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Mom’s Without A Mom: A Path Through Postpartum Pain with Dr. Melissa Reilly
Episode 2452nd February 2023 • Beyond Adversity with Dr. Brad Miller • Dr Brad Miller
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In this episode, Melissa shared her story of being a mom without a mom and the actions that she took to overcome her depression.

Dr. Melissa is born into a typical family, having both parents and an elder and younger sister. Unfortunately, her elder sister died when she was young. And at the age of 25, her mother died. And seven months later, her younger sister passed away.

Despite these tragic events she experienced, she continue to live her life and have a family of her own. 

Dr. Melissa talks about her difficulties in giving birth to her first son, as she experiences depression remembering her mom and the longing feelings.

She also discusses the actions she took in order to be unstuck in her circumstances, after discovering the patterns that the mother patients she treated in the clinic have in common with her.

Dr. Melissa Riley’s story is a calming and motivational story of one who overcomes the various adversities she faced and pierced through the wall of grief and depression. It is a story of an individual who strives to be a mother without a mom.

Episode 245 of The Beyond Adversity Podcast is a must-listen for any mothers without a mom they could rely on. Those who want to hear an inspirational story and get out of their feelings of depression.

“The Beyond Adversity Podcast with Dr. Brad Miller is published weekly with the mission of helping people “Grow Through What They Go Through” as they navigate adversity and discover their promised life of peace, prosperity, and purpose.


Dr. Brad Miller 0:01

Hello again, good people, and welcome to the Beyond Adversity

Dr. Brad Miller 0:06

Podcast this is where we help folks just like you to grow through what

Dr. Brad Miller 0:11

they go through to navigate adverse life conditions and achieve

Dr. Brad Miller 0:16

your life of peace and prosperity and purpose. The best way we do

Dr. Brad Miller 0:22

that is, by talking to people who've been there and done that. In this

Dr. Brad Miller 0:26

case, we're talking to Dr Melissa Riley. She has quite a story to tell

Dr. Brad Miller 0:31

She is a psychologist, mom, and coach, particularly with an emphasis

Dr. Brad Miller 0:36

on supporting moms without a mom on their path of resilience.

Dr. Brad Miller 0:42

Dr Melissa Riley, welcome to Beyond adversity.

Dr. Melissa Riley 0:46

Thank you, Brad. I really appreciate it. I am excited to talk with your

Dr. Melissa Riley 0:51

folks about being a mom without a mom.

Dr. Brad Miller 0:54

Being a mom without a mom. It's a defined area here. We're

Dr. Brad Miller 0:58

going to delve into that. And what I like to hear then is this, the context

Dr. Brad Miller 1:03

of being a mom without a mom is critical to your story. So tell us

Dr. Brad Miller 1:08

a bit about your story of when you faced some really challenging, difficult

Dr. Brad Miller 1:13

times as a new mom without a mom. And that kind of led you to

Dr. Brad Miller 1:17

what you do now in your coaching and leadership and teaching of other people.

Dr. Melissa Riley 1:21

Absolutely. So my life started pretty typically. I was born into a

Dr. Melissa Riley 1:26

family with both parents, and I was the second of three girls born

Dr. Melissa Riley 1:32

into that family. And unfortunately, as a young child, my older sister

Dr. Melissa Riley 1:40

passed away from leukemia. And so my life was very much framed

Dr. Melissa Riley 1:46

from that experience. So fast forward. At the age of 25, my mother died

Dr. Melissa Riley 1:46

from a heart attack at a very young age, age 51. And then seven

Dr. Melissa Riley 1:57

months later, my younger sister died from just a pulmonary embolism.

