to combat some of the institutional racism is having a doctor that looks like you. And so even in my own experience, after I gave birth to my son, I hemorrhaged. And I didn’t know, I didn’t know what it was, I felt cold. I know. We asked the the resident that came in, you know, can we have to kind of have some more blankets, because I was, you know, I was feeling cold, I already had lots of blankets on me. But I couldn’t get warm. And what I know, tends to happen a lot when black women make requests in the hospital is that their their requests are ignored. Now, I didn’t know that something was wrong. I literally just thought I was cold. But she from listening to what I what I asked her. And then she started asking me some questions. And then she said, Okay, wait a minute. And she went out. And she contacted my doctor. And my doctor showed up. And well, she had the resident do a litany of different things. And then my doctor showed up and she told me what was happening. She, you know, you lost a lot of blood, you’re going to have to have a transfusion, she answered all of my questions. She told me it was happening the next morning, she kind of laid out the plan for me. And so I felt, I felt and I still feel very blessed that she listened to me, and that she did not just blow off what you know what I was sharing with her. And I know that in other spaces in places with other women who who’ve had similar situations that that has not been the case. So in terms of institutional racism, I would say, you know, one way to counter that is having, you know, a doctor that that looks like you and that will listen to what your concerns are, and not just listen, but act on them.
Yeah. And then it’s also, that’s a great tip for mental health support following and postpartum because we know how mental health ties to the systems like FPS where, yes, role challenges are pathologized and really racist and sexist ways and mothers are punished for their kids are stolen from
Yes, most definitely. And so one of the things one of the reasons Well, there are a couple of reasons why I think that women of color, don’t seek help in terms of postpartum postpartum mental health is one because I don’t think that is is talked about enough that there’s enough awareness about what it looks like. So using, you know, these terms don’t really you know, resonate with women and I won’t say like women of color. I think that is probably general across the board, like what is postpartum depression. And what I’ve found is that a lot of women link postpartum depression to postpartum psychosis or to Andrea Yates in a mob killing her baby. And that’s just a limited view of what it is and how it manifests. And so, because of that moms don’t recognize it when it’s happening. And so for women of color, it’s even more so because if I say that I’m having, you know, postpartum depression, and I’m having all of these issues, what does that look like? If I tell that to my doctor, and maybe my doctor is of a different race? What is that then in turn look like? Is she gonna take my baby? I’ve already voiced concerns about my own self. And she, you know, didn’t do anything with that. So, internist Is this what will happen, and that has happened, CPS has been called when a mom has conveyed that, and it’s not just happened to black women, it’s also happened to non black women. And so now the treatment or the course of action for the the non women of color has been very different. And so yeah, that all speaks to the whole institutional racism and, and that whole intersection between race and in, you know, postpartum care, mental health care. It just,
I could go on and on,
about how that just works together.
Yeah. And, and why mothers are falling through the cracks, because they don’t have spaces like your podcast and the work that you do and the conversations you’re having. So I want to really connect people with that I’ll have links in the show notes, for sure. One of the things you mentioned was that there is a natural shift, right? When you’re becoming a mother where who you were is gone, and you’ve not yet really settled into who you are becoming, and that liminal space is often itself pathologized. And I heard you to kind of say like, you know, we can talk and language that’s different than a mental health label, because it could actually be more supportive for people and more true. So can you talk a little bit about that, that liminal space and how to support moms?
Sure. So one of the things that I think is really important that moms should know is that when they are seeking mental health care, that, in order to use your insurance, you have to be given a diagnosis, right, that’s how the mental health practitioner gets reimbursed for services. And so a lot of times, when you are talking to a mental health care professional, they are looking at it in terms of a DSM diagnosis that will allow them to be reimbursed for the session. Now, that doesn’t, you don’t have to give a diagnosis if you’re not using insurance. So that’s just something to be aware of. But if you’re if a mom has had is she struggling and is just a struggle of dealing with the transition, then I think, you know, having a coach or that specializes in working with moms or parents is, is of great value to that mom, because it is a difficult place a difficult space to be in, that you can’t really prepare for until you until, until you’ve actually you know, walked into it is very difficult to describe all of the things that you will experience and other the feelings and emotions that come with motherhood and the different stages. Right? So you you know, you have an infant and you think you’ve mastered one stage, now they’re sleeping through the night and you’re like, Okay, yes, I’ve got this, I’ve mastered this. And so you know, maybe where you’re feeling unsure of your own motherhood, newness, or your own self, you finally get to a space and then they then disrupt that space and start teething. So they’re not sleeping through the night anymore. And so it just kind of throws you for a loop Not to mention if you have other things going on in your life that are kind of keeping you off balance. And so that’s where you know, a coach, or even family members. So a mom, you know, your mom can kind of step in and say, let me you know, give you some support instead of having to deal with maybe somebody telling you that something is wrong with you. just telling you that this is a natural progression of what happens as you go through this motherhood journey.
Yeah, I like how you discuss the educated listeners on the process of diagnosis because it’s always a fuzzy area. And I say if you shook the DSM, which is you know, where the professionals read all these diagnosis and try to match you if you shake it out anything related to trauma, you know, our developmental transitions. It’s really, really a small book. And so that labeling even if it’s put on us, with a discussion of you know, we’re doing this for insurance, it can really affect you to have that label inside and then in these systems, you have more to say around that.
