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Podcast Ep. 15: Healing Depression, Anxiety, and Shame in New Mothers With Bridget Cross, LCSW, PMH-C

In this episode

Bridge Cross is quite literally helping to save the world. She’s doing this as a perinatal psychotherapist who helps moms and dads grow through the mental and emotional challenges that naturally come with pregnancy, childbirth, and raising a newborn. 

We wish to god we had a Bridget when our kids were born 14 and 11 years ago. Bringing a new life into this world is a joyous moment and we all see the pictures on social media of a happy but tired mom and dad with the brand new baby. But what we don’t see is the numbness, anxiety, marital conflict, rage, and overwhelm that is also a very real part of the parenting journey. 

In this episode, Bridget talks with us about the mental and emotional challenges new parents face, the role of shame in motherhood, the role of avoidance in fatherhood, the stress of this new school year and sooo much more. 

This episode is a must-listen for anyone who is a new parent, an old parent, maybe a parent someday, or has a parent in their life—so basically, everyone! 

Listen here

About our guest

Bridget Cross, LCWS, PMH-C is a mom of two and is currently practicing individual and family psychotherapy in Savannah, Georgia. She earned her Masters in Social Work with Honors from the Hunter College School of Social Work, and in 2019 she became a certified Perinatal Mental Health provider (PMH-C). Bridget is a Volunteer Support Coordinator for the Georgia chapter of Postpartum Support International and helped create the Maternal Mental Health Collective of Savannah.

Show notes

Justin: Bridget Cross is quite literally helping to save the world. She's doing this as a perinatal psychotherapist who helps moms and dads grow through the mental and emotional challenges that come with pregnancy, childbirth and raising a newborn. 

I wish to god we had a Bridget when our kids were born 14 and 11 years ago. Bringing a new life into this world is a joyous moment and we all see the pictures on social media of a happy but tired mom and dad with the brand new baby, but what we don't see is the numbness, anxiety, marital conflict, rage and overwhelm that is also a very real part of the parenting journey. 

In this episode, Bridget talks with me and Audra about the mental and emotional challenges new parents face. The role of shame and motherhood, the role of avoidance and fatherhood, the stress of this new school year, and so much more. Truly, this episode is a must-listen for anyone who is a new parent, an old parent, maybe a parent someday, or has a new parent in their life or an old parent in their life. So it's for pretty much everybody. So without further ado, here's our conversation with the amazing Bridget Cross. 

I have a bunch of questions that are more general. And so I wanted to start off with something that's real and that's happening for all of us right now and happening for every parent right now, and that's going back to school. 

And so as a therapist, what's coming up for your clients right now? What's happening for them as they're coming in to see you? What is this moment like for you as a therapist?

Bridget: Well, I think there is so much anxiety and fear that I think so many, I mean, I see so many parents of young kids, but also people who are pregnant or who have new babies. And I think anxiety during this whole period of time has been running so high. And I think in this moment that we're in now thinking about going back to school and like re-emerging from this sort of dark closet that we've been in. 

You know, it's just it's bringing up a lot, because I think for some people, it's also really exciting. There's like a sense of like resuming normal or feeling like your kids are going to be able to get some sense of normal. But also, like, you know, like we're all feeling there's that sense of like how long will it last and can I rely on it? And will it be safe? And I think it's something that I fear for a lot of people who've had kids like, especially in the last few years, like some newer parents, is I think that like the experience of going through like shutdown's and quarantine's and homeschooling and having to stay home, in some ways is like reactivating for some people, like the trauma that they experienced, like in postpartum time, if they did experience that. 

And so, like, you know, the feeling that maybe you two can relate to of like having a little baby and being stuck at home and having like your whole life kind of snatched away from you in the way that it can feel like when you first have a new baby, especially your first one. 

I feel like I'm hearing from a lot of clients that sense of like I'm like reliving that all over again. Like I thought that I had kind of like gotten out of that phase of feeling sort of trapped in parenthood or stuck at home or like unable or like not being able to feel my freedom. Like I'd finally moved away from that. And then Covid happened and I'm like right back there again. And so I think that like especially for moms who struggled emotionally or in mental health, like especially in postpartum, that has felt really challenging and painful for them to kind of go back to that place. 

Audra: To some like Covid is triggering for many of us.

Bridget: Yeah. 

Audra: And do you find, one thing I'm curious about you, because you're a mother of younger children as well. And so this must be an unusual experience, kind of to be able to maybe, I don't know if you do, but do you identify with some of what your patients are going through? Like you're kind of we're all in this together to some degree.

Bridget: Totally. Yeah. I mean, I think this is sort of a unique moment for me professionally where, you know, just in Covid, I'm going through something personally that literally all of my clients are also going through and there really hasn't been anything else, you know, other than just kind of like what's going on maybe politically or elections or something like that. 

But nothing like this where each and every person is being deeply, personally affected, emotionally taxed at the same time that I am. And so trying to redefine that line between like, what is my role? How do I show up for people and support them and kind of hold that space for them? While also kind of going through my own thing. 

Justin: Wow. I mean, wow, that's intense.

Bridget: I mean, in a way, that's like that's my job, right? Like that's partly what my job is, is to manage that for myself so that I can show up for the people that I work with. But it's for sure been different with this. 

And I think, in a lot of ways it's actually been helpful because, you know, I have a lot of clients who have kids, you know, around my kids’ ages. I have clients who go to school with my kids, whose kids go to school with my kids. And so it just kind of having that common thread. It can be a little challenging in terms of personal boundaries. But I think in general, it's a win because people feel like, “Ok, you know, I'm going through this but not alone,” which is like really what most parents, I feel, really need to hear.

Justin: And I just really quick, it strikes me that I like had this reaction hearing, like, yeah, you're going through the same intense stuff that your clients are. And then how can you work through the intensity of this while also showing up for your clients? And then what struck me was like, oh, that's parenting as well. Like, I'm going to do all this and how can I show up for my kids who are going, yeah. So there’s layers here.

Bridget: Totally. Well, I mean, and I would say about being exactly as you're saying, like being in the role, that is the role I do for my job has like all of these exact parallels and being a mom, for me not to say that I'm a mom to my clients because I’m not. But it is just like what you said, to keep your own shit in check so that you can show up for your kids’ shit. 

Audra: Absolutely. 

Bridget: And sometimes we do that really well and sometimes not at all.

Justin: Yeah. Bridget, that is the theme of The Family Thrive for us.

Audra: Yeah, it really is, because I think so many of us come from a generation where I mean, this isn't this has not been kind of like the pass-down wisdom. I think just so many of us experienced just like a complete lack of awareness parents around their own shit. 

And then the resulting consequences of just things kind of falling on to the family and being shared with the family and no boundaries and no awareness, in these ways. And so I do think it's a pretty radical shift and it's something that is for me anyway, empowering. You know, the thing that I, it's about me in so many ways, managing me. And...

Bridget: Totally.

Audra: Other things, sort of like fall in from there, you know. It's about the example I sat on top of that. But boundaries is definitely a big theme all the way around. And I think it's really powerful to hear that from you with regard to your life, it sounds like between clients and your family and your kids, kind of like a major theme and how you're able to manage all of it.

Bridget: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's a lot. And I mean, I will say too, for me, it's been kind of a relearning, not just with Covid, but also with being in Savannah. Because of a small town, it doesn't seem like it is, but it really is like it's just super teeny tiny. And I'm from New York and started work, you know, doing this work in New York and so in New York City anyway. I mean, I could live down the block from a client and never, ever see them.

Audra: Not a small town. 

Bridget: ... And I've just never had any experience of seeing clients outside of just a clinical space. And here it's basically just how it is. Like I see my clients at my kid's school. I see them at the grocery store, at the park. And so just having to kind of navigate like a new set of boundaries in general, but especially I think with Covid, it's like even more so.

Justin: So, Bridget, yeah, this is really fascinating, your work, that the parallels with motherhood and parenting. How did you get into this? So you are a perinatal therapist. And so you work exclusively with parents and exclusively with mothers, or do you see fathers as well?

Bridget: You know, I would love to see fathers, but sadly, I have not had any come to me on their own outside of the couple hours. Which I think kind of speaks a lot to just stigma around mental health and men and dads in general, obviously.

Justin: So when you were training as a therapist, did you know this is the work that you wanted to do?

Bridget: No, not at all. It's actually kind of a second career for me. But when I decided to go back to school for social work, which was in 2007, I actually thought that I wanted to work with teenagers, and that was sort of like my passion. I just felt like I was going to be what I wanted to do. I really wanted to be, you know I’d been in a lot of therapy. I feel like therapy was really powerful to me when I was a teenager and I was like, this is what I want to do. 

And then I went through social work school and you do various internships when you're in that program with different populations. And then I got a job pretty soon after social work school, working with teens and families in a really very challenging population, and pretty quickly realized that I don't want to work with teenagers at all. 

And not because they're not amazing, because they are fascinating and incredible. They're just for the family element of it, like doing the family work, I realized was just really not a strength of mine. So I ended up working for a long time, just in kind of like general adult mental health and community mental health in New York. 

So working in outpatient clinics and working with just all kinds of issues, but also in general with very, very sick people and with long-standing chronic mental illness, like very high-risk populations, but which was hard, but also like wonderful training, just in terms of exposure there are just so many different things. And then I had a baby and I mean, a lot happened between those things, but I had a baby and I moved here shortly after. She was about nine months old when we moved here.

Audra: Oh, no kidding. 

Bridget: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. She was super small. And I struggled quite a bit in pregnancy, even actually before pregnancy, but in pregnancy and also postpartum with my own just depression and trauma and challenges. And I just kind of became really interested. I was seeing a lot of moms and families in my practice anyway. And I was just realizing like, “Hey, I should get some training in this,” because I started kind of understanding like depression that occurs in the postpartum period and pregnancy. It's not the same as other depression, even though in general it is treated the same. It's like, “Oh, it's just depression,” but it's when you're pregnant or when you're postpartum. 

Audra: Right. Right. Right. 

Bridget: Yeah. And so I started doing some training in it, and then I started doing some like volunteer work for an organization called Postpartum Support International, and ended up just really connecting with like a whole network of perinatal clinicians and advocates and social justice aspect and all of that, and just kind of go really deep into that, and then over a few years of training ended up getting the certification that I have as a perinatal mental health provider. 

So it was a slow build because that child is now almost seven. But I'd say like in the last three or four years, my practice has been pretty much exclusively, not 100%, but probably about 75% in perinatal clients, which is amazing. And I feel like it's totally what I am truly meant to be doing. But it's not, just to get back to your question, it wasn't like where I started at all.

Audra: It's incredible. It's true. There's nothing like a calling that comes from your experience, that comes from a deep place of knowing, you know, seeing the need, identifying the need personally. And I'm really interested, going back to the start, like you knew that you were, you're called into the work of therapy from experiencing how life-changing this was for you, it sounds like as a teenager which brought into the world of teens and I had a curiosity around the teenage the work with that is the family work. Is it really the fact that you're the teenager isn't the work, it's the parents.

Bridget: 100%. And so, yeah, it is. And that's I think that that's the trick, is that the, I mean, this is a generalization, but I would say the majority of people who are bringing their children, but particularly teenagers to therapy are not very interested in hearing about anything other than what's wrong with their kid.

Justin: Fix this one.

Bridget: Fix that problem. Yeah, and that's true of all kids. I mean, even young, too, I think. But there's a lot that teenagers can do on their own in therapy without family support. But particularly, I was working in juvenile justice within the child protective system in Brooklyn, and that's a really super tough population where parents and families I mean, if the child is even living with the parents a lot of times with a guardian or a family member or in foster care, those adults just don't have the resources to participate in that child's care or healing at all because of their own stuff. 

Audra: And they need support, it sounds like, the parents.

Bridget: Yeah, totally. 

Audra: The caregiver or whoever it is.

Bridget: Yeah, the family totally. And so it's like a system, obviously, like a systemic problem. And there are many social workers, I think who’re really equipped with working with those populations. But I just kind of quickly realized that I was not going to be great at it because I noticed how quickly I would become really aligned with the kid and feel the sense of deep resentment and anger toward the family.

Audra: Oh… powerful.

Bridget: And I was like, I'm not going to be good at this and oriented this way because I have to really be able to hold all of it. And that just wasn't my, I just kind of recognized really quickly that that was not the strength of mine. And also just that I was like, I don't think I want to do this. So I shouldn't be doing it because I should only be doing this if I want to.

Audra: Oh, what a powerful observation. And for you to honor that and not try to force yourself into the space of holding the space. It sounds like identifying with this kid in so many ways is a strength, you know, but just in the setting for that work is something that would make it very difficult for you to do kind of what is expected in that role. And so coming into the space of working with mothers mostly, and this perinatal work sounds pretty incredible, because you really are working with the mom and dad.

Bridget: Right. 

Audra: There's a relationship there with the child, obviously. But it is more of that direct work. And out of a place of deep knowing and understanding. 

Justin: It feels, so in the public health, which is where I come from. Yeah. There's this broad idea that, you know, we in public health, we're going upstream like the doctors are working downstream. When a person gets sick, the doctors are, you know, fixing what's getting sick. But public health, we're going upstream and we're finding out what's making people sick in the first place. And so that feels kind of like your journey in a way above the, you know, working with these teenagers and the parents and seeing like, oh, this is you know, this is a mess. I could just get these parents like right when they have this kid.

Bridget: Well, totally. Well, that's so true. And then I also think like within particular populations or systems, like recognizing this is like a systemic thing. Right. Because with a lot of like what I was seeing in that job, it wasn't even the parent. I mean, it was like generations of trauma. Right. And like. And so there was this feeling of like overwhelmed with like I was also a really new, green clinician and I had really good support and supervision, but I was just kind of my brain exploding with like the hugeness of the problem, you know?

Audra: Absolutely. I have so much respect and awe of the folks who can bring themselves to systemic work. And I, my background is in education before getting into nonprofit work. And I am just totally, totally in awe.And I mean, I knew I've always known that I wouldn't be effective in a role with such an overwhelming, insurmountable, systemic, oppressive aspect to it. It really does take a special kind of person.

Bridget: Yes. It does. And I'm so glad those people are out there.

Audra: Me, too. Me too.

Justin: I want to make sure that we go as quickly into like that, that the core of what you do. So I really want to know what are the common mental and emotional challenges that new moms face? I mean, this seems to be the core of what you are working on.

Bridget: Most new moms find their way to me because they are really suffering and struggling with just how they're feeling. Typically, like I say, after our first baby, but it's not always like just be with whatever baby this is for the family. So seeing like a ton of depression, anxiety, and kind of like somatic symptoms.

Justin: So for the lay listener, somatic symptoms would be.

Bridget: Yeah. So, somatic symptoms being symptoms that are kind of taking up in the body. So like emotional distress or strain that's being expressed through your body, which doesn't mean that it's not real. It just means that it's connected to like an unprocessed emotion. 

So like an example would be a mom who maybe is really overwhelmed, stressed, panicky, and having migraines or having kind of chronic pain or maybe having a flare-up of an autoimmune disorder, things like that. 

So I guess what I'm saying is most people are finding their way to me because there's some particular like acute symptom that's coming on versus a sense of a more general I'm kind of worried about my mental health and I might want to get some support to make sure I'm healthy. I wish that they did. 

Audra: Yeah. The big red flag that totally just demands attention.

Bridget: Exactly. And a lot. And I would say too, like another big one is problems in the partnership, in the marriage or relationship with partner, can be like another reason that people find their way to me. But a lot of times it's the symptoms of depression. So it doesn't have to look necessarily like sadness, crying, low mood. It could be like “I feel nothing.” 

Justin: Yeah. 

Bridget: “I feel numb and totally disconnected from my baby. And I don't care.” Or like it could look like something I see a lot, actually in women is this kind of postpartum rage that happens where it's like “I'm not depressed, actually I feel kind of happy, but I keep raging at my partner or at my kid or my dog” or whatever, you know. So that, too, can be just sort of like a signal that things, that there's something to look at there.

Justin: Do you see as you kind of dig in with these clients, are there patterns that you see that are underneath this that are or are these symptoms are the deeper issues unique or are the deeper issues do you see patterns?

Bridget: Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, I'm thinking about it now. I'm thinking I definitely see patterns. I think there's a lot of trends, especially when we think of women and modern parenting culture. But I also, and so I think that like there can be trends and how that's expressed, like how their distress is being expressed. But I also think it's always really unique to the person and their particular history and like what they're arriving to parenthood with. Right. 

So like, for example, if you have a history of trauma, particularly like childhood or developmental trauma, that doesn't mean you're automatically going to have a hard time in parenthood. But it does set you up to like a particular sensitivity to maybe having a colicky baby or having trouble breastfeeding or having some conflict with your partner around adjusting. Right. It kind of there's vulnerabilities in people's particular individual background.

Audra: I can appreciate that. The sensitivity, that sense that and oh, god, I think what a beautiful way to start to prepare for bringing a child into your family. However, that child is brought into your family with some attunement and preparation, in a sense, knowing that you will have sensitivities. 

We all have something interesting. And I think part of the challenge is this, you know, this you're you enter into parenthood, you know, or caregiving. And we are presented with a picture of you got like, you know, nine-month-old on your hip from week two, you know, and plenty of sleep and you're out in the world and everything is fine, you know?

Bridget: Right. And they're just so cute.

Audra: You're out with your friends, you know, doing your thing. Right. And how often does that happen? Never.

Bridget: Ever. 

Justin: Yeah, well, I would imagine so. There's got to be this double this like reactive thing going on. So there's the underlying issues, maybe history of trauma or whatever the case is. And then we have these acute symptoms that are bringing clients to you and then is likely shame on top of this that why aren't I just the perfect, happy mom?

Bridget: Oh yeah, Big time, big time. And I mean, I love that you noticed that, because I feel like that's probably like top three themes in pretty much like all perinatal clients that I see is like some aspect of shame of why am I not enjoying this? Why am I not loving my baby? I'm not you know, I'm not the mom that I want to be. I'm disappointed in who my baby is. I'm disappointed that my partner is now and a lot of...

Audra: A lot of should’s. 

Bridget: Of why am I having such a hard time? And everybody else, you know, on Instagram is so beautiful and happy and, you know, just all the bullshit. Right? 

Audra: Right. Yeah. 

Bridget: And so I think that but I think that that's the thing is that it is different in the perinatal period, but it's also like shame kind of rules all of us, like in all of our challenges, like wherever we are finding struggle. You usually don't have to dig too far to find the shame. Right. 

And so I feel like that's that's often like in terms of the patterns that you're asking about, like those are the patterns that I see. But it just looks a little different on everyone. And then too like with that is like the pattern of like expectations versus reality parenting. And I just think that in a way that's part of it, because you can't I mean, you guys know, like you can probably be told over and over again before you have children, like “Watch out. It's hard. This is hard, this sucks. This is not fun. It's not going to be what you think.” And you're like, “yeah, yeah, it'll be fine.” And then all of a sudden your baby comes and you're like “fuck.”

Audra: You can’t know, until you know. Right, something that until you've experienced it, you haven't experienced it.

Justin: So there's like another layer here. And something that really led us into this work is that I think for parents of our generation, I think just anyone who's had a child in the last maybe 15 or 20 years, parenting is like a life project. It's like one of the most important, if not the most important things that we ever will do. And we feel like this is so important to us. You know, this is what we want to do. 

And then it happens and it's so hard and there's so many challenges, and now not only that, but now we have Instagram or whatever else going on in your do you know, like just lots of feedback that you're doing it wrong. I can imagine that just having this sense that not only is this hard and I'm seeing other people who seem to be doing it just fine, but like this thing is super important to me. It's not something that I can just be like, you know, whatever. I tried. I'll just tennis and, you know, I didn't really like tennis that much.

Bridget: Yeah, well, it is. And I think that that is why it's so important, but also like why it has the potential to be so transformative and meaningful for people. Because I think I mean, not to say that like parenting my kid is all about me, but like in some ways it is all about me. It's about her. But it's also, them. But it's about me also really looking super close at my shirt and like working with all of the, I mean, like I'm a therapist. I've been in therapy like the majority of my life. And becoming a parent made me see myself and look at my darkness in a way that I had never even touched.

Justin: Oh, heck yeah. Oh, that's so powerful. 

Bridget: I just think that it's really, I think it's painful and excruciating, but I think with the right support and reflection and space, like I actually think I'm going to sound really out there and woo-woo, but I'm kind of like is how we can heal the world. 

Audra: Yes.

Justin: This is why we're doing The Family Thrive. 

Audra: Yeah. No, it's that. So I'm a visual person. And for those listening, not that I can help visualize this anymore, but I'm seeing something like an onion or something with many, many layers. And I just want to like recap them really quick, because I'm hoping that there might be some moms who listen to this who then get, are able to get a greater sense of the entire landscape and geography for themselves if they have been thinking of this as just an intensely personal issue. There's so much more to it than that. So it is all we bring with us into parenthood. Right. 

So it is our unresolved trauma as our shadow work. All of this that we're bringing into it. And then we have the actual like physical or hormonal, very often trauma of childbirth and the major physicality to it. And then you have the, all of the compounded kind of emotional things. Then you have the expectations of what parenthood would be. You have the expectations of what you think it's going to be parenting, but it's actually caregiving, you know, at the beginning.

Bridget: Right. 

Audra: You have the expectation of what your baby's going to be, your expectation with your partners are going to be. You have the expectations of maybe what your family will be and how they'll respond, and they have their expectations on you. And then you've got the stories. And so you've got like the social, cultural, sometimes even historic, you know, aspects of this coming forward and landing on your experience of one day not having a baby, the next day having a baby and being charged with this little human life as all of these layers around it. That's huge. 

Bridget: Yeah. It is. 

Audra: And we, I think in our culture, in our society, we like, you know, give you a balloon and some flowers and say welcome to the rest of your life. You know, but this is a profoundly monumental change. But I love about what you just said before is that, yes, it's all of that. But in that walking through, like doing the work through that contains within it the potential for our transformation and the transformation of the world.

Bridget: Yeah, totally. Totally. I love your visualization of that. I think it makes a lot of sense. I think that, like, I always kind of hesitate to go there because I feel like just I'm not like a super sunshiny, idealistic person in general. So it always feels a little strange. 

But I do I think this is something that I have really come to understand and also believe is that the health of children, but also of the family is rooted in the health and well-being of the mom. And I understand that there's a lot of ways in which that can be problematic to say that about families with obviously like alternative structures or families where there is no mom or..

Audra: Or systemic issues or inequity.

Bridget: Yeah, absolutely. And so but if we kind of just look at it like biologically, physiologically, I still do really stand by that. But like the health of the mom is the health of the child, the partner, the family and then our community, really. And obviously also treating those families where that's not the structure in a similar way with similar care is really important. But I just think that that really needs to be made front and center, because when you look at all of those layers, if you really like peel it back, I feel like that is what is at the center of it. 

Audra: At the heart of it. 

Justin: Yeah. Beautiful.

Audra: But speaking of the health of the mother, I'm curious to know, because we've had a wonderful guest on this podcast, Tiffani Ghere, who specializes in feeding. And she's a dietitian and she actually works for a she is like an amazing lactation specialist who also is working on for a start-up, bringing better formula to this country. And it reminds me of the conversation of fed is best versus breast is best. 

And there seems to be a shift happening in this country where we're starting to understand that the mental health of the mother and the health of the mother is primary key number one, and the focus on exactly how a baby is fed and the kind of the disproportionate focus, and sometimes depending on the setting you're in, can detract from the health of the mother. That it is really kind of a partnership. Are you seeing A: this conversation in your practice and are you seeing these changes as well?

Bridget: Totally. Totally. I think, you know, if we think about like reasons that people end up in my office, especially for new moms, you know, brand new babies, first time. I mean, I don't have a number like to actually quote, but I would guess it's like half related to issues around breastfeeding and feeding. And the stress that's placing on her, the mom, and on the partner and on the whole kind of support system and on baby a lot of the time. 

So, you know, it looks a lot of different ways for different people. And, you know, I feel like through my own experience and my own challenges with that, with my oldest, I feel like I really kind of had a shift within myself from like this is the ultimate good breastfeeding and not just the nutrition, but also the kind of attachment and like sort of psychological, emotional advantages that are, you know, that we get through that to really coming to understand that like all of that, truly like I mean, I'm going to be like super basic about it. Like all of that is just bullshit. If mom's mental health is not ok, like it just doesn't matter what I mean, it doesn't matter. 

You can give the kid truckloads of breast milk and if mom is suicidal or not bonded and connecting or if that partnership is disintegrating because of the stress around breastfeeding, then it's worthless. Like it's truly, and so I know a lot of people would argue with me around that, but I just obviously like getting very specific.

Justin: Not here.

Audra: I think that's changing. Yeah, I really do. My hope anyway.

Bridget: And I think it's like a good challenge for us to like to work and like exist in this world, to be in that in-between where it's like it's not that breastfeeding isn't wonderful. It's amazing. I breastfed my kids. It's incredible like when it works. It's an incredible experience for all. And I feel really fortunate that I got to do it. But I think like when you think about things like shame, I mean, I am working with moms who have four and five-year-olds who are still working through the shame of not being able to breastfeed in the way that they imagined. And it's like that's just not ok.

Audra: It's not ok. Thank you. It is. No, it is. No, it doesn't have to be this way.

Justin: So I imagine one of the biggest issues is that breastfeeding seems to me the first and maybe the most powerful, like physical manifestations of mom providing for a baby, mom caring for. It's like the most. Oh, my god, it's the most emotionally powerful instance of my providing for baby.

Audra: You know this from experience as a dad. I mean, we had significant issues with Max feeding at first, our 14-year-old and Justin went to, we were in Santa Monica. He went to the local like breastfeeding support store. And he's like, I need a nipple that is like the closest thing to a human nipple because we are going to make this work. And they were like, “Sir, we will not sell that to you.”

Justin: Yeah, they refuse to sell it to me. Yeah.

Bridget: Get out. Oh, my god.

Justin: They were like, she just needs to try harder or something. Or she needs like lactation consultants or whatever you... 

Bridget: Yeah, like you need to spend more money on a lactation consultant first.

Audra: Yeah, right. Whose focus was they were just like just shove his face. I mean, it would just shove it. It wasn't like that baby finds its way down. I had a baby with this arching back, like refusing to do it. So he'd take home a hospital pump. This is 14 years later. And I feel like it was like yesterday for me. Take home a hospital-grade pump. And I was like, listen, I can pump and pump and pump, put it in a bottle. And when we go to the farmer's market, I'll have him under a nursing cover. No one will know. 

Justin: No one will know. This is Santa Monica, Cambridge is that we cannot be going around feeding our newborn with a bottle…

Bridget: No, no, no. So it's like a Scarlet Letter. 

Audra: Yes, it is. It is. And so when our second was born now 11 years ago in Orange County, where whatever you want to do, you know, it was just a very different environment. It was something that was just whatever you want to do, mom. But I remember a big moment with that was when they asked if they could take her to the nursery, if they could feed her some formula so I could rest as a mom who just had my second C-section. I was like, “Yes, yes, I will rest.”

Bridget: And thank you. 

Audra: And thank you, which is something that is learned. So that brings me to another part of this, which is that bringing the self-care into it, where we feel like, yes, these are the elemental foundational things. The other thing that I've heard is maybe one of the bigger issues for moms is birth. Method of birth choice, you know, kind of like birthing methods, and so I’ve heard significant accounts of traumas around like not wanting C-section, but needing a C-section, wanting a VBAC, but not beyond the get one. And then now, more recently, C-section mom saying, you know, my child was also birthed, like this is a legitimate form of birth. 

Bridget: Absolutely. 

Audra: You know, child wouldn’t be here if it wasn't for this. So a lot of...

Bridget: And you go and you went through a process, even if it was a C-section, that's still a process that your body goes through. 

Audra: Yes. Yes, absolutely. And so a lot of trauma and difficulty around all of the different associations with how we bring these children into the world. And that is, it's a lot it's.

Bridget: I think that speaks to the layers that you were describing before. Right. Because in all of this, it's like there's a million different entry points for all the shame. Right. And it truly I feel like this happens a lot like this comes up a lot in conversations I have with clients or just other moms. 

If it doesn't matter what you do, you're going to be losing essentially in some area. You might feel like, ok, well, I got this part right or I got this part right. But there's always going to be an area where you feel like I either didn't get the experience that I want or I didn't do it well enough or I didn't do it right. And now I'm kind of like having to pay for that either in some consequence with my kid or consequence with my partner, or even just in how I feel within myself. You know, like the opportunity for shame is just like...

Audra: Embedded through that whole onion. And so how do you think we, as moms, ok, the assumption I'm making and asking this question is that we as moms don't always show up really well for each other and that's, I think a lot of times we're bringing our stuff in. Right. Just like the boundaries that you talked about with everything, just like our boundaries around parenting, as friends we can often bring our own baggage in and not really hold the space for those around us. Do you think we can show up better for each other? Do you think we're capable of...

Bridget: I do. I mean, I think that like, you know, through having conversations like this, I think that that can be possible for sure. What I think is really important is just kind of naming all of the really shitty messages that we receive. Right. And naming that maybe they have good intention. 

Again, you know, breastfeeding is wonderful. But when it starts to switch into something that's like generating shame or pressure or whatever, then it's not working anymore. And I feel like, my sense is like if women, families, everyone could start to kind of see the parent, let's just say more generally, the parent is like the center of the family health. Right. That would really shift how we talk about that. Right. Because then if we had that understanding among us, then when your friend comes to you and is like, I'm having a really hard time breastfeeding and I'm really stressed out, the go-to wouldn't be like, we'll just try harder. It would be like, ok, well, what do you need to feel, ok? 

Audra: Right. 

Bridget: Do you need to try more or do you need to quit or do you need something out or whatever? So I do think it's possible. I just think that like I think there's a lot of work to do.

Audra: That's a powerful shift, though, that you're talking about. I mean, I think the shift that  you're referring to is really amazing. And I think it also represents a way that we can. 

We've talked with another therapist or friend, Jenny Walters, around the use of language and creating kind of the growth of language that is empowering us to show up for each other. And I think that this is something with parenthood and caregiving that we can do. 

