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 Elizabeth DeAvilla RD
While becoming parents as a couple takes two, preparing your bodies is definitely an experience that takes both teamwork as well as some independent actions.
Know that everyone has different needs
We all know that men and women have different needs, that’s a given, and we also know that reasons of infertility can be very different as well, I mean, our bodies are built differently, thankfully! Let’s say that we need to increase or decrease a certain hormone, well, in our partner’s case it may be the same story, but with a whole different food group! Being able to understand where certain problems lie, could lead to very different solutions. While there are definitely foods and supplements that work wonders for both, no matter the gender, just know that what one partner is following for treatment may not be applicable, or even supportive of the others.
I used to hate running with my husband, he was so competitive, and I found myself trying to race him all the time. I bit the bullet and finally let him in on how I was feeling and he had a great response, “Oh, I thought that was your pace!” It was something that we had never talked about, and never set that game plan. Now we’re able to go out, set a good, (tolerable!) pace and have an enjoyable time. We are able to act as a cheerleader, as well as give accountability when that couch looks oh so tempting as well!
Be that Cheerleader
We all could use that high five every once in a while, and who better to give it than the one working towards the same goal? In fertility journeys there are many hurdles, as well as small successes when you look for them. Following treatment plans, taking our supplements/medications, completing medical/therapy appointments, procedures, positive results for one/both partners are all great ways to celebrate when you can!
Want to learn more about how nutrition can help you and/or your partner? Schedule a nutrition consultation today! Save in February with our $99 Wild Card special for an initial nutrition consultation!
Questions? Call us at: 312-321-0004. Elizabeth is available on T/R evenings in Chicago and alternating weekend days including Highland Park. She is available for phone consults as well for your convenience.
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!
by Alison Lautz, LCSW, CYT
Hi all! Happy February aka the ‘Love Month’ or for all my friends living in Chicago the ‘Get me the Heck Out of this Frozen Tundra Month’. I come to you not as a fellow fertility patient, but as a therapist, yoga teacher, support, and girlfriend.
It’s no secret that trying to conceive can take a real toll on your sex life and relationship. Struggling to have a baby when you want one can transform sex from a fun and pleasurable activity to just another task within our very busy lives. Mix in the complex emotions that infertility can cause for both partners, and it’s not a shock that many find their relationship adversely affected by the feat of getting pregnant. The co-founder and owner of Pulling Down the Moon, Beth Heller, once told me “A strong partnership can survive even the most difficult of fertility journeys”. Please take a moment to think about what that means to you. Then take some more time to think about some of the moments when you have felt stress or tension build with your partner during your journey to conception.
The stellar news is that you don’t have to let infertility destroy your sex life or negatively impact your relationship. You can keep your relationship strong, no matter what the outcome of your infertility treatments are, by putting your love and friendship before anything else. Don’t neglect the spark or butterfly feelings that you’ve always had in your relationship, that ‘tingle’ that made you want to commit yourselves to only each other. Keep having sex just for fun, respect your partner’s privacy, and look for other ways to cultivate intimacy and fun between the two of you.
- Keep the Fun in Sex
Many couples who are trying to conceive get so wrapped up in the baby-making logistics of sex (ovulation strips, basal body temperature, supplement regimen, fertility friendly positions) that they don’t remember that they actually used to enjoy sex before they decided to try for a baby. Even if you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to have a baby for years, you should still have sex just for fun. Make a clear distinction between sex that you’re having for procreative purposes and recreational lovemaking. Reserve specific positions for procreative sex, or only have procreative sex when you’re fertile. Spice things up by having recreational love making in other rooms in the house and leave the procreative sex for the bedroom
- Respect Your Partner’s Privacy
When you’re experiencing any major life struggle like infertility, it’s healthy and normal to want to vent with your friends, co workers, and family. Please proceed with caution as sharing with your personal support networks could lead you to divulge aspects of your sex life or relationship that your partner wants to keep private. First of all, talk to your partner before you talk to your friends or loved ones. Ascertain whether your partner is uncomfortable with the thought of others knowing the details of your fertility struggles. You should still be able to talk about your frustration, sadness, guilt or other feelings about infertility, without divulging private details that could potentially embarrass your partner.
