Dealing with “at least” while trying to get pregnant: Advice From a Therapist

September Burton: Hello everyone. And welcome to another episode of the Colorado Fertility Conference Podcast. I am your host, September Burton. And today I have Ashley Baldwin with me, from Ashley Baldwin counseling. She’s a therapist who specializes in working with moms and women who are trying to become mothers. So Ashley, welcome to the show and thank you so much for coming on.

[00:00:23] Ashley Baldwin: Thank you for having me.

[00:00:24] September Burton: Yeah, it’s a pleasure.  Can you introduce yourself , tell us a little bit of your background, your training, things like that?

[00:00:32] Ashley Baldwin: Yeah. So I’ve been a therapist, I started doing it in homework about 2008. So I’ve done therapy since then. I have a background for a lot of years, it was substance abuse, family work, and then after the process of trying to start my family and having a family, and about 2015, I switched over to mainly doing perinatal mental health, working with women trying to get pregnant. And that’s really the focus of my practice now. And I’d say 95% of my clients fall into that. I do, I am working on a specific training for that. I’m in the process of that and have a lot of smaller trainings to help go with that as well as just some real life experience and some of those things to help with being in this position.

[00:01:15]September Burton: So you have your own experience with a miscarriage, is that right?

[00:01:19] Ashley Baldwin: That is yes.

[00:01:21] September Burton: And when you went through that, did you seek therapy?

[00:01:25] Ashley Baldwin: So like any good helper in a helper profession, luckily my journey was not as hard as a lot of women, but it was not easy for us to get pregnant. And then with the miscarriage, I thought, Oh, I’ve got this, I don’t need this. And after some therapist friends were very convincing, I did seek out my own therapy and it was a game changer, but like a lot of people, I felt all I can do this on my own. That’s not going to change anything. What’s that going to help? And I think it was actually good that I lived that from a professional standpoint and the reminder of how hard it is to get your foot in the door and make that call and start therapy.

[00:02:03] September Burton: Yeah. So let’s talk  about  this social stigma around therapy and what do you think about that and how do you break through that stigma and seek out that therapy when you should do it.

[00:02:12] Ashley Baldwin: Yeah, it’s hard. We talk about physical health stuff all the time, like it’s no big deal, it’s not uncomfortable. And we don’t really talk about mental health stuff. And when we do talk about it, it’s very taboo, it’s very, almost seen as a sign of weakness, which we know is not the case, but historically that’s how it’s been viewed. And so I think breaking the stigma is 1) is talking about it, but when someone’s in that position realizing it doesn’t mean you’re not strong. It doesn’t mean you’re not capable, and it may not fix the problem itself but I use the analogy–say you had a hundred pounds to lose. That would be very daunting and overwhelming. And you could go to the gym by yourself and maybe get stronger, maybe do that, but a really good personal trainer is going to help you not only maybe get stronger faster, but a really good one is going to help you feel better in that process and focus on what you can control, what you’re doing well, and breaking that societal stigma. And I think as counselors, pretty much the same thing for your mental health. So I think realizing it’s just someone who’s specialized in that can help guide you through the process and give you tools and give you resources and normalize what you’re going through. Very different than a family member or a friend and the best thing about counseling is you don’t have to sit at the Thanksgiving dinner table with us. So there’s not that same personal investment or even the same line of questions people often get from their family or friends.

[00:03:40]September Burton: When I went through my miscarriages, and it was several just back to back miscarriages, I very much discredited if that’s the right word, what I was going through and I never mourned. And never mourned the loss of those babies until I started doing these interviews actually. And the people that I would interview were like, you need some mourn, you need to mourn and you need to like, let this go. And I think had I seen a therapist when I was going through that, I would have mourned and it would have been a very different process.

