by Stephanie Marynus LAc
Summer Solstice is just around the corner! YAY! Street festivals, concerts, grilling and vacation – the last thing you want to think about is health. Summer is one of the times of year that most people fall off track with their routines the most, aside from the winter holidays. However, I believe in giving yourself some leeway here and there so you can enjoy life. As an acupuncturist, we believe it’s all about balance.
You don’t have to deprive yourself, especially if you tend to be more active during the summer months. There are simple things you can do to keep yourself from going overboard during summer. These things will help you stay on track this summer, so that you don’t have to start over at square one when September rolls around.
- Stay Hydrated
If you have seen me for acupuncture you know I am a stickler for water. Being hydrated cleanses the body and gets it ‘moving’, so to speak. This is a simple method to reduce the side effects of fertility drugs that, energetically speaking, “dry” you out. It improves your mood, reduce aches and pains, prevents constipation and bloating, and increases your energy. Click Here to see what happens after drinking 1 gallon of H20 everyday for a month! The general guidelines for water intake state that you should drink at least half an ounce for every pound you weigh. For example, if you weigh 160 pounds you should be drinking at least 80 ounces of water a day. Strategically set water bottles around the house and at work to remind yourself to drink water throughout the day.
- Get Moving
It’s time to get moving and release that energy that you built up during winter. Not only will workouts counteract any of your splurges over the summer holidays but they can also improve your happiness. According to the international best seller, The Happiness Equation, by Neil Pasricha, “Pennsylvania State researchers reported in the Journal of Sports & Exercise Psychology the more physically active people are the greater their general feelings of excitement and enthusiasm.” It doesn’t take much: Half an hour of brisk walking three times a week improves mood. That is great news for a woman who can not exercise while undergoing stimulation. Something as simple as a daily stroll to check out the neighborhood’s new hip restaurants can keep you on track.
I am not going to tell you that you should skip every ice cream outing that you are invited too. Life is all about balance and eating right a majority of the time. The key is knowing when to allow yourself a treat and when you should make healthy choices. Simple things like swapping out unhealthy choices for healthier ones can make a huge difference. When grilling out, instead of choosing that bacon cheeseburger, swap it out for grilled chicken. Instead of potato chips choose carrots and celery. In choosing healthy alternatives you won’t feel so bad about having that ice cream snack later on. Food was made to fuel our bodies, but treating yourself every now and then is not a crime.
Ferris Bueller, a Chicago favorite, once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Let your hair down and enjoy yourself this summer. After all, you have been waiting for this time all year. Keep your goals in the forefront so when fall comes around you won’t be regretting 3 months of slacking. Just remember the 80/20 rule, and keep your body moving. If you follow these easy tips, you will not have a problem staying on track with your health.
Try our Summer Passports this season to make the most of the season and save!
By Christina Thompson Olson, RYT
Has your fertility journey created a disconnect between you and your partner or loved one? Whether you’re going through this together or on your own, trying to conceive can feel isolating and lonely. Partners, family members and/or friends may have the best intentions of supporting us on our TTC journey, but sometimes it takes a little creativity to find ways to reconnect with our loved one — consider partners yoga!
Keep It Simple
If you hear partners yoga and immediately picture yourself trying to balance in the air on your partner’s legs, not to worry. I’m not talking about acro yoga; just some simple yoga poses you can practice with a partner to enjoy a relaxing time together. These are safe during most times of your cycle or treatments, but always check with your doctor if you’re unsure. Try these poses in your living room or maybe even outdoors now that the weather is getting nicer! Start by sitting cross legged with your back against your partner’s back, noticing your breath and your partners breath, and feeling the support of their back against yours.
Partners yoga can build intimacy and trust by opening the lines of communication. Even just the simple and honest communication required while coordinating movements can help us reconnect with ourselves and our partner, no matter what else is going on that day/week/month. For the next pose, stay seated back and extend your legs out in front of you for a supported forward fold. One partner will fold forward towards their legs while the other partner gently leans back; then come back through center, maintaining contact as you switch. Move slowly with your breath, making sure to communicate your comfort level during this one!
In yoga we link breath and movement which helps to relieve stress and tension in the body and mind. Practicing yoga poses with a loved one allows you both to feel the centering, grounding effects of yoga. One more seated pose where you’ll reap these benefits is the gentle seated twist, practiced back to back. You and your partner will each start by placing your right hand on your left knee and reaching your left hand back to your partner’s leg or hip; lengthen up through the crown of the head on your inhale and twist a little deeper to the left on your exhale, looking over your shoulder if it’s comfortable for your neck. Continue to breathe, coming back through center when you’re ready, then take this twist to the right.
Support during TTC and beyond
Practicing yoga with your partner is a great way to connect and feel supported during your TTC journey, after getting pregnant, and beyond. Make your way to a standing position, allowing your partner to help you up from the floor, and face each other standing within arms reach. Step your feet out wider than hip-width distance, taking the toes out and bending the knees into a goddess squat. Ground down through the feet as your shoulders stack over your hips, then reach your arms towards your partner and clasp forearms. You can decide how intense to make this squat by bending more deeply, or lessen the intensity by gently swaying side to side, straightening one leg and the other as you maintain eye contact.
Don’t forget to have fun with these poses and try others from your yoga practice! Balancing postures are a great reminder to not take ourselves too seriously. Try a tree pose standing next to your partner, balancing on one foot as you draw the sole of the other foot towards your calf or upper thigh, and offering support with an arm behind your partners back, or interlacing the hands closest to each other as you reach overhead. Feel your standing feet rooting into the earth as your arms reach tall overhead, and enjoy this shared experience together!
