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“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 One

March 10th, 2015 by avatar

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

transformed cover

Walker Karraa, PhD, a former contributor to Science & Sensibility, has authored a new book, Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth, that speaks to what lies on the other side for the 20 women she interviewed about their experiences with postpartum depression. Cynthia Good Mojab, MS, LMHCA, IBCLC, RLC, CATSM, who specializes in supporting people with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders and birth trauma presents a three-part series related to Dr. Karraa’s book. Today on the blog, Cynthia outlines the books content and its implications for practice. On Thursday, Cynthia shares her commentary on some of Dr. Karraa’s research and conclusions. Next week we are offered a glimpse into the person behind the book, when an interview with Dr. Karraa is shared with blog readers. Follow all three parts of this series on “Transformed by Postpartum Depression.” – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

 In the last several decades, our awareness and understanding of postpartum depression have steadily increased. A wealth of research now exists regarding its prevalence, risk factors, prevention, symptoms, consequences, and treatment. Organizations, like Postpartum Support International and Postpartum Progress, champion the needs of families touched by postpartum depression and other perinatal mental health challenges, counter stigma, and contribute critical support and information to the safety net that all new families need and deserve. Many states in the United States have enacted legislation or developed projects related to public education, screening, and/or treatment for perinatal mental health challenges. And, at the national level in the US, the 2020 Mom Project seeks to remove institutional barriers that prevent depressed new mothers from being identified and accessing treatment.

In spite of this progress, we do not see the prevalence of postpartum depression dropping. Globally, it is as high as 82.1% when measured using self-reported questionnaires and as high as 26.3% when measured using structured clinical interviews (Norhayati, Nik Hazlina, Asrenee, & Wan Emilin, 2014). In fact, we see that depression during pregnancy and after birth routinely goes undetected and untreated (Miller et al., 2012). How is that possible? And, beyond the statistics that we have now amassed, what is it really like to experience postpartum depression, come out the other side, and make meaning from the experience?

Posttraumatic Growth after Postpartum Depression

In her new book, Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth, Walker Karraa, PhD (2014) invites readers to join her in a touching and thought provoking exploration of the potentially transformative nature of postpartum depression. Her book, which is based on the findings of her dissertation research (Karraa, 2013), brings to light both the suffering and development that women can experience on this journey. In fact, her book is one of the fruits of her own transformation through her experience of severe postpartum depression. Parents, lay supporters, and perinatal care providers who appreciate the blend of research and women’s voices found in books like Depression in New Mothers: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment Alternatives (Kendall-Tackett, 2010) and Traumatic Childbirth (Beck, Driscoll, & Watson, 2013) will also appreciate Karraa’s book. It should certainly be considered “required reading” for perinatal care providers and lay supporters.

walker karraa head shot 2015Karraa begins with a brief review of the literature, including what postpartum depression is, who develops it, and its global prevalence, risk factors, and consequences. These facts and figures help orient the reader to the general nature and scope of a veritable global mental health pandemic. They also serve to illustrate the foundation of the dominant discourse regarding postpartum depression: an allopathic worldview that frames mental illness as pathology. The following five chapters, however, contribute to an expansion of that view by illustrating how postpartum depression can be experienced as a long and painful journey culminating in positive change.

In the course of conducting her qualitative research, Karraa used grounded theory to analyze the answers of 20 women to four questions (Karraa, 2013) about their experience of postpartum depression:

  • How would you describe your process of transformation through postpartum depression?
  • In what ways did you experience the process of transformation through postpartum depression?
  • What were the ways you saw yourself transforming?
  • How do you experience this transformation currently?

She uncovered five stages of transformation through postpartum depression: before, during, ending, after, and beyond. That the women described 1) feeling shocked by the nature and magnitude of their symptoms, 2) enduring physical and psychological disintegration to which care providers seemed oblivious, and 3) slowly finding a path toward recovery will strike a familiar chord for lay supporters, perinatal care providers, and individuals who have worked and/or lived with postpartum depression. What might not be familiar to all readers are the last two stages that Karraa identified: 4) an increase in self-care, self-confidence, authenticity, and compassion; improved relationships; and alteration of perception of self and purpose in the world; and 5) coming to view postpartum depression as resulting—paradoxically—in a profoundly positive transformation.

