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BABE Series: Ms. Potato Head Does the Stages of Labor – and So Can YOU!

March 26th, 2015 by avatar

 By Stacie Bingham, CD(DONA)

mom & spudFor the March BABE (Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators) series post, childbirth educator Stacie Bingham breaks out a well-known children’s toy and uses it to help class participants to fully understand what they might experience emotionally during labor and birth.  Creative, interactive and very memorable, this activity helps parents connect what they just learned about the stages and phases of labor and prepares them for the normal roller coaster of emotions and activities that may arise during their own labor and birth. I cannot wait to try this myself, I just have to find myself a whole lot of Potato Head toys! – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

 

“A fun, interactive way to incorporate a tactile experience into class instruction. All the moms and support people were laughing and interacting and really applying what we had just learned about.” – class participant

early laborWhen people laugh and confess that they “actually had fun in a childbirth class,” you know something’s gone right. As an educator, this is my goal. If learners let their guards down and enjoy themselves, presented ideas don’t just fly in one ear and out the other — they flow in and settle, like books on a bookshelf, where information can be accessed later.

Looking for an activity to reinforce the stages of labor, and the emotions and physical sensations that go along with each stage,  I came up with an idea involving Potato Heads. Luckily, our family has been amassing a Potato Head collection since 2001. I wanted one Potato for each stage and phase of labor. The bonus was, I found a “Baby Potato,” complete with extended tongue and ready to nurse (where? I am not sure, as breasts aren’t something Potato Heads come with as standard equipment). I carefully selected each Potato’s accessories, to physically or symbolically represent what she might be experiencing. I then disrobed the Potatoes and placed their accessories in their storage area (AKA butt).active labor

In my classes, covering the “Stages of Labor” topic takes about an hour. In a typical two-hour class, this activity fits well for the last 20 minutes or so on the same night. At this point, the class has had a snack break and additional discussion about pertinent topics. As a closing, and a way to recall what was just shared in the first hour, I pass around the Potatoes. Each person or couple takes one, (depending on class size.) They put together their Potatoes, and then we discuss which stage or phase they have, and what they think about the specific wardrobe selection – what it might mean for labor.

Early Labor 

Ms. “Early Labor Potato” is wearing earrings; she has her purse and her nice shoes on. Her eyes are excited, her nose is pink (calm), and her grin tells it all – she is excited labor is finally beginning! She has decided to go shopping to pass the time and pick up some last-minute items. I added the purse as well to think about what baggage she might be carrying around as labor becomes imminent.

Active Labor

transitionMs. “Active Labor Potato” is starting to get her first intense contractions, and with that, the first worries about her ability to cope. Her eyes are wider, showing her uncertainty. She is gritting her teeth, her nose is red, and her sneakers are on – she is working harder, warming up, and moving around.

Transition 

Ms. “Transition Potato” – she’s hot! Her visor, her tongue, and her orange nose show it. I have no idea why we have a hand with that green stuff on it, but I decided it was appropriate! (“Is that vomit in my Potato’s hand?” a mom questioned.) Her wide eyes give an idea of her emotional state, and her bunny slippers further address her need to be comfortable (which is also symbolic of the need to feel safe).

Pushing

second stageMs. “Second Stage” I likened to how pushing can sometimes feel foreign, or alien. She has no shoes, because at this point they would be off her feet (I used a jar lid under her base to keep her upright). I also made her a “pushy” face (while wishing I had a 3D printer!). Her red nose has returned, as this is physical work, and her confidence is increasing as she knows her baby is closer than ever.

“The potatoes were perfect to play with and keep everyone in class alive and moving. It held our interest and was still a teaching exercise.” – class participant

Third Stage

Ms. “Third Stage” has blissed-out eyes (which I drew and taped on) – she finally birthed her little spud! Her mouth shows joy, and her nose has returned to its calm pink color. Still no shoes – who needs ‘em? A few minutes and a little push for the placenta, and now it’s on to enjoying her newborn!third stage

The feedback from this activity is always amazing. It may seem silly and juvenile – I mean birth is serious business, right? But parents appreciate outside-the-box learning opportunities. As adults, there aren’t many times in training or instruction when we veer from left-brain directed thinking – and there’s too much PowerPoint out there in many classes. Manipulating the pieces while talking and laughing, anchors and connects information through touch as well as sight. Playing with these Potatoes allows creativity to spark. As educators, make the effort to offer alternative, unconventional ways to share information – and I promise, your class won’t forget it.

About Stacie Bingham

© Stacie Bingham

© Stacie Bingham

Stacie Bingham, CD(DONA), is a Lamaze-trained educator who embraces the lighter side of the often weighty subject of birth. Her style feels more like a comedy-show experience than a traditional class. She has been a La Leche League Leader for 13 year, attended 150 births as a doula, and logged 1000 hours as a childbirth educator. An experienced writer and editor, she was a columnist for the Journal of Perinatal Education’s media reviews, has been published in LLLI’s New Beginnings and DONA International’s International Doula, and keeps up with her blog (where she frequently shares her teaching ideas).

