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Are you a too-tired-too-busy parent?

Want to know if you are a too-tired-too-busy parent!?  Take this quiz to find out!

  1. Do you find yourself constantly transferring things from today’s to-do list to tomorrow to-do list?
  2. Do you find yourself reminding your co-workers to put their mittens on before going outside?
  3. Have you tried to make a pot of coffee but forgot to add the coffee?
  4. Do you find yourself fantasizing about running away to a secluded island?
  5. Have you started the week with two hundred dollars worth of groceries in the fridge only to order pizza three times?
  6. Did you get genuinely excited about the new season of Paw Patrol just to have something new to watch?
  7. Have you fallen asleep before your kids while attempting to read bedtimes stories?
  8. Has bribing/yelling at your kids become your go-to strategies for trying to get out the door on time?
  9. Do you find yourself keeping score with how much ‘time off’ parenting you and your partner (if you have one) each gets?
  10. Is your family concerned about your digestion because of how much time you spend in the bathroom secretly playing games on your phone?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you might be a too-tired-too-busy parent.

Solidarity with you, my friend, because most of us parents with young children are, so you can rest assured that you are in good company. Many parents say that although raising kids is more rewarding than paid work, it is a hell of a lot more exhausting. And cis women in hetero relationships are working harder than their partners, even in the most progressive relationships. So it’s no wonder there are so many memes of parents drinking coffee by the gallon as a survival strategy.

The good news is that it’s not your fault. The combination of intensive mothering demands (more on that next month) that increase our workload at home with the financial demands that increase our paid workload has left us with little recovery time.

And that’s on a good day.  Unfortunately, the really yucky moments in life don’t seem to care that much that our plates are already full.  Like when you go through a breakup. Or fall into a major depression.  Or when a sick parent needs you as much as your children do. Those are the times that you can quickly find yourself deteriorating from tired yet joyful to exhausted and hardly coping.

I so relate to this, friends. I wrote about a similar time in my life last year in my post Just Maintain: A Movement For All Who Are Weary, where I invited you to take a break from thriving and give yourself permission to just survive for a while.  And while I am very happy to share that I did survive my year from hell of growth, it’s left me really chewing on what it means to endure difficult times and actually watch yourself build resiliency.

I want to invite you to explore the unique ways in which you persist when times are tough with this months edition of the Shame-Free Parenting Webinar Series.  Because there are ways to lighten the load even when the load is heavier than you think you can stand and needs to be carried further than you ever thought possible.

Register here and join me on January 21 at 8:00pm (EST) as we discuss “How to Endure the (Impossible?) Work of Parenting“. We are going to talk about burnout, crawling to the finish line, being weary to the bone, and noticing all the ways in which you are doing better than you think. I’m also going to make some big asks of you, like if you are willing to experiment with laziness and intentional selfishness.  You’re also going to get a fun, free, printable booklet filled with permission slips for you to give yourself on those extra hard days.

You may have to endure just a little bit longer, but you don’t have to do it alone.

 

Olivia Scobie, MSW, RSW, M.A., ACC, MSP
Social Work Counselor
Olivia@oliviascobie.com

PPD Recovery Stories “Without proper sleep I could not take care of myself or parent him properly”

Welcome to this month’s monthly PPD Recovery Story! This month we get to see just how much of a different sleep can make to your mood.

  1. How would you describe your postpartum experience? 

The first 7 months of my son’s life felt like a blur. My whole world felt upside down, and I couldn’t find my place in it. Some days were okay and I got out and did things and felt like I was coping and others were so dark I couldn’t function. I felt hopeless and like a failure as a mother. I worried I had made a mistake by having my son because I would “ruin” him. When I finally got treatment and started on medication for PPD/PPA things slowly started to improve. Luckily, as I got better, I was able to enjoy the last few months of my maternity leave. I went from barely surviving, to feeling like myself again and actually looking forward to my time with my son.

  1. Did you receive a formal diagnosis of a postpartum mood and adjustment disorder?  If so, how did you receive that diagnosis? If not, did you seek one? 

I have a history of depression/anxiety and it runs in my family. When I was pregnant, my doctor proactively referred me to a women’s reproductive mental health clinic at the hospital where I would be delivering. The psychiatrist wanted me to start on antidepressants immediately following the birth of my son, but I resisted. At the time, I felt fine and I was too worried about the medication getting to him through my breastmilk (even though I was assured it was not a big risk). After I had him, and the “baby blues” never left, I felt like I should be able to “handle” things on my own. I kept convincing myself that if he would just sleep better and if I could just make breastfeeding work, I would be okay. Finally, things got so bad I accepted that I was experiencing PPD/PPA and I needed professional help to recover. I was formally diagnosed by my psychiatrist.

  1. What was your postpartum experience like at it’s worst? How did you know it was time to get help? 

At its worst, I had such severe insomnia I could not sleep for days. I felt like I was losing my mind and that I would never feel “normal” again. I was hopeless and in despair. Everything felt dark and I was crying all the time. I was afraid to take care of my son because I couldn’t remember basic things like when he last ate. My mom moved in with me and my partner to help us care for him.

  1. What kinds of supports do you credit with your recovery (medication, one on one therapy, group therapy, naturopathic care, etc)?

Medication for PPD/PPA and for sleep was the turning point for me. Without medical intervention, I would not have recovered as well as I did.

  1. When did things start to turn around? 

A few months after I started medication and after we finally decided to sleep train my son, things began to turn around. My son was waking up 5 – 10 times a night for months, and I realized that without proper sleep I could not take care of myself or parent him properly.

