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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 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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Birth Trauma, Childbirth Education, Depression, Guest Posts, Maternal Mental Health, New Research, Parenting an Infant, Perinatal Mood Disorders, Postpartum Depression, Trauma work, Uncategorized , , , , , , , , ,

What is Pregnancy Negation? What is the Childbirth Professional’s Role?

November 14th, 2013 by avatar

Today on the blog, regular contributor Kathy Morelli shares information on an uncommon but very serious mental health disorder called pregnancy negation (pregnancy denial and pregnancy concealment) that can occur in women.  This unusual phenomena may never have crossed your radar or you may have met women who have experienced this situation.    Learn more here about this illness and what you can do as a childbirth professional, should you meet a woman or family dealing with this situation. –  Sharon Muza, Community Manager for Science & Sensibility.

Original Painting © Johann Heinrich Füssli

The research studies about negation of pregnancy generally consist of small sample sizes, so there isn’t a lot of data available about negation of pregnancy. More study is needed in order to understand this topic more thoroughly. I do see this phenomena in my psychotherapy practice, so I believe it’s a topic that birth professionals might see it in their community as well.

Negation of pregnancy, a term that encompasses both pregnancy denial and pregnancy concealment, are rare, but not uncommon, disorders of pregnancy. One in 475 pregnancies result in negation of pregnancy. A very minute portion of this statistic results in neonaticide- the act of killing a baby in the first 24 hours of life (Beier et al, 2006).

As with other psychological conditions, the underlying etiology of negation of pregnancy exists on a spectrum. The person can suffer from a lifelong, persistent “splitting” of the self due to trauma, she can suffer from a persistent biological mental illness, such as schizophrenia, or she can be experiencing a type of severe adjustment disorder.

Current research indicates that not all women who experience negation of pregnancy have previous diagnoses of serious and persistent mental illness. Some women who experience negation of pregnancy have pre-existing diagnoses of biploar with psychotic features and schizophrenia, and psychosis is part of their life experiences. But others do not have a previous diagnosis and after integrating the episode of negation of pregnancy, they adjust to their life situation and cope realistically.

Definition 

Pregnancy denial is defined as a woman’s unawareness, in varying degrees, of her pregnancy. Pregnancy concealment is defined as actively deciding and hiding the pregnancy from others. Pregnancy denial and pregnancy concealment often co-occur and occur intermittently. There is usually a great deal of shame, fear, guilt and dissociation, a strong psychological and emotional defense, accompanying this disorder. Due to the level of emotional conflict around the pregnancy, there are gradations of denial and complexity and subtlety of emotional response from both the pregnant woman and those around her.

The term negation of pregnancy is also used to encompass and describe these co-occuring disorders, whereas the internal process is called denial and the external process is called concealment. Therefore, it is considered the same process, but the woman’s defense mechanisms vary in intensity.

Neonaticide, the killing of an infant on the day of birth, is a form of infanticide that is often preceded by pregnancy denial. Neonaticide can be one of the complications of pregnancy denial.

Pregnancy denial is a real phenomena that has a long history of documentation, by doctors, mothers, their families and artists.

One famous literary exploration of pregnancy denial and neonaticide is illustrated in George Eliot’s novel, Adam Beade, published in 1859. It is the novel of a woman’s experience, examining the intersection between women’s unique emotions around reproduction and their disempowered social standing. Taking place in 1799, the story is about a love triangle involving Hetty, a 17 year old girl. She becomes pregnant out of wedlock. Hetty knows she is pregnant, but never openly acknowledges this. She knows she will face extreme shame and ostracization by the town, should anyone find out. She successfully hides her pregnancy and gives birth to her baby in a field. She commits neonaticide, abandoning her baby boy where she birthed him.

Characteristics of Women Who Negate Pregnancy

Early research indicated that pregnancy denial and neonaticide is more likely to occur  in women who are young and unmarried, where the relationship with the father is dissolving or non-existent and the woman lives at home with relatives.

However, more recent research shows that pregnancy denial and neonaticide occurs in women of all age groups, cultures and marital status in response to a conflicted pregnancy. Many women already have several other children, so it is not always the first time mother who negates her pregnancy.