She is the current Chair for Visalia Birth Network, and a founding member of Chico Doula Circle, and Advocates for Tongue Tie Education. Stacie has presented at conferences on the topic of tongue tie, as her 4th baby came with strings attached. Stacie and her four sons, husband, and (male) dog reside in California’s Central Valley. For more information or teaching tips, visit her at staciebingham.com.

Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Series: BABE - Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators , , , , ,

New Webinar for Birth Pros: “Making It Work! – Breastfeeding Tips for the Working Mom”

March 24th, 2015 by avatar
breastfeeding working mother

flickr.com/photos/jennysbradford/4356862824

I often share in childbirth classes that breastfeeding can be the next big challenge after birth.  As a childbirth educator, I weave breastfeeding information throughout my class series. By the time the “breastfeeding” part of the class happens towards the end of the series, the families are eager and ready to learn how to be as prepared as possible to feed their baby, without actually having baby there yet to “practice” with.

I provide additional follow up resources for the families as well, including where to get help locally with breastfeeding issues, what current best practice says on a variety of breastfeeding topics and useful videos like effective hand expression.  Returning to work and breastfeeding is one topic that I feel is important to cover, but often gets short shrift due to lack of time. Families don’t even have their babies in their arms yet, and the “return to work” point still seems very far off, and I have a lot of information to share in a short class time. In some areas, there are specific classes that families can attend that specialize in the “breastfeeding for the working parent” topic, but not many families can locate or take advantage of this type of class.

I would love to be able to support my families long after their childbirth education class is over with information they can use and apply for the working/breastfeeding parent, and that is why I am planning on attending Lamaze International’s free (non-Lamaze members $20) 60 minute webinar “Making It Work! Breastfeeding Tips for the Working Mom” offered on March 26th at 1:00 PM EST.

It is well documented that exclusive breastfeeding rates drop significantly when women return to work or school.  There are many barriers to overcome and prenatal information and support can help families to prepare for the time when babies are being cared for by others and still being breastfed.  This online webinar is appropriate for doulas, childbirth educators, lactation consultants, nursing staff, physicians and midwives.

The webinar is being presented by Patty Nilsen, RN, BSN, BA, IBCLC, ANLC.  Patty is an Outpatient Lactation Consultant for Mount Carmel East, West & St. Ann’s Hospitals in Columbus, Ohio, where she provides daily private outpatient lactation consultation for women experiencing challenges and in need of encouragement with breastfeeding, leads weekly breastfeeding support groups, and answers over 300 breastfeeding helpline calls per month.  Patty has learned many innovative tips for returning to work and breastfeeding from the thousands of mothers she has worked with over the years and is eager to share them in this webinar.

© womenshealth.gov

© womenshealth.gov

The webinar is open to all, and Lamaze International members are able to attend at no cost.  Non-members will pay $20 at registration to participate.  Additionally, this workshop has been approved for continuing nursing education hours which  are accepted by DONA, Lamaze, ICEA and other birth professional organizations. The cost for receiving continuing education hours for Lamaze members is $35 and for non-members is $55, (which includes the cost of the webinar). As mentioned above, Lamaze members attend for free, if they are not enrolled for the contact hours.  Contact hours are awarded after completing the webinar and a post-webinar evaluation. CERPS are pending.

You can register for the webinar (select contact hours or no-contact hours) at this link – and then prepare to join on Thursday at 1:oo PM EST.  After the webinar, come back and share your top takeaways and how you are going to use this information to support families in your area with other Science & Sensibility readers.

Babies, Breastfeeding, Childbirth Education, Lamaze International, Webinars , , , , , , ,

Birth By The Numbers Releases New Video – Myth and Reality Concerning US Cesareans

March 19th, 2015 by avatar

birth by numbers header

I have been a huge fan of Dr. Eugene Declercq and his team over at Birth by the Numbers ever since I watched the original Birth by the Numbers bonus segment that was found on the Orgasmic Birth DVD I purchased back in 2008.  I was on the board of REACHE when we brought Dr. Declercq to Seattle to speak at our regional childbirth conference in 2010 and since then have heard him present at various conferences around the country, including most recently at the 2014 Lamaze International/DONA International Confluence, where Dr. Declercq was a keynote speaker.  I enjoy listening to him just as much now as I did back in 2008.  You  may also be familiar with Dr. Declercq’s work as part of the Listening to Mothers research team that has brought us three very valuable studies.

Birth by the Numbers has grown into a valuable and up to date website for the birth professional and the consumer, filled to the brim with useful information, videos, slide presentations and blog posts.  This past Tuesday, the newest video was released on the website: Birth By The Numbers: Part II – Myth and Reality Concerning US Cesareans and is embedded here for you to watch.  We shared Part I in a blog post last fall.


Also available for public use is a slide presentation located in the the “Teaching Tools” section of the Birth by the Numbers website designed to provide additional information, maps, data and resources for this new Myths and Reality Concerning Cesareans video. Included in this slideshow are notes and updates to help you understand the slides and share with others.  This material is freely given for your use.

© Birth by the Numbers

© Birth by the Numbers

This video explores how cesareans impact maternity care systems in the USA.  After watching the video and reviewing the slides, here are some of my top takeaways.