If we say I love the point of it, we can start with the health of that parent and then everything else from that, it's like starting with quality of life over treatment method when it comes from our nonprofit background. Right. Start with the quality of that life. 

And then we say, it sounds like when you talk about needing a C-section, for example, you know, sounds like that maybe saved your life or your baby's life. You know, this is something that's powerful. Like this is almost miraculous that we can do this, you know? So I love the shift that you're talking about. I'd like for us to be able to do that work and support that shift in The Family Thrive.

Justin: So I want to be selfish here and just ask a little bit about dad. 

Bridget: Yeah. Of course. Yeah.

Justin: So you work exclusively with moms, but I'm wondering what you’re hearing, what you're seeing from these new moms in regards to the challenges that the new dads face. What are these dads going through? How… Well, so I'll start with that. What are the challenges? And then how can dads get their act together so they can be more supportive?

Bridget: Yeah, I mean, I think that like, you know, issues of support of the partner are always an element, I think. I just think it's hard, right? Like it's hard to find that balance even when dads or partners are most involved, motivated, and active participants. It's just really hard as new parents to like find what is that new groove going to be. 

And so I think that like where I am usually hearing about that is trying to navigate. How do I navigate this new relationship with my partner? And like a lot of the time of women, it's about working with resistance around, like asking for help and then accepting the help that's given if it's not exactly what is wanted. Right. And so to me, I feel like the most effective way to do that is working with the couple, because I think it's like, it only goes so far if it's just mom in the session talking about it, because dad obviously has their own experience. 

But also just big picture, dads also go through like postpartum mental health challenges and depression and anxiety and trauma come up for dads like almost as often as it happens for mom. 

Justin: At least from the couple's work, have you seen are there underlying issues same where, you know, maybe some unprocessed trauma coming up?

Bridget: I think a lot of it and I think it is very much about that, about where they're kind of coming from when they arrived in parenthood. But I think it's also something I see a lot here, especially in Savannah, which is obviously like a very different kind of culture than what I'm accustomed to, and probably for me guys, too, coming from, you know, more like huge urban environment. And I think there's still so much just around general mental health stigma and like resistance around emotional vulnerability that men experience that I'm seeing in a lot of dads and like just, you know, basically toxic masculinity. Right. 

So I feel like a lot of times I'm either seeing it in couples or hearing about it from mom, a dad who is clearly struggling maybe with mental health or addiction or trauma or whatever, and it's completely cut off to that struggle. And so in a lot of ways, mom is showing up with her own challenges, but I almost see it as like kind of a symptom of this other issue. Right. It's almost, it's kind of like a scapegoat. Right.

Like mom shows up because it's more socially acceptable for a mom to say, “well, I'm kind of depressed after I had a baby” than it is for dad to say, “well, you know, I'm up all night because I'm suicidal and can't stop imagining horrible things” or whatever, you know. So to me, it's also just about like talking about that and also just trying to work against, you know, our sort of patriarchal structures.

Justin: Oh, my gosh, and there’s so much... 

Bridget: That reinforces… 

Justin: Oh, my gosh. There's so much work to do. Yeah. This is one thing that I hope that we can do a lot more workaround with the The Family Thrive is dads…

Bridget: Absolutely. 

Justin: And emotions. Like can we as dads start to get in touch with our own emotions? Because for most boys grow up in North America at least, most of our emotions are suppressed from a young age. And then finally and then when we have kids, what we end up doing is suppressing their emotions because we don't…

Audra: And ours.

Justin: We don't want to deal with it. Yeah. Yeah. Like your challenging emotions are too much for me. So I need to…

Bridget: Or too much. 

Justin: Yeah. So I need to suppress those. Yeah.

Bridget: Right. And I think, kind of similar to what I'm saying, like a lot of the times I feel like I am seeing a mom in therapy who is having a lot of marital or relationship trouble, a lot of trouble sort of managing transition into parenthood. But the more and more I dig, I realize she's sort of like expressing the challenges of the dad and a lot of ways. And she has kind of been identified as the problem person. And I mean, this has happened more times than I can say where I'm often like, I really think I have the wrong person in this room right now. You know, like.

Justin: Oh, my gosh. 

Bridget: Yeah, that's hard to deal with, especially if dad is resistant or just not interested in hearing that. You know. Like the therapist saying that is not necessarily going to win him over. But I think, again, it comes back to like those larger conversations that we just have about like what it means to be a parent, what it means to be men and women, have emotions, be vulnerable, like. And probably it just comes back to how we raise our kids. Right? Like I don't, I know you guys have a boy. I don't have boys. But I think about this a lot with parents, with boys. It's like it must feel like a tremendous burden to have to like really reprogram how boys exist in the world, like emotionally.

Justin: Oh, yeah, because...

Audra: You're still up against the world. 

Justin: Yeah, they have to go out in the world and be friends with other boys who are, you know, having their emotions suppressed. 

Bridget: Yeah. 

Justin: Yeah, yeah. Mhm. Selfishly, now, I want to move on to talk more about practices, so I mean, I would love to just start with me and say, Bridget, how can you help me? But I'll start with new moms and dads. And so are there some daily practices or some regular practices that you recommend to your clients where you say, you know, if you can just take a little bit of time to do this or take a little bit of that? 

Bridget: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think with practices like it always depends on the person because what works for you might not necessarily work for the next person. We're all just sort of wired differently. But I think with new parents, especially like new moms, like too, first three to six months, one of the ways they make some prescriptions, and one of them is like you have to get outside every single day. And it doesn't matter like if it's pouring rain or a hundred degrees like it is a lot of the time. But like you have to like see the sky and see the earth and like get some sensory input from outside every day. Even if it's just for like 30 seconds, you have to do that every day. And then also, you have to have some time away, physically away from your baby, where you can't see, hear, smell or touch them every single day. And again, like that could be a minute or whatever she might be able to tolerate, because some moms really can't tolerate that. It's too anxiety-provoking. 

So those are really big ones. And then I also just think I feel like what I'm sort of always working with our clients around, but especially the new parents, is trying to learn about and understand how you best regulate your own emotions and nervous system, because I think this is the thing again, this comes back to what you were saying, like we have to like teach our kids this, but alot of us don't know how to do this for ourselves as well. And truly, like I didn't really before. 

I mean, I feel like I had an idea of like, well, you know, I like yoga. I like to take a walk. I like the beach. But that was sort of the extent of it. And now I really, really know, like these are the things that I actively can do to regulate myself. 

And so that's something that I'm always trying to really work on, is like identifying what are those things? Offering out some options based on what I feel like might work for the person, but also just having them experiment with different things because like for some people, meditating and breathing is great. And for other people, it's like the worst. And they need to go like run 10 miles or whatever. Yeah. And it doesn't matter what it is, it's just about do you feel a sense of like your body and your nervous system have been regulated, ok, then do that. And like we have to carve out time for that. And I think that can feel, all of those things can feel like a lot to a new parent with a little baby who is totally overwhelmed. But it's also like it's totally possible…

Justin: It’s vital.

Bridget: And it's totally possible.

Justin: And it's vital. Like I, I think I didn't really understand this, I think, until our son was diagnosed. That if I am not taking care of myself, I'm actually doing him a disservice, like I can't show up for him or I'll get triggered a lot easier or, you know, so I have to take care of myself. And so it's not just like a luxury of like, so these prescriptions, I can imagine there are some moms who are like, well, I can't possibly take the time to go outside. And I mean, you know, I have so much to do. And it's like, no, no, no, this is vital. Like you're doing your child a service when you take care of yourself.

Bridget: Totally. Well, that's so true, and I feel like I am often using that reframe, especially with the new mama of like this, because when I hear all the time, it's like, well, I feel like I'm selfish or selfish if I go do yoga for five minutes. And I'm just like, you are not doing this for you. You are doing this for your entire family. All the kids, your partner. Make no mistake that this kind of self-care I feel like it's talked about a lot. It's like, oh, I go get a manicure, I go get a massage. Right, totally. And I'm like, oh, that's nice. But that's not what this is. This is actually, it's the way I describe it ass like it's self-regulation. And you are actually doing that for everyone else who relies on you. It's not for you.

Audra: What are some of the big, big or I should say most common refrains or as you put it, or common areas like this that you're sharing with parents? So itself, self-care is care for everyone. What are some of the other ones that you're that that are common for you

Bridget: Let’s see, I feel like that's probably the biggest one. But then I think also kind of coming back to the shame piece, I feel like a big reframe is that kind of language that we used to speak to ourselves when we're in shame is harmful to us in a way that also can really harm our children. And so I think the reframe I often use is what would it be like for you to use this kind of language with your kid? Right. And like, what could it be like, even if it doesn't feel authentic, even if you don't believe it, because most people are like, that's bullshit, but like just pretend. What would it be like to talk to yourself the way that you talk to your kid, just to kind of feel into like how weird that is, you know?

Audra: Yeah. That’s a powerful practice. 

Justin: Or what you said, talk to yourself the way you talk to your kid. Did you mean talk to your kid the way you talk to yourself?

Bridget: No, I mean, like it's, for example, if you have like a sweet name that you call your kid like “Oh, sweetie. Oh…” 

Justin: Ohh, talk to yourself…

Bridget: You know, you're like, oh, it's ok that you broke your favorite toy. Like everything would be ok. I'm going to take care of it.

Audra: With the same kind of compassion.

Justin: So the reason that I got mixed up was because I heard of this from another therapist about in regard to the inner critic, these, the self-shame that imagine yourself at age like three or four and saying that same thing to yourself, how stupid you are, how bad you know, and how this is such a powerful reframe for so many people and many people when in therapy, this is what I heard. We'll start to cry when they think about talking to themselves at three or four, the way they talk to themselves now.

Bridget: Totally. Totally. I think that's such a powerful practice. And just thinking about practices, I think it's not one that everyone is available for. But if that is, if it feels like that's a path that someone can go down, I absolutely try to guide them down that, especially because like kind of like what we're talking about, like having children can be like incredibly triggering of our own childhood shit. Right. 

And what I see a lot of the time is like, so you had something particularly traumatic or challenging going on, like at age five when your kid gets to be age five it's like, you know, all of this comes back. Right. So similar to what you're talking about, like I've suggested for some clients who are dealing with things like that, like finding a photo of themselves at that age and just like sticking it on the bathroom mirror and just kind of having that kid be part of like your everyday experience that you're like walking by and thinking about, because it's really hard to be shitty to that little kid or teenager or whatever age it is, but kind of like identifying the moment that feels like the most traumatic or there's the most pain leftover and trying to like center your vision of yourself at that age. 

Justin: Yeah. So I…

Bridget: Kids really help us do that because they're right there.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. So I love the reframe then of talking to yourself as you talk to your kids. So the same love that you're able to show your kid.

Audra: Yeah. It's similar to like, you know, if you, would you talk to your best friend. That's right. Would you really talk to anyone else this way?

Bridget: To anyone that way. Usually not. Yeah. 

Audra: Yeah. That’s so powerful.

Bridget: Yeah. Totally, totally. So like yeah. I mean, like a lot of that kind of falls into what I would call self-compassion work, which I, you know, there is a whole kind of practice around self-compassion that I will draw from a lot. But I feel with moms especially, that applies somewhere because it's really even for the mom who might be like, “No, I'm totally confident and I love myself and I never should talk to myself.” There's still some element of like, but you're not actually being that kind to you.

Audra: Mm-hmm. Do you, in relationship to this, and I know it's individual. It's not everyone by any means that I, we can only, you know, attempt to generalize a little bit. We talk about the dangers of... dangers, but issues with social media and the comparisons, the FOMO like all of these things. Do you find with any of your clients that it's helpful for them to take breaks or...

One of our therapists said, you know, she's like, I teach, try to teach like a mindful skill of as soon as I get that, like, oh, this isn't good. That first like uhhhh feeling. Turn it off. 

Bridget: Totally. Yeah. Oh, no, totally. I feel like I'm often kind of talking people through like harm reduction with social media. 

Audra: Harm reduction, yeah. 

Bridget: Like. And I think that that's a good way of doing it, of like noticing when do you start to spin out or when does your body start to react and shutting it off. But I think, too, like this is one thing I've suggested a lot is like if it feels really hard to take a break from social media, like, okay, keep it, but give yourself, like make a choice of like I give myself 20 minutes a day and then in those 20 minutes, you like set a timer and you do like full on deep dive, like look at. Get as much as you can and just go, go wild. And then that's it. And then you're done. Because obviously, like for all of us, there's the capacity to just like lose an hour, just scrolling or whatever. And then all of a sudden you don't realize, oh, wait a second, I feel really shitty, you know.

Audra: Mhm. Catches up with you later, huh? It makes me think too, as we can talk about this maybe the next time we get to talk with you, the next chat.

Justin: Yes, we have to have you back. 

Audra: But screen time, for example, with the kids, you know, it always occurs to me like if I had a 20 minute timer, we could do the 20 minutes together, you know, because I put them on a timer or a time limit. And then they see now continuing to go. And it's like, well, I'm working, you know, I am working, you know, really 100% of that is work. No, not at all. So I do think that self regulation has really powerful modeling. And I think that there's a lot in that that the family can benefit from as well.

Bridget: Totally.

Justin: How can people find out more about Bridget Cross?

Bridget: I have a website that's probably the best way, and it is Bridgetcrosslcsw.com. And then I have a Facebook also, which is also a bridgetcrosslcsm.com. So those are my ways of finding me.

Justin: Yeah, perfect. Perfect. All right. So our final three questions that we ask all of our guests. First, Bridget, if you were able to put a Post-it note on every parent's refrigerator tomorrow morning, what would that Post-it note say?

Bridget: Yeah, I saw this question and I went through a million different answers from simple to complicated. Yeah. And so this is totally cheating. But I want to give you two. One is just like to say like you are not alone, because I just think that can be really soothing to one's nervous system, like on every level. And can mean a lot of different things to different people. But the other is, it's like a really quick poem that I have, like put around on Post-it notes for myself in different moments of life by Raymond Carver. And it's actually, he's a fiction writer who wrote like in the ‘70s and ‘80s. And it was like amazing and wonderful. But it's a little poem that he wrote that I think it's actually on his tombstone. But I will read it to you. I pulled it up because I wanted to make sure, I kind of know it by heart, but I didn't want to mess it up. Can I read it to you?

Audra: Of course. 

Bridget: And so it's just a few lines. It says: “And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on this earth. So I feel like every parent needs that, right?

Audra: Yes.

Justin: Yes, we need that on our refrigerator. 

Bridget: We do. We do. I think it's like, you know, it's soothing that we need so that we can soothe.

Justin: That kind of covers the next question. Is there a recent quote that you've read that has changed the way you think or feel?

Bridget: Yeah, that's a good one. It's not really recent to me, but I feel like it's one that I always come back to. There's a book that I've been reading and it's kind of like all about my jam right now. It's called Call of the Wild by Kimberly Ann Johnson. And she is amazing. She's like a somatic practitioner and she was a postpartum doula. And she wrote an amazing book called The Fourth Trimester that's about all of what we're talking about. But this is about somatic practices for healing trauma. And I don't have the actual quote of it, but I'm going to paraphrase it, which is basically that “We work in the body to heal trauma in the present for the past.”

Audra: Oh yes. 

Bridget: And so that to me, I mean, I've been kind of in this book for a few weeks now, but that has sort of really stuck with me just as like it a little bit reverses, I think, how like talk therapy usually works, which is like talking about the present, talking about the past to heal the present. I actually think that it needs to be reversed.

Justin: Beautiful. 

Audra: I think well, we're going to add the book to the show notes for sure.

Bridget: And it's an amazing, amazing book.

Audra: Something that I'd like to read, it’s making me think a book club might be in order.

Justin: So it was working in the body and the present to heal the past?

Bridget: Yes. 

Justin: Is that right? 

Bridget: Totally. Totally so. And that yeah, that is the kind of trauma, healing work that she is writing about in this book, that that's the focus of it.

Justin: So the final question is one that we ask every guest, because as you all know, parenting isn't always sunshine and roses. And so it's nice to just remember what we love about childhood and what we love about kids. And so, Bridget, what do you love about kids?

Bridget: I will answer like what I love most about my kids, because that’s mostly my experience of kids. For the most part, and I think it's very common, is that kids, at least younger ones, exist in the present. Like they're the ultimate kind of mindful present awareness and being in the moment. And that's whether they're like experiencing something emotionally or telling or imagining something or drawing something. 

Audra: Yeah. So that they're automatically, by nature, present beings.

Bridget: Yeah, totally. They're like in the moment and like I think especially being like in play with them is the ultimate, like mindfulness practice or like practice of being in the moment, regardless of what is going on in our own internal storms, you know.

Audra: I love that. I think it's a really powerful reflection. It resonates a lot with me. And the thing that came up for me when you mentioned it is, again, kind of some of the theme of what we're talking about today is sometimes or most often I know they'll be present and it's an inspiring, beautiful place to be with them. But so often we're not present and we're like, want to get shoes on and get out the door or go, do you like whatever the things are. 

And so I think like we then bring that cloud of everything else we're thinking about into their present presence. And I think it's such a good reminder too, that is a state to be honored. Yes, we have a kind of boundary. Things need to get done in our days and all of that. But to know that this isn't just like in insolence or, you know, that your children don't have you in mind or whatever it might be, it's like another way, state of being almost.

Bridget: Yeah. It's like closely connected, I think, to like the sense of compassion, right. because we're not always able to be present with them because it's life and we need to get up there and get the shoes on the right, whatever. But I think that like I have found anyway that my kids are just like a good reminder that like I can be in the moment. And also that like if I screw up a moment and like yell at somebody or I'm not so nice…

Justin: There's another moment.

Bridget: That's what I love about my kids and kids in general.

Audra: It's so nice to meet you. So nice to talk with you. Thank you so much. This is a fantastic conversation. And I really hope that we can work together more. And I think what you bring to the world is so valuable and needed. And you have, you know, a beautiful practice here in Savannah. And we'd like to be a part of bringing you to an audience that needs you outside of Savannah too. 

Bridget: Yeah, thank you. I'm so glad for to meet you guys. I'm just excited for the work that you guys are doing, too.

Justin: Thank you so much for your time. This has been amazing. I can't wait to do it again.

Bridget: I know. It's fun. Thank you. 

Audra: Ok, bye.

Justin: Hey, thanks for listening to The Family Thrive podcast. If you like what you heard, please subscribe, tell two friends and head on over to Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts and give us a review. We're so grateful you've chosen to join us on this Family Thrive journey.

Podcast Ep. 15: Healing Depression, Anxiety, and Shame in New Mothers With Bridget Cross, LCSW, PMH-C

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Podcast Ep. 15: Healing Depression, Anxiety, and Shame in New Mothers With Bridget Cross, LCSW, PMH-C

Find out how Bridget Cross, LCSW, PMH-C is helping moms and dads grow through the mental and emotional challenges that come with pregnancy, childbirth, and raising a newborn.

Join The Family Thrive community and download the mobile app, all for free!

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90 minutes

In this episode

Bridge Cross is quite literally helping to save the world. She’s doing this as a perinatal psychotherapist who helps moms and dads grow through the mental and emotional challenges that naturally come with pregnancy, childbirth, and raising a newborn. 

We wish to god we had a Bridget when our kids were born 14 and 11 years ago. Bringing a new life into this world is a joyous moment and we all see the pictures on social media of a happy but tired mom and dad with the brand new baby. But what we don’t see is the numbness, anxiety, marital conflict, rage, and overwhelm that is also a very real part of the parenting journey. 

In this episode, Bridget talks with us about the mental and emotional challenges new parents face, the role of shame in motherhood, the role of avoidance in fatherhood, the stress of this new school year and sooo much more. 

This episode is a must-listen for anyone who is a new parent, an old parent, maybe a parent someday, or has a parent in their life—so basically, everyone! 

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About our guest

Bridget Cross, LCWS, PMH-C is a mom of two and is currently practicing individual and family psychotherapy in Savannah, Georgia. She earned her Masters in Social Work with Honors from the Hunter College School of Social Work, and in 2019 she became a certified Perinatal Mental Health provider (PMH-C). Bridget is a Volunteer Support Coordinator for the Georgia chapter of Postpartum Support International and helped create the Maternal Mental Health Collective of Savannah.

Show notes

In this episode

Bridge Cross is quite literally helping to save the world. She’s doing this as a perinatal psychotherapist who helps moms and dads grow through the mental and emotional challenges that naturally come with pregnancy, childbirth, and raising a newborn. 

We wish to god we had a Bridget when our kids were born 14 and 11 years ago. Bringing a new life into this world is a joyous moment and we all see the pictures on social media of a happy but tired mom and dad with the brand new baby. But what we don’t see is the numbness, anxiety, marital conflict, rage, and overwhelm that is also a very real part of the parenting journey. 

In this episode, Bridget talks with us about the mental and emotional challenges new parents face, the role of shame in motherhood, the role of avoidance in fatherhood, the stress of this new school year and sooo much more. 

This episode is a must-listen for anyone who is a new parent, an old parent, maybe a parent someday, or has a parent in their life—so basically, everyone! 

Listen here

About our guest

Bridget Cross, LCWS, PMH-C is a mom of two and is currently practicing individual and family psychotherapy in Savannah, Georgia. She earned her Masters in Social Work with Honors from the Hunter College School of Social Work, and in 2019 she became a certified Perinatal Mental Health provider (PMH-C). Bridget is a Volunteer Support Coordinator for the Georgia chapter of Postpartum Support International and helped create the Maternal Mental Health Collective of Savannah.

Show notes

In this episode

Bridge Cross is quite literally helping to save the world. She’s doing this as a perinatal psychotherapist who helps moms and dads grow through the mental and emotional challenges that naturally come with pregnancy, childbirth, and raising a newborn. 

We wish to god we had a Bridget when our kids were born 14 and 11 years ago. Bringing a new life into this world is a joyous moment and we all see the pictures on social media of a happy but tired mom and dad with the brand new baby. But what we don’t see is the numbness, anxiety, marital conflict, rage, and overwhelm that is also a very real part of the parenting journey. 

In this episode, Bridget talks with us about the mental and emotional challenges new parents face, the role of shame in motherhood, the role of avoidance in fatherhood, the stress of this new school year and sooo much more. 

This episode is a must-listen for anyone who is a new parent, an old parent, maybe a parent someday, or has a parent in their life—so basically, everyone! 

Listen here

About our guest

Bridget Cross, LCWS, PMH-C is a mom of two and is currently practicing individual and family psychotherapy in Savannah, Georgia. She earned her Masters in Social Work with Honors from the Hunter College School of Social Work, and in 2019 she became a certified Perinatal Mental Health provider (PMH-C). Bridget is a Volunteer Support Coordinator for the Georgia chapter of Postpartum Support International and helped create the Maternal Mental Health Collective of Savannah.

Show notes

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Justin: Bridget Cross is quite literally helping to save the world. She's doing this as a perinatal psychotherapist who helps moms and dads grow through the mental and emotional challenges that come with pregnancy, childbirth and raising a newborn. 

I wish to god we had a Bridget when our kids were born 14 and 11 years ago. Bringing a new life into this world is a joyous moment and we all see the pictures on social media of a happy but tired mom and dad with the brand new baby, but what we don't see is the numbness, anxiety, marital conflict, rage and overwhelm that is also a very real part of the parenting journey. 

In this episode, Bridget talks with me and Audra about the mental and emotional challenges new parents face. The role of shame and motherhood, the role of avoidance and fatherhood, the stress of this new school year, and so much more. Truly, this episode is a must-listen for anyone who is a new parent, an old parent, maybe a parent someday, or has a new parent in their life or an old parent in their life. So it's for pretty much everybody. So without further ado, here's our conversation with the amazing Bridget Cross. 

I have a bunch of questions that are more general. And so I wanted to start off with something that's real and that's happening for all of us right now and happening for every parent right now, and that's going back to school. 

And so as a therapist, what's coming up for your clients right now? What's happening for them as they're coming in to see you? What is this moment like for you as a therapist?

Bridget: Well, I think there is so much anxiety and fear that I think so many, I mean, I see so many parents of young kids, but also people who are pregnant or who have new babies. And I think anxiety during this whole period of time has been running so high. And I think in this moment that we're in now thinking about going back to school and like re-emerging from this sort of dark closet that we've been in. 

You know, it's just it's bringing up a lot, because I think for some people, it's also really exciting. There's like a sense of like resuming normal or feeling like your kids are going to be able to get some sense of normal. But also, like, you know, like we're all feeling there's that sense of like how long will it last and can I rely on it? And will it be safe? And I think it's something that I fear for a lot of people who've had kids like, especially in the last few years, like some newer parents, is I think that like the experience of going through like shutdown's and quarantine's and homeschooling and having to stay home, in some ways is like reactivating for some people, like the trauma that they experienced, like in postpartum time, if they did experience that. 

And so, like, you know, the feeling that maybe you two can relate to of like having a little baby and being stuck at home and having like your whole life kind of snatched away from you in the way that it can feel like when you first have a new baby, especially your first one. 

I feel like I'm hearing from a lot of clients that sense of like I'm like reliving that all over again. Like I thought that I had kind of like gotten out of that phase of feeling sort of trapped in parenthood or stuck at home or like unable or like not being able to feel my freedom. Like I'd finally moved away from that. And then Covid happened and I'm like right back there again. And so I think that like especially for moms who struggled emotionally or in mental health, like especially in postpartum, that has felt really challenging and painful for them to kind of go back to that place. 

Audra: To some like Covid is triggering for many of us.

Bridget: Yeah. 

Audra: And do you find, one thing I'm curious about you, because you're a mother of younger children as well. And so this must be an unusual experience, kind of to be able to maybe, I don't know if you do, but do you identify with some of what your patients are going through? Like you're kind of we're all in this together to some degree.

Bridget: Totally. Yeah. I mean, I think this is sort of a unique moment for me professionally where, you know, just in Covid, I'm going through something personally that literally all of my clients are also going through and there really hasn't been anything else, you know, other than just kind of like what's going on maybe politically or elections or something like that. 

But nothing like this where each and every person is being deeply, personally affected, emotionally taxed at the same time that I am. And so trying to redefine that line between like, what is my role? How do I show up for people and support them and kind of hold that space for them? While also kind of going through my own thing. 

Justin: Wow. I mean, wow, that's intense.

Bridget: I mean, in a way, that's like that's my job, right? Like that's partly what my job is, is to manage that for myself so that I can show up for the people that I work with. But it's for sure been different with this. 

And I think, in a lot of ways it's actually been helpful because, you know, I have a lot of clients who have kids, you know, around my kids’ ages. I have clients who go to school with my kids, whose kids go to school with my kids. And so it just kind of having that common thread. It can be a little challenging in terms of personal boundaries. But I think in general, it's a win because people feel like, “Ok, you know, I'm going through this but not alone,” which is like really what most parents, I feel, really need to hear.

Justin: And I just really quick, it strikes me that I like had this reaction hearing, like, yeah, you're going through the same intense stuff that your clients are. And then how can you work through the intensity of this while also showing up for your clients? And then what struck me was like, oh, that's parenting as well. Like, I'm going to do all this and how can I show up for my kids who are going, yeah. So there’s layers here.

Bridget: Totally. Well, I mean, and I would say about being exactly as you're saying, like being in the role, that is the role I do for my job has like all of these exact parallels and being a mom, for me not to say that I'm a mom to my clients because I’m not. But it is just like what you said, to keep your own shit in check so that you can show up for your kids’ shit. 

Audra: Absolutely. 

Bridget: And sometimes we do that really well and sometimes not at all.

Justin: Yeah. Bridget, that is the theme of The Family Thrive for us.

Audra: Yeah, it really is, because I think so many of us come from a generation where I mean, this isn't this has not been kind of like the pass-down wisdom. I think just so many of us experienced just like a complete lack of awareness parents around their own shit. 

And then the resulting consequences of just things kind of falling on to the family and being shared with the family and no boundaries and no awareness, in these ways. And so I do think it's a pretty radical shift and it's something that is for me anyway, empowering. You know, the thing that I, it's about me in so many ways, managing me. And...

Bridget: Totally.

Audra: Other things, sort of like fall in from there, you know. It's about the example I sat on top of that. But boundaries is definitely a big theme all the way around. And I think it's really powerful to hear that from you with regard to your life, it sounds like between clients and your family and your kids, kind of like a major theme and how you're able to manage all of it.

Bridget: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's a lot. And I mean, I will say too, for me, it's been kind of a relearning, not just with Covid, but also with being in Savannah. Because of a small town, it doesn't seem like it is, but it really is like it's just super teeny tiny. And I'm from New York and started work, you know, doing this work in New York and so in New York City anyway. I mean, I could live down the block from a client and never, ever see them.

Audra: Not a small town. 

Bridget: ... And I've just never had any experience of seeing clients outside of just a clinical space. And here it's basically just how it is. Like I see my clients at my kid's school. I see them at the grocery store, at the park. And so just having to kind of navigate like a new set of boundaries in general, but especially I think with Covid, it's like even more so.

Justin: So, Bridget, yeah, this is really fascinating, your work, that the parallels with motherhood and parenting. How did you get into this? So you are a perinatal therapist. And so you work exclusively with parents and exclusively with mothers, or do you see fathers as well?

Bridget: You know, I would love to see fathers, but sadly, I have not had any come to me on their own outside of the couple hours. Which I think kind of speaks a lot to just stigma around mental health and men and dads in general, obviously.

Justin: So when you were training as a therapist, did you know this is the work that you wanted to do?

Bridget: No, not at all. It's actually kind of a second career for me. But when I decided to go back to school for social work, which was in 2007, I actually thought that I wanted to work with teenagers, and that was sort of like my passion. I just felt like I was going to be what I wanted to do. I really wanted to be, you know I’d been in a lot of therapy. I feel like therapy was really powerful to me when I was a teenager and I was like, this is what I want to do. 

And then I went through social work school and you do various internships when you're in that program with different populations. And then I got a job pretty soon after social work school, working with teens and families in a really very challenging population, and pretty quickly realized that I don't want to work with teenagers at all. 

And not because they're not amazing, because they are fascinating and incredible. They're just for the family element of it, like doing the family work, I realized was just really not a strength of mine. So I ended up working for a long time, just in kind of like general adult mental health and community mental health in New York. 