[00:04:12] Ashley Baldwin: And, I could even say with mine, I remember sitting with my therapist going well, once I get pregnant again, we’ll be okay. And she looked at me and she said, Do you really think that’s all this is. And then of course the floodgates open and the emotions happen, but it is that’s that grief, it’s that loss. And I think even trying to get pregnant, there can be a lot of grief even in that. If it doesn’t go exactly how you see on TV or exactly how quickly your sister gets pregnant, or your friend gets pregnant, or your mom got pregnant. That there’s a lot of grief, even in that process that I think a good therapist will make you sit and make you feel. Again, not because it makes everything better, but we know that unresolved grief, trauma, et cetera, shows up later in life and much bigger. And usually more unfortunate types of ways. So I don’t think your story September is uncommon by any means.

[00:05:01]September Burton:  There’s one other thing that I wanted to mention, which is that, I see my own therapist and have been in therapy for a year and a half going on two years now. And, one of the things that convinced me to find a therapist was I remember listening to a talk of Brene Brown’s at one point, and she was talking about how her mother sought out therapy and that was a game changer for her, for Brene. And so she talks about how proud she is of her mother for taking that responsibility, seeking out the therapy and then making everybody else healthier because she got herself healthier. So that was one of, that was a game changer for me. Cause I’m like, if we’re Brown mother needs therapy, maybe I need it. Exactly. So one of the other things that we talked about a little bit is the toxic positivity. And can you talk a little bit about that? What is that? What does that mean?

[00:05:47] Ashley Baldwin: So I am very much glass half-full choose to be happy kind of person. And I think that works in a lot of cases in life or in day-to-day functioning. I think if we were battling depression, anxiety, grief and loss, trauma. That’s different than just, Oh, I’ve had a bad day, I’m focusing on the negative, right? That’s a true biochemical physiological hard thing. And so what I found, I have a few friends who have had really hard journeys in trying to become a mom, becoming a mom. And what I found people would say to them, to me, to clients, what I hear over and over is “at least”, At least you can do this. At least you knew, at least you lost the baby early on. At least, there’s IVF. You can always adopt. All of these things that I get people are doing because they truly mean well, I’m not knocking them. They truly want to help you feel better. See the glass half full, see the silver lining. But what that does is that really negates our experience, right? So if I’m, if there’s a woman trying to pregnant for years and years, and it’s not happening, and someone says to her, at least you can adopt. And this may sound crazy, but this happens all the time. So it’s not as outlandish as it may seem, basically that says, at least there’s an option and what our brain hears is–so therefore this should not be as big of a deal. And I think that positivity it’s probably not even the right word. I think some good therapy, some good looking at the positive, not unpacking and camping out in our yucky can actually help. We know our brain and depression, the dopamine and the serotonin, and can potentially there have been studies, I don’t know for sure help women get pregnant, but that toxic positivity is only look at the glass half full, only be positive, only visualize getting pregnant, only set up the nursery as if, only do all of these things and don’t really acknowledge the hard you’re going through. And I think that’s a really big disservice because that might look like that, but I can almost guarantee deep down that’s not where they’re, that’s feeling for that woman and that incongruency, in that disconnect isn’t actually going to help any mental health stuff. So I think we got to give women that space and men, but we know women struggle a little more mentally, emotionally with attempting to get pregnant and infertility and even loss, that allowing them that space if they’re coming to you saying, Hey, this is really hard, just listen, don’t “at least”, and know that if you have someone that’s coming through with at least while they mean, it’s also okay to say, that is not very helpful right now. Or please stop asking me when we will have a family or please stop doing that. And we can be looked at as rude or mean, but really those are boundaries to protect ourselves that we don’t have to always be butterflies and kittens, everything’s hunky dory.

[00:08:36] September Burton: Yeah, I like that. What I’m curious about is how would a therapist handle that differently? If a woman has been trying for years and years, and she’s been hearing well at least you can adopt. What would a therapist say? I guess on both sides of that, like to the woman who’s been trying for years and years, and then when she comes into a therapy session and says, people are saying, at least I can adopt, what would you say?