1.  The common reasons given for the nearly 33% cesarean rate in the USA (bigger babies, older mothers, more mothers with obesity, diabetes and hypertension, more multiples and maternal request) just don’t hold water when examined closer.

2. Many women feel pressure from their healthcare provider to have a cesarean, either prenatally or in labor.

3. The leading indicators for cesareans are labor arrest (34%) and nonreassuring fetal heart tracings (23%).

4. The rise in cesareans is not a result of a different indications.  Dr. Declercq quotes a 20 year old article’s title that could still grace the front pages today. “The Rise in Cesarean Section Rate: the same indications – but a lower threshold.”

5. When examining the distribution of cesarean births by states over time, it is clear that those states with the highest cesarean birth rate decades ago, still remain in those spots today.

6. “We are talking about cultural phenomena when we are talking about cesareans, not just medical phenomena.”

7. First time, low risk mothers who birthed at term and experienced labor had a 5% cesarean rate if they went into spontaneous labor and did not receive an epidural.  If they were induced and received an epidural, the cesarean rate was 31%.

8. The United States has the lowest VBAC rate of any industrialized country in the world.

© Birth by the Numbers

© Birth by the Numbers

While the video is rich (and heavy) in data laden charts and diagrams, the message, though not new, is clear.  The US maternity care system is in crisis.  We have to right the ship, and get back on course for healthier and safer births for pregnant people and babies. Take a look at this new video, and think about what messages you can share with the families you work with and in the classes you teach, to help consumers make informed choices about the care they receive during the childbearing year.

Please watch the video, visit the website to view the slides and let me know here in the comments section what you are going to use from this information to improve birth.

Babies, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, informed Consent, Maternal Obesity, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, New Research , , , ,

“Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth”, Part Three, Interview with Walker Karraa

March 17th, 2015 by avatar

By Cynthia Good Mojab, MS, LMHCA, IBCLC, RLC, CATSM

© Walker Karraa

© Walker Karraa

Last week, Cynthia Good Mojab provided Science & Sensibility readers with the first two parts of her three-part series on the book “Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth” by Dr. Walker Karraa. Today on the blog, Cynthia shares her recent interview with Karraa. Dr. Karraa provides additional insights on her research and discusses her thoughts on how the book has been received and can be beneficial to professionals and families alike. I recommend that you go back and read Part One and Part Two as well as today’s interview. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

Cynthia Good Mojab: First, Walker, let me start with congratulations! I found your book to be a page-turner. I think what you’ve uncovered is very important. I’m so grateful that your book is now a resource for perinatal care providers, lay supporters, and new parents. Have you gotten reader feedback yet? 

Walker Karraa: I have gotten feedback. The feedback I’ve gotten has been very much like what you’ve just shared. People have said that it reads very quickly. I like that feedback because it says that it reads for clinicians and for lay people. It reads from the stories. I didn’t want to take out the literature review—I believe that it’s important for individuals and families that experience perinatal mood and anxiety disorders to have access to that information. I struggled with how to put context in and not have it be heavy. So, I’m glad to hear this. I did have one reader tell me that it was hard to read emotionally because the stories hit home. I think that it is a hard read. It certainly was hard to research. I didn’t see that coming. It was hard to hear the stories and be touched in my own experience of postpartum depression. I was so surprised by the stark, universal level of suicidal ideation. That was one of the most surprising things.

CGM: I think that the structure of the book, the writing style, and how statistics have been combined with real life experiences are very effective. That it’s a painful read is actually helpful because we need many more people to grasp postpartum depression at a deeper level so we can change whether we screen, how we screen, and what kind of services, support, and treatment we’re providing.

WK: I think that is what is different about my work—both in the approach I took to the research question and how I went in asking. I got answers that are that deep and that reveal a picture of postpartum depression experienced as trauma. And, that’s why it’s a hard read. I will always be thankful on a deep, profound, personal level to the twenty women who sat with me in those initial interviews and the women, another ten after, who shared the most difficult parts of their lives. So, I’m so thankful that they had that courage because it revealed that there’s more to the paradigm of postpartum depression than, how we think of it right now anyway, a form of depression with a pervasive sadness.

And, you know we all have social constructs of depression as lack of energy, sadness, incredible fatigue, sleeping too much, these kinds of general symptoms. There’s no diagnosis for postpartum depression [in the DSM-5]. It’s an onset specifier for major depression. So, we all look at these symptoms as depression. And, what the women in the study showed us is that their symptoms go beyond the symptoms of major depression. And that there’s something that happens within the context of having a major depressive episode and a new baby that is shattering to all that women have known prior to that to be things that they could count on in the world—all of those preconceived assumptions about what was predictable in the world were completely decimated. So, that collision and deconstruction of the self that they all shared is a trauma to witness, and they see it themselves; they watched themselves almost from a dissociative place. So, I do think and I hope that it offers the opportunity for everybody to have a larger conversation about how the effect of a mood disorder after the birth of a child can be traumatic.

CGM: Another thing that really struck me in your book, Walker, was how unprepared the women were when they experienced the onset of symptoms of postpartum depression. Tell me more about that.