Call us to schedule a private yoga session in Chicago or Highland Park for you and your partner at: 312-321-0004.
Join Pulling Down the Moon on Saturday, July 6th at 12pm for a FREE special event! Space is limited, reserve your spot for Connecting with Thai Massage: An Introductory Partner Workshop today!
by Rickie Kostiner RYT, Clinical Intern
I took a good hard look one morning at the piles of stuff that had accumulated between my jeans and sweaters. It was a misshapen pile that had peculiar characteristics including big dark spots and glimpses of shimmer, it was hard and jagged around the edges but soft and mushy inside. No, it wasn’t loose socks, empty boxes, or unopened mail, it was me. I wasn’t dreaming, but I swore that I could see myself in physical and metaphysical form in my closet that day. My heart sank and slouched to the ground. Knees to chin I rocked back and forth for what seemed like an entire day wondering how I got there. How did I end up on that shelf and how could I find my way back into my own body. My body, I shrieked. What. Is. A. Body and why can’t I feel any part of mine? I touched my toes, not painted calloused soles. I licked my lips, cracked, and broken. I ran my fingers through my hair, rough and thin. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe but every breath stopped short in my chest. What was happening? How did I get this way? I somehow managed to pull myself off the dirty carpet that day and I continued to move through the rest of my day. That’s all I did, I moved through places, interactions, workouts, meals. There were no feelings, because I wasn’t there. I was still on that shelf.
How do I get off the shelf? Am I ever going to feel anything ever again. I walked past a yoga studio everyday to get on the train. One day a sign out front of the studio read, “come inside and feel your body! Baby, it’s cold outside.” Okay, I thought, this is it, I’ll try it. That first yoga class was weird, I couldn’t explain how it made me feel but I went back. I went back three more times and then five more times after that and pretty soon I was practicing six times a week, but I still couldn’t tell you why. I practiced for two years, completed my first 200 hour teacher training, and had started teaching and I still couldn’t tell you why.
It was a Sunday, I had been teaching yoga for about four months. A dear friend and fellow yoga instructor told me she was going to take my class. Immediately, I felt shocks of nerves zooming through my body. “I’m nervous!” I said to her. She replied, “Rickie, I am here for whatever you have to give.” Wow. Right? Think about it, I am here for whatever you have to give. That level of flexibility is something I could only dream about achieving. For the first time since I started practicing yoga I felt something other than those adjectives that I was “supposed” to be feeling (tired, strong, healthy etc.) I felt safe. I went home that day and opened my closet to see that the pile of stuff was smaller. The parts that were black began to fade and the parts that were shimmering glistened a little more. As I continued to take in what my friend had said, ideas began to click in my head. In teacher training our leaders told us that yoga was much more than the physical practice, it is a much deeper and broader philosophy that encourages and encompasses a way to live, a way to treat one another, and most importantly, a way to treat the self.
I started to listen, and I started to observe. I took a step back from the rigid expectations I had of myself as a teacher and student and allowed the philosophy to manifest within. The true intention behind the practice and philosophy of yoga is to find stillness, both in the mind and body. The physical, asana, practice of yoga is done in order to help the body sit still. Handstand means nothing if the body cannot rest. Slowly, yoga finally began to make sense. The reason I came to yoga each day was because I was allowed simply to be.
Everyone has their unique reasons for finding and pursuing yoga. If you approach your practice with intention that is truth and that is real. Yoga changed my life by giving me a safe space to uncover layers of myself and were buried beneath many years of neglect. Today, as I continue my studies and research further into the dimensions of counseling and psychology, I am reminded every time I step on my mat that I have everything I already need within to heal. A perspective that took me a long time to actualize, but once I did, other pieces of my life fell into place. The piles of stuff in my closet slowly transformed into significant pieces of my life that I began to recognize as relationship, family, self. I was there all along, buried beneath the layers of stuff, patiently waiting to be uncovered. As you begin to uncover layers of self that have been buried remember to trust in the process that the practice of yoga can bring. Now, I practice both on and off my mat with the intention of, I am just a voice, the yoga does the work.
During Mental Health Awareness, we encourage finding support in whatever format works best for you-whether yoga, acupuncture, visiting a support group specific to your needs for infertility support, trying again after loss, or single parenthood), meditation, and/or speaking with your doctor. Resources, such as, Resolve (866-NOT-ALONE), Star Legacy Foundation, and the Women’s Professional Health Networking Group of clinicians supporting patients going through fertility treatments, pregnancy after loss, struggling in their relationships on the journey, perinatal anxiety, depression, and more (consult with your practitioner at PDtM for more information about these trusted contacts including Alison Lautz below).
Join Pulling Down the Moon for the FREE Webinar Hope & Healing: Simple, Practical Techniques for Coping with Disappointment & Loss on June 3rd at 6pm CST.
Author: Rickie Kostiner RYT, Clinical Intern Supervisor: Alison Lautz, LCSW Therapist & Life Coach www.alisonlautz.com 815-341-9244 firstname.lastname@example.org
By Christine Davis, Acupuncture Director
Everyone has advice for you: Do this, do more of this, don’t do that, do less of that. This is the only thing that works. Everyone is different, so nothing works for everyone. Eat more of this. Eat less of that. Exercise more. Exercise less. Weigh more. Weigh less.
