Creating a safe place for a new mother: Preparing for a trauma-informed birth and post-partum recovery

Birth and Trauma

Giving birth, whether it is your first, third, or beyond, can be a time of renewal, growth, and joy. Though it can also be a time of dread, angst, and fear when past trauma experiences creep up on you.

Depending on the care you receive from your selected health professionals, past trauma experiences can rear their ugly heads as there is a certain level of unpredictability when it comes to giving birth.
Even the idea of being naked in front of others can be enough to trigger an over-active defence mechanism to protect yourself and your unborn baby, which is often doing too good of a job in keeping you safe, it can be exhausting on top of the natural stress involved in giving birth.

While we can’t change the past, as much as we would love to sometimes, we can take steps to brace ourselves for the challenges coming up.

There is a lot of talk about birth plans, many people don’t see the point or need to use them, however, this is a really helpful tool if you have experienced huge trauma in your life. By creating a birth plan informing your health professionals of what you experienced (without going into too much detail), you can express what your needs are and why.

For instance, if being naked in an environment where you don’t feel in control of creates distress for you, then the health professionals can plan to limit the number of people in the room or make discerning decisions as to who is allowed in (particularly for hospital births). If you have chosen for a birthing doula to be with you, then a birth plan is a great way to advocate for your wishes without you needing to worry about enforcing them, as well as identify if the hospital requires anything from your doula to ensure they aren’t prevented from being by your side.

There may be family members who create a lot of stress for you, if they try to be present at the time of your labour, then you can use your birthing plan to request that they not be allowed in the room. Hospitals can use their authority to deny access very easily and they can avoid having you in the firing line of why they couldn’t be present.

You get to choose who is with you in the birthing room

Perhaps the birthing side of things is not an issue for you, though you may find post-birth to be the most challenging part, especially if you have experienced the loss of a child in whatever circumstances that might be. By informing the health professionals of your concerns and wishes (especially when it comes to your choice/need of feeding & sleeping methods), they can be aware through your notes of the circumstances surrounding those decisions.

Studies have also shown that Pitocin (the synthetic version of the hormone oxytocin) can trigger PND/A. This isn’t to say that it should be avoided at all costs, sometimes there is a very real need to use it, I have used it myself with my second child. Please do follow the advice of your health professional. Though be aware that this can increase your chances of developing these conditions means that through proactive planning you can take the edge off how intense they may feel. In fact, Post-natal depression and anxiety can begin soon after giving birth, right through to bub’s 1st birthday – which can be confusing, to say the least as generally, we expect it to be much sooner.

Having a pre-chosen counsellor to work with can allow you to work through the changes in your body and the responses to changing hormone levels and adapting to all the other changes that come in this season of life can really lessen the impact and severity of what could be experienced.

Bringing a new life into the world is not as straight-forward as we’d like it to be. It’s painful and amazing, wonderous and onerous, stressful and blissful and so much more in between. By getting the right support around you during this time of change is so important.

Seeking support from a counsellor or post-partum/birth doula specialised in trauma is a great way to lessen the impact of past stresses and to create a way forward that allows you to experience more joy when your little one arrives.

Do you have any tips to share from your own experience? Please share as you feel lead in the comments for the benefit of others preparing for their upcoming birth and beyond.

For more information and support services, visit PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) https://www.panda.org.au/ or give their helpline a call on 1300 726 306.

Advertisements

The window to the soul – or is it?

unrecognisableselfieday1

Selfies are the way of life.

I am constantly finding new apps and filters to embellish, decorate, or even distort the picture entirely.

There is nothing inherently wrong with them; sometimes it is the only way a mum can get a photo with her kids!

The only problem with selfies, is that it takes so many attempts to get the best picture! Holding the camera at the right angle, lighting needs to be just right, background needs to be checked – quite a bit goes into the best selfie. Though to the untrained eye, they appear to be spur of the moment photos, quite misleading to what is actually happening.

A carefully constructed window into a disguised life.

What selfies fail to show are the tears, the weary eyes, the frail body, the chaotic home, the cracks of a natural life (I don’t even look like me in this one!!).

How does this help our friends and family to know we need help?

How does this help someone else reach out for help?