WK: Even the women who had a history of mental health challenges were completely unprepared for the physical and psychological symptoms of postpartum depression. Their providers had not prepared them and their social world had not prepared them. So, when those symptoms hit, they had no context for being able to articulate to anyone what was happening. As a result, the “During” aspect of experiencing postpartum depression was unbelievable invisibility as the symptoms got worse and worse and worse because they had been so unprepared. Because perinatal care providers were not offering the feedback—I see you and you are feeling this way—the situation reached critical mass for all of them. And, what was so interesting to me is that every single participant was responsible for her own recovery. She alone found her way to help. They had all been asking for help….They weren’t shy—which was different than what we see in the literature. What we see in the literature is that stigma keeps women from talking. But, these women were saying “Hi, I want to die and you don’t see me.” Often a provider would say something like, “You’re telling me you want to die. Why don’t you try putting your iPod on when your baby cries.” And, what was it that made them decide to stay? I would say it was the love of their baby. And, that, no one has looked at in the research. All these women had a plan when they were nearest death. They all had suicidal ideation. They all had thoughts of harming themselves or others. They all were at that quintessential existential end of the rope when they then reached out to someone that they hadn’t yet reached out to, all on their own. And, they didn’t want to die. They wanted the symptoms to end. That is very important. And for some, treatment meant going to hospital. For some it meant getting medication. For some it meant both.

CGM: My clients also tell me that very few providers are screening them for perinatal mental health challenges or even asking a casual “How are you doing with this?” Or they tell me how they start trying to tell care providers how they feel and they will get the same kind of discounting response like what you’re describing. We have other research that shows how undetected perinatal mental health challenges are. It’s just so clear that we are collectively failing.

© CC Smoochi: http://flickr.com/photos/smadars/4758708634

© CC Smoochi: flickr.com/photos/smadars/4758708634

WK: I have a tremendous amount of respect for providers. I don’t think it’s their fault. I think that there is such stigma around mental illness—and in particular around mental illness in new mothers—that we’re blind. We are not receiving training to look at our own biases—to see that the elephant in the room is the belief that new mothers with mental illness are going to harm their babies. And we have Greek mythology and modern media to help support that belief. So, yes, it’s the primary responsibility of a care provider and that’s why women go to care providers because that’s who you go to when you say that you’re sick and you need help. But, the care providers themselves, including OBs, general doctors, ER doctors, psychiatrists, the whole realm of childbirth professionals…they haven’t been given the opportunity or the mandate to look at their own internalized and institutionalized stigma.

CGM: Like you said earlier, the stigma taps into our own fears. We’re afraid. It tugs on our own internal memories and experiences of when we’ve been vulnerable or someone significant in our life has been vulnerable.

WK: Yes. We are afraid. But women have been doing this for millennia. Most women get through it. And, this is what we need to help women know. The women in my book are just a tiny little window into the millions of women throughout the ages who have the fortitude, the skill, the strength, to be dragged through hell and survive. And not only survive, but be transformed. It’s beyond recovery. This is the trauma literature. This is the incredible literature from Tedeschi and Calhoun regarding posttraumatic growth that needs to be brought into the birth world. And, Viktor Frankl—the famous Viktor Frankl, Auschwitz survivor…. He endured that process. Every human being does that and women will do that. So we’re talking about what obstacles and paradigms are set against women. What I learned in the book is that women are more resourceful because of their attachment to their children—because of their unbelievable strength of love for their infant—than we know. I would even go so far as to say that, if I had a huge funding source, I would do a study on my hypothesis that women who have perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are more attached. We’re not less attached. We may have periods where we are less attached, but staying present while experiencing that makes us more connected.

CGM: Look at the love that it takes to feel so bad inside and still go and do these attachment building behaviors over and over and over again. The attachment is still being built even if parents can’t see it. And, the other thing I really appreciate about your work is that it’s such a refreshing focus on growth. Attending to growth is very effective and links well with cognitive behavioral therapy and solution-focused brief therapy. And, it makes me wonder, instead of what are all the risk factors, can we do some research on resiliency factors and on growth factors? What is it that helps parents grow through this and how can we nurture that?

WK: I hope more clinicians will read the book and think about these things. You know Tedeschi and Calhoun have a wonderful model for clinical intervention that’s growth based. And it’s only been used in situations that have already been identified as traumatic. But they have a really strong model for how to work with people who experience trauma, clinically, to develop more growth. And, I’m not a clinician. If I were, I would be interested in doing that kind of work. They were kind enough to let me use their scale. I found off the chart suicidal ideation. So, I asked them if I could use their posttraumatic growth inventory with the original sample and they obliged. And my wonderful original 20 women all took it. And they scored off the charts for growth. So then I interviewed somebody who is an expert in posttraumatic growth. And I also sent my result to Richard Tedeschi. I wanted some feedback: is this growth? And, they both said, well, it’s a small sample—it’s only 20—but yes. And, furthermore, they said that the level that I was getting off those scales is much higher than in other populations that they had looked at, such as people who had been through terrorist attacks or rape or surviving cancer. So, again, if I had money for research, applying that posttraumatic growth inventory to women who had been through a perinatal mood disorder would be really valuable on a larger scale.

CGM: I know it’s a small qualitative study, but what is your sense of how generalizable your findings might be?

