Carly’s Couch — Gen Putter joins me on the couch to discuss the groundbreaking antenatal class we designed to assist first-time moms and dads to navigate the psychological (and other) changes that occur when you have a baby.
You’re listening to On the Couch with Carly. Carly’s Couch is a safe space to talk. I’m a psychologist. But I’m not your pipe-smoking, tweed-wearing stereotype.
Hello and welcome back to On the Couch with Carly. And today we have someone on the couch, literally. Hello to Gen, from The New Normal.
Gen: Hi guys. Howzit Carl’s?
Carly: Hello my darling . Let me just tell you a little bit about Gen. I met Gen, what was it? A year and a bit ago. And Gen runs the most amazing Instagram account called: The New Normal. And it’s all things postpartum. All things you need to know about having a baby, what happens to you after the baby is born, and how it’s feels, and what kinds of changes you can expect from your life, and just how to adjust.
It’s a beautiful supporting community that I learnt about. I think I heard about these events you were holding at Clarke’s, and then I got onto the Instagram account, and I was following it. And I’d had a baby, so it was all very relevant to me. And then I approached you, and I said: “Well, let’s collab.”
So this is how “Oh Baby, WTF!” was born. And I mentioned it briefly in my very first episode, it was one of the things I spoke about as one of the things I’m doing at the moment. But maybe you can just tell me about what you do at The New Normal, and how I came to you, and how we started the Oh Baby, WTF! story.
Gen: Okay cool. So also just to say that although The New Normal is focused on postpartum. The whole point, which is quite a contentious one, is to also get first time pregnant mom’s to sit in on these conversations because that is so much of where we’re falling short as a community of women and mother’s. We not readily sharing the hard stuff of postpartum.
I think for me that was where this whole thing or this journey started for me. When I was pregnant, which was four and a half year’s ago I didn’t know any of this. I didn’t know any of these discussions around matrescence, around the 4th trimester, none of it was being spoken about.
And so I went into my birth and postpartum completely unprepared. And I subsequently at three and half years postpartum, I experienced a panic disorder situation where I basically had to go onto medication (anti-depressant medication and anti-anxiety medication) to help with these feelings of overwhelm.
Which was exacerbated by the fact that so many people who I spoke to about what I was going through, in an attempt to try and understand what I was going through, all would say the same thing to me: Oh, but it’s so normal my darling. Just take the meds, you’ll be fine.”
On one hand it was quite comforting to know that this is normal, per say, that it’s not unusual what I’m going through. But what was more discomforting actually, was that no one was speaking about it. I had no idea that this would happen.
And a 3rd thing, which only really came much later after I delved deep into all of these discussions, and try to unpack this whole transition to matrescence, and why things like perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are so prevalent. Is that I started to really wrestle with this whole idea of being so discomforted and in such a dark place, and how that is considered normal.
What does that even mean? That we are normalising an experience that is actually a life and death experience for so many women who battle with mental health issues postpartum.
So I thought with my background as a writer and content creator, I thought the most obvious expression of trying to support other women and deal with all of the stuff that I was learning, was to create a community on Instagram.
And it’s been 2 years since it launched, and since then I also was quite aware of the fact that social media is obviously a very important channel to communicate. But women need to actually get together more, to come together more.
And so, I launched a series of what I called the episodes. Which were talks with various professionals in the prenatal health space, from mental health right through to hormonal health, pelvic floor health, and all of that.
And so far we’ve had seven of them. And the next iteration or the next seedling of The New Normal that erupted was The Mother’s in the Hood group, which I run with a very well-known and well-versed psychologist in the prenatal health space, in South Africa. Her name is Linda Lewis.
She runs the group and it’s been running now for nearly 18 months, which has been fantastic. It’s very small but they’ve developed a real bond in sisterhood amongst all of them. And ja, so that’s that side of things.
Then the next thing was Oh Baby which was our baby, which we created Carl’s.
Carly: Yeah, we did!
Gen: When we started talking about that, I remember you were 4 months postpartum. We met, I think it was every Thursday for about 4 months after that. We pulled this thing together.
We both were and still are very excited about it because so much of what you learn at traditional antenatal classes here in Cape Town, probably South Africa, is very practical stuff.
Very, kind of, hands on stuff. How to wash the baby, how to bath the baby. And also it’s very focused on birth, it’s very focused on labour, best practices during labour, and all the rest of this.
And one of the biggest things is, you know, how to think about a birth plan. Which for me is, without sounding quite charged by that, but it feels like a bit of a waste of time. Because no one is talking about a postpartum plan.