Dr. Melissa Riley 2:03

So yeah, I went from one of four women within a family of five to

Dr. Melissa Riley 2:12

I am the only female in my nuclear family. And at that point in my life,

Dr. Melissa Riley 2:20

I was very career oriented. I was finishing up my doctoral degree to

Dr. Melissa Riley 2:27

be a clinical psychologist, and continued on that path. So I was,

Dr. Melissa Riley 2:32

like I said, I was only 25 When my mother died, and I went through,

Dr. Melissa Riley 2:38

you know, significant life events moving, graduating, getting married,

Dr. Melissa Riley 2:44

all of the typical adult milestones without my mom present. So I

Dr. Melissa Riley 2:50

went through the grief process and did a lot of my own work, and

Dr. Melissa Riley 2:57

really felt very comfortable with who I was. So I started my family

Dr. Melissa Riley 3:02

later in life, and gave birth to my first son, my child, just a couple of

Dr. Melissa Riley 3:12

days shy of my 38th birthday. Okay. Now, that process was difficult,

Dr. Melissa Riley 3:17

because I had three miscarriages, and then my pregnancy with my

Dr. Melissa Riley 3:23

son was a medically fragile pregnancy. I started going into delivery at

Dr. Melissa Riley 3:29

26 weeks, and then bed rest and multiple hospital stays, and all those

Dr. Melissa Riley 3:33

kinds of things. So during this process, all of a sudden, I had this

Dr. Melissa Riley 3:38

real resurgence of grief. For my mom, I started feeling alone, really

Dr. Melissa Riley 3:45

isolated and began to struggle. And I didn't recognize all of

Dr. Melissa Riley 3:53

the symptoms of grief as being grief. Because of what I was going through

Dr. Melissa Riley 3:58

was difficult. And so so the Depression The alone, the longing

Dr. Melissa Riley 4:03

feelings. I didn't necessarily consider it grief, because like I said,

Dr. Melissa Riley 4:09

I had already gone through that.

Dr. Brad Miller 4:12

Probably a little part of you thought I know how to handle this

Dr. Brad Miller 4:15

as well, for your training, I assume that would have been in the mix.

Dr. Melissa Riley 4:18

Absolutely. And then, once my son was born, Brad, this is

Dr. Melissa Riley 4:24

where things really start to fall apart. Because here I was, right.

Dr. Melissa Riley 4:29

38 years old. I own my practice. I was a clinical psychologist

Dr. Melissa Riley 4:33

for many years. At that point. I was pretty competent, and who

Dr. Melissa Riley 4:36

I was a woman. I, you know, had taught at the graduate

Dr. Melissa Riley 4:41

level human development. I had, you know, provided treatment

Dr. Melissa Riley 4:46

for many moms with parenting. So I thought I was going into

Dr. Melissa Riley 4:50

this in a pretty good place with more resources than most. And

Dr. Melissa Riley 4:56

I was blown away by just how it did because it was It surprised me.

Dr. Melissa Riley 5:02

And I didn't understand why I was struggling

Dr. Melissa Riley 5:07

so much. So what I was left with was this idea that something

Dr. Melissa Riley 5:12

must be wrong with me. And I felt terrible. And I felt the

Dr. Melissa Riley 5:18

sense of shame. I felt embarrassed. And I didn't have

Dr. Melissa Riley 5:22

anybody to talk to about it.

Dr. Brad Miller 5:28

Was there a husband or other family members involved?

Dr. Brad Miller 5:31

Who are kind of close to you during those time?

Dr. Melissa Riley 5:32

I had my husband, and he was as supportive as it could be.

Dr. Melissa Riley 5:40

But he had already been a father. My oldest was born

Dr. Melissa Riley 5:46

from his first my husband's first marriage. Yes. So this was the

Dr. Melissa Riley 5:50

second time going through it. But the first time going through

Dr. Melissa Riley 5:54

it with me. So there were some differences, of course, which made

Dr. Melissa Riley 5:58

it a little more difficult. I didn't live in the same state as my father.

Dr. Melissa Riley 6:02

And I did have an aunt who I was very close with, but she also

Dr. Melissa Riley 6:07

didn't live in the same state. So and I had just moved to the

Dr. Melissa Riley 6:12

town that I lived in that year. So I wasn't connected with

Dr. Melissa Riley 6:18

people and friends. And I'm kind of an introvert. So it's not

Dr. Melissa Riley 6:22

easy for me to make friends. Yeah, so I felt very alone, and

Dr. Melissa Riley 6:28

didn't realize that not having a mother had such a significant impact on me,

Dr. Brad Miller 6:33

were you able to kind of put your finger on it right away,

Dr. Brad Miller 6:35

though that was a part of the circumstances

Dr. Brad Miller 6:38

for you. So it took her time to unpack that and get to that place.

Dr. Melissa Riley 6:43

It did, it did take me some time. And part of how I figured

Dr. Melissa Riley 6:49

it out was in working with other moms, you know,

Dr. Melissa Riley 6:52

I continued to work and started noticing patterns amongst

Dr. Melissa Riley 6:56

the other mothers that I treated in my clinical practice,

Dr. Melissa Riley 7:00

that didn't have a mother or the mother they had was toxic, right,

Dr. Melissa Riley 7:04

so that they weren't support. And I started noticing

Dr. Melissa Riley 7:08

similarities between myself and these other women, that

Dr. Melissa Riley 7:13

wasn't necessarily consistent with moms that had their mother.

