Regular contributor Kathy Morelli attended the Postpartum Support International conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina this past month. In today’s post, Kathy shares her thoughts, some big take-aways and checks in with the keynote speakers, who share important messages on postpartum mood disorders with our S&S readers. We all have a responsibility to increase awareness and treatment options for pregnant and postpartum women.- Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.
I want to shout from the rooftops that there are so many well-educated, caring and ethical professionals who are focusing on Maternal Mental Health! I was so fortunate to be able to attend this year’s Postpartum Support International 27th Annual Conference at the University of North Carolina (UNC) campus at Chapel Hill on June 18 – June 21, 2014.
PSI’s theme this year was “Creating Connections between Communities: Practitioners and Science: Innovative Care for Perinatal Mental Health.” It was a wonderful meeting where scholar-practitioners in the Perinatal Mental Health field met and exchanged information and best practices in order to hone their collective craft. Researchers, clinicians and identified survivors met and shared their professional and personal stories. PSI’s outgoing president, Leslie Lowell Stoutenburg, RNC, MS, reports that PSI had its largest attendance ever this year.
The keynote speakers were a group of experienced professionals, researchers and clinicians presenting on clinical, scholarly and advocacy topics: Dr. David Rubinow, of UNC Chapel Hill, Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody of UNC Chapel Hill, Dr. Marguerite Morgan, of Arbor Circle Early Childhood Services in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ms. Joy Bruckhard of California’s 20/20 Mom Project, and Dr. Susan Benjamin Feingold, clinical psychologist, all presented about their work in the different aspects in the field of Maternal Mental Health. Advocate Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress served as emcee at the Saturday night banquet.
Dr. David Rubinow presented on his team research regarding female hormonal fluctuations and the relationship to postpartum mood disorders in sensitive women. Dr. Rubinow is an internationally known expert in the evaluation and treatment of women with mood disorders that occur during periods of hormonal change. Regarding the team’s research, he states “Our data demonstrate that normal changes in reproductive hormones can produce affective disturbance in a susceptible group of women.” The study (Bloch et al, 2000) examined the role of endocrine factors in the etiology of postpartum depression (PPD) by comparing women with a history of PPD and without PPD. Progesterone and estriadiol was measured at baseline, addback, withdrawal, and folIow-up. 67% of the women who had PPD had a recurrence of significant affective symptoms, including a constellation of depressive and hypomanic affect, while none of the control group experienced significant affective symptoms. This indicates that women who suffer from PPD may have a trait vulnerability that isn’t present in women who do not suffer from PPD.
Dr. Susan Benjamin Feingold, the keynote speaker on Saturday evening, presented on her clinical work around the transformational nature of surviving postpartum depression, documented in her newly released book, Happy Endings, New Beginning: Navigating Postpartum Mood Disorders. Dr. Feingold presented inspirational journal entries from women in her clinical practice. She says: “ In my book, I focus on a new view of the postpartum experience and how this difficult time can be a catalyst for change, personal growth and positive transformation. Postpartum depression can be the opportunity for not only healing, but ultimately, it can be a life-changing event.”
Ms. Joy Bruckhard, MBA, of Cigna, presented on her advocacy work in as one of the founders of the Maternal Mental Health Care Collaborative in California called the 20/20 Mom Project. The 20/20 Mom Project is a national campaign and movement for moms and by moms to create specific pathways to treatment for maternal mental health disorders, to address barriers to mental health care. The 20/20 Mom Project has teamed up with Postpartum Support International, a sister non-profit to launch first-of-a-kind web-based training for clinical professionals with the aim of addressing the shortage of mental health and medical professionals who specialize in maternal mental health. Joy says: “I’m so honored to be a part of this important work. Three years ago, my worlds collided: my training through Junior League, my experience in health care working at Cigna and having had two babies myself (and perhaps mild postpartum depression), and some family experience with mental illness, I felt compelled to step up and do more.”
Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, a psychiatrist at UNC Chapel Hill, presented about the ongoing stigma about using psycho-pharmaceuticals during pregnancy and breastfeeding. She expressed frustration that other medications are readily accepted for use during pregnancy, but that there is an ongoing stigma against using medications that treat the mother’s mental health.