So working in outpatient clinics and working with just all kinds of issues, but also in general with very, very sick people and with long-standing chronic mental illness, like very high-risk populations, but which was hard, but also like wonderful training, just in terms of exposure there are just so many different things. And then I had a baby and I mean, a lot happened between those things, but I had a baby and I moved here shortly after. She was about nine months old when we moved here.

Audra: Oh, no kidding. 

Bridget: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. She was super small. And I struggled quite a bit in pregnancy, even actually before pregnancy, but in pregnancy and also postpartum with my own just depression and trauma and challenges. And I just kind of became really interested. I was seeing a lot of moms and families in my practice anyway. And I was just realizing like, “Hey, I should get some training in this,” because I started kind of understanding like depression that occurs in the postpartum period and pregnancy. It's not the same as other depression, even though in general it is treated the same. It's like, “Oh, it's just depression,” but it's when you're pregnant or when you're postpartum. 

Audra: Right. Right. Right. 

Bridget: Yeah. And so I started doing some training in it, and then I started doing some like volunteer work for an organization called Postpartum Support International, and ended up just really connecting with like a whole network of perinatal clinicians and advocates and social justice aspect and all of that, and just kind of go really deep into that, and then over a few years of training ended up getting the certification that I have as a perinatal mental health provider. 

So it was a slow build because that child is now almost seven. But I'd say like in the last three or four years, my practice has been pretty much exclusively, not 100%, but probably about 75% in perinatal clients, which is amazing. And I feel like it's totally what I am truly meant to be doing. But it's not, just to get back to your question, it wasn't like where I started at all.

Audra: It's incredible. It's true. There's nothing like a calling that comes from your experience, that comes from a deep place of knowing, you know, seeing the need, identifying the need personally. And I'm really interested, going back to the start, like you knew that you were, you're called into the work of therapy from experiencing how life-changing this was for you, it sounds like as a teenager which brought into the world of teens and I had a curiosity around the teenage the work with that is the family work. Is it really the fact that you're the teenager isn't the work, it's the parents.

Bridget: 100%. And so, yeah, it is. And that's I think that that's the trick, is that the, I mean, this is a generalization, but I would say the majority of people who are bringing their children, but particularly teenagers to therapy are not very interested in hearing about anything other than what's wrong with their kid.

Justin: Fix this one.

Bridget: Fix that problem. Yeah, and that's true of all kids. I mean, even young, too, I think. But there's a lot that teenagers can do on their own in therapy without family support. But particularly, I was working in juvenile justice within the child protective system in Brooklyn, and that's a really super tough population where parents and families I mean, if the child is even living with the parents a lot of times with a guardian or a family member or in foster care, those adults just don't have the resources to participate in that child's care or healing at all because of their own stuff. 

Audra: And they need support, it sounds like, the parents.

Bridget: Yeah, totally. 

Audra: The caregiver or whoever it is.

Bridget: Yeah, the family totally. And so it's like a system, obviously, like a systemic problem. And there are many social workers, I think who’re really equipped with working with those populations. But I just kind of quickly realized that I was not going to be great at it because I noticed how quickly I would become really aligned with the kid and feel the sense of deep resentment and anger toward the family.

Audra: Oh… powerful.

Bridget: And I was like, I'm not going to be good at this and oriented this way because I have to really be able to hold all of it. And that just wasn't my, I just kind of recognized really quickly that that was not the strength of mine. And also just that I was like, I don't think I want to do this. So I shouldn't be doing it because I should only be doing this if I want to.

Audra: Oh, what a powerful observation. And for you to honor that and not try to force yourself into the space of holding the space. It sounds like identifying with this kid in so many ways is a strength, you know, but just in the setting for that work is something that would make it very difficult for you to do kind of what is expected in that role. And so coming into the space of working with mothers mostly, and this perinatal work sounds pretty incredible, because you really are working with the mom and dad.

Bridget: Right. 

Audra: There's a relationship there with the child, obviously. But it is more of that direct work. And out of a place of deep knowing and understanding. 

Justin: It feels, so in the public health, which is where I come from. Yeah. There's this broad idea that, you know, we in public health, we're going upstream like the doctors are working downstream. When a person gets sick, the doctors are, you know, fixing what's getting sick. But public health, we're going upstream and we're finding out what's making people sick in the first place. And so that feels kind of like your journey in a way above the, you know, working with these teenagers and the parents and seeing like, oh, this is you know, this is a mess. I could just get these parents like right when they have this kid.

Bridget: Well, totally. Well, that's so true. And then I also think like within particular populations or systems, like recognizing this is like a systemic thing. Right. Because with a lot of like what I was seeing in that job, it wasn't even the parent. I mean, it was like generations of trauma. Right. And like. And so there was this feeling of like overwhelmed with like I was also a really new, green clinician and I had really good support and supervision, but I was just kind of my brain exploding with like the hugeness of the problem, you know?

Audra: Absolutely. I have so much respect and awe of the folks who can bring themselves to systemic work. And I, my background is in education before getting into nonprofit work. And I am just totally, totally in awe.And I mean, I knew I've always known that I wouldn't be effective in a role with such an overwhelming, insurmountable, systemic, oppressive aspect to it. It really does take a special kind of person.

Bridget: Yes. It does. And I'm so glad those people are out there.

Audra: Me, too. Me too.

Justin: I want to make sure that we go as quickly into like that, that the core of what you do. So I really want to know what are the common mental and emotional challenges that new moms face? I mean, this seems to be the core of what you are working on.

Bridget: Most new moms find their way to me because they are really suffering and struggling with just how they're feeling. Typically, like I say, after our first baby, but it's not always like just be with whatever baby this is for the family. So seeing like a ton of depression, anxiety, and kind of like somatic symptoms.

Justin: So for the lay listener, somatic symptoms would be.

Bridget: Yeah. So, somatic symptoms being symptoms that are kind of taking up in the body. So like emotional distress or strain that's being expressed through your body, which doesn't mean that it's not real. It just means that it's connected to like an unprocessed emotion. 

So like an example would be a mom who maybe is really overwhelmed, stressed, panicky, and having migraines or having kind of chronic pain or maybe having a flare-up of an autoimmune disorder, things like that. 

So I guess what I'm saying is most people are finding their way to me because there's some particular like acute symptom that's coming on versus a sense of a more general I'm kind of worried about my mental health and I might want to get some support to make sure I'm healthy. I wish that they did. 

Audra: Yeah. The big red flag that totally just demands attention.

Bridget: Exactly. And a lot. And I would say too, like another big one is problems in the partnership, in the marriage or relationship with partner, can be like another reason that people find their way to me. But a lot of times it's the symptoms of depression. So it doesn't have to look necessarily like sadness, crying, low mood. It could be like “I feel nothing.” 

Justin: Yeah. 

Bridget: “I feel numb and totally disconnected from my baby. And I don't care.” Or like it could look like something I see a lot, actually in women is this kind of postpartum rage that happens where it's like “I'm not depressed, actually I feel kind of happy, but I keep raging at my partner or at my kid or my dog” or whatever, you know. So that, too, can be just sort of like a signal that things, that there's something to look at there.

Justin: Do you see as you kind of dig in with these clients, are there patterns that you see that are underneath this that are or are these symptoms are the deeper issues unique or are the deeper issues do you see patterns?

Bridget: Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, I'm thinking about it now. I'm thinking I definitely see patterns. I think there's a lot of trends, especially when we think of women and modern parenting culture. But I also, and so I think that like there can be trends and how that's expressed, like how their distress is being expressed. But I also think it's always really unique to the person and their particular history and like what they're arriving to parenthood with. Right. 

So like, for example, if you have a history of trauma, particularly like childhood or developmental trauma, that doesn't mean you're automatically going to have a hard time in parenthood. But it does set you up to like a particular sensitivity to maybe having a colicky baby or having trouble breastfeeding or having some conflict with your partner around adjusting. Right. It kind of there's vulnerabilities in people's particular individual background.

Audra: I can appreciate that. The sensitivity, that sense that and oh, god, I think what a beautiful way to start to prepare for bringing a child into your family. However, that child is brought into your family with some attunement and preparation, in a sense, knowing that you will have sensitivities. 

We all have something interesting. And I think part of the challenge is this, you know, this you're you enter into parenthood, you know, or caregiving. And we are presented with a picture of you got like, you know, nine-month-old on your hip from week two, you know, and plenty of sleep and you're out in the world and everything is fine, you know?

Bridget: Right. And they're just so cute.

Audra: You're out with your friends, you know, doing your thing. Right. And how often does that happen? Never.

Bridget: Ever. 

Justin: Yeah, well, I would imagine so. There's got to be this double this like reactive thing going on. So there's the underlying issues, maybe history of trauma or whatever the case is. And then we have these acute symptoms that are bringing clients to you and then is likely shame on top of this that why aren't I just the perfect, happy mom?

Bridget: Oh yeah, Big time, big time. And I mean, I love that you noticed that, because I feel like that's probably like top three themes in pretty much like all perinatal clients that I see is like some aspect of shame of why am I not enjoying this? Why am I not loving my baby? I'm not you know, I'm not the mom that I want to be. I'm disappointed in who my baby is. I'm disappointed that my partner is now and a lot of...

Audra: A lot of should’s. 

Bridget: Of why am I having such a hard time? And everybody else, you know, on Instagram is so beautiful and happy and, you know, just all the bullshit. Right? 

Audra: Right. Yeah. 

Bridget: And so I think that but I think that that's the thing is that it is different in the perinatal period, but it's also like shame kind of rules all of us, like in all of our challenges, like wherever we are finding struggle. You usually don't have to dig too far to find the shame. Right. 

And so I feel like that's that's often like in terms of the patterns that you're asking about, like those are the patterns that I see. But it just looks a little different on everyone. And then too like with that is like the pattern of like expectations versus reality parenting. And I just think that in a way that's part of it, because you can't I mean, you guys know, like you can probably be told over and over again before you have children, like “Watch out. It's hard. This is hard, this sucks. This is not fun. It's not going to be what you think.” And you're like, “yeah, yeah, it'll be fine.” And then all of a sudden your baby comes and you're like “fuck.”

Audra: You can’t know, until you know. Right, something that until you've experienced it, you haven't experienced it.

Justin: So there's like another layer here. And something that really led us into this work is that I think for parents of our generation, I think just anyone who's had a child in the last maybe 15 or 20 years, parenting is like a life project. It's like one of the most important, if not the most important things that we ever will do. And we feel like this is so important to us. You know, this is what we want to do. 

And then it happens and it's so hard and there's so many challenges, and now not only that, but now we have Instagram or whatever else going on in your do you know, like just lots of feedback that you're doing it wrong. I can imagine that just having this sense that not only is this hard and I'm seeing other people who seem to be doing it just fine, but like this thing is super important to me. It's not something that I can just be like, you know, whatever. I tried. I'll just tennis and, you know, I didn't really like tennis that much.

Bridget: Yeah, well, it is. And I think that that is why it's so important, but also like why it has the potential to be so transformative and meaningful for people. Because I think I mean, not to say that like parenting my kid is all about me, but like in some ways it is all about me. It's about her. But it's also, them. But it's about me also really looking super close at my shirt and like working with all of the, I mean, like I'm a therapist. I've been in therapy like the majority of my life. And becoming a parent made me see myself and look at my darkness in a way that I had never even touched.

Justin: Oh, heck yeah. Oh, that's so powerful. 

Bridget: I just think that it's really, I think it's painful and excruciating, but I think with the right support and reflection and space, like I actually think I'm going to sound really out there and woo-woo, but I'm kind of like is how we can heal the world. 

Audra: Yes.

Justin: This is why we're doing The Family Thrive. 

Audra: Yeah. No, it's that. So I'm a visual person. And for those listening, not that I can help visualize this anymore, but I'm seeing something like an onion or something with many, many layers. And I just want to like recap them really quick, because I'm hoping that there might be some moms who listen to this who then get, are able to get a greater sense of the entire landscape and geography for themselves if they have been thinking of this as just an intensely personal issue. There's so much more to it than that. So it is all we bring with us into parenthood. Right. 

So it is our unresolved trauma as our shadow work. All of this that we're bringing into it. And then we have the actual like physical or hormonal, very often trauma of childbirth and the major physicality to it. And then you have the, all of the compounded kind of emotional things. Then you have the expectations of what parenthood would be. You have the expectations of what you think it's going to be parenting, but it's actually caregiving, you know, at the beginning.

Bridget: Right. 

Audra: You have the expectation of what your baby's going to be, your expectation with your partners are going to be. You have the expectations of maybe what your family will be and how they'll respond, and they have their expectations on you. And then you've got the stories. And so you've got like the social, cultural, sometimes even historic, you know, aspects of this coming forward and landing on your experience of one day not having a baby, the next day having a baby and being charged with this little human life as all of these layers around it. That's huge. 

Bridget: Yeah. It is. 

Audra: And we, I think in our culture, in our society, we like, you know, give you a balloon and some flowers and say welcome to the rest of your life. You know, but this is a profoundly monumental change. But I love about what you just said before is that, yes, it's all of that. But in that walking through, like doing the work through that contains within it the potential for our transformation and the transformation of the world.

Bridget: Yeah, totally. Totally. I love your visualization of that. I think it makes a lot of sense. I think that, like, I always kind of hesitate to go there because I feel like just I'm not like a super sunshiny, idealistic person in general. So it always feels a little strange. 

But I do I think this is something that I have really come to understand and also believe is that the health of children, but also of the family is rooted in the health and well-being of the mom. And I understand that there's a lot of ways in which that can be problematic to say that about families with obviously like alternative structures or families where there is no mom or..

Audra: Or systemic issues or inequity.

Bridget: Yeah, absolutely. And so but if we kind of just look at it like biologically, physiologically, I still do really stand by that. But like the health of the mom is the health of the child, the partner, the family and then our community, really. And obviously also treating those families where that's not the structure in a similar way with similar care is really important. But I just think that that really needs to be made front and center, because when you look at all of those layers, if you really like peel it back, I feel like that is what is at the center of it. 

Audra: At the heart of it. 

Justin: Yeah. Beautiful.

Audra: But speaking of the health of the mother, I'm curious to know, because we've had a wonderful guest on this podcast, Tiffani Ghere, who specializes in feeding. And she's a dietitian and she actually works for a she is like an amazing lactation specialist who also is working on for a start-up, bringing better formula to this country. And it reminds me of the conversation of fed is best versus breast is best. 

And there seems to be a shift happening in this country where we're starting to understand that the mental health of the mother and the health of the mother is primary key number one, and the focus on exactly how a baby is fed and the kind of the disproportionate focus, and sometimes depending on the setting you're in, can detract from the health of the mother. That it is really kind of a partnership. Are you seeing A: this conversation in your practice and are you seeing these changes as well?

Bridget: Totally. Totally. I think, you know, if we think about like reasons that people end up in my office, especially for new moms, you know, brand new babies, first time. I mean, I don't have a number like to actually quote, but I would guess it's like half related to issues around breastfeeding and feeding. And the stress that's placing on her, the mom, and on the partner and on the whole kind of support system and on baby a lot of the time. 

So, you know, it looks a lot of different ways for different people. And, you know, I feel like through my own experience and my own challenges with that, with my oldest, I feel like I really kind of had a shift within myself from like this is the ultimate good breastfeeding and not just the nutrition, but also the kind of attachment and like sort of psychological, emotional advantages that are, you know, that we get through that to really coming to understand that like all of that, truly like I mean, I'm going to be like super basic about it. Like all of that is just bullshit. If mom's mental health is not ok, like it just doesn't matter what I mean, it doesn't matter. 

You can give the kid truckloads of breast milk and if mom is suicidal or not bonded and connecting or if that partnership is disintegrating because of the stress around breastfeeding, then it's worthless. Like it's truly, and so I know a lot of people would argue with me around that, but I just obviously like getting very specific.

Justin: Not here.

Audra: I think that's changing. Yeah, I really do. My hope anyway.

Bridget: And I think it's like a good challenge for us to like to work and like exist in this world, to be in that in-between where it's like it's not that breastfeeding isn't wonderful. It's amazing. I breastfed my kids. It's incredible like when it works. It's an incredible experience for all. And I feel really fortunate that I got to do it. But I think like when you think about things like shame, I mean, I am working with moms who have four and five-year-olds who are still working through the shame of not being able to breastfeed in the way that they imagined. And it's like that's just not ok.

Audra: It's not ok. Thank you. It is. No, it is. No, it doesn't have to be this way.

Justin: So I imagine one of the biggest issues is that breastfeeding seems to me the first and maybe the most powerful, like physical manifestations of mom providing for a baby, mom caring for. It's like the most. Oh, my god, it's the most emotionally powerful instance of my providing for baby.

Audra: You know this from experience as a dad. I mean, we had significant issues with Max feeding at first, our 14-year-old and Justin went to, we were in Santa Monica. He went to the local like breastfeeding support store. And he's like, I need a nipple that is like the closest thing to a human nipple because we are going to make this work. And they were like, “Sir, we will not sell that to you.”

Justin: Yeah, they refuse to sell it to me. Yeah.

Bridget: Get out. Oh, my god.

Justin: They were like, she just needs to try harder or something. Or she needs like lactation consultants or whatever you... 

Bridget: Yeah, like you need to spend more money on a lactation consultant first.

Audra: Yeah, right. Whose focus was they were just like just shove his face. I mean, it would just shove it. It wasn't like that baby finds its way down. I had a baby with this arching back, like refusing to do it. So he'd take home a hospital pump. This is 14 years later. And I feel like it was like yesterday for me. Take home a hospital-grade pump. And I was like, listen, I can pump and pump and pump, put it in a bottle. And when we go to the farmer's market, I'll have him under a nursing cover. No one will know. 

Justin: No one will know. This is Santa Monica, Cambridge is that we cannot be going around feeding our newborn with a bottle…

Bridget: No, no, no. So it's like a Scarlet Letter. 

Audra: Yes, it is. It is. And so when our second was born now 11 years ago in Orange County, where whatever you want to do, you know, it was just a very different environment. It was something that was just whatever you want to do, mom. But I remember a big moment with that was when they asked if they could take her to the nursery, if they could feed her some formula so I could rest as a mom who just had my second C-section. I was like, “Yes, yes, I will rest.”

Bridget: And thank you. 

Audra: And thank you, which is something that is learned. So that brings me to another part of this, which is that bringing the self-care into it, where we feel like, yes, these are the elemental foundational things. The other thing that I've heard is maybe one of the bigger issues for moms is birth. Method of birth choice, you know, kind of like birthing methods, and so I’ve heard significant accounts of traumas around like not wanting C-section, but needing a C-section, wanting a VBAC, but not beyond the get one. And then now, more recently, C-section mom saying, you know, my child was also birthed, like this is a legitimate form of birth. 

Bridget: Absolutely. 

Audra: You know, child wouldn’t be here if it wasn't for this. So a lot of...

Bridget: And you go and you went through a process, even if it was a C-section, that's still a process that your body goes through. 

Audra: Yes. Yes, absolutely. And so a lot of trauma and difficulty around all of the different associations with how we bring these children into the world. And that is, it's a lot it's.

Bridget: I think that speaks to the layers that you were describing before. Right. Because in all of this, it's like there's a million different entry points for all the shame. Right. And it truly I feel like this happens a lot like this comes up a lot in conversations I have with clients or just other moms. 

If it doesn't matter what you do, you're going to be losing essentially in some area. You might feel like, ok, well, I got this part right or I got this part right. But there's always going to be an area where you feel like I either didn't get the experience that I want or I didn't do it well enough or I didn't do it right. And now I'm kind of like having to pay for that either in some consequence with my kid or consequence with my partner, or even just in how I feel within myself. You know, like the opportunity for shame is just like...

Audra: Embedded through that whole onion. And so how do you think we, as moms, ok, the assumption I'm making and asking this question is that we as moms don't always show up really well for each other and that's, I think a lot of times we're bringing our stuff in. Right. Just like the boundaries that you talked about with everything, just like our boundaries around parenting, as friends we can often bring our own baggage in and not really hold the space for those around us. Do you think we can show up better for each other? Do you think we're capable of...

Bridget: I do. I mean, I think that like, you know, through having conversations like this, I think that that can be possible for sure. What I think is really important is just kind of naming all of the really shitty messages that we receive. Right. And naming that maybe they have good intention. 

Again, you know, breastfeeding is wonderful. But when it starts to switch into something that's like generating shame or pressure or whatever, then it's not working anymore. And I feel like, my sense is like if women, families, everyone could start to kind of see the parent, let's just say more generally, the parent is like the center of the family health. Right. That would really shift how we talk about that. Right. Because then if we had that understanding among us, then when your friend comes to you and is like, I'm having a really hard time breastfeeding and I'm really stressed out, the go-to wouldn't be like, we'll just try harder. It would be like, ok, well, what do you need to feel, ok? 

Audra: Right. 

Bridget: Do you need to try more or do you need to quit or do you need something out or whatever? So I do think it's possible. I just think that like I think there's a lot of work to do.

Audra: That's a powerful shift, though, that you're talking about. I mean, I think the shift that  you're referring to is really amazing. And I think it also represents a way that we can. 

We've talked with another therapist or friend, Jenny Walters, around the use of language and creating kind of the growth of language that is empowering us to show up for each other. And I think that this is something with parenthood and caregiving that we can do. 

If we say I love the point of it, we can start with the health of that parent and then everything else from that, it's like starting with quality of life over treatment method when it comes from our nonprofit background. Right. Start with the quality of that life. 

And then we say, it sounds like when you talk about needing a C-section, for example, you know, sounds like that maybe saved your life or your baby's life. You know, this is something that's powerful. Like this is almost miraculous that we can do this, you know? So I love the shift that you're talking about. I'd like for us to be able to do that work and support that shift in The Family Thrive.

Justin: So I want to be selfish here and just ask a little bit about dad. 

Bridget: Yeah. Of course. Yeah.

Justin: So you work exclusively with moms, but I'm wondering what you’re hearing, what you're seeing from these new moms in regards to the challenges that the new dads face. What are these dads going through? How… Well, so I'll start with that. What are the challenges? And then how can dads get their act together so they can be more supportive?

Bridget: Yeah, I mean, I think that like, you know, issues of support of the partner are always an element, I think. I just think it's hard, right? Like it's hard to find that balance even when dads or partners are most involved, motivated, and active participants. It's just really hard as new parents to like find what is that new groove going to be. 

And so I think that like where I am usually hearing about that is trying to navigate. How do I navigate this new relationship with my partner? And like a lot of the time of women, it's about working with resistance around, like asking for help and then accepting the help that's given if it's not exactly what is wanted. Right. And so to me, I feel like the most effective way to do that is working with the couple, because I think it's like, it only goes so far if it's just mom in the session talking about it, because dad obviously has their own experience. 

But also just big picture, dads also go through like postpartum mental health challenges and depression and anxiety and trauma come up for dads like almost as often as it happens for mom. 

Justin: At least from the couple's work, have you seen are there underlying issues same where, you know, maybe some unprocessed trauma coming up?

Bridget: I think a lot of it and I think it is very much about that, about where they're kind of coming from when they arrived in parenthood. But I think it's also something I see a lot here, especially in Savannah, which is obviously like a very different kind of culture than what I'm accustomed to, and probably for me guys, too, coming from, you know, more like huge urban environment. And I think there's still so much just around general mental health stigma and like resistance around emotional vulnerability that men experience that I'm seeing in a lot of dads and like just, you know, basically toxic masculinity. Right. 

So I feel like a lot of times I'm either seeing it in couples or hearing about it from mom, a dad who is clearly struggling maybe with mental health or addiction or trauma or whatever, and it's completely cut off to that struggle. And so in a lot of ways, mom is showing up with her own challenges, but I almost see it as like kind of a symptom of this other issue. Right. It's almost, it's kind of like a scapegoat. Right.

Like mom shows up because it's more socially acceptable for a mom to say, “well, I'm kind of depressed after I had a baby” than it is for dad to say, “well, you know, I'm up all night because I'm suicidal and can't stop imagining horrible things” or whatever, you know. So to me, it's also just about like talking about that and also just trying to work against, you know, our sort of patriarchal structures.

Justin: Oh, my gosh, and there’s so much... 

Bridget: That reinforces… 

Justin: Oh, my gosh. There's so much work to do. Yeah. This is one thing that I hope that we can do a lot more workaround with the The Family Thrive is dads…

Bridget: Absolutely. 

Justin: And emotions. Like can we as dads start to get in touch with our own emotions? Because for most boys grow up in North America at least, most of our emotions are suppressed from a young age. And then finally and then when we have kids, what we end up doing is suppressing their emotions because we don't…

Audra: And ours.

Justin: We don't want to deal with it. Yeah. Yeah. Like your challenging emotions are too much for me. So I need to…

Bridget: Or too much. 

Justin: Yeah. So I need to suppress those. Yeah.

Bridget: Right. And I think, kind of similar to what I'm saying, like a lot of the times I feel like I am seeing a mom in therapy who is having a lot of marital or relationship trouble, a lot of trouble sort of managing transition into parenthood. But the more and more I dig, I realize she's sort of like expressing the challenges of the dad and a lot of ways. And she has kind of been identified as the problem person. And I mean, this has happened more times than I can say where I'm often like, I really think I have the wrong person in this room right now. You know, like.

Justin: Oh, my gosh. 

Bridget: Yeah, that's hard to deal with, especially if dad is resistant or just not interested in hearing that. You know. Like the therapist saying that is not necessarily going to win him over. But I think, again, it comes back to like those larger conversations that we just have about like what it means to be a parent, what it means to be men and women, have emotions, be vulnerable, like. And probably it just comes back to how we raise our kids. Right? Like I don't, I know you guys have a boy. I don't have boys. But I think about this a lot with parents, with boys. It's like it must feel like a tremendous burden to have to like really reprogram how boys exist in the world, like emotionally.

Justin: Oh, yeah, because...

Audra: You're still up against the world. 

Justin: Yeah, they have to go out in the world and be friends with other boys who are, you know, having their emotions suppressed. 

Bridget: Yeah. 

Justin: Yeah, yeah. Mhm. Selfishly, now, I want to move on to talk more about practices, so I mean, I would love to just start with me and say, Bridget, how can you help me? But I'll start with new moms and dads. And so are there some daily practices or some regular practices that you recommend to your clients where you say, you know, if you can just take a little bit of time to do this or take a little bit of that? 

Bridget: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think with practices like it always depends on the person because what works for you might not necessarily work for the next person. We're all just sort of wired differently. But I think with new parents, especially like new moms, like too, first three to six months, one of the ways they make some prescriptions, and one of them is like you have to get outside every single day. And it doesn't matter like if it's pouring rain or a hundred degrees like it is a lot of the time. But like you have to like see the sky and see the earth and like get some sensory input from outside every day. Even if it's just for like 30 seconds, you have to do that every day. And then also, you have to have some time away, physically away from your baby, where you can't see, hear, smell or touch them every single day. And again, like that could be a minute or whatever she might be able to tolerate, because some moms really can't tolerate that. It's too anxiety-provoking. 

So those are really big ones. And then I also just think I feel like what I'm sort of always working with our clients around, but especially the new parents, is trying to learn about and understand how you best regulate your own emotions and nervous system, because I think this is the thing again, this comes back to what you were saying, like we have to like teach our kids this, but alot of us don't know how to do this for ourselves as well. And truly, like I didn't really before. 

I mean, I feel like I had an idea of like, well, you know, I like yoga. I like to take a walk. I like the beach. But that was sort of the extent of it. And now I really, really know, like these are the things that I actively can do to regulate myself. 

And so that's something that I'm always trying to really work on, is like identifying what are those things? Offering out some options based on what I feel like might work for the person, but also just having them experiment with different things because like for some people, meditating and breathing is great. And for other people, it's like the worst. And they need to go like run 10 miles or whatever. Yeah. And it doesn't matter what it is, it's just about do you feel a sense of like your body and your nervous system have been regulated, ok, then do that. And like we have to carve out time for that. And I think that can feel, all of those things can feel like a lot to a new parent with a little baby who is totally overwhelmed. But it's also like it's totally possible…

Justin: It’s vital.

Bridget: And it's totally possible.

Justin: And it's vital. Like I, I think I didn't really understand this, I think, until our son was diagnosed. That if I am not taking care of myself, I'm actually doing him a disservice, like I can't show up for him or I'll get triggered a lot easier or, you know, so I have to take care of myself. And so it's not just like a luxury of like, so these prescriptions, I can imagine there are some moms who are like, well, I can't possibly take the time to go outside. And I mean, you know, I have so much to do. And it's like, no, no, no, this is vital. Like you're doing your child a service when you take care of yourself.

Bridget: Totally. Well, that's so true, and I feel like I am often using that reframe, especially with the new mama of like this, because when I hear all the time, it's like, well, I feel like I'm selfish or selfish if I go do yoga for five minutes. And I'm just like, you are not doing this for you. You are doing this for your entire family. All the kids, your partner. Make no mistake that this kind of self-care I feel like it's talked about a lot. It's like, oh, I go get a manicure, I go get a massage. Right, totally. And I'm like, oh, that's nice. But that's not what this is. This is actually, it's the way I describe it ass like it's self-regulation. And you are actually doing that for everyone else who relies on you. It's not for you.

Audra: What are some of the big, big or I should say most common refrains or as you put it, or common areas like this that you're sharing with parents? So itself, self-care is care for everyone. What are some of the other ones that you're that that are common for you

Bridget: Let’s see, I feel like that's probably the biggest one. But then I think also kind of coming back to the shame piece, I feel like a big reframe is that kind of language that we used to speak to ourselves when we're in shame is harmful to us in a way that also can really harm our children. And so I think the reframe I often use is what would it be like for you to use this kind of language with your kid? Right. And like, what could it be like, even if it doesn't feel authentic, even if you don't believe it, because most people are like, that's bullshit, but like just pretend. What would it be like to talk to yourself the way that you talk to your kid, just to kind of feel into like how weird that is, you know?

Audra: Yeah. That’s a powerful practice. 

Justin: Or what you said, talk to yourself the way you talk to your kid. Did you mean talk to your kid the way you talk to yourself?