- Put Your Relationship First
Whether or not your fertility treatments are successful, you and your partner still want to stay married and happy, right? That won’t happen if you don’t put the relationship first. Of course, becoming parents is important, too, but you should make nurturing your relationship the main priority throughout the course of your infertility treatments. Continue to bond over trying new things together, taking trips (but avoiding the Zika), cuddling, cooking together, or just a much needed date night (try the FREE Valentine’s Day Date Night at Pulling Down the Moon!) on a regular schedule.
- Have some fun with something like a ‘Spontaneity Jar’
What does this mean? Each partner lists ten fun, random, yet still attainable things that they enjoy on slips of paper. When you have a free hour, it’s one partner turn to draw out of the jar. These “activities” can be as simple as go on a neighborhood walk for a glass of wine (I will be hosting a yoga & wine night March 7th!) or ice cream, massage each other (here is a how-to couples massage video!), watch a stand-up comedian on Netflix, or take a yoga class together. Or you can get really goofy, the possibilities are endless.
- Self Care
What does this mean to you? Please don’t neglect your body and mind during your fertility journey. You may need time with your girlfriends, a hot bath, an hour of quiet reading, a ‘sick day’ from work, a massage or spa day, a regular yoga practice, a support group (Shine is great), or talk therapy with a therapist outside of your inner circle who can offer unbiased insight and support.
Want to explore taking care of yourself with therapy or a regular yoga practice? Alison Lautz is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Yoga Teacher (including Yoga for Fertility and private yoga at Pulling Down the Moon Chicago) in private practice in River North. Alison has over twelve years of experience working in healthcare settings in the areas of perinatal mood disorders, adjustment to parenthood, loss, grief, infertility, anxiety, depression, chronic illness, sexual assault, domestic violence, life transitions, and relationship shifts. Here more from Alison on staying connected with your partner while TTC at this FREE Shine Together: In Person Meet-up with Shine Fertility at Pulling Down the Moon Chicago on Feb 12th!
Alison specializes in helping clients through life transitions, relationship shifts, depression, anxiety, chronic stress, and self esteem issues. She has a passion for working with women experiencing perinatal mood disorders, infertility, high risk pregnancy, perinatal loss, and adjustment to motherhood. Prior to starting her own practice in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, Alison worked for many years with pregnant and postpartum women at Northwestern Medicine’s Prentice Women’s Hospital.
Alison uses her warm personality, training, and experience to help clients find peace and success. This allows them to become the best version of themselves. She uses a client centered approach combined with a variety of therapeutic techniques including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Mindfulness, and Strengths Based Therapy. She strives to create a comfortable space which allows for individualized growth and change.
Alison is a Psychotherapist, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, an Accredited Case Manager, and a Registered Yoga Teacher. Alison obtained her Bachelors of Arts from University of Iowa followed by her Masters in Healthcare Focused Social Work from University of Illinois at Chicago. Please reach out to learn more about how Alison can help support you on your journey to parenthood.
222 W Ontario Street Ste. 310
815-341-9244 (call or text)
by Marie Davidson, Ph.D.
As I write this it is actually the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrated in Christian tradition as the day the Wise Men arrived from the East after the birth of Christ, led to their destination by a star. The Merriam Webster Dictionary also offers these definitions of epiphany: “A sudden perception of the essential meaning of something;” an intuitive grasp of reality through something simple or striking;” and “an illuminating realization.”
Many years ago, as measured in ordinary time, but not all that long ago as measured in emotional impact, I experienced an epiphany that made all the difference to me as a suffering fertility patient. I dwelled in distress much of the time, my thoughts haunted by the many challenges of treatment, the succession of disappointments, and, worst of all, the complete absence of any certainty about how this fertility drama would turn out.