  1. What kind of support did you have from partners, family or friends?

My mother was incredible and a played a huge role in my recovery. She was a constant source of support, unconditional love and took care of my son (and me!) when I couldn’t. My husband tried his best to be supportive, but the situation was very challenging for him too and he worked a lot. I never hid my PPD/PPA from friends, but I did not know many people struggling as much as I was.

  1. What helped the most? 

Medication! Realizing that I was not a failure as a mother because of my PPD/PPA. Letting people help me. Finding an online community of other moms going through the same thing.

  1. What helped the least? 

Certain online parent groups were distressing for me. I would go looking for support/community, but end up feeling isolated as my son was very high needs as a young baby and I did not have an easy postpartum experience like some other mothers. I was left feeling like there was something wrong with him and me.

  1. What kind of support plan do you have in place ongoing?

I am still on medication and I meet with my GP regularly to check-in in regards to my mental health. I am intentional about self-care, like getting regular exercise, alone time and sleep. My husband and mother are there when I need to talk through things.

  1. If you could give one piece of advice to a parent struggling with their postpartum mood, what would that be?  

You are not alone and you are not a failure. Do not be afraid to seek help.

PPD Recovery Stories “The second you let go of what you expected your child to be like, the easier it will get”

Welcome to this month’s monthly PPD Recovery Story! This month we get to see the power of an awesome medical team and therapist.

 

How would you describe your postpartum experience?
Looking back and thinking of my postpartum experience is always so surreal. I feel like that was in a past life and that person wasn’t really me. Although I have personally struggled with anxiety my entire life I felt that postpartum anxiety/depression was a whole other beast.

 

Did you receive a formal diagnosis of a postpartum mood and adjustment disorder? If so, how did you receive that diagnosis; if not, did you seek one?
I did receive a formal diagnosis from my OB who suggested that I go and see my family doctor once again to receive help. I had also been visiting my daughter’s pediatrician with her due to her colic. He also suggested within that time frame that I also revisit my family doctor as it was clear that I had some form of a postpartum mood disorder.

 

What was your postpartum experience like at its worst? How did you know it was time to get
help?
My daughter just turned one and I cannot believe how much that time of my life is such a blur for me. I didn’t leave my house for twelve weeks without my husband. I barely slept because I was terrified I would not hear her cry. Also, the reverse happened where I was terrified to fall asleep because she would wake me up. I spent hours outside with her because that was the only way she would sleep. I walked for hours a day terrified that if I stopped that she would wake up and start crying again. I barely ate because she was always crying, I was always walking and so my stomach was always in knots. I cried every day for the first four months of her life and I had absolutely no connection with my daughter. I remember thinking that I had made a terrible mistake and that I was a terrible mother.

My husband kept encouraging me to go back to my doctor. Eventually, I did and my daughter was around 10 weeks old. She praised me and said she was so incredibly proud of me that I came in and admitted that I needed help. She got the ball rolling and contacted <a GTA hospital> for therapy support. She also gave me a prescription for anxiety medication that I took for about a week and decided that I wanted to go the natural route I normally take when going through tough times with my anxiety.

 

What kinds of supports do you credit with your recovery?
I can’t thank my therapist enough at <a GTA hospital>. She is amazing and I am so thankful that she is there to help women get better and recognize that it is okay to struggle and feel defeated. Beyond therapy with <my therapist> I also set out on a path to group therapy. Although this was interesting as I learned that I was not alone, it just was not the right kind of therapy for me. Group therapy was the first thing I tried before being sent to <a GTA hospital>. The woman who ran the group therapy is also an incredible woman. The best advice I got from her that I left with and which I share with others was: trust your baby. She is your teacher. Nobody else but your baby will teach you what she needs so listen to her. 

Getting out of the house and going for walks every day with fresh air did wonders for me. I started going to a mommy and me group led by public health nurses that are set up by public health. We would meet at the library and the nurses were incredible. One of the nurses also told me some great advice which was: The second you let go of what you expected your child to be like, the easier it will get. Love your baby for who she is as a person, not the person you thought she would be. 

What kind of support did you have from partners, family or friends?
I also see a naturopath that has helped me in the past with my anxiety. Finally, I use essential oils every evening before bed and roll-ons that I rub on my skin to help keep me calm!

PPD Recovery Stories “I reunited with my daily yoga and meditation practice”

Everyone heals from a postpartum mood disorder a little bit differently. Check out the monthly PPD Recovery Story for inspiration and solidarity. This month’s story is all about the benefits of yoga and meditation.

How would you describe your postpartum experience?
I would describe my experience as very foggy, dark and isolated. I did not ever feel supported or understood by anyone and I often felt very angry about that.

Did you receive a formal diagnosis of a postpartum mood and adjustment disorder? If so, how did you receive that diagnosis; if not, did you seek one?
I sought support and a diagnosis from <a hospital>, however I did not have a positive experience there and did not end up going back after two meetings with the psychiatrist.

What was your postpartum experience like at its worst? How did you know it was time to get
help?
Throughout the day I was unable to take care of my own basic needs and when my partner would come home from work I would sit outside by myself and cry. I did not feel like I was ever doing a good job of mothering my baby and the days felt very blurry. I experienced constant guilt and intrusive thoughts.

What kinds of supports do you credit with your recovery?
I reunited with my daily yoga and meditation practice when my daughter was 8 weeks old and around that time I also began to attend a drop in group with PPSTO. The combination of these two things were highly transformational.

When did things start to turn around?
At about 6-7 months postpartum. I remember laughing about something and then realizing that it was the first time I had laughed since before the baby was born.