Research by Shelton and colleagues (2011) indicates that pregnancy at an early age, multiple young children, a history of childhood abuse and trauma, current fear of abandonment (even if in a stable relationship), and a deprived social situation are all risk factors and common characteristics for women who negate their pregnancy.

The pathway to pregnancy denial and concealment often begins with an unplanned pregnancy. The woman has accompanying feelings of extreme fear and shame. She begins with pregnancy concealment. She hides her pregnancy with baggy clothes and isolates herself in her room. To help facilitate concealment, she sees less and less of people. Thus, she becomes more and more emotionally isolated.

Eventually, she finds she has no one to confide in. This results in a vicious cycle, and her emotional defenses develop a sense of pregnancy denial. The pregnancy denial is described by researchers as intermittent, her lack of self-awareness comes and goes and she is able to compartmentalize her pregnancy. She successfully dissociates from her body sensations.

The denial and dissociation is so potent that women often describe beginning birth pains as flu symptoms, gas pain and menstrual cramps. Women often go to the bathroom and deliver the baby silently, with others nearby. Women often describe the feeling of giving birth like having to defecate and are shocked when a baby appears.

Women in this type of delivery report dissociative symptoms at the birth and afterward when coping with the newborn. Women also often report a fantasy that the infant was preterm or stillborn. Often, sadly, the outcome for infants born to women who are experiencing negation of pregnancy are death a short time after birth, either from drowning in a toilet bowl, or hitting their head on the floor in a precipitous, unassisted birth.

Another fascinating aspect of pregnancy concealment and denial is that the family and even doctors are drawn into “community denial” by the emotional intensity of the denial. Interestingly, in one study, only 5 out of 28 women studied who negated their pregnancy had any family members inquire about their pregnancy at all (Amon et al, 2012)! Another study indicates that even long term family doctors who know the woman well will sometimes fail to diagnose the pregnancy (Amon et al, 2012).

Treatment

Treatment for negation of pregnancy is as nuanced and varied as each individual case. Whenever there is dissociation of parts of reality and parts of the self, the treatment path can include techniques used to treat post-traumatic stress. Such techniques would include EMDR, guided imagery, object relations techniques embedded in an overall therapeutic structure that balances leaving a woman’s psychological defenses intact, while at the same time helping her through her issues of denial (Anonymous, 2003).

Depending on the cause and severity of the negation of pregnancy, the processing of dissociated emotional material, the buried shame, the confusing physical symptoms, and the integration of the parts of her self could take place over an extended period of time in a safe, therapeutic atmosphere.

In general, directly asking or accusing a woman who is negating her pregnancy about her situation isn’t an effective treatment method. In order to survive, the person has most likely developed a method of dissociative “splitting” or “compartmentalizing” differing parts of the self. It is a normal psychological response to dissociate from trauma in order to survive. Dissociative coping exists along a continuum, from intermittent denial to having developed separate parts of the self to contain the trauma (Amon, 2012; Anonymous, 2003).

For example, in order to survive complex emotional trauma, such as childhood abuse, incest, rape, pregnancy from rape/incest, a woman would survive by dissociating. She may have unconsciously developed a way to “split” or “compartmentalize” parts of her self. Her unconscious coping mechanism assigns one part of the self to be covertly sexually active while another part of the self overtly maintains the social and familial facade that she is not sexually active. The psychological defenses can be so strong that she has intermittent dissociative awareness about her pregnancy and even amnesia around childbirth.

On the other hand, a woman may be experiencing a less mild form of dissociation and negation of pregnancy. She may need time to integrate her pregnancy into her life and shift towards healthy adjustment, coping and planning.

What birth professionals can do

If you suspect you have encountered a woman with this condition, be aware of your own reactions to her situation. Convey an accepting attitude about her situation. It’s best not to ask her overt questions about her circumstances. Ask open-ended questions, wait for her responses. 

Importantly, convey an accepting attitude about sexuality, pregnancy and motherhood, without being overt.

Have a good set of referrals to health professionals, including mental health professionals,  in your area. You may not be able to help her in the moment, but there may be another time you’ll see her and she might be open to accepting help. Your accepting attitude could be part of her healing and reaching out.

