When moms contact me, questioning their emotional roller coasters during pregnancy or during their postpartum year, I always start back at the basics. The Steps to Wellness were developed by Jane Honikman, founder of PEP and later Postpartum International. More than thirty years later, they are just as relevant to all people, especially new parents.
Today I am going to review steps 4-6. Here we need to look more closely at who we can build to be our support team!
If you are a new parent, build some time for your into your life. Contact us for some nonjudgmental sharing. We can serve as emotional support, or help you open up to your loved ones for support.
Next week I will review steps 7-9.
This summer, the Good family of five will embark on our first ever two week vacation. I am nervous. Having a list-loving, over-planning, type-A personality, I am trying hard to simultaneously not to over think things or forget essentials. So I am writing lists AND engaging in positive self talk to remind myself that it will be a blast.
Here are my 5 vacation preparing tips!
1. Pack light
It is my MO to have enough clothes to have options since I never know what I will feel like wearing. So I want to pack a full outfit for every day of the trip, for every person. For a family of five, on a two week trip, this type of planning would result in excess baggage, costing us a few hundred dollars in baggage fees. However, we are staying with family. We will have access to laundry. Thus, we don't NEED to have an entire closet full of clothes. So THIS trip, I am limiting each person to 3-4 shirts, 2-3 bottoms, swim clothes, 4 pairs underwear & socks and two pairs of shoes. Okay I am also adding ONE running outfit and shoes so I can get some exercise in...
2. Plan some downtime
Speaking of exercise, it is important, especially on such a long trip, to not over schedule each day. Remember kids will need to rest at some time during the day. It is important to maintain some parts of normal routine to avoid melt downs from all parties. Plan for days in, whether your staying with family or in a hotel or resort, don't plan a full outing every day. Enjoy your home away from home in as normal of routing as you can muster at least once per week away from home.
3. Plastic Baggies
You may remember Rebecca talking about the use of plastic baggies during hurricane prep. Well really, they are useful for all sorts of adventures with children. This is the first time I will be packing with plastic baggies for dividing individual outfits, but I think it will do two things for me. 1) make sure I plan evenly and that one kid doesn't end up with 7 shirts and 2 pairs of socks because I get irritated and start throwing things into bags. 2) keep the clothes somewhat organized in our much smaller home away from home (aka room at the grandparents). This should keep socks from wondering during our trip. I will also be putting kid activities in baggies for easy storage as well as packing all toiletries (as required by TSA) into a clear plastic baggie for easy pass through at airport security. All baggies will go into personal backpacks. Photos to come when I get around to packing!
4. Remember your prescriptions
Prescriptions need to be packed with the other vital traveling documents, ID, passport, birth certificate, credit cards etc. I urge you to carry any prescription medication in its original packaging in your personal carry on bag. Just in case, have a copy of your script in case your actual bottle disappears in transit. Check with your provider if you need to adjust for the timing of the medications due to time differences, and make sure you have plenty to provide adequate dosing for the duration of your trip, even if you hit a delay in travel arrangements.
5. Discuss the plans with your children in advance
Talk with your children about your travel arrangements. Use vague language if plans are not set in stone, but provide enough detail that they have and idea of what to expect. It will help to alleviate any fears they may be harboring. It can also help your anxiety as they may ask questions that help you plan for things you hadn't really thought of. For instance, my son asked where he would sleep at Grandma's house, and I realized I needed to clarify with my mother what the sleeping arrangements would be. Talking about the trip will build excitement and reduce anxiety on all parts. Just be careful not to make any finite promises that you can't be sure will be kept. Your children will remember all your promises and will not let you forget!
What tips do you have for family travel? Share in the comments below!
Packing up a storm!
Often, when I learn more about the long term effects of maternal mood disorders on the health and development of children, I become very anxious that I have destroyed my children for life.
*** Next are the risks associated with UNTREATED maternal mood disorders on children ***
This can be pretty scary really!
*** Resume Reading Here***
Then I remember how brave I was to get help. How important it was for me and my children that I sought medical treatment. That I let go of my ego and stopped trying to "power" through. By getting treatment, I took a huge step to reduce these risks and improve the health of my children. This is the thread I hold onto when the guilt starts trying to eat me alive. My saving grace.