And there’s absolutely no information or no guideline or kind of strategy with what’s going to happen when the baby arrives on a mental and psychological level for mom or dad. And how to deal with things like, what happens to your relationship which is one of the things that really gets difficult when 2 become 3, suddenly.
So that’s why when you approached me, I was so super-stoked because I think it’s absolutely a gap in the market. And so, “Oh Baby, WTF!” was born.
Carly: Absolutely. I just wanna go back to what you were talking about earlier. And the thing that I picked up from that is just that feeling that you had when you came crashing down after having a baby, all those emotions, all of that experience and how overwhelming it was. And how people didn’t respond to you in a way that made you feel like you’d been given the best advice or preparation for how to get there. It was like only now that I’ve tripped and fallen in this hole, now you’re like “Oh ja, cool ja. The hole’s there. Didn’t you see the hole?” And it feels like to me a lot of what you’re doing kind of echoes with what I like to do. How I like to think about my work as preventative work. Doing something that is saying: “Let’s try and educate. Let’s try and meet the needs before you fall in the hole. So that you don’t fall in the hole.”
So, I remember when I contacted you when I was postpartum. I have always had an interest in this actually because I did my research on doula support. I really was interested in the whole birthing experience and also in supporting moms when they have had the baby, and bringing mom’s together to talk about their experiences. I know that women supporting women has incredible power and strength, and legs to really be of meaning.
But I think it was only when I had a baby myself that it suddenly crystalized what was needed, and what was the experience that I was not prepared for. And that nothing, no books, no courses, no chats with anyone else had prepared me in a way that was empowering.
I maybe had been told by the odd friend: “Oh my God, it’s so hectic!” But it didn’t make me feel empowered to know how to handle it. What I love about what you just said, is that it’s meeting that gap that traditional antenatal classes have not been doing up until now, which is that there hasn’t been a discussion about what life is really like after you have the baby.
And so, it is absolutely what you’re saying, we now have our own experiences. But because of “The New Normal”, because of the fact that you are in touch with multiple mom’s, thousands of moms, really, in this country and abroad. Who are sharing their stories, who are connecting with the things with what you’re sharing.
We always talk about this global zeitgeist. There’s a real movement towards real talk around motherhood, around pregnancy, around birth, around everything to do with having a baby and child- rearing. And we can see on the internet that women are loving the conversation going in that direction. People are resonating with it. It feels like ‘Oh Baby’ is coming in and tapping into all of that.
Gen: And I think, just to pick up on what you said about, only once I had tripped and fallen, had people called it out and been: “Oh but it’s so normal. Didn’t you see that hole that you were going to trip over?” And it’s kind of, part of the whole experience of failure, let’s say, during that time was also coupled with a feeling of complete and utter disappointed. And feeling let down by my fellow female tribe of mothers. And this whole sort of narrative of: “We don’t wanna scare the pregnant woman. We want to protect her, she’s important.”
Carly: Which we still hear a lot.
Gen: We still do. You know, it’s kind of like, we can’t protect women. It’s not the world we live in anymore. If anything, that narrative has got to change to one of empowering the pregnant woman and I think the thing about “Oh Baby” is, we also speak a lot, in the actual curriculum that we do, and this is a lot of feedback that we’ve actually gotten from people. It’s all very well doing courses like this, and curriculums.
But nothing ever really prepares you until you’re actually in it. But I wanna say, sure that’s right to a point, but you can at least hold someone’s hand and show them that this is what it could look like. And this is how you could possibly deal with these issues.
It’s not saying it will be like this for everyone. From a preventative stand point, I think the whole thing about postpartum depression and anxiety, and how it relates to antenatal classes, that is the only hardship that is spoken about in antenatal classes. Is that there’s this condition called postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression. It’s actually not that common. The statistics show that it’s one in ten people. This is what was given to me when we were taking antenatal classes. We spoke about this for about 5/10 minutes.
Carly: I honestly don’t think they spoke about it on our antenatal classes, maybe one minute.
Gen: In the whole six week programme of the whole antenatal classes, it was touched on. The statistics were completely skewed. Because research now shows in South Africa particularly, we’ve got a really high incidence of these perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. It’s one in three.
Carly: And that perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, we like to call them PMADS for short are also on a spectrum, on a continuum, it might not be a diagnosable disorder. And I always talk about this on the podcast. Just because you come into therapy doesn’t mean you have this absolutely definable clinical disorder. People can struggle postpartum, and on the continuum have anxiety, have some mood symptoms even if they not diagnosable. And those are still relevant to you, they still make you feel crap. And you need to be prepared for that, rather be prepared for that than not have any awareness of it. Then when you have those feelings think you’re the only bonkers mom that feels this way.
