Thursday, September 30, 2010

Miserable or strong?

The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong.  The amount of work is the same.  -Carlos Castaneda

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Facebook Fan Page

Hi, everyone,
Please check out my Facebook Fan Page for my "Healing Mommies" counseling practice.  I will, of course, still be blogging here!

Healing Mommies

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

PTSD in childbirth.

I recently saw this article in

It says that around 9% of women meet the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after childbirth. Trauma can look like:
-Intrusive memories that are upsetting about an event.
-An event where you felt helpless and horrified, feared for the life of yourself or another person.
-Efforts to avoid any triggers that might remind you of the event.

Please know that good treatments are available. EMDR is one, as is cognitive behavioral therapy. Don't let PTSD rob you of precious moments bonding with your baby. The author says that PTSD never goes away and that's not true, it can be resolved or at least improved for most people. It is not unusual for somebody with a history of PTSD to have it re-triggered with a new traumatic event. For example, a childhood sexual abuse survivor whose trauma is resolved as a young adult might find it re-opened after a traumatic event in adulthood like a traumatic birth experience. This does not mean that you are weak or back at "square one." This means that you already have many of the skills needed to get through the trauma and you deserve support. Talk to a counselor, your midwife or doctor, or find free local support groups for postpartum women. There are also online forums, such as where you can talk to other moms, or use their warm line for support.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Advice to new moms

I saw this great video on motherhood:

My favorite quote? "YOU are the expert." Yes, new moms, YOU are the expert.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Why "Healing Mommies?"

The answer isn’t because I work with women of childbearing age. A big part of my childbirth advocacy and interest in counseling for women during pregnancy and the childbearing years came from experiences at my last job, a job working with seniors. I have taken composites of several people (yes I heard different variants of this story several times) to put together this article, and all details are changed in order to protect confidentiality, but after reading this I think you will get what I’m talking about.
At my last job I worked with seniors. My job was to go to a senior’s home, do an assessment to see what type of services they needed, and provide them with a free peer counselor if applicable. Alice was in her early 80s, from the Midwest and had moved here after her second husband died to be near her adult sons. She was close with her sons but they said she seemed depressed and were concerned, so they contacted our program and out I went.
Alice was exactly what my stereotype of a Midwestern woman would be-sturdy, no-nonsense, sparkling eyes and pretty smile. Her senior apartment was tidy and comfortable with pictures of children, grandchildren, and husband all around. I expected to ask questions and get answers about grief over losing her spouse of 30+ years, sadness about missing her friends from back home after her move and frustration about current health problems but what I got was eye-opening and life changing for me. As I questioned Alice I found that yes she was sad and missed her husband, her friends and her health troubles were on her mind but something very different was causing her melancholy.
Very haltingly Alice told me about a baby she lost when she was in her 20s. This was her first pregnancy. Alice had grown up on a farm, the eldest of 12 siblings so she had no fluffy illusions about childbirth. She knew it would be hard but she had always looked forward to being a mother. The birth had been very difficult. But she had not expected to be kept from her husband and be left alone to labor for hours by herself. She had not expected to be strapped to a bed or shamed by one of the nurses for making noise during birth. She had not expected her movements to be restricted or to be given medications that she was told nothing about. Sadly, at some point during the labor her baby died.
After Alice had labored alone and feeling as if she was treated like less than a person, her requests to hold her baby in her arms before it was removed from the room were completely denied, a nurse telling her, “It’s best this way.” Alice sobbed as she told me this story, going from an 80 year-old grandmother to a young mother whose grief at losing her much hoped for infant was as fresh as the day that it happened. Alice had carried this burden for 60 years, alone and too ashamed to tell anybody. Alice felt guilty and wondered if she had done something wrong or if one of the medicines had caused her baby to die. Alice felt ashamed that she had wanted to hold her little boy and tell her goodbye. She asked me not to tell her sons, as they hadn’t even told her other surviving children that they had an older brother that had died during birth, and said she felt like there was something wrong with her that after so many years in spite of what her doctor and the nurses had told her she still felt grief over this loss.
While Alice was a wonderful mom and a devoted grandmother I couldn’t help but wonder if with her subsequent pregnancies if she felt more fear than joy, as she held her newborns if instead of satisfaction she felt a longing for her lost baby, if the minimization of her needs by the medical staff that were supposed to serve her had helped drive a wedge between her and her husband. To make matters worse social norms at the time (or now for that matter) also did not support a woman talking about losing a baby in this way.
But the task at hand was to attend to Alice. I held Alice’s hand as she cried and I had tears of my own in my eyes. My tears were about sadness and anger. I let her know that now hospitals “let” (even that term sort of gets me, as if hospitals have any ownership over what comes out of a woman’s body) women hold their babies if they wish, to take time to tell them goodbye and how healing it can be. I assured her it was a normal desire to want to have held her baby, to have told him goodbye, to have sang to him and said a prayer. She lost a child and deserved all of the social support that goes along with that, not the shame that she was given for wanting to hold her child, or the fear and isolation she was handed when she expected to be able to have her husband with her during the birth or to be able to move freely during her labor.
I asked her what it had felt like to hold her other babies in her arms when they were brand new and her tears melted into a look of bliss on her face. I assured her that even babies that die in childbirth are quite special to their moms and that holding them gives their mom a chance to say goodbye. I assured her there was nothing wrong for her desire to hold her boy and that in fact I thought this was a healthy thing. From a recent reading on the subject I told her that babies that are stillborn are beautiful to their moms, just still and quiet, and often moms are relieved to hold them and see how precious they are. She became quiet as I told her these things. I asked her what she would have said to him or would like to say to him today. I encouraged her to mark his birthday this year in a way that felt meaningful to her and we were able to identify a friend that she felt would be a supportive witness to this process. Subsequent healthy pregnancies had not made her forget this little boy and she still remembered his birthday and the trauma and grief of his loss quite clearly.
I selected a counselor who had also lost a child and who had counseled other parents that had lost children and would honor this woman’s grief in a way that would be healing. I left the building sad and angry. I know that as far as we have gone with women’s rights that our rights when it comes to the medical support we get during pregnancy and labor have more to do with what’s easiest and most convenient for people other than the mother. I know that many hospital “policies” are contrary to what science shows is what is healthiest and best for moms and babies-not to mention contrary to what women want. I hear from young obstetricians and midwives how hard it is to practice in a way that is loving and supportive towards their patients in a world full of lawsuits and antiquated patriarchal hospital policies. I hear from more seasoned veterans of women’s health that they are burned out from fighting an uphill battle for what is best for women and babies that they get out of working in obstetrics at all. I know that while we’ve come a long way, baby, we still have a hell of a long way to go.
Part of my practice is around helping women with grief after the loss of a child. I am also dedicated to helping new moms deal with feelings of anxiety and confusion if they don’t have (healthy) moms of their own; work with trauma after a difficult birth or a sick baby; or helping sexual abuse survivors go through pregnancy in a way that feels safe and comfortable. While I wasn’t around to help Alice I hope I can help other women get the help they need in time to feel as connected as possible to their other kids and not be too hindered by grief.