One morning, my moment of epiphany arrived quite suddenly. No wise men or wise women arrived, and no guiding star appeared, just a swiftly dawning realization of what I was really going through—right now—in my life. To this day I cannot say for sure what brought on this intuitive grasp of reality at that particular moment. I suppose it was the result of many, many months of efforts to not embrace my situation. My distress had served to only highlight my sadness and anger and to keep me from moving past that. It was just no longer a reasonable option to keep this exhausting process going. So, I had a serious, mildly humorous chat with myself.
This is what I said:
“OK, Marie, this is what’s going on in your life right now—you and your husband have been in a battle against infertility (and against each other, truthfully.) Infertility sucks, but it’s what you’ve got. You didn’t cause it, and you may or may not overcome it in the way you hope. You don’t know the end of this drama you are in because the screenplay isn’t finished. But there is something you can do, and that is to accept the role you’ve been assigned and act it out as skillfully and graciously as you can. Inhabit the script! Be the star in your own drama, dammit!”
Or something like that, it’s pretty close to the internal conversation I had. I definitely know I made a conscious decision to star in my own story. I would be the guiding star leading me to my unknown destination.
My life improved after that. Far from wonderful and still plenty of stress and anxiety, but I had a peace of mind that had eluded me for a long time. I rather think I excelled in playing myself—the woman who happened to be an infertility patient; the woman who accepted her inability to control the next act in the play I was starring in; the woman who was now able to experience the other parts of her life without the dark film of infertility blocking the view.
I did not know then that my life’s work would be a career counseling fertility patients. What a privilege it has been. A number of years ago, I met a woman who had come to talk about family-building options. She’d been through a lot of treatment with no success. I noticed how even-keeled she was as she spoke of her history and I commented, “You seem to be handling all of this pretty well.” She said, “Well, you should have seen me a year ago, when I was a complete basket-case.” I asked, “So, what happened?” Her answer was, “One day I decided to accept the basic background reality of my life.” I smiled. “You had an epiphany.”
Over the years, I have found it very useful to apply the same kind of epiphany to other life situations—the ones you can’t control but must live in and through. Whatever it is I struggle with, I try my best to be as skilled and gracious as I can be, even if I won’t win any Golden Globes. Strangely, the experience of an infertility journey can give you a valuable perspective on how to deal with the inevitable brick-bats of life.
Marie Davidson, Ph.D.
Fertility Centers of Illinois
Dr. Marie Davidson is a licensed clinical psychologist and patient educator. She specializes in counseling individuals and couples who are coping with infertility, and has provided counseling services to patients, donors, and surrogates since 1992. Dr. Davidson earned her doctoral degree at the University of Illinois in 1988. She facilitates patient education seminars on numerous topics such as considering egg donation and cracking the door to adoption, leads several women and couples support groups, and is widely published in the fertility field. She has been an invited speaker at many professional meetings.
Her personalized care and detailed understanding of the treatment process have been a welcome and supportive resource to many couples and individuals as they seek to grow a family.
by Kellie Greene RYT RPYTYou’re pregnant, and you’ve been doing your research. Maybe you read our blog on the benefits of prenatal yoga, or maybe your care provider suggested you try some classes. Maybe you’re already searching for a prenatal yoga class that fits.PDtM has a unique environment for prenatal yoga; here are three things that make Pulling Down the Moon classes different than the rest.1) Classes start with a check inOur prenatal classes always begin by giving participants the opportunity to share the highs and lows of their week with other parents who are experiencing a similar journey. Many of our clients have had memorable fertility journeys prior to pregnancy; taking the time to share and listen to one another helps everyone feel connected, stay present, and focus on the practice.2) Instructors understand the range of emotions you may feelThe staff at Pulling Down the Moon are compassionate, empathetic and understanding. The yoga space is a safe environment to share the good, the bad, the ugly. Pregnancy after a loss or a difficult fertility journey is not always filled with positive emotions. Often fear, anxiety, grief, and other emotions sneak in. We understand that you can feel joy for this current pregnancy, fear that your heart will be broken, and confusion at the conflict between these emotions — all at once. We get it! Most of us have been there ourselves, and we hold space for your feelings here.3) Classes provide realistic and practical strategies to manage emotionsUnlike some of the approaches to prenatal yoga, we intentionally talk about your non-preferred emotions and come up with realistic and practical strategies for coping with and managing them. We will address fears around the birth, talk about ways to involve partners, and create plans that may involve massage, acupuncture, and alternative strategies to help with physical and emotional aspects of your pregnancy.In addition to providing a holistic health environment to help you on your fertility and pregnancy journey, yoga classes at Pulling Down the Moon provide a community environment for women to support one another and experience the journey together. From the bottom of our hearts, we wish you the best of luck in your search and hope you find the prenatal supports that work best for you!We will also be offering a special Prenatal Workshop in Chicago for the New Year, learn more here. Questions? Call us at: 312-321-0004.
