Category Archives: Postpartum Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome

NIMH Gets Failing Grade for Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder Chat

Last week, a friend of mine tagged me in a link on FB to give me a heads up about a NIMH chat this week about Perinatal Mood Disorders. Of course we were looking forward to it and hoping it would be a worthwhile discussion. I nearly missed it on Friday morning (May 16, 2014)  thanks to a nasty case of food poisoning which knocked me off my feet for the better part of this week. But, I managed to dive in just 10 minutes into the chat.

It was…….awful.

Stilted.

Non-engaging.

Spouting of facts and just the facts, according to the NIMH. (They managed to screw up a few things. Don’t worry, I’ll go there. Oh, yes, yes I will.)

Self-promotion and only self-promotion. No real response to the powerful Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder Advocates who showed up until we started really pushing back. Even then, their response was still stilted.

Just when it seemed it couldn’t get any worse, the NIMH began repeating tweets from the beginning of the chat instead of answering the flurry of questions coming in from those participating.

If NIMH handed this chat in as a graded project, it would have received an F.

When I asked what was being done to encourage medical professionals to become better educated about PMAD’s, this happened:

NIMHChat Congress

Yep.

Congress MANDATED we pay more attention to PMAD’s. In fact, it got shoved in with the ACA. And we all know how well that’s going. After this response, I asked a follow up question asking how that was going – asked for hard numbers. Did I get numbers? Nope. BECAUSE THE ATTENTION MANDATED BY CONGRESS LACKS FUNDING AND THEREFORE ATTENTION.

I’m okay, I’m okay. *deep breath*

There was also this lovely moment in chat:

NIMHChat Snafu

I know, right?

Because we ALL got better by staying in bed thanks to depression, right? Right?

Instead of urging moms to get up, move, and care for themselves, the NIMH  provides them with excuses to stay in bed and well, suffer. Way to go, NIMH. WAY.TO.GO. *slow claps*

While I realize it is difficult to manage a large scale chat with several participants (something I have done myself, when #PPDChat was very well attended), there is absolutely no excuse for the following to happen during your chat:

1) Blatantly state misinformation/misleading facts about your topic. Particularly if said topic is subject to entrenched stigma and misinformation (which is why you are having the chat to begin with, right? Not because it’s a hot topic and you’re using it to draw people in…)

2) Not engage those who are participating – this is SOCIAL media, y’all. SOCIAL. ENGAGE. Like Jean Luc Picard on the bridge of the Enterprise. Even if you’re just going at impulse speed, ENGAGE for the love of ALL that is..well, you know.

3) Don’t repeat yourself word for word. It lets people know you’re unprepared.

4) Share resources other than your own. (see number 2 about social media).

5) Do NOT TREAT those participating with disdain, contempt, or as if they are idiots. They are attending your event which would be nothing without participants. Respond accordingly unless they are clearly bashing you (which we were not) and if they are bashing you, ignore them before you stoop to the level of responding with disdain.
Things to do during a Twitter chat:

1) Engage. Be Social. Greet people. Be happy and upbeat. SMILE through your keyboard.

2) Be knowledgeable and approachable.

3) Treat everyone as if they are your equal. They are there to learn, not to be kicked. Acknowledge their words, their struggle, their questions with the same respect you expect from them. You know, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

4) Offer insight through connections and share resources from others in addition to your own. The only answer is not yours. Crowd-source and use the media at hand to enhance your chat.

5) Do your best to make everyone be heard, even if it’s through just RT’ing what they’ve said. Again, I realize this is difficult on a LARGE scale but if you have known experts participating, acknowledge them.

I truly hate when things like this go wrong because there is such a tremendous opportunity for exposure when a government agency holds a chat like this. I want to say I’m surprised at how things went but sadly, I am not. Instead of raising awareness and building hope, NIMH decimated the chat with a lot of tweets about nothing, leaving at least one person (and possibly more) with the idea that there is in fact, nothing a mother can do to prevent a PMAD:

NIMHChat PPD cause

And that, dear friends, is NOT the taste you want to leave in the public’s mouth when discussing PMAD’s. Because there is hope. There is help. We are not alone.

Go to Postpartum Progress to find women who are fighting back.

Or Postpartum Stress Center’s website.

Or Beyond Postpartum.

Or find me on Twitter @unxpctdblessing. Or search the hashtag #PPDChat. Message me for the private FB group full of women who KNOW this is hell and yet are fighting back against it with everything they have.

We’re all here for you when you’re ready to reach out for help.

(And THAT is how you end a chat about Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders).