I think that, particularly because of the internet, you can find information to support every theory out there on literally everything. It’s hard to know what to trust, what is actually true. While it can take some time to find the things that work for us to stay healthy or find balance, I do think there are a few things that we can universally take as truth.
Here’s what I’ve found:
- Slow Down. I started with this one because it helps to make all the rest possible. We hear this a lot, right? Take time for yourself, relax, find ways to unwind. But how do YOU do that? I think it’s necessary to take some time every single day to be quiet and listen to what your body, your mind, and your heart are telling you. Some days, you might have more time, some days, it’s only 2 minutes. But this has to be a priority like any other. When you take time to be still, whether in meditation, taking a walk, listening to quiet music, doing yoga, or even in an acupuncture session, this is time to hear yourself: your thoughts, how your body feels, where your mind is. What works for one person may not work for another. Remember there’s a reason that we call meditation a “practice.” It’s a process, not a destination. It recharges you, helps you find yourself and your goals, and strengthens your ability to cope with the challenges that life throws your way.
- Eat Well. There are so many theories out there about how to eat, what to eat, where to eat. It can all get very confusing! But I think we all know what things don’t feel right – whether it’s refined sugars/carbs, greasy/fried foods, too much salt, portions that are too large, etc, so staying clear of those as much as possible is critical. The more I go through life and doing the work I do, the more I realize just how important these things are. A study that came out last month showed that unhealthy diets are responsible for 1 in 5 deaths worldwide. Even if our diets are only “kind of” unhealthy, those foods could be contributing at the very least to inflammation, endocrine dysfunction, and thereby problems with fertility. If you are feeling lost in the woods about where to start, make an appointment for Nutritional Counseling with one of our amazing Dietitians.
- Sleep. Oh this is a hard one. We all think we can get away with sleep deficiency, but it always catches up to us in the end! The key is to try to stay consistent, even if you can’t be perfect every night. Aim for 7-8 hours, as close as possible to the same time to bed every night and wake up every morning. Of course, you will have special events, travel, and other things that try to throw a wrench in the works, but the more you condition yourself to stay consistent, the more your body will be prepared to sleep well when it’s time. Other things to try:
- Stop drinking anything caffeinated after 10am if you plan to go to bed by 10pm. Caffeine can stay in your body for up to 16(!!!) hours, so plan accordingly.
- Try a simple chamomile tea about 30-45 min before bedtime – steep in 4oz or less of water so you won’t have to get up to use the restroom during the night.
- Stay away from devices 45-60 min before bed. It’s tempting to try to catch up on emails, surf Instagram or space out to some Netflix, but trust me on this, sleep is way more important!
- Clear clutter from your house in general, but definitely from around your sleeping area. There should be nothing that reminds you of stressful situations or work. Keep your sleeping area as simple and comfortable as possible to invite relaxation and rest.
- If you are still struggling to fall and stay asleep, try acupuncture to help regulate your diurnal cycle.
- Exercise. This is another one that gets pretty complicated, but the bottom line is that you need to move your body on the regular. Medicated IVF cycles notwithstanding (when walking and gentle yoga are safe, as well as, recommended), getting your heart rate up and doing some resistance (free weights, muscular isolation, etc) exercise are necessary for us as humans. Our driving, sitting lifestyle has caused us to not have to do these things for basic needs, so we have to go out of our way to find them. If you love going to the gym, then do it! If you hate going to the gym, then find what works for you – yoga, martial arts, ballroom dancing… If you enjoy it, you’re more likely to stay with it. I had a personal trainer as a patient one time. I remember asking him what the best kind of exercise was. Do you know what he said? He said, “The best kind? That’s the one that you DO.” 100% accurate. If you are someone who has strayed away from exercise or maybe never had a regular practice, it’s time to make friends with the feeling of moving your body to make it strong and healthy. Find what works for YOU.
- >I want to make one side note here to say that you may be someone who exercises TOO much which can also have adverse effects on your body. It can be difficult to let go of an ideal of weight, shape, or status. If you are dealing with a BMI that is below optimum, consider discussing what’s going on with your MD, Dietitian, and acupuncturist.
That’s it. That’s all I know. None of this is new. But this stuff does work – tried and true. Some of it takes real willpower, but setting the wheels in motion now can help you find your healthiest self for life.
Try Acupuncture for only $75 in May! Learn more about holistic health options for the journey for you and your partner at the Shine Together In Person Meet-up with Pulling Down the Moon’s very own Christine Davis presenting on Tuesday, June 11th at 6:00-7:30pm at our Chicago office. Register to save your spot today!
by Michele Weiss, LMFT
Realistically, I imagine that there were many factors that lead to where I am now 30 weeks pregnant. While I endured over 100 shots in my abdomen and butt, 4 frozen embryo transfers, and countless failures and disappointments, I believe it was something more than the medication and the needles that got me to a healthy pregnancy- or at least kept me going.
I want to share my story because after hearing the stories of many infertility warriors over the years in my private practice, I feel that we need to be open and honest about the real deal. I want to share my story not just so people who have no understanding (or misunderstanding) of infertility’s devastating reach can get a glimpse into our world, but so that those of us in this community of warriors can feel less alone, less damaged and less ashamed.