WK: You know, generalizability in qualitative research is not necessarily a concern. Grounded theory would say that the generalizability of the findings has to do with if you’ve sampled well. And, theoretical sampling is about getting a condensed understanding. It’s like essential oil—you want the essence of it. I tell my doctoral students, who are just learning about the difference between qualitative and quantitative research, that quantitative research is like a fisherman casting a really wide net—huge—and you gather as much data in that net as far as you can go. And, that gives you information about the nature of the farthest reach of the ocean. Qualitative research goes straight down, plumbs straight down into the ocean—you know, a core area where the essence of that part of the ocean is. And, then you can take that and ask the same questions in other parts of the ocean. And, that would be the next part of the research.

CGM: Exactly. I know the whole purpose of your study was not to answer the question how generalizable transformation is but to explore the phenomenon of transformation. Your study design allowed you to do that. The question I have is: who do you think the women in your study are? Do you think they had characteristics that make them different than the big broad ocean? What did you notice about their membership in different social groups even though that was not the focus of your study?

WK: I have a couple of responses to that. First, it would be definitely an indication of the need for future research. In the demographics that I got, I would say that it was pretty diverse regarding race. And, socioeconomic status was all over the place. It was very diverse in terms of educational status. I had women with professional degrees and women with a high school education. But they were all English speakers. And when I say racially diverse, I will say that they identified as “American.” So, I didn’t have folks who were immigrants and that’s definitely something that should be looked at. Regarding whether there is some different quality in women who transform through postpartum depression, again I look at the research done by Tedeschi and Calhoun. They’re looking at that very issue. Are there personality characteristics that lend themselves more toward being able to grow through a traumatic event? What they have found is that people who are more optimistic are slightly more likely to experience growth through trauma than those who are not. But, it’s not set in stone. In other words, the numbers aren’t so high that we can go out and say that if you’re an optimistic person you’re going to have this amazing growth. There are so many variables involved with the quality of the growth, the characteristics of the person, access to time, and the circumstances. I think that there are probably shades of growth—that anybody who has ever been through a clinical mood disorder following the birth of a child probably experiences some amount of growth. And, this is just me shooting from the hip. I think there’s something inherent in being a parent. All of the research about having a child in the NICU, losing a baby, losing a baby in pregnancy…these are all traumas. Anything that’s a life or death experience is a trauma. And every human being grows. That’s just my personal belief. It’s just the human experience that we have the ability to grow—because we need to make meaning about these horrible things that happen. And, that meaning usually comes from making choices to believe in our ability as a parent. 

CGM: What is your number one take away? How do you think your findings can be applied by childbirth educators, doulas, midwives, and other perinatal care providers?

WK: I think that the take away is that it’s a call to action. At the very least 1 in 7 of your clients or your students is going to have this experience. What are you going to do about it? What kinds of information do you need to be able to help them? And then ask your organizations to give you that.

CGM: In my work as a clinician and an educator, I need tools and resources that I can point people to that I think are useful. So, I’m really excited about your book. I think it’s going to have a lot of ripple effect in terms of new research but also in supporting a shift in broadening our worldview of postpartum depression to include growth. So, I think your work is great. I’m so delighted that you did the research and you published it.

WK: Thank you so much for spending this time. It’s been a pleasure and a gift. I so appreciate it.

About Cynthia Good Mojab

cynthia good mojab headshot 2015Cynthia Good Mojab, MS Clinical Psychology, is a Clinical Counselor, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, author, award-winning researcher, and internationally recognized speaker. She is the Director of LifeCircle Counseling and Consulting, LLC where she specializes in providing perinatal mental health care. Cynthia is Certified in Acute Traumatic Stress Management and is a member of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and the National Center for Crisis Management. Her areas of focus include perinatal loss, grief, depression, anxiety, and trauma; lactational psychology; cultural competence; and social justice. She has authored, contributed to, and provided editorial review of numerous publications. Cynthia can be reached through her website

Book Reviews, Childbirth Education, Depression, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Maternal Mental Health, New Research, Perinatal Mood Disorders, Postpartum Depression , , , , , , , ,

Book Review – Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth – Part Two

March 12th, 2015 by avatar

By Cynthia Good Mojab, MS, LMHCA, IBCLC, RLC, CATSM

Dr. Walker Karraa has written an insightful book examining depression as a transformative event in the lives of women who have experienced it after the birth of a child. Cynthia Good Mojab, MS, LMHCA, IBCLC, RLC, CATSM, reviews Dr. Karraa’s book and interviews her in a three-part series on “Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth.”  Today, Cynthia examines two theories that relate to Dr. Karraa’s research and book and shares her commentary on the book’s findings.  Next week, Cynthia will share her interview with Walker Karraa, regarding her research and book. Find Part One of this series here. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

walker book header

One of the many things I appreciate about Dr. Walker Karraa’s (2014) book, Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth, is its multidisciplinary mindset. Not only does she contribute to broadening our understanding of postpartum depression beyond a worldview focused on pathology, Karraa seeks to understand the bigger theoretical picture in which postpartum depression as transformation can be placed. This isn’t just analysis for the sake of analysis. When we understand how and why something happens, we become more able to seek out and identify factors that help it happen and that get in the way of it happening. Having a good framework for understanding transformation through postpartum depression will help guide future research and application of that research with a goal of improving identification of, support for, and treatment of new parents with postpartum depression. In this commentary, I share my thoughts about two theoretical frameworks that can aid in our understanding of growth after postpartum depression: posttraumatic growth and positive disintegration.