*drops mic and hits publish*

#PPDChat Topic 03.10.2014: Media Sensationalism & PPD

ppdchat-03-10-14

 

Join me tonight as we explore the issue of media sensationalism and PPD. So often, as I stated in my post “On Not Wanting To”, when a mom hurts herself or her children, we get the sensationalized version of it and the details of her journey to that point (and her journey after the event) are dramatized as well. I hope you’ll join me for a passionate and insightful chat into why this needs to change as well as why we owe it to ourselves and to society to reach out to every new mother dyad with care, compassion, and understanding.

We cannot let the village continue to fail.

How the @BostonGlobe got Postpartum Depression Wrong

With more news stories mentioning Postpartum Depression these days, it is becoming painfully obvious that reporters are scrambling to get their facts straight. Bless them for trying but sometimes, even with the best of intentions, they fall short. Like Karen Weintraub’s article “When the ‘baby blues’ are something more” at the Boston Globe on October 21, 2013.

Karen defends herself in the comments (all two of them at time of writing) about the term “baby blues” by saying that in her researching for this piece, she discovered there is such a thing as baby blues:

Boston Globe Comments

Kudos to Ms. Weintraub for doing enough research to realize that baby blues ARE distinct from depression.

BUT.

There are a multitude of omissions and errors within the article as it stands right now. Let’s go through them:

Ms. Weintraub breaks the Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder experience into only three groups:

  • Baby Blues
  • Postpartum Depression
  • Postpartum Psychosis

Immediately, sirens sound. Particularly because the case study, a Nicole Caligiuri, a first time mother, states she felt “angry and anxious” all the time. While anger/irritability is a sign of depression, anxiety combined with anger is typically (in my non-professional opinion) more closely related to an anxiety disorder. Ms. Caligiuri, however, was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression.

By ignoring the additional facets of the PMAD spectrum, Ms. Weintraub does a severe disservice to those mothers who may be suffering from Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or Postpartum OCD.

Weintraub states that 50-85% of new mothers experience baby blues, 14% experience postpartum depression, and a “fraction of 1 percent of new moms” experience Postpartum Psychosis. If you go by those numbers (at the higher levels), nearly 100% of all new mothers experience one of these three phenomena and none experience Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or Postpartum OCD.

According to Postpartum Support International’s Get the Facts page:

  • Approximately 6% of pregnant women and 10% of postpartum women develop anxiety. Sometimes they experience anxiety alone, and sometimes they experience it in addition to depression. 
  • Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is the most misunderstood and misdiagnosed of the perinatal disorders. It is estimated that as many as 3-5% of new mothers will experience these symptoms.
  • Approximately 1-6% of women experience postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following childbirth.

But in Weintraub’s scenario, there isn’t room for the nearly 20-27% of women who develop these particular Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders. As a survivor of Postpartum OCD, I find this troubling. Particularly because OCD can scare a new mother into thinking she is experiencing a form of Psychosis due to the horrific intrusive thoughts.

As I have mentioned multiple times, it is beyond important to differentiate the varying aspects of a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder. Why? Because when you lump Postpartum Psychosis sensationalism in with Postpartum Depression, things get murky. You scare new mothers who may be a bit depressed into thinking if they go get help, they will be thought of as potential criminals and have their babes ripped from their arms the instant they admit to feeling anything less than happy.

An additional issue with this article is the strong focus on early motherhood. The logic of this focus is evidenced by the study on which it is centered but a quick mention that PMAD can persist beyond early motherhood would have been a quick fix for this bias.

Why is it important to emphasize that PMAD onset can extend beyond early motherhood?

Often, many mothers do not realize they have issues until they are well into the 6th month or more. I have had mothers contact me at almost a year postpartum to share that they think something has been deeply wrong since the birth of their child but they did not recognize it until now. Many Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders crop up within the first 2-3 months, often immediately after the period of baby blues, but some mothers do not recognize them or even get hit with them until much later. PMAD’s can crop up  within the first 12 months after birth and even then, may not be recognized until much later. But this information is not mentioned anywhere in the article nor are we ever told at what point Ms. Caligiuri sought help.

I deeply appreciate Ms. Weintraub’s effort to reach out to Dr. Katherine Wisner and Dr. Michael O’Hara, respected experts in the research field of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders, however, I wish she (or her editor) had taken the time to allow this article to be a bit more clear regarding the wide scope of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders. I also wish a side bar had been included to resources for women and families who are struggling with these issues, particularly given that Ms. Weintraub included this quote from Dr. O’Hara:

Social support is probably the most important thing to provide a new mother, who is at a particularly fragile point in life, said Michael O’Hara, a professor of psychology at the University of Iowa, who has been researching and treating postpartum depression for three decades.