What kind of support did you have from partners, family or friends?
My family and friends were not supportive. I received a lot of added anxiety from very unsupportive family especially. My partner was as supportive as he could be, though he did not quite understand what was
happening so he was not as supportive as I would have liked him to be.

What helped the most?
Time, and gaining the trust in my partner that he could take care of the baby and I could begin to go out and do things on my own.

What helped the least?
Family members who disregarded my feelings or refused to validate my experiences.

What kind of support plan do you have in place ongoing?
I practice yoga every morning before my partner leaves for work. This helps immensely. I also have met a few friends from neighborhood drop in groups who I see throughout the week. It helps to know other people are having the same experiences.

If you could give one piece of advice to a parent struggling with their postpartum mood, what would that be?
IT IS IMPERMANENT. EVEN IF IT LASTS A REALLY LONG TIME.

PPD Recovery Stories “You are not alone, weird, or a bad mom”

Ever wonder how you get through postpartum depression and anxiety? Well, everyone does it a little bit differently.  The Postpartum Mood Recovery Series puts a spotlight on the unique ways in which each parent finds their way through.

How would you describe your postpartum experience?
Isolating, then once I found help relief, community building. Before help – terrifying. After help, normalizing and oddly empowering.

Did you receive a formal diagnosis of a postpartum mood and adjustment disorder?  If so, how did you receive that diagnosis. If not, did you seek one? 
Yes I was diagnosed with PPA with my second child from <a Toronto hospital>. I self diagnosed with my first child (when he was 9ish months old) and did not seek help (massive mistake)

What was your postpartum experience like at its worst? How did you know it was time to get help? 
I hated being a mom a lot. I felt the days would never end and had constant guilt of not being good enough. I wouldn’t leave my house or engage with others as my anxiety left me feeling worthless, ugly, etc. I was thrilled to go back to work but also racked with guilt. I hated mat leave and there were many dark days of feeling my life was over and things would never get better. Also sleeplessness even when my child napped, constant exhaustion, didn’t enjoy any activities, etc.
What kinds of supports do you credit with your recovery (medication, one on one therapy, group therapy, naturopathic care, etc)?
Meds really helped me, and the drop in west end postpartum group. I wish I would have tried naturopathic care.
When did things start to turn around? 
When I knew what was wrong and that it was okay, and that others felt this way. When I found non-judgemental support things took a turn. And the meds really helped too,
What kind of support did you have from partners, family or friends?
My partner didn’t really know what to do. He did get to the point where he said “you need help” and once I sought help was supportive of that. My family and I don’t really discuss mental health at all. My friends were incredibly supportive, available, present.
What helped the most? 
Meds, talking with others and realizing that I am in fact not abnormal but this is a shared experience. Sleep training my child and also buying the occasional / semi regular babysitter really, really helped. Yoga, walks, swimming.
What helped the least? 
Platitudes, “enjoy it – is passes so quickly”, moms who clearly stand in judgment/relish in appearing to have it all together.
What kind of support plan do you have in place ongoing?
Friends, west end drop in (hells yes!), continuing meds, babysitter
If you could give one piece of advice to a parent struggling with their postpartum mood, what would that be?  You are not alone, weird, or a bad mom. This is so common. If you can afford it, get babysitters/help and take a break. Sleep training is a nightmare for a while but then you sleep and sleep protection (5 or more continuous hours of sleep) was so important for my mental health. Finding a mom Crew is hard but when you do they are lifesavers. Meds aren’t the devil.

Which Type Of Therapy Is Best For Your PPD?

Finding the right type of therapy can sometimes feel like you are stuck in a chose your own adventure book. Unless you have a particular interest in this area, you may not even know that there are different types of therapeutic modalities.  And when you are in the depths of a postpartum mood disorder, there is nothing more discouraging than getting your hopes up when you book with a new therapist, only to discover that they aren’t the right fit for you.

I know this because it happened to me.  Not only was it not the right type of therapy, this person didn’t offer evening or weekend appointments, didn’t allow babies in the session, and all of their advice overlooked the fact that I had an infant and a three-year-old at home (I would also like to get more sleep, but unfortunately I need to feed my baby several times a night).

If you had a bad first experience with therapy, I encourage you not to give up. The good news is that there are SO many different ways to do therapy and counseling!  And there is absolutely no right or wrong way to get support for postpartum depression/anxiety (PPD/A).  Below is a list of some of the types of therapies that I have found work best for parents with postpartum depression/anxiety, and I encourage you to experiment with all of them.

 

General Heads Up: Each of the therapeutic approaches listed below have been put into big, broad buckets. They are not organized with an exact preciseness, nor is this list exhaustive. Everything could use a way more in-depth description so it may be most helping to think of this as a map to help get you started in the right direction. See which ones spark an interest in you to learn more. Don’t get too hung up what you think therapy is supposed to be like or what others think therapy should be like for you. YOU get to decide what therapeutic interventions work for you.

 

Behavioral Therapies

Overview: Behavioral therapies focus on, well, your behavior. This type of therapy is totally the ‘it girl’ right now, with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) being widely used with OHIP covered services and therapeutic clinics.  They are most often used to support people living with depression, anxiety, anger, addiction, panic and intrusive thoughts. Behavioral therapies can be done in groups or one on one. During sessions, you will often spend your time exploring the link between thoughts, feelings and actions, as well as challenging ‘distorted’ thinking.

Why I like this therapy for PPD/A: There is a lot of evidence that suggests behavioral therapies are effective for improving your mood very quickly. They are tool and skill based modalities that are generally easy to understand and apply. They also address your most pressing current concerns and don’t require spending a lot of time talking about your past or early childhood.