In her 7th chapter, Karraa gives the reader a thoughtful tour of her consideration of several theories that might explain her research participants’ experiences of transformation through postpartum depression. Ultimately, she recognized that the prolonged endurance of threat to their physical and psychological survival was so great that the women experienced postpartum depression as a traumatic life event and that the transformative nature of their experience of postpartum depression is, thus, an example of posttraumatic growth: “positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances” (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004).

In chapter 8, Karraa shares the confirming feedback of four experts in the field of postpartum depression, including the illustrious Cheryl Tatano Beck, Jane Shakespeare-Finch, Karen Kleinman, and Jane Honikman. Then she closes with a chapter acknowledging that her work has revealed a connection that has been right under our noses waiting for us to formally notice and describe: postpartum depression is one of the adversities of life that can precipitate growth. Karraa researched, recognized, and named that connection. Naming an experience honors it. It also provides a language for new parents, lay supporters, perinatal care providers, and researchers to use as they seek to express, understand, provide support for, treat, recover from, and/or grow from the life-altering experience of postpartum depression. And, perhaps most importantly, it offers hope to those who are fighting their way back from the devastation of postpartum depression. Not only can recovery be found at the end of the darkest tunnel; transformation may await.

Care Provider Failure: A Call to Action

The power of Karraa’s book continues in its appendices, where she describes an informal survey that serves as an(other) urgent call to action for all of us: in spite of the high prevalence of postpartum depression and its negative consequences when untreated, we are collectively failing to help those who are experiencing it. Because so many women in her qualitative study reported that their care providers had failed to help them, Karraa conducted the Changing Depression Survey (n=486). When asked who was most responsible for their getting help for postpartum depression, 65.4% of her participants selected “Self,” 23.0% selected “Partner,” 16.9% selected “Family Member,” 11.7% selected “Medical Care Provider” (which includes OB/GYN, Midwife, General or Family Physician), 8.8% selected “Other (Friend),” and 6.6% selected “Therapist.” When asked who was least helpful in getting them help for postpartum depression, 43.2% of her participants selected “Medical Care Provider,” 21% reported “Family Members,” 20.6% reported “Partner,” 19.3% reported “Self,” and 6.8% reported “Therapist.”

While this is, admittedly, an informal survey, the patterns seen here match clinical experience as well as research findings that only a fraction of new mothers with postpartum depression are identified and treated (Milgrom & Gemmill, 2014). My own clients, who are new parents, frequently report finding me after seeing a series of care providers who did not formally screen or refer them for perinatal mental health challenges, did not informally ask them about how they are coping with new parenthood, and/or did not respond with sensitivity, validation, or assistance when they tried to share their struggles. A delay in diagnosis, support, and treatment can both worsen and prolong suffering for new parents struggling through postpartum depression. Karraa’s research suggests that, in some cases, it may also delay the experience of posttraumatic growth.

This call to action must be heard and effectively responded to by individuals as well as by institutions. Yes, perinatal care providers and lay supporters will benefit from reading Karraa’s book. But, reading the book is not the same as developing the skills to apply the book’s insights in practice. Her research is an invitation for organizations and credentialing institutions in the diverse fields that provide services to new families (e.g., childbirth education, doula care, midwifery, obstetrics, pediatrics, family practice medicine, lactation education, lactation consulting, counseling, social work, psychiatry, naturopathic medicine) to develop, offer, and require training related to perinatal mental health, including:

  • how to reduce stigma and increase awareness by educating expectant and new parents about perinatal mental health issues
  • why, when, and how to screen and refer
  • how to effectively provide care to new parents struggling with perinatal mental health challenges—including using approaches that incorporate an understanding of postpartum depression as potential transformation to be nurtured, not just as pathological symptoms to be eliminated.