Bridget: No, I mean, like it's, for example, if you have like a sweet name that you call your kid like “Oh, sweetie. Oh…” 

Justin: Ohh, talk to yourself…

Bridget: You know, you're like, oh, it's ok that you broke your favorite toy. Like everything would be ok. I'm going to take care of it.

Audra: With the same kind of compassion.

Justin: So the reason that I got mixed up was because I heard of this from another therapist about in regard to the inner critic, these, the self-shame that imagine yourself at age like three or four and saying that same thing to yourself, how stupid you are, how bad you know, and how this is such a powerful reframe for so many people and many people when in therapy, this is what I heard. We'll start to cry when they think about talking to themselves at three or four, the way they talk to themselves now.

Bridget: Totally. Totally. I think that's such a powerful practice. And just thinking about practices, I think it's not one that everyone is available for. But if that is, if it feels like that's a path that someone can go down, I absolutely try to guide them down that, especially because like kind of like what we're talking about, like having children can be like incredibly triggering of our own childhood shit. Right. 

And what I see a lot of the time is like, so you had something particularly traumatic or challenging going on, like at age five when your kid gets to be age five it's like, you know, all of this comes back. Right. So similar to what you're talking about, like I've suggested for some clients who are dealing with things like that, like finding a photo of themselves at that age and just like sticking it on the bathroom mirror and just kind of having that kid be part of like your everyday experience that you're like walking by and thinking about, because it's really hard to be shitty to that little kid or teenager or whatever age it is, but kind of like identifying the moment that feels like the most traumatic or there's the most pain leftover and trying to like center your vision of yourself at that age. 

Justin: Yeah. So I…

Bridget: Kids really help us do that because they're right there.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. So I love the reframe then of talking to yourself as you talk to your kids. So the same love that you're able to show your kid.

Audra: Yeah. It's similar to like, you know, if you, would you talk to your best friend. That's right. Would you really talk to anyone else this way?

Bridget: To anyone that way. Usually not. Yeah. 

Audra: Yeah. That’s so powerful.

Bridget: Yeah. Totally, totally. So like yeah. I mean, like a lot of that kind of falls into what I would call self-compassion work, which I, you know, there is a whole kind of practice around self-compassion that I will draw from a lot. But I feel with moms especially, that applies somewhere because it's really even for the mom who might be like, “No, I'm totally confident and I love myself and I never should talk to myself.” There's still some element of like, but you're not actually being that kind to you.

Audra: Mm-hmm. Do you, in relationship to this, and I know it's individual. It's not everyone by any means that I, we can only, you know, attempt to generalize a little bit. We talk about the dangers of... dangers, but issues with social media and the comparisons, the FOMO like all of these things. Do you find with any of your clients that it's helpful for them to take breaks or...

One of our therapists said, you know, she's like, I teach, try to teach like a mindful skill of as soon as I get that, like, oh, this isn't good. That first like uhhhh feeling. Turn it off. 

Bridget: Totally. Yeah. Oh, no, totally. I feel like I'm often kind of talking people through like harm reduction with social media. 

Audra: Harm reduction, yeah. 

Bridget: Like. And I think that that's a good way of doing it, of like noticing when do you start to spin out or when does your body start to react and shutting it off. But I think, too, like this is one thing I've suggested a lot is like if it feels really hard to take a break from social media, like, okay, keep it, but give yourself, like make a choice of like I give myself 20 minutes a day and then in those 20 minutes, you like set a timer and you do like full on deep dive, like look at. Get as much as you can and just go, go wild. And then that's it. And then you're done. Because obviously, like for all of us, there's the capacity to just like lose an hour, just scrolling or whatever. And then all of a sudden you don't realize, oh, wait a second, I feel really shitty, you know.

Audra: Mhm. Catches up with you later, huh? It makes me think too, as we can talk about this maybe the next time we get to talk with you, the next chat.

Justin: Yes, we have to have you back. 

Audra: But screen time, for example, with the kids, you know, it always occurs to me like if I had a 20 minute timer, we could do the 20 minutes together, you know, because I put them on a timer or a time limit. And then they see now continuing to go. And it's like, well, I'm working, you know, I am working, you know, really 100% of that is work. No, not at all. So I do think that self regulation has really powerful modeling. And I think that there's a lot in that that the family can benefit from as well.

Bridget: Totally.

Justin: How can people find out more about Bridget Cross?

Bridget: I have a website that's probably the best way, and it is Bridgetcrosslcsw.com. And then I have a Facebook also, which is also a bridgetcrosslcsm.com. So those are my ways of finding me.

Justin: Yeah, perfect. Perfect. All right. So our final three questions that we ask all of our guests. First, Bridget, if you were able to put a Post-it note on every parent's refrigerator tomorrow morning, what would that Post-it note say?

Bridget: Yeah, I saw this question and I went through a million different answers from simple to complicated. Yeah. And so this is totally cheating. But I want to give you two. One is just like to say like you are not alone, because I just think that can be really soothing to one's nervous system, like on every level. And can mean a lot of different things to different people. But the other is, it's like a really quick poem that I have, like put around on Post-it notes for myself in different moments of life by Raymond Carver. And it's actually, he's a fiction writer who wrote like in the ‘70s and ‘80s. And it was like amazing and wonderful. But it's a little poem that he wrote that I think it's actually on his tombstone. But I will read it to you. I pulled it up because I wanted to make sure, I kind of know it by heart, but I didn't want to mess it up. Can I read it to you?

Audra: Of course. 

Bridget: And so it's just a few lines. It says: “And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on this earth. So I feel like every parent needs that, right?

Audra: Yes.

Justin: Yes, we need that on our refrigerator. 

Bridget: We do. We do. I think it's like, you know, it's soothing that we need so that we can soothe.

Justin: That kind of covers the next question. Is there a recent quote that you've read that has changed the way you think or feel?

Bridget: Yeah, that's a good one. It's not really recent to me, but I feel like it's one that I always come back to. There's a book that I've been reading and it's kind of like all about my jam right now. It's called Call of the Wild by Kimberly Ann Johnson. And she is amazing. She's like a somatic practitioner and she was a postpartum doula. And she wrote an amazing book called The Fourth Trimester that's about all of what we're talking about. But this is about somatic practices for healing trauma. And I don't have the actual quote of it, but I'm going to paraphrase it, which is basically that “We work in the body to heal trauma in the present for the past.”

Audra: Oh yes. 

Bridget: And so that to me, I mean, I've been kind of in this book for a few weeks now, but that has sort of really stuck with me just as like it a little bit reverses, I think, how like talk therapy usually works, which is like talking about the present, talking about the past to heal the present. I actually think that it needs to be reversed.

Justin: Beautiful. 

Audra: I think well, we're going to add the book to the show notes for sure.

Bridget: And it's an amazing, amazing book.

Audra: Something that I'd like to read, it’s making me think a book club might be in order.

Justin: So it was working in the body and the present to heal the past?

Bridget: Yes. 

Justin: Is that right? 

Bridget: Totally. Totally so. And that yeah, that is the kind of trauma, healing work that she is writing about in this book, that that's the focus of it.

Justin: So the final question is one that we ask every guest, because as you all know, parenting isn't always sunshine and roses. And so it's nice to just remember what we love about childhood and what we love about kids. And so, Bridget, what do you love about kids?

Bridget: I will answer like what I love most about my kids, because that’s mostly my experience of kids. For the most part, and I think it's very common, is that kids, at least younger ones, exist in the present. Like they're the ultimate kind of mindful present awareness and being in the moment. And that's whether they're like experiencing something emotionally or telling or imagining something or drawing something. 

Audra: Yeah. So that they're automatically, by nature, present beings.

Bridget: Yeah, totally. They're like in the moment and like I think especially being like in play with them is the ultimate, like mindfulness practice or like practice of being in the moment, regardless of what is going on in our own internal storms, you know.

Audra: I love that. I think it's a really powerful reflection. It resonates a lot with me. And the thing that came up for me when you mentioned it is, again, kind of some of the theme of what we're talking about today is sometimes or most often I know they'll be present and it's an inspiring, beautiful place to be with them. But so often we're not present and we're like, want to get shoes on and get out the door or go, do you like whatever the things are. 

And so I think like we then bring that cloud of everything else we're thinking about into their present presence. And I think it's such a good reminder too, that is a state to be honored. Yes, we have a kind of boundary. Things need to get done in our days and all of that. But to know that this isn't just like in insolence or, you know, that your children don't have you in mind or whatever it might be, it's like another way, state of being almost.

Bridget: Yeah. It's like closely connected, I think, to like the sense of compassion, right. because we're not always able to be present with them because it's life and we need to get up there and get the shoes on the right, whatever. But I think that like I have found anyway that my kids are just like a good reminder that like I can be in the moment. And also that like if I screw up a moment and like yell at somebody or I'm not so nice…

Justin: There's another moment.

Bridget: That's what I love about my kids and kids in general.

Audra: It's so nice to meet you. So nice to talk with you. Thank you so much. This is a fantastic conversation. And I really hope that we can work together more. And I think what you bring to the world is so valuable and needed. And you have, you know, a beautiful practice here in Savannah. And we'd like to be a part of bringing you to an audience that needs you outside of Savannah too. 

Bridget: Yeah, thank you. I'm so glad for to meet you guys. I'm just excited for the work that you guys are doing, too.

Justin: Thank you so much for your time. This has been amazing. I can't wait to do it again.

Bridget: I know. It's fun. Thank you. 

Audra: Ok, bye.

Justin: Hey, thanks for listening to The Family Thrive podcast. If you like what you heard, please subscribe, tell two friends and head on over to Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts and give us a review. We're so grateful you've chosen to join us on this Family Thrive journey.

Justin: Bridget Cross is quite literally helping to save the world. She's doing this as a perinatal psychotherapist who helps moms and dads grow through the mental and emotional challenges that come with pregnancy, childbirth and raising a newborn. 

I wish to god we had a Bridget when our kids were born 14 and 11 years ago. Bringing a new life into this world is a joyous moment and we all see the pictures on social media of a happy but tired mom and dad with the brand new baby, but what we don't see is the numbness, anxiety, marital conflict, rage and overwhelm that is also a very real part of the parenting journey. 

In this episode, Bridget talks with me and Audra about the mental and emotional challenges new parents face. The role of shame and motherhood, the role of avoidance and fatherhood, the stress of this new school year, and so much more. Truly, this episode is a must-listen for anyone who is a new parent, an old parent, maybe a parent someday, or has a new parent in their life or an old parent in their life. So it's for pretty much everybody. So without further ado, here's our conversation with the amazing Bridget Cross. 

I have a bunch of questions that are more general. And so I wanted to start off with something that's real and that's happening for all of us right now and happening for every parent right now, and that's going back to school. 

And so as a therapist, what's coming up for your clients right now? What's happening for them as they're coming in to see you? What is this moment like for you as a therapist?

Bridget: Well, I think there is so much anxiety and fear that I think so many, I mean, I see so many parents of young kids, but also people who are pregnant or who have new babies. And I think anxiety during this whole period of time has been running so high. And I think in this moment that we're in now thinking about going back to school and like re-emerging from this sort of dark closet that we've been in. 

You know, it's just it's bringing up a lot, because I think for some people, it's also really exciting. There's like a sense of like resuming normal or feeling like your kids are going to be able to get some sense of normal. But also, like, you know, like we're all feeling there's that sense of like how long will it last and can I rely on it? And will it be safe? And I think it's something that I fear for a lot of people who've had kids like, especially in the last few years, like some newer parents, is I think that like the experience of going through like shutdown's and quarantine's and homeschooling and having to stay home, in some ways is like reactivating for some people, like the trauma that they experienced, like in postpartum time, if they did experience that. 

And so, like, you know, the feeling that maybe you two can relate to of like having a little baby and being stuck at home and having like your whole life kind of snatched away from you in the way that it can feel like when you first have a new baby, especially your first one. 

I feel like I'm hearing from a lot of clients that sense of like I'm like reliving that all over again. Like I thought that I had kind of like gotten out of that phase of feeling sort of trapped in parenthood or stuck at home or like unable or like not being able to feel my freedom. Like I'd finally moved away from that. And then Covid happened and I'm like right back there again. And so I think that like especially for moms who struggled emotionally or in mental health, like especially in postpartum, that has felt really challenging and painful for them to kind of go back to that place. 

Audra: To some like Covid is triggering for many of us.

Bridget: Yeah. 

Audra: And do you find, one thing I'm curious about you, because you're a mother of younger children as well. And so this must be an unusual experience, kind of to be able to maybe, I don't know if you do, but do you identify with some of what your patients are going through? Like you're kind of we're all in this together to some degree.

Bridget: Totally. Yeah. I mean, I think this is sort of a unique moment for me professionally where, you know, just in Covid, I'm going through something personally that literally all of my clients are also going through and there really hasn't been anything else, you know, other than just kind of like what's going on maybe politically or elections or something like that. 

But nothing like this where each and every person is being deeply, personally affected, emotionally taxed at the same time that I am. And so trying to redefine that line between like, what is my role? How do I show up for people and support them and kind of hold that space for them? While also kind of going through my own thing. 

Justin: Wow. I mean, wow, that's intense.

Bridget: I mean, in a way, that's like that's my job, right? Like that's partly what my job is, is to manage that for myself so that I can show up for the people that I work with. But it's for sure been different with this. 

And I think, in a lot of ways it's actually been helpful because, you know, I have a lot of clients who have kids, you know, around my kids’ ages. I have clients who go to school with my kids, whose kids go to school with my kids. And so it just kind of having that common thread. It can be a little challenging in terms of personal boundaries. But I think in general, it's a win because people feel like, “Ok, you know, I'm going through this but not alone,” which is like really what most parents, I feel, really need to hear.

Justin: And I just really quick, it strikes me that I like had this reaction hearing, like, yeah, you're going through the same intense stuff that your clients are. And then how can you work through the intensity of this while also showing up for your clients? And then what struck me was like, oh, that's parenting as well. Like, I'm going to do all this and how can I show up for my kids who are going, yeah. So there’s layers here.

Bridget: Totally. Well, I mean, and I would say about being exactly as you're saying, like being in the role, that is the role I do for my job has like all of these exact parallels and being a mom, for me not to say that I'm a mom to my clients because I’m not. But it is just like what you said, to keep your own shit in check so that you can show up for your kids’ shit. 

Audra: Absolutely. 

Bridget: And sometimes we do that really well and sometimes not at all.

Justin: Yeah. Bridget, that is the theme of The Family Thrive for us.

Audra: Yeah, it really is, because I think so many of us come from a generation where I mean, this isn't this has not been kind of like the pass-down wisdom. I think just so many of us experienced just like a complete lack of awareness parents around their own shit. 

And then the resulting consequences of just things kind of falling on to the family and being shared with the family and no boundaries and no awareness, in these ways. And so I do think it's a pretty radical shift and it's something that is for me anyway, empowering. You know, the thing that I, it's about me in so many ways, managing me. And...

Bridget: Totally.

Audra: Other things, sort of like fall in from there, you know. It's about the example I sat on top of that. But boundaries is definitely a big theme all the way around. And I think it's really powerful to hear that from you with regard to your life, it sounds like between clients and your family and your kids, kind of like a major theme and how you're able to manage all of it.

Bridget: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's a lot. And I mean, I will say too, for me, it's been kind of a relearning, not just with Covid, but also with being in Savannah. Because of a small town, it doesn't seem like it is, but it really is like it's just super teeny tiny. And I'm from New York and started work, you know, doing this work in New York and so in New York City anyway. I mean, I could live down the block from a client and never, ever see them.

Audra: Not a small town. 

Bridget: ... And I've just never had any experience of seeing clients outside of just a clinical space. And here it's basically just how it is. Like I see my clients at my kid's school. I see them at the grocery store, at the park. And so just having to kind of navigate like a new set of boundaries in general, but especially I think with Covid, it's like even more so.

Justin: So, Bridget, yeah, this is really fascinating, your work, that the parallels with motherhood and parenting. How did you get into this? So you are a perinatal therapist. And so you work exclusively with parents and exclusively with mothers, or do you see fathers as well?

Bridget: You know, I would love to see fathers, but sadly, I have not had any come to me on their own outside of the couple hours. Which I think kind of speaks a lot to just stigma around mental health and men and dads in general, obviously.

Justin: So when you were training as a therapist, did you know this is the work that you wanted to do?

Bridget: No, not at all. It's actually kind of a second career for me. But when I decided to go back to school for social work, which was in 2007, I actually thought that I wanted to work with teenagers, and that was sort of like my passion. I just felt like I was going to be what I wanted to do. I really wanted to be, you know I’d been in a lot of therapy. I feel like therapy was really powerful to me when I was a teenager and I was like, this is what I want to do. 

And then I went through social work school and you do various internships when you're in that program with different populations. And then I got a job pretty soon after social work school, working with teens and families in a really very challenging population, and pretty quickly realized that I don't want to work with teenagers at all. 

And not because they're not amazing, because they are fascinating and incredible. They're just for the family element of it, like doing the family work, I realized was just really not a strength of mine. So I ended up working for a long time, just in kind of like general adult mental health and community mental health in New York. 

So working in outpatient clinics and working with just all kinds of issues, but also in general with very, very sick people and with long-standing chronic mental illness, like very high-risk populations, but which was hard, but also like wonderful training, just in terms of exposure there are just so many different things. And then I had a baby and I mean, a lot happened between those things, but I had a baby and I moved here shortly after. She was about nine months old when we moved here.

Audra: Oh, no kidding. 

Bridget: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. She was super small. And I struggled quite a bit in pregnancy, even actually before pregnancy, but in pregnancy and also postpartum with my own just depression and trauma and challenges. And I just kind of became really interested. I was seeing a lot of moms and families in my practice anyway. And I was just realizing like, “Hey, I should get some training in this,” because I started kind of understanding like depression that occurs in the postpartum period and pregnancy. It's not the same as other depression, even though in general it is treated the same. It's like, “Oh, it's just depression,” but it's when you're pregnant or when you're postpartum. 

Audra: Right. Right. Right. 

Bridget: Yeah. And so I started doing some training in it, and then I started doing some like volunteer work for an organization called Postpartum Support International, and ended up just really connecting with like a whole network of perinatal clinicians and advocates and social justice aspect and all of that, and just kind of go really deep into that, and then over a few years of training ended up getting the certification that I have as a perinatal mental health provider. 

So it was a slow build because that child is now almost seven. But I'd say like in the last three or four years, my practice has been pretty much exclusively, not 100%, but probably about 75% in perinatal clients, which is amazing. And I feel like it's totally what I am truly meant to be doing. But it's not, just to get back to your question, it wasn't like where I started at all.

Audra: It's incredible. It's true. There's nothing like a calling that comes from your experience, that comes from a deep place of knowing, you know, seeing the need, identifying the need personally. And I'm really interested, going back to the start, like you knew that you were, you're called into the work of therapy from experiencing how life-changing this was for you, it sounds like as a teenager which brought into the world of teens and I had a curiosity around the teenage the work with that is the family work. Is it really the fact that you're the teenager isn't the work, it's the parents.

Bridget: 100%. And so, yeah, it is. And that's I think that that's the trick, is that the, I mean, this is a generalization, but I would say the majority of people who are bringing their children, but particularly teenagers to therapy are not very interested in hearing about anything other than what's wrong with their kid.

Justin: Fix this one.

Bridget: Fix that problem. Yeah, and that's true of all kids. I mean, even young, too, I think. But there's a lot that teenagers can do on their own in therapy without family support. But particularly, I was working in juvenile justice within the child protective system in Brooklyn, and that's a really super tough population where parents and families I mean, if the child is even living with the parents a lot of times with a guardian or a family member or in foster care, those adults just don't have the resources to participate in that child's care or healing at all because of their own stuff. 

Audra: And they need support, it sounds like, the parents.

Bridget: Yeah, totally. 

Audra: The caregiver or whoever it is.

Bridget: Yeah, the family totally. And so it's like a system, obviously, like a systemic problem. And there are many social workers, I think who’re really equipped with working with those populations. But I just kind of quickly realized that I was not going to be great at it because I noticed how quickly I would become really aligned with the kid and feel the sense of deep resentment and anger toward the family.

Audra: Oh… powerful.

Bridget: And I was like, I'm not going to be good at this and oriented this way because I have to really be able to hold all of it. And that just wasn't my, I just kind of recognized really quickly that that was not the strength of mine. And also just that I was like, I don't think I want to do this. So I shouldn't be doing it because I should only be doing this if I want to.

Audra: Oh, what a powerful observation. And for you to honor that and not try to force yourself into the space of holding the space. It sounds like identifying with this kid in so many ways is a strength, you know, but just in the setting for that work is something that would make it very difficult for you to do kind of what is expected in that role. And so coming into the space of working with mothers mostly, and this perinatal work sounds pretty incredible, because you really are working with the mom and dad.

Bridget: Right. 

Audra: There's a relationship there with the child, obviously. But it is more of that direct work. And out of a place of deep knowing and understanding. 

Justin: It feels, so in the public health, which is where I come from. Yeah. There's this broad idea that, you know, we in public health, we're going upstream like the doctors are working downstream. When a person gets sick, the doctors are, you know, fixing what's getting sick. But public health, we're going upstream and we're finding out what's making people sick in the first place. And so that feels kind of like your journey in a way above the, you know, working with these teenagers and the parents and seeing like, oh, this is you know, this is a mess. I could just get these parents like right when they have this kid.

Bridget: Well, totally. Well, that's so true. And then I also think like within particular populations or systems, like recognizing this is like a systemic thing. Right. Because with a lot of like what I was seeing in that job, it wasn't even the parent. I mean, it was like generations of trauma. Right. And like. And so there was this feeling of like overwhelmed with like I was also a really new, green clinician and I had really good support and supervision, but I was just kind of my brain exploding with like the hugeness of the problem, you know?

Audra: Absolutely. I have so much respect and awe of the folks who can bring themselves to systemic work. And I, my background is in education before getting into nonprofit work. And I am just totally, totally in awe.And I mean, I knew I've always known that I wouldn't be effective in a role with such an overwhelming, insurmountable, systemic, oppressive aspect to it. It really does take a special kind of person.

Bridget: Yes. It does. And I'm so glad those people are out there.

Audra: Me, too. Me too.

Justin: I want to make sure that we go as quickly into like that, that the core of what you do. So I really want to know what are the common mental and emotional challenges that new moms face? I mean, this seems to be the core of what you are working on.

Bridget: Most new moms find their way to me because they are really suffering and struggling with just how they're feeling. Typically, like I say, after our first baby, but it's not always like just be with whatever baby this is for the family. So seeing like a ton of depression, anxiety, and kind of like somatic symptoms.

Justin: So for the lay listener, somatic symptoms would be.

Bridget: Yeah. So, somatic symptoms being symptoms that are kind of taking up in the body. So like emotional distress or strain that's being expressed through your body, which doesn't mean that it's not real. It just means that it's connected to like an unprocessed emotion. 

So like an example would be a mom who maybe is really overwhelmed, stressed, panicky, and having migraines or having kind of chronic pain or maybe having a flare-up of an autoimmune disorder, things like that. 

So I guess what I'm saying is most people are finding their way to me because there's some particular like acute symptom that's coming on versus a sense of a more general I'm kind of worried about my mental health and I might want to get some support to make sure I'm healthy. I wish that they did. 

Audra: Yeah. The big red flag that totally just demands attention.

Bridget: Exactly. And a lot. And I would say too, like another big one is problems in the partnership, in the marriage or relationship with partner, can be like another reason that people find their way to me. But a lot of times it's the symptoms of depression. So it doesn't have to look necessarily like sadness, crying, low mood. It could be like “I feel nothing.” 

Justin: Yeah. 

Bridget: “I feel numb and totally disconnected from my baby. And I don't care.” Or like it could look like something I see a lot, actually in women is this kind of postpartum rage that happens where it's like “I'm not depressed, actually I feel kind of happy, but I keep raging at my partner or at my kid or my dog” or whatever, you know. So that, too, can be just sort of like a signal that things, that there's something to look at there.

Justin: Do you see as you kind of dig in with these clients, are there patterns that you see that are underneath this that are or are these symptoms are the deeper issues unique or are the deeper issues do you see patterns?

Bridget: Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, I'm thinking about it now. I'm thinking I definitely see patterns. I think there's a lot of trends, especially when we think of women and modern parenting culture. But I also, and so I think that like there can be trends and how that's expressed, like how their distress is being expressed. But I also think it's always really unique to the person and their particular history and like what they're arriving to parenthood with. Right. 

So like, for example, if you have a history of trauma, particularly like childhood or developmental trauma, that doesn't mean you're automatically going to have a hard time in parenthood. But it does set you up to like a particular sensitivity to maybe having a colicky baby or having trouble breastfeeding or having some conflict with your partner around adjusting. Right. It kind of there's vulnerabilities in people's particular individual background.

Audra: I can appreciate that. The sensitivity, that sense that and oh, god, I think what a beautiful way to start to prepare for bringing a child into your family. However, that child is brought into your family with some attunement and preparation, in a sense, knowing that you will have sensitivities. 

We all have something interesting. And I think part of the challenge is this, you know, this you're you enter into parenthood, you know, or caregiving. And we are presented with a picture of you got like, you know, nine-month-old on your hip from week two, you know, and plenty of sleep and you're out in the world and everything is fine, you know?

Bridget: Right. And they're just so cute.

Audra: You're out with your friends, you know, doing your thing. Right. And how often does that happen? Never.

Bridget: Ever. 

Justin: Yeah, well, I would imagine so. There's got to be this double this like reactive thing going on. So there's the underlying issues, maybe history of trauma or whatever the case is. And then we have these acute symptoms that are bringing clients to you and then is likely shame on top of this that why aren't I just the perfect, happy mom?

Bridget: Oh yeah, Big time, big time. And I mean, I love that you noticed that, because I feel like that's probably like top three themes in pretty much like all perinatal clients that I see is like some aspect of shame of why am I not enjoying this? Why am I not loving my baby? I'm not you know, I'm not the mom that I want to be. I'm disappointed in who my baby is. I'm disappointed that my partner is now and a lot of...

Audra: A lot of should’s. 

Bridget: Of why am I having such a hard time? And everybody else, you know, on Instagram is so beautiful and happy and, you know, just all the bullshit. Right? 

Audra: Right. Yeah. 

Bridget: And so I think that but I think that that's the thing is that it is different in the perinatal period, but it's also like shame kind of rules all of us, like in all of our challenges, like wherever we are finding struggle. You usually don't have to dig too far to find the shame. Right. 

And so I feel like that's that's often like in terms of the patterns that you're asking about, like those are the patterns that I see. But it just looks a little different on everyone. And then too like with that is like the pattern of like expectations versus reality parenting. And I just think that in a way that's part of it, because you can't I mean, you guys know, like you can probably be told over and over again before you have children, like “Watch out. It's hard. This is hard, this sucks. This is not fun. It's not going to be what you think.” And you're like, “yeah, yeah, it'll be fine.” And then all of a sudden your baby comes and you're like “fuck.”

Audra: You can’t know, until you know. Right, something that until you've experienced it, you haven't experienced it.

Justin: So there's like another layer here. And something that really led us into this work is that I think for parents of our generation, I think just anyone who's had a child in the last maybe 15 or 20 years, parenting is like a life project. It's like one of the most important, if not the most important things that we ever will do. And we feel like this is so important to us. You know, this is what we want to do. 

And then it happens and it's so hard and there's so many challenges, and now not only that, but now we have Instagram or whatever else going on in your do you know, like just lots of feedback that you're doing it wrong. I can imagine that just having this sense that not only is this hard and I'm seeing other people who seem to be doing it just fine, but like this thing is super important to me. It's not something that I can just be like, you know, whatever. I tried. I'll just tennis and, you know, I didn't really like tennis that much.

Bridget: Yeah, well, it is. And I think that that is why it's so important, but also like why it has the potential to be so transformative and meaningful for people. Because I think I mean, not to say that like parenting my kid is all about me, but like in some ways it is all about me. It's about her. But it's also, them. But it's about me also really looking super close at my shirt and like working with all of the, I mean, like I'm a therapist. I've been in therapy like the majority of my life. And becoming a parent made me see myself and look at my darkness in a way that I had never even touched.

Justin: Oh, heck yeah. Oh, that's so powerful. 

Bridget: I just think that it's really, I think it's painful and excruciating, but I think with the right support and reflection and space, like I actually think I'm going to sound really out there and woo-woo, but I'm kind of like is how we can heal the world. 

Audra: Yes.

Justin: This is why we're doing The Family Thrive. 

Audra: Yeah. No, it's that. So I'm a visual person. And for those listening, not that I can help visualize this anymore, but I'm seeing something like an onion or something with many, many layers. And I just want to like recap them really quick, because I'm hoping that there might be some moms who listen to this who then get, are able to get a greater sense of the entire landscape and geography for themselves if they have been thinking of this as just an intensely personal issue. There's so much more to it than that. So it is all we bring with us into parenthood. Right. 

So it is our unresolved trauma as our shadow work. All of this that we're bringing into it. And then we have the actual like physical or hormonal, very often trauma of childbirth and the major physicality to it. And then you have the, all of the compounded kind of emotional things. Then you have the expectations of what parenthood would be. You have the expectations of what you think it's going to be parenting, but it's actually caregiving, you know, at the beginning.

Bridget: Right. 

Audra: You have the expectation of what your baby's going to be, your expectation with your partners are going to be. You have the expectations of maybe what your family will be and how they'll respond, and they have their expectations on you. And then you've got the stories. And so you've got like the social, cultural, sometimes even historic, you know, aspects of this coming forward and landing on your experience of one day not having a baby, the next day having a baby and being charged with this little human life as all of these layers around it. That's huge. 

Bridget: Yeah. It is. 

Audra: And we, I think in our culture, in our society, we like, you know, give you a balloon and some flowers and say welcome to the rest of your life. You know, but this is a profoundly monumental change. But I love about what you just said before is that, yes, it's all of that. But in that walking through, like doing the work through that contains within it the potential for our transformation and the transformation of the world.

Bridget: Yeah, totally. Totally. I love your visualization of that. I think it makes a lot of sense. I think that, like, I always kind of hesitate to go there because I feel like just I'm not like a super sunshiny, idealistic person in general. So it always feels a little strange. 