Pulling Down the Moon, Guest Blog
by Lindsay Housner
This is a picture of my family; it’s one of my favorites. On more than one occasion people who don’t know me well see this and say things like, “Oh my gosh, Lindsay, your life is so perfect that even your dog is perfect?!” The comment on our dog would be the first thing they were wrong about. Adorable, yes. Perfect? Not even close. I think our veterinarian has classified him as neurotic… Nevertheless we couldn’t love him more!
The truth is there’s so much behind the surface of this beautiful photo (which is likely true for many of the picture perfect moments we see daily). It could never reveal all the heartache, struggle and excoriating pain it took us to get to that moment, captured in time.
You would never know from looking at it that on February 20, 2016 (the day before I turned 33 years old), our world came crashing down harder than I knew possible when our first son, Aidan James, was born still at nearly 37 weeks and 5 days. Or that as I sat in the hospital waiting to induce labor, I was sure I was the only woman in the world that had lost her baby this late in pregnancy. Or that after experiencing the devastating loss of our beloved baby boy, with little to no answers why, we would struggle to conceive again. You could also never know the crippling anxiety I experienced for the 37 weeks and 5 days in my next pregnancy. Or the insane emotional rollercoaster I rode the entire time because while I was finally pregnant again after struggling for so long, it was near impossible for me to be happy about it. No, that wouldn’t happen until I held my sweet baby girl and light of my life, safely in my arms.
To say our road to parenthood has been tough would be the understatement of the century. It’s tested me beyond measure to the point of breaking. Each time I broke (and it happened a lot), I found new ways and things that helped me start to pick up the pieces again.
First, I found my “people.” My people are the women that I was connected with shortly after losing my son that had a similar story. These women were my lifeline, the only people that I felt fully understood by and endlessly supported. I wrote novels to them via email and they always responded with words of encouragement, understanding and compassion. They have become some of my closest lifelong friends whom I owe the world to. Each new person I met introduced me to new things that I grasped on to for dear life to help me through the day.
In the early days it was books. Anything and everything I could read, I did. Elizabeth McCraken’s memoir, “An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination” resonated with me best. It was heart wrenching but beautiful all at the same time. I recall highlighting sentences and then entire pages, and rereading them over and over because she had taken the exact words right out of my head. Feeling so understood when nothing else made any sense was very therapeutic for me.
Then, once I built up the strength to leave my house, it was acupuncture, herbal supplements and yoga that were my savior. Which is what led me to walk through Pulling Down the Moon’s (PDtM) doors. From there my world as it exists today kept expanding when I was introduced to Beth Heller, one of PDTM’s founders, whose first daughter was also born still 16 years ago. Through an event Beth hosted one evening, I met a psychiatrist that quite literally brought me back to life. PDtM became a tranquil safe haven for me. Somewhere I always knew I would walk in feeling overwhelmed, defeated or just plain sad–and walk out with some sense of relief and hope.
As the days, weeks and months passed, I continued looking for answers to big questions. Why/how could this happen and what are we as a country doing to prevent it from happening to more families? What I found was disheartening but who I found through the process was encouraging. The Star Legacy Foundation is one of the very few organizations I found that focuses its efforts on research and ultimately prevention of stillbirth, when possible. They are doing amazing work and have made great strides, but there is still a long ways to go. In the spring of 2018, we officially launched our Chicago Chapter of Star Legacy all thanks to one of the amazing women I’ve met on this journey, Lindsey Schmitz. When I didn’t have the strength to get things off the ground, she did and she’s been an amazing and inspiring leader for our team here in Chicago.