Conclusion

Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth consistently engages the reader with the poignant and inspiring stories of 20 women, as well as with the intriguing insights of the author and four experts in the field. The moving narratives and cogent analysis effectively describe the women’s experience of postpartum depression as traumatic and the transformation of their suffering into growth. The book also invites us to transcend the dominant view of postpartum depression as pure pathology and to learn how to take effective action to keep new parents struggling with perinatal mental health challenges from falling through the cracks. I congratulate Dr. Karraa on authoring a book that makes such a meaningful contribution to our understanding of postpartum depression and, refreshingly, offers a significant focus on recovery and development. Join me here on this blog on Thursday to read my commentary regarding frameworks that might explain her findings as well as my hopes for future research.

References

Beck, C., Driscoll, J., & Watson, S. (2013). Traumatic Childbirth. New York: Routledge.

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. (2010). Depression in New Mothers: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment Alternatives. New York: Routledge.

Milgrom, J. & Gemmill, A. (2014). Screening for perinatal depression. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 28(1), 13-23.

Miller, L., McGlynn, A., Suberlak, K., Rubin, L., Miller, M., & Pirec, V. (2012). Now What? Effects of On-Site Assessment on Treatment Entry After Perinatal Depression Screening. Journal of Women’s Health, 21(10), 1046-1052.

Norhayati, M., Nik Hazlina, N., Asrenee, A., & Wan Emilin, W. (2014). Magnitude and risk factors for postpartum symptoms: A literature review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 175C, 34-52.

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

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.

Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Maternal Mental Health, New Research, Perinatal Mood Disorders, Postpartum Depression, Research, Trauma work, Uncategorized , , , , , , ,

Book Review: “Lamaze: An International History” – Breath Control: The Rise and Decline of Psychoprophylaxis

March 7th, 2014 by avatar

Lamaze: An International History is  newly published book by Paula A. Michaels that takes a look at the historical concept of pain-free childbirth through breath control and other relaxation techniques.  Regular contributor, Deena Blumenfeld reviews this book and shares her thoughts on how accurate the book is, what the book does well and where the book falls short.  Read Deena’s review and if you also have read this perspective on the history of Lamaze, please share your thoughts in our comment section. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

lamaze history book cover

When we look back at the past, we often see it through the filter of our modern sensibilities, values and sociopolitical beliefs. However, the past is best understood within the context of the social, political and ethical values of the time period. “Lamaze, An International History” by Paula A. Michaels should be read and understood within its appropriate historical context.

 Most of us know the Cliff’s Notes version of the origins and history of Lamaze. What we may not know are the details of the development of psychoprophylaxis and its journey from Russia to France and then to the United States. We may also not know of its decline in use and the reasons behind the decline.

Psychoprophylaxis is the technique developed by Dr. Vel’vovskii, a psychologist, and his colleagues, in the 1920s. The technique included multiple weeks of childbirth education classes taught by the woman’s physician, patterned breathing (“hee, hee, hoo, hoo”) and relaxation techniques. This was a training method designed to help women have painless childbirth. The belief was that fear caused pain and through education and training, fear could be eliminated. This follows directly from the belief that women’s gynecological health issues were all in their heads. Victorian physicians espoused this idea and the emerging field of psychology latched on to it and perpetuated it.

Michaels seeks to elucidate the social, economic and political influences behind psychoprophylaxis and its relative importance with regards to women’s expectations for childbirth; the prevailing opinions on pain during labor; roles of the father and the doctor during birth and the overall social implications regarding feminism and paternalism. She explores not only psychoprophylaxis, but its creators, its rise in popularity and its decline in use. Michaels looks at the medical environment of the day, as well as the social, economic and political influences on women and childbirth at the time (1930s – 1980.)

Only in the final chapter does Michaels address the Lamaze of today. She alludes to the Six Healthy Birth Practices and modern teachings. She appropriately refers to modern Lamaze as more of a “philosophy” rather than a “method.”

Being that her intention is to address the origins of Lamaze, more specifically psychoprophylaxis, there is little need for her to discuss how classes are taught currently or about present day birthing culture. The reader should not impress the image of historical childbirth class, or the childbirth class of another culture, onto current day classes. Michaels does say that:

“The international history of psychoprophylaxis speaks to how we arrived at today’s status quo, but perhaps more significantly it also reminds us that the values and meanings that we attribute to certain obstetric interventions, like the use of anesthesia, are not constant, but provisional. Practices are historical products of specific technological, economic, social and political conditions. What constituted a desirable birth experience changed with the times, as issues of safety, dignity, control and power each came to be reconfigured under both national and international influence.”