 

Postpartum Support International will connect new mothers with social support. Also, specifically in Hadley, Massachusetts, there is Mother Woman, a fabulous organization who is making fantastic strides toward improving access to support and care for struggling women & families. Advocates in the trenches, such as the volunteers with PSI and Mother Woman, recognize how important it is to have peers support each other so they do not feel all alone in the dark. It is an oversight that neither of these organizations are mentioned anywhere in Ms. Weintraub’s piece.

Overall, Ms. Weintraub, despite making a few blunders, seems to handle the issue at hand with a respectable grace. The study at the heart of the article focuses on the development of depression in children born to mothers who struggled with depression but Ms. Weintraub is fabulous in her handling of this issue, particularly with this paragraph:

But parents shouldn’t feel like they’ve ruined their child’s life if they go through a period of depression, Pearson said. The increased risk of depression in their children is small. Overall, 7 percent of teens are depressed, compared with 11 percent of teens whose mothers were depressed early in their children’s lives.

She side-steps the potential onslaught of guilt and gracefully allows parents to breathe a sigh of relief by including this information from the study’s co-author.

As I stated in the opening, coverage of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders is greatly improving. But we still have a long way to go to get to fully informed reporting. For the most part, Ms. Weintraub’s article is generally free of sensationalism, includes quotes from respected experts, and manages to allay any potential guilt a new mother with a PMAD may feel in reading it. However, it is still just a few small adjustments away from being truly spectacular and informative.

Dear Sting, Postpartum Depression is No Joking Matter

Sting played a small venue in Chicago last night to promote ‘Last Ship’, according to this article written by Scott C. Morgan.

The article discusses the process Sting went through to bring ‘Last Ship’, a Broadway musical, to life.

Then at the end, is the kicker.

Though Sting is writing the score for “The Last Ship,” he won’t be appearing in the show. So Seller asked the singer how it will be for him to see other people performing his songs onstage.

 

“I imagine I’m going to have postpartum depression,” Sting joked.

 

Oh, Sting.

I have been a fan since I was a pre-teen and had to sneak off at my grandmother’s house to watch videos on MTV. Yanno, back when MTV actually showed videos.

You’ve been a source of solace for me in my dark times. I used one of your songs in a playlist of mine as I healed from my own bout of severe Postpartum OCD. The rhythm was just right and I liked the emotion it evoked within me.

But now?

I can’t do that.

Because you’ve said this.

In eight words, you have managed to completely undermine the seriousness of what I experienced. What millions of women experience every year. In eight words.

Do you see how easy it is to marginalize someone else’s experience? How easy it is to compare the hell that is a Perinatal Mood Disorder by saying you’ll go through the same thing as you watch other people perform your songs? While it may not be easy to see other people perform your art, I guarantee you that it is a hell of a lot easier than the depths of hell I and millions of other women witness as survivors and warriors in the trenches against PMADs.

We fight, Sting, for our fields of gold, fragile as we are. We fight because maybe, just maybe, tomorrow we’ll see a brand new day filled with hope. We don’t want to be the shadows in the rain, never coming home.

Please, think about what you are saying before you say it. Because when you do not think before you speak, you end up hurting people, minimizing their experiences, and comparing their hell to something which is not even close to their experience.

For now, I am gonna have to do the opposite of Rick Astley and give you up because you let me down.

Sticks and Stones Will Break My Bones But Words….

I started this post the other day after a comment was left on a post I promoted on Facebook. Then I had to walk away because I started down a path I did not want to go down. This was a difficult post for me to write as it forces me to revisit a meeting which left me both enraged and shaken. I’ve calmed down quite a bit and the following is a much more polite response than the one I started the other day.

The post is a wonderful interview of Dr. Katherine Wisner by Walker Karraa. The interview, found here, focuses on Postpartum Mood Disorders, of course, but also addresses the challenge and controversy of screening mothers for the presence of Postpartum Mood Disorders.

Screening is a hot topic and has been for quite awhile. There are a lot of unknowns regarding when to screen, how to screen, what happens after a positive screen, liability for care of the patient, when to refer, etc. Bottom line, I feel, is that we need to screen in order to start the dialogue about Postpartum Mood Disorders with care providers in every field that comes in contact with both expecting and new mamas. We also need to work more diligently to create supportive nets of care for women in our communities – coalitions of OB’s, Midwives, Pediatricians, IBCLC’s, Psychiatrists, Psychologists, therapists, doulas, and other various caregivers for pregnant women and young children. It needs to be comprehensive.