Gen: Exactly because the only reference point has always been postpartum depression which affects one in ten women, which is absolute rubbish.
So that whole thing about: “Sure you don’t wanna scare the pregnant woman. You never really can explain it until you’re in it.” Sure to a point. But at the same time, the world is changing, and we need to empower our sisters and other mother’s.
Carly: Ja, and I think our approach is also what makes the difference. So, without giving too much away, but we always said we wanted the feeling of our talks. At the moment the structure of it is a talk. We call it a curriculum because we go through a number of different categories.
Gen: Touch points.
Carly: Ja. We go through chapters, basically, of our ideas. We created that over months of discussion, coming up with themes of: “What did we need to know, that we would have loved to have gotten in our antenatal classes?”
But the whole point is our delivery of that is through just fun, light-hearted messages. We are not here to scare you off. We are here to, kind of, almost just welcome you into the tribe. To say: “This is your initiation into motherhood. It’s a hell of a ride. And we’re here to hold your hand through the screams, through the tears of joy, and all of it. But it’s not about scaring anyone off. It’s about creating that awareness in that light-hearted but meaningful way.
So here is the information, and here are some tools of how to manage it. So that’s one part of our work is to provide tools and resources. So that when you leave the course you not just hearing about what could go wrong but what can you do when those feelings come up. And I think that’s the most important thing that we really offer. Even though it seems like almost common sense at the time but it’s so useful. And if you’re not thinking like that, you just won’t know when that stuff hits you.
Gen: And I also think you say something in the course that is absolutely spot on. Even if a mom, who is a first-time mom, sitting there listening to all of this, if she just takes away one thing, and flash forward to 4 months when she’s in those “WTF moments” with a brand new baby, not knowing what to do, and she remembers just something on how to deal with it then our job is done.
Carly: Absolutely. Exactly. So just to be very practical about this. What you need to know as the listener, for anyone who’s in the Cape Town area, and anyone who is not in the Cape Town area, it might be interesting to you as well because we might be offering this…
Gen: …Not might. We will!
Carly: We will be offering this in a digital form, at some point. It’s gonna happen. It’s coming this year, to be confirmed it is coming. But what we are doing at the moment, is we’re opening it up to people in Cape Town. We will have our new dates as soon as possible. As soon we have all our ducks in a row for this year, we will get our dates. But up until this point, we’ve had it at Thula Baby Clinic in Mouille Point also the Babygrow Clinic in Oranjezicht.
And really what it is, it’s a two-and-a-half-hour workshop/ talk, where we deliver the material. And it’s really aimed at, well we’ve kind of aimed it at pregnant moms but we’ve really seen that not just mom’s but dad’s too, that parents in the fourth trimester (that’s the first 3 months after having a baby), are also a great target market. Because it’s almost at that point that parents go: “Oh, this is the crazy shit that’s being handed down to me. I need to figure this out.”
I just wanted to reiterate that it’s for moms and dads, and we really really want dads to be involved as much as possible although the course, and a lot of the material, and a lot of Gen’s New Normal stuff is around the mom and you heard her talk about matrescence earlier. Matrescence is the process of transforming into a mother, becoming a mother. So it is very much about mom and mom’s transformation, but the reason we have dad involved, the reason why we love having dads at our course is because dad’s the first line of support. Dad is such an important part of the system and the village, so to speak, that supports mom and helps mom, and raises that child. For some dads they’re the primary caregiver if mom goes back to work, and that’s happening more and more, we see.
There’s just such amazing research that’s being done. I don’t know if anyone’s been watching the Netflix documentary on babies.
Gen: I still have to watch it.
Carly: Ahh, it’s amazing. You’ll love it Gen because it actually ties in with everything we speak about in “Oh Baby, WTF!”. One of the things that has come out is this idea of maternal instinct or the idea that moms are better caregivers of children . It’s just absolutely not true. And they’ve done studies with same-sex dad couples, who have no moms in the picture. It’s just two dad’s raising babies from day 1.
And they show the exact same brain patterns as moms. They say: “Look, carrying a baby in your womb, breastfeeding, giving birth – all of these are massive contributing factors for how moms develop that maternal instinct and why moms are more primed biologically to care for their infants.” There’s that whole system of the activation of the amygdala, where you become very hyper-vigilant after having a baby, and that’s what causes all the anxiety in the first place.