Psychotherapy uses insight to gain awareness and knowledge into our past, giving us direction on how to use our present to build a better future.

Though we need the real picture – not the carefully constructed image presented in a selfie.

For Psychotherapy Day, 25th September, I challenge you all to a first take, spur of the moment, real selfie.

Here is one to kick things off!

selfieday1

 

The deadliest epidemic that mankind faces: What can you do?

The deadliest epidemicOur children are dying. Simply put, no beating around the bush; our children are dying and we are standing around watching helplessly. Oh yes, we all exclaim “what is happening in the world”, though that is often the extent of our response.

Simply because we have no idea what we can do about it!

Last week I wrote about addiction proofing our children and the week before that we explored what addictions are.

This week I want to explore practical steps that we can do to act now against what I believe is arguably the most deadliest epidemic facing humanity:

Suicide!

According to Psychology Today, people with substance use disorders are 6 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

Rehabs.com, an American rehab database website, highlights that while addiction increases the likelihood a person will take their own life, it also sets the wheels in motion as the means of carrying through with suicide are at their disposal and a reduction in inhibitions that might otherwise deter them from such a consequential decision.

So the risk is high – though we have more resources than we realise!

Let’s arm ourselves with knowledge and wisdom so we can take action when it is most needed.

First things first, we need to have an understanding on suicide and what we need to look for. While this isn’t preventing addictions, it will give you something to implement now for those who are already in the grips of an addiction.

According to SuicideLine, there are 4 key points that all professionals, trained in identifying suicide risk, use – and you can use them too!

Thoughts:

  • Are suicidal thoughts present?
  • When did these thoughts begin?
  • How persistent are they?
  • Can they control them?
  • What has stopped the person acting on their thoughts so far?

Plan:

  • Has the person made any plans?
  • Is there a specific method and place?
  • How often does the person think about the plan?

Important note: A suicide plan or preparation for death, such as saying goodbyes and putting affairs in order, indicates serious suicidal intent.

Means:

  • Does the person have access to means to carry out their plan? For example, is there a firearm available?
  • How deadly is the method?
  • Type of occupation? For example, police officer, farmer (access to guns), health worker (access to drugs).

Important Note: If a person has developed a potentially fatal or effective plan and has the means and knowledge to carry it out, the chances of dying from suicide are much higher. 

History:

  • Has the person felt like this before?
  • Has the person harmed themselves before?
  • What were the details and circumstances of the previous attempts?
  • Are there similarities in the current circumstances?

Communicating with an emotionally distressed person can be difficult, but it is important to persist and gather the information required to estimate the risk, identify protective factors and determine the appropriate management.

To summarise the above, go through this list:

Have they had suicidal thoughts?
If yes 

Do they have a plan to carry out the suicide?
If yes

Do they have the means to carry out the plan?
If yes

Have they attempted suicide before?
If yes, then the risk is high and you need to seek help from a professional.

Below are services that are open 24/7 and trained to attend to crises just like this, though if you feel that the threat is imminent, call the police on 000 for immediate assistance.

SuicideLine

Lifeline

Suicide Call Back Service

Kids Helpline

Let’s arm ourselves with knowledge and wisdom so we can take action when it is most needed.

If you have lost someone to suicide or are having thoughts of suicide, please contact one of the above crisis lines today to get the support you need, whether it be counselling or referral to the best services for your needs.

Addiction proof your child

Habits

This may be a shock to you, though 37.3% of Australians aged 14 years and over consume alcohol on a weekly basis; 7.7% of Australians aged 14 and over have used analgesics for non-medical purposes once or more in their life; 4.5% of Australians aged 14 years and over have used tranquillisers/sleeping pills (including benzodiazepines) for non-medical purposes one or more times in their life; 34.8% of Australians aged 14 years and over have used cannabis one or more times in their life; 8.1% of Australians aged 14 years and over have used cocaine one or more times in their life; Ice (crystal methamphetamine) is the 4th most common drug involved in ambulance attendances, following alcohol, benziodiazapines and non-opioid analgesics (such as paracetamol).

As you can see, substance abuse is up and running in Australia, these stats aren’t even addressing all substances that are often abused and it isn’t addressing other areas of addiction such as pornography/sex addiction, gambling, technology/internet, co-dependency, and the list goes on.

