The myths of motherhood

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Assistant professor Erin Henshaw, second from right, talks with her team of psychology students who are exploring emotional challenges for new mothers.

New mothers are taught a lot before they even leave the hospital. But when it comes to preparing for their babies emotionally, moms are often on their own.

Erin Henshaw, assistant professor of psychology, and her team of student researchers hope to change that. They’re looking at something that rarely has been addressed before: expectations for new mothers, and what happens if women don’t feel they’re meeting them.

Messages about motherhood, like that a good mom should know exactly what her baby wants all the time, can be misleading.  “These expectations can shape whether or not moms think they did a good job,” said Henshaw. If a woman thinks she is falling short in her new role as a mother, she could experience stress, anxiety, depression and even physical pain.

Rachel Fried ’12 and Jenni Teeters ’12 are talking with new moms at Columbus Riverside Hospital to get a better idea of the adjustment process. As certified hospital volunteers, Fried and Teeters survey the new mothers and then contact them a month later to see how they’re doing. They’ve collected data from about 30 mothers so far.

Despite recently giving birth, most moms are happy to help out others in their position. “They know this research might help some new moms avoid post-partum anxiety,” said Henshaw. “They want new moms, like themselves, to know as much as they can.”

Once all the data is collected and analyzed, Henshaw and her students plan to share it with the hospital. Eventually, they hope to develop planning sessions that prepare new moms and their partners for parenthood.

“A hospital is the perfect place to affect individuals,” said Fried, who plans to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner, “but also the mental health field as a whole.”

Fried and Teeters plan to collect data from over 100 mothers by August. They are currently training Emily Siskind ’14 and Eve Sussman ’13 to take over the project for their summer research.

“It’s rare to change the big picture,” said Fried, “but you can do it little bit by bit, to affect things in the long run.”

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