On October 15th, everything came full circle when Pulling Down the Moon hosted a beautiful yoga session in partnership with our Star Legacy Chapter in honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. I looked around the room and was comforted to see many of the same faces that helped get me to the family photo I shared (literally, my friend Jacqui even introduced me to the talented photographer who took it). But I was quickly reminded that there is still progress to be made and people to support as I saw many new faces.
There are so many women and families, that while they may not have the same story as me, their journey has been anything but easy. If you’re reading this, you are probably one of them. Wherever you are on your road, I hope you know you are not alone. Whether you’re struggling to conceive, searching for answers or just looking to connect with someone who understands your pain, I am confident you can find something or someone helpful through PDTM or Star Legacy.
There’s not a single day that goes by I don’t think about and miss Aidan. He led me to meet so many amazing people and I’ll spend the rest of my time trying my best to honor his short but beautiful life.
To read more about my story and Aidan, please visit his memorial page.
Hi! I’m Alison, Al, or Ali and I have been practicing yoga for 13 years. I still can’t do a handstand without my friend (the wall), but that doesn’t matter because the things yoga have done for me are immeasurable. Over the years, my love for yoga, and its many forms, have grown and changed, went silent, went over the top, and made me broke (thanks Lululemon), ALL THE THINGS…..
I’ve used my yoga practice to maintain fitness or weight, sometimes to ease my mind, for naps in savasana, and at times for a home when my home was less than an ideal place for me. I’ve talked until I’ve been blue in the face to my friends and family about why they should do yoga too. I would say things to them like: “the music is so calming”, “you will build confidence”, “you will meet new people”, but with all this blabber if you are anything like me, you might find that yoga distinctly changes or even saves your life (if I’m being dramatic, as I tend to be :). Let me be clear: yoga can help you through any major life change, good or bad, and gives you the strength and self love that you need. Let me count the ways yoga can help:
Confidence. Built from our work on the core. Discover that public speaking or meeting new people isn’t that scary.
Courage. Try something new off or on the mat or maybe the strength to cope with a chronic illness, anxiety, or depression.
Comfy Clothes. No more jeans because OUCH! How cute are yoga pants with a sweater and boots?
More healthy choices. To relax, breathing techniques and/or mantras work better than booze or stressing eating. I still like to indulge in a glass of wine every once in a while, but I no longer drink to relieve anxiety.
Trust. In the universe and your individual journey. A consistent yoga practice can help you let go of anger about the past and fears about the unknown future
Friends, confidants, business connections. Yoga has introduced me to an entirely new network of friends and yoga is always more fun with a buddy. I have gotten jobs, had a lot of fun, and traveled the world with people I’ve met through yoga. Who would have known?!
I could go on and on, but I’ll let you experience it for yourself and hopefully you will want to make your own list. Come check out a class with the yoga crew at Pulling Down the Moon (Cassie, Christina, Kellie, Diana, or Me). Special Holiday Support Editions of Yoga for Fertility available for a limited time (Join me with Rolling Enrollment through January 7th on Mondays at 5:30pm in Chicago, start on Wednesday, November 28th at 5:45pm with a NEW series with Diana in Chicago, or join Christina starting December 2nd at 2pm in Highland Park!)
We all have our individual styles of this ancient practice and we will help you keep your calm during whatever journey you may be on. Please join us for special Yoga for Fertility holiday support series, Prenatal Yoga After Infertility, and/or private yoga sessions. Register here. Questions? Call us today at: 312-321-0004! Save 20% off Yoga for Fertility this season as our gift to you with the promo code: GIFT20 today!
Alison Lautz, LCSW, RYT
by Faith Donohue MSW, LCSW
From an early age we are taught that “our body is our temple”. To respect it and expect for it to be respected.