Limitation of this therapy for PPD/A: Because they are tool and skill based, there is a lot of ‘teaching’ and ‘telling’ in therapeutic sessions, rather than letting you define your own experience.  With language like ‘disorder’ and ‘distorted thinking’, some people find this approach overly pathologizing and clinical and it doesn’t always account for the many other complex realities of the postpartum experience, such as loss of identity. It is also rather process heavy. For example, you may be asked to fill out thought records or track your mood throughout the day, which can feel cumbersome to a parent who doesn’t even have time to pee alone.

Who might want to try it: Parents who are drawn to medical models to conceptualize their mood. Also, those who like to follow templates and processes.

 

Client-Centred/Humanist Therapies 

Overview: These modalities are non-pathologizing and don’t require a medical diagnosis of a mood disorder. For client-centred/humanist therapies, challenges with mood are generally understood to be a response to feeling lost, going through a negative or stressful time, or when we have a major shift in our identity or relationships. Common modalities include narrative, gestalt, and emotionally-focussed therapies.

Why I like this therapy for PPD/A: These modalities tend to focus on you as a whole person and your therapist should seek to understand your unique circumstances, rather than just focus on your thoughts, moods, and behavior. They allow you to name and label your experience, as opposed to having a medical label applied to you. There is also an understanding that there are forces outside of your control, including issues related to social justice, that impact your day to day mood.  In other words, client-centred/humanist therapists get that your mood is influenced by so much more than just brain chemicals and hormonal changes – the toxic mothering messages and impossible parenting standards you are subjected to absolutely impact your mood (clearly I am drawn to these modalities, as a lot of my research in this area).

Limitation of this therapy for PPD/A: There is an underlying assumption in many client-centred/humanist therapies that if you have a new awareness about yourself or your circumstance, you will be or feel different – which may or may not be true. Finding or deepening a new awareness can take time, and some parents feel as though new/deepened awareness is not enough to shift their mood or feel better about their circumstances.  Client-centred/humanist therapists don’t always leave parents with a set of concrete tools/skills to help them with their mood in the same way that behavioral or mind/body therapies do.

Who might want to try it: Those who find it easy to talk about their feelings with others, and who find that this allows them to process their emotions and gain new perspectives. Those who don’t want to follow a rigid therapeutic process or who want to be able to set the agenda for their therapy sessions, rather than having it be somewhat predetermined.

 

Mind/Body Therapies

Overview: Mind/body therapies take you out of your head and into your body. They allow you to explore the link between your feelings (i.e. emotional pain) and your bodies (i.e. physical discomfort). Popular approaches include breath therapy, mindfulness, emotional freedom technique (EFT) or have energetic connections such as reiki. These therapies are often strengthened when offered in combination with other modalities, such as mindfulness based cognitive therapy.

Why I like this therapy for PPD/A: Like behavioral therapies, mind/body therapies can be quite tool/skill based (i.e. breathing exercises) but often take less time than behavioral strategies and can be done anywhere, as you don’t need any tools outside of your body. They can be very effective for anxiety or panic, providing immediate relief. They allow you to explore the depth and range of the impact your PMAD has on your body. Unlike modalities that ask you to focus on positive thoughts, mind/body therapies often allow you to explore deeply negative feelings, and promote acceptance of the difficult moments, rather than trying to fight against them.  Acceptance can take less emotional energy that fighting negative thoughts and feelings, and as energy is limited with a new baby, this can sometimes feel easier than behavioral therapies.

Limitation of this therapy for PPD/A: These therapies don’t tend to offer problem-solving or resolutions for the legitimate day to day demands that also impact your postpartum mood, nor do they touch on intrapersonal relationships.  Also, it can be hard to remember the skills during a panicked moment, and some modalities require parents to try to build in a breath awareness or mindfulness practice into each day, which you may find overwhelming when you are already so time crunched.

Who might want to try it: Those struggling with high anxiety, panic attacks, or who have trouble giving up control (because it promotes acceptancing your circumstances). Those that are interested in non-western approaches to healing, or are drawn to meditation or yoga. Those who have a lot of physical pain in their body (whether related to mood or not).

 

Arts-Based Therapies

Overview: These modalities often don’t feel like ‘therapy’ because they involve art activities, moving your body, and equipment. Depending on the practitioner you may be asked to engage in expressive artsdance, or music therapy. There is no need to be a talented artist – it’s more about the process and finding meaning to you personally and can be for your eyes only.

Why I like this therapy for PPD/A: These approaches can help you access thoughts and feelings that you have trouble connecting to, and can be quite helpful in processing difficult emotions – particularly if you had a traumatic birth or are struggling with a loss of identity since becoming a parent. The associated activities can also inspire ongoing self-care activities, such adult colouring books or journaling.

Limitation of this therapy for PPD/A: Some of the activities can feel silly or childlike and our own resistance to the activity can limit its effectiveness. Also, if you are struggling with high levels of social anxiety it can feel too weird to perform creatively in front of others. Sometimes you may feel like you are forcing deep meaning onto an activity, or feel like you haven’t done it correctly if you don’t have an emotional shift from the process.

Who might want to try it: Creative, artistic types. Those who are impacted emotionally by the arts. Those who feel stuck in their heads and want to find new ways to explore their feelings.

 

There are a few other broad types of therapy worth mentioning. If you experience birth trauma, EMDR, exposure therapy or somatic experiencing can be helpful in ways that the above modalities may not be. If you are struggling in your relationship or with family dynamics, couples or family counselling may feel the most supportive. Additionally, group or peer to peer support can be deeply meaningful and impactful for PMAD recovery, because it reduces isolation and provides you with a community of others who ‘get it’. There is a reason they say the most powerful words in the English language are me too.