Those of us who advocate for the care and support of families battling Postpartum Mood Disorders must be well-versed in all things relating to pregnancy and postpartum. Our scope of knowledge must include a basic grasp on the rights of the expectant woman and as a new mothers. This is in addition to the psychiatric knowledge we also hold and are constantly researching in order to better arm new and expectant mothers.

It is exhausting sometimes, to read all of this information. I myself have suffered from information overload. But, empowering new and expectant mothers to make healthy and better decisions for their care and therefore for their families, is what I have been called to do so read I must.

In the past couple of years I haven’t been reading as much, I’ll admit, but prior to that, I read voraciously. I dove into all things birth related. So when there was a chance to go see Henci Goer at a local get together on August 26, 2010, I went.

Henci, a well-known author and advocate for Lamaze birth and healthier women-empowered births, was someone I admired.

Until the night I met her and discussed my experiences which led to my own advocacy with her.

Henci, after discussing at length, her new project, completely shot down my experience with a very dismissive sentence, the gist of which was left in a comment at Karraa’s interview with Dr. Katherine Wisner I referenced above.

Here was a woman, who seemingly was all about empowering women and improving their birth experiences, failing to even acknowledge the difficulties I experienced after my own. I didn’t experience Postpartum Depression, according to Goer, my experiences were directly related to my birthing experience and therefore weren’t my fault but that of the system’s.

While I agree there are far too many interventions in the modern birthing realm for many mothers and it’s sad that organizations like Solace for Mothers even have to exist, to shoot down the experience of another and how she has worked through it in one dismissive sentence is almost as bad as what my first OB did to me.

PTSD QuoteTrauma is about perception. It’s not about what happened to you, it’s about how you perceive what happened to you. This perception is shaded by our own personal experiences and baggage. These experiences and this baggage also directly affects how we process our experience after our brush with trauma.

No one has the right to question a woman’s perception of her birth experience.

No one has the right to re-frame her experience FOR her. It is hers and hers alone to process. It is hers to share as she feels necessary, with whatever details she deems necessary.

The comment Henci left on Karraa’s interview with Dr. Wisner reads as follows:

I am extremely concerned that the focus on screening for postpartum depression using an instrument solely designed for this purpose will miss diagnosis of childbirth-related post-traumatic stress symptoms and full-blown PTSD altogether or will mislabel women experiencing post-traumatic distress as depressed. PTSD symptoms are fairly common–as New Mothers Speak Out found, 18% of women were experiencing symptoms and 9% met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD–and while some symptoms overlap with depression, the treatment differs.

Furthermore, on-site mental health services would be of little use to women suffering from childbirth-related emotional trauma because one of the prime protective responses is avoidance of environments and personnel that re-trigger traumatic memories.

I have as well a philosophical issue with making depression the preeminent postpartum mood disorder. Depression centers the problem in the woman, and therefore the cure is centered in her as well. PTSD, however, is centered in the system, and therefore its cure depends on systemic reforms. The incidence of emotional trauma can be minimized by reducing the overuse of cesarean surgery and other painful and invasive treatments, by implementing shared decision-making, and by providing physically and emotionally supportive care. So long as postpartum mood disorders are primarily seen as an issue of depression, little or no attention will be paid to the all too common glaring deficiencies of medical model management in this respect.

I have several issues with Henci’s comment.

She seemingly assumes that the Postpartum Mood Disorder community is unaware of the difference between Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Post-traumatic Traumatic Stress Disorder. I can assure her that we are indeed not unaware. Most providers and advocates I know work diligently to go beyond the EPDS to dig deeper for possible birth trauma. The EPDS, while yes, not designed to pick up specifically on PTSD, is a starting point for a conversation about emotional issues during the perinatal period. Henci’s issue with this illustrates exactly why we work to educate providers about the many aspects of Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders.

The discussion with a mother who had a traumatic birth experience is wildly different than with one who did not. Not all mothers who experience a Postpartum Mood Disorder necessarily experience PPTSD. Nor are their issues rooted in an issue with the so-called system. May I remind you, Henci, that PMD’s have existed since the time of Hippocrates. It is not some new fangled “too-many interventions” kind of disorder.

Not all of us are not “victims” at the hand of the system as you would have us believe, Ms. Goer. I’ve held discussions with mothers who had home births or natural births in a birthing center and still gone on to experience a Postpartum Mood Disorder. While it’s certainly not as common and there is a seeming correlation to interventions during the birth experience, there simply isn’t enough evidence to claim interventions (particularly cesarean sections) are the definitive root of all Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders as Henci claims in her comment. (See article “Is there a link between C-sections and Postpartum Mood Disorders?)