Posttraumatic Growth or Positive Disintegration?

In chapter 7, “Trauma and Transformation,” Karraa (2014) reviews several theoretical frameworks that might explain how postpartum depression can be experienced as traumatic and precipitate transformation. She ultimately settles, quite insightfully, on posttraumatic growth (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004). She also acknowledges the historical understanding that people often grow through experiencing life’s challenges. How many of us have heard some version of Nietzche’s maxim, “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger”?

When I read Karraa’s book, the explanatory theory that came to mind was Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration (Mendaglio, 2008a), which predates the coining of the term “posttraumatic growth” (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004a, 2004b; Nelson 1989). Positive disintegration is a theory of personality development that has been extensively researched and applied in the fields of giftedness and gifted education though it encompasses the development of all people. I have found Dabrowski’s theory both personally and professionally helpful in understanding how people are and are not changed by difficult life experiences, including the experience of postpartum depression. The theories of posttraumatic growth and positive disintegration have notable parallels and connections (Tillier, 2014; Mendaglio & Tillier, in press). Furthermore, the growth that can be experienced after a traumatic event fits well within the broader scope of the theory of positive disintegration.

Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration posits that personality has the potential to be dynamic—a possible journey toward authenticity and altruism—and that negative emotions are essential, though insufficient, for its development (Mendaglio, 2008a). (The quality of the social environment, for example, can support or hinder development.) Therefore, depression and anxiety, which we experience as negative symptoms we wish to eliminate, can also be understood positively as precursors of growth. A full description of the theory—and related research, analysis, and applications—is well beyond the scope of this commentary (see Mendaglio, 2008a). And, it understandably takes time to become accustomed to the terminology used to describe the theory. But, in brief, Dabrowski theorized that personality is shaped over the lifetime through two developmental processes, disintegration and reintegration, that involve five levels of development (Mendaglio, 2008b, pp. 34-39). We begin life with a less developed mental organization that seeks to meet basic biological instincts, needs, and drives and conforms to unquestioned social norms. (This is called level 1, “primary integration.”) As we struggle with internal conflicts caused by developmental milestones and life crises, we experience intense emotions, like anxiety and despair, as well as uncertainty and confusion about our identity. When we find that what we know and believe does not help us cope with and make sense of a crisis, our mental organization becomes less fixed and our distress increases. (This is called level 2, “unilevel disintegration.”) At that point, we have three basic options in our developmental path: 1) we can stay in a state of unilevel disintegration (which holds risks like suicidality, psychosis, and traumatic stress reactions), 2) we can return to (reintegrate at) our prior level of mental organization, or 3) we can move toward the transcendence of our original level of mental organization (we can grow).

Another way of describing the disintegration seen with depression and the possibility of personality development is the experience of existential depression. In existential depression, we struggle with our lack of control in our lives as well as with the very meaning of life and ourselves within it:

“While not universal, the experience of existential depression can challenge an individual’s very survival and represents both a great challenge and at the same time an opportunity—an opportunity to seize control over one’s life and turn the experience into a positive life lesson—an experience leading to personality growth.” (Webb, 2008, pp. 1-2).

This is exactly what Karraa (2013, 2014) describes in her research: postpartum depression threatening a woman’s physical and psychological survival (thus qualifying as a traumatic life experience) and resulting in transformation to an entirely new way of thinking, feeling, acting, and being in the world (e.g., more authentic and altruistic). Karraa is describing posttraumatic growth as well as the even bigger picture of personality development through positive disintegration.

walker head shot 2In Dabrowski’s theory, moving toward greater personality development after experiencing unilevel disintegration involves three more levels (Mendaglio, 2008b, pp. 37-39). In the first of these, we spontaneously start to examine, challenge, and reject beliefs and understandings that no longer work for us. We begin to see the clash between the actual (how things are) and the ideal (how things should be). We develop more autonomy and authenticity toward ourselves and others. And, we experience great distress while engaging in this work. (This level is called “spontaneous multilevel disintegration.”) In the next level of moving toward greater personality development, we cultivate a stronger sense of social justice, empathy, and responsibility for others. We become active agents in our learning, growing, and healing. And, our daily behavior is more consistently guided by higher values that are increasingly aligned with our transforming ideals. (This is called “organized multilevel disintegration.”) The last level is the full development of our personality. Our behavior is in alignment with the hierarchy of values that we consciously constructed during our developmental struggles—rather than with unexamined values that are common in our society or with our basic needs and drives. Because of this alignment, we are able to live in harmony with ourselves. (This is called “secondary integration.”) This very brief description of Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration leaves out a great deal of nuance and detail. But, I hope that it conveys that positive disintegration offers a useful framework for explaining transformation after postpartum depression.