Conclusion

To sum up, negation of pregnancy has been documented in the popular literature and in medical literature for many years. It was once thought that negation of pregnancy only occurs in young and unmarried women, but current research shows that older women with multiple children experience this as well. It is a condition of many emotional and psychological nuances. In a very rare number of cases, can lead to neonaticide.

As a birth professional in your community, you can help by developing an awareness and understanding of negation of pregnancy as a real condition, with many emotional and psychological nuances. By being accepting and by having a solid set of referrals for her and her family if she reaches out to you. More study is needed in order to understand this topic more thoroughly. 

References

Amon, S., Putkonon, H., Weizmann-Henelius, G., Almiron, M.P., Gormann, A.K., Voracke, M., Eronen, M., Yourstone, J., Friedrich, M. & Klier, C.M. (2012). Potential predictors in neonaticide: the impact of the circumstances of pregnancy. Archive of Women’s Mental Health, 15, 167-174.

Anonymous (2003). How Could Anyone Do That? A therapists struggle with countertransference. In M.G. Spinelli (Ed.), Infanticide: Psychosocial and Legal Perspectives on Mothers Who Kill (pp. 201 – 208). American Psychiatric Publishing, Washington, D.C.

Shelton, J.L, Corey, T., Donaldson, W.H. & Dennison, E.H. (2011). Neonaticide: A comprehensive review of investigative and pathologic aspects of 55 cases. Journal of Family Violence, 26, 263-276.

Miller, L. J. (2003). Denial of Pregnancy. In M.G. Spinelli (Ed.), Infanticide: Psychosocial and Legal Perspectives on Mothers Who Kill (pp. 81- 103). American Psychiatric Publishing, Washington, D.C.

Spinelli, M. G., (2003). Neonaticide: A systematic investigation of 17 cases. In M.G. Spinelli (Ed.), Infanticide: Psychosocial and Legal Perspectives on Mothers Who Kill (pp. 105 – 118). American Psychiatric Publishing, Washington, D.C.

About Kathy Morelli

Kathy Morelli is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Wayne, NJ and the Director of BirthTouch®, LLC. She provides Marriage and Family counseling in Wayne, New Jersey with a special interest in perinatal mood disorders, sexual abuse and its impact on parenting. EMDR is one of the mindbody therapies she uses to address trauma.   She blogs about the emotions of pregnancy, birth, postpartum and couples. Kathy is the author of BirthTouch® for Parents-To-Be and BirthTouch® Healing for Parents in the NICU. Kathy has lectured on BirthTouch® at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s Semmelweis Conference for Midwifery and at birth conferences. She presents trainings to allied health/birth organizations about maternal mental health, family systems and good-enough parenting and is found on web media, such as PBS’ This Emotional Life, writing and speaking about this subject. She volunteers on Postpartum Support International’s warmline. Kathy co-moderates #MHON , a psycho-educational and supportive Twitter chat led by credentialed Mental Health professionals around mental health issues, working to reduce the stigma around mental illness.

 

 

 

 

 

Babies, Birth Trauma, Childbirth Education, Depression, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Maternity Care, News about Pregnancy, Parenting an Infant, Prenatal Illness, Trauma work , , , , , , ,

Giving Birth after Battle: Increased Risk of Postpartum Depression for Women in Military

November 11th, 2013 by avatar

Today, November 11th is Veteran’s Day in the United States and Americans honor those who have served and continue to serve in the Armed Forces in order to protect our country.  Today on Science & Sensibility, regular contributor Walker Karraa, PhD, takes a look at the impact serving in battle has on women who go on to birth.  In an exclusive interview with expert Cynthia LeardMann, Walker shares with S&S readers what the study says and receives more indepth information that provides additional insight into just what women in the military face in regards to their increased risk of PPMADs.- Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

Introduction

The rate of postpartum mood or anxiety disorders in general US population for new mothers is 10-22%1-3.  Although approximately 16,000 active duty women give birth annually4, less is known regarding the prevalence of postpartum mood disorders in this population. In a striking finding, Do et al., (2013)5 recently reported “Service women with PPD had 42.2 times the odds to be diagnosed with suicidality in the postpartum period compared to service women without PPD; dependent spouses with PPD had 14.5 times the odds compared to those without PPD” (p.2)

Pixabay © David Mark. 2013

Furthermore, a recent study, Is military deployment a risk factor for maternal depression?6 , examined the relationship between deployment experience before or after childbirth, and postpartum depression in a representative sample of U.S. servicewomen.  The objectives included addressing the lack of research regarding maternal depression in military mothers.