There was a review of this book published on The New Republic recently. The review fell into this trap of imposing historical Lamaze and the practice of psychoprophylaxis onto modern Lamaze, thus presenting a false impression of the purpose and intention of current Lamaze childbirth classes and broader Lamaze International organizational work to improve maternity care for all women. It also misrepresented the intention of the book which is, as best I can tell, an historical perspective, set in the context of the prevailing beliefs at the time with regards to women’s place in society, proper behavior and issues of power and control.

Power and Control

The proponents of early childbirth education, including Dick-Read, Vel’vovskii (creator of psychoprophylaxis), Lamaze, Bradley and others sought to help women control their pain through education, managing expectations, breath control, and relaxation including very specific techniques for pain management. Their initial intentions fell within the scope of prevalent societal beliefs surrounding women’s role in society, religious beliefs, proper behavior, and origins of pain, patriarchy and the political climate of their respective countries.

The author posits that the Russian doctors used psychoprophylaxis as a method to control women during labor, such that they were calm, quiet and obedient. The technique relied on the doctor, nurse, or later, the woman’s husband, to assist the laboring mother in maintaining the breathing and relaxation such that she remained in a passive state. So we can see, how taken out of proper historical context, this is offensive to modern sensibilities.

When the Lamaze method, psychoprophylaxis, made its transatlantic trip to the United States the intention behind the technique changed. However, this shift was a transition, not an immediate change. It took a decade or so to adapt to the prevailing beliefs regarding women’s autonomy and desire for more control over their bodies. Once the method began to take root, it became more about the feminist movement and women’s empowerment as we moved into the latter 1960s and 1970s.

Final Thoughts on the Book and a Look Forward 

Being that I don’t have a TARDIS to go back in time and observe for myself the successes or failures of psychoprophylaxis; I will have to take into account history’s record and Michael’s analysis thereof.

“Lamaze, an International History” should have been more appropriately titled “Psychoprophylaxis, an International History,” although “Lamaze” is a more well understood title and has the potential to garner more readers. In the book, Michaels paints a paternalistic, often misogynistic, view of how birthing women were treated in mid-century Russia and the rest of the Western world. She describes how psychoprophylaxis, and the proponents of the Lamaze method, strived to reinforce the paternalism and pronatalism of the day, while offering women a non-pharmacological form of pain management during labor, childbirth education and support by bringing husbands into the delivery room.

Psychoprophylaxis and the early days of Lamaze should be viewed in their proper historical context and not through the lens of modern feminism, ethics or social mores. I find Michaels’ book to be an eye-opening perspective regarding a piece of the history of my profession. Her book, however, ends rather abruptly at about 1980, with a small concluding chapter of her own perspective on a more modern Lamaze and what her thoughts are as to what women need or want during birth. I would have liked to have seen her take the history of Lamaze through the 1980s, 1990s and into the 2000s.

There’s been a large paradigm shift in how we as Lamaze educators approach childbirth education since the decline of the use of psychoprophylaxis. The move from being a one method technique to a comprehensive, evidence-based, hands-on, multi-modal form of childbirth education has brought Lamaze effectively into the 21st century to reach mothers and families in the classroom, online and via social media. Our advocacy for women’s health is far reaching, and is not addressed in Michaels’ book. I do not find this to be a flaw in her book as her book is a look into our origins and early history. I do find that I want more from her. I want the rest of the story of Lamaze’s history. I’d love to see her write another 140 pages of well researched analysis of the social, economic and political influences on Lamaze in the past three plus decades.

A peek back into history can often help us determine why we do what we do today and how to make more appropriate changes for the future. My question to you, blog readers: “Where do you see Lamaze in 10 years? 15 years? 20 years? What social, economic and political factors will influence how we are educating and supporting women in the future?