Clinical Experience with Positive Disintegration through Postpartum Depression

In my experience as a perinatal mental health care provider, parents coping with perinatal depression, anxiety, and trauma are often helped by Dabrowski’s positive reframing of their symptoms as potential harbingers of growth; they become less afraid of what they are going through as well as more hopeful about the future. The analogy I use is that sometimes we have to take something that isn’t working apart so that we can re-assemble it in a better way. Like a child knocking over a tower of blocks, we can build anew. And, this is what I often see in postpartum depression, particularly in the context of moderate to severe postpartum depression: something isn’t working at a very fundamental level. Our conscious and unconscious expectations may have been shattered by our experiences in pregnancy, birth, parenting, and/or life. We may grieve the loss of roles that were intertwined with our very identities. Our relationship to ourselves and to others may be jolted profoundly out of balance by the arrival of a completely dependent baby whose unrelenting needs chronically supersede our own in a widespread context of insufficient social support. Our very paradigm of who we are and how the world works may be challenged to the core right when sleep deprivation diminishes our capacity to even try to make sense of it all. Our lifeways may not support our experience of severe stress, creating an inflammatory response (Kendall-Tackett, 2007) and a diminished capacity to physiologically sustain our mental well being. And, the dominant culture in the US impossibly expects us to return quickly to our before-baby lives and selves as though nothing out of the ordinary has happened and without feeling anything negative because “having a baby is a happy event.”

If this doesn’t qualify as a developmental milestone—as well as a life crisis—with the potential to trigger what Dabrowski calls “unilevel disintegration,” I don’t know what does! No wonder so many new parents experience postpartum depression. When our depression is on the more severe end of the spectrum, we disintegrate. We fall apart. We are shocked by the onset, magnitude, and nature of the symptoms of our devastation (Karraa’s “I Was Shattered;” Dabrowski’s “disintegration”). We experience this disintegration as a threat to our survival—meeting the definition of a traumatic event. If we stay in a prolonged state of disintegration, we may become suicidal, experience psychosis, or live with the debilitating symptoms of traumatic stress. Or, our recovery can return us to our prior level of functioning (Karraa’s “Getting Better;” Dabrowski’s reintegrating at the level of “primary integration”). Or we may instead take control of our development and healing, intentionally choose higher values to guide our behavior, increase our empathy and authenticity, and experience transformation and reintegration at a higher level of personality development (Karraa’s “I Was a Different Person” and “Metamorphosis;” Dabrowski’s “organized multilevel disintegration” and “secondary integration”).

Perinatal researchers and clinicians whose worldview is solely a medical model of postpartum depression may not recognize its developmental potential (Karraa’s “posttraumatic growth;” Dabrowski’s “positive disintegration”), viewing the goal of treatment only as the elimination of “negative” symptoms rather than as the facilitation of transformation. But individual experience, clinical experience, and now Karraa’s research show that both recovery and transformation are possible.

Whose Voices Were Heard?

The goal of Karraa’s research was to deeply explore the nature of transformation through postpartum depression—something that had not yet been studied. Her qualitative approach matches this goal perfectly. In a small qualitative study, it’s not surprising that she did not collect much demographic data related to the social group membership of the 20 women who participated in her study. She does report ascertaining their occupations (e.g., mental health care provision, marketing, finance, higher education, computer science, volunteer), which suggest that many participants had at least a middle class socioeconomic status (SES). Speaking English and having access to internet, email, and phone communication were inclusion criteria for the study. So, overall, the reported demographic data hint that many participants had access to resources, opportunities, and power that are disproportionately available to members of dominant social groups (e.g., white, at least middle class SES, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied).

I am left wondering: whose voices were included and whose were excluded in this initial research? If they were not included in this small study, what would we learn from the voices of depressed new mothers who cannot afford to attend college or to volunteer; who live in the chronic stress of poverty (Isaacs, 2004); and/or who do not have equitable access to culturally competent mental health care, support, and information? If they were not included in this small study, what would we learn if we had heard the voices of depressed new parents of a variety of gender identities/expressions and sexual orientations (Abelsohn, Epstein, & Ross, 2013) who live with intergenerational trauma (Graff, 2014) and the trauma of inescapable, ongoing racism (Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2005), cisgenderism (Mizock & Lewis, 2008), classism (Collins et al., 2010), ableism (Browridge, 2006), and/or other systems of oppression?

Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration recognizes the role of a variety of factors on personality development, including the effect of the social milieu (Mendaglio, 2008a). Do those who live as members of social groups targeted by systems of oppression have equitable access to experiencing postpartum depression as both suffering and recovery, much less as growth? Are there circumstances in which the human spirit is so persistently crushed that transformation after postpartum depression cannot occur even when the potential for growth exists? Or would the resiliency that can manifest even amidst chronic stress and trauma (Mullings & Wali, 2001) allow growth to still be possible? Further research and analysis is needed to uncover 1) how growth is and is not experienced by depressed new parents who hold membership in a wide variety of social groups, 2) what social factors support or undermine transformation after postpartum depression, 3) what kind of information, support, and treatment best supports growth after postpartum depression in a variety of social contexts, and 4) how perinatal organizations, care providers, and lay supporters can contribute to the dismantling of institutional oppression that creates inequitable access to resources and services that support recovery and growth from postpartum depression. And, then we need to take action to provide effective support and treatment that is equitably accessible to all new parents.

