As we say goodbye to 2017, I want to thank each of you for all of your hard work to help support Connecticut perinatal families. We increased awareness, strengthened the net of support through the state, and raised funds for the chapter to better serve-to promote awareness, prevention and treatment for perinatal well-being throughout Connecticut. Sometimes, because we are so passionate about this work and have such high expectations, it feels like we are pouring into pitchers with a lot of leaks. With that in mind, I want to remind you of your accomplishments this year (in PSI-CT, you have also made so many other accomplishments and demands in your lives!)
Not only were we able to raise awareness through events such as the Planned Parenthood staff training fair, CT Women’s Expo, and a La Leche League Meeting, we increased awareness and raised funds with the Climb out of Darkness and the Pastrami on Rye events. We wove the web of support wider and stronger by hosting and providing several trainings: a spring training on perinatal loss, a very successful support group facilitator training, and a traumatic birth training were examples of larger trainings. Individuals, dyads and small groups spread through the state providing talks for pediatric offices, gynecology and obstetric offices, and state agencies. We provided a teleconference training for Planned Parenthood staff and are working on creating an expanded template for future trainings. Our website has been updated and we are working with PSI to make it even better. We recruited more volunteers and committee members, and are increasing our social media presence. Many of us attended the PSI conference in DC and returned inspired to keep MAKING A DIFFERENCE!
In spite of many challenges in our larger world, we can still make a difference in our small slice here at PSI-CT. We have awesome plans for 2018- bringing Components of Care to Connecticut, another support group facilitator training tentatively scheduled for April, our first annual members appreciation event April 12th, May maternal mental health month events, and another Climb out of Darkness in June, are just some of the cords we weave this year in our net of support. Thank you for all you do to make it stronger, every little thing you can do helps! If you can’t participate as much this year, no worries. Every effort and every dime counts as we work together to support families.
Sleep is important to all humans; it’s one of our primary sources of energy. Sleep deprivation will affect all other areas of functioning . . . physical, mental and emotional. Uninterrupted sleep is essential to the recovery of a new mom or dad, particularly if they are suffering from postpartum depression, anxiety or other mood disorder. This is not to say that sleep alone will “cure” their emotional distress, but it can be key in helping them on the road to recovery. Being well rested will improve their ability to think clearly, analyze rationally and make decisions. When these abilities are negatively affected by lack of sleep, feelings of confusion, frustration, sadness, anxiousness and guilt can follow, further complicating the situation.
Protected sleep is a term that refers to the idea that the person (often but not always the mom) suffering from emotional dysregulation gets uninterrupted sleep. Her sleep time is “protected” in any number of ways by both herself and those around her. The following information, guidelines and suggestions refer to ideal situations. Even if ideal cannot be reached, any improvement in a mother’s sleep will be helpful in regulating her emotions, functioning and care for herself and her child(ren).
I sleep when the baby sleeps, isn’t that good enough?
While sleeping when the baby sleeps is what we are taught to do, and sometimes babies are good sleepers so this might be enough for a mom, often it is just not enough. Many babies sleep in 1-4 hour windows which means mom is getting less time than that per opportunity to sleep. This is barely enough for a nap, never mind full, rejuvenating sleep cycles. Also, frequently mothers have other obligations (self-imposed or otherwise) which they attend to when the baby does sleep for longer. These can include caring for older children, cooking, cleaning or working. The goal is for mothers to get at least 5 hours (more if/when possible) of uninterrupted sleep. This does not include time needed to get ready to go to bed or fall asleep, it only applies to time asleep.
How am I supposed to do THAT?
A common question when the discussion of protected sleep comes up. The answer takes a team effort, consistency and practice. A mom may not sleep as long as hoped the first several times. Perhaps she is having anxiety about the changes being made or her body is adjusting to being “allowed” to sleep. Even in these early attempts, having quiet rest time is beneficial to mom. Here are the basics on protected sleep, some tips and other ideas…
First, protected sleep means the mom is “off duty”…completely. This means she does not have other expectations or obligations, and there is another trusted adult who is responsible for the baby and other children during the protected sleep time. Preferably protected sleep will happen at night to maintain regular sleep cycles but, particularly when baby is young, this may be difficult. If daytime is the only time someone can be available, take it! Even getting a full night “off” once a week can really help.
The baby’s other parent is often the “go to” when looking for someone to care for baby/children during mom’s protected sleep time. But what if that person is not available? Sometimes there is no partner or the partner works nights.
If partner works nights, have a conversation about how mom can get protected sleep time during the day when they are there and awake.
Try another family member such as a sibling of mom or partner, parent, cousin, or a friend you trust. Anyone can have their sleep interrupted for a night. It’s not as much of an imposition as you would be inclined to think. Remember, they don’t sleep in your house with a new born every night so being there once a week or a couple nights in a row will not cause them the distress that your lack of sleep is causing you. If they can not spend the night, enlist their help during the day to get some sleep.