Dr. Melissa Riley 7:17

And so, being the psych nerd that I am, I did some research and

Dr. Melissa Riley 7:21

found isn't a lot of information out there about the experience

Dr. Melissa Riley 7:25

of moms without a mom. So I started to think a lot about

Dr. Melissa Riley 7:29

that, and realized, okay, this is something that I can do

Dr. Melissa Riley 7:33

research about, and then start providing support and

Dr. Melissa Riley 7:38

help other moms. And that's what I'm doing.

Dr. Brad Miller 7:41

That's what you're doing now. That's awesome. So it seemed

Dr. Brad Miller 7:46

like in this whole process here, Melissa, you were kind of surprised,

Dr. Brad Miller 7:52

by the circumstances. I mean, they kind of hit you hard because

Dr. Brad Miller 7:56

you weren't really ready for it. And you'd perhaps maybe apart

Dr. Brad Miller 7:59

of what was going on, as you may have thought somehow,

Dr. Brad Miller 8:02

maybe if mom was there and was involved would have been

Dr. Brad Miller 8:05

helpful in the process. And we play games with our minds.

Dr. Brad Miller 8:08

Don't we do that a lot? And that part of what's going on here,

Dr. Brad Miller 8:12

but you had to find your own pathway, then, to healing

Dr. Brad Miller 8:15

and wholeness and what you're doing. So let's talk for a

Dr. Brad Miller 8:18

minute here, Melissa, but what are some of the actions

Dr. Brad Miller 8:21

that you took, then what I mean by that is a lot of people

Dr. Brad Miller 8:23

and mentioned you were in clinical practice

Dr. Brad Miller 8:26

where you're working with other moms, and a ticket, a

Dr. Brad Miller 8:29

significant part of your clientele was women. And I don't

Dr. Brad Miller 8:32

know if that's the case or not, but in a lot of them being

Dr. Brad Miller 8:35

moms and deal with all the drama and trauma being

Dr. Brad Miller 8:39

a mom, period, let alone these other things to go in. But

Dr. Brad Miller 8:43

it seems that what are some of the actions that you

Dr. Brad Miller 8:46

took to begin to get to this path because you as you know,

Dr. Brad Miller 8:48

a lot of people get stuck. They get stuck. And I call it

Dr. Brad Miller 8:51

the malaise of mediocrity, you get stuck on that malaise,

Dr. Brad Miller 8:54

and it's hard to get out. And so you've worked with

Dr. Brad Miller 8:56

some people, I'm sure in your practice, but now you have

Dr. Brad Miller 8:58

to do some things to get unstuck. So what are

Dr. Brad Miller 9:00

some things you took action about?

Dr. Melissa Riley 9:03

Yes, well, there are three really specific things that I did.

Dr. Melissa Riley 9:07

First and foremost, I needed to recognize that I was

Dr. Melissa Riley 9:13

experiencing grief, and then start doing some work around

Dr. Melissa Riley 9:17

that grief. So recognizing, and then being able to express it

Dr. Melissa Riley 9:21

through things like writing, journaling, talking, sharing

Dr. Melissa Riley 9:24

my experiences with others. The second thing that I needed

Dr. Melissa Riley 9:29

to do was build a community because moms function

Dr. Melissa Riley 9:35

in many ways, right? They typically provide assistance and

Dr. Melissa Riley 9:40

act as you know, a go to person. So I needed to find

Dr. Melissa Riley 9:43

individuals that could assist me and help with things that

Dr. Melissa Riley 9:47

I needed assistance with. They provide knowledge and wisdom.

Dr. Melissa Riley 9:51

So I needed to reach out and find what I like to call wise

Dr. Melissa Riley 9:55

women that could answer the questions that I had, especially

Dr. Melissa Riley 9:59

I times. I mean, not all the times I even know that I had a

Dr. Melissa Riley:

question. And we needed to get that. They also can be there

Dr. Melissa Riley:

to help with chores and things in ways that others, you know,

Dr. Melissa Riley:

we wouldn't necessarily ask, right. And they provide emotional

Dr. Melissa Riley:

support. So I needed to go out and build my mom community

Dr. Melissa Riley:

that included those factors for those people. And then the

Dr. Melissa Riley:

third thing is I needed to start really looking at my own

Dr. Melissa Riley:

sense of who I am as a mom. And I call that our mom identity.

Dr. Melissa Riley:

We recognize who we are within relationship with others.

Dr. Melissa Riley:

And so part of how we know how to be a mom is by how

Dr. Melissa Riley:

we were mothers. And whether that was a good

Dr. Melissa Riley:

experience, or a not-so-good experience.