My husband and I are carriers of a Jewish genetic disorder that lead us to terminate a pregnancy. This is a choice that, I know, evokes intense feelings and convictions in other people. As a woman who longed for, prayed for, and tried mightily for a healthy baby, the choice just felt like a heart string being ripped from my chest. We decided to pursue PGD and IVF after this loss as our route to building a family. However, trying for a child at 38 years old via PGD and IVF proved to be longer and more complicated than we expected.
What helped me through it? There were the practical things like having a doctor and an acupuncturist whom I trusted implicitly and knew were 100% in the trenches with me (Thank you again and again Dr. Eve Feinberg at Northwestern and Kelly Lyons at Pulling Down the Moon). Acupuncture at PDtM was the only place I truly felt I could deeply and fully relax. In the midst of doctor appointments, my medication regimen, diet, meditation, etc., acupuncture helped me slow down and find my center. For me, the holistic approach to treatment helped me feel like I was doing everything within my power to get to a healthy baby.
There were 3 touchstones that kept me going–
1. Stay away from Should’s
2. Small Joys
It was a pretty simple formula, but enormously difficult to implement in the face of failure after failure.
Stay away from Should’s. I decided to keep going until my doctor kicked me out of the clinic. It can feel like insanity to continue treatment in the face of unending loss and trauma. I reminded myself that I still had options if I could just expand the vision of how my journey to baby “should” go. These are not the idyllic narratives recorded in baby books. They are our valid, messy stories of bravery and passion, nonetheless.
Small Joys. I decided that I would not let infertility rob me of all moments of joy that still existed- even when those moments of joy were teeny, tiny. I continued going to SoulCycle in between cycles because I felt happy on that bike. I cuddled in my dog’s fur. I went out with my girlfriends for water and wine (guess who drank what?). I spent way too much money on delicious teas. I went to see my favorite bands in concert, my needles in tow, and shot myself up with medication in First Aid bathroom stalls. I knew I needed to create joy where I could and to stay connected to the parts of my life that made me feel like “me” while living in the crazy world of infertility.
Hope. I am deeply Jewish in my beliefs and spiritual practices. To my own surprise, during my infertility struggles I found hope in an Evangelical preacher. I would listen daily to “my Christian Rabbi”, as I affectionately referred to him. And minus the Jesus part which did not fit into my Jewish value system, this preacher’s message helped me tap into hope in the face of hopelessness and strength in the face of vulnerability. I think that God understands that when we are in the eye of the storm, we need to be a little radical.
Then, there was the woman who checked me in for my daily blood work and ultrasound at the infertility clinic. I think she could tell that I was particularly beaten down one morning. After the standard registration procedure, she slipped me a small blue post-it note that read, “Thanks for always coming in with a warm smile. You make my day and I pray for your family to increase with a new baby. TRUST”. Her kindness touched me and reminded me to always cling to hope. I still carry her note with me in my wallet so that I can get a dose of hope if I ever need it.
Even though I am a therapist who specializes in infertility and perinatal challenges, I do not really believe in advice when it comes to these matters. I have heard enough stories to know that each one of us has our own very unique heartache and very personal struggle. All I can share is what helped me. I was fierce and radical as a means to keep going. I expanded my vision of family-building when it wasn’t going the way I thought it would or should. I sought hope in trusted professionals and strangers, alike (even in unexpected places). As I sit here with my 7 month bump, I feel grateful that mine was the messy, painful, beautiful story that it turned out to be. And I will soon be proud and humbled to write that story in my daughter’s baby book.
Michele Weiss LMFT 3166 N. Lincoln Avenue, Suite 202 Chicago, IL 60657 312-213-4690 email@example.com Monday, Wednesday and Friday appointments available www.mweisstherapy.com
by Amie Shimmel Handa, D.C., Dipl. Ac., L.Ac
People talk about stress all the time, and we all know that it is bad for us, but most of us don’t realize the long term consequences of chronic stress. It can impact our fertility, our nervous and immune system and even our gut. But what does that really mean to us?!
I am going to break down what happens during a stress response and hopefully the next time you start to feel stressed you can take some action before the stress starts to control you,When you experience any kind of stress, physical, emotional , or mental, your body processes it the same- through the adrenal glands. When you encounter a perceived threat, (could be a work deadline, something going wrong with your body or life, or even something your body ate that was detrimental, your hypothalamus, a tiny region at your brain’s base, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure. Cortisol alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system (fertility) and growth processes. Did you know that 70 % of your immune system is in your gut so when cortisol affects the gut it’s also impacting the immune system? Cortisol, long term is highly inflammatory. When inflammation is chronic and it’s been around for a while, it can even trigger an autoimmune disease. As a result of this chronic stress your body continuously cycles through periods of high inflammation, which can damage the gut lining and make vulnerable to pathogens like bacteria, yeast, and parasites and a suppressed immune system.
When the digestive system is compromised and harmful bacteria or yeast multiply and grows, the neurotransmitter “Serotonin “production is lowered and it is your “feel good, well being” hormones so your mood and happiness is reduced from this stress response. We know in holistic medicine the connection between cortisol (stress) and fertility. “We know now that stress hormones such as cortisol disrupt signaling between the brain and the ovaries, which can trip up ovulation,” says Sarah Berga, MD, an infertility specialist and vice chair of women’s health at Wake Forest Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.
The good news is you don’t have to live with chronic stress. There are numerous actions you can start today to reduce your stress. One of the best ways is through regular acupuncture treatments. Each time you receive acupuncture, especially ear acupuncture, you are stimulating the parasympathetic system the “rest and relaxation” system. Other great action steps are massage, yoga and meditation. My best piece of advice for stress is being kind to yourself and knows you are doing a great job!