Additional suggested readings

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Book Review: Traumatic Childbirth and an Interview with the Author – Cheryl Beck

January 9th, 2014 by avatar

By Walker Karraa, PhD

It is thought that traumatic childbirth affects up to 34% of all birthing women, but frequently there is inadequate prenatal preparation for what to do if an individual woman has this experiences and scant resources for women seeking support and help.  The experiences are minimized and our society creates a fence of isolation that women with birth trauma are surrounded by.  Today, Walker Karraa, PhD reviews a new book geared for professionals and interviews the author, Cheryl Beck, DNSc, CNM, FAAN,  so that we can be better prepared to recognize trauma, support women and provide resources. What are you doing as a birth professional and childbirth educator to help women who may be at risk or or who have experienced birth trauma? – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager

 …a fascinating and full-bodied presentation of the emerging understanding of the impact of traumatic childbirth on mothers, fathers/partners, and providers.

Traumatic Childbirth1 should be required reading for any birth professional. The trifecta of midwife, pre-eminent researcher and Distinguished Professor at the School of Nursing, University of Connecticut, Cheryl Tatano Beck, clinical nurse specialist in psychiatry, psychotherapist and author Jeanne Watson Driscoll, and survivor, activist and founder of TABS Sue Watson, provides the most comprehensive resource on traumatic childbirth for health professionals to date.

© Cheryl Beck

© Cheryl Beck

Since Cheryl Beck’s ground-breaking research, Birth trauma: in the eye of the beholder2 (2004a), health providers, researchers, and birth professionals have applauded the relevance and strength of Cheryl Beck’s research regarding traumatic childbirth. Her research has covered PTSD following traumatic childbirth3-4, the experience of the anniversary of birth trauma5, breastfeeding after a traumatic birth6, subsequent birth after a previous traumatic birth7, secondary trauma experienced by labor and delivery nurses exposed to traumatic birth8, and multiple publications on research methods and birth trauma 9-12.

In 2006, Cheryl and Jeanne Watson Driscoll (co-author of the landmark Women’s moods: What every woman must know about hormones, the brain, and emotional health13) collaborated on what is still considered a clinical tour de force in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders: a clinician’s guide14.

TABS (Trauma and Birth Stress) was founded by Sue Watson and colleagues in 1998 and continues to offer current resources and support regarding traumatic childbirth.

In Traumatic Childbirth, Cheryl, Jeanne, and Sue offer their individual expertise as researcher, clinician, and activist and combined wisdom of nearly two decades of work in the field. The result is a compelling read and review of current literature. The case studies are profound examples of the lived experiences of traumatic childbirth. Additionally, after each case Jeanne and Sue offer their own perspectives. It is a fascinating and full-bodied presentation of the emerging understanding of the impact of traumatic childbirth on mothers, fathers/partners, and providers.

I am honored to have had the opportunity to ask Cheryl some questions for Science and Sensibility regarding how childbirth professionals might use Traumatic Childbirth in practice. I know that you will find her insights both useful and encouraging.

Walker Karraa: How has the definition of traumatic childbirth evolved since you began your work?

Cheryl Beck: In the beginning of my research traumatic childbirth was viewed as an event that occurs during labor and delivery that involved actual or threatened serious injury or death to the mother and or her infant. After my first 2 studies on birth trauma and its resulting PTSD what I learned was that traumatic childbirth can also occur even if a woman does not perceive that she or her infant is at risk for serious injury or death. Women can perceive their birth as traumatic if they perceive that they were stripped of their dignity during the birthing process.

WK: How does loss of dignity play a role in the traumatic birth?

CB: One of the most frequent phrases I hear mothers using to describe their traumatic their birth to me was “I felt raped on the delivery table with everyone watching and nobody offering to help me.” Some women shared that they felt like a piece of meat on an assembly line. Women did not feel cared for by the obstetrical team. To me this lack of caring stripped women of a protective layer during their labor and delivery and left them prime to perceive their birth as traumatic.

WK: How important is it for childbirth professionals to understand the subjective experience of childbirth trauma when working with clients?

