Becoming pregnant is life-altering in inexplicable ways. Of course there are changes in your body, lifestyle and relationships that you anticipate, but then there are other things like your mental health that you don’t necessarily expect to have to tend to while you’re busy growing or caring for your baby. Sure, you can call on your friend to help you take care of your little one for a little “me-time,” but what happens if you get struck with something beyond the baby blues? Where do you turn then? Well, if you live in NYC, the Seleni Institute, a mental health and wellness center that supports women through pregnancy and motherhood, is hoping to be that place for you.
As the mother of an 8-year-old girl and the executive director of the UES’s Seleni Institute, Rebecca Benghiat, takes a moment to talk to us about the importance of recognizing perinatal and maternal mental health, treating it, and how exactly the Seleni Institute’s collaborative model -- combining lactation consultants, therapists, psychiatrists and educators into one conversation -- might just be the winning combo in getting women in tip-top mental health.
Do you have a personal connection or experience that relates to the services offered at Seleni?
I don’t think there’s a mother who doesn’t at some point feel anxious or guilty or sad, and I’m no exception. I have a crystal clear memory of a “baby blues” moment when Amalia was just days old. I knew that the emotional swings I was experiencing were so unlike me. I also had tremendous difficulty with breastfeeding and really felt a backlash for eventually formula-feeding her. I even remember a woman shaking her head at me and telling me about breast milk as I mixed a bottle on the subway! It was the first time I realized that someone could judge me as a parent based on absolutely no information or context, and I was furious.
It’s something that I often reflect upon when we develop our programing here. We’re here to support all women and mothers on the journey to and through motherhood. We absolutely see women daily who are coping with postpartum depression or anxiety, but we know that sometimes it’s help with the smaller things – like breastfeeding or sleep – that can make a huge difference.
How is Seleni unique?
We provide extensive information and advice online, and we fund leading perinatal mental health research. From individual therapy to childbirth education to breastfeeding and sleep support, we have a full spectrum of services under one roof, whether you need just a little help or a full team.
We also use a collaborative model. Our clinicians and therapists meet daily, sharing insights and tailoring treatment plans. We believe that when everyone — lactation consultants, therapists, psychiatrists and educators — are part of the conversation about how to improve maternal mental health, our clients benefit from collective wisdom and receive the best, evidence-based care available.
Finally, since the Seleni Institute is nonprofit, that means that we don’t have any other agenda – we’re here to help women. We offer financial assistance to those who qualify, and have a vast network of referrals if we can’t help onsite.
What kind of workshops and classes are offered at Seleni?
We have incredible partners who offer their expertise on site. Birth Day Presence leads childbirth education classes, lactation consultant Ayelet Kaznelson offers breastfeeding classes and clinics, Sleepy on Hudson’s Brooke Nalle holds sleep support clinics, and that’s all in addition to our new moms groups and support groups.
Why would a woman choose to go to Seleni vs. a traditional therapist setting?
I think it’s both our collaborative model and our clinical expertise. Perinatal mental health (the clinical term for mental health issues that arise directly before, during and after childbirth) is a specialized field, and it’s important to work with a therapist who’s trained in it, so that you receive the most targeted treatment. Certainly some individual therapists have this expertise, but here at Seleni, it’s our focus. The range of therapeutic disciplines we cover, as well as the availability of workshops and classes, makes it very easy for mothers to transition from one type of support to another – all under one roof.
Then there’s the sense of community that Seleni provides -- when women come here and participate in workshops and clinics, they have the opportunity to connect with other women going through the same struggles with whom they can swap tips, share frustrations, and build a support network.
Why is maternal mental health something many women feel they should suffer through alone?
Stigma plays such an enormous role. We’re supposed to get pregnant in a flash, have our tummies back in 3 weeks, be blissfully happy with our baby, and then feel 100% confident with every choice we make for our child. Admitting otherwise is a failure, and so we’re all suffering silently, together.
But you know what? I think the unspoken conversation is this: that the enormous range of experiences – the sorrow and excitement and anguish and love and worry – is tremendous and overwhelming but universal. It just manifests itself in different ways. The best we can do is to be kind and support each other. If we raise awareness and share experiences we alleviate the feeling among women that they’re alone, and that itself is a tremendous accomplishment.
When should a woman seek help?
Like the old voting joke – early and often! No one suffered from too much support, so build your network: join a mom’s group, go to a breastfeeding class, and by all means, if you’re feeling like you need to talk to someone, do it! Postpartum depression and anxiety are very easily treatable. For your sake and your baby’s, you deserve to be supported, and you deserve to feel good.
The Seleni Institute is kind enough to offer 10% off your first workshop or clinic with the promo code WR50. Book here.