I am honored to have had the opportunity to interview Cynthia A. LeardMann, MPH, Senior Epidemiologist at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, Naval Health Research Center, and Department of Deployment Health Research regarding this important study. Particularly, I inquired as to how childbirth educators might integrate this data in practice, and how childbirth education might be suggested for future intervention.

Walker Karraa: Can you describe for our readers how the rate of maternal depression was found to be attributed to experiencing combat while deployed?

Cynthia LeardMann: In this study, the rate of maternal depression was highest among women who deployed to the recent conflicts and reported combat experiences.  Among women who gave birth, 16 to 17% screened positive for maternal depression who deployed and had combat-like experiences prior to or following childbirth. Rates were between 10 and 11% for women who did not deploy and between 7 and 8% for women who deployed and did not report combat-like experiences.

Moreover, we found that women who deployed after childbirth and experienced combat had twofold higher odds of screening positive for maternal depression compared with women who did not deploy after childbirth, after adjusting for prior mental health status, and demographic, behavioral, and military characteristics. However, this increased risk appeared to be primarily related to experiencing combat rather than childbirth experiences.

WK: Working with the Millennium Cohort Study7 benefitted the ability to investigate the relationship between military deployment and increased risk of maternal depression. Can you briefly describe the MCS and the process of working with it?

CL: Launched in the summer of 2001, the Millennium Cohort Study  is the largest longitudinal study of military service members, including active duty and Reserve/National Guard members from all services. The primary study objective is to evaluate the impact of military service on long-term health.  Since family relationships play an important role in the functioning and well-being of US military service members, in 2011 the Millennium Cohort Study was expanded to include spouses of military personnel. The overarching goal of this Family Study is to assess the impact of military service and deployment on family health.

Crisis line resources for active military and their familiesMilitary One Source1-800-342-9647

Crisis line resources for veterans and their families

Veterans Crisis Line

1-800-273-8255 (press 1)

Online chat is also available

WK: It was interesting that the rates were higher for women in the Army as compared to women serving in US Air Force or US Navy. Can you share the thinking around possible reasons for that difference?

CL: Women serving in the Army may be deployed longer and more frequently than those serving in the Air Force and Navy. In addition, there may be more ongoing imminent fear of deployment and while on deployment they may experience more intense or severe combat-like exposures, which may lead to increased risk of depression.

WK: How did you define combat-like exposure for your sample?

CL: Deployed women were classified as having combat-like exposures if they reported personal exposure to one or more of the following in the 3 years prior to follow-up: person’s death due to war, disaster, or tragic event; physical abuse; dead and/or decomposing bodies; maimed soldiers or civilians; or prisoners of war or refugees.

WK: One of the recommendations from your study was the need for early intervention and reintegration programs for service personnel. What are some examples that you would hope to see in the future? What role do you see childbirth education playing in the prevention or early intervention of maternal depression in military personnel? 

CL: Currently there are some programs that focus on supporting service members and families before, during, and after deployments, such as the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program. This DoD (Department of Defense)-wide effort prepares Reserve and National Guard families for the challenges of deployment, educates them on programs that are available to help ease their concerns about reintegrating into the community, and provides information about seeking mental health care. While more services and programs are needed, these types of resources may successfully reduce the emotional and psychological impact of deployment. Childbirth education may play an important role as it may help couples understand and identify various feelings and symptoms related to mental disorders that may arise after childbirth. If educated, the mother or her partner may be more aware of certain symptoms and feel more comfortable seeking mental healthcare.

WK: The rate of comorbid PTSD in women who screened positive for depression was high (58%). Given what we know about the prevalence of PTSD following a traumatic childbirth in general population, what are your thoughts regarding how traumatic childbirth may have played a role? 

CL: We did not obtain any data on the childbirth experience itself, but it is possible that non-combat traumatic experiences, including traumatic childbirth, may have increased the risk for depression with comorbid PTSD.

