Following on from my last blog about group-singing helping symptoms of post-natal depression I’ve been talking to various people in related fields, starting with the fantastic Lauren, from The Parenting Chapter, which is a go-to website for people navigating the ups and downs of parenting. Lauren has been gathering a team of professionals to help, support and advise people on that journey, and as someone in the know, she put me in touch with The Parenting Charter’s Consultant Perinatal Psychologist, Julianne Boutaleb.
I was really interested to hear her view on this research and also why and how it could be that group-singing does help mums. And we had a fascinating conversation about the brain, neuroplasticity, emotional regulation and how the post-natal brain is similar to the adolescent brain (might explain a lot!).
So here are some of her comments:
"I think the Pram Chorus singing groups work on so many levels for parents who might be feeling low or socially isolated, or even those potentially suffering from PND.
Firstly, unlike most other groups they offer a structure for social activity which doesn't necessarily involve talking about the baby or being a new parent. For many of the parents I see with PND this is hugely important as fear of having to talk about their birth or breastfeeding is what puts many of them off attending groups.”
This is really important I think. Nobody wants to be judged, but especially as a new parent, the fear that we are doing a bad job or that others are judging us is a huge pressure. Especially as a new parent, when you really don’t have a clue what you’re doing. Is your baby’s crying normal? How do you know if it isn’t? This also relates to the gaping loneliness that so many of us feel after having a baby and losing our usual social and work-communities. Personally I think this is a massive cause of PND and my aim with Pram Chorus (and my other choirs) is to build supportive, friendly and non-judgemental communities for parents at a very vulnerable time.
“Secondly, there is a focus on the parent and their needs...and the songs they want to sing! For many new parents feeling a bit lost in their new role as mum or dad, I imagine that all the positive associations with a song from their pre-parenting life might also reconnect them with strengths they have forgotten about, and act as an important bridge between their pre-baby self and who they are now.”
Julianne is essentially talking about identity here, and the identity crisis of parenthood. We have so many preconceptions about what being a parent is, and importantly, what a GOOD parent is. Then when it happens to us, it can be traumatic, bewildering, painful, lonely, confusing. And amongst all of this is the awareness of the huge responsibility of caring for a tiny vulnerable person. Where do I and my mass of emotions fit into this? Who am I now and does anyone notice or care? And where can I go if I’m feeling like this? I love seeing the groups I work with literally growing in stature, as we focus on our posture, finding their voices and connecting their bodies and breath with their voices and emotions. We learn a wide variety of songs, some familiar, some entirely new, but each voice and person is valued for their unique contribution.
“Finally, the act of collective singing has been proven to have positive neurological benefits which may lift mood (dopamine) and improve bonding (oxytocin). In addition we access the right side of our brains when singing -the side of the brain linked to emotions and early memory. For parents suffering from depression or anxiety (where left brain processes such as rumination are dominant) hanging out in the right brain may provide welcome relief and neurochemical balance so they feel calmer and less anxious.”
And the chemical-science-bit! This is really fascinating and where group-singing really comes into its own, especially for parents (and everyone) suffering from mental illness who would like a drug-free treatment with no side effects. I am astounded that with the NHS broke and at breaking point, and with more and more research demonstrating the therapeutic effects of choirs in a variety of health contexts, that there aren’t choirs on prescription.
Many thanks to….
Julianne Boutaleb CPsychol AFBPsS Consultant Perinatal Psychologist
Founder & Clinical Director of Parenthood In Mind
*Blog title taken from a lecture of the same title by Grenville Hancox at Morley College, 15th January 2018 in which he was advocating singing on prescription.