But I do I think this is something that I have really come to understand and also believe is that the health of children, but also of the family is rooted in the health and well-being of the mom. And I understand that there's a lot of ways in which that can be problematic to say that about families with obviously like alternative structures or families where there is no mom or..

Audra: Or systemic issues or inequity.

Bridget: Yeah, absolutely. And so but if we kind of just look at it like biologically, physiologically, I still do really stand by that. But like the health of the mom is the health of the child, the partner, the family and then our community, really. And obviously also treating those families where that's not the structure in a similar way with similar care is really important. But I just think that that really needs to be made front and center, because when you look at all of those layers, if you really like peel it back, I feel like that is what is at the center of it. 

Audra: At the heart of it. 

Justin: Yeah. Beautiful.

Audra: But speaking of the health of the mother, I'm curious to know, because we've had a wonderful guest on this podcast, Tiffani Ghere, who specializes in feeding. And she's a dietitian and she actually works for a she is like an amazing lactation specialist who also is working on for a start-up, bringing better formula to this country. And it reminds me of the conversation of fed is best versus breast is best. 

And there seems to be a shift happening in this country where we're starting to understand that the mental health of the mother and the health of the mother is primary key number one, and the focus on exactly how a baby is fed and the kind of the disproportionate focus, and sometimes depending on the setting you're in, can detract from the health of the mother. That it is really kind of a partnership. Are you seeing A: this conversation in your practice and are you seeing these changes as well?

Bridget: Totally. Totally. I think, you know, if we think about like reasons that people end up in my office, especially for new moms, you know, brand new babies, first time. I mean, I don't have a number like to actually quote, but I would guess it's like half related to issues around breastfeeding and feeding. And the stress that's placing on her, the mom, and on the partner and on the whole kind of support system and on baby a lot of the time. 

So, you know, it looks a lot of different ways for different people. And, you know, I feel like through my own experience and my own challenges with that, with my oldest, I feel like I really kind of had a shift within myself from like this is the ultimate good breastfeeding and not just the nutrition, but also the kind of attachment and like sort of psychological, emotional advantages that are, you know, that we get through that to really coming to understand that like all of that, truly like I mean, I'm going to be like super basic about it. Like all of that is just bullshit. If mom's mental health is not ok, like it just doesn't matter what I mean, it doesn't matter. 

You can give the kid truckloads of breast milk and if mom is suicidal or not bonded and connecting or if that partnership is disintegrating because of the stress around breastfeeding, then it's worthless. Like it's truly, and so I know a lot of people would argue with me around that, but I just obviously like getting very specific.

Justin: Not here.

Audra: I think that's changing. Yeah, I really do. My hope anyway.

Bridget: And I think it's like a good challenge for us to like to work and like exist in this world, to be in that in-between where it's like it's not that breastfeeding isn't wonderful. It's amazing. I breastfed my kids. It's incredible like when it works. It's an incredible experience for all. And I feel really fortunate that I got to do it. But I think like when you think about things like shame, I mean, I am working with moms who have four and five-year-olds who are still working through the shame of not being able to breastfeed in the way that they imagined. And it's like that's just not ok.

Audra: It's not ok. Thank you. It is. No, it is. No, it doesn't have to be this way.

Justin: So I imagine one of the biggest issues is that breastfeeding seems to me the first and maybe the most powerful, like physical manifestations of mom providing for a baby, mom caring for. It's like the most. Oh, my god, it's the most emotionally powerful instance of my providing for baby.

Audra: You know this from experience as a dad. I mean, we had significant issues with Max feeding at first, our 14-year-old and Justin went to, we were in Santa Monica. He went to the local like breastfeeding support store. And he's like, I need a nipple that is like the closest thing to a human nipple because we are going to make this work. And they were like, “Sir, we will not sell that to you.”

Justin: Yeah, they refuse to sell it to me. Yeah.

Bridget: Get out. Oh, my god.

Justin: They were like, she just needs to try harder or something. Or she needs like lactation consultants or whatever you... 

Bridget: Yeah, like you need to spend more money on a lactation consultant first.

Audra: Yeah, right. Whose focus was they were just like just shove his face. I mean, it would just shove it. It wasn't like that baby finds its way down. I had a baby with this arching back, like refusing to do it. So he'd take home a hospital pump. This is 14 years later. And I feel like it was like yesterday for me. Take home a hospital-grade pump. And I was like, listen, I can pump and pump and pump, put it in a bottle. And when we go to the farmer's market, I'll have him under a nursing cover. No one will know. 

Justin: No one will know. This is Santa Monica, Cambridge is that we cannot be going around feeding our newborn with a bottle…

Bridget: No, no, no. So it's like a Scarlet Letter. 

Audra: Yes, it is. It is. And so when our second was born now 11 years ago in Orange County, where whatever you want to do, you know, it was just a very different environment. It was something that was just whatever you want to do, mom. But I remember a big moment with that was when they asked if they could take her to the nursery, if they could feed her some formula so I could rest as a mom who just had my second C-section. I was like, “Yes, yes, I will rest.”

Bridget: And thank you. 

Audra: And thank you, which is something that is learned. So that brings me to another part of this, which is that bringing the self-care into it, where we feel like, yes, these are the elemental foundational things. The other thing that I've heard is maybe one of the bigger issues for moms is birth. Method of birth choice, you know, kind of like birthing methods, and so I’ve heard significant accounts of traumas around like not wanting C-section, but needing a C-section, wanting a VBAC, but not beyond the get one. And then now, more recently, C-section mom saying, you know, my child was also birthed, like this is a legitimate form of birth. 

Bridget: Absolutely. 

Audra: You know, child wouldn’t be here if it wasn't for this. So a lot of...

Bridget: And you go and you went through a process, even if it was a C-section, that's still a process that your body goes through. 

Audra: Yes. Yes, absolutely. And so a lot of trauma and difficulty around all of the different associations with how we bring these children into the world. And that is, it's a lot it's.

Bridget: I think that speaks to the layers that you were describing before. Right. Because in all of this, it's like there's a million different entry points for all the shame. Right. And it truly I feel like this happens a lot like this comes up a lot in conversations I have with clients or just other moms. 

If it doesn't matter what you do, you're going to be losing essentially in some area. You might feel like, ok, well, I got this part right or I got this part right. But there's always going to be an area where you feel like I either didn't get the experience that I want or I didn't do it well enough or I didn't do it right. And now I'm kind of like having to pay for that either in some consequence with my kid or consequence with my partner, or even just in how I feel within myself. You know, like the opportunity for shame is just like...

Audra: Embedded through that whole onion. And so how do you think we, as moms, ok, the assumption I'm making and asking this question is that we as moms don't always show up really well for each other and that's, I think a lot of times we're bringing our stuff in. Right. Just like the boundaries that you talked about with everything, just like our boundaries around parenting, as friends we can often bring our own baggage in and not really hold the space for those around us. Do you think we can show up better for each other? Do you think we're capable of...

Bridget: I do. I mean, I think that like, you know, through having conversations like this, I think that that can be possible for sure. What I think is really important is just kind of naming all of the really shitty messages that we receive. Right. And naming that maybe they have good intention. 

Again, you know, breastfeeding is wonderful. But when it starts to switch into something that's like generating shame or pressure or whatever, then it's not working anymore. And I feel like, my sense is like if women, families, everyone could start to kind of see the parent, let's just say more generally, the parent is like the center of the family health. Right. That would really shift how we talk about that. Right. Because then if we had that understanding among us, then when your friend comes to you and is like, I'm having a really hard time breastfeeding and I'm really stressed out, the go-to wouldn't be like, we'll just try harder. It would be like, ok, well, what do you need to feel, ok? 

Audra: Right. 

Bridget: Do you need to try more or do you need to quit or do you need something out or whatever? So I do think it's possible. I just think that like I think there's a lot of work to do.

Audra: That's a powerful shift, though, that you're talking about. I mean, I think the shift that  you're referring to is really amazing. And I think it also represents a way that we can. 

We've talked with another therapist or friend, Jenny Walters, around the use of language and creating kind of the growth of language that is empowering us to show up for each other. And I think that this is something with parenthood and caregiving that we can do. 

If we say I love the point of it, we can start with the health of that parent and then everything else from that, it's like starting with quality of life over treatment method when it comes from our nonprofit background. Right. Start with the quality of that life. 

And then we say, it sounds like when you talk about needing a C-section, for example, you know, sounds like that maybe saved your life or your baby's life. You know, this is something that's powerful. Like this is almost miraculous that we can do this, you know? So I love the shift that you're talking about. I'd like for us to be able to do that work and support that shift in The Family Thrive.

Justin: So I want to be selfish here and just ask a little bit about dad. 

Bridget: Yeah. Of course. Yeah.

Justin: So you work exclusively with moms, but I'm wondering what you’re hearing, what you're seeing from these new moms in regards to the challenges that the new dads face. What are these dads going through? How… Well, so I'll start with that. What are the challenges? And then how can dads get their act together so they can be more supportive?

Bridget: Yeah, I mean, I think that like, you know, issues of support of the partner are always an element, I think. I just think it's hard, right? Like it's hard to find that balance even when dads or partners are most involved, motivated, and active participants. It's just really hard as new parents to like find what is that new groove going to be. 

And so I think that like where I am usually hearing about that is trying to navigate. How do I navigate this new relationship with my partner? And like a lot of the time of women, it's about working with resistance around, like asking for help and then accepting the help that's given if it's not exactly what is wanted. Right. And so to me, I feel like the most effective way to do that is working with the couple, because I think it's like, it only goes so far if it's just mom in the session talking about it, because dad obviously has their own experience. 

But also just big picture, dads also go through like postpartum mental health challenges and depression and anxiety and trauma come up for dads like almost as often as it happens for mom. 

Justin: At least from the couple's work, have you seen are there underlying issues same where, you know, maybe some unprocessed trauma coming up?

Bridget: I think a lot of it and I think it is very much about that, about where they're kind of coming from when they arrived in parenthood. But I think it's also something I see a lot here, especially in Savannah, which is obviously like a very different kind of culture than what I'm accustomed to, and probably for me guys, too, coming from, you know, more like huge urban environment. And I think there's still so much just around general mental health stigma and like resistance around emotional vulnerability that men experience that I'm seeing in a lot of dads and like just, you know, basically toxic masculinity. Right. 

So I feel like a lot of times I'm either seeing it in couples or hearing about it from mom, a dad who is clearly struggling maybe with mental health or addiction or trauma or whatever, and it's completely cut off to that struggle. And so in a lot of ways, mom is showing up with her own challenges, but I almost see it as like kind of a symptom of this other issue. Right. It's almost, it's kind of like a scapegoat. Right.

Like mom shows up because it's more socially acceptable for a mom to say, “well, I'm kind of depressed after I had a baby” than it is for dad to say, “well, you know, I'm up all night because I'm suicidal and can't stop imagining horrible things” or whatever, you know. So to me, it's also just about like talking about that and also just trying to work against, you know, our sort of patriarchal structures.

Justin: Oh, my gosh, and there’s so much... 

Bridget: That reinforces… 

Justin: Oh, my gosh. There's so much work to do. Yeah. This is one thing that I hope that we can do a lot more workaround with the The Family Thrive is dads…

Bridget: Absolutely. 

Justin: And emotions. Like can we as dads start to get in touch with our own emotions? Because for most boys grow up in North America at least, most of our emotions are suppressed from a young age. And then finally and then when we have kids, what we end up doing is suppressing their emotions because we don't…

Audra: And ours.

Justin: We don't want to deal with it. Yeah. Yeah. Like your challenging emotions are too much for me. So I need to…

Bridget: Or too much. 

Justin: Yeah. So I need to suppress those. Yeah.

Bridget: Right. And I think, kind of similar to what I'm saying, like a lot of the times I feel like I am seeing a mom in therapy who is having a lot of marital or relationship trouble, a lot of trouble sort of managing transition into parenthood. But the more and more I dig, I realize she's sort of like expressing the challenges of the dad and a lot of ways. And she has kind of been identified as the problem person. And I mean, this has happened more times than I can say where I'm often like, I really think I have the wrong person in this room right now. You know, like.

Justin: Oh, my gosh. 

Bridget: Yeah, that's hard to deal with, especially if dad is resistant or just not interested in hearing that. You know. Like the therapist saying that is not necessarily going to win him over. But I think, again, it comes back to like those larger conversations that we just have about like what it means to be a parent, what it means to be men and women, have emotions, be vulnerable, like. And probably it just comes back to how we raise our kids. Right? Like I don't, I know you guys have a boy. I don't have boys. But I think about this a lot with parents, with boys. It's like it must feel like a tremendous burden to have to like really reprogram how boys exist in the world, like emotionally.

Justin: Oh, yeah, because...

Audra: You're still up against the world. 

Justin: Yeah, they have to go out in the world and be friends with other boys who are, you know, having their emotions suppressed. 

Bridget: Yeah. 

Justin: Yeah, yeah. Mhm. Selfishly, now, I want to move on to talk more about practices, so I mean, I would love to just start with me and say, Bridget, how can you help me? But I'll start with new moms and dads. And so are there some daily practices or some regular practices that you recommend to your clients where you say, you know, if you can just take a little bit of time to do this or take a little bit of that? 

Bridget: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think with practices like it always depends on the person because what works for you might not necessarily work for the next person. We're all just sort of wired differently. But I think with new parents, especially like new moms, like too, first three to six months, one of the ways they make some prescriptions, and one of them is like you have to get outside every single day. And it doesn't matter like if it's pouring rain or a hundred degrees like it is a lot of the time. But like you have to like see the sky and see the earth and like get some sensory input from outside every day. Even if it's just for like 30 seconds, you have to do that every day. And then also, you have to have some time away, physically away from your baby, where you can't see, hear, smell or touch them every single day. And again, like that could be a minute or whatever she might be able to tolerate, because some moms really can't tolerate that. It's too anxiety-provoking. 

So those are really big ones. And then I also just think I feel like what I'm sort of always working with our clients around, but especially the new parents, is trying to learn about and understand how you best regulate your own emotions and nervous system, because I think this is the thing again, this comes back to what you were saying, like we have to like teach our kids this, but alot of us don't know how to do this for ourselves as well. And truly, like I didn't really before. 

I mean, I feel like I had an idea of like, well, you know, I like yoga. I like to take a walk. I like the beach. But that was sort of the extent of it. And now I really, really know, like these are the things that I actively can do to regulate myself. 

And so that's something that I'm always trying to really work on, is like identifying what are those things? Offering out some options based on what I feel like might work for the person, but also just having them experiment with different things because like for some people, meditating and breathing is great. And for other people, it's like the worst. And they need to go like run 10 miles or whatever. Yeah. And it doesn't matter what it is, it's just about do you feel a sense of like your body and your nervous system have been regulated, ok, then do that. And like we have to carve out time for that. And I think that can feel, all of those things can feel like a lot to a new parent with a little baby who is totally overwhelmed. But it's also like it's totally possible…

Justin: It’s vital.

Bridget: And it's totally possible.

Justin: And it's vital. Like I, I think I didn't really understand this, I think, until our son was diagnosed. That if I am not taking care of myself, I'm actually doing him a disservice, like I can't show up for him or I'll get triggered a lot easier or, you know, so I have to take care of myself. And so it's not just like a luxury of like, so these prescriptions, I can imagine there are some moms who are like, well, I can't possibly take the time to go outside. And I mean, you know, I have so much to do. And it's like, no, no, no, this is vital. Like you're doing your child a service when you take care of yourself.

Bridget: Totally. Well, that's so true, and I feel like I am often using that reframe, especially with the new mama of like this, because when I hear all the time, it's like, well, I feel like I'm selfish or selfish if I go do yoga for five minutes. And I'm just like, you are not doing this for you. You are doing this for your entire family. All the kids, your partner. Make no mistake that this kind of self-care I feel like it's talked about a lot. It's like, oh, I go get a manicure, I go get a massage. Right, totally. And I'm like, oh, that's nice. But that's not what this is. This is actually, it's the way I describe it ass like it's self-regulation. And you are actually doing that for everyone else who relies on you. It's not for you.

Audra: What are some of the big, big or I should say most common refrains or as you put it, or common areas like this that you're sharing with parents? So itself, self-care is care for everyone. What are some of the other ones that you're that that are common for you

Bridget: Let’s see, I feel like that's probably the biggest one. But then I think also kind of coming back to the shame piece, I feel like a big reframe is that kind of language that we used to speak to ourselves when we're in shame is harmful to us in a way that also can really harm our children. And so I think the reframe I often use is what would it be like for you to use this kind of language with your kid? Right. And like, what could it be like, even if it doesn't feel authentic, even if you don't believe it, because most people are like, that's bullshit, but like just pretend. What would it be like to talk to yourself the way that you talk to your kid, just to kind of feel into like how weird that is, you know?

Audra: Yeah. That’s a powerful practice. 

Justin: Or what you said, talk to yourself the way you talk to your kid. Did you mean talk to your kid the way you talk to yourself?

Bridget: No, I mean, like it's, for example, if you have like a sweet name that you call your kid like “Oh, sweetie. Oh…” 

Justin: Ohh, talk to yourself…

Bridget: You know, you're like, oh, it's ok that you broke your favorite toy. Like everything would be ok. I'm going to take care of it.

Audra: With the same kind of compassion.

Justin: So the reason that I got mixed up was because I heard of this from another therapist about in regard to the inner critic, these, the self-shame that imagine yourself at age like three or four and saying that same thing to yourself, how stupid you are, how bad you know, and how this is such a powerful reframe for so many people and many people when in therapy, this is what I heard. We'll start to cry when they think about talking to themselves at three or four, the way they talk to themselves now.

Bridget: Totally. Totally. I think that's such a powerful practice. And just thinking about practices, I think it's not one that everyone is available for. But if that is, if it feels like that's a path that someone can go down, I absolutely try to guide them down that, especially because like kind of like what we're talking about, like having children can be like incredibly triggering of our own childhood shit. Right. 

And what I see a lot of the time is like, so you had something particularly traumatic or challenging going on, like at age five when your kid gets to be age five it's like, you know, all of this comes back. Right. So similar to what you're talking about, like I've suggested for some clients who are dealing with things like that, like finding a photo of themselves at that age and just like sticking it on the bathroom mirror and just kind of having that kid be part of like your everyday experience that you're like walking by and thinking about, because it's really hard to be shitty to that little kid or teenager or whatever age it is, but kind of like identifying the moment that feels like the most traumatic or there's the most pain leftover and trying to like center your vision of yourself at that age. 

Justin: Yeah. So I…

Bridget: Kids really help us do that because they're right there.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. So I love the reframe then of talking to yourself as you talk to your kids. So the same love that you're able to show your kid.

Audra: Yeah. It's similar to like, you know, if you, would you talk to your best friend. That's right. Would you really talk to anyone else this way?

Bridget: To anyone that way. Usually not. Yeah. 

Audra: Yeah. That’s so powerful.

Bridget: Yeah. Totally, totally. So like yeah. I mean, like a lot of that kind of falls into what I would call self-compassion work, which I, you know, there is a whole kind of practice around self-compassion that I will draw from a lot. But I feel with moms especially, that applies somewhere because it's really even for the mom who might be like, “No, I'm totally confident and I love myself and I never should talk to myself.” There's still some element of like, but you're not actually being that kind to you.

Audra: Mm-hmm. Do you, in relationship to this, and I know it's individual. It's not everyone by any means that I, we can only, you know, attempt to generalize a little bit. We talk about the dangers of... dangers, but issues with social media and the comparisons, the FOMO like all of these things. Do you find with any of your clients that it's helpful for them to take breaks or...

One of our therapists said, you know, she's like, I teach, try to teach like a mindful skill of as soon as I get that, like, oh, this isn't good. That first like uhhhh feeling. Turn it off. 

Bridget: Totally. Yeah. Oh, no, totally. I feel like I'm often kind of talking people through like harm reduction with social media. 

Audra: Harm reduction, yeah. 

Bridget: Like. And I think that that's a good way of doing it, of like noticing when do you start to spin out or when does your body start to react and shutting it off. But I think, too, like this is one thing I've suggested a lot is like if it feels really hard to take a break from social media, like, okay, keep it, but give yourself, like make a choice of like I give myself 20 minutes a day and then in those 20 minutes, you like set a timer and you do like full on deep dive, like look at. Get as much as you can and just go, go wild. And then that's it. And then you're done. Because obviously, like for all of us, there's the capacity to just like lose an hour, just scrolling or whatever. And then all of a sudden you don't realize, oh, wait a second, I feel really shitty, you know.

Audra: Mhm. Catches up with you later, huh? It makes me think too, as we can talk about this maybe the next time we get to talk with you, the next chat.

Justin: Yes, we have to have you back. 

Audra: But screen time, for example, with the kids, you know, it always occurs to me like if I had a 20 minute timer, we could do the 20 minutes together, you know, because I put them on a timer or a time limit. And then they see now continuing to go. And it's like, well, I'm working, you know, I am working, you know, really 100% of that is work. No, not at all. So I do think that self regulation has really powerful modeling. And I think that there's a lot in that that the family can benefit from as well.

Bridget: Totally.

Justin: How can people find out more about Bridget Cross?

Bridget: I have a website that's probably the best way, and it is Bridgetcrosslcsw.com. And then I have a Facebook also, which is also a bridgetcrosslcsm.com. So those are my ways of finding me.

Justin: Yeah, perfect. Perfect. All right. So our final three questions that we ask all of our guests. First, Bridget, if you were able to put a Post-it note on every parent's refrigerator tomorrow morning, what would that Post-it note say?

Bridget: Yeah, I saw this question and I went through a million different answers from simple to complicated. Yeah. And so this is totally cheating. But I want to give you two. One is just like to say like you are not alone, because I just think that can be really soothing to one's nervous system, like on every level. And can mean a lot of different things to different people. But the other is, it's like a really quick poem that I have, like put around on Post-it notes for myself in different moments of life by Raymond Carver. And it's actually, he's a fiction writer who wrote like in the ‘70s and ‘80s. And it was like amazing and wonderful. But it's a little poem that he wrote that I think it's actually on his tombstone. But I will read it to you. I pulled it up because I wanted to make sure, I kind of know it by heart, but I didn't want to mess it up. Can I read it to you?

Audra: Of course. 

Bridget: And so it's just a few lines. It says: “And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on this earth. So I feel like every parent needs that, right?

Audra: Yes.

Justin: Yes, we need that on our refrigerator. 

Bridget: We do. We do. I think it's like, you know, it's soothing that we need so that we can soothe.

Justin: That kind of covers the next question. Is there a recent quote that you've read that has changed the way you think or feel?

Bridget: Yeah, that's a good one. It's not really recent to me, but I feel like it's one that I always come back to. There's a book that I've been reading and it's kind of like all about my jam right now. It's called Call of the Wild by Kimberly Ann Johnson. And she is amazing. She's like a somatic practitioner and she was a postpartum doula. And she wrote an amazing book called The Fourth Trimester that's about all of what we're talking about. But this is about somatic practices for healing trauma. And I don't have the actual quote of it, but I'm going to paraphrase it, which is basically that “We work in the body to heal trauma in the present for the past.”

Audra: Oh yes. 

Bridget: And so that to me, I mean, I've been kind of in this book for a few weeks now, but that has sort of really stuck with me just as like it a little bit reverses, I think, how like talk therapy usually works, which is like talking about the present, talking about the past to heal the present. I actually think that it needs to be reversed.

Justin: Beautiful. 

Audra: I think well, we're going to add the book to the show notes for sure.

Bridget: And it's an amazing, amazing book.

Audra: Something that I'd like to read, it’s making me think a book club might be in order.

Justin: So it was working in the body and the present to heal the past?

Bridget: Yes. 

Justin: Is that right? 

Bridget: Totally. Totally so. And that yeah, that is the kind of trauma, healing work that she is writing about in this book, that that's the focus of it.

Justin: So the final question is one that we ask every guest, because as you all know, parenting isn't always sunshine and roses. And so it's nice to just remember what we love about childhood and what we love about kids. And so, Bridget, what do you love about kids?

Bridget: I will answer like what I love most about my kids, because that’s mostly my experience of kids. For the most part, and I think it's very common, is that kids, at least younger ones, exist in the present. Like they're the ultimate kind of mindful present awareness and being in the moment. And that's whether they're like experiencing something emotionally or telling or imagining something or drawing something. 

Audra: Yeah. So that they're automatically, by nature, present beings.

Bridget: Yeah, totally. They're like in the moment and like I think especially being like in play with them is the ultimate, like mindfulness practice or like practice of being in the moment, regardless of what is going on in our own internal storms, you know.

Audra: I love that. I think it's a really powerful reflection. It resonates a lot with me. And the thing that came up for me when you mentioned it is, again, kind of some of the theme of what we're talking about today is sometimes or most often I know they'll be present and it's an inspiring, beautiful place to be with them. But so often we're not present and we're like, want to get shoes on and get out the door or go, do you like whatever the things are. 

And so I think like we then bring that cloud of everything else we're thinking about into their present presence. And I think it's such a good reminder too, that is a state to be honored. Yes, we have a kind of boundary. Things need to get done in our days and all of that. But to know that this isn't just like in insolence or, you know, that your children don't have you in mind or whatever it might be, it's like another way, state of being almost.

Bridget: Yeah. It's like closely connected, I think, to like the sense of compassion, right. because we're not always able to be present with them because it's life and we need to get up there and get the shoes on the right, whatever. But I think that like I have found anyway that my kids are just like a good reminder that like I can be in the moment. And also that like if I screw up a moment and like yell at somebody or I'm not so nice…

Justin: There's another moment.

Bridget: That's what I love about my kids and kids in general.

Audra: It's so nice to meet you. So nice to talk with you. Thank you so much. This is a fantastic conversation. And I really hope that we can work together more. And I think what you bring to the world is so valuable and needed. And you have, you know, a beautiful practice here in Savannah. And we'd like to be a part of bringing you to an audience that needs you outside of Savannah too. 

Bridget: Yeah, thank you. I'm so glad for to meet you guys. I'm just excited for the work that you guys are doing, too.

Justin: Thank you so much for your time. This has been amazing. I can't wait to do it again.

Bridget: I know. It's fun. Thank you. 

Audra: Ok, bye.

Justin: Hey, thanks for listening to The Family Thrive podcast. If you like what you heard, please subscribe, tell two friends and head on over to Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts and give us a review. We're so grateful you've chosen to join us on this Family Thrive journey.

Justin: Bridget Cross is quite literally helping to save the world. She's doing this as a perinatal psychotherapist who helps moms and dads grow through the mental and emotional challenges that come with pregnancy, childbirth and raising a newborn. 

I wish to god we had a Bridget when our kids were born 14 and 11 years ago. Bringing a new life into this world is a joyous moment and we all see the pictures on social media of a happy but tired mom and dad with the brand new baby, but what we don't see is the numbness, anxiety, marital conflict, rage and overwhelm that is also a very real part of the parenting journey. 

In this episode, Bridget talks with me and Audra about the mental and emotional challenges new parents face. The role of shame and motherhood, the role of avoidance and fatherhood, the stress of this new school year, and so much more. Truly, this episode is a must-listen for anyone who is a new parent, an old parent, maybe a parent someday, or has a new parent in their life or an old parent in their life. So it's for pretty much everybody. So without further ado, here's our conversation with the amazing Bridget Cross. 

I have a bunch of questions that are more general. And so I wanted to start off with something that's real and that's happening for all of us right now and happening for every parent right now, and that's going back to school. 

And so as a therapist, what's coming up for your clients right now? What's happening for them as they're coming in to see you? What is this moment like for you as a therapist?

Bridget: Well, I think there is so much anxiety and fear that I think so many, I mean, I see so many parents of young kids, but also people who are pregnant or who have new babies. And I think anxiety during this whole period of time has been running so high. And I think in this moment that we're in now thinking about going back to school and like re-emerging from this sort of dark closet that we've been in. 

You know, it's just it's bringing up a lot, because I think for some people, it's also really exciting. There's like a sense of like resuming normal or feeling like your kids are going to be able to get some sense of normal. But also, like, you know, like we're all feeling there's that sense of like how long will it last and can I rely on it? And will it be safe? And I think it's something that I fear for a lot of people who've had kids like, especially in the last few years, like some newer parents, is I think that like the experience of going through like shutdown's and quarantine's and homeschooling and having to stay home, in some ways is like reactivating for some people, like the trauma that they experienced, like in postpartum time, if they did experience that. 

And so, like, you know, the feeling that maybe you two can relate to of like having a little baby and being stuck at home and having like your whole life kind of snatched away from you in the way that it can feel like when you first have a new baby, especially your first one. 

I feel like I'm hearing from a lot of clients that sense of like I'm like reliving that all over again. Like I thought that I had kind of like gotten out of that phase of feeling sort of trapped in parenthood or stuck at home or like unable or like not being able to feel my freedom. Like I'd finally moved away from that. And then Covid happened and I'm like right back there again. And so I think that like especially for moms who struggled emotionally or in mental health, like especially in postpartum, that has felt really challenging and painful for them to kind of go back to that place. 

Audra: To some like Covid is triggering for many of us.

Bridget: Yeah. 

Audra: And do you find, one thing I'm curious about you, because you're a mother of younger children as well. And so this must be an unusual experience, kind of to be able to maybe, I don't know if you do, but do you identify with some of what your patients are going through? Like you're kind of we're all in this together to some degree.

Bridget: Totally. Yeah. I mean, I think this is sort of a unique moment for me professionally where, you know, just in Covid, I'm going through something personally that literally all of my clients are also going through and there really hasn't been anything else, you know, other than just kind of like what's going on maybe politically or elections or something like that. 

But nothing like this where each and every person is being deeply, personally affected, emotionally taxed at the same time that I am. And so trying to redefine that line between like, what is my role? How do I show up for people and support them and kind of hold that space for them? While also kind of going through my own thing. 

Justin: Wow. I mean, wow, that's intense.

Bridget: I mean, in a way, that's like that's my job, right? Like that's partly what my job is, is to manage that for myself so that I can show up for the people that I work with. But it's for sure been different with this. 