So I created a journal birthed out of my own, my own lack of somewhere to go to get help. journaling definitely can be a release of some of the things that you may be dealing with and, and getting frustrated by some of those transitions, it helps you to kind of release, release the feelings that go along with that. And then note how far you’ve come. So maybe you were in one space at one point, and you can go back and look later and see, you know, I’m not in that space, and be thankful that that it was just a moment in time. So journaling is also an excellent way to, to maybe we deal with some of those transitions that you have in motherhood that you aren’t necessarily prepared for, if you aren’t, or you can’t, you know, talk to someone about that, whether it be a professional or a coach, or, you know, just a friend or family member.
I love that, because one of the things that supports me when I’m feeling really tapped out and frustrated and just lost kind of in this role. And this work is that, you know, this is not forever. And it’s such an extreme, where we’re going through all these changes with our loved ones, and we’re taking care of and so writing it down is really just kind of evidence of that, and also really showing the resilience through the process the successes. And so I’m really excited to share a link to your to your journal and and your new book that’s coming out. Yeah,
I wanted to see, I know you speak a lot about faith. And one of the things as a holistic mental health podcast is to really talk about reintegrating ourselves and considering ourselves as a whole person, mind, heart and body. And so I wanted to see if you could speak about your faith and how that supported you and your mothering. And then also about the supportive role of spirituality overall and mental health.
Sure, yes. And so for me, the faith has always matched my faith has always has always been a core part of who I am. And so that didn’t, I was gonna say, that didn’t change as I became a parent, it actually probably increased. Because I recognized that I couldn’t do every, I couldn’t do everything on my own. You know, things happen to your kids, they’re not always with you. And so really believing for me that they don’t belong to me, they belong to God, and He will take care of them really helps to, you know, give me some peace of mind when I wasn’t around even now when I’m not with them. So that’s always been a big thing for me. I also know that, for others, spirituality can serve as a place that allows them to center themselves, it brings peace and calm. But it also in those trying times, like this pandemic, or the winter storm that was just here in Texas, that there’s meaning behind everything, or there’s a reason for everything, and that it gives you hope. So, you know, in the most frustrating of times in the most difficult of times, your spirituality gives you hope with which then in turn helps your mental health, it helps you to know that this won’t last always. And so I think that’s it’s important to, to not disconnect one from the other. And I think for a long time it’s been you either, you know, have this level of faith, or you’re
to see a therapist, and there’s you can do both, you can pray and you can have a therapist.
Yeah, totally. And we have all this research that supports resilience through spiritual lens and cancer recovery or grief for you know, I mean, all these spheres that has been studied, but really in mothering, it hasn’t been studied very much at all. That I find that pretty, pretty sad. So thank you for sharing that. Can you share more about the work you do? And your specialties and how people can work with you if if they’re needing support right now through their transition into mothering or all the mini transitions of mothering?
Sure, so I, I offer a parent coaching. And so I help parents eliminate overwhelm and teach them how to implement what I call their superpowers. Every you know, parent, every mom has this and so there’s those superpowers our self care, structure and support and those things are necessary and needed in this whole motherhood journey. I specialize in working with parents of children with disabilities, that is
just a whole nother
motherhood that I feel like a lot of, there’s not a lot of conversation or discussion about and so it you know, kind of starts with moms thinking that something is wrong and bringing in voice and those concerns and those current sirens is kind of being brushed off a lot of times. And so, moms feeling like they don’t have a voice or their voice is is limited and so you Those are some ways that I work with moms and and help them with, you know, the transition into or along the motherhood journey, the transition into motherhood.
How do you differentiate between coaching and counseling? Have you switched more to the coaching model?
Yes, I’ve switched more to the coaching model. So, therapy deals or counseling, can be used interchangeably, deals a lot more with or deals with, you know, pathology, those things that happen in childhood that are still affecting you as an adult, maybe some of the traumas that you experienced, whereas coaching is dealing with more of right here right now. Goal planning, strategizing, listening to your individual, household dynamic, and helping you to move past from one place to the other. And so is really more goal focus. And it’s really more of a partnership, in terms of helping you helping the client to find what works best for them is that me as the expert telling you do this, this, this and this, it’s coming alongside you and talking with you and, and listening to you and hearing from you how this how these different strategies and techniques can help your family.
Yeah. So I think that that’s a perfect model to reflect back what you’re talking about with, it’s a wellness model. We’re all driven towards greater levels of wellness, but that doesn’t mean that because we’re not there yet that there’s something wrong with us. Beautiful. Thank you for talking with us today. Is there anything else you’d like to say any final words to mothers that are listening?
So I would say if you are a mom and you are finding you know motherhood challenging ask for help. That is one of the things that so many moms have difficulty with. Ask for help. Don’t don’t suffer in silence. You are not the only mom that needs help. Even in as much as what I do, I need help and I and I have to ask for help at times and so just don’t go at it alone.
Thank you so much for listening and connecting with us today. You can learn more by visiting us at rewild mothering.com. If you’ve enjoyed your time, please remember to subscribe and leave us a rating on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. Talk soon