CB: It is essential for childbirth professionals to hear and really listen to the voices of mothers as they describe what it was about their labor and delivery that was so traumatic. As the title of my first research study tried to impress upon health care providers, birth trauma is in the eye of the beholder. What one woman perceives as a traumatic birth may be viewed quite differently through the eyes of obstetric staff that may see it as a routine birth.

WK: What are some of the ways childbirth educators, doulas, and lactation consultants might use Traumatic Childbirth in developing curriculum or direct service to clients?

CB: Childbirth educators, doulas, and lactation consultants can use the various chapters in Traumatic Childbirth to develop a series of classes for education. Examples of some of these chapters in the book include:

  • Risk factors for postpartum posttraumatic stress
  • Assessment and diagnosis
  • Instruments to screen for PTSD
  • Impact of traumatic childbirth on breastfeeding
  • Anniversary of birth trauma
  • Subsequent childbirth after a previous traumatic birth
  • Treatment methods for PTSD
  • Fathers and traumatic childbirth

WK: As doulas are increasingly becoming a part of birth team, they too are exposed to traumatic births that may lead to distress, impairment and disability in their work. Given the findings in your recent study11 regarding secondary traumatic stress for labor and delivery nurses, I wonder what your thoughts are regarding how doulas might prepare, or even prevent secondary trauma for themselves using Traumatic Childbirth?

 

© Cheryl Beck

© Cheryl Beck

CB: In 1989 Charles Figley15  first wrote about the “cost of caring” for supporters of traumatized victims. He called it secondary traumatic stress or compassion fatigue. Doulas who have built up such a close relationship with the women they are supporting through labor and delivery certainly are at risk of developing secondary traumatic stress. Continuing education is a must for doulas to learn about their risk of secondary traumatic stress and the symptoms they should be watching. Self-awareness of these symptoms is essential so that doulas can get the help they need. Doulas need to learn how to nourish their mind-body-spirit. Debriefing sessions, support groups, and opportunities for doulas to share the traumatic childbirths they have been present for are necessary.

WK: I so appreciate the inclusion of fathers in your book. When I was practicing as a doula I had several fathers who they themselves had risk factors for traumatic stress due to experiences in military or law enforcement. Knowing that upfront, we were able to strategize labor and birth in ways to mitigate exposure to triggers (i.e. < seeing too much blood, not being able to see an open door, etc.). How could Traumatic Childbirth help childbirth educators include partners in the conversation about traumatic childbirth?

CB: Researchers are finding that fathers can also develop posttraumatic stress symptoms as a result of being present at their partner’s traumatic childbirth. This possibility for fathers should be address in one of the childbirth classes. As one father in a research study of mine and Sue Watson’s shared “I am on an island watching my wife drown and I don’t know how to swim! I not only do not know how to swim but I was drowning myself. But I am a man, I do not need help-John Wayne, you know. I was fooling myself at the expense of my wife and myself.” This quote impresses on childbirth educators their responsibility to also be helping the fathers and support them if he and his partner have experienced a birth trauma.

WK: One of the things I note is that we don’t yet have support systems within childbirth organizations to help our childbirth educators and doulas seek support for themselves, or colleagues who suffer extreme distress after attending traumatic births. This is particularly devastating for new doulas who may not know their own risk factors, or the signs and symptoms of traumatic stress following exposure to traumatic childbirth. What are some ways childbirth organizations such as Lamaze can use Traumatic Childbirth to inform policy and prevent secondary traumatic stress in doulas and childbirth educators?

CB: At the annual conferences of these organizations, workshops, sessions, or keynotes on secondary traumatic stress due to traumatic childbirth are a must. The first step in helping to prevent this or minimize secondary traumatic stress is education. Breakout sessions at the conferences could be offered by a mental health care professional for doulas, lactation consultants, and childbirth educators to provide an opportunity for them to share their traumatic experiences.

Conclusion

For those who have followed the research on traumatic birth, this book has been a long time coming! Traumatic Childbirth is a highly readable, compelling and comprehensive collection of research, practice, and perspective that speaks to the birth professional’s sensibilities. I highly encourage the discussion of implementing this material as required reading, and instituting the suggestions of debriefing workshops for professionals. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this, as well as the book!