I am not a huge fan of psychoanalytic approaches for PMAD because they are often overly focussed on your past/early childhood and not on surviving the heavy demands of the day to day with a baby. Also, some people find that by fixating on the ways in which your own parent(s) failed you, it ramps up anxiety that you will permanently damage your young children/babies. For PMADs, I much prefer modalities that focus on coping tools, emotional processing, and that are forward facing.

 

It is important to know that many counselors, including myself, use an eclectic approach that uses a variety of strategies because we find that one therapeutic approach is too constraining, as each one has limitations. Also – and this is important – feeling connected to your therapist is MUCH more significant than what kind of modality you chose. Being respected, listened too, and having your feelings validated is critical to doing work with someone that requires you to be vulnerable.

For example, the first time I was matched with a CBT therapist, I had no connection with them, was given a few thoughts records, and sent on my way. Predictably, it didn’t do much for me. But later with a therapist that I felt connected to and who used a variety of other modalities, CBT had a deeply positive impact on my life.

My final suggestion is to shop around for a therapist. And if you can afford it – you can have more than one!  Your healing process is you own. I encourage you to play and have some fun with it and try on some of the modalities that feel like a stretch.

As always, if you want help figuring out what kind of therapy might be best for you, I can help.

 

Olivia Scobie, MSW, M.A., ACC, MSP
Family Coach/Counselor
Olivia@livwithchange.com

You’re not going to believe this… but queer parents actually do get PPD

A few months ago, I attended an event filled with some of the leaders in postpartum depression (PDD) research and treatment.  It was pretty cool to meet with an interdisciplinary group where everybody was passionate and dedicated to reaching the same goal of ensuring parents with PPD are thoroughly supported and I’m glad to have been a part of it, but something has been weighing heavily on me since that day – I’m not sure that psychiatrists know that gays, queers, and trans people can develop PPD.

Now I’m your typical rainbow flag waving queer. And I spend a lot of time hanging out with other rainbow flag waving queers, so I am particularly well trained to notice LGBTQ+ inclusion.  While I am accustomed to having cis women’s bodies as the dominant conversation around pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, I didn’t realize that same sex couples having children was some kind of secret to the medical community.  So, it wasn’t surprising that when I suggested to one psychiatrist (whose favourite word to describe people with PPD seemed to be ‘mama’) that not everyone who births identifies as a mother, that I was met with a shrug and a confused response about statistical outliers.  But I was surprised by the scant use of the word ‘partner’ to describe non-birth parents and the dominate use of the phrases ‘mom and dad’ or’ husband and wife’. (Notice the exclusion of solo parents, surrogates, adoptive parents, and co/poly-parent families as well, but more on that later).

I left that day feeling pretty upset about this because I was a solo queer parent who survived PPD/A.

And my story was made to be invisible.

And that felt really yucky, friends.

When I got home, I couldn’t help but wonder how big this problem of exclusion was. I cracked open every textbook and mass-market self-help book written by the leading medical professionals on postpartum mood and adjustment disorders (PMADs) to make sure that they knew that LGBTQ+ families also struggle with postpartum mood. I knew that, in general, the big name researchers and clinicians in this area didn’t go out of their way to use language that demonstrated inclusion, but I had to know, how bad is it really?

Turns out it’s bad, y’all. Really bad.

Karen Kleiman, Valerie Davis Rasking, Joyce Venis… the words written by these authors had saved me during my own period of PPD/A and gave me a basis for understanding how to support people with PMADs during my own clinical training. When I finally took off my fan-girl glasses and re-read their work with a critical lens I could truly see just how hetero/cis normative it all was. Every time they would refer to ‘mother’ I found myself asking, “which one?” Occasionally, I would get excited to see ‘partner’ referenced, but shortly thereafter they would throw in a ‘he’ or ‘his’ just to make sure you did not envision a same-sex couple. And if you were looking for any kind of gender diversity in birthing parents? Forget it. It simply doesn’t exist.

And I get it, friends. At least in part. I am also implicated in this. I primarily work with, write to, and focus on the experiences of mothers* because I identify as a mother (even as a mama!) and because I don’t want to lose sight that the endless demands of perfectionism and the self-sacrificing messages parents get remain exceptionally feminized. Mothers are still considered default parents and fathers the helpers – even in families that don’t have a mother – and even the most routine childcare activities performed by fathers are often met with an abundance of praise.  “He got up with the baby in the night?  You’re so lucky!” I know many fathers for whom these comments feel insulting, hence the recent “I’m a dad, not a babysitter” campaign.

I also know that it is super difficult to find marketing images of families that don’t fit some kind of Leave-It-To-Beaver family typology.  And trying to write with language that is inclusive of all genders, sexualities, family structures, ethnicities, cultures, abilities is incredibly tough, as we all write from our own experiences and what we don’t know can often exclude people.

But you don’t give up! You don’t just say “Oh well. That group is so small. They’re just a statistical outlier so let’s not count them”. You learn and reflect and bumble along while learning from mistakes and creating new spaces for people that experience the world differently from you. And when you can, you use your privilege to help marginalized voices be heard – without speaking for them.

There are so many questions about LGBTQ+ identity and postpartum mood that are important to explore. I believe that every parent deserves exceptional postpartum mood support and that until we understand the experiences of marginalized parenting communities, we are failing at meeting this standard. When LGBTQ+ families don’t get acknowledged in the research and discussion on PMADs, you can take it as a pretty clear sign that we aren’t getting the support services that we need.