Conclusion

That people have the capacity for growing through life’s challenges has long been recognized. Karraa’s (2014) book, Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth, offers a moving account of such transformation in the context of postpartum depression. The fact that the women in her study experienced physical and psychological symptoms that threatened their survival led Karraa to insightfully frame their transformation as an example of posttraumatic growth. Transformation through postpartum depression can also be understood through the lens of the theory of positive disintegration—a theory which subsumes and is broader than the experience of growth after trauma. Positive disintegration explains the possible outcomes of 1) transformation through a traumatic experience of postpartum depression, 2) recovery without transformation, and 3) remaining in a prolonged state of disintegration (e.g., suicidality, psychosis, traumatic stress reactions). Both theories offer hope to new parents experiencing the devastation of moderate to severe postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is more than pathology; it can lead to deeply meaningful transformation. Regardless of which theoretical framework is used to explain growth after postpartum depression, Dr. Karra’s findings are a compelling invitation for further exploration and application. I hope that her work will inspire more multidisciplinary research and analysis of the development that can come from postpartum depression so that more new parents will have access to the information, support, and treatment that they need to recover—and possibly even to be transformed.

References

Abelsohn, K., Epstein, R., & Ross, L. (2013). Celebrating the “other” parent: Mental health and wellness of expecting lesbian, bisexual, and queer non-birth parents. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, 17(4), 387-405.

Browridge, D. (2006). Partner violence against women with disabilities: Prevalence, risk, and explanations. Violence Against Women, 12(9), 805-822.

Bryant-Davis, T. & Ocampo, C. (2005). The trauma of racism: Implications for counseling, research, and education. Counseling Psychologist, 33(4), 574-578.

Collins, K., Connors, K., Davis, S., Donohue, A., Gardner, S., Goldblatt, E., Hayward, A., Kiser, L., Strieder, F., & Thompson, E. (2010). Understanding the Impact of Trauma and Urban Poverty on Family Systems: Risks, Resilience, and Interventions. Baltimore, MD: Family Informed Trauma Treatment Center.

Graff, G. (2014). The intergenerational trauma of slavery and its aftermath. Journal of Psychohistory, 41(3), 181-97.

Isaacs M. (2004). Community Care Networks for Depression in Low-Income Communities and Communities of Color: A Review of the Literature. Washington, DC: Howard University School of Social Work and the National Alliance of Multiethnic Behavioral Health Associations.

Karraa, W. (2013). Changing Depression: A Grounded Theory of the Transformational Dimension of Postpartum Depression. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest/UMI. (3607747.)

Karraa, W. (2014). Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth. Amarillo, TX: Praeclarus Press.

Kendall-Tackett, K. (2007). A new paradigm for depression in new mothers: The central role of inflammation and how breastfeeding and anti-inflammatory treatments protect maternal mental health. International Breastfeeding Journal, 2(6), 1-14.

Mendaglio, S. (Ed.) (2008a). Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Mendaglio, S. (2008b). Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration: A personality theory for the 21st century. In S. Mendaglio (Ed.), Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Mendaglio, S. & Tillier, W. (2006). Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration and giftedness: Overexcitability research findings. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 30(1), 68-87.

Mendaglio, S. & Tillier, W. (in press). Discussing Dabrowski: Has the time come to emulate Jung? A response to Piechowski’s most recent rethinking of the theory of positive disintegration: I. The case against primary integration. Roeper Review.

Mizock, L. & Lewis, T. (2008). Trauma in transgender populations: Risk, resilience, and clinical care. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 8(3), 335-354.

Mullings, L. & Wali, A. (2001). Stress and Resilience: The Social Context of Reproduction in Central Harlem. New York: Kluwer.

Nelson, K. (2004). Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration. Advanced Development Journal. 1989; 1:1-14.

Tedeschi, R. & Calhoun, L. (2004a). Posttraumatic growth: A new perspective on psychotraumatology. Psychiatric Times, 21(4), 1-4.

Tedeschi, R. & Calhoun, L. (2004b). Posttraumatic growth: Conceptual foundations and empirical evidence. Psychological Inquiry, 15(1), 1-18.

Tillier, W. (2014). Dąbrowski 201: An Introduction to Kazimierz Dąbrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration [PDF document]. Retrieved from http://www.positivedisintegration.com/Dabrowski201.pdf

Webb, J. (2008). Dabrowski’s theory and existential depression in gifted children and adults. The Eighth International Congress of the Institute for Positive Disintegration in Human Development. Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

About Cynthia Good Mojab

cynthia good mojab headshot 2015Cynthia Good Mojab, MS Clinical Psychology, is a Clinical Counselor, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, author, award-winning researcher, and internationally recognized speaker. She is the Director of LifeCircle Counseling and Consulting, LLC where she specializes in providing perinatal mental health care. Cynthia is Certified in Acute Traumatic Stress Management and is a member of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and the National Center for Crisis Management. Her areas of focus include perinatal loss, grief, depression, anxiety, and trauma; lactational psychology; cultural competence; and social justice. She has authored, contributed to, and provided editorial review of numerous publications. Cynthia can be reached through her website.

 

 

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