I know I speak for so many in thanking Cheryl Beck for her input, and to both Jeanne Driscoll and Sue Watson for their tremendous contributions in Traumatic Childbirth, and their dedication to the prevention and treatment of traumatic birth.

References

  1. Beck, C. T., Driscoll, J.W., & Watson, S. (2013). Traumatic childbirth. New York, NY: Routledge.
  2. Beck, C. T. (2004). Birth trauma: in the eye of the beholder. Nursing research, 53(1), 28-35.
  3. Beck, C. T. (2004). Post-traumatic stress disorder due to childbirth: the aftermath. Nursing Research, 53(4), 216-224.
  4. Beck, C. T. (2011). A metaethnography of traumatic childbirth and its aftermath: Amplifying causal looping. Qualitative Health Research, 21(3), 301-311.
  5. Beck, C. T. (2006). The anniversary of birth trauma: failure to rescue. Nursing research, 55(6), 381-390.
  6. Beck, C. T., & Watson, S. (2008). Impact of birth trauma on breast-feeding: a tale of two pathways. Nursing Research, 57(4), 228-236.
  7. Beck, C. T., & Watson, S. (2010). Subsequent childbirth after a previous traumatic birth. Nursing research, 59(4), 241-249.
  8. Beck, CT, & Gable, RK (2012). A mixed methods study of secondary traumatic stress in labor and delivery nurses. Journal of Obstetric Gynecological and Neonatal Nursing, 41, 747-760. doi:10.1111/j.1552-6909.2012.01386.x
  9. Beck, C. T. (2005). Benefits of participating in Internet interviews: Women helping women. Qualitative health research, 15(3), 411-422.
  10. Beck, C. T. (2006). Pentadic cartography: Mapping birth trauma narratives. Qualitative Health Research, 16(4), 453-466.
  11. Beck, C. T., Gable, R. K., Sakala, C., & Declercq, E. R. (2011). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in New Mothers: Results from a Two‐Stage US National Survey. Birth, 38(3), 216-227.
  12. Beck, C. T. (2009). Critiquing qualitative research. AORN journal, 90(4), 543-554.
  13. Sichel, D., & Driscoll, J. W. (1999). Women’s moods: What every woman must know about hormones, the brain, and emotional health. New York: William Morrow.
  14. Beck, C. T., & Driscoll, J. (2006). Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders: A clinician’s guide. Jones & Bartlett Learning.
  15. Figley, C. R. (Ed.). (1989). Treating stress in families (No. 13). Psychology Press.

 

 

 

Birth Trauma, Book Reviews, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Trauma work , , , , , ,

Book Review: Cut It Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America

November 7th, 2013 by avatar

By Christine Morton, PhD

What accounts for the dramatic rise in cesarean delivery in the United States over the past two decades? In her new book, Cut it Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America, sociologist Theresa Morris addresses this question by going to the source: she interviewed maternity clinicians (obstetricians, midwives and labor and delivery nurses) as well as women who had recently given birth. She examines guidelines from the major professional group of obstetricians and gynecologists. Morris goes beyond simply documenting the rise in C-sections, the health risks they pose to women and their babies, although she does that very well. To explain how we got to an epidemic of c-sections in the U.S, she applies an organizational lens, making it clear how “organizational changes constrain the decisions and behaviors of maternity providers and women.”

This way of looking at c-sections will be useful for childbirth educators, doulas and childbearing women because it goes one step farther than most research on c-sections, which demonstrate trends and possible associations between clinical causal factors, or characteristics of women. It is also different from advocacy around c-sections that largely frames the issue as one of individual agency or rights (“women must advocate and prepare for vaginal birth,” or “women have right to informed choice”). And although we have some research on how organizational structure impacts c-section rates, such as teaching hospitals and health maintenance organizations (HMOS), absent from these studies are explanations as to why this is so. Morris argues that the research on c-section epidemic is missing an “understanding that is rooted in the experience of maternity care providers and pregnant women” (p. 21).