Do we even know the rates of PMADs in non-birth mothers? In gay dads? In trans or non-binary birthers? I know there are a few isolated studies with LGBTQ+ families, but I want this to be mainstream information, not secret knowledge. With more and more LGBTQ+ families represented in the media, isn’t it also time to represent us in a health issue that can literally be a matter of life or death?

Sadly, it’s not just LGBTQ+ families that are excluded in pregnancy, birth, and postpartum discourse.  It is part of an overall theme of exclusion of vulnerable families. Thankfully, there is a growing movement of maternal/paternal support practitioners and health care providers who are demanding full spectrum care. And I am one of them.

Which is why I have partnered with bebo mia (and several other awesome community workers passionate about supporting all families) to create the Diverse Families Certification E-Program. If you are a doula, counsellor, midwife, OB, paediatric nurse, or community organizer working in the area of fertility, pregnancy, birth, or postpartum and you want to ensure that your services are inclusive of all families, we can help you get there. This goes beyond LGBTQ+ families and touches on ethnicity, class, family, structure, ability and so much more.

Space is limited and the bebo mia programs sell out fast so if you want to get in before we launch I’d strongly suggest saving your spot with either one payment of $179 or two payments of $97 today.

I hope to see you in the program. Because my family matters and I can guarantee you that yours – however it comes – does too. xo

*By mothers I mean anyone who identifies as a mother regardless or their genitals or experience as a birthing person*

 

Olivia Scobie, M.A., ACC, CPCC, MSP
Family Coach/Counselor
Olivia@livwithchange.com

 

No, Pitocin didn’t give you postpartum depression.

Recently some research was published that indicated there is a link between postpartum depression (PPD) and having Pitocin administered during birth.  It generated a lot of online discussion about why some of us get PPD and why some of us don’t. Once again, many of us who survived a postpartum mood disorder found ourselves asking “where did this come from and why did this happen to me?”.

This is a tough question to answer.  Everyone seems to have a different idea about where PPD/PPA comes from. And that is frustrating because it makes your experience hard to understand and can create confusion about what to do about it – or how to prevent it if you want to have more kids.

Most of the information about the ‘cause’ of PPD centers around a debate between biological causes vs thinking patterns. Karen Kleinman, a big name in the PPD world, sums this up by stating “Some experts believe that the negative thoughts are symptoms of depression. Treat the depression, and you will think less negatively. Others say that negative thoughts cause the depressive thought process. Learn to reframe the thinking into positive channels and you will begin to feel better, these experts believe”.

I don’t think understanding PPD is as simple as choosing one side of this debate. As with most things in my life, I have a hard time putting things into neat little boxes. I like things messy, complex, and hard to wrap my head around. So it should come as no surprise that the way I conceptualize postpartum mood is messy, complex, hard to wrap my head around.

But in response to fears that Pitocin can cause PPD, I’ve tried to bring some clarity to the way I conceptualize PPD (and postpartum anxiety) by playing around with a diathesis-stress model*. I’m hoping those of you who also like messy, complex, hard to wrap your head around issues will find it helpful.

If that is hard to view, click here to download the image

As you can see, there are a few parts to this model. Some of them are flexible and some of them aren’t, but NONE of them are your fault. Let’s take a look, one by one, at how they impact support planning.

Genetics This is just plain luck of the draw. If you have a family history of depression and anxiety you are more susceptible to postpartum depression and anxiety. Often this means you struggled with your mood prior to having children, but not always. If your parents did gift you with a genetic tendency towards depression/anxiety, I hope they also gave you some other awesome genetics traits, like shiny hair or the ability to run really fast.

Hormones/Neurotransmitters** This one is a little bit trickier. I am hesitant to blame hormones for anything because women’s hormones are often used to dismiss a variety of legitimate complaints. I cringe at every “she must be on her period” joke.  It’s true that parents who give birth have sudden changes to their estrogen and progesterone levels, and if they are lactating there are additional hormonal changes that can impact mood. It’s also true that low thyroid is a common problem after childbirth. Yet, these hormone changes don’t tell us why partners, non-birth, and adoptive parents also get PPD/PPA.

The other biological influence on PPD/PPA in this bucket are the neurotransmitters in your brain. When brain chemicals, such as dopamine or serotonin, are too high or too low or not firing effectively, it can have a massive impact on our mood. This is the way that most medical professionals conceptualize depression/anxiety, why depression and anxiety are categorized as mental illness, and why doctors use anti-depressants or mood stabilizers to treat PPD/PPA.  There are lots of things that can negatively impact your neurotransmitters that affect all parents, regardless if you gave birth, such as sleep deprivation, getting enough nutritious food, and limited time/energy to exercise. Lots of parents with PPD/PPA find it helpful to use medication to try and balance neurotransmitters. I certainly did during my second round of PPD/PPA. But the medication does have side effects and some people take a long time to find the right medication – or never find one that gives them the results that they want.

Thinking Styles  If you are prone to negative thinking, worrying, perfectionism, rumination, or heightened critical analysis, you are more prone to depression and anxiety. Thankfully, there is a lot you can do to influence negative thinking patterns. This is why talk therapy helps with depression and anxiety (as well as lots of other things). Counselors use a variety of tools and modalities to help process, cope with, and challenge thinking styles that are negatively impacting your mood. I want to be clear that this is not the same as the ridiculous and insensitive statement ‘just think more positively and you’ll feel better”.  If you could feel better, you would feel better, amiright? Changing thinking styles is seriously intense work and it can take some time to find the support professional who is the right fit.