WK: Would data on mode of delivery be useful in future studies?

CL: The Millennium Cohort Study does not currently obtain data on mode of delivery, but we could investigate mode of delivery among active service members using medical data records. We do not have current plans to examine mode of delivery, but it may be useful in future studies.

WK: What is the next phase of this important research?

CL: Currently, we are investigating the potential association between deployment and other related reproductive outcomes, like miscarriages and perceived impaired fecundity. We are also planning to examine depression among military spouses. We would like to better understand the inter-relationships and associations between service members and their spouses, including maternal depression and reproductive health outcomes.

WK: Many of our readers work with military families as childbirth professionals (doulas, lactation consultants, midwives, and childbirth educators). How would you recommend childbirth professionals integrate the findings in your study?

CL: The current findings add further evidence that screening and early intervention of depression among new mothers is critical, since parental depression can have a profound and lasting impact on children and families. In addition, the findings support the need for effective post deployment social support and reintegration programs, especially for women who have had combat-like experiences during deployment.

Conclusion

The service of the women in our military is a dedication for which I am grateful and humbled. The findings here underscore the critical need for better screening, intervention, and social support for childbearing women in the military who see combat during deployment.

As childbirth professionals, how do you see your role in supporting military women with mental health? And how might Lamaze become a champion in this area?

Acknowledgements

I would like to extend my appreciation to Ms. LeardMann for agreeing to the interview, and taking the lead in getting approval for its content.  Additional acknowledgement is extended to military personnel who participated in reading, reviewing and clearing the content for publication. And thanks to Sharon Muza for her continued support of the research regarding perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

References

  1. Gaynes BN, Gavin N, Meltzer-Brody S, et al. (2005). Perinatal depression: Prevalence, screening accuracy, and screening outcomes. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No.119. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, No. 05-E006-2.
  2. O’Hara MW, Swain AM. (1996). Rates and risk of postpartum depression: A meta-analysis. Int Rev Psychiatry,8, 37–54.
  3.  Peindl KS, Wisner KL, Hanusa BH. (2004). Identifying depression in the first postpartum year: Guidelines for office-based screening and referral. Journal of Affect Disord,80, 37–44.
  4. Rychnovsky, J. & Beck, C.T. (2006). Screening for postpartum depression in military women with the postpartum depression screening scale. Military Medicine,171, 1100-1104.
  5. Do, T., Hu, Z., Otto, J., & Rohrbeck, P. (2013). Depression and suicidality after first time deliveries during the postpartum period, active component service women and dependent spouses, U.S. Armed Forces, 2007-2012. Medical Surveillance Monthly Report, 20(9), 2-9.
  6. Nguyen, S., Leardman, C.A., Smith, B., Conlin, A. S., Slymen, D. J., Hooper, T. I., Ryan, M. A. K., & Smith, T. C. (2013). Is military deployment a risk factor for maternal depression? Journal of Women’s Health, 22(1), 9-18. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2012.3606
  7. Smith, T.C. (2009). The U.S. Department of Defense Millenium Cohort Study: Career span and beyond longitudinal follow-up. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 51, 1193-1201

About Walker Karraa

Walker Karraa, PhD is a perinatal mental health researcher, advocate and writer. She is currently a regular perinatal mental health contributor for Lamaze International’s Science and Sensibility,Giving Birth With Confidence, and the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) Midwives Connection.Walker has interviewed leading researchers and providers, such as Katherine Wisner, Cheryl Beck, Michael C. Lu and Karen Kleiman. Walker was a certified birth doula (DONA), and the founding President of PATTCh, an organization founded by Penny Simkin dedicated to the prevention and treatment of traumatic childbirth. Walker is currently Program Co-Chair for the American Psychological Association (APA) Trauma Psychology Division 56. She is writing a book regarding her research on the transformational dimensions of postpartum depression. Walker is an 11 year breast cancer survivor, and lives in Sherman Oaks, CA with her two children and husband.


Childbirth Education, Depression, Guest Posts, Maternal Mental Health, Postpartum Depression, PTSD, Research, Uncategorized , , , , , , , , ,

Postpartum Psychosis: Review and Resources Plus Additional PPMAD Resources

October 8th, 2013 by avatar

We are just a few days past the sad events that occurred in Washington DC, right near the capital, when Miriam Carey, a mother of a year old child slammed her car into security barricades and led law enforcement officials on a high speed car chase, injured federal officials and was shot and killed, all while having her baby in the car.