While most childbirth educators and doulas have a good understanding of pregnant women’s experience, Morris takes the reader into the perspectives of a range of maternity clinicians, arguing that organizational policies and procedures constrain their actions. We can’t blame individual clinicians for the high c-section rate, she argues, nor can we hold them responsible for reducing it. Social constraints on individual behavior are very powerful and need to be understood if they are to be changed. As many sociologists have observed, deviance from social norms has real consequences for individuals. Imagine yourself riding in an elevator filled with people you don’t know, with your back to the doors. It’s not easy to do. Morris notes, “Maternity providers may face professional consequences for deviance—for example, being informally scolded by colleagues, formally reprimanded by a supervisor, or having a malpractice insurer deny coverage in a case of a bad outcome” (p. 22). By talking to maternity clinicians about how they see the problems, and what they do about them, Morris is able to show how obstetricians are also caught in systems not of their own making.

“Hospitals are organizations with fixed rules to guide individual behavior” (p. 22) and this applies to all individuals within organizations. Morris has provided a nuanced and rich picture of what she calls the “organizational paradox, in which the increasing rates of c-section do not protect the health of women or babies or make birth safer or good outcomes more likely,” and argues that if we look at the c-section rate as the result of how health care organizations respond to their legal, political and economic environments, we can understand, and hopefully change, the system.

I found one of the most compelling sections of her argument in her discussion of the patient safety movement and its emphasis on standardized protocols, language and peer review. Until very recently, c-section rates were not considered part of the patient safety movement in obstetrics. Morris shows that when a hospital embarks on patient safety initiatives, with the goal of malpractice claims due to a bad baby outcome, these initiatives often result in an increase, or at best, no change in c-section rates.

Morris also reviews how doctors frame risks of VBAC vs. repeat c-section in ways that foreground the statistically rare risk of uterine rupture (indeed, the more dangerous rupture vs. the more common, but still rare, occurrence of uterine dehiscence). The more common risk to women of repeat c-section is often not included. Here we see how possible risks for the baby (and to the physician in the event of a bad outcome) are prioritized over risks to women’s health. Organization pressures influence how these risks are defined and described to women, says Morris.

“Any effort to resolve the c-section epidemic requires organizational solutions” (p. 153).

The stakes are high, and unless there is concerted and coordinated effort to reduce the c-section rate through organizational and policy change, we are unlikely to see a downward trend. Morris concludes, however, by listing what individual women and maternity clinicians can do to help solve the c-section epidemic. For women, this includes learning about and advocating for evidence-based care, with the assistance of independent childbirth educators and birth doulas, and finding maternity physicians and hospitals with low rates of c-section. Maternity providers, she notes, may find it helpful to be up front with women about the risks of childbirth, and that even with best of care, sometimes things go wrong. The policy and social changes Morris recommends are quite sweeping and it’s not clear where political will for these will come, but happily, there are some efforts being made on the organizational solutions she proposes. In particular reporting of c-sections as a quality measure will be required by The Joint Commission as of January 2014 for hospitals with more than 1100 births/year. A recent publication on Preventing the first cesarean delivery summarized the evidence from a joint workshop held by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

In this YouTube video, author Theresa Morris shares why she wrote Cut It Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America. 

Here are several more videos in the video series, where Theresa talks about the cesarean epidemic

This book is highly recommended for all childbirth educators, doulas and other maternity care professionals who wish to help pregnant women understand how the organization in which they are giving birth will likely shape both they, and their maternity clinicians’ actions. Yet, it also holds out the promise of hopeful change, especially when it is clear that many of these efforts are underway. With states seeking ways to drive down costs and with support from national government action focusing on maternal health, more pressure from payers, women and maternity care advocates, we can look forward to reducing c-sections and turning the tide of this epidemic. Let’s discuss what we can do to bring down the c-section rate.

About Christine Morton

Christine Morton

Christine Morton

Regular contributor Christine H. Morton, PhD, is a sociologist whose research on doulas is the topic of her forthcoming book, with Elayne Clift, Birth Ambassadors: Doulas and the Re-emergence of Woman-Supported Birth, which will be published by Praeclarus Press in Fall 2013. Christine is also a new member of Lamaze International’s Board of Directors. For more on Christine, please see Science & Sensibility’s Contributor page.

Babies, Book Reviews, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care , , , , , , ,