The Culture of Parenting As I have talked about in a variety of blog posts, the culture of parenting changes over time and geographically. The impact of the culture of parenting on PPD/PPA is often underestimated or ignored, and my research in this area is what makes my approach to the work unique. The messages that mothers are currently receiving – and I mean mothers specifically because parenting expectations are still hyper-gendered – about how to be a so-called ‘good’ mother are outrageous, contradictory, and out of reach.

You know the messages I’m talking about. Always prioritize your children’s needs over yours, but somehow also do tons of self care. Never let your baby have formula or you will ruin their health for life. And be sure to make all your baby food from scratch– ideally from organic produce you have grown locally in your own backyard. Never yell or let your children cry, or they won’t be able to create a healthy adult relationship. Be thin but not too thin because that sends a negative message to children about their own body image. The rules are endless. The standards are impossible to meet. And the greater the gap between how important these expectations are to you and your perceived failures in achieving them, the higher the rates of PPD/PPA.

Life Events, Stress, and Personal Circumstances This is the bucket where all of the risk factors for developing PPD/PPA live. This includes things like having a baby who cries a lot or who has trouble sleeping, having a premature baby, being a single parent, financial difficulties… the list of risk factors is really long and anything that you consider an added stress or a barrier to coping belongs in here. This is where having Pitocin administered at your birth belongs, but I suspect that the link between Pitocin and PPD/PPA has less to do with the drug itself and more to do with the fact that it is commonly used during induction, long births, or births with high levels of medical intervention – all of which are already on the risk factor list.

So yeah…. postpartum mood is complex.  PPD/PPA can’t be boiled down to one simple thing like Pitocin. All of these factors work together to influence your mood during the postpartum period.

What matters more than pinpointing the exact cause of PPD is what you can do about it. And thankfully, there’s a lot. I briefly wrote about the six factors that contribute to postpartum resiliency in a previous blog post, and I’ve turned it into an upcoming free webinar all about protecting your mood after having a baby.

If you want to want to join us for that conversation, sign up for my mailing list and watch for the registration link.

And if you need support now, you can schedule a counseling appointment with me here. Tele-counseling is available.

 

*  The idea to use this model was totally stolen inspired by Kleinman‘s model for intrusive thoughts

**If you are a doctor and are thinking ‘hmmm I would describe that differently’, please reach out. I don’t normally try and explain brain science and I’m open to feedback.

 

Olivia Scobie, M.A., ACC, CPCC, MSP
Family Coach/Counselor
Olivia@livwithchange.com

Supporting Your Partner Through Postpartum Depression: Six Things You Need To Know

Postpartum depression and anxiety is not experienced in isolation – it has an impact on everyone in the family. It’s tough for our partners, too.  They want to help but don’t always know how.

If you are currently loving someone with PPD/PPA, there a few things to keep in mind while you are braving that storm alongside them.

You can’t ‘fix’ them. But you can help them manage

Watching your partner struggle with their mood is gut wrenching.  You want to take their pain away and make things better.  This is totally understandable – they are one of your favorite people!

Well, I have some good news and some bad news for you.

The good news is that you can’t take this from them. This is their fight. You’re off the hook, so you can let go of any responsibility you feel to fix things.

The bad news is that you can’t take this from them. All you can do is be in it with them.

Just because you can’t take it from them doesn’t mean you can’t support them while they work through it.  I’d start by asking them this really simple question “how can I support you right now“?  If you’re lucky, they will tell you exactly what they need, which could be anything from extra sleep, to going into debt for bi-weekly therapy, to holding them when they cry.

But sometimes they don’t know what they need yet.  In that case, you can ask them what tools or coping strategies they are working with in therapy and help them practice.

Are they using mindfulness strategies? Great. You can use them too. Give each other reminders and prompts to find mindful moments throughout the day.

Are they using CBT thought records? Cool. Print off some sheets for them and keep them all around the house. If you start to notice them ruminating or having racing thoughts, ask them if they would like to fill one out together.

Are they trying to distract themselves from panic attacks?  Right on. You can pre-make a list of distracting and soothing activities you can experiment with when panic starts to set in.

One caveat: It’s up to your partner to take the lead. Gentle reminders of therapeutic tools can be supportive. Telling your partner what to do or nagging them is not.

Reassure them that you love them and you aren’t going anywhere

Living with a mood disorder comes with a lot of scary thoughts. One of the most common thoughts is that you are unlovable or that you will be abandoned. Let’s face it, some of the behaviors associated with PPD/PPA are hard to be around. I bounced between being unable to get out of bed, expressing anger towards my loved ones, and obsessively seeking reassurance that my baby would not die in his sleep.  I knew my behavior was difficult at the time, but I couldn’t stop it.

Your partner may have fears that you will stop loving them or leave them – and maybe even take the baby.  Those are terrifying thoughts. So, even if they don’t believe you, remind them that you love them. That you aren’t going anywhere. That it will get better.  And that you will get through this together.

Sometimes you are going to have to do more than your fair share…

Depending on how your partner’s symptoms present, they may not be very productive right now.  They may not be able to do much (or anything) around the house, care for the baby alone, or even get out of their pajamas. But y’all still need to eat, laundry still needs to get done, and babies still need, well, everything done for them.

This probably means that you are going to have to step up.  Some days you might have to stay home from work because your partner needs you.  Other days you may need to stay up with a fussy baby all night so they can sleep.  You might even have to drag that baby around town while you do a bunch of chores because your partner is too anxious to leave the house but needs time alone.

And this sucks. You may feel like you have lost the partnership part of being with your partner. Chances are, they are likely feeling a little lost too, but they are finding their way back. Doing more than your share is not fair and it’s exhausting, but it’s also temporary.