Try an Initial Acupuncture Consultation in April and get a follow-up session for FREE ($95 value)! Call us to learn more at: 312-321-0004 or book online today with the promo code BOGO19!
By Brooke Laufer, Psy.D.
Motherhood, Not What You Thought
Mental health issues are among the most common complications related to childbearing, and yet it is still a topic that is largely misunderstood. A conversation I had with my dentist recently reminded me how little the general public knows about perinatal mental health issues. “Oh,” she said, “I just thought women cried a little bit, but you know, they’re usually just so happy to be mothers, right?!” We want to believe becoming a mother is an absolute joy. Motherhood is expected to be a fulfilling time for a woman, when a woman is in her most natural role–the role she was meant to play as suggested by film and other media–when her true purpose is determined. In reality, having a child is a profound, frightening, and exhilarating experience at the boundary of life, from which one comes back a transformed person. Most women bear this monumental transition to motherhood with some hardship. Experiences range from tearfulness, exasperation, and nervousness to more extreme feelings of obsessiveness, helplessness, and even murderous fantasies. While many women will have what is labeled the Baby Blues, 20% of women will have a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder, a debilitating psychological experience that interrupts their lives. With a growing amount of research and education, we begin to clearly see what distinguishes a true Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder from the non-clinical experience of the Baby Blues.
10 years ago I was as unaware as my dentist of what could happen to a woman’s state of mind when she was faced with childrearing, so after my daughter was born I learned in a shocking and destabilizing way–the way most women learn–what a Perinatal Anxiety Disorder was. For me, it started with anxiety attacks while in my third trimester. I shook uncontrollably in the evenings and experienced an overwhelming sensation of claustrophobia during the day. I found a good psychiatrist who helped me understand that taking an SSRI (the one I’d gone off when I got pregnant) would relieve my anxiety and would not hurt my baby. Then after a fairly uncomplicated birth, I was supposed to be thrilled, but I had a new baby who didn’t sleep well. I loved her, but I wasn’t completely attached to her; I was also ragged and jumpy. When she was 4 months old, I started having intrusive thoughts that deeply disturbed me. At first they were like small blips on a radar, like thoughts from the periphery of my mind that I could barely hear. But then the blips grew larger and included images. I could clearly hear thoughts telling me that harm would come to the baby. I could see my baby being sexually violated. I had thoughts that my husband and I would be the ones to sexually harm our baby daughter. I could barely tolerate these thoughts as they began popping in with greater frequency. Luckily, my psychiatrist answered his phone the day I called beside myself in tears. He calmly told me that what I was experiencing was Postpartum OCD, he told me about Karen Kleiman’s book This Isn’t What I Expected, and he raised the dosage of my Sertraline. I was a therapist, a clinical psychologist, and I was learning for the first time what a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder was; this was not the Baby Blues. I recovered from my Postpartum OCD, but my life was changed forever. Since that time I have done what I can to research perinatal mental health, to immerse myself in the literature and new information we have on this condition, and to talk about it. Talk to women, to friends, to family, and especially to my clients, letting them know they are not alone, they are not crazy, and they can still be the mothers they want to be.
The term ‘Baby Blues,’ first used in Nicholson J. Eastman’s 1940 best-selling baby care book Expectant Motherhood, is an umbrella term referring to any emotional experience a woman has in the period after bringing home the baby. It is no surprise this massive life transition, along with sleep disturbance, disruption of routine, and emotions from the childbirth experience itself will contribute to how a mom feels. Her experience is also affected by the hormone changes that occur first during pregnancy, and again after a baby is born. The levels of progesterone and allopregnanolone rise during pregnancy and plummet after childbirth, and this drop is thought to contribute to emotional dysregulation. These short-term postpartum symptoms include weepiness or crying for no apparent reason, impatience, irritability, restlessness, anxiety, fatigue, sadness, mood changes, and poor concentration.The informal diagnosis of Baby Blues requires that these symptoms last no more than 2-4 weeks, occurring for a few minutes up to a few hours each day, and typically going away with rest, support, and time. Baby Blues rarely get in the way of daily life or need intervention from a medical provider.
“A baby opens you up, is the problem. No way around it unless you want to pay someone else to have it for you. There’s before and there’s after. To live in your body before is one thing. To live in your body after is another. Some deal by attempting to micromanage; some go crazy; some zone right the hell on out. Or all of the above. A blessed few resist any of these, and when you meet her, you’ll know her immediately by the look in her eyes: weary, humbled, wobbly but still standing. Present, if faintly.” Elisa Albert, After Birth (2015)
Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders
When a disturbing emotional state lasts beyond 2-4 weeks, clinicians should start to assess for a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD). Formerly referred to as Postpartum Depression, or simply “postpartum,” we now use the term “Perinatal” because the symptoms can occur not only one year postpartum, but also during pregnancy, or after a pregnancy loss. We say “Mood and Anxiety Disorders” instead of “depression” because it more accurately covers the range of experiences women have. These include major depression, generalized anxiety, OCD, PTSD, and postpartum psychosis.