I mentioned in a previous blog, that addictions are defence mechanisms used to protect oneself from the real world. Unfortunately, addictions tend to have an alluring persona to begin with. People seek out different areas in their life, waiting for the hit of ecstasy (either the drug or the emotion), to help them to get through the moment – though not always considering the life long consequences.

There are many things we can do to prevent addictions from developing, though when someone is determined that life will be better with just one more hit, then we need to recognise we don’t have the control we desire to have to save our loved ones.

Consider this thought – that your child is not under your complete control as they age.

How does that feel?

Personally I feel very insecure and worried about my child’s future.

Will she make the right decisions?

Will she consider the needs of others in these deliberations?

Does she understand how important she is to so many around her?

I don’t know yet, she is only 5 and as far as I am concerned, she is actually under my control. I say when bed time starts and screen time ends, when it’s time to eat and time to sleep, time to wash and a time to play.

How long this will last for, I am yet to find out.

Though what can I do in the meantime, while she is under my control, while she remains a captive audience to my every statement and observation?

As much as I would like to give you all the answers now, I can’t.

This is such a complex and far-reaching issue that to give 5 steps to avoiding addictions will simply just not give it the justice it needs, much less deserves. Instead I would like to invite you to join me on a journey to discover a world that so far has remained elusive and transparent; intriguing and beguiling to the unarmed wanderer.

Through this journey, let us work together to work towards ending the life of addictions, releasing one person at a time.

Drugs and the addict: A destructive relationship

Addict

“There’s a phrase, “the elephant in the living room”, which purports to describe what it’s like to live with a drug addict, an alcoholic, an abuser. People outside such relationships will sometimes ask, “How could you let such a business go on for so many years? Didn’t you see the elephant in the living room?” And it’s so hard for anyone living in a more normal situation to understand the answer that comes closest to the truth; “I’m sorry, but it was there when I moved in. I didn’t know it was an elephant; I thought it was part of the furniture.” There comes an aha-moment for some folks – the lucky ones – when they suddenly recognize the difference.”
Stephen King

Have you ever heard of anyone that began taking drugs with the intentions of becoming an addict? Addictions often start slowly, just one use at a time, then before we know it, a person is hooked. There are many different reasons one may try drugs in the first place, whether it is curiosity or a pain so intense nothing so far has been able to dull the intensity.

For whatever reason, one thing is certain. The person begins to rely on the drug to the point where it feels normal. Like Stephen King’s quote, it feels like it fits where it is. It doesn’t feel like anything is wrong, a perfect dream – until it is too difficult to tell the dream apart from reality. Suddenly the fog begins to lift alongside a whole heap of undesirable consequences and the harsh reality of the control the drug has begins to become clear, though at this point, life without the drug feels incomprehensible. It is no longer a choice, but a necessity for survival.

Unless we have been in that place, it is difficult to appreciate the complexity of the situation. The most commonly asked question is “why don’t you just stop?”. Good question, though don’t expect the answer to be simple or straightforward.

The decision to say good-bye to addiction needs to be made by the addict themselves. No amount of begging, pleading, desperate actions, or harsh words can possibly cause the addict to change their lives around. This is because the addiction has a toxic hold, it promises to make everything better, to treat them the way they are supposed to be treated – not the way their family and friends are treating them by trying to stop them from feeling good.

No. It is an entwined, toxic relationship. One in which there is only one person who can end it.

So what can you do to help your loved one with their addiction?

This will feel like it is totally in the wrong direction. Though the biggest thing we can do, is to support them. Now I don’t mean enable them. What real support looks like is giving them what they need – not what they physically feel like they need. So what is this?

Well, what do you need as a person?

  • Respect?
  • Love?
  • Relationships?
  • Encouragement?

Everything the drug provides. If the addict can see they can get what they need elsewhere, consistently and genuinely, they will feel safer and more empowered to make that life-changing choice.

Though again, it is still up to them. You cannot take responsibility for their decisions. Once you accept that you are powerless to change them, you can then freely provide what they need from you in the way they need it.

Mental Illness: What does it mean?