But they say if there’s no mom involved, the dad shows the exact same ability. And that same part of the brain lights up in FMRI studies. And it’s just fascinating to say that we need to move away from thinking that moms are the only ones that can care for babies, and that dad’s have all the potential for being very involved. And the more involved they are, the more their brains change to adapt to be the primary caregiver.
Gen: I think another thing that is so important to remember about ‘Oh Baby’ is that, and without blowing our own whistle, why we think it should be spread far and wide is that so much of what we talk about and why it was a big learning for us, is initially we aimed it at pregnant moms. But we started to get requests for moms in the 4th trimester to come. And they started to come, and they were the ones that were like: “OMG it’s amazing to be seen.”
So why I think it’s so important and needs to become, I suppose, a national antenatal curriculum. Is that it sets the groundwork not just for the 4th trimester but for the rest of your mothering journey, in a way. If you can, kind of, understand these concepts, understand how things change on such a mental, and psychological and emotional level. You really are doing yourself the biggest favour. Not just yourself but for your marriage, or your partnership as well with your partner.
And then of course along your mothering journey. It’s a really good way because the funny thing about antenatal classes is that so much of it is focused on the practicalities of a newborn, and how to care for a newborn baby, which in two years time is going to be irrelevant because now you have a toddler. Whereas, the work that we’re doing now with “Oh Baby, WTF!” is setting the groundwork for the rest of your life, as a mother.
Carly: Exactly. It does that because what we do is we try and track the changes that are happening internally and externally. We look at the changes inside of mom, what happens to your body, to your biochemistry, to your brain, how do you feel about yourself, how do these effects change your identity, your sense of yourself in the world.
Gen: Your career.
Carly: We talk about career, we talk about your relationship with your partner, so the couple relationship. We talk about your relationship with your friends and your family, and your greater community. All of these are impacted on when having a baby, no one talks about that. This is why that’s the first part of our discussion: “What changes can occur? What shifts to expect? And how to manage those.”
And then the next section we talk about the tools that we have at our disposal at any given time. That may get comprised postpartum because postpartum you are not necessarily functioning in the same way you’d function without a newborn being attached to you.
So, you’ve got to shift your whole focus about what’s at your disposal. What resources do you have? And how to lean in to support, which is so so critical in those first months after you have a baby.
So ja, that’s really our spiel. I mean there’s so much to speak about in terms of this, and we can have more concentrated discussions about any one topic. But I think the important thing to say is that Gen is bringing awareness to not just postpartum as in the experience of having a baby. But the focus is on the mother, and on mom’s well-being.
Gen: Which actually, to take it a step further, is a new kind of, feminist argument.
Gen: It’s kind of, empowering the mom. Our culture and our society is still incredibly patriarchal and capitalistic. It goes against everything about what new motherhood is. So it’s a women’s empowerment issue that we’re dealing with, and that’s another reason as to why I decided to train as a postpartum doula. Because I believe that women need to be held in these times. In these spaces.
Sorry, I forgot to mention that in the beginning, that’s another iteration of “The New Normal” is postpartum one on one care.
Carly: So this is the thing. We’re here to take care of those people that are either pregnant or postpartum, who are in the early stages after having a baby. And we offer our services in that regard. And we want to create that sense of community, that sense of there’re people here that are thinking about you, listening to you, wanting to be in support of you, wanting to hold you during this time of your life.
That everyone wants to hold the baby, you is here to hold the mom? We are here, so that is that. And also just to encourage dads to be involved as much as possible. To really empower mom, is to also give dad the sense that he is just as important. And that both parents can be equally be involved in caregiving, and that is the best for the ecosystem. It’s the most supportive thing that you can do.
But to look practically at how that will work, and everything else. So there’s a range of different things that we look at, and I think ultimately it’s about support, it’s about just being aware. Having the awareness of what might come up, and that is just in and of itself meaningful, and useful. As I said, the tools, how to know what you have at your disposal to manage difficulties when they show up.
And of course, we’ve spoken about how there’s this normal range of difficulty that may occur, then there’s the problematic range that may come up, when you actually really need to seek professional help when you have a PMAD.
So that’s what’s covered in “Oh Baby, WTF!”. It’s been great having you here today, Gen. I probably could talk about this for 2 hours with you.
Gen: We always do. We always usually get so side-tracked.
Carly: I know.
Gen: So shot for keeping it together and focused.
Carly: So that was fun and I’m gonna say goodbye. And thanks for coming on and we’ll chat soon.
Gen: Cool Carl’s.
Carly: Thanks for listening, speak to you soon. Bye.
This podcast is recorded by @edible audio in Cape Town, South Africa. Edited by edible audio. Original music by Alex Smillie.