Carlyne Graham and the Postpartum Stress Center Help Women in Need

The wife of Eagles player Brandon Graham works with the Bryn Mawr center to help women navigate an overwhelming time.

Carlyne Graham admits to experiencing a touch of the baby blues after she delivered her first child, daughter Emerson. “But I had a great support system,” she says.

Thankfully, her husband, Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham, is a hands-on parent. “He allowed me to get back to some self-care, some routine,” Carlyne says. “Something as simple as going to get your nails done plays such a big role in curating your mental health and getting your mental strength back in order.”

With son Bryson, it was a different story. On the night of Carlyne’s baby shower, a cherished aunt passed away. The stress contributed to Bryson’s birth a month ahead of his due date. “That was a really difficult time for me,” says Carlyne, who lives with Brandon and their two children in Haverford. “I really didn’t know how to go down that path of feeling the sadness of losing someone that was so dear to me and then the joy of having my son.”

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One in seven women experience postpartum stress—and it often goes unnoticed and undiscussed. Given the hormonal changes during and after pregnancy, it’s natural to feel a bit down. But postpartum stress transcends the baby blues, persisting and intensifying over time. “We live in a culture that doesn’t embrace a new parent talking about how hard it is or how bad it can feel to have a new baby,” says Karen Kleiman, founder of the Postpartum Stress Center in Bryn Mawr. “It became glaringly clear to me how the needs of postpartum women fall through the cracks. As a therapist, I worried about the women who might not know how to ask for help.”

By the time she became a mom, Carlyne already had her law degree and master’s in social work from Loyola University Chicago. After her 2014 wedding, she stepped away from the workforce, dove headfirst into family life and got heavily involved in Team Graham, a nonprofit she started with Brandon that assists families in need and mentors young kids. “I noticed the impact we were having on the children and families in the community—I felt my heart was more fulfilled in that,” she says. “It was just a better fit for me to go down that path and focus on that line of work.”

Postpartum stress transcends the baby blues, persisting and intensifying over time. “We live in a culture that doesn’t embrace a new parent talking about how hard it is or how bad it can feel to have a new baby,” says Karen Kleiman, founder of the Postpartum Stress Center in Bryn Mawr.

When Emerson and Bryson were school age, Carlyne returned to her studies, becoming a licensed psychotherapist and lactation consultant. She reached out to Kleiman at the Postpartum Stress Center. Carlyne is now a therapist there.

Carlyne
Photo by Ricky Codio

“A lot of men tend to go through a postpartum period as well. It’s not talked about as much, but it’s pretty common.”
—Therapist Carlyne Graham

“We wanted to address the stigma that keeps many postpartum parents from talking about how they truly feel,” says Kleiman, explaining her motivation for founding the center in 1986. “We wanted to create a safe space where people could disclose their authentic feelings and get the relief they need and deserve.”

The pressure to be a perfect mother can be overwhelming, to the point where new moms panic when they think they’re falling short. “Social media has increased this pressure,” says Marcie Weiner, the center’s clinical director. “Women see all these perfect moments and feel they pale by comparison, not realizing that those are moments in time. They’re not accurate reflections of how anyone else is doing.”

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For many women, the postpartum period is characterized by intense sadness, overwhelming fear and anxiety, immense guilt, intrusive thoughts, irritability, fatigue, and difficulty bonding with their baby. Some may suffer physical symptoms like headaches and weight changes. “Despite what’s widely talked about politically, there’s very little support for women and families,” Weiner says. “So many struggle with the expectation that everything should be wonderful—and if it isn’t, they’re ashamed to tell anyone.”

When someone calls the Postpartum Stress Center, Weiner assesses their needs and assigns them to a therapist like Carlyne. “There are so many different hormonal and environmental shifts—so many different things that contribute to how you’re feeling,” Carlyne says.

Kleiman trains her therapists using her own model. Dubbed “The Art of Holding Perinatal Women in Distress,” it focuses on the nuances that contribute to distress during the postpartum period. The “holding” aspect refers to the “often concealed needs and desires of postpartum women and provides specific skills that enable more efficient and effective treatment opportunities,” says Kleiman.

In many cases, the mother isn’t the only one affected by postpartum depression and anxiety. The center helps both parents handle stressors. For men, they may revolve around the transition to fatherhood, changes in relationship dynamics between wife and husband, financial issues, increased expectations, and a lack of emotional support. “A lot of men tend to go through a postpartum period as well,” Carlyne says. “It’s not talked about as much, but it’s pretty common.”

It’s important for new parents to recognize that they aren’t alone. “If you feel something is off or you feel you aren’t your best, reach out to someone,” says Carlyne.

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For her part, Kleiman is thrilled to have Carlyne on her team. “She brings enthusiasm and gentle comfort to her work,” says Kleiman. “Postpartum families who seek her out for support will be in excellent hands.”

Carlyne’s husband couldn’t agree more. “I’m so proud of her commitment to supporting others during such a critical time,” says Brandon. “Her passion for helping those in need shines through in everything she does.”

Carlyne credits her own remarkable support system with helping her negotiate the conflicting emotions of her aunt’s passing and son’s birth. Though it was one of the more difficult times of her life, it shaped the relationship she has with her son today. “I always call Bryson my little sunshine—he was a part of that whole experience,” she says. “He was there when I heard [my aunt] passed away. He experienced all of those feelings. He and I have this inseparable bond.”

Visit postpartumstress.com.

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