Although there is no clear indicator of who will experience a PMAD, previous mental health issues, trauma, and lack of resources are some of the risk factors. Important to note: PMADs do not affect just biological mothers. Growing research shows us that men experience postpartum anxiety and depression. In fact a client of mine came in a few weeks after her baby was born and reported that her husband was acting strangely: yelling a lot, throwing pillows at the wall when the baby cried, uncontrollably crying, and openly fantasizing about leaving the baby out in the snow. We were able to get him in for a session with her and help him understand that he needed help. The couple was surprised that he was having postpartum rage, while she was adapting well. He actively resented his child for destroying their former life, while she’d become protective of the child. Eventually, with months of treatment, he was able to love and attach to his daughter.
Similarly, adoptive parents may report symptoms of PMADs: it can be particularly confusing to resent or feel disconnected to an adopted baby whom you wanted and planned for and possibly spent much or most of your savings on. Likewise, LGBTQ families who may have worked for years on fertility treatments or with a surrogate to finally bring home a baby are also vulnerable to PMADs and should not be ignored as a population worth assessing.
Perinatal depression mimics that of a major depressive disorder but with certain symptoms specific to mothering. A woman may be withdrawn from the baby and her family, not want to hold the baby or have difficulty bonding, have a flatness of facial expression and voice, exhibit excessive tearfulness, or severe self loathing. She may have a belief that she can’t handle motherhood or be a good mother, she may be unable to enjoy most of her life, or she may believe her family would be better off without her.
A client of mine described feeling like she couldn’t see herself in the family picture. She vacillated between dissociation and depression. This mom had twin baby girls with whom she was not bonding. She felt like a machine part going through the mechanical motions of caretaking. After her first session of unburdening herself of the sadness and shame she carried, she was able to start to locate herself. Her experience points to the invisibility some women feel as mothers. The erasure of self to motherhood is well noted by the poet Alice Notley:
“For two years, there’s no me here….
Two years later I obliterate myself again
having another child” (1972)
Perinatal Anxiety and PTSD
Perinatal anxiety, or anxiety during and after pregnancy, has received little attention compared to its well-known cousin, postpartum depression, yet anxiety symptoms are more frequently reported. Worrying, of course, is a normal part of new motherhood–checking that the car seat is secure or that the baby is still breathing, for example–but if it interferes with a woman’s life so that she cannot think about other things or take care of herself or her baby, then it verges on mental illness.
For women who are prone to anxiety, the information-saturated era we live in is loaded with potential stressors about conceiving, being pregnant, and parenting, requiring women to be vigilant about what information she is exposed to. An anxiety disorder can be spotted in the repetitive fears and questions moms have, in extreme over-protectiveness such as not letting anyone hold the new baby, or in the too well put-together mask some moms wear, hiding an internal world out of control.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the perinatal period refers to past trauma resurfacing during the perinatal period, including flashbacks and nervous system responses (freeze, flee, fight) that can interrupt caring for a new baby. What many doctors do not realize is that women who have experienced sexual trauma may have fear of a baby coming out of the vaginal canal, a fear of male providers, and/or a fear of being alone with baby.
Perinatal Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive compulsive disorders are possibly the most insidious of the postpartum conditions because they include the intrusive thoughts that haunt many mothers. Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that happen frequently and randomly, feel uncontrollable, and are often disturbing. These disturbing thoughts, or obsessions, can lead moms to engage in repetitive behaviors, or compulsions, to try to ease their anxiety. Many moms with OCD are plagued by repetitive fears of harm coming to their babies, possibly due to the extreme helplessness of a newborn baby. It is horrifying for mothers to have uncontrollable thoughts and images of their baby tumbling down the stairs or falling out a window, or images of themselves smothering the baby or sexually abusing their own child. Because of the disturbing nature of these thoughts, it can be the most difficult disorder to admit, yet, as was my experience, by breaking the silence women can find tremendous relief in the normalization of Perinatal OCD.
Postpartum Psychosis is the most rare of perinatal conditions, occurring in .1% of moms, but it is the most dangerous. Psychosis is a break from reality that can happen over time but can also become a medical emergency very quickly. As with Postpartum OCD, a mom may experience intrusive and paranoid thoughts, but instead of being disturbed by them, she may begin to identify with them. For example, a new mother may have the thought that someone is going to steal her baby, so she acts on it by hiding the baby or running away with the baby. Unfortunately, it is typically after a postpartum psychotic episode has ended badly that the media gives it attention. Just a few years ago a woman who I know from my hometown was arrested for the death of her 14 month old boy. After months of working full time, bad day care experiences for her baby, an unstable partner, and increasing symptoms of OCD and paranoia, she came to believe she and her son would be better off dead. After she suffocated her baby she attempted to overdose on medications, but she survived. Even though the she had an expert forensic psychiatrist diagnosed her with Altruistic Filicide, deeming her Not Guilty By Mental Defect, she was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Unfortunately, there is still little understanding or mitigation done for mothers convicted of infanticide, resulting in excruciating treatment and excessive sentencing.
Women may find it difficult to reach out for help, as it is taboo to admit you are unhappy or unnatural at motherhood. To the extent that women in our society are still seen as playing their most natural role as mothers, to acknowledge unhappiness or discomfort may have high stakes relating to women’s own identities and how others may see them. A mom may fear being seen as a “bad mother,” which would ostracize her from mainstream society. With more education and awareness around the frequency and epidemiology of perinatal mental health issues, much of this silencing can be alleviated. What is essential to understand is that a woman herself should not be blamed–not by her providers, her family, or herself–for a perinatal condition. We often have little control over the occurrence of a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder, but we can do much about its treatment.