It is not clear at this time, what exactly led Miriam Carey to behave the way she did, but it has been suggested that she was suffering from postpartum depression.  Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PPMAD) affect approximately 20 percent of all new mothers.  While not every circumstance of PPMAD escalates into a situation like what we saw last week, we do know that many women and their families are not aware of the signs and symptoms of PPMAD, most women do not seek help and are not provided information and resources for proper treatment.  Left untreated PPMADs can become a situation where the mother may harm herself or others.

As childbirth educators and professionals who work with birthing women, it is imperative that we speak and share, both prenatally and in the postpartum period. about PPMAD illnesses, and provide resources for help.  Here is some previously provided information on Postpartum Psychosis along with great resources provided by regular contributor, Walker Karraa, PhD.  Click to see previous Science & Sensibility posts on postpartum mood and anxiety disorder topics, for even more resources for professionals to share with parents. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

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http://flic.kr/p/7U4sW

Despite mounting credible medical evidence of the realty of postpartum issues and their effect on the mindset of the new mother, we as a country still remain the only civilized society that refuses to legally acknowledge the existence of this illness.—George Parnham, Attorney for Andrea Pia Yates

I wrote an OP/ED recently titled, “Who is at Stake? Andrea Yates, CNN and the Call for Revolution” at Katherine Stone’s Postpartum Progress. Given the airing of the CNN Crimes of the Century featuring Andrea Yates, I compiled a brief review of the facts and resources that might be helpful in approaching the topic in childbirth education. Thanks to Sharon Muza for supporting this piece.

Postpartum psychosis (PPP) is a psychiatric emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

It has been acknowledged in medical literature since Hippocrates 4th Century (Brockington, Cernick, Schofield, Downing, Francis, Keelan, 1981; Healy, 2013). In a comparative study of epidemiological data regarding perinatal melancholia from 1875-1924 and then 1995-2005, Healy (2013) concluded:

History shows that complaints can be readily tailored to fashionable remedies, whereas disease has a relative invariance. The disease may wax and wane in virulence, treatments and associated conditions may modify its course, but the disease has a continuity that underpins a commonality of clinical presentations across time. (p. 190)

Women experience PPP. Women have experienced PPP. And women in the future could avoid this tragedy by recognizing this mental illness. PPP is frequently confused with postpartum depression in public and professional nomenclature. It is extremely important to emphasize the difference in discussion of perinatal mental health with clients and students, as the word “postpartum” means different things to different students and providers.

Postpartum psychosis is not postpartum depression, lack of sleep, or postpartum anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. PPP is a psychiatric emergency, tantamount to a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

Prevalence

Postpartum psychosis affects 1-2 women per 1,000 births globally, and while rare, it is an extremely severe postpartum mood disorder (Kendell, Chalmers, & Platz, 1987; Munk-Olsen, Laursen, Pedersen, Mors, & Mortensen, 2006). Postpartum psychosis (PPP) occurs in all cultures, affecting mothers across socioeconomic, ethnic, and religious communities (Kumar, 1994).

Symptoms

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis are sudden in onset, usually occurring within 48 hours to 2 weeks following birth. Postpartum psychosis represents “psychiatric emergency and warrants hospitalization” (Beck & Driscoll, 2009, p. 47).

  • Waxing and waning delirium and amnesia (Spinelli, 2009)
  • “Cognitive Disorganization/Psychosis”
    • Wisner, Peindl, and Hanusa (1994) discovered that disturbances of sensory perceptions were a feature of the cognitive disruption experienced in postpartum psychosis. These include auditory, tactile, visual, and olfactory hallucinations.
    • Memory and cognitive impairment such as confusion and amnesia (Wisner et al., 1994).
    • Agitation, irritability
    • Paranoid delusions
    • Confusion
    • Bizarre and changing delusions
    • Suicidal or infanticidal intrusive thoughts with ego syntonic feature (Spinelli, 2009; Wisner et al., 1994)

In other perinatal mood or anxiety disorders, intrusive thoughts of self-harm or harming the baby are known as ego-dystonic and are common (41%-57%; Brandes, Soares, Cohen, 2004). Ego dystonic cognitions are thoughts experienced by the woman as abhorrent, and she recognizes that they inconsistent with her personality and fundamental beliefs (see: Kleiman & Wenzel, 2010 Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts).