As we grow and mature, our bodies go through many changes, not all of which are welcomed, but we are forced to embrace nonetheless. In an effort to avoid embarrassing moments, we quickly learn to chart our periods and be prepared for when “our friend” arrives (in the middle of science class). Over time, it becomes a part of who we are. We own it!
As teenage girls, rarely did we sit around talking about how the changes in our bodies represent a path to parenthood. More often than not, we talked about the bloating, cramping and uncontrollable emotions, and perhaps, how to avoid premature parenthood. But as you read this and giggle because it brings back memories of your teenage years, it cements the idea that this is my body and I am responsible for it -the good, the bad and the many changes I must be prepared for. We own it!
As we continue to mature and become sexually active, if not prepared to start a family, we work hard to prevent pregnancy. While we are well aware of how to protect against unwanted pregnancy, the reality is, if we get swept up in the moment, make a silly decision while partying, or simply find ourselves in love and it just happens, the result of that encounter is ours. Knowing this, we as women take it upon ourselves to ensure that an unwanted pregnancy does not happen. We own it!
And now, we are married and ready to start a family. We schedule the appointment with our gynecologist, chart our cycles and prepare a romantic evening that will lead to the conception of our baby. We count the days waiting to find out if pregnancy occurred. Day 14, 15, 16… and you get your period. We tell our partners the disappointing news, ensuring them that there is always next month. We own it!
Months go by, sometimes years and still no baby. We schedule another appointment with the gynecologist and the testing begins. As research supports, the testing begins with us. It is often not until all female issues are ruled out do the doctors consider that it may be our male counterpart’s medical condition that’s preventing pregnancy (that’s a topic for another time). For those who have gotten to this point, we often feel like we need to coax or coddle before and after our partners’ appointment -like they just did us this amazing favor! (Funny, I don’t recall anyone needing to coax or coddle me when I went to all those doctor appointments trying to figure this out.) We own it!
I am sure you get the picture by now. We are taught from an early age by our parents and society to be responsible for our bodies. And, as with most things in our life, we take that responsibility seriously because if we don’t, there could be unwanted consequences. We own it!
And now, here we are being told that fertility treatment is about to begin. With mixed emotions, we jump in. We have no idea that we are about to turn over our bodies to a stranger, our reproductive endocrinologist. You are poked and prodded, often half-naked. Once again you find yourself charting, scheduling early morning appointments and waiting for the phone call with instructions about what to do next. We own it!
Here is where I want you to stop. You took good care of your body all these years and now you are about to embark on a journey with a partner you can trust and lean on to help you care for your body and soul. This is where the conundrum begins -giving up control of your body, the thing that you spent a lifetime controlling. But if you allow your partner to help, it can be an amazing release. It can take your relationship to the next level. It also provides your partner an essential role the journey.
- *Have your partner attend the doctor appointment to discuss the treatment plan
- *Have your partner order the medication and have it delivered to a place that will ensure its proper handling
- *If you are wearing an ovulation bracelet, have your partner manage the data gathered
- *Have your partner administer shots
- *Keep a calendar in a place where both of you can manage your cycle and appointments
- *Have your partner schedule and drive you to the next appointment (you can grab breakfast together as a part of your routine)
- *Have your doctor call your partner with any instructions
- *Have your partner plan a romantic evening -It’s important to stay intimate during this process
- *Have your doctor call your partner with the results of the pregnancy test
- *Have your partner tell you the good news, “we are pregnant,” or the bad news, “there is always next month.”
The process is challenging and we find ourselves needing to “own it” but the reality is we now have partners who want to be there for us, protecting and loving us. Try not to own it, let your partner in, tell your partner what you need, listen to what your partner needs. Communicate and support one another. And, together, own it!