[00:08:55] Ashley Baldwin: Yeah. So I think what I would do is I would just listen and I say this and it’s, I joke about it, but it’s somewhat serious that like my job security rests on us not really being good listeners and present with people. And I wish that I didn’t have a job and we could all just be listening and present. And we have some other copings like trained trainings and specific things too, but sometimes it’s just listening and being present and being okay sitting in their heart. We get uncomfortable. And so that’s why we say, at least you can do this. At least you can do that because we get uncomfortable and don’t want to make them cry, we don’t want to make them sad. Well, I don’t want to say something because then they’ll remember they can’t get pregnant. They know they can’t. Like they’re living that. And so I think just sitting and being present is the first thing we typically do in therapy. Working through the stages of grief. We know that there’s actually tasks of grief now, which is a whole different conversation. But using some CBT skills, giving them some mindfulness and I’m a big proponent of self care, right? So I’m going to be encouraging you to do those things, to find those groups, to journal, to do whatever works for you in a way that is genuine and hopefully promotes it because I’m going to hold you a little bit accountable if you don’t. And my other end of that would be for me, is to teach people I can think back on seasons of my life, where I wish I would have said to someone, Hey, it’s not okay to just ask a woman when they’re having a baby or another baby. Or hey, those are big questions. And I think that part of what we can do and obviously there’s seasons that those are that’s too hard to do, but if a woman feels empowered enough to say, Hey, this is really touchy for me saying those things don’t help her. I know you mean but I’d really like you to stop not asking. And people are going to do that. So their coping skills and the resources either cut potentially toxic people out and or handle that if that’s being asked in a way that they can maybe let it go and an emotional way that they don’t have to carry that and think about that all day and try to personalize that.

[00:10:56] September Burton: Yeah, I think there is that reality though, that sometimes you have family members or there are people in your life that you can’t necessarily just cut out and you have to learn how to deal with that. So is that something else, like a different aspect of the therapy that could help you cope with that?

[00:11:11] Ashley Baldwin: Yeah, and I think it has to fit for the woman. I, my best coping skill is humor, which I’m not saying is always the best. But I used humor in some of those seasons and said things that was pretty clear, but pretty Hey, like we’re done talking about this. I think for someone where there’s people where we’ve really worked on saying to them, Hey, I really need you to stop asking or even, Hey, I’m so excited for you that you got pregnant. You had a baby, but I may not follow you on social media. I think having someone walk you through those really tough conversations where you don’t always get a lot of empathy. Well just be excited for your sister. Just be excited for your friend, like that has nothing to do with you. And all of that inherently might be a healthy place to be if we’re not there or someone’s not there. It’s, I think it’s helpful to have someone help you navigate those boundaries of what you want to set, how you want to set them. And that’s going to look different for every woman of how she’s going to communicate that.

[00:12:07]September Burton: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So I guess one final thing I wanted to ask about is when you’re going through infertility, you’re obviously going through this with a partner. So there’s somebody else’s emotions that are coming into this whole dynamic that you have to deal with and cope with. So can you talk a little bit about that, about supporting each other and how to navigate that whole aspect of it?

[00:12:27] Ashley Baldwin: Yeah, I love when the partner comes into therapy and not for couples work. And that’s usually easier than to get especially men in the door. but really just so that they can be a united front. How do we handle this with family? What do I really need? I find, especially with heterosexual relationships, women need permission almost from their partners, spouse. Not because they’re controlling or not, because of anything to do with their partner, but they need to hear hey, it’s okay. If I’m sad. It’s okay if I do this, that’s okay if I go do a spa day. It’s okay if I take care of me. And so I think hearing that from their partner can be huge. And I think just, we assume it’s we know statistically, it’s not typically, we don’t see as higher rates of depression and anxiety in men going  through infertility, but it can be there and it can be really hard, having them see their partner not get pregnant and there’s a huge financial burden and that can be huge. And so we know that men can suffer from postpartum depression. Now there’s an actual, you can diagnose a man with postpartum depression. Wow. So I know. And so I think we have to make sure we don’t rule out how this is mentally, emotionally impacting them. And I think, especially in society, men really don’t want to ask for help. They really don’t want to do that. So sometimes the best thing is just, bringing the partner in and dealing with that and really working through that, whether it’s a same sex, couple heterosexual, couple, whatever that looks like, both partners are feeling it on different levels. And so I think making sure we’re not forgetting that and not forgetting that this person you’re sitting with, if it’s the woman who’s trying to get pregnant walking in, she might be saying, Oh yeah, my partner is fine, but are they? Right, I think it’s, we have to be careful not to assume. They’re not maybe looking strong or dealing with it differently to help protect that other person. Worst case at least bring them into those sessions, best case maybe even them finding their own person, if truly needed.