Not everyone has friends or family in the area. In these cases, partner may be the only option and there may need to be a conversation about both of you losing “some” sleep.
Hire a postpartum doula, night nurse or babysitter. If you have the means, this can be a wonderful resource when it comes to sleep.
***Be sure whoever is caring for baby has questions answered and a resource other than mom to contact if something comes up. This prevents mom being woken with questions during her sleep time.
Second, when protected sleep time comes, prepare for sleep. Some people are very deep sleepers and once they fall asleep, noise won’t bother them, but this is not the norm for new moms. Put your phone away in another room, take a shower or relaxing bath, drink some calming tea, listen to calm music or a guided sleep meditation (consult with doctor before doing meditation), journal or use other methods to calm and empty your mind to prepare it for sleep. None of this may be necessary if you are exhausted but it’s good to establish a sleep routine if needed.
In order to “protect” sleep time, put as much space and buffer between you and baby as possible.
Close doors (as many as are between you and baby)
Sleep on a different floor if possible (basement rooms are particularly good for insulating noise)
Put on an air conditioner, fan or other “white noise” machine
Put on soft music, spoken word (mundane book or podcast) either out loud in the room or through headphones if you can sleep with them.
Since space is a luxury not everyone has, you can also remove baby from the home in order to create the buffer.
Have a trusted adult take baby out of the house completely (even if it is just in the yard). They can go to the library, a playground or a long walk. Once you have had time to fall asleep they may be able to come home put baby down for a nap, read books or play quietly if you are a deep sleeper or have some buffer abilities. Try to protect sleep for as long as possible.
But I’m breastfeeding….
One of the most common concerns or roadblocks to consecutive sleep is a breastfeeding mom. While it may be particularly difficult to fit in protected sleep in early weeks, it will become easier as baby feeds less often. There are also ways to work around breastfeeding to limit the amount of time mom is awake.
You may not be able to get “uninterrupted sleep” but you can still protect your sleep by asking your partner to change the baby before bringing her in for feeding and then to take baby back out of the room to rock and put back to sleep right after feeding. As baby gets bigger and feeds less, you will get more protected sleep.
You can also prepare a bottle for one feeding a night and just wake up, pump and go back to sleep. Keep a cooler in the bedroom to store the milk or ask you partner to come in when up with the baby to get the milk and put it in the fridge/freezer.
While all of this may seem like more work, in the end, it pays off and you will get into a routine. Remember: The ultimate goal is to stay in bed, asleep as many hours as possible (within reason) to give your brain and body time to rejuvenate, refresh and recover. 😊
“I Didn’t Think it was THAT bad”: Seeking Help from a Therapist
“I didn’t think it was THAT bad!” is a statement I’ve heard in many permutations from so many moms when they explain why they didn’t seek therapy sooner. Often they have waited until it is REALLY bad. Other times they have have sought treatment during the second pregnancy, because during the first pregnancy they had not sought treatment for Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and they do not want to suffer again.
I am often curious what is meant by “THAT bad.” When we explore it, sometimes it means that what they’ve heard about postpartum/perinatal depression is that “moms who have it don’t feel bonded to their babies” or “moms who have it try to harm their babies or themselves.” Sometimes “THAT bad” means they believe only very ill people go for therapy/counseling or that only “weak” people go, or only those who don’t have enough faith in God need this kind of help.
Many reasons exist for avoiding and delaying help from a therapist: it is hard to take the step to meet with a total stranger and acknowledge, “I’m struggling.” It takes courage to expose our vulnerability, to share our inner world, and to claim the time, space, and cost to seek professional help. It takes energy to make the calls, find the therapist with an opening, make the appointment, find a babysitter or negotiate with partners regarding childcare for older children, negotiate with employers for time off from work. It costs money, at a time when money is often short. It can be overwhelming. So often the thought “well, it’s not THAT bad” just seems the easier way to go.
Seeking professional help does cost time, money, and energy. Seeking help often means receiving “push back” from others who have the resistances described above. These barriers often make it even harder to dig deep for the courage to do what needs to be done: make the call. Don’t wait until it is “THAT” bad.
The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is the theme here. What is often not known is that with help, perinatal anxiety and depression often resolves very quickly! If you don’t feel like yourself, or if the thought arises that “Maybe I have postpartum depression”, then seek help. If you experience any of the following or ANY other symptom that worries you, please seek help.