I have spent over 25 years helping individuals and families overcome a wide array of challenges. During the course of my professional life, I have gained an expertise in reproductive health, family building including fertility treatment, assisted and third party reproduction, and adoption and foster care, as well as depression and anxiety that often accompanies life’s challenges. I have assisted individuals and couples as they think through their decision to have children. If pregnancy can’t be achieved, I have counseled individuals and couples in processing their loss, and aided them in exploring alternatives. I understand the struggles of pre/postpartum and post adoption depression. In addition to providing therapy, I have completed mental health and donor assessments needed to pursue third party reproductive services. -I accept BCBS PPO and BCBS Blue Choice and I offer weekday, evening and weekend appointments.
Faith Donohue, MSW, LCSW
4256 N. Ravenswood Ave.
**Know that you are not alone on this journey! Whether with a partner or going it as a single person, our community is here to support everyone on their road to parenthood! Try a free webinar, a Yoga for Fertility class, or just reach out and we will answer your questions at: 312-321-0004.
Anyone who has struggled with infertility can attest to the physical and emotional strain that accompanies this path to parenthood. The rollercoaster of hormones, hope and disappointment, comments made by others, and grueling medical schedule makes anxiety nearly universal to the treatment process.
As a result of this increase in anxiety I would encourage you to consider self-care as a fundamental tool to cope with the anxiety that is inherent to the process. Self-care includes:
- Pamper yourself. Between the daily hormone injections, the blood draws and ultrasound of an IVF cycle, your body takes a beating! Be sure to give yourself a little extra TLC. Get a massage, make time for yoga or take a nap. Treat yourself to what you enjoy. You’ve earned it.
- Find support. Though you may feel alone in this process at times, infertility is quite common. You may already know friends or family members who have struggled with infertility. Talk to them. If you don’t know anyone look for a local support group or a mental health provider who specializes in reproductive health.
- Stay rooted in the present. It can be overwhelming to deal with the countless details of IVF: the medication regimen, the monitoring, the instructions, the potential outcomes. Sometimes it is too much to take in all at once. If you find yourself stressed about the process, bring yourself back to the present. What is happening in this moment? What do you need to do today, not tomorrow or next week? Focus only on the next step and then the next step, one step at a time.
- Ease up on your schedule. Cut obligations where you can. Delegate work or chores if possible. Ask for help from friends, family, colleagues or neighbors. Fertility treatment is a time-intensive process–letting go of any extra responsibilities will give you the time take care of what is really important while decreasing the stress of trying to juggle too much.
- Remember your life outside of fertility treatment. It is easy to get swept up in the process so that conceiving becomes your sole focus. What did you like to do before you began treatment? Paint? Walk? Read? Do it again! What in your life is going well? Do you have great friends? A good husband? A job you like? Focusing on those good areas in your life doesn’t mean that getting pregnant isn’t a priority, it simply helps to balance out your attention and lower anxiety while you undergo treatment.
- Get help if you need it. If you find that your anxiety becomes unmanageable or if you’re struggling with depression, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Many women need a little extra help during this difficult time.
Ariadna Cymet Lanski, Psy.D
Clinical Psychologist, Wellbeing Chicago
Dr. Ariadna Cymet Lanski is a clinical psychologist who offers a wide range of psychological services to meet the unique needs of individuals and couples coping with fertility challenges. Her services include consultation and support during various stages of fertility treatment, consultation for individuals using egg/sperm donor or gestational carriers. Additionally, Dr. Cymet Lanski conducts egg donor, gestational carrier, and Intended Parents assessments.
Dr. Ariadna Cymet Lanski’s clinical practice specializes in reproductive health issues -from preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum adjustment to parenthood. Through the years, Dr. Cymet Lanski has provided support and assistance in understanding the psychological impact of fertility issues and other reproductive crises. She has helped many patients to manage stress and feel empowered about their choices. To this end, Dr. Cymet Lanski frequently utilizes mindfulness concepts and is a strong believer in the relationship between emotional and physical wellbeing.
Since 2011, Dr. Cymet Lanski has been an active member of RESOLVE and the ASRM Mental Health Professional Group (MHPG), having served and then chaired the MHPG Membership committee. She has presented in various national and international medical conferences including various presentations at the ASRM annual congress.
Well Being Chicago
Ariadna Cymet Laski, PsyD
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