 Freedom Mental Health
With all the promotion and education going around, a lot of us have a basic understanding of what mental illness is, though unless we have experienced it, it is generally on a factual basis. This is good, we need to know facts, facts are powerful. Though what does it mean if I am diagnosed with a mental illness?
There are 2 points we need to look at here:

  • What does it mean for me?; and,
  • What does it not mean for me?

What does it mean for me?

It means I have been diagnosed with an unseen illness. Mental illness is serious and does affect life as we know it. Our bodies are designed amazingly well, when one of our five senses are no longer functioning well, our bodies and mind included, compensate. If it wasn’t for the four year old eye sight check, my daughter would be going another year without apparently much needed glasses. Since receiving her glasses last week, her behaviour has been much more co-operative; not that she always misbehaved, rather she would become tired and moody quite quickly. This is because her mind and body was working overtime to compensate for the difficulties she had seeing – though she didn’t know what she was missing out on and she compensated so well that I didn’t even consider eye problems.

Very similar to mental illness, the mind and body compensates in different areas depending on what is needed, this takes extra resources and can mean that some things are not as easy as they used to be or what we see others do.

Relationships are usually the most difficult of all challenges, these are incredibly taxing on emotions that, and in situations of mental illness, are often running in overdrive as it is. In recognising this, it would be really helpful to consider employing a third person to help mediate between relationship difficulties. We all need relationships, though we don’t always have them running in the way they need to.

Like myself and my daughter, I couldn’t see what was wrong with her, I put it down to typical four-year old behaviour with a stubborn streak that would pay off when she became an adult. Instead we actually needed a third person to help bridge the gap with facts, which changed our understanding which meant we can approach any issues with resources that would actually help our relationship.

What does it not mean for me?

It does not mean life has ended. As demonstrated above, we seek knowledge and understanding; we use this knowledge and understanding to explain issues. I was quick to put an explanation to my daughter’s behaviour down to information I received from all over the place that her behaviour was normal. Though this did little to help either of us.

As with mental illness, we often try to reason away any difficulties observed and experienced based on the knowledge and facts that we have acquired along the way. Thanks to previous messages, these often include:

  • “I should be locked up”
  • “I am not good enough”
  • “I can’t do anything right”
  • “I am fake”
  • “I am weak”

These are all false.

You may not be able to do things in the same way others do or the way you used to, though in all honesty we rarely do things exactly the same anyway. Sometimes we need to ask for help and sometimes we need medication to give us a boost so we have the resources to complete the required activities. I don’t know about you, but for me to ask for help takes a lot of strength and willpower but the benefits outweigh the initial cost.

Being diagnosed with mental illness doesn’t have to be a life sentence – if anything it can be life-giving. The diagnosis isn’t what causes the illness, it is recognition that it isn’t because you are weak or a failure, it simply means you need a different approach to overcome obstacles. This can give you direction to explore different options that will work so you can actually live life to the full.

Saying NO to the Addict you Love

 
Saying no

Empowering words from Karena for anyone who loves an addict.

Does your HSC result determine your future success in life?

Life after the HSC
Sweaty palms, deafening heart beats, shallow breathing, panic setting in staring at the blank piece of paper.

They are my memories of the HSC. I remember them vividly, and, I am still alive. I have a roof over my head, I have a loving family, and a career that brings me a great sense of purpose. Though if you went off my HSC results, I shouldn’t have the life I have now.

They were low, quite frankly I had burnt myself out in year 11 and was just over study – I didn’t really care anymore. Until the actual exam time came around. Then there was panic, sleepless nights, what would happen to me? Why had I not studied harder earlier?
Yet, here I am. Relieved that all those bad dreams did not become a reality.

The HSC results don’t have to dictate the rest of your life, they may have an effect on your short term plans, though there are always other options – sometimes they are better than your first choices.

In my year 11 exam for Senior Science, I achieved almost 100%. This was a real surprise because I was sick, I had very little sleep, and I was just over it – I didn’t care anymore. I finished that exam 1 hour early. Apparently, because I let myself off the hook, because I just tried my best and accepted it was the best I could do, my mind could recall things a lot easier than if I had fogged up my mind with stress and worry.