Psychotherapy and Medication
With a proper diagnosis of a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder, good treatment can support a full recovery. The best form of treatment is individual psychotherapy that reduces stigma and shame and normalizes the client’s experience. Besides reassuring women that it’s normal to feel ambivalent during pregnancy and motherhood, I also educate each woman about her particular diagnosis. Women often feel desperately alone and deeply ashamed when they experience PMAD symptoms, especially ones that are less talked about like rage or intrusive thoughts. I reassure my clients that these inner experiences don’t indicate their worthiness as mothers but are instead treatable symptoms of common disorders. Women express tremendous relief when they realize that their scariest and most shameful symptom is something others also experience–and something we know how to treat. Helping women accept all the parts of themselves will reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. One important goal I look to when working with PMADs is helping women regain a sense of self. It may not be the self they knew before the baby but a new self that emerges in the transformation. Questions we consider: How does having a baby disrupt a mother’s sense of who she is, of her body, her understanding of life and death, her relation to the world and to her sense of independence, her experience of fear and hope and time, and the structure of her experience altogether?
Therapy may include the new baby, so that I can support a secure attachment and help the mom experience the infant’s behavior without insecure projection and negative interpretation. I may recommend infant massage or, inversely, setting the baby down for an extended period. Therapy may also include the partner or other family members. Marital disharmony is the most commonly cited non-biological cause and consequence of PMADs, so by bringing in and educating the partner on PMADs, a mom is more able to be understood and get her needs met at home. Group therapy, such as a moms support group, can be an excellent way to reduce shame and isolation, as it can provide universality, catharsis, socialization, and good information.
Additionally, psychopharmacology is an effective form of treatment for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Current research and an updated classification system (no longer the A, B, C labels for medications that were often misleading) suggest many medications are safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding. There is still damaging stigma around medication and pregnancy that needs to be fought with accurate information. Reducing a previously prescribed medication for pregnancy or changing a medication during breastfeeding are potentially misguided recommendations that can put a women at risk of relapse. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association agree that treating the mother’s health is the priority; the trace amounts of medication that a fetus or nursing baby will receive should not keep a mother from the medical treatment she needs.
Although public awareness of postpartum depression has increased in recent years thanks to celebrities like Brooke Shields and Serena Williams, many people–including therapists–are still learning that PMADs are serious and pervasive experiences. When I started talking about my Postpartum OCD experience one of my aunts told me the story of my grandmother, who had three children in four years. The day after they brought home the third baby my grandfather got in his car to go to work, as he started to pull out of the driveway my grandmother came running outside and threw herself on the hood of his car. She spent the next 7 months in a sanitarium, a nicer version of an asylum in a neighboring state, and came home to her children who were being cared for by a strict German nanny. It’s possible my grandmother was experiencing depression or anxiety or even psychosis, they sent her away and no one discussed it. Although awareness and treatment have improved since the harsh days of my dear grandmother, perinatal mental health is still overdue for the attention it deserves, considering women are doing some of the most laborious and important work of our world.
Brooke Laufer is a Clinical Psychologist who has been practicing psychotherapy since 2005. Brooke began her clinical work in psychiatric wards and then in schools with adolescents and their families. After having her first child Brooke had a disturbing Postpartum OCD experience, which inspired her to begin researching, understanding, and specializing in the treatment of perinatal mental illness. She has a private practice in Evanston, where she continues to treat adolescents and adults, specializing in perinatal mental health issues.Brooke Laufer, Psy.D.
By Cathy McCauley, LMT
Spring arrives this month, and with it, more cold days (perhaps even snow)! But March also brings the promise of new life. I love this time of year. The ground starts to smell fresh and ripe. Small green buds begin to swell from the earth reaching up, up, up. Birds chatter in the trees. The sun stays in the sky a little longer each day. After a long, cold winter of hibernation, spring restores nature’s beauty.
Spring inspires us to restore ourselves, too and these self-care techniques will lead you to restoration of mind, body and spirit.
—Hydrate. Drink a glass or two of water first thing in the morning. Keeping yourself hydrated helps boost your mood, improves brain power and protects you against disease.
—Make a gratitude list. Spending just a few minutes a day writing down what you are grateful for can dramatically shift your day. The more gratitude you have, the more open to abundance you become.
—Breathe. Set aside a few minutes each day to practice breathing. There are so many benefits! Among them, diaphragmatic breathing alleviates stress, reduces pain, strengthens internal muscles and moves blood to organs and tissues. If you’re not sure how to get started, schedule an Open the Breath (™) massage to receive some hands-on breath work coaching.
—Stretch. Five to 10 minutes of stretching in the morning increases energy levels, enhances circulation, reduces injury and centers your mind. Even better is a regular yoga practice. Pulling Down the Moon’s yoga classes can give you a jump start!
—Eliminate something from your diet that isn’t serving you. Instead of overhauling your entire diet, start by taking out one food that doesn’t nourish your body. Replace it with a different item that supports your desire for restoration. Learn even more by working with a nutritionist!
Do you have ideas on how to restore yourself or tips for others? Please share them! I look forward to seeing you in the center. Many wishes for a beautiful spring!
by Christine Davis, Acupuncture Director LAc MSOM Dipl OM
February is American Heart Awareness Month. In western/traditional medicine, the heart is obviously a very important organ! If you have concerns about your heart, see your doctor!