[00:14:25]September Burton: There was one other thing that you said CBT, and I want to make sure that people know what CBT means. So can you clarify what that is?

[00:14:33]Ashley Baldwin:  I forget, I just throw that on. So it’s cognitive behavioral therapy. So some people have a bad taste with that because it can be very workbook driven, very fresh out of counseling school. This is what I’m doing. But I it’s really important because it’s so it’s cognitive behavioral therapy. So we know our thoughts impact our feelings, which impact our behaviors. So that’s where I think we don’t want to be toxic positivity. But okay if you think I’m never going to get pregnant, that’s probably not going help, so how do we rewire that thought in a healthy way? That’s believable, right? Like I’m still trying, or I’m doing everything I can, or I have a great team around me because that will impact the feeling which will impact the behavior. Because there can be that self-sabotage, if I feel I’m never going to get pregnant the depression and anxiety increases. And therefore I see women even stopped doing treatments, stop coming to therapy because they already feel like that decision is made. So, I think the cognitive behavioral therapy, the grief and loss work, the just sitting with the person you really want to combo and someone who really gets this piece. I used to think anyone could work with moms or do postpartum or do fertility things. And the more trainings I’m doing and the more I’m learning there really is a lot more to it than meets the eye. It’s a very complex, hard thing to go through.

[00:15:51]September Burton: I completely agree that it is a very complex, hard thing to go through. so you said that you started your career on a very different side of therapy and now as you’ve become a mom and as you’ve  created your own family, now you specialize in moms. Why is that?

[00:16:05] Ashley Baldwin: So I think I was to be truly honest, I was getting burned out from court-ordered work, substance abuse work, and I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a therapist anymore. And then when I had my oldest and that process, it really shifted like how we don’t support women in this journey in any season of the journey. And it’s just very, Oh, enjoy every minute. Oh, it’ll happen one day. Oh, at least you have one, Oh, at least you knew all of these things. And so for me, it was okay when I work with this population. And the more I worked with this population, the more I love it. And I love being a therapist again, and it really helped show me, okay but there’s more than just what I’ve lived through in my lived experience and what I’ve heard from people. Like there’s much more of diagnosing and much more of what goes on and what we’re learning now that we’re really studying the infertility, how it impacts partners, how it impacts our mental health. And so the training has just helped solidify for me that it was a great starting point from my lived experience wasn’t enough for that to make me really qualified. To exclusively do this, especially.

[00:17:14] September Burton: Fascinating. Very, that’s very interesting, very eyeopening and hopefully very inspiring to a lot of people who are listening to this to seek out therapy. It’s definitely become one of my big goals lately is get people the mental health services that they need.

[00:17:28] Ashley Baldwin: Yeah. And I tell people, call someone. Most people do at least a free phone consultation. You will know pretty quickly whether or not someone’s a fit for you. And if they’re not a fit, that’s okay. We know the fit is the most important factor of whether or not therapy is helpful and productive. So don’t get discouraged if you reach out to someone and they’re not a fit. It’s dating, you got to give them a couple times and sometimes it goes right away. And sometimes it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t mean inherently it’s not going to work for you.

[00:17:55] September Burton: Yeah, you just need to find the right person.

[00:17:57] Ashley Baldwin: Yes.

[00:17:58]September Burton: Thank you so much for coming on, Ashley. If people want to learn more about you, where do they find you?

[00:18:03] Ashley Baldwin: So I am still somewhat technologically challenged. So the best place to find me is I have a Facebook page, Ashley Baldwin Counseling, and then email is a great way to contact me. And I tell people, even if I can’t help and you want to reach out, I’m happy to help find you a therapist and help guide that process. I agree with you I want everyone in it and doing what they can to help with that process.

[00:18:31] Yeah, for sure. thank you so much for coming on today, Ashley. It was a pleasure.

[00:18:35] Thank you.

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