Dr. Brad Miller:

Some very specific things. So let's talk a little bit about

Dr. Brad Miller:

how you did it. Then I got built community

Dr. Brad Miller:

and I got the mom's identity. What was the first one again?

Dr. Melissa Riley:

the first one was to recognize and then express my grief

Dr. Brad Miller:

Express grief, that was it. So let's just take at least maybe

Dr. Brad Miller:

one example of those for your experience. Now I want to

Dr. Brad Miller:

talk about how that might apply to other people, there's

Dr. Brad Miller:

gonna be one example of an action you took to express grief.

Dr. Melissa Riley:

Okay, so to express grief, I started writing letters to my mom

Dr. Melissa Riley:

in my journal. And in those letters, I would just kind of talk

Dr. Melissa Riley:

about the difficult things I was experiencing with my son,

Dr. Melissa Riley:

as well as some of the wonderful things that I knew a

Dr. Melissa Riley:

grandmother would gush over me, right, because not

Dr. Melissa Riley:

everybody wants to hear mundane stories. So I just

Dr. Melissa Riley:

created this ongoing dialogue. And sometimes it felt very one

Dr. Melissa Riley:

sided. But there were other times when I could hear her voice

Dr. Melissa Riley:

talking back. And so that was a really important experience of

Dr. Melissa Riley:

expressing grief, which wasn't based on just like, grief as we

Dr. Melissa Riley:

recognize it like that, that sadness, and that, that that real

Dr. Melissa Riley:

depressed experience. But this was more of kind of that

Dr. Melissa Riley:

longing and wanting something there. So I created it.

Dr. Brad Miller:

So you wasn't exactly like having your mom around. But

Dr. Brad Miller:

it was heading in that direction. You know, it was an

Dr. Brad Miller:

expression that you took to do that. The second thing

Dr. Brad Miller:

was to build community. So what was something specific

Dr. Brad Miller:

that you did to build community with other moms?

Dr. Melissa Riley:

Okay, well, I'll give an example of a wise woman. So

Dr. Melissa Riley:

I was going into my son's childcare center, and he was about

Dr. Melissa Riley:

six months old, and I nursed so. But I brought in milk and

Dr. Melissa Riley:

bottles for him to be fed there. So one day, the teacher

Dr. Melissa Riley:

says to me, Melissa, do you think he's ready to go up on

Dr. Melissa Riley:

a nipple size? I just looked at her. And I had no idea what

Dr. Melissa Riley:

she was talking about. No idea. I didn't feed him a bottle

Dr. Melissa Riley:

when he was with me. So she very kindly said, Well,

Dr. Melissa Riley:

you know, the nipples on bottles come in different types

Dr. Melissa Riley:

of balls. And as they get older, they need to go fantasize.

Dr. Melissa Riley:

Okay, so what do you think? And she helped me, right?

Dr. Melissa Riley:

She told me what all that meant. And so I started

Dr. Melissa Riley:

recognizing that the professionals in his life, the teachers,

Dr. Melissa Riley:

could be part of the wise women that I reached out to Yes.

Dr. Melissa Riley:

And that I started to rely on to give me information.

Dr. Melissa Riley:

And I think that's really important. So it isn't just friends,

Dr. Melissa Riley:

it's professionals. It's other people in our life, too, that we

Dr. Melissa Riley:

can include as part of our community.

Dr. Brad Miller:

That's great. And then the third thing you mentioned,

Dr. Brad Miller:

give us an example of coming to terms or recognizing the mom identity.

Dr. Melissa Riley:

Yes. So my mom was larger than life person. She had a very

Dr. Melissa Riley:

bold personality and she was a leader in the community.

Dr. Melissa Riley:

In fact, I was often known as just one of the girls.

Dr. Melissa Riley:

Okay, so there were lots of wonderful things about her.

Dr. Melissa Riley:

But there were also things that she struggled with. She had

Dr. Melissa Riley:

her own wounds. And so, it took me some time before I

Dr. Melissa Riley:

could sift through and figure out what were those qualities

Dr. Melissa Riley:

of her I wanted to emulate. And what were some of those

Dr. Melissa Riley:

things that I wanted to let go of and be different in who I

Dr. Melissa Riley:

am as a mom. And so it took a lot of self-reflection and

Dr. Melissa Riley:

really looking at what are my values, what things

Dr. Melissa Riley:

I want to do and be very deliberate in that self-reflection,

Dr. Melissa Riley:

and then focusing on really leaving those out.