In contrast, for a woman experiencing postpartum psychosis, the intrusive thoughts or ideations, of harming self or other are ego-syntonic—intrusive thoughts experienced as reasonable, appropriate and are “associated with psychotic beliefs and loss of reality testing, with a compulsion to act on them and without the ability to assess the consequences of their actions” (Spinelli, 2009, p. 405).

If left untreated, some dire potential outcomes include: 

  • 5% of women who experience PPP commit suicide (Appleby, Mortensen, & Faragher, 1998; Knopps, 1993).
  • 2%-4% are at risk of harming their infants (Knopps, 1993; Spinelli, 2004).
  • As high as a 90% recurrence rate (Kendell et al., 1987)

Risk Factors

  • Women with history of bipolar disorder or previous postpartum psychosis

“A personal history of bipolar disorder is the most significant risk factor for developing PP.” (Dorfman, Meisner, & Frank, 2012, p. 257)

  • Having a first-degree relative who has bipolar disorder, or experienced an episode of postpartum psychosis
  • Current research demonstrates that contrary to popular beliefs, PPP is often the result of either bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder with psychotic features, and there is little frequency of PPP caused by reactive psychosis or schizophrenia (McGorry & Connell, 1990).

Suggestions for Educators:

Reflect/Remind/Review/Refer

Given the stigma, misinformation and confusion regarding postpartum mental illness and particularly postpartum psychosis– it is important to clearly, and objectively identify and differentiate the full spectrum of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. From the most prevalent and benign ‘baby blues’ to the most rare and severe postpartum psychosis, women and partners need accurate, accessible information to dispel myths, and give resources. See your education organization for their handouts, citations and referrals regarding PMADs in your curriculum.

Reflect back that you hear their concern. Repeat the question out loud so that others hear it. Chances are everyone in the room has a question around the topic of mental health, and as we know, 1 in 7 of the general population of childbearing women will develop a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder. Acknowledging the topic non-judgmentally by restating the question brings the topic into the room, reflects that you have heard the concerns expressed and not expressed, and that you are capable of holding the space for a quick, accurate review. 

Remind: PPP is Rare but Real

Remind class/clients that the incidence of PPP is extremely rare. Only 1-2 per 1,000 women develop postpartum psychosis. Secondly, with medical attention and treatment, PPP is preventable, and treatable. It is different than postpartum blues, depression, PTSD, or anxiety. Symptoms of PPP require immediate medical attention. 

Review the Facts

  • Rates: Only occurs in 1-2 per 1,000
  • Risk: Women with history of bipolar disorder or previous postpartum psychosis, and women with family history of bipolar disorder or first degree relative with history of postpartum psychosis are at higher risk.
  • PPP is preventable
  • PPP is treatable
  • PPP prevention and treatment require medical evaluation, intervention and care

Refer to Resources

What makes a good resource? Referring to accurate and accessible resources is an essential response to questions and concerns regarding postpartum psychosis (PPP).  Avoid any anecdotal advice regarding complimentary alternative medicine. The onset of PPP is tantamount to a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

Have resources available in several formats and languages just as you would for other resources regarding childbirth education. Make sure your links, telephone numbers, and local resources are working and up to date.

Resources for Women and Partners Postpartum Progress

 Postpartum Psychosis Symptoms (in Plain Mama English)

Postpartum Support International 1-800-944-4PPD

 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK

Mother to Baby (formerly OTIS)

Medications & More During Pregnancy & Breastfeeding.

(866) 626-6847

Text-4-Baby Health Info Links

References

Appleby, L., Mortensen, P., & Faragher, E. (1998). Suicide and other causes of mortality after post-partum psychiatric admission. British Journal of Psychiatry, 173, 209-211.

Beck, C. & Driscoll, J. (2006). Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders: A clinician’s guide. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77-101. doi:10.191/1478088706qp063oa

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