And I think, in a lot of ways it's actually been helpful because, you know, I have a lot of clients who have kids, you know, around my kids’ ages. I have clients who go to school with my kids, whose kids go to school with my kids. And so it just kind of having that common thread. It can be a little challenging in terms of personal boundaries. But I think in general, it's a win because people feel like, “Ok, you know, I'm going through this but not alone,” which is like really what most parents, I feel, really need to hear.

Justin: And I just really quick, it strikes me that I like had this reaction hearing, like, yeah, you're going through the same intense stuff that your clients are. And then how can you work through the intensity of this while also showing up for your clients? And then what struck me was like, oh, that's parenting as well. Like, I'm going to do all this and how can I show up for my kids who are going, yeah. So there’s layers here.

Bridget: Totally. Well, I mean, and I would say about being exactly as you're saying, like being in the role, that is the role I do for my job has like all of these exact parallels and being a mom, for me not to say that I'm a mom to my clients because I’m not. But it is just like what you said, to keep your own shit in check so that you can show up for your kids’ shit. 

Audra: Absolutely. 

Bridget: And sometimes we do that really well and sometimes not at all.

Justin: Yeah. Bridget, that is the theme of The Family Thrive for us.

Audra: Yeah, it really is, because I think so many of us come from a generation where I mean, this isn't this has not been kind of like the pass-down wisdom. I think just so many of us experienced just like a complete lack of awareness parents around their own shit. 

And then the resulting consequences of just things kind of falling on to the family and being shared with the family and no boundaries and no awareness, in these ways. And so I do think it's a pretty radical shift and it's something that is for me anyway, empowering. You know, the thing that I, it's about me in so many ways, managing me. And...

Bridget: Totally.

Audra: Other things, sort of like fall in from there, you know. It's about the example I sat on top of that. But boundaries is definitely a big theme all the way around. And I think it's really powerful to hear that from you with regard to your life, it sounds like between clients and your family and your kids, kind of like a major theme and how you're able to manage all of it.

Bridget: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's a lot. And I mean, I will say too, for me, it's been kind of a relearning, not just with Covid, but also with being in Savannah. Because of a small town, it doesn't seem like it is, but it really is like it's just super teeny tiny. And I'm from New York and started work, you know, doing this work in New York and so in New York City anyway. I mean, I could live down the block from a client and never, ever see them.

Audra: Not a small town. 

Bridget: ... And I've just never had any experience of seeing clients outside of just a clinical space. And here it's basically just how it is. Like I see my clients at my kid's school. I see them at the grocery store, at the park. And so just having to kind of navigate like a new set of boundaries in general, but especially I think with Covid, it's like even more so.

Justin: So, Bridget, yeah, this is really fascinating, your work, that the parallels with motherhood and parenting. How did you get into this? So you are a perinatal therapist. And so you work exclusively with parents and exclusively with mothers, or do you see fathers as well?

Bridget: You know, I would love to see fathers, but sadly, I have not had any come to me on their own outside of the couple hours. Which I think kind of speaks a lot to just stigma around mental health and men and dads in general, obviously.

Justin: So when you were training as a therapist, did you know this is the work that you wanted to do?

Bridget: No, not at all. It's actually kind of a second career for me. But when I decided to go back to school for social work, which was in 2007, I actually thought that I wanted to work with teenagers, and that was sort of like my passion. I just felt like I was going to be what I wanted to do. I really wanted to be, you know I’d been in a lot of therapy. I feel like therapy was really powerful to me when I was a teenager and I was like, this is what I want to do. 

And then I went through social work school and you do various internships when you're in that program with different populations. And then I got a job pretty soon after social work school, working with teens and families in a really very challenging population, and pretty quickly realized that I don't want to work with teenagers at all. 

And not because they're not amazing, because they are fascinating and incredible. They're just for the family element of it, like doing the family work, I realized was just really not a strength of mine. So I ended up working for a long time, just in kind of like general adult mental health and community mental health in New York. 

So working in outpatient clinics and working with just all kinds of issues, but also in general with very, very sick people and with long-standing chronic mental illness, like very high-risk populations, but which was hard, but also like wonderful training, just in terms of exposure there are just so many different things. And then I had a baby and I mean, a lot happened between those things, but I had a baby and I moved here shortly after. She was about nine months old when we moved here.

Audra: Oh, no kidding. 

Bridget: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. She was super small. And I struggled quite a bit in pregnancy, even actually before pregnancy, but in pregnancy and also postpartum with my own just depression and trauma and challenges. And I just kind of became really interested. I was seeing a lot of moms and families in my practice anyway. And I was just realizing like, “Hey, I should get some training in this,” because I started kind of understanding like depression that occurs in the postpartum period and pregnancy. It's not the same as other depression, even though in general it is treated the same. It's like, “Oh, it's just depression,” but it's when you're pregnant or when you're postpartum. 

Audra: Right. Right. Right. 

Bridget: Yeah. And so I started doing some training in it, and then I started doing some like volunteer work for an organization called Postpartum Support International, and ended up just really connecting with like a whole network of perinatal clinicians and advocates and social justice aspect and all of that, and just kind of go really deep into that, and then over a few years of training ended up getting the certification that I have as a perinatal mental health provider. 

So it was a slow build because that child is now almost seven. But I'd say like in the last three or four years, my practice has been pretty much exclusively, not 100%, but probably about 75% in perinatal clients, which is amazing. And I feel like it's totally what I am truly meant to be doing. But it's not, just to get back to your question, it wasn't like where I started at all.

Audra: It's incredible. It's true. There's nothing like a calling that comes from your experience, that comes from a deep place of knowing, you know, seeing the need, identifying the need personally. And I'm really interested, going back to the start, like you knew that you were, you're called into the work of therapy from experiencing how life-changing this was for you, it sounds like as a teenager which brought into the world of teens and I had a curiosity around the teenage the work with that is the family work. Is it really the fact that you're the teenager isn't the work, it's the parents.

Bridget: 100%. And so, yeah, it is. And that's I think that that's the trick, is that the, I mean, this is a generalization, but I would say the majority of people who are bringing their children, but particularly teenagers to therapy are not very interested in hearing about anything other than what's wrong with their kid.

Justin: Fix this one.

Bridget: Fix that problem. Yeah, and that's true of all kids. I mean, even young, too, I think. But there's a lot that teenagers can do on their own in therapy without family support. But particularly, I was working in juvenile justice within the child protective system in Brooklyn, and that's a really super tough population where parents and families I mean, if the child is even living with the parents a lot of times with a guardian or a family member or in foster care, those adults just don't have the resources to participate in that child's care or healing at all because of their own stuff. 

Audra: And they need support, it sounds like, the parents.

Bridget: Yeah, totally. 

Audra: The caregiver or whoever it is.

Bridget: Yeah, the family totally. And so it's like a system, obviously, like a systemic problem. And there are many social workers, I think who’re really equipped with working with those populations. But I just kind of quickly realized that I was not going to be great at it because I noticed how quickly I would become really aligned with the kid and feel the sense of deep resentment and anger toward the family.

Audra: Oh… powerful.

Bridget: And I was like, I'm not going to be good at this and oriented this way because I have to really be able to hold all of it. And that just wasn't my, I just kind of recognized really quickly that that was not the strength of mine. And also just that I was like, I don't think I want to do this. So I shouldn't be doing it because I should only be doing this if I want to.

Audra: Oh, what a powerful observation. And for you to honor that and not try to force yourself into the space of holding the space. It sounds like identifying with this kid in so many ways is a strength, you know, but just in the setting for that work is something that would make it very difficult for you to do kind of what is expected in that role. And so coming into the space of working with mothers mostly, and this perinatal work sounds pretty incredible, because you really are working with the mom and dad.

Bridget: Right. 

Audra: There's a relationship there with the child, obviously. But it is more of that direct work. And out of a place of deep knowing and understanding. 

Justin: It feels, so in the public health, which is where I come from. Yeah. There's this broad idea that, you know, we in public health, we're going upstream like the doctors are working downstream. When a person gets sick, the doctors are, you know, fixing what's getting sick. But public health, we're going upstream and we're finding out what's making people sick in the first place. And so that feels kind of like your journey in a way above the, you know, working with these teenagers and the parents and seeing like, oh, this is you know, this is a mess. I could just get these parents like right when they have this kid.

Bridget: Well, totally. Well, that's so true. And then I also think like within particular populations or systems, like recognizing this is like a systemic thing. Right. Because with a lot of like what I was seeing in that job, it wasn't even the parent. I mean, it was like generations of trauma. Right. And like. And so there was this feeling of like overwhelmed with like I was also a really new, green clinician and I had really good support and supervision, but I was just kind of my brain exploding with like the hugeness of the problem, you know?

Audra: Absolutely. I have so much respect and awe of the folks who can bring themselves to systemic work. And I, my background is in education before getting into nonprofit work. And I am just totally, totally in awe.And I mean, I knew I've always known that I wouldn't be effective in a role with such an overwhelming, insurmountable, systemic, oppressive aspect to it. It really does take a special kind of person.

Bridget: Yes. It does. And I'm so glad those people are out there.

Audra: Me, too. Me too.

Justin: I want to make sure that we go as quickly into like that, that the core of what you do. So I really want to know what are the common mental and emotional challenges that new moms face? I mean, this seems to be the core of what you are working on.

Bridget: Most new moms find their way to me because they are really suffering and struggling with just how they're feeling. Typically, like I say, after our first baby, but it's not always like just be with whatever baby this is for the family. So seeing like a ton of depression, anxiety, and kind of like somatic symptoms.

Justin: So for the lay listener, somatic symptoms would be.

Bridget: Yeah. So, somatic symptoms being symptoms that are kind of taking up in the body. So like emotional distress or strain that's being expressed through your body, which doesn't mean that it's not real. It just means that it's connected to like an unprocessed emotion. 

So like an example would be a mom who maybe is really overwhelmed, stressed, panicky, and having migraines or having kind of chronic pain or maybe having a flare-up of an autoimmune disorder, things like that. 

So I guess what I'm saying is most people are finding their way to me because there's some particular like acute symptom that's coming on versus a sense of a more general I'm kind of worried about my mental health and I might want to get some support to make sure I'm healthy. I wish that they did. 

Audra: Yeah. The big red flag that totally just demands attention.

Bridget: Exactly. And a lot. And I would say too, like another big one is problems in the partnership, in the marriage or relationship with partner, can be like another reason that people find their way to me. But a lot of times it's the symptoms of depression. So it doesn't have to look necessarily like sadness, crying, low mood. It could be like “I feel nothing.” 

Justin: Yeah. 

Bridget: “I feel numb and totally disconnected from my baby. And I don't care.” Or like it could look like something I see a lot, actually in women is this kind of postpartum rage that happens where it's like “I'm not depressed, actually I feel kind of happy, but I keep raging at my partner or at my kid or my dog” or whatever, you know. So that, too, can be just sort of like a signal that things, that there's something to look at there.

Justin: Do you see as you kind of dig in with these clients, are there patterns that you see that are underneath this that are or are these symptoms are the deeper issues unique or are the deeper issues do you see patterns?

Bridget: Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, I'm thinking about it now. I'm thinking I definitely see patterns. I think there's a lot of trends, especially when we think of women and modern parenting culture. But I also, and so I think that like there can be trends and how that's expressed, like how their distress is being expressed. But I also think it's always really unique to the person and their particular history and like what they're arriving to parenthood with. Right. 

So like, for example, if you have a history of trauma, particularly like childhood or developmental trauma, that doesn't mean you're automatically going to have a hard time in parenthood. But it does set you up to like a particular sensitivity to maybe having a colicky baby or having trouble breastfeeding or having some conflict with your partner around adjusting. Right. It kind of there's vulnerabilities in people's particular individual background.

Audra: I can appreciate that. The sensitivity, that sense that and oh, god, I think what a beautiful way to start to prepare for bringing a child into your family. However, that child is brought into your family with some attunement and preparation, in a sense, knowing that you will have sensitivities. 

We all have something interesting. And I think part of the challenge is this, you know, this you're you enter into parenthood, you know, or caregiving. And we are presented with a picture of you got like, you know, nine-month-old on your hip from week two, you know, and plenty of sleep and you're out in the world and everything is fine, you know?

Bridget: Right. And they're just so cute.

Audra: You're out with your friends, you know, doing your thing. Right. And how often does that happen? Never.

Bridget: Ever. 

Justin: Yeah, well, I would imagine so. There's got to be this double this like reactive thing going on. So there's the underlying issues, maybe history of trauma or whatever the case is. And then we have these acute symptoms that are bringing clients to you and then is likely shame on top of this that why aren't I just the perfect, happy mom?

Bridget: Oh yeah, Big time, big time. And I mean, I love that you noticed that, because I feel like that's probably like top three themes in pretty much like all perinatal clients that I see is like some aspect of shame of why am I not enjoying this? Why am I not loving my baby? I'm not you know, I'm not the mom that I want to be. I'm disappointed in who my baby is. I'm disappointed that my partner is now and a lot of...

Audra: A lot of should’s. 

Bridget: Of why am I having such a hard time? And everybody else, you know, on Instagram is so beautiful and happy and, you know, just all the bullshit. Right? 

Audra: Right. Yeah. 

Bridget: And so I think that but I think that that's the thing is that it is different in the perinatal period, but it's also like shame kind of rules all of us, like in all of our challenges, like wherever we are finding struggle. You usually don't have to dig too far to find the shame. Right. 

And so I feel like that's that's often like in terms of the patterns that you're asking about, like those are the patterns that I see. But it just looks a little different on everyone. And then too like with that is like the pattern of like expectations versus reality parenting. And I just think that in a way that's part of it, because you can't I mean, you guys know, like you can probably be told over and over again before you have children, like “Watch out. It's hard. This is hard, this sucks. This is not fun. It's not going to be what you think.” And you're like, “yeah, yeah, it'll be fine.” And then all of a sudden your baby comes and you're like “fuck.”

Audra: You can’t know, until you know. Right, something that until you've experienced it, you haven't experienced it.

Justin: So there's like another layer here. And something that really led us into this work is that I think for parents of our generation, I think just anyone who's had a child in the last maybe 15 or 20 years, parenting is like a life project. It's like one of the most important, if not the most important things that we ever will do. And we feel like this is so important to us. You know, this is what we want to do. 

And then it happens and it's so hard and there's so many challenges, and now not only that, but now we have Instagram or whatever else going on in your do you know, like just lots of feedback that you're doing it wrong. I can imagine that just having this sense that not only is this hard and I'm seeing other people who seem to be doing it just fine, but like this thing is super important to me. It's not something that I can just be like, you know, whatever. I tried. I'll just tennis and, you know, I didn't really like tennis that much.

Bridget: Yeah, well, it is. And I think that that is why it's so important, but also like why it has the potential to be so transformative and meaningful for people. Because I think I mean, not to say that like parenting my kid is all about me, but like in some ways it is all about me. It's about her. But it's also, them. But it's about me also really looking super close at my shirt and like working with all of the, I mean, like I'm a therapist. I've been in therapy like the majority of my life. And becoming a parent made me see myself and look at my darkness in a way that I had never even touched.

Justin: Oh, heck yeah. Oh, that's so powerful. 

Bridget: I just think that it's really, I think it's painful and excruciating, but I think with the right support and reflection and space, like I actually think I'm going to sound really out there and woo-woo, but I'm kind of like is how we can heal the world. 

Audra: Yes.

Justin: This is why we're doing The Family Thrive. 

Audra: Yeah. No, it's that. So I'm a visual person. And for those listening, not that I can help visualize this anymore, but I'm seeing something like an onion or something with many, many layers. And I just want to like recap them really quick, because I'm hoping that there might be some moms who listen to this who then get, are able to get a greater sense of the entire landscape and geography for themselves if they have been thinking of this as just an intensely personal issue. There's so much more to it than that. So it is all we bring with us into parenthood. Right. 

So it is our unresolved trauma as our shadow work. All of this that we're bringing into it. And then we have the actual like physical or hormonal, very often trauma of childbirth and the major physicality to it. And then you have the, all of the compounded kind of emotional things. Then you have the expectations of what parenthood would be. You have the expectations of what you think it's going to be parenting, but it's actually caregiving, you know, at the beginning.

Bridget: Right. 

Audra: You have the expectation of what your baby's going to be, your expectation with your partners are going to be. You have the expectations of maybe what your family will be and how they'll respond, and they have their expectations on you. And then you've got the stories. And so you've got like the social, cultural, sometimes even historic, you know, aspects of this coming forward and landing on your experience of one day not having a baby, the next day having a baby and being charged with this little human life as all of these layers around it. That's huge. 

Bridget: Yeah. It is. 

Audra: And we, I think in our culture, in our society, we like, you know, give you a balloon and some flowers and say welcome to the rest of your life. You know, but this is a profoundly monumental change. But I love about what you just said before is that, yes, it's all of that. But in that walking through, like doing the work through that contains within it the potential for our transformation and the transformation of the world.

Bridget: Yeah, totally. Totally. I love your visualization of that. I think it makes a lot of sense. I think that, like, I always kind of hesitate to go there because I feel like just I'm not like a super sunshiny, idealistic person in general. So it always feels a little strange. 

But I do I think this is something that I have really come to understand and also believe is that the health of children, but also of the family is rooted in the health and well-being of the mom. And I understand that there's a lot of ways in which that can be problematic to say that about families with obviously like alternative structures or families where there is no mom or..

Audra: Or systemic issues or inequity.

Bridget: Yeah, absolutely. And so but if we kind of just look at it like biologically, physiologically, I still do really stand by that. But like the health of the mom is the health of the child, the partner, the family and then our community, really. And obviously also treating those families where that's not the structure in a similar way with similar care is really important. But I just think that that really needs to be made front and center, because when you look at all of those layers, if you really like peel it back, I feel like that is what is at the center of it. 

Audra: At the heart of it. 

Justin: Yeah. Beautiful.

Audra: But speaking of the health of the mother, I'm curious to know, because we've had a wonderful guest on this podcast, Tiffani Ghere, who specializes in feeding. And she's a dietitian and she actually works for a she is like an amazing lactation specialist who also is working on for a start-up, bringing better formula to this country. And it reminds me of the conversation of fed is best versus breast is best. 

And there seems to be a shift happening in this country where we're starting to understand that the mental health of the mother and the health of the mother is primary key number one, and the focus on exactly how a baby is fed and the kind of the disproportionate focus, and sometimes depending on the setting you're in, can detract from the health of the mother. That it is really kind of a partnership. Are you seeing A: this conversation in your practice and are you seeing these changes as well?

Bridget: Totally. Totally. I think, you know, if we think about like reasons that people end up in my office, especially for new moms, you know, brand new babies, first time. I mean, I don't have a number like to actually quote, but I would guess it's like half related to issues around breastfeeding and feeding. And the stress that's placing on her, the mom, and on the partner and on the whole kind of support system and on baby a lot of the time. 

So, you know, it looks a lot of different ways for different people. And, you know, I feel like through my own experience and my own challenges with that, with my oldest, I feel like I really kind of had a shift within myself from like this is the ultimate good breastfeeding and not just the nutrition, but also the kind of attachment and like sort of psychological, emotional advantages that are, you know, that we get through that to really coming to understand that like all of that, truly like I mean, I'm going to be like super basic about it. Like all of that is just bullshit. If mom's mental health is not ok, like it just doesn't matter what I mean, it doesn't matter. 

You can give the kid truckloads of breast milk and if mom is suicidal or not bonded and connecting or if that partnership is disintegrating because of the stress around breastfeeding, then it's worthless. Like it's truly, and so I know a lot of people would argue with me around that, but I just obviously like getting very specific.

Justin: Not here.

Audra: I think that's changing. Yeah, I really do. My hope anyway.

Bridget: And I think it's like a good challenge for us to like to work and like exist in this world, to be in that in-between where it's like it's not that breastfeeding isn't wonderful. It's amazing. I breastfed my kids. It's incredible like when it works. It's an incredible experience for all. And I feel really fortunate that I got to do it. But I think like when you think about things like shame, I mean, I am working with moms who have four and five-year-olds who are still working through the shame of not being able to breastfeed in the way that they imagined. And it's like that's just not ok.

Audra: It's not ok. Thank you. It is. No, it is. No, it doesn't have to be this way.

Justin: So I imagine one of the biggest issues is that breastfeeding seems to me the first and maybe the most powerful, like physical manifestations of mom providing for a baby, mom caring for. It's like the most. Oh, my god, it's the most emotionally powerful instance of my providing for baby.

Audra: You know this from experience as a dad. I mean, we had significant issues with Max feeding at first, our 14-year-old and Justin went to, we were in Santa Monica. He went to the local like breastfeeding support store. And he's like, I need a nipple that is like the closest thing to a human nipple because we are going to make this work. And they were like, “Sir, we will not sell that to you.”

Justin: Yeah, they refuse to sell it to me. Yeah.

Bridget: Get out. Oh, my god.

Justin: They were like, she just needs to try harder or something. Or she needs like lactation consultants or whatever you... 

Bridget: Yeah, like you need to spend more money on a lactation consultant first.

Audra: Yeah, right. Whose focus was they were just like just shove his face. I mean, it would just shove it. It wasn't like that baby finds its way down. I had a baby with this arching back, like refusing to do it. So he'd take home a hospital pump. This is 14 years later. And I feel like it was like yesterday for me. Take home a hospital-grade pump. And I was like, listen, I can pump and pump and pump, put it in a bottle. And when we go to the farmer's market, I'll have him under a nursing cover. No one will know. 

Justin: No one will know. This is Santa Monica, Cambridge is that we cannot be going around feeding our newborn with a bottle…

Bridget: No, no, no. So it's like a Scarlet Letter. 

Audra: Yes, it is. It is. And so when our second was born now 11 years ago in Orange County, where whatever you want to do, you know, it was just a very different environment. It was something that was just whatever you want to do, mom. But I remember a big moment with that was when they asked if they could take her to the nursery, if they could feed her some formula so I could rest as a mom who just had my second C-section. I was like, “Yes, yes, I will rest.”

Bridget: And thank you. 

Audra: And thank you, which is something that is learned. So that brings me to another part of this, which is that bringing the self-care into it, where we feel like, yes, these are the elemental foundational things. The other thing that I've heard is maybe one of the bigger issues for moms is birth. Method of birth choice, you know, kind of like birthing methods, and so I’ve heard significant accounts of traumas around like not wanting C-section, but needing a C-section, wanting a VBAC, but not beyond the get one. And then now, more recently, C-section mom saying, you know, my child was also birthed, like this is a legitimate form of birth. 

Bridget: Absolutely. 

Audra: You know, child wouldn’t be here if it wasn't for this. So a lot of...

Bridget: And you go and you went through a process, even if it was a C-section, that's still a process that your body goes through. 

Audra: Yes. Yes, absolutely. And so a lot of trauma and difficulty around all of the different associations with how we bring these children into the world. And that is, it's a lot it's.

Bridget: I think that speaks to the layers that you were describing before. Right. Because in all of this, it's like there's a million different entry points for all the shame. Right. And it truly I feel like this happens a lot like this comes up a lot in conversations I have with clients or just other moms. 

If it doesn't matter what you do, you're going to be losing essentially in some area. You might feel like, ok, well, I got this part right or I got this part right. But there's always going to be an area where you feel like I either didn't get the experience that I want or I didn't do it well enough or I didn't do it right. And now I'm kind of like having to pay for that either in some consequence with my kid or consequence with my partner, or even just in how I feel within myself. You know, like the opportunity for shame is just like...

Audra: Embedded through that whole onion. And so how do you think we, as moms, ok, the assumption I'm making and asking this question is that we as moms don't always show up really well for each other and that's, I think a lot of times we're bringing our stuff in. Right. Just like the boundaries that you talked about with everything, just like our boundaries around parenting, as friends we can often bring our own baggage in and not really hold the space for those around us. Do you think we can show up better for each other? Do you think we're capable of...

Bridget: I do. I mean, I think that like, you know, through having conversations like this, I think that that can be possible for sure. What I think is really important is just kind of naming all of the really shitty messages that we receive. Right. And naming that maybe they have good intention. 

Again, you know, breastfeeding is wonderful. But when it starts to switch into something that's like generating shame or pressure or whatever, then it's not working anymore. And I feel like, my sense is like if women, families, everyone could start to kind of see the parent, let's just say more generally, the parent is like the center of the family health. Right. That would really shift how we talk about that. Right. Because then if we had that understanding among us, then when your friend comes to you and is like, I'm having a really hard time breastfeeding and I'm really stressed out, the go-to wouldn't be like, we'll just try harder. It would be like, ok, well, what do you need to feel, ok? 

Audra: Right. 

Bridget: Do you need to try more or do you need to quit or do you need something out or whatever? So I do think it's possible. I just think that like I think there's a lot of work to do.

Audra: That's a powerful shift, though, that you're talking about. I mean, I think the shift that  you're referring to is really amazing. And I think it also represents a way that we can. 

We've talked with another therapist or friend, Jenny Walters, around the use of language and creating kind of the growth of language that is empowering us to show up for each other. And I think that this is something with parenthood and caregiving that we can do. 

If we say I love the point of it, we can start with the health of that parent and then everything else from that, it's like starting with quality of life over treatment method when it comes from our nonprofit background. Right. Start with the quality of that life. 

And then we say, it sounds like when you talk about needing a C-section, for example, you know, sounds like that maybe saved your life or your baby's life. You know, this is something that's powerful. Like this is almost miraculous that we can do this, you know? So I love the shift that you're talking about. I'd like for us to be able to do that work and support that shift in The Family Thrive.

Justin: So I want to be selfish here and just ask a little bit about dad. 

Bridget: Yeah. Of course. Yeah.

Justin: So you work exclusively with moms, but I'm wondering what you’re hearing, what you're seeing from these new moms in regards to the challenges that the new dads face. What are these dads going through? How… Well, so I'll start with that. What are the challenges? And then how can dads get their act together so they can be more supportive?

Bridget: Yeah, I mean, I think that like, you know, issues of support of the partner are always an element, I think. I just think it's hard, right? Like it's hard to find that balance even when dads or partners are most involved, motivated, and active participants. It's just really hard as new parents to like find what is that new groove going to be. 

And so I think that like where I am usually hearing about that is trying to navigate. How do I navigate this new relationship with my partner? And like a lot of the time of women, it's about working with resistance around, like asking for help and then accepting the help that's given if it's not exactly what is wanted. Right. And so to me, I feel like the most effective way to do that is working with the couple, because I think it's like, it only goes so far if it's just mom in the session talking about it, because dad obviously has their own experience. 

But also just big picture, dads also go through like postpartum mental health challenges and depression and anxiety and trauma come up for dads like almost as often as it happens for mom. 

Justin: At least from the couple's work, have you seen are there underlying issues same where, you know, maybe some unprocessed trauma coming up?

Bridget: I think a lot of it and I think it is very much about that, about where they're kind of coming from when they arrived in parenthood. But I think it's also something I see a lot here, especially in Savannah, which is obviously like a very different kind of culture than what I'm accustomed to, and probably for me guys, too, coming from, you know, more like huge urban environment. And I think there's still so much just around general mental health stigma and like resistance around emotional vulnerability that men experience that I'm seeing in a lot of dads and like just, you know, basically toxic masculinity. Right. 

So I feel like a lot of times I'm either seeing it in couples or hearing about it from mom, a dad who is clearly struggling maybe with mental health or addiction or trauma or whatever, and it's completely cut off to that struggle. And so in a lot of ways, mom is showing up with her own challenges, but I almost see it as like kind of a symptom of this other issue. Right. It's almost, it's kind of like a scapegoat. Right.

Like mom shows up because it's more socially acceptable for a mom to say, “well, I'm kind of depressed after I had a baby” than it is for dad to say, “well, you know, I'm up all night because I'm suicidal and can't stop imagining horrible things” or whatever, you know. So to me, it's also just about like talking about that and also just trying to work against, you know, our sort of patriarchal structures.

Justin: Oh, my gosh, and there’s so much... 

Bridget: That reinforces… 

Justin: Oh, my gosh. There's so much work to do. Yeah. This is one thing that I hope that we can do a lot more workaround with the The Family Thrive is dads…

Bridget: Absolutely. 

Justin: And emotions. Like can we as dads start to get in touch with our own emotions? Because for most boys grow up in North America at least, most of our emotions are suppressed from a young age. And then finally and then when we have kids, what we end up doing is suppressing their emotions because we don't…

Audra: And ours.

Justin: We don't want to deal with it. Yeah. Yeah. Like your challenging emotions are too much for me. So I need to…

Bridget: Or too much. 

Justin: Yeah. So I need to suppress those. Yeah.

Bridget: Right. And I think, kind of similar to what I'm saying, like a lot of the times I feel like I am seeing a mom in therapy who is having a lot of marital or relationship trouble, a lot of trouble sort of managing transition into parenthood. But the more and more I dig, I realize she's sort of like expressing the challenges of the dad and a lot of ways. And she has kind of been identified as the problem person. And I mean, this has happened more times than I can say where I'm often like, I really think I have the wrong person in this room right now. You know, like.

Justin: Oh, my gosh. 

Bridget: Yeah, that's hard to deal with, especially if dad is resistant or just not interested in hearing that. You know. Like the therapist saying that is not necessarily going to win him over. But I think, again, it comes back to like those larger conversations that we just have about like what it means to be a parent, what it means to be men and women, have emotions, be vulnerable, like. And probably it just comes back to how we raise our kids. Right? Like I don't, I know you guys have a boy. I don't have boys. But I think about this a lot with parents, with boys. It's like it must feel like a tremendous burden to have to like really reprogram how boys exist in the world, like emotionally.

Justin: Oh, yeah, because...

Audra: You're still up against the world. 

Justin: Yeah, they have to go out in the world and be friends with other boys who are, you know, having their emotions suppressed. 

Bridget: Yeah. 

Justin: Yeah, yeah. Mhm. Selfishly, now, I want to move on to talk more about practices, so I mean, I would love to just start with me and say, Bridget, how can you help me? But I'll start with new moms and dads. And so are there some daily practices or some regular practices that you recommend to your clients where you say, you know, if you can just take a little bit of time to do this or take a little bit of that? 