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Heart is the most precious of all the organs. It is considered the Emperor/Ruler of the body and all other organs contribute energy to make sure that it can function as best as possible. The Heart is responsible for circulation of blood, but also stores the Shen (Spirit) which generates qi (pronounced “chee”) and is the root of life. The Heart is associated with the element of fire (remember in the English Patient when Hana reads “The heart is an organ of fire?” It’s true!), it’s flavor is bitter, it’s direction is South, it’s emotion is joy, it’s season is Summer, and it’s color is red.
Your acupuncturist is excellent at seeing how the Heart (in TCM physiology) is functioning. Changes in color, texture or coating on the tip of the tongue tell us about Heart health. The pulse that is felt on the left wrist right at the crease is the Heart pulse. It should be not too weak and not too strong, not too fast and not too slow. Like Goldilocks, the Middle Path is the way to health.
Here are some ways to keep your heart healthy:
- Laugh often. The Heart in TCM is associated with the emotion of joy. While too much joy (mania) can injure the heart, it is usually a great idea to laugh and smile as much as possible. Try Laughter Yoga – it’s a way to “fake it ‘til you feel it” to bring back joy to the moment.
- Place your hands over your heart and feel it beat. Say “thank you” to your heart and express gratitude toward yourself. It will feel silly at first, but the more you do it, the more you will see how powerful loving yourself can be.
- Daydream! Allowing your mind to wander at bedtime or other quiet moments can clear the spirit and heart of emotional & mental junk that can clutter your mind and muddle your ability to manifest your desires.
- Take long walks. This is good exercise which is great for your heart and clears the mind. Try clasping your hands at your low back as you walk to open the chest/heart area to the energy around you and brings the tips of the fingers, an area associated with the heart, together.
- Break a sweat! Getting your heart rate up (check with your doctor before starting a new routine) is the best way to keep your heart strong.
- Reduce sugar intake. Sugar has been strongly associated with increased rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other major health concerns.
- In an emergency situation involving the heart, while you are waiting for help to arrive, try opening and closing your hands making sure your fingers completely curl in and touch your palms. Open and close for at least 5 minutes or as long as possible.
by Cassie Harrison RYT RYPT
February. Romance is in the air…or is it? Students in my Yoga for Fertility class audibly groan at the mere mention of sex. Especially if I suggest they have more of it. I get it. When trying to conceive, more often than not, sex becomes a chore. A root canal, really anything, is preferred over seeking passion in the bedroom. Mind you, this suggestion isn’t just about sex, it’s more than that. It’s about regaining an intimate connection with each other. Reminding each other that we are not just pawns in the bedroom, but two people (who are both struggling and who need each other more than ever) to regain trust, love, and compassion. Join me on on a journey to find more quality time in the bedroom.
Let’s go down that rabbit hole to open your minds to the thought of sex. The folks over at SexLoveYoga said “We don’t leave room in our mind for sex. It’s filled with other thoughts, but none devoted to sex, not sexy sex anyway.” This begs the question, what kind of thought comes to mind when you think about sex with your partner? Wait, am I being presumptive? Have you even thought about it, that is, outside the window of time to reproduce? Let’s start there. Now that you thought about it, what came to mind? Still having trouble, maybe this webinar, Sex Kitten from Tami Quinn, Co-Founder of Pulling Down the Moon, and Dr Shameless of Vibrant will help remind you what sexy sex is, and no it’s not what you’ve been doing!
Now that you’re thinking about sexy sex again, let’s tap into desire. It’s there, but it’s buried under all the other stuff that’s entered your life recently. Doctor appointments, medications, shots, ultrasounds, you have literally placed your sex life in a petri dish, not sexy! In order to get back on each other, what I mean is, no I meant that! Desire will not happen on it’s own, you must create it. Kissing. Touching. Snuggling. Spooning (my personal favorite). Effort will need to be made by both of you to receive the other. It’s easy to take each others role for granted during the fertility process. If your sex talk resembles “It’s time, hurry get in here, now perform!” Add pressure to that and then…nothing, mood killed by pressure, followed by disappointment, because it feels like an opportunity missed. This doesn’t have to be your story. Repeat, this doesn’t have to be your story. Hold each other, then write or name out loud a sexy sex bucket list. Should that fail to get your desire flowing, there’s always partner yoga. You can do it anytime, anywhere according to https://www.badyogi.com/.
Conceiving, sex and love making, what do these three have in common? Intimacy! According to Google, sex is an intimate act (convenient!). You can also show intimacy through closeness, rapport, and companionship just to name a few. These literal textbook definitions form the foundation of your relationship, deep stuff… my point is you might not be ready to have sexy sex, but by opening yourself to intimacy, the kind that starts by touching in the kitchen, a kiss before running out the door, and sharing your feelings (open book is my philosophy!). This just might allow for a deeper connection between you and your partner, something I imagine is needed now more than ever.
If you can do anything for each other this Valentines day, more important than giving a box of chocolates (I can’t believe I said that…) is giving your time to each other. Try a free couples massage, acupuncture, essential oil, and aphrodisiac snack included Date Night event at Pulling Down the Moon! Try this fertility-friendly Dinner for Two at home! In all seriousness, remember to make time for each other, give each other a break (you are a team after all) and get back to your sexual roots and reconnect. Start, by thinking about sex again…now make it sexier.
*Visit Cassie in Buffalo Grove on Feb 28th at 6pm for the FREE “Yoga for Fertility Intro Workshop“! Learn breathing and relaxation techniques featuring Q&A with Dr Alison K Rodgers of Fertility Centers of Illinois!
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