Crying a lot
Having scary thoughts that just pop into your head (a sign of perinatal Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, not a sign that you want your thought to happen)
Are irritable and “snap” at others
Don’t have energy or motivation to do much
Don’t enjoy what you used to enjoy
Sometimes one or two consultations with a perinatal specialist will be sufficient to determine an individualized plan for your recovery. In addition to possible continued individual sessions, a plan may include free support groups, family consultations, a plan for additional practical support and other recommendations to help you feel better as quickly as possible. Seek help as soon as the question arises in your own mind, or others raise it. Sometimes others see cause for concern before we can see it in ourselves.
Your wellbeing is important for you and for your family. Many studies show that perinatal anxiety and depression can have negative effects on the baby as well as the mother. When considering this decision to seek help, remember that this time with your baby and your family is, like the popular commercial says, “priceless”.
Postpartum Support International-Connecticut Chapteris here to help you find the support you need. Go to our website for free support groups and resources, and join us to spread the word that there is no shame in seeking help. Help sought at the right time will benefit not only moms and dads but will benefit our babies, our families, and our future.
Over the course of ten long and beautiful months of pregnancy there is so much excitement; the dreams, the little outfits and baby showers. There are maternity photo shoots, feeling your baby moving inside, and carefully placing all of their clothes and diapers in drawers. There are countless hours of preparation and anticipation that goes into the process of building and bringing an amazing new life into your world. With this, there is a huge focus on what we call ‘the movie style mother’ that all of us knowingly, or unknowingly, have stored somewhere in our brains. The movies that portray a perfect pregnancy, an easy and quick birth, and the complete bliss of having a new baby. Whether we realize it or not, much of this influences our mindset and gives us a perceived idea of what this stage of life will be like. We’ve heard of the women who have had tough births, the colicky babies, the long nights, but our minds have a way of pushing those things to the side and focusing on what we want to believe. This is an amazing attribute of the brain, and keeps people in step with optimism and gratitude, but when it comes to new motherhood, there has to be a willingness to listen and understand that it isn’t exactly how we all think it’s going to be.
I’ve talked to many mothers over the last year, new mothers and veteran mothers. There always seems to be a common theme in their thoughts of how they felt once becoming a mom for the first time- “this isn’t what I thought it was going to be like.” That phrase is so important: it’s not meant to be pessimistic towards new motherhood, it’s meant to bring a sense of reality to the season of life. When we focus so much on the perfect ideals in our head of what this time is supposed to be like, we start to have high expectations of this whole motherhood thing, and we all know high expectations don’t always serve us well.
During my pregnancy, I felt that I had a healthy view on the fact that motherhood was going to be hard. I talked to friends and strangers and asked them the hard questions about having a baby and becoming a mom. I made sure I remembered that there were going to be long, sleepless nights and bouts of crying for no reason. I made sure I realized that things wouldn’t always be perfect, that my child may make me frustrated and angry and I wouldn’t always feel this sense of amazing love every second of each day. I thought I had all of this down, that I had the balance of anticipation and reality. It turned out, as most find themselves in this same place, that I was in fact not prepared for this reality at all! There’s nothing that can prepare you for how you might feel and react once this tiny being is placed into your arms and you’re sent home.
In the first few weeks of my sons’ life, I dealt with some “baby blues”. I felt even in those first few days that I already missed my husband. I missed being able to do whatever we wanted, I missed hanging out alone and watching movies all night. I missed the empty headspace that wasn’t now completely revolved around a baby. I also immediately felt the pressure of the “social media life.” I immediately started comparing and thinking how everyone else seemed so happy and elated with their new promotion to motherhood, that nothing phased them and they had this thing in the bag. I tried to push myself to feel those ways and to show that I felt the same way, but deep inside I felt a sense of resentment and questioning this new world we had put ourselves in.
As someone who has previously dealt with anxiety, the worries of postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression were in the back of my mind, but I never thought it would become a reality. I had an amazing husband and great support from family and friends. After a few weeks, I truly did feel that I was fine and happy and those feelings were in my past, but when a series of stressful life events came up, it seemed to spur on something that was bubbling under the surface for me. I felt incapable of handling life and a child, I felt incapable as a mother and a wife and it sent me into a tailspin of emotions. I quickly became immersed in relentless irrational anxiety and went in between complete joy and love for my son, and depressive patterns that made me feel like I couldn’t take care of him or myself. I spent a very long and desperate year in this state of despair, suffering through each day with life altering anxiety that crippled my ability to function as a thriving wife and mother. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. That thought kept me captive in my issues for a long time. Everyone else was happy and loving life, everyone else had it all together, and everyone else was an amazing mom.