We, the advocates for care and empowerment of women who do experience emotional trauma during and after birth, are working diligently to bring to light the additional issues on the Postpartum Spectrum such as Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Postpartum Anxiety, and others. We no longer focus solely on depression. If we do, it is only because Postpartum Depression has been used as a catch-all phrase for so very long.

In the past six years I have been blogging, the term has graduated from Postpartum Depression to Postpartum Mood Disorders to Perinatal Mood Disorders to Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders. In fact, I’m often at a loss as to which one to use. Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders covers it most thoroughly, I believe.

There are researchers who focus on nothing but birth trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders – such as Cheryl Tatano Beck. I had the pleasure of meeting Cheryl at the 2010 PSI Conference in Pittsburgh. That meeting was so much different than my meeting with Henci. Cheryl was warm, accepting, and thanked me for my work in bringing my experience to light and fighting for others who had been through the same thing.

I do not hide that my first birth was a rough one. I know there are other mothers out there who had even more horrific experiences. But I talk about it because negative birth experiences do happen. I talk about it so that other women will read it, and know that it’s okay to talk about their experiences. If I simply dismissed the experiences of all the women who reached out to me, well, I’d be doing a huge disservice to the community around me. To women in general. In essence, I’d be traumatizing them even further.

With wisdom and knowledge comes power. With that power, comes great responsibility. I hold that responsibility as if it were a fragile ball of glass. My goal is to keep it from shattering. My goal is to create a safe and soft space for it as it grows stronger.

If only Henci Goer saw the birthing world the same way.

photo

Guest Post for Mental Illness Awareness Week – @MotherUnadorned – You are NOT a Bad Mom

I cannot simply tell you how much I adore and admire Cristi’s drive to speak up about mental illness. The woman is fearless and is always speaking up or doing something to bring awareness to mental health, suicide awareness in particular. I’m honoured to have her posting here at the blog for Mental Illness Awareness Week. Without further ado, I present Cristi’s amazing post. Read. Take to heart. Share. You are not alone.

 

You are NOT a Bad Mom.

The other day I posted on Twitter:
“Sometimes I wonder what others think of me because of my #mentalillness and then I remember I really don’t care. #stigma is stupid.”

Truth is, most of the time I honestly don’t care if others have an unfair opinion of me because of my mental illness. But that is a truth for me born from living with and learning to accept that my mental illness is just that, a REAL illness like any other medical condition. Others’ opinions and stigma are born from ignorance.

It’s not my fault.
It’s not a weakness.
And it needs real medical treatment.

But I know that for many who are blindsided with postpartum depression, OCD, anxiety or psychosis, it’s not that easy to brush off the stigma. Especially when you’ve never experienced mental health issues.

You probably don’t understand what’s happening.
Maybe right now, today, you’re feeling like a bad mother.
Maybe you even feel like a bad person because you’re having “intrusive thoughts” of running away from your family or hurting yourself or your child*.

I want to tell you.
You are NOT a bad mother.
Your thoughts and feelings DON’T make you a bad person.
And, you are NOT alone.
You just need a doctor to treat your medical condition.

I’ve been there myself after the birth of my 2nd child. I felt hopeless and wanted to run away as my 2 year old’s relentless jealousy surfaced. I felt like I couldn’t handle my life, my kids, my home or myself.

It was all falling apart.
I was falling apart.

But I asked for help because I knew I needed professional treatment.

And so do you, right now, if you’re struggling.

You need REAL medical treatment for this often temporary, but very real illness that affects so many women (and even men on occasion.)

I am going to say it again.
You are NOT a bad mother.
You are NOT a bad person.
You are NOT alone.

So many moms have been where you are right now and WE are here with open hearts and open arms to help you find your way. There’s no stigma with us. Just love and support and help.

If you’re here reading Lauren’s blog you probably already know about the beautiful gift of #PPDChat on Twitter and #PPDChat Support on Facebook. If you don’t, I encourage you to check them out. Social media can offer such an amazing support when we feel alone, at home, and haven’t yet been able ask for help in person.

I also encourage you to visit Postpartum Progress for loads of information and resources for perinatal and postpartum mood disorders.

If you’re struggling or in crisis, the Lifeline hotline number 800-273-TALK is always available to you. And Befrienders.org offers a list of hotline numbers worldwide.

There are so many women who have been where you are today and have made it through.

There IS a happy ending with the right help. I promise you.

This is your health, your child, your family, your life. You all deserve the happy ending. And stigma really truly is stupid. Please don’t let it hold you back from finding yourself again.

You are NOT a bad mom.
You are NOT a bad person.

You are LOVED.
You are BEAUTIFUL.
And, you are NOT alone.