… but your feelings and self care count too

You probably have some strong feelings about how PPD/PPA has impacted your life. It’s really normal to be confused or disappointed.  Your day-to-day probably doesn’t much resemble the vision you had for what life with this new baby was going to be like.  You may feel embarrassed to tell people that your partner is struggling because of the stigma associated with mood disorders – particularly postpartum mood disorders.  You might be angry, be ‘over it’, or wish your partner would just hurry up and get better already.  It’s a pretty safe bet your partner has had a lot of those feelings too.

It’s okay to not be happy about the situation and it’s important to find support for you during this time. The challenge is that the person you probably want to talk to is your partner, but you’re worried if you tell them how hard it is for you, they will feel guilty and shame about their mood disorder. Which you definitely don’t want.

This is where ring theory can be helpful. It’s a pretty simple concept: comfort in and dump out. Check out the diagram below. Your partner is at the centre and needs all the support they can get. You are on the next ring, so you send comfort into their ring, but just as importantly, you need to dump out your feelings and frustration to those on the next rung over, such as family or friends. They send comfort into your ring, and then use their own friends and family to dump out to.

Image result for comfort in dump out

So please, take care of yourself.  You are just as worthy of support as your partner.  And a self check-in regarding your own mood is a good idea because if your partner has a postpartum mood disorder there is a 50-70% chance that you do too.

Rediscover a love for masturbation   

I’m going to go ahead and guess that you two aren’t getting it on very much these days. Your partner may not even want you to touch them at all.  There are so many reasons for this; most couples aren’t having much sex with a newborn – especially if the baby doesn’t sleep through the night or if they are sleeping in your bed.  If your partner is taking meds as part of their recovery, a common side effect is that they reduce libido and negatively impact the ability to orgasm.  Lactation can also reduce sexual interest, not to mention that holding a baby all the time can leave your partner feeling ‘touched out’ and wanting some personal space.

Lack of sex is tough, especially if you had an active sex life before the baby. It can feel like rejection and make it hard for you to feel connected to them.  But it’s really important you don’t pressure them for sex or make snide jokes or comments. They will come back to you in time. Until then, consider this a journey of sexual self (re)discovery.

Wait

It gets better. Although there is no map or timeline, you will get your partner back. So dump out to your friends and family all you need, but hang in there, friend.

Because it’s worth the wait.

 

And if you need help, I’m here for you too.

 

Olivia Scobie, M.A., ACC, CPCC, MSP
Family Coach/Counselor
Olivia@livwithchange.com

Five Resolutions to Make In 2017 If You’re A Mom

2016 has been intense. We’ve had large and small public tragedies.  Many of our favorite celebrities have died. Trump happened. It’s been a rough ride, friends.

But 2017 is just around the corner and with it we all get a fresh start. And that means it’s resolution time. So get out a pen and paper because we are going to make a list together! But not the same old list of ‘be a better person’ or ‘drink less wine’. This year, let’s do things differently.

 

1. Love your mom bod. But, like really though.

Body positive messaging is the one trend from 2016 that needs to stay. While everyone around is you are making resolutions to lose weight and start rigid workout routines, I want you to commit to loving your body. Just as it is.  You are too smart, too interesting, and too talented for diets. So resolve to eat what you want, move your body for fun, and wear whatever makes you feel hot and awesome.

My 2017 commitment: 1) Dance all the time. 2) Never again eat raw kale.

 

2. Increase kindness everywhere you go.

Let’s shower 2017 with kindness like it’s our job. In the same way Oprah throws down free gifts for everyone she meets, commit to throwing out kindness to everyone around you. Toss some extra kindness towards your children. And your partner too. Maybe even extend kindness to your ex-partner. Then take it next level and find some kindness for that barista who always spells your name wrong. Most importantly, be kinder to yourself than you ever have before.

My 2017 commitment: 1) When I feel irritated, grumpy, or like my family deserves the middle finger, I will ask myself “what is the kind response to this situation”? 2) Do that.

 

3. Have more sex.  

More sex in 2017?  Yes please!  Sex is not only fun, it is also awesome for your health. It boosts your mood, strengthens your immune system, reduces pain, is good for your heart – it even improves women’s bladder control, which is something most of us need a little more of after children. So have more sex with a partner. Have waaay more sex alone. And maybe even finally do that thing you always wanted to but were too afraid to ask.

My 2017 commitment: My partner says I’m not allowed to say this on the internet.

 

4. Speak up. Even when it’s hard.  

Can we have a moment to honor how hard it is to be authentic when you are a people pleaser? This means saying no when you mean no – even when it’s hard.  It also means saying yes when you mean yes – even when it’s harder. Speaking truth is great because it allows you to deeply understand what it is that you really want (instead of trying to figure out how to get everyone around you what they want).  So commit to speaking up this year. It’s an easy way to bring more joy into your life by setting boundaries and trying something new.

My 2017 commitment: To say what I mean without apologizing for making people uncomfortable.

 

5. Do something scary.

Make this the year of being brave and resolve to tackle one scary thing from your bucket list. Always wanted to go back to school? Do it. Want to hire a babysitter so you can get some time to yourself? Hells yes to that!  Maybe you’ve always wanted to join a community action organization. Start looking into that today. Ask yourself what you want to be different this year, then muster the courage to do it.

My 2017 commitment: I just signed up for a ten-day silent meditation retreat in April. Biggest challenge of my life (with plenty more to come on that topic).

 

How is that list looking? I’d love to hear what you are going to tackle this year. Please share in the comments and let’s resolve to make 2017 kick ass.

 

Olivia Scobie, M.A., ACC, CPCC, MSP
Family Coach/Counselor
Olivia@livwithchange.com

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