This is how so many of us are left feeling alone and shamed that our feelings are incorrect and abnormal. My hope through this blog post is to remind you that you are not abnormal. If every single one of us is honest, motherhood is not fun and is not amazing every moment of every day. We all deal with those feelings on different levels, and the way you deal with it is not wrong. I want to be at least one person in your life to speak straight to your heart: “you are okay, and you will be okay”. I never thought I’d see the light at the end of this dark and painful path, but I did. Through the help of my husband, family, supportive friends, and speaking to a therapist, I did come to the other side of this. In a weird way, I am thankful for all that I went through. It helped me to have a healthy reality and outlook on motherhood. While it’s hard for me to think back to those days because I feel like I ruined so much of our first year as a family, and it is hard for me to imagine how I actually felt those ways; those days were still necessary.
I’ll be the first to tell you that there are days my son still drives me crazy and I wish that I could go sit on an island by myself. I’ll tell you the honest truth about how all this motherhood and kid stuff looks on a daily basis. What you see on the other side of your phone screen isn’t real and it isn’t truth. It’s a set up picture showcased for an internet outlet. It doesn’t show the screaming ten seconds after, the frustration they felt and the lunch food thrown all over the floor. We need to bond together as mothers and women to fight for honesty and authenticity in our lives, because the latter isn’t helping our fellow mothers. There will be days that go amazingly, when your child won’t throw himself on the ground in the middle of Target and clear a shelf of breakables and there will still be days that you feel like everyone is staring at you and judging you because you can’t get your child to stop crying. Both of these days are so necessary to life, but we have to remember to be gentle with others and ourselves: sometimes our days are ugly.
So if you’re the mother out there with tears in your eyes because you thought you were the only one, I want you to know that you aren’t and that you are okay. It is okay to not be okay, to feel broken and weary and confused. You are amazing and you are enough, in whatever state of mind and heart you are in right now, a thousand times over you are enough. View your struggles as ways to grow and reach out for help. Strive to empower women with your pictures of imperfect living rooms and long days in PJ’s. That’s what bonds us as mothers, our capability to look at each other and say, “me too.”
Approximately twenty conference participants attended from Connecticut; excitedly greeting one another, relationship-building and further strengthening our perinatal network. Two presenters represented our state; Catharine McDonald, LPC who educated attendees on Trauma & Birth: Implications for Medical and Psychiatric Care and Elisabeth Schneider, LMFT who introduced the Tiny Miracles Foundation Model: Addressing the Psychosocial Needs of NICU Families. Sharon Lavigne, MS, coordinator of the Connecticut Mother to Baby program provided an educational table to engage participants in the free national teratogen consultation service for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and their providers sponsored by the Office of Teratology Specialists. National PSI Warmline volunteer Jennifer Badeau, PSI CT chapter liaison Jen Vendetti and PSI CT chapter treasurer Cory Bernard attended the coordinator’s dinner on the eve of the conference. PSI CT chapter president Sharon Thomason, Ph.D. coordinated a meet & greet to network the Connecticut participant group.
The energy of the conference is fueling our continued efforts to improve how we address perinatal mental health in Connecticut, how we can help mothers remove the mask of motherhood and in the words of keynote speaker, author and perinatal specialized clinician Karen Kleiman, LCS “connect with her authentic suffering, that which is obscured by what she wants to conceal or keep hidden”. Together we can help women affected by Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders who are suffering in silence to realize that they are not alone, are not to blame and with help, will be well.
You can learn about the PSI annual conference through the conference mobile app available in the App Store for iPhones and the Google Play Store for Androids. Search ‘PSI 2017’ to download and look for the PSI logo. Audio recordings of the conference have been purchased by PSI CT. Please contact the PSI Chapter Liaison at email@example.com for more information.
Here are some of the photos from the conference-if you have more, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org!
I had so much fun meeting other passionate perinatal advocates active in PSI-CT on Labor Day at the gathering at my house! It was very casual, we just ordered pizza, but it was fun meeting the families of board members and meeting new PSI Coordinator Wendy Mohr and Support Group Committee Member Cynthia Hayes. The kids also had fun, swinging in my beloved hammock, waving bubble wands, and throwing acorns in the brook! Here are some of my favorite photos:
The original PSI Memorial Quilt was constructed in 2006 recognizing mothers and infants who are tragically deceased as the result of PMADs. Sadly, many more have died since that original quilt was made and traveled throughout the country promoting awareness of the devastation of PMADs. At this year’s conference another quilt was unveiled, commemorating thirty-eight of the women, children and one father who have since died. It was masterfully created by Donna Kreuzer from Austin, Texas whose daughter Kristi died in 2010 suffering a PMAD. Donna channeled tremendous healing energy into this project and had never quilted before! Although her mother was a talented seamstress, she herself had never stitched a thing! She endeavered this project with the guidance and teaching of a quilter in Texas. PSI-CT will bring one of the memorial quilts to Connecticut soon-PERHAPS– at a Components of Care Training in 2018! Yes, there are plans in the works to bring the Components of Care Training back to Connecticut! Join us and stay informed on all trainings and maternal mental health events in Connecticut!