Cristi Comes
Wife. Mom. Me. Advocate for mental health & suicide prevention. Attachment parent. Survivor of mental illness & PPD. Jewelry designer. Motherhood Unadorned Blog is motherhood naked, plain & uncensored. On Twitter @MotherUnadorned, on Facebook at Motherhood Unadorned

*If you are having such intrusive thoughts, please contact your doctor immediately.

 

Postpartum Health Activist Writer’s Monthly Challenge 2012

Hey y’all!

Over at WEGO Health, April is their Health Activist Writer’s Month. They host a 30 day writer’s challenge to go along with this month. When you sign up, you’ll get prompts via email for 30 days. If I remember correctly from last year, they do send them out in advance so you’re not scrambling to write posts at the last minute.

I will be writing a post a day for all 30 days. I hope you’ll join me in writing every day about health. It’s going to be a lot of fun and I’d love to see what you have to say about each of the topics, too. Of course, I’ll be spinning the topics to relate to Postpartum Mood Disorders. I really hope you’ll jump in here with me!

All you have to do to join is click the banner below to sign up and you’ll be able to start posting once April rolls around.

Looking forward to writing with you! Let’s make sure Postpartum Mood Disorders are well-represented!

Giving up BACON for Mothers & Babies

Bacon Sacrifice Campaign for Postpartum Progress

To donate via credit card:

DonateNow

To donate via paypal, click on over to Postpartum Progress.

KevinMD guest post misses the mark about Mothers

This evening I happened upon a guest post over at KevinMD by Dr. Srini Pillay, MD, an author and an Assistant Clinical Professor at Harvard Medical School. KevinMD has been a site I read more and more these days. I enjoy the insight offered by his knowledgeable guests. Today’s post, however, has me shaking in anger.

Dr. Sirini Pillay’s post is entitled “What a psychiatrist learned in therapy sessions with mothers.” It’s also posted at Pillay’s other blog, Debunking Myths of the Mind under the title “I love my children but hate my life: Solutions to Dilemmas Mothers Face” with the subtitle of “A balm for all guilty mothers.”

(Please note: All text below in italics and bold is directly from Dr. Pillay’s article)

 

Dr. Pillay pontificates a few reasons for the psychological issues/stress mothers experience during their lives. With every one of them, his explanation (in my opinion) places even more guilt upon the already exhausted and stressed out mother rather than offer true solutions for her success as a mother. Perhaps most glaring  in his examination of the trials and tribulations of motherhood is the omission of any mention of a Postpartum Mood Disorder as the source for the points upon which he offers his expert insight. I find it impossible to believe, given the statistics of Postpartum Mood Disorders (1 in 8 new mothers), Dr. Pillay has never seen a mother with a Postpartum Mood Disorder or is unaware of the additional issues a Postpartum Mood Disorder brings to the dynamic of Motherhood, especially if said Postpartum Mood Disorder goes untreated. It is both appalling and irresponsible to me for a Psychiatrist to fail to mention such a glaring issue in the face of addressing issues faced by Mothers.

First up, Dr. Pillay mentions Perfectionism. “New mothers often expect to be perfect rather than the best that they can be,” Why does the mother expect to be perfect, Dr. Pillay? Is it because SHE has placed those ideals in her head? No. It is because society has placed these ideals in her head. We are absolutely expected to be pristinely Stepford in our execution in the assigned task of Motherhood while Fathers are expected (also unfairly) to be aloof idiots. What Dr. Pillay fails to mention is that those of us who are obsessive perfectionists are at a higher risk for developing a Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorder. What he fails to mention is that, in order to overcome this “Peril of Perfection” society must also change their view of Motherhood. Instead, Dr. Pillay perpetuates the stigma and tells Mothers “you can always strive to be better by making small changes. Holding yourself to a standard of perfection can lead to burnout in all areas of life, because you are constantly striving for something that does not exist.” I agree, Dr. Pillay. But the same society fails us when they perpetually hold us to a standard of perfection, for which when not reached, we are then automatically judged and crucified.