So, as you head into that exam room, remember:

1. You are more than a number;
2. Life will carry on;
3. Do your best and know that it is the best you can do;
4. The less unnecessary stress you put on yourself, the clearer your mind will be.

You are important and valuable, regardless of what your marks suggest. Walk into those exam rooms strong, focused, and confident that you will walk out as the same important and valuable person who walked in there in the first place. Ready to take on life after school.

Helping others: 5 questions to boost your helping productivity

Helping OthersGrowing up I dreamed of having 6 kids, going to Africa to help with missions, explored every opportunity to sponsor kids, I jumped at every opportunity to help others before considering what was involved.

I still do mind you, though I have improved a lot.

A lot of my desire to help others, was actually to feel good about myself; that I was contributing to the lives of others, to be seen as a hero.

It felt great when I did actually help others, though when there was a lull, when no one needed me, I felt really low. I couldn’t see my purpose.

The big question is: was I actually helping people?

It felt fake, it felt like I wasn’t helping people because they needed it, it felt like I was helping people because I needed it.

What was I doing wrong? I wanted to genuinely help people because I see everyone as valuable.
Through challenging myself, I came up with 5 questions to genuinely help people – and they all involved looking at myself:

• Do they actually need my help?
Usually we are in conversation when I hear of a need and my usual pattern involves me starting to think about what I could do to help. Though too often they are actually needing someone else to do something about it. They may need a social worker, counsellor or doctor? They may need their spouse, family member or friend to specifically help them. In that case, am I content to refer them on to someone more appropriate? Leading to my next point…

• Have I understood what they need help with?
Are they actually asking for practical help? Or are they just wanting the opportunity to explore things, get outside of their head and just vent to think clearly?

• Do I have the resources?
In times when they are actually asking for help, I need to consider if I have the resources. This does not necessarily mean can I carry out the task, it also includes how much is it going to cost me and those around me. Have I said yes to a number of different people recently? Do I have any looming deadlines that need priority? Have I had enough me time? Sleep, exercise and rest. If I don’t, I need to explore the next point…

• Is it urgent?
Can the request wait? I might have the resources available soon, can I say yes at a certain time? If the request can wait, I do not need to jump in with the help straight away and do a half job, I can wait and do my best job which would be more helpful in the long run.

• What does it mean for me if I say no?
Finally the biggest question of all. If I say no, what does that say about me? Does it mean I am a bad person? Or am I being genuine in wanting the best help for the other person and not promising myself when I am not able to?

After all, it is only when I say ‘no’ that my ‘yes’ truly has value.

As you can see, we can only help others when we invest in ourselves.

A Glass of Milk – Paid In Full

One Glass of Milk
“Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me” – Matthew 25:40 A GLASS OF MILK – PAID IN FULLOne day, a poor boy who was selling goods from door to door to pay his way through school, found he had only one thin dime left, and he was hungry. He decided he would ask for a meal at the next house. However, he lost his nerve when a lovely young woman opened the door. Instead of a meal he asked for a drink of water. She thought he looked hungry so brought him a large glass of milk. He drank it slowly, and then asked, “How much do I owe you?” “You don’t owe me anything,” she replied. “Mother has taught us never to accept pay for a kindness.” He said, “Then I thank you from my heart.”As Howard Kelly left that house, he not only felt stronger physically, but his faith in God and man was strong also. He had been ready to give up and quit. Year’s later that young woman became critically ill. The local doctors were baffled. They finally sent her to the big city, where they called in specialists to study her rare disease. Dr. Howard Kelly was called in for the consultation. When he heard the name of the town she came from, a strange light filled his eyes. Immediately he rose and went down the hall of the hospital to her room. Dressed in his doctor’s gown he went in to see her. He recognized her at once. He went back to the consultation room determined to do his best to save her life.

From that day he gave special attention to the case. After a long struggle, the battle was won. Dr. Kelly requested the business office to pass the final bill to him for approval. He looked at it, then wrote something on the edge and the bill was sent to her room. She feared to open it, for she was sure it would take the rest of her life to pay for it all. Finally she looked, and something caught her attention on the side of the bill.

She began to read the following words: “Paid in full with one glass of milk” Signed, Dr. Howard Kelly. AUTHOR UNKNOWN