Bridget: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think with practices like it always depends on the person because what works for you might not necessarily work for the next person. We're all just sort of wired differently. But I think with new parents, especially like new moms, like too, first three to six months, one of the ways they make some prescriptions, and one of them is like you have to get outside every single day. And it doesn't matter like if it's pouring rain or a hundred degrees like it is a lot of the time. But like you have to like see the sky and see the earth and like get some sensory input from outside every day. Even if it's just for like 30 seconds, you have to do that every day. And then also, you have to have some time away, physically away from your baby, where you can't see, hear, smell or touch them every single day. And again, like that could be a minute or whatever she might be able to tolerate, because some moms really can't tolerate that. It's too anxiety-provoking. 

So those are really big ones. And then I also just think I feel like what I'm sort of always working with our clients around, but especially the new parents, is trying to learn about and understand how you best regulate your own emotions and nervous system, because I think this is the thing again, this comes back to what you were saying, like we have to like teach our kids this, but alot of us don't know how to do this for ourselves as well. And truly, like I didn't really before. 

I mean, I feel like I had an idea of like, well, you know, I like yoga. I like to take a walk. I like the beach. But that was sort of the extent of it. And now I really, really know, like these are the things that I actively can do to regulate myself. 

And so that's something that I'm always trying to really work on, is like identifying what are those things? Offering out some options based on what I feel like might work for the person, but also just having them experiment with different things because like for some people, meditating and breathing is great. And for other people, it's like the worst. And they need to go like run 10 miles or whatever. Yeah. And it doesn't matter what it is, it's just about do you feel a sense of like your body and your nervous system have been regulated, ok, then do that. And like we have to carve out time for that. And I think that can feel, all of those things can feel like a lot to a new parent with a little baby who is totally overwhelmed. But it's also like it's totally possible…

Justin: It’s vital.

Bridget: And it's totally possible.

Justin: And it's vital. Like I, I think I didn't really understand this, I think, until our son was diagnosed. That if I am not taking care of myself, I'm actually doing him a disservice, like I can't show up for him or I'll get triggered a lot easier or, you know, so I have to take care of myself. And so it's not just like a luxury of like, so these prescriptions, I can imagine there are some moms who are like, well, I can't possibly take the time to go outside. And I mean, you know, I have so much to do. And it's like, no, no, no, this is vital. Like you're doing your child a service when you take care of yourself.

Bridget: Totally. Well, that's so true, and I feel like I am often using that reframe, especially with the new mama of like this, because when I hear all the time, it's like, well, I feel like I'm selfish or selfish if I go do yoga for five minutes. And I'm just like, you are not doing this for you. You are doing this for your entire family. All the kids, your partner. Make no mistake that this kind of self-care I feel like it's talked about a lot. It's like, oh, I go get a manicure, I go get a massage. Right, totally. And I'm like, oh, that's nice. But that's not what this is. This is actually, it's the way I describe it ass like it's self-regulation. And you are actually doing that for everyone else who relies on you. It's not for you.

Audra: What are some of the big, big or I should say most common refrains or as you put it, or common areas like this that you're sharing with parents? So itself, self-care is care for everyone. What are some of the other ones that you're that that are common for you

Bridget: Let’s see, I feel like that's probably the biggest one. But then I think also kind of coming back to the shame piece, I feel like a big reframe is that kind of language that we used to speak to ourselves when we're in shame is harmful to us in a way that also can really harm our children. And so I think the reframe I often use is what would it be like for you to use this kind of language with your kid? Right. And like, what could it be like, even if it doesn't feel authentic, even if you don't believe it, because most people are like, that's bullshit, but like just pretend. What would it be like to talk to yourself the way that you talk to your kid, just to kind of feel into like how weird that is, you know?

Audra: Yeah. That’s a powerful practice. 

Justin: Or what you said, talk to yourself the way you talk to your kid. Did you mean talk to your kid the way you talk to yourself?

Bridget: No, I mean, like it's, for example, if you have like a sweet name that you call your kid like “Oh, sweetie. Oh…” 

Justin: Ohh, talk to yourself…

Bridget: You know, you're like, oh, it's ok that you broke your favorite toy. Like everything would be ok. I'm going to take care of it.

Audra: With the same kind of compassion.

Justin: So the reason that I got mixed up was because I heard of this from another therapist about in regard to the inner critic, these, the self-shame that imagine yourself at age like three or four and saying that same thing to yourself, how stupid you are, how bad you know, and how this is such a powerful reframe for so many people and many people when in therapy, this is what I heard. We'll start to cry when they think about talking to themselves at three or four, the way they talk to themselves now.

Bridget: Totally. Totally. I think that's such a powerful practice. And just thinking about practices, I think it's not one that everyone is available for. But if that is, if it feels like that's a path that someone can go down, I absolutely try to guide them down that, especially because like kind of like what we're talking about, like having children can be like incredibly triggering of our own childhood shit. Right. 

And what I see a lot of the time is like, so you had something particularly traumatic or challenging going on, like at age five when your kid gets to be age five it's like, you know, all of this comes back. Right. So similar to what you're talking about, like I've suggested for some clients who are dealing with things like that, like finding a photo of themselves at that age and just like sticking it on the bathroom mirror and just kind of having that kid be part of like your everyday experience that you're like walking by and thinking about, because it's really hard to be shitty to that little kid or teenager or whatever age it is, but kind of like identifying the moment that feels like the most traumatic or there's the most pain leftover and trying to like center your vision of yourself at that age. 

Justin: Yeah. So I…

Bridget: Kids really help us do that because they're right there.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. So I love the reframe then of talking to yourself as you talk to your kids. So the same love that you're able to show your kid.

Audra: Yeah. It's similar to like, you know, if you, would you talk to your best friend. That's right. Would you really talk to anyone else this way?

Bridget: To anyone that way. Usually not. Yeah. 

Audra: Yeah. That’s so powerful.

Bridget: Yeah. Totally, totally. So like yeah. I mean, like a lot of that kind of falls into what I would call self-compassion work, which I, you know, there is a whole kind of practice around self-compassion that I will draw from a lot. But I feel with moms especially, that applies somewhere because it's really even for the mom who might be like, “No, I'm totally confident and I love myself and I never should talk to myself.” There's still some element of like, but you're not actually being that kind to you.

Audra: Mm-hmm. Do you, in relationship to this, and I know it's individual. It's not everyone by any means that I, we can only, you know, attempt to generalize a little bit. We talk about the dangers of... dangers, but issues with social media and the comparisons, the FOMO like all of these things. Do you find with any of your clients that it's helpful for them to take breaks or...

One of our therapists said, you know, she's like, I teach, try to teach like a mindful skill of as soon as I get that, like, oh, this isn't good. That first like uhhhh feeling. Turn it off. 

Bridget: Totally. Yeah. Oh, no, totally. I feel like I'm often kind of talking people through like harm reduction with social media. 

Audra: Harm reduction, yeah. 

Bridget: Like. And I think that that's a good way of doing it, of like noticing when do you start to spin out or when does your body start to react and shutting it off. But I think, too, like this is one thing I've suggested a lot is like if it feels really hard to take a break from social media, like, okay, keep it, but give yourself, like make a choice of like I give myself 20 minutes a day and then in those 20 minutes, you like set a timer and you do like full on deep dive, like look at. Get as much as you can and just go, go wild. And then that's it. And then you're done. Because obviously, like for all of us, there's the capacity to just like lose an hour, just scrolling or whatever. And then all of a sudden you don't realize, oh, wait a second, I feel really shitty, you know.

Audra: Mhm. Catches up with you later, huh? It makes me think too, as we can talk about this maybe the next time we get to talk with you, the next chat.

Justin: Yes, we have to have you back. 

Audra: But screen time, for example, with the kids, you know, it always occurs to me like if I had a 20 minute timer, we could do the 20 minutes together, you know, because I put them on a timer or a time limit. And then they see now continuing to go. And it's like, well, I'm working, you know, I am working, you know, really 100% of that is work. No, not at all. So I do think that self regulation has really powerful modeling. And I think that there's a lot in that that the family can benefit from as well.

Bridget: Totally.

Justin: How can people find out more about Bridget Cross?

Bridget: I have a website that's probably the best way, and it is Bridgetcrosslcsw.com. And then I have a Facebook also, which is also a bridgetcrosslcsm.com. So those are my ways of finding me.

Justin: Yeah, perfect. Perfect. All right. So our final three questions that we ask all of our guests. First, Bridget, if you were able to put a Post-it note on every parent's refrigerator tomorrow morning, what would that Post-it note say?

Bridget: Yeah, I saw this question and I went through a million different answers from simple to complicated. Yeah. And so this is totally cheating. But I want to give you two. One is just like to say like you are not alone, because I just think that can be really soothing to one's nervous system, like on every level. And can mean a lot of different things to different people. But the other is, it's like a really quick poem that I have, like put around on Post-it notes for myself in different moments of life by Raymond Carver. And it's actually, he's a fiction writer who wrote like in the ‘70s and ‘80s. And it was like amazing and wonderful. But it's a little poem that he wrote that I think it's actually on his tombstone. But I will read it to you. I pulled it up because I wanted to make sure, I kind of know it by heart, but I didn't want to mess it up. Can I read it to you?

Audra: Of course. 

Bridget: And so it's just a few lines. It says: “And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on this earth. So I feel like every parent needs that, right?

Audra: Yes.

Justin: Yes, we need that on our refrigerator. 

Bridget: We do. We do. I think it's like, you know, it's soothing that we need so that we can soothe.

Justin: That kind of covers the next question. Is there a recent quote that you've read that has changed the way you think or feel?

Bridget: Yeah, that's a good one. It's not really recent to me, but I feel like it's one that I always come back to. There's a book that I've been reading and it's kind of like all about my jam right now. It's called Call of the Wild by Kimberly Ann Johnson. And she is amazing. She's like a somatic practitioner and she was a postpartum doula. And she wrote an amazing book called The Fourth Trimester that's about all of what we're talking about. But this is about somatic practices for healing trauma. And I don't have the actual quote of it, but I'm going to paraphrase it, which is basically that “We work in the body to heal trauma in the present for the past.”

Audra: Oh yes. 

Bridget: And so that to me, I mean, I've been kind of in this book for a few weeks now, but that has sort of really stuck with me just as like it a little bit reverses, I think, how like talk therapy usually works, which is like talking about the present, talking about the past to heal the present. I actually think that it needs to be reversed.

Justin: Beautiful. 

Audra: I think well, we're going to add the book to the show notes for sure.

Bridget: And it's an amazing, amazing book.

Audra: Something that I'd like to read, it’s making me think a book club might be in order.

Justin: So it was working in the body and the present to heal the past?

Bridget: Yes. 

Justin: Is that right? 

Bridget: Totally. Totally so. And that yeah, that is the kind of trauma, healing work that she is writing about in this book, that that's the focus of it.

Justin: So the final question is one that we ask every guest, because as you all know, parenting isn't always sunshine and roses. And so it's nice to just remember what we love about childhood and what we love about kids. And so, Bridget, what do you love about kids?

Bridget: I will answer like what I love most about my kids, because that’s mostly my experience of kids. For the most part, and I think it's very common, is that kids, at least younger ones, exist in the present. Like they're the ultimate kind of mindful present awareness and being in the moment. And that's whether they're like experiencing something emotionally or telling or imagining something or drawing something. 

Audra: Yeah. So that they're automatically, by nature, present beings.

Bridget: Yeah, totally. They're like in the moment and like I think especially being like in play with them is the ultimate, like mindfulness practice or like practice of being in the moment, regardless of what is going on in our own internal storms, you know.

Audra: I love that. I think it's a really powerful reflection. It resonates a lot with me. And the thing that came up for me when you mentioned it is, again, kind of some of the theme of what we're talking about today is sometimes or most often I know they'll be present and it's an inspiring, beautiful place to be with them. But so often we're not present and we're like, want to get shoes on and get out the door or go, do you like whatever the things are. 

And so I think like we then bring that cloud of everything else we're thinking about into their present presence. And I think it's such a good reminder too, that is a state to be honored. Yes, we have a kind of boundary. Things need to get done in our days and all of that. But to know that this isn't just like in insolence or, you know, that your children don't have you in mind or whatever it might be, it's like another way, state of being almost.

Bridget: Yeah. It's like closely connected, I think, to like the sense of compassion, right. because we're not always able to be present with them because it's life and we need to get up there and get the shoes on the right, whatever. But I think that like I have found anyway that my kids are just like a good reminder that like I can be in the moment. And also that like if I screw up a moment and like yell at somebody or I'm not so nice…

Justin: There's another moment.

Bridget: That's what I love about my kids and kids in general.

Audra: It's so nice to meet you. So nice to talk with you. Thank you so much. This is a fantastic conversation. And I really hope that we can work together more. And I think what you bring to the world is so valuable and needed. And you have, you know, a beautiful practice here in Savannah. And we'd like to be a part of bringing you to an audience that needs you outside of Savannah too. 

Bridget: Yeah, thank you. I'm so glad for to meet you guys. I'm just excited for the work that you guys are doing, too.

Justin: Thank you so much for your time. This has been amazing. I can't wait to do it again.

Bridget: I know. It's fun. Thank you. 

Audra: Ok, bye.

Justin: Hey, thanks for listening to The Family Thrive podcast. If you like what you heard, please subscribe, tell two friends and head on over to Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts and give us a review. We're so grateful you've chosen to join us on this Family Thrive journey.

Justin: Bridget Cross is quite literally helping to save the world. She's doing this as a perinatal psychotherapist who helps moms and dads grow through the mental and emotional challenges that come with pregnancy, childbirth and raising a newborn. 

I wish to god we had a Bridget when our kids were born 14 and 11 years ago. Bringing a new life into this world is a joyous moment and we all see the pictures on social media of a happy but tired mom and dad with the brand new baby, but what we don't see is the numbness, anxiety, marital conflict, rage and overwhelm that is also a very real part of the parenting journey. 

In this episode, Bridget talks with me and Audra about the mental and emotional challenges new parents face. The role of shame and motherhood, the role of avoidance and fatherhood, the stress of this new school year, and so much more. Truly, this episode is a must-listen for anyone who is a new parent, an old parent, maybe a parent someday, or has a new parent in their life or an old parent in their life. So it's for pretty much everybody. So without further ado, here's our conversation with the amazing Bridget Cross. 

I have a bunch of questions that are more general. And so I wanted to start off with something that's real and that's happening for all of us right now and happening for every parent right now, and that's going back to school. 

And so as a therapist, what's coming up for your clients right now? What's happening for them as they're coming in to see you? What is this moment like for you as a therapist?

Bridget: Well, I think there is so much anxiety and fear that I think so many, I mean, I see so many parents of young kids, but also people who are pregnant or who have new babies. And I think anxiety during this whole period of time has been running so high. And I think in this moment that we're in now thinking about going back to school and like re-emerging from this sort of dark closet that we've been in. 

You know, it's just it's bringing up a lot, because I think for some people, it's also really exciting. There's like a sense of like resuming normal or feeling like your kids are going to be able to get some sense of normal. But also, like, you know, like we're all feeling there's that sense of like how long will it last and can I rely on it? And will it be safe? And I think it's something that I fear for a lot of people who've had kids like, especially in the last few years, like some newer parents, is I think that like the experience of going through like shutdown's and quarantine's and homeschooling and having to stay home, in some ways is like reactivating for some people, like the trauma that they experienced, like in postpartum time, if they did experience that. 

And so, like, you know, the feeling that maybe you two can relate to of like having a little baby and being stuck at home and having like your whole life kind of snatched away from you in the way that it can feel like when you first have a new baby, especially your first one. 

I feel like I'm hearing from a lot of clients that sense of like I'm like reliving that all over again. Like I thought that I had kind of like gotten out of that phase of feeling sort of trapped in parenthood or stuck at home or like unable or like not being able to feel my freedom. Like I'd finally moved away from that. And then Covid happened and I'm like right back there again. And so I think that like especially for moms who struggled emotionally or in mental health, like especially in postpartum, that has felt really challenging and painful for them to kind of go back to that place. 

Audra: To some like Covid is triggering for many of us.

Bridget: Yeah. 

Audra: And do you find, one thing I'm curious about you, because you're a mother of younger children as well. And so this must be an unusual experience, kind of to be able to maybe, I don't know if you do, but do you identify with some of what your patients are going through? Like you're kind of we're all in this together to some degree.

Bridget: Totally. Yeah. I mean, I think this is sort of a unique moment for me professionally where, you know, just in Covid, I'm going through something personally that literally all of my clients are also going through and there really hasn't been anything else, you know, other than just kind of like what's going on maybe politically or elections or something like that. 

But nothing like this where each and every person is being deeply, personally affected, emotionally taxed at the same time that I am. And so trying to redefine that line between like, what is my role? How do I show up for people and support them and kind of hold that space for them? While also kind of going through my own thing. 

Justin: Wow. I mean, wow, that's intense.

Bridget: I mean, in a way, that's like that's my job, right? Like that's partly what my job is, is to manage that for myself so that I can show up for the people that I work with. But it's for sure been different with this. 

And I think, in a lot of ways it's actually been helpful because, you know, I have a lot of clients who have kids, you know, around my kids’ ages. I have clients who go to school with my kids, whose kids go to school with my kids. And so it just kind of having that common thread. It can be a little challenging in terms of personal boundaries. But I think in general, it's a win because people feel like, “Ok, you know, I'm going through this but not alone,” which is like really what most parents, I feel, really need to hear.

Justin: And I just really quick, it strikes me that I like had this reaction hearing, like, yeah, you're going through the same intense stuff that your clients are. And then how can you work through the intensity of this while also showing up for your clients? And then what struck me was like, oh, that's parenting as well. Like, I'm going to do all this and how can I show up for my kids who are going, yeah. So there’s layers here.

Bridget: Totally. Well, I mean, and I would say about being exactly as you're saying, like being in the role, that is the role I do for my job has like all of these exact parallels and being a mom, for me not to say that I'm a mom to my clients because I’m not. But it is just like what you said, to keep your own shit in check so that you can show up for your kids’ shit. 

Audra: Absolutely. 

Bridget: And sometimes we do that really well and sometimes not at all.

Justin: Yeah. Bridget, that is the theme of The Family Thrive for us.

Audra: Yeah, it really is, because I think so many of us come from a generation where I mean, this isn't this has not been kind of like the pass-down wisdom. I think just so many of us experienced just like a complete lack of awareness parents around their own shit. 

And then the resulting consequences of just things kind of falling on to the family and being shared with the family and no boundaries and no awareness, in these ways. And so I do think it's a pretty radical shift and it's something that is for me anyway, empowering. You know, the thing that I, it's about me in so many ways, managing me. And...

Bridget: Totally.

Audra: Other things, sort of like fall in from there, you know. It's about the example I sat on top of that. But boundaries is definitely a big theme all the way around. And I think it's really powerful to hear that from you with regard to your life, it sounds like between clients and your family and your kids, kind of like a major theme and how you're able to manage all of it.

Bridget: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's a lot. And I mean, I will say too, for me, it's been kind of a relearning, not just with Covid, but also with being in Savannah. Because of a small town, it doesn't seem like it is, but it really is like it's just super teeny tiny. And I'm from New York and started work, you know, doing this work in New York and so in New York City anyway. I mean, I could live down the block from a client and never, ever see them.

Audra: Not a small town. 

Bridget: ... And I've just never had any experience of seeing clients outside of just a clinical space. And here it's basically just how it is. Like I see my clients at my kid's school. I see them at the grocery store, at the park. And so just having to kind of navigate like a new set of boundaries in general, but especially I think with Covid, it's like even more so.

Justin: So, Bridget, yeah, this is really fascinating, your work, that the parallels with motherhood and parenting. How did you get into this? So you are a perinatal therapist. And so you work exclusively with parents and exclusively with mothers, or do you see fathers as well?

Bridget: You know, I would love to see fathers, but sadly, I have not had any come to me on their own outside of the couple hours. Which I think kind of speaks a lot to just stigma around mental health and men and dads in general, obviously.

Justin: So when you were training as a therapist, did you know this is the work that you wanted to do?

Bridget: No, not at all. It's actually kind of a second career for me. But when I decided to go back to school for social work, which was in 2007, I actually thought that I wanted to work with teenagers, and that was sort of like my passion. I just felt like I was going to be what I wanted to do. I really wanted to be, you know I’d been in a lot of therapy. I feel like therapy was really powerful to me when I was a teenager and I was like, this is what I want to do. 

And then I went through social work school and you do various internships when you're in that program with different populations. And then I got a job pretty soon after social work school, working with teens and families in a really very challenging population, and pretty quickly realized that I don't want to work with teenagers at all. 

And not because they're not amazing, because they are fascinating and incredible. They're just for the family element of it, like doing the family work, I realized was just really not a strength of mine. So I ended up working for a long time, just in kind of like general adult mental health and community mental health in New York. 

So working in outpatient clinics and working with just all kinds of issues, but also in general with very, very sick people and with long-standing chronic mental illness, like very high-risk populations, but which was hard, but also like wonderful training, just in terms of exposure there are just so many different things. And then I had a baby and I mean, a lot happened between those things, but I had a baby and I moved here shortly after. She was about nine months old when we moved here.

Audra: Oh, no kidding. 

Bridget: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. She was super small. And I struggled quite a bit in pregnancy, even actually before pregnancy, but in pregnancy and also postpartum with my own just depression and trauma and challenges. And I just kind of became really interested. I was seeing a lot of moms and families in my practice anyway. And I was just realizing like, “Hey, I should get some training in this,” because I started kind of understanding like depression that occurs in the postpartum period and pregnancy. It's not the same as other depression, even though in general it is treated the same. It's like, “Oh, it's just depression,” but it's when you're pregnant or when you're postpartum. 

Audra: Right. Right. Right. 

Bridget: Yeah. And so I started doing some training in it, and then I started doing some like volunteer work for an organization called Postpartum Support International, and ended up just really connecting with like a whole network of perinatal clinicians and advocates and social justice aspect and all of that, and just kind of go really deep into that, and then over a few years of training ended up getting the certification that I have as a perinatal mental health provider. 

So it was a slow build because that child is now almost seven. But I'd say like in the last three or four years, my practice has been pretty much exclusively, not 100%, but probably about 75% in perinatal clients, which is amazing. And I feel like it's totally what I am truly meant to be doing. But it's not, just to get back to your question, it wasn't like where I started at all.

Audra: It's incredible. It's true. There's nothing like a calling that comes from your experience, that comes from a deep place of knowing, you know, seeing the need, identifying the need personally. And I'm really interested, going back to the start, like you knew that you were, you're called into the work of therapy from experiencing how life-changing this was for you, it sounds like as a teenager which brought into the world of teens and I had a curiosity around the teenage the work with that is the family work. Is it really the fact that you're the teenager isn't the work, it's the parents.

Bridget: 100%. And so, yeah, it is. And that's I think that that's the trick, is that the, I mean, this is a generalization, but I would say the majority of people who are bringing their children, but particularly teenagers to therapy are not very interested in hearing about anything other than what's wrong with their kid.

Justin: Fix this one.

Bridget: Fix that problem. Yeah, and that's true of all kids. I mean, even young, too, I think. But there's a lot that teenagers can do on their own in therapy without family support. But particularly, I was working in juvenile justice within the child protective system in Brooklyn, and that's a really super tough population where parents and families I mean, if the child is even living with the parents a lot of times with a guardian or a family member or in foster care, those adults just don't have the resources to participate in that child's care or healing at all because of their own stuff. 

Audra: And they need support, it sounds like, the parents.

Bridget: Yeah, totally. 

Audra: The caregiver or whoever it is.

Bridget: Yeah, the family totally. And so it's like a system, obviously, like a systemic problem. And there are many social workers, I think who’re really equipped with working with those populations. But I just kind of quickly realized that I was not going to be great at it because I noticed how quickly I would become really aligned with the kid and feel the sense of deep resentment and anger toward the family.

Audra: Oh… powerful.

Bridget: And I was like, I'm not going to be good at this and oriented this way because I have to really be able to hold all of it. And that just wasn't my, I just kind of recognized really quickly that that was not the strength of mine. And also just that I was like, I don't think I want to do this. So I shouldn't be doing it because I should only be doing this if I want to.

Audra: Oh, what a powerful observation. And for you to honor that and not try to force yourself into the space of holding the space. It sounds like identifying with this kid in so many ways is a strength, you know, but just in the setting for that work is something that would make it very difficult for you to do kind of what is expected in that role. And so coming into the space of working with mothers mostly, and this perinatal work sounds pretty incredible, because you really are working with the mom and dad.

Bridget: Right. 

Audra: There's a relationship there with the child, obviously. But it is more of that direct work. And out of a place of deep knowing and understanding. 

Justin: It feels, so in the public health, which is where I come from. Yeah. There's this broad idea that, you know, we in public health, we're going upstream like the doctors are working downstream. When a person gets sick, the doctors are, you know, fixing what's getting sick. But public health, we're going upstream and we're finding out what's making people sick in the first place. And so that feels kind of like your journey in a way above the, you know, working with these teenagers and the parents and seeing like, oh, this is you know, this is a mess. I could just get these parents like right when they have this kid.

Bridget: Well, totally. Well, that's so true. And then I also think like within particular populations or systems, like recognizing this is like a systemic thing. Right. Because with a lot of like what I was seeing in that job, it wasn't even the parent. I mean, it was like generations of trauma. Right. And like. And so there was this feeling of like overwhelmed with like I was also a really new, green clinician and I had really good support and supervision, but I was just kind of my brain exploding with like the hugeness of the problem, you know?

Audra: Absolutely. I have so much respect and awe of the folks who can bring themselves to systemic work. And I, my background is in education before getting into nonprofit work. And I am just totally, totally in awe.And I mean, I knew I've always known that I wouldn't be effective in a role with such an overwhelming, insurmountable, systemic, oppressive aspect to it. It really does take a special kind of person.

Bridget: Yes. It does. And I'm so glad those people are out there.

Audra: Me, too. Me too.

Justin: I want to make sure that we go as quickly into like that, that the core of what you do. So I really want to know what are the common mental and emotional challenges that new moms face? I mean, this seems to be the core of what you are working on.

Bridget: Most new moms find their way to me because they are really suffering and struggling with just how they're feeling. Typically, like I say, after our first baby, but it's not always like just be with whatever baby this is for the family. So seeing like a ton of depression, anxiety, and kind of like somatic symptoms.

Justin: So for the lay listener, somatic symptoms would be.

Bridget: Yeah. So, somatic symptoms being symptoms that are kind of taking up in the body. So like emotional distress or strain that's being expressed through your body, which doesn't mean that it's not real. It just means that it's connected to like an unprocessed emotion. 

So like an example would be a mom who maybe is really overwhelmed, stressed, panicky, and having migraines or having kind of chronic pain or maybe having a flare-up of an autoimmune disorder, things like that. 

So I guess what I'm saying is most people are finding their way to me because there's some particular like acute symptom that's coming on versus a sense of a more general I'm kind of worried about my mental health and I might want to get some support to make sure I'm healthy. I wish that they did. 

Audra: Yeah. The big red flag that totally just demands attention.

Bridget: Exactly. And a lot. And I would say too, like another big one is problems in the partnership, in the marriage or relationship with partner, can be like another reason that people find their way to me. But a lot of times it's the symptoms of depression. So it doesn't have to look necessarily like sadness, crying, low mood. It could be like “I feel nothing.” 

Justin: Yeah. 

Bridget: “I feel numb and totally disconnected from my baby. And I don't care.” Or like it could look like something I see a lot, actually in women is this kind of postpartum rage that happens where it's like “I'm not depressed, actually I feel kind of happy, but I keep raging at my partner or at my kid or my dog” or whatever, you know. So that, too, can be just sort of like a signal that things, that there's something to look at there.

Justin: Do you see as you kind of dig in with these clients, are there patterns that you see that are underneath this that are or are these symptoms are the deeper issues unique or are the deeper issues do you see patterns?

Bridget: Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, I'm thinking about it now. I'm thinking I definitely see patterns. I think there's a lot of trends, especially when we think of women and modern parenting culture. But I also, and so I think that like there can be trends and how that's expressed, like how their distress is being expressed. But I also think it's always really unique to the person and their particular history and like what they're arriving to parenthood with. Right. 

So like, for example, if you have a history of trauma, particularly like childhood or developmental trauma, that doesn't mean you're automatically going to have a hard time in parenthood. But it does set you up to like a particular sensitivity to maybe having a colicky baby or having trouble breastfeeding or having some conflict with your partner around adjusting. Right. It kind of there's vulnerabilities in people's particular individual background.

Audra: I can appreciate that. The sensitivity, that sense that and oh, god, I think what a beautiful way to start to prepare for bringing a child into your family. However, that child is brought into your family with some attunement and preparation, in a sense, knowing that you will have sensitivities. 

We all have something interesting. And I think part of the challenge is this, you know, this you're you enter into parenthood, you know, or caregiving. And we are presented with a picture of you got like, you know, nine-month-old on your hip from week two, you know, and plenty of sleep and you're out in the world and everything is fine, you know?

Bridget: Right. And they're just so cute.

Audra: You're out with your friends, you know, doing your thing. Right. And how often does that happen? Never.

Bridget: Ever. 

Justin: Yeah, well, I would imagine so. There's got to be this double this like reactive thing going on. So there's the underlying issues, maybe history of trauma or whatever the case is. And then we have these acute symptoms that are bringing clients to you and then is likely shame on top of this that why aren't I just the perfect, happy mom?

Bridget: Oh yeah, Big time, big time. And I mean, I love that you noticed that, because I feel like that's probably like top three themes in pretty much like all perinatal clients that I see is like some aspect of shame of why am I not enjoying this? Why am I not loving my baby? I'm not you know, I'm not the mom that I want to be. I'm disappointed in who my baby is. I'm disappointed that my partner is now and a lot of...

Audra: A lot of should’s. 

Bridget: Of why am I having such a hard time? And everybody else, you know, on Instagram is so beautiful and happy and, you know, just all the bullshit. Right? 

Audra: Right. Yeah. 

Bridget: And so I think that but I think that that's the thing is that it is different in the perinatal period, but it's also like shame kind of rules all of us, like in all of our challenges, like wherever we are finding struggle. You usually don't have to dig too far to find the shame. Right. 

