Navigating the Hopes, Dreams, and Realities of Parenthood: Embracing Different Paths to Motherhood

Parenthood, often idealized in social media, movies, and cultural narratives, is associated with hopes, dreams, and the anticipation of immediate connection and constant joy. These societal expectations to “connect right away” and to “love every moment” can be overwhelming for new mothers who are navigating the physically and emotionally demanding transition into motherhood. When reality sets in, marked by exhaustion and the potential for a gradual connection, it can lead to feelings of guilt and shame. 

This article aims to examine how women can utilize psychotherapy to support themselves during the challenges of motherhood and maternity, normalizing the understanding that every mother’s journey is unique and that it is perfectly okay for their experiences to differ from idealized portrayals.

One of the stark realities of motherhood is the prevalence of perinatal mood disorders (PMDs). Studies indicate that approximately 1 in 8 women will suffer from a PMD, yet only around 10% seek help (Wisner, Sit, McShea, et al., 2013). This discrepancy underscores the stigma surrounding the discussion of the difficulties of motherhood. It is essential to create an environment where mothers feel supported in expressing their challenges, without fearing judgment or misunderstanding. Acknowledging the hardships of motherhood does not diminish a mother’s love for her child; rather, it highlights the complexity of the experience.

The pressure to feel an immediate, unbreakable bond with one’s baby can be particularly intense for mothers who have undergone infertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). These mothers may feel an added layer of guilt if they do not instantly feel the joy they anticipated after a long and arduous journey to conceive. This can be exacerbated by societal expectations and the perception that they should be grateful for every moment. It is vital to recognize that feelings of difficulty or disconnection are valid and do not negate the profound love and commitment these mothers have for their children. 

According to Orange County Health Psychologist’s Carlee Casey, LMFT, difficulties with various aspects of motherhood are common.  

“I have had many women come to see me feeling extreme guilt and discontentment with the transition to motherhood, or with the addition of a sibling to a family. So often we suffer in silence and feel that we’re alone in the way we feel, and that talking about it or even acknowledging how we feel out loud might mean we’re bad parents, when the opposite is true. I want anyone struggling to know first, that you are not alone, and second, there is help and support,” says Casey.

Protecting Sleep

Sleep is a cornerstone of mental and physical health, yet it is often one of the first sacrifices made in the early stages of motherhood. The chronic sleep deprivation that new mothers face can exacerbate feelings of anxiety, depression, and emotional instability (Goyal, Gay, & Lee, 2009). Protecting sleep is crucial. This might involve: 

  • Establishing a more flexible sleep schedule, 
  • Taking naps when the baby sleeps, or
  • Sharing nighttime duties with a partner or a trusted family member. 

Prioritizing sleep can significantly enhance a mother’s ability to cope with the demands of motherhood and improve her overall well-being.

Asking for Help

Asking for help can be difficult, especially in a culture that often glorifies the image of the “supermom.” However, seeking assistance is a sign of strength, not weakness. Whether it’s enlisting the support of family and friends or hiring professional help, accepting support can provide much-needed relief. This support network can help with practical tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and baby care, allowing mothers to focus on bonding with their baby and self-care. It is essential to communicate needs clearly and to understand that asking for help is a critical component of sustaining a healthy family dynamic.

Seeking Professional Help

Despite the high prevalence of PMDs, many women do not seek the professional help they need. Mental health support, whether through therapy, counseling, or support groups, can provide invaluable resources for coping with the challenges of motherhood (O’Hara & McCabe, 2013). Health professionals can offer strategies for managing stress, anxiety, and depression, and provide a safe space for mothers to express their feelings without fear of judgment. It is crucial to advocate for regular mental health check-ins as part of postnatal care to ensure that mothers have access to the support they need. 

At Orange County Health Psychologists, we offer specialized services in all phases of maternal health. Our providers Carlee Casey, LMFT, and Pooja Sharma, LMFT, PsyD,  each received Certification (PMH-C) from Postpartum Support International (PSI). This certification ensures that they have specialized training in addressing the mental health needs of mothers during and after pregnancy. 

Casey adds that she, too, has had her own struggles as a mother. “As a mother who has struggled with infertility and PMDs, it has become strikingly clear how common an experience PMDs are and how infrequently we actually discuss how we are feeling. I pursued this certification because I want to reach as many women in need of support throughout this period of their lives. I live by the statement, ‘Our children do not need perfect moms, they need happy ones,’ and you absolutely deserve all the happiness 

Both Carlee Casey, LMFT, and Pooja Sharma, LMFT, PsyD, of Orange County Health Psychologists are available to support and boost maternal mental health for new mothers and women of all ages.


The journey of motherhood is multifaceted and deeply personal. By acknowledging that everyone’s path to motherhood may look different, we can create a more supportive and understanding environment for all mothers. Emphasizing the importance of protecting sleep, asking for help, and seeking professional help can alleviate some of the pressures that new mothers face. Destigmatizing the discussion of the difficulties of motherhood is essential in fostering a culture where mothers feel valued and supported, regardless of how their experiences align with societal expectations. It is time to celebrate the diversity of motherhood journeys and to recognize that challenges do not diminish the profound love and dedication mothers have for their children.


Goyal, D., Gay, C., & Lee, K. A. (2009). Fragmented maternal sleep is more strongly correlated with depressive symptoms than infant temperament at three months postpartum. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 12(4), 229-237.

NAMI. (2024). Maternal Mental Health. Retrieved from

O’Hara, M. W., & McCabe, J. E. (2013). Postpartum depression: Current status and future directions. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 9, 379-407.

Wisner, K. L., Sit, D. K., McShea, M. C., Rizzo, D. M., Zoretich, R. A., Hughes, C. L., … & Hanusa, B. H. (2013). Onset timing, thoughts of self-harm, and diagnoses in postpartum women with screen-positive depression findings. JAMA Psychiatry, 70(5), 490-498.

About Carlee Casey, LMFT, PMH-C

With nearly a decade of experience as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Carlee Casey offers a caring and supportive environment to explore life’s challenges. With a deep passion for working with women’s issues and Certification (PMH-C) from Postpartum Support International, Carlee provides specialized services to new moms experiencing depression or anxiety.

Schedule an Appointment
CA License LMFT130450


About Pooja Sharma, PsyD, LMFT, PMH-C

 With many tools under her belt, Dr. Sharma tailors her approach to each client’s personal needs and goals. She works with adults—and often with new mothers—on a wide range of emotional and behavioral issues that include postpartum depression,  PTSD, anxiety, grief and loss, abuse and trauma and parenting support. Having obtained  Certification (PMH-C) from Postpartum Support International, Dr. Sharma offers specialized services to women experiencing anxiety or depression before, during, or after pregnancy.

Schedule an Appointment
CA License LMFT86722