Next up, burnout. Burnout is a direct result of perfectionism. It’s also the direct relation of attempting to care for an infant while struggling with the depths of a Mood Disorder. Study after study has proven the adverse effect of Postpartum Mood Disorders on sleep. Have a Postpartum Mood Disorder? You won’t sleep as well when you do sleep. Sleeping less and lower quality of sleep are both symptoms of a Postpartum Mood Disorder. Yes, everyone knows new mothers don’t sleep much. But moms with a Postpartum Mood Disorder sleep even less and achieve a lower quality of sleep when we DO sleep. Another kicker? Our children sleep less and at a lower quality as well. So now you have an exhausted dyad attempting to live up to an impossibly high societal standard which is now even further out of our grasp. Need more ammunition here? We’re also told to snap out of it if we seek help. Stigmatized. Made to feel guilty. Not allowed to have the “time” to be depressed because by God we have an infant to raise which is what we were bred to do. Failure is not an option. So we stay silent, we suffer, we weep, we wail, we dry our eyes in the face of the public realm because we’re not allowed to have emotions other than those seen in Johnson & Johnson or Pamper’s commercials. Everything is to be picture perfect. If it’s not, we’ve failed. Dr. Pillay’s suggestion here? “So rather than force themselves to think and feel differently, addressing the burnout can help many problems all at once.” I would have loved to have addressed the issue of burnout. I attempted to address the issue of burnout with each one of my children. I asked for help. I begged for a night nurse from the pediatrician once our second daughter came home after nearly a month in the NICU after being born with a cleft palate. His response? “Why do you need a night nurse?” I had a toddler. Two dogs. A husband who worked 70+ hours a week. I was exclusively pumping every three hours and running a Kangaroo pump on the same schedule. I had to clean my daughter’s PEG site and jaw distraction sites a total of 4-6 times a day on TOP of everything else. Sleeping would have been a gift from the Gods. Yet I was denied and landed in a Psych Ward less than two months after my daughter’s birth through no fault of my own. No amount of forcing myself to think and feel differently would have helped. But I tried to address the burnout. That too, failed.

Now we move into “The best balance.” This paragraph’s opening sentence really captures judgment of mothers across the world: “When women feel overwhelmed, they essentially need to ask themselves why they expect something impossible from themselves.” Again, he’s absolutely right. Yet again, it’s society which has trained us to expect the impossible from ourselves. Dr. Pillay goes on to suggest “The reality is that if a woman has a need to work and have a baby, she needs to find a best balance that is right for her and her family.” Again, I agree. But if a woman has a Postpartum Mood & Anxiety disorder, she is already wracked with guilt. Attempting to find balance in her life is not achievable until she has begun to heal from her fragile mental state. A woman with a Postpartum Mood & Anxiety disorder can barely survive her day let alone find balance in her life until her mental health issues are addressed. Any health professional or anyone I knew mentioning to me all I needed to do to improve was to “find a best balance” in my life when I was in my darkest days would have heard an earful. We’re barely able to keep our own heads above the fray – how are we expected to balance too?

“There is no one-size-fits-all type of mother, and different types of mothering produce different positive and negative outcomes.” Amen. And yet, society expects Sally to parent like Suzie and Suzie to parent like Bethany and Bethany to parent like Rebecca and Rebecca to parent like Jody and Jody to parent like.. well.. you get my drift. It’s the whole Stepford thing. Again, society does not allow for this sort of flexibility. Mothers with Postpartum Mood Disorders parent far differently than any other mother on the planet. We realize the value of self-care because it’s necessary for our survival. For some of us, it’s necessary for our children’s survival. We are judged for how we parent. How we HAVE to parent. We are judged for expressing our frustrations, for choosing to formula feed, for choosing not to go the attachment parenting route, for letting our little ones watch TV because we’ve had a tough day. Yes, we heal from a Postpartum Mood Disorder but when you’re in the thick of it and family members or random people in public are judging us, we have a harder time letting it go and then BAM. Hello guilt. Hello Xanax. I love the idea, I love the theory of “no one -size-fits-all type of mother,” I do. But it doesn’t work in the real world and certainly doesn’t work when the public thinks of mothers with Postpartum Mood Disorders. A mother with a Postpartum Mood Disorder is a horrible mother to most – we’re stigmatized and in addition to overcoming the every day normal judgmental issues which accompany motherhood – we must also overcome the additional perception of our “bad mother” rep.