And so I feel like that's that's often like in terms of the patterns that you're asking about, like those are the patterns that I see. But it just looks a little different on everyone. And then too like with that is like the pattern of like expectations versus reality parenting. And I just think that in a way that's part of it, because you can't I mean, you guys know, like you can probably be told over and over again before you have children, like “Watch out. It's hard. This is hard, this sucks. This is not fun. It's not going to be what you think.” And you're like, “yeah, yeah, it'll be fine.” And then all of a sudden your baby comes and you're like “fuck.”

Audra: You can’t know, until you know. Right, something that until you've experienced it, you haven't experienced it.

Justin: So there's like another layer here. And something that really led us into this work is that I think for parents of our generation, I think just anyone who's had a child in the last maybe 15 or 20 years, parenting is like a life project. It's like one of the most important, if not the most important things that we ever will do. And we feel like this is so important to us. You know, this is what we want to do. 

And then it happens and it's so hard and there's so many challenges, and now not only that, but now we have Instagram or whatever else going on in your do you know, like just lots of feedback that you're doing it wrong. I can imagine that just having this sense that not only is this hard and I'm seeing other people who seem to be doing it just fine, but like this thing is super important to me. It's not something that I can just be like, you know, whatever. I tried. I'll just tennis and, you know, I didn't really like tennis that much.

Bridget: Yeah, well, it is. And I think that that is why it's so important, but also like why it has the potential to be so transformative and meaningful for people. Because I think I mean, not to say that like parenting my kid is all about me, but like in some ways it is all about me. It's about her. But it's also, them. But it's about me also really looking super close at my shirt and like working with all of the, I mean, like I'm a therapist. I've been in therapy like the majority of my life. And becoming a parent made me see myself and look at my darkness in a way that I had never even touched.

Justin: Oh, heck yeah. Oh, that's so powerful. 

Bridget: I just think that it's really, I think it's painful and excruciating, but I think with the right support and reflection and space, like I actually think I'm going to sound really out there and woo-woo, but I'm kind of like is how we can heal the world. 

Audra: Yes.

Justin: This is why we're doing The Family Thrive. 

Audra: Yeah. No, it's that. So I'm a visual person. And for those listening, not that I can help visualize this anymore, but I'm seeing something like an onion or something with many, many layers. And I just want to like recap them really quick, because I'm hoping that there might be some moms who listen to this who then get, are able to get a greater sense of the entire landscape and geography for themselves if they have been thinking of this as just an intensely personal issue. There's so much more to it than that. So it is all we bring with us into parenthood. Right. 

So it is our unresolved trauma as our shadow work. All of this that we're bringing into it. And then we have the actual like physical or hormonal, very often trauma of childbirth and the major physicality to it. And then you have the, all of the compounded kind of emotional things. Then you have the expectations of what parenthood would be. You have the expectations of what you think it's going to be parenting, but it's actually caregiving, you know, at the beginning.

Bridget: Right. 

Audra: You have the expectation of what your baby's going to be, your expectation with your partners are going to be. You have the expectations of maybe what your family will be and how they'll respond, and they have their expectations on you. And then you've got the stories. And so you've got like the social, cultural, sometimes even historic, you know, aspects of this coming forward and landing on your experience of one day not having a baby, the next day having a baby and being charged with this little human life as all of these layers around it. That's huge. 

Bridget: Yeah. It is. 

Audra: And we, I think in our culture, in our society, we like, you know, give you a balloon and some flowers and say welcome to the rest of your life. You know, but this is a profoundly monumental change. But I love about what you just said before is that, yes, it's all of that. But in that walking through, like doing the work through that contains within it the potential for our transformation and the transformation of the world.

Bridget: Yeah, totally. Totally. I love your visualization of that. I think it makes a lot of sense. I think that, like, I always kind of hesitate to go there because I feel like just I'm not like a super sunshiny, idealistic person in general. So it always feels a little strange. 

But I do I think this is something that I have really come to understand and also believe is that the health of children, but also of the family is rooted in the health and well-being of the mom. And I understand that there's a lot of ways in which that can be problematic to say that about families with obviously like alternative structures or families where there is no mom or..

Audra: Or systemic issues or inequity.

Bridget: Yeah, absolutely. And so but if we kind of just look at it like biologically, physiologically, I still do really stand by that. But like the health of the mom is the health of the child, the partner, the family and then our community, really. And obviously also treating those families where that's not the structure in a similar way with similar care is really important. But I just think that that really needs to be made front and center, because when you look at all of those layers, if you really like peel it back, I feel like that is what is at the center of it. 

Audra: At the heart of it. 

Justin: Yeah. Beautiful.

Audra: But speaking of the health of the mother, I'm curious to know, because we've had a wonderful guest on this podcast, Tiffani Ghere, who specializes in feeding. And she's a dietitian and she actually works for a she is like an amazing lactation specialist who also is working on for a start-up, bringing better formula to this country. And it reminds me of the conversation of fed is best versus breast is best. 

And there seems to be a shift happening in this country where we're starting to understand that the mental health of the mother and the health of the mother is primary key number one, and the focus on exactly how a baby is fed and the kind of the disproportionate focus, and sometimes depending on the setting you're in, can detract from the health of the mother. That it is really kind of a partnership. Are you seeing A: this conversation in your practice and are you seeing these changes as well?

Bridget: Totally. Totally. I think, you know, if we think about like reasons that people end up in my office, especially for new moms, you know, brand new babies, first time. I mean, I don't have a number like to actually quote, but I would guess it's like half related to issues around breastfeeding and feeding. And the stress that's placing on her, the mom, and on the partner and on the whole kind of support system and on baby a lot of the time. 

So, you know, it looks a lot of different ways for different people. And, you know, I feel like through my own experience and my own challenges with that, with my oldest, I feel like I really kind of had a shift within myself from like this is the ultimate good breastfeeding and not just the nutrition, but also the kind of attachment and like sort of psychological, emotional advantages that are, you know, that we get through that to really coming to understand that like all of that, truly like I mean, I'm going to be like super basic about it. Like all of that is just bullshit. If mom's mental health is not ok, like it just doesn't matter what I mean, it doesn't matter. 

You can give the kid truckloads of breast milk and if mom is suicidal or not bonded and connecting or if that partnership is disintegrating because of the stress around breastfeeding, then it's worthless. Like it's truly, and so I know a lot of people would argue with me around that, but I just obviously like getting very specific.

Justin: Not here.

Audra: I think that's changing. Yeah, I really do. My hope anyway.

Bridget: And I think it's like a good challenge for us to like to work and like exist in this world, to be in that in-between where it's like it's not that breastfeeding isn't wonderful. It's amazing. I breastfed my kids. It's incredible like when it works. It's an incredible experience for all. And I feel really fortunate that I got to do it. But I think like when you think about things like shame, I mean, I am working with moms who have four and five-year-olds who are still working through the shame of not being able to breastfeed in the way that they imagined. And it's like that's just not ok.

Audra: It's not ok. Thank you. It is. No, it is. No, it doesn't have to be this way.

Justin: So I imagine one of the biggest issues is that breastfeeding seems to me the first and maybe the most powerful, like physical manifestations of mom providing for a baby, mom caring for. It's like the most. Oh, my god, it's the most emotionally powerful instance of my providing for baby.

Audra: You know this from experience as a dad. I mean, we had significant issues with Max feeding at first, our 14-year-old and Justin went to, we were in Santa Monica. He went to the local like breastfeeding support store. And he's like, I need a nipple that is like the closest thing to a human nipple because we are going to make this work. And they were like, “Sir, we will not sell that to you.”

Justin: Yeah, they refuse to sell it to me. Yeah.

Bridget: Get out. Oh, my god.

Justin: They were like, she just needs to try harder or something. Or she needs like lactation consultants or whatever you... 

Bridget: Yeah, like you need to spend more money on a lactation consultant first.

Audra: Yeah, right. Whose focus was they were just like just shove his face. I mean, it would just shove it. It wasn't like that baby finds its way down. I had a baby with this arching back, like refusing to do it. So he'd take home a hospital pump. This is 14 years later. And I feel like it was like yesterday for me. Take home a hospital-grade pump. And I was like, listen, I can pump and pump and pump, put it in a bottle. And when we go to the farmer's market, I'll have him under a nursing cover. No one will know. 

Justin: No one will know. This is Santa Monica, Cambridge is that we cannot be going around feeding our newborn with a bottle…

Bridget: No, no, no. So it's like a Scarlet Letter. 

Audra: Yes, it is. It is. And so when our second was born now 11 years ago in Orange County, where whatever you want to do, you know, it was just a very different environment. It was something that was just whatever you want to do, mom. But I remember a big moment with that was when they asked if they could take her to the nursery, if they could feed her some formula so I could rest as a mom who just had my second C-section. I was like, “Yes, yes, I will rest.”

Bridget: And thank you. 

Audra: And thank you, which is something that is learned. So that brings me to another part of this, which is that bringing the self-care into it, where we feel like, yes, these are the elemental foundational things. The other thing that I've heard is maybe one of the bigger issues for moms is birth. Method of birth choice, you know, kind of like birthing methods, and so I’ve heard significant accounts of traumas around like not wanting C-section, but needing a C-section, wanting a VBAC, but not beyond the get one. And then now, more recently, C-section mom saying, you know, my child was also birthed, like this is a legitimate form of birth. 

Bridget: Absolutely. 

Audra: You know, child wouldn’t be here if it wasn't for this. So a lot of...

Bridget: And you go and you went through a process, even if it was a C-section, that's still a process that your body goes through. 

Audra: Yes. Yes, absolutely. And so a lot of trauma and difficulty around all of the different associations with how we bring these children into the world. And that is, it's a lot it's.

Bridget: I think that speaks to the layers that you were describing before. Right. Because in all of this, it's like there's a million different entry points for all the shame. Right. And it truly I feel like this happens a lot like this comes up a lot in conversations I have with clients or just other moms. 

If it doesn't matter what you do, you're going to be losing essentially in some area. You might feel like, ok, well, I got this part right or I got this part right. But there's always going to be an area where you feel like I either didn't get the experience that I want or I didn't do it well enough or I didn't do it right. And now I'm kind of like having to pay for that either in some consequence with my kid or consequence with my partner, or even just in how I feel within myself. You know, like the opportunity for shame is just like...

Audra: Embedded through that whole onion. And so how do you think we, as moms, ok, the assumption I'm making and asking this question is that we as moms don't always show up really well for each other and that's, I think a lot of times we're bringing our stuff in. Right. Just like the boundaries that you talked about with everything, just like our boundaries around parenting, as friends we can often bring our own baggage in and not really hold the space for those around us. Do you think we can show up better for each other? Do you think we're capable of...

Bridget: I do. I mean, I think that like, you know, through having conversations like this, I think that that can be possible for sure. What I think is really important is just kind of naming all of the really shitty messages that we receive. Right. And naming that maybe they have good intention. 

Again, you know, breastfeeding is wonderful. But when it starts to switch into something that's like generating shame or pressure or whatever, then it's not working anymore. And I feel like, my sense is like if women, families, everyone could start to kind of see the parent, let's just say more generally, the parent is like the center of the family health. Right. That would really shift how we talk about that. Right. Because then if we had that understanding among us, then when your friend comes to you and is like, I'm having a really hard time breastfeeding and I'm really stressed out, the go-to wouldn't be like, we'll just try harder. It would be like, ok, well, what do you need to feel, ok? 

Audra: Right. 

Bridget: Do you need to try more or do you need to quit or do you need something out or whatever? So I do think it's possible. I just think that like I think there's a lot of work to do.

Audra: That's a powerful shift, though, that you're talking about. I mean, I think the shift that  you're referring to is really amazing. And I think it also represents a way that we can. 

We've talked with another therapist or friend, Jenny Walters, around the use of language and creating kind of the growth of language that is empowering us to show up for each other. And I think that this is something with parenthood and caregiving that we can do. 

If we say I love the point of it, we can start with the health of that parent and then everything else from that, it's like starting with quality of life over treatment method when it comes from our nonprofit background. Right. Start with the quality of that life. 

And then we say, it sounds like when you talk about needing a C-section, for example, you know, sounds like that maybe saved your life or your baby's life. You know, this is something that's powerful. Like this is almost miraculous that we can do this, you know? So I love the shift that you're talking about. I'd like for us to be able to do that work and support that shift in The Family Thrive.

Justin: So I want to be selfish here and just ask a little bit about dad. 

Bridget: Yeah. Of course. Yeah.

Justin: So you work exclusively with moms, but I'm wondering what you’re hearing, what you're seeing from these new moms in regards to the challenges that the new dads face. What are these dads going through? How… Well, so I'll start with that. What are the challenges? And then how can dads get their act together so they can be more supportive?

Bridget: Yeah, I mean, I think that like, you know, issues of support of the partner are always an element, I think. I just think it's hard, right? Like it's hard to find that balance even when dads or partners are most involved, motivated, and active participants. It's just really hard as new parents to like find what is that new groove going to be. 

And so I think that like where I am usually hearing about that is trying to navigate. How do I navigate this new relationship with my partner? And like a lot of the time of women, it's about working with resistance around, like asking for help and then accepting the help that's given if it's not exactly what is wanted. Right. And so to me, I feel like the most effective way to do that is working with the couple, because I think it's like, it only goes so far if it's just mom in the session talking about it, because dad obviously has their own experience. 

But also just big picture, dads also go through like postpartum mental health challenges and depression and anxiety and trauma come up for dads like almost as often as it happens for mom. 

Justin: At least from the couple's work, have you seen are there underlying issues same where, you know, maybe some unprocessed trauma coming up?

Bridget: I think a lot of it and I think it is very much about that, about where they're kind of coming from when they arrived in parenthood. But I think it's also something I see a lot here, especially in Savannah, which is obviously like a very different kind of culture than what I'm accustomed to, and probably for me guys, too, coming from, you know, more like huge urban environment. And I think there's still so much just around general mental health stigma and like resistance around emotional vulnerability that men experience that I'm seeing in a lot of dads and like just, you know, basically toxic masculinity. Right. 

So I feel like a lot of times I'm either seeing it in couples or hearing about it from mom, a dad who is clearly struggling maybe with mental health or addiction or trauma or whatever, and it's completely cut off to that struggle. And so in a lot of ways, mom is showing up with her own challenges, but I almost see it as like kind of a symptom of this other issue. Right. It's almost, it's kind of like a scapegoat. Right.

Like mom shows up because it's more socially acceptable for a mom to say, “well, I'm kind of depressed after I had a baby” than it is for dad to say, “well, you know, I'm up all night because I'm suicidal and can't stop imagining horrible things” or whatever, you know. So to me, it's also just about like talking about that and also just trying to work against, you know, our sort of patriarchal structures.

Justin: Oh, my gosh, and there’s so much... 

Bridget: That reinforces… 

Justin: Oh, my gosh. There's so much work to do. Yeah. This is one thing that I hope that we can do a lot more workaround with the The Family Thrive is dads…

Bridget: Absolutely. 

Justin: And emotions. Like can we as dads start to get in touch with our own emotions? Because for most boys grow up in North America at least, most of our emotions are suppressed from a young age. And then finally and then when we have kids, what we end up doing is suppressing their emotions because we don't…

Audra: And ours.

Justin: We don't want to deal with it. Yeah. Yeah. Like your challenging emotions are too much for me. So I need to…

Bridget: Or too much. 

Justin: Yeah. So I need to suppress those. Yeah.

Bridget: Right. And I think, kind of similar to what I'm saying, like a lot of the times I feel like I am seeing a mom in therapy who is having a lot of marital or relationship trouble, a lot of trouble sort of managing transition into parenthood. But the more and more I dig, I realize she's sort of like expressing the challenges of the dad and a lot of ways. And she has kind of been identified as the problem person. And I mean, this has happened more times than I can say where I'm often like, I really think I have the wrong person in this room right now. You know, like.

Justin: Oh, my gosh. 

Bridget: Yeah, that's hard to deal with, especially if dad is resistant or just not interested in hearing that. You know. Like the therapist saying that is not necessarily going to win him over. But I think, again, it comes back to like those larger conversations that we just have about like what it means to be a parent, what it means to be men and women, have emotions, be vulnerable, like. And probably it just comes back to how we raise our kids. Right? Like I don't, I know you guys have a boy. I don't have boys. But I think about this a lot with parents, with boys. It's like it must feel like a tremendous burden to have to like really reprogram how boys exist in the world, like emotionally.

Justin: Oh, yeah, because...

Audra: You're still up against the world. 

Justin: Yeah, they have to go out in the world and be friends with other boys who are, you know, having their emotions suppressed. 

Bridget: Yeah. 

Justin: Yeah, yeah. Mhm. Selfishly, now, I want to move on to talk more about practices, so I mean, I would love to just start with me and say, Bridget, how can you help me? But I'll start with new moms and dads. And so are there some daily practices or some regular practices that you recommend to your clients where you say, you know, if you can just take a little bit of time to do this or take a little bit of that? 

Bridget: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think with practices like it always depends on the person because what works for you might not necessarily work for the next person. We're all just sort of wired differently. But I think with new parents, especially like new moms, like too, first three to six months, one of the ways they make some prescriptions, and one of them is like you have to get outside every single day. And it doesn't matter like if it's pouring rain or a hundred degrees like it is a lot of the time. But like you have to like see the sky and see the earth and like get some sensory input from outside every day. Even if it's just for like 30 seconds, you have to do that every day. And then also, you have to have some time away, physically away from your baby, where you can't see, hear, smell or touch them every single day. And again, like that could be a minute or whatever she might be able to tolerate, because some moms really can't tolerate that. It's too anxiety-provoking. 

So those are really big ones. And then I also just think I feel like what I'm sort of always working with our clients around, but especially the new parents, is trying to learn about and understand how you best regulate your own emotions and nervous system, because I think this is the thing again, this comes back to what you were saying, like we have to like teach our kids this, but alot of us don't know how to do this for ourselves as well. And truly, like I didn't really before. 

I mean, I feel like I had an idea of like, well, you know, I like yoga. I like to take a walk. I like the beach. But that was sort of the extent of it. And now I really, really know, like these are the things that I actively can do to regulate myself. 

And so that's something that I'm always trying to really work on, is like identifying what are those things? Offering out some options based on what I feel like might work for the person, but also just having them experiment with different things because like for some people, meditating and breathing is great. And for other people, it's like the worst. And they need to go like run 10 miles or whatever. Yeah. And it doesn't matter what it is, it's just about do you feel a sense of like your body and your nervous system have been regulated, ok, then do that. And like we have to carve out time for that. And I think that can feel, all of those things can feel like a lot to a new parent with a little baby who is totally overwhelmed. But it's also like it's totally possible…

Justin: It’s vital.

Bridget: And it's totally possible.

Justin: And it's vital. Like I, I think I didn't really understand this, I think, until our son was diagnosed. That if I am not taking care of myself, I'm actually doing him a disservice, like I can't show up for him or I'll get triggered a lot easier or, you know, so I have to take care of myself. And so it's not just like a luxury of like, so these prescriptions, I can imagine there are some moms who are like, well, I can't possibly take the time to go outside. And I mean, you know, I have so much to do. And it's like, no, no, no, this is vital. Like you're doing your child a service when you take care of yourself.

Bridget: Totally. Well, that's so true, and I feel like I am often using that reframe, especially with the new mama of like this, because when I hear all the time, it's like, well, I feel like I'm selfish or selfish if I go do yoga for five minutes. And I'm just like, you are not doing this for you. You are doing this for your entire family. All the kids, your partner. Make no mistake that this kind of self-care I feel like it's talked about a lot. It's like, oh, I go get a manicure, I go get a massage. Right, totally. And I'm like, oh, that's nice. But that's not what this is. This is actually, it's the way I describe it ass like it's self-regulation. And you are actually doing that for everyone else who relies on you. It's not for you.

Audra: What are some of the big, big or I should say most common refrains or as you put it, or common areas like this that you're sharing with parents? So itself, self-care is care for everyone. What are some of the other ones that you're that that are common for you

Bridget: Let’s see, I feel like that's probably the biggest one. But then I think also kind of coming back to the shame piece, I feel like a big reframe is that kind of language that we used to speak to ourselves when we're in shame is harmful to us in a way that also can really harm our children. And so I think the reframe I often use is what would it be like for you to use this kind of language with your kid? Right. And like, what could it be like, even if it doesn't feel authentic, even if you don't believe it, because most people are like, that's bullshit, but like just pretend. What would it be like to talk to yourself the way that you talk to your kid, just to kind of feel into like how weird that is, you know?

Audra: Yeah. That’s a powerful practice. 

Justin: Or what you said, talk to yourself the way you talk to your kid. Did you mean talk to your kid the way you talk to yourself?

Bridget: No, I mean, like it's, for example, if you have like a sweet name that you call your kid like “Oh, sweetie. Oh…” 

Justin: Ohh, talk to yourself…

Bridget: You know, you're like, oh, it's ok that you broke your favorite toy. Like everything would be ok. I'm going to take care of it.

Audra: With the same kind of compassion.

Justin: So the reason that I got mixed up was because I heard of this from another therapist about in regard to the inner critic, these, the self-shame that imagine yourself at age like three or four and saying that same thing to yourself, how stupid you are, how bad you know, and how this is such a powerful reframe for so many people and many people when in therapy, this is what I heard. We'll start to cry when they think about talking to themselves at three or four, the way they talk to themselves now.

Bridget: Totally. Totally. I think that's such a powerful practice. And just thinking about practices, I think it's not one that everyone is available for. But if that is, if it feels like that's a path that someone can go down, I absolutely try to guide them down that, especially because like kind of like what we're talking about, like having children can be like incredibly triggering of our own childhood shit. Right. 

And what I see a lot of the time is like, so you had something particularly traumatic or challenging going on, like at age five when your kid gets to be age five it's like, you know, all of this comes back. Right. So similar to what you're talking about, like I've suggested for some clients who are dealing with things like that, like finding a photo of themselves at that age and just like sticking it on the bathroom mirror and just kind of having that kid be part of like your everyday experience that you're like walking by and thinking about, because it's really hard to be shitty to that little kid or teenager or whatever age it is, but kind of like identifying the moment that feels like the most traumatic or there's the most pain leftover and trying to like center your vision of yourself at that age. 

Justin: Yeah. So I…

Bridget: Kids really help us do that because they're right there.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. So I love the reframe then of talking to yourself as you talk to your kids. So the same love that you're able to show your kid.

Audra: Yeah. It's similar to like, you know, if you, would you talk to your best friend. That's right. Would you really talk to anyone else this way?

Bridget: To anyone that way. Usually not. Yeah. 

Audra: Yeah. That’s so powerful.

Bridget: Yeah. Totally, totally. So like yeah. I mean, like a lot of that kind of falls into what I would call self-compassion work, which I, you know, there is a whole kind of practice around self-compassion that I will draw from a lot. But I feel with moms especially, that applies somewhere because it's really even for the mom who might be like, “No, I'm totally confident and I love myself and I never should talk to myself.” There's still some element of like, but you're not actually being that kind to you.

Audra: Mm-hmm. Do you, in relationship to this, and I know it's individual. It's not everyone by any means that I, we can only, you know, attempt to generalize a little bit. We talk about the dangers of... dangers, but issues with social media and the comparisons, the FOMO like all of these things. Do you find with any of your clients that it's helpful for them to take breaks or...

One of our therapists said, you know, she's like, I teach, try to teach like a mindful skill of as soon as I get that, like, oh, this isn't good. That first like uhhhh feeling. Turn it off. 

Bridget: Totally. Yeah. Oh, no, totally. I feel like I'm often kind of talking people through like harm reduction with social media. 

Audra: Harm reduction, yeah. 

Bridget: Like. And I think that that's a good way of doing it, of like noticing when do you start to spin out or when does your body start to react and shutting it off. But I think, too, like this is one thing I've suggested a lot is like if it feels really hard to take a break from social media, like, okay, keep it, but give yourself, like make a choice of like I give myself 20 minutes a day and then in those 20 minutes, you like set a timer and you do like full on deep dive, like look at. Get as much as you can and just go, go wild. And then that's it. And then you're done. Because obviously, like for all of us, there's the capacity to just like lose an hour, just scrolling or whatever. And then all of a sudden you don't realize, oh, wait a second, I feel really shitty, you know.

Audra: Mhm. Catches up with you later, huh? It makes me think too, as we can talk about this maybe the next time we get to talk with you, the next chat.

Justin: Yes, we have to have you back. 

Audra: But screen time, for example, with the kids, you know, it always occurs to me like if I had a 20 minute timer, we could do the 20 minutes together, you know, because I put them on a timer or a time limit. And then they see now continuing to go. And it's like, well, I'm working, you know, I am working, you know, really 100% of that is work. No, not at all. So I do think that self regulation has really powerful modeling. And I think that there's a lot in that that the family can benefit from as well.

Bridget: Totally.

Justin: How can people find out more about Bridget Cross?

Bridget: I have a website that's probably the best way, and it is Bridgetcrosslcsw.com. And then I have a Facebook also, which is also a bridgetcrosslcsm.com. So those are my ways of finding me.

Justin: Yeah, perfect. Perfect. All right. So our final three questions that we ask all of our guests. First, Bridget, if you were able to put a Post-it note on every parent's refrigerator tomorrow morning, what would that Post-it note say?

Bridget: Yeah, I saw this question and I went through a million different answers from simple to complicated. Yeah. And so this is totally cheating. But I want to give you two. One is just like to say like you are not alone, because I just think that can be really soothing to one's nervous system, like on every level. And can mean a lot of different things to different people. But the other is, it's like a really quick poem that I have, like put around on Post-it notes for myself in different moments of life by Raymond Carver. And it's actually, he's a fiction writer who wrote like in the ‘70s and ‘80s. And it was like amazing and wonderful. But it's a little poem that he wrote that I think it's actually on his tombstone. But I will read it to you. I pulled it up because I wanted to make sure, I kind of know it by heart, but I didn't want to mess it up. Can I read it to you?

Audra: Of course. 

Bridget: And so it's just a few lines. It says: “And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on this earth. So I feel like every parent needs that, right?

Audra: Yes.

Justin: Yes, we need that on our refrigerator. 

Bridget: We do. We do. I think it's like, you know, it's soothing that we need so that we can soothe.

Justin: That kind of covers the next question. Is there a recent quote that you've read that has changed the way you think or feel?

Bridget: Yeah, that's a good one. It's not really recent to me, but I feel like it's one that I always come back to. There's a book that I've been reading and it's kind of like all about my jam right now. It's called Call of the Wild by Kimberly Ann Johnson. And she is amazing. She's like a somatic practitioner and she was a postpartum doula. And she wrote an amazing book called The Fourth Trimester that's about all of what we're talking about. But this is about somatic practices for healing trauma. And I don't have the actual quote of it, but I'm going to paraphrase it, which is basically that “We work in the body to heal trauma in the present for the past.”

Audra: Oh yes. 

Bridget: And so that to me, I mean, I've been kind of in this book for a few weeks now, but that has sort of really stuck with me just as like it a little bit reverses, I think, how like talk therapy usually works, which is like talking about the present, talking about the past to heal the present. I actually think that it needs to be reversed.

Justin: Beautiful. 

Audra: I think well, we're going to add the book to the show notes for sure.

Bridget: And it's an amazing, amazing book.

Audra: Something that I'd like to read, it’s making me think a book club might be in order.

Justin: So it was working in the body and the present to heal the past?

Bridget: Yes. 

Justin: Is that right? 

Bridget: Totally. Totally so. And that yeah, that is the kind of trauma, healing work that she is writing about in this book, that that's the focus of it.

Justin: So the final question is one that we ask every guest, because as you all know, parenting isn't always sunshine and roses. And so it's nice to just remember what we love about childhood and what we love about kids. And so, Bridget, what do you love about kids?

Bridget: I will answer like what I love most about my kids, because that’s mostly my experience of kids. For the most part, and I think it's very common, is that kids, at least younger ones, exist in the present. Like they're the ultimate kind of mindful present awareness and being in the moment. And that's whether they're like experiencing something emotionally or telling or imagining something or drawing something. 

Audra: Yeah. So that they're automatically, by nature, present beings.

Bridget: Yeah, totally. They're like in the moment and like I think especially being like in play with them is the ultimate, like mindfulness practice or like practice of being in the moment, regardless of what is going on in our own internal storms, you know.

Audra: I love that. I think it's a really powerful reflection. It resonates a lot with me. And the thing that came up for me when you mentioned it is, again, kind of some of the theme of what we're talking about today is sometimes or most often I know they'll be present and it's an inspiring, beautiful place to be with them. But so often we're not present and we're like, want to get shoes on and get out the door or go, do you like whatever the things are. 

And so I think like we then bring that cloud of everything else we're thinking about into their present presence. And I think it's such a good reminder too, that is a state to be honored. Yes, we have a kind of boundary. Things need to get done in our days and all of that. But to know that this isn't just like in insolence or, you know, that your children don't have you in mind or whatever it might be, it's like another way, state of being almost.

Bridget: Yeah. It's like closely connected, I think, to like the sense of compassion, right. because we're not always able to be present with them because it's life and we need to get up there and get the shoes on the right, whatever. But I think that like I have found anyway that my kids are just like a good reminder that like I can be in the moment. And also that like if I screw up a moment and like yell at somebody or I'm not so nice…

Justin: There's another moment.

Bridget: That's what I love about my kids and kids in general.

Audra: It's so nice to meet you. So nice to talk with you. Thank you so much. This is a fantastic conversation. And I really hope that we can work together more. And I think what you bring to the world is so valuable and needed. And you have, you know, a beautiful practice here in Savannah. And we'd like to be a part of bringing you to an audience that needs you outside of Savannah too. 

Bridget: Yeah, thank you. I'm so glad for to meet you guys. I'm just excited for the work that you guys are doing, too.

Justin: Thank you so much for your time. This has been amazing. I can't wait to do it again.

Bridget: I know. It's fun. Thank you. 

Audra: Ok, bye.

Justin: Hey, thanks for listening to The Family Thrive podcast. If you like what you heard, please subscribe, tell two friends and head on over to Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts and give us a review. We're so grateful you've chosen to join us on this Family Thrive journey.

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