Tell us a little about yourself outside of your work.
I live in Chicago, IL with my husband and two children (ages five and three). In my time away from work, I try to follow the advice I often hear myself issuing to clients: “make space for YOU.” For me, this means connecting to the most important people in my life (in no certain order): 1) myself 2) my spouse 3) my children 4) our family and community at large. Sometimes there just isn’t enough time for it all, so I’ve learned to consolidate! Every month we host a party that serves as a get-together for our family and friends, but is also a fundraiser for a different charitable organization. First we collected books for a book bank that serves Chicago’s public schools, then we collected food for the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and this month we’re collecting winter coats for a refugee resettlement organization. There’s nothing like “people power” to remind you that relationships are the greatest gifts we have.
What sparked your interest in maternal mental health? Is there anything you’d like to share about your path?
Without question, my own matrescence led me to appreciate the value and need for specialized, educated attention to new parents. After two early miscarriages, I was, like many of my clients, terrified by my third pregnancy. The grief not only over the loss of the first two pregnancies – but now over the loss of excitement and optimism I had assumed would be a part of my pregnancy – was devastating. And hard to explain. And even harder to address. And then once I had my first child, I was faced with multiple external stressors, not the least of which was the death of my best friend (from a rare, aggressive cancer). It made me realize that just because you finally have the healthy baby that you dreamed of and planned for, the world does not stop turning. Things still happen. And many of them are painful and stressful and complicating. I was in a fog. When my daughter was just a few months old, a close friend (who was also my professional mentor) opened her own perinatal mental health practice, and I jumped at the chance to learn more about this under-served, fascinating population. I became her first hire, and five years later, I am unspeakably grateful to work with a population I feel so intimately connected to.
Tell us about your work.
I recently started my private practice. The majority of my clients have been referred by their obstetrician or midwife. Fortunately more health care providers are becoming educated about perinatal mental health, though there is of course still a long way to go on that front. That all being said, my work is sacred to me. The relationship is the core of my practice. As much time as is necessary is spent establishing trust, rapport, and mutual respect between the client and myself. The rest of the “work” is whatever naturally comes afterward, whether that’s facilitating a client’s processing of their experience, providing psycho-education, or just offering an outside perspective. The client leads; I walk alongside.
How has PSI membership been beneficial to you and your career?
The educational resources PSI offers are invaluable. When I was new to the field, I knew what I had experienced but desperately wanted understanding on what other people had experienced. I also craved knowledge of what science and research had to teach us about the postpartum period. Finally, I needed guidance in my desire to be an advocate for the perinatal population and perinatal providers. PSI is my go-to source for information and support. I do not believe I could adequately do my job without it.
What do you think the PSI world community might like to know about your work?
I think that in any clinical setting, one “presenting problem” can bring a client in to talk – but from there, so much is possible. Healing and resolution can take place in one area of a client’s life, which can then create space to address a different, new or pre-existing issue they would benefit from addressing in therapy. And also, it bears noting, I don’t consider postpartum work to be strictly about mothers. Fathers and partners are subject to their own unique experience of transition and challenge, and they deserve recognition and support, too!
Anything else you’d like to share?
Just gratitude to PSI for their incredible work! I utilize PSI resources (either for my own education or to help support clients) more often than I could count.
Special thanks to volunteer Dina Drankus Pekelnicky for interviewing Sara!