The final paragraph recognizes that “It’s not all you.” It’s not. It’s genes. It’s how our child is wired to react. But guess what? Kids of depressed parents are more at risk for issues like ADHD. They sleep less. Their quality of sleep is less. Dr. Pillay says, “Parents who take on all the responsibility of this often distort this, feeling as though they are fully responsible for how a child turns out.” Wait a second. Aren’t we? What about Parents who are arrested for the behavior of their children? Parents who are judged because their child isn’t yet sleeping through the night or wets the bed or isn’t getting good grades in school? Or Parents who have infants who are not yet eating solid foods even though they keep trying? Yet, Dr. Pillay’s solution is for PARENTS not to blame themselves when their child doesn’t “lean on their own sense of responsibility.” He also goes on to add this gem: “Also, mothers who are alarmed by their own mistakes set a challenging standard for their children who may grow up to learn that mistakes are “bad” rather than inevitable but not a reason to give up.” Let’s say a mother has a doctor for her Postpartum Mood Disorder who keeps telling her she’ll get better with every therapy they try. Instead, she continues to worsen. Eventually she’s convinced the fault lies within her. That SHE is the problem. Some of these mothers may even give up and just live out the rest of their lives without trying any more therapy because they are the issue, not the therapy. So of course she will raise a child to believe mistakes are bad as opposed to inevitable. Of course she will raise her child to believe once a mistake is made more than once that giving up is the proper course of action. Or even worse yet, let’s say mom doesn’t get treatment at all (which is the case with most mothers struggling with a Postpartum Mood Disorder, by the way), this issue will spill over into how she raises her child and no amount of pulling herself up by the boot straps will change her thinking. She’s leaned on her own distorted sense of responsibility and it didn’t work for her. Why should she then expect it to work for her child? Why would she not consider herself fully responsible for her child’s behavior when society does just that on a daily basis?

My absolute favorite part of Dr. Pillay’s piece is the closing paragraph:

“Thus, when mothers find their relationships thrown into disarray, they may want to re-examine their own standards and relax their judgments toward themselves as they allow themselves to be more human and the very best that they can be without needing to be perfect.”

Sighs.

If only society would let us, Dr. Pillay. If only society would let us.

I’d like to add though should a mother finds her relationships thrown into disarray, she should not immediately blame herself for the fault of the disarray. Yes, she may truly be at fault but the other party may be at fault. She may be struggling with a Perinatal Mood Disorder or another type of mental illness. There are many additional reasons for the fault of relationships to be at fault other than the internal (yet societal driven) standards imposed on Mothers today. Perfectionism is imposed, not perceived. Failure to achieve perfection is perceived yes, but the standards we fail to reach were, at some point, imposed upon us by society. If we truly want to help mothers overcome the perception of succeeding by not being perfect, we need to first change society’s view of mothers, not mother’s view of themselves. The standards we try to reach our not our own… they are the fences between which we are forced to live. Until these barriers are removed, we will never succeed.

Reanimating my past

Reanimation

Image via Wikipedia

Some time ago, I blogged about how brushing my hair triggered my PTSD from the birth of my second daughter. Not too long after her birth, I chopped all my hair off. It’s long again and I am finally okay with brushing my hair but still mindful of how long I brush. I make every effort to brush only as long as necessary, forcing myself to put the brush down and walk away.

Today, for the first time in over five years, I am listening to Linkin Park’s Reanimation.

Why is this significant?

This is the album I listened to the day my five year old daughter had surgery for her jaw at just 9 days old. I took the MP3 player into the sleep room at the Children’s Hospital right outside the NICU, curled up, cranked it up as loud as it would go, sinking blissfully down into the rhythm of the pulsating beats and the angst of their screaming voices. Thing is, I sank so far down I did not want to come back. I yearned to stay there, hidden, safe, with their angst. Lost in the darkness. Because there, there I did not have an imperfect newborn. There, I was just a soul moving to the rhythm. Nothing was wrong. I was not angry. I was not sad. I was NUMB. I wanted to be lost forever in the solitude of peace which existed amidst the digital beats, the persistent piano tones and haunting echoes behind the remixed rhythms. My womb, my saviour, my peace. I clung to the MP3 player until my knuckles were stiff, refusing to let go, closing my eyes to sink deep beneath the surface of reality.

But today, I sit here, each song echoing into my ears, my soul, my heart, and I am shaking as I type. Breathing deep through pursed lips and wiping away tears. This is music. This is just beats. Just rhythm. Just voices. This is NOT my daughter’s surgery. This is NOT the pain I felt five years ago. It’s not. Today I am letting all of this wash over me and turning it into the music it’s meant to be, not the hell it used to be for me. Today I am not numb. Today I am feeling. Today I am listening. Today, I’m singing with the words. I’m dancing to the beats. I’m reclaiming the music for joy instead of pain.

Today, I win.

Today, I refuse to let this music trigger me any longer.

It’s taken me five years but I’m finally strong enough to refuse to let this beast control me anymore.

Not easy, but necessary. A step toward the new me. Toward the healed me.

Why am I sharing this with you? To let you know that yes, healing takes time. It’s a process with each step presenting itself as you are ready. If you falter, don’t despair. The step will come. You’ll overpower the step with strength from an unknown place when the time is right. It won’t be easy. But it will be powerful. And once you’ve done it, you’ll look back and see just how far your journey has brought you… and how much strength it has added to your life.

Own it instead of letting it own you.