Dr. Marguerite Morgan, LCSW, presented on her successful program with African American women at the Arbor Circle Early Childhood Services in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She emphasized that she drops her “PhD-Dr” demeanor and constantly strives to connect at a human level with the people she serves. She is well versed in Christianity and quotes biblical passages about helping oneself during dark times, thus normalizing the experience of depression to her population in an accessible manner.
The psychodynamic approach to perinatal mood disorders was presented by Ms. Lorraine Caputo, LMFT, which addresses the mental health of women across the lifespan. Research and clinical practice indicates that a woman’s previous life experiences can have an impact on her transition to parenthood. On the lifelong care of a woman’s mental health, Ms. Caputo says: “I believe it’s crucial to help women with a history of trauma to make connections between the past and present in a way that psychodynamic treatment is uniquely poised to provide. The perinatal period is a natural time of enormous change, and in the best of circumstances will cause dysregulation, psychological transformation and re-identifications and dis-identifications with one’s own parents. And, given how entirely a pregnant woman and a postpartum mother surrenders her body to her child, childhood sexual traumas in the mother’s past can be triggered by this intense period of physical and emotional bonding with her baby. A psychoanalytic intervention that involves the development of a coherent narrative about how she was parented, and making connections between unrelenting anxiety, ruminations, self blame, and her past history can free a new mother from self doubt, guilt, and fear that she will not be a good mother. This work is done in a carefully paced way, using self reflection and the relationship with the therapist to help the mother feel safe and her powerful feelings contained and held by the therapist.”
Dr. Kelly Brogan, of Womens Holistic Psychiatry, discussed holistic clinical pathways to reproductive mental health.
Of note was the unique reproductive psychiatric sharing session, where reproductive psychiatrists came together to discuss clinical situations which they have encountered. This session was an extension of the collaborative professional LISTSERV that PSI hosts for clinical member reproductive psychiatrists.
Sessions on Healthy Postpartum Relationships were presented by both Ms. Elly Taylor and Ms. Karen Kleiman, LMFT, of the Postpartum Stress Center. Karen Kleiman has recently published her book, Tokens of Affection: Reclaiming Your Marriage after Postpartum Depression, informed from her extensive clinical experience with postpartum couples. Ms. Kleiman presented her overarching framework for treating distressed postpartum couples, identifying 8 tokens to be cultivated in the therapeutic encounter. One of the tokens she refers to as a “Token of Affection.” Ms. Kleiman notes: “Recovery from postpartum depression does not happen overnight, thus, creating a lag between the crisis and a sense of well-being for the couple. During this transitional period both partners are anxious to return to normal while they are simultaneously challenged by buried negative emotions and unmet expectations. Tokens of Affection are gift-giving gestures on behalf of the relationship. As a reparative resource, the Tokens lead the way toward renewed harmony and reconnection.”
Elly Taylor remarks: “It’s common for couples – even happily married ones – to find that the bond between them becomes stretched following the birth of their baby. This comes as a shock for most and increases the risk for perinatal mood disorders for some. But prepare for this, and its possible not only to protect the bond, but build on it as the foundation for family.” She has recently published her book about the postpartum couple’s experience called, Becoming Us, in the United States.
Included here are some closing thoughts from the incoming PSI president, Ann Smith, RN, MSN, CNM:
“PSI is the original and leading organization dealing with perinatal mood disorder which we now know affects approximately 1 in 7 moms. It’s the leading complication of childbearing. All women can be affected regardless of age, race, socioeconomic status and whether the pregnancy was wanted. When treated promptly and by someone who has familiarity with these disorders, moms get better quite quickly. PSI has training programs nationwide which train providers in evidence based treatments. Many women need a combination of medication and talk therapy to get better as quickly as possible. There are a number of medications which have been proven safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding. Support groups are also helpful.
PSI wants everyone to remember three things:
You are not alone, you are not to blame, with help you will be well.
For assistance, call the PSI Warmline at 800-944-4PPD or visit online
Bloch, M., Schmidt, P. J., Danaceau, M., Murphy, J., Nieman, L., & Rubinow, D. R. (2000). Effects of gonadal steroids in women with a history of postpartum depression. American Journal of Psychiatry, 157(6), 924-930.