So to focus on the positives, I am sharing a few images of my beautiful, healthy children. Please feel free to share yours too!
Splashing in puddles with the kids,
Something Rebecca and I have in common is that we have both have a background as a labor doula (her much more so than I). So we have witnessed the amazing and beautiful revolution focusing on empowering birth as it continues to take the country by storm. Since we started having children, labor doulas have become more popular. The suggestion of hiring one has increased in mainstream bump and parenting magazines. And for good reason! Labor doulas are incredible additions to the birth team.
We aren't trying to steal the light from the labor doulas nor negate the importance of an empowered birth, we simply want to extend that focus to the perinatal period, of which childbirth encompasses a day or two.
If you are pregnant now, who is on your postpartum team? Have you created a plan? Have you been stressing about preparing for your baby's arrival? Did you know an antenatal doula could help with that?
If you are not currently pregnant, think back, if you aren't fully into the amnesia stage, you may remember more than a few times of self doubt, tears, or frustration; wishing someone who understood was there to help you.
Enter the postpartum doula.
Realizing how powerful a mother is when she is properly supported during her postpartum period, Rebecca and I started talking about postpartum doulas. We developed a dream of placing postpartum doulas that understand the early signs and symptoms of perinatal distress into the homes of every new mother. You know how this goes, Rebecca and I decided once again, that we might as well start somewhere.
On July 17th, The Seventh Mom Project, Inc. launched our social enterprise, Tampa Bay Perinatal Professionals. This enterprise is a perinatal doula agency that truly knows motherhood is not always sunshine and rainbows; doula agency ready for any mother, regardless the weather.
We hope you are as excited as we are for this journey!
Holding the umbrella,
I want to apologize for the lack of blog posts this month. June has been much busier than I could have ever imagined.
I need to thank all the supporters. The Seventh Mom Project, Inc. was in its infancy only one year ago. We showed a film, and we knew we had to keep working. Thank you to everyone who has helped along the way!
So why has June been so busy?? Between school letting out, a full day SISTER Mom training featuring Mental Health First Aid, and a half day Cultural and Linguistic Competency workshop with Tampa Bay Health Care Collaborative, we CLIMBED. Well some of us actually climbed, the majority walked a beautiful Florida path on a muggy Saturday morning.
Our Climb raised $555 to contribute to Postpartum Progress as they continue their mission to help moms globally. Our climb was attended by 28 adults and 24 or so children. We met at Weedon Island at 8 am on June 11th, ate some delicious donuts and drank my life source, aka coffee.
I stood on a table and nearly cried as I was so touched by the turn out and the support. I really don't think I could properly convey how grateful I truly am.
We were honored to climb with the mother supporter of a climb leader from Vermont. She even brought a gift, a book written by her daughter, Dancing on the Edge of Sanity. We used it as a raffle prize to share with our participants, but will be adding this to our library with our next order!
Mrs. Florida Galaxy and her family joined our climb and gave a moving keynote address post climb. We were also joined by Sarah, the founder of Postpartum Florida, our friend and mentor on this journey. She is extra cool because she brought cake.
After a muggy walk, we ate cake! Because when you are as awesome as we are, it is totally okay to eat cake at 9:30 am.
Thanks again for a wonderful inaugural climb in Tampa Bay! Please forgive us for our lack of posts this month. We are working hard on a few big projects to debut in July!
Holding the Umbrella,
You know it's funny how things happen in my mind. Elizabeth and I really didn't have a planned post for today and we had just decided we were going to link to something else when out of nowhere it hit me.
Hello Earth Day!
But you see that's not where my brain stopped no, it then jumped over to planting trees, fun projects with the kids, then moms and of course "Mother Earth" and then the natural health and holistic health movements. Seriously if we've never had the opportunity to sit down and brainstorm together let's make a brain date you'll find my stream of consciousness, especially when well caffeinated, is really quite fun.
Now back to Earth Day- April 22- marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. Now if you're a history nerd like myself go click Earth Day to learn about this one day were twenty million Americans took to the streets to demonstrate their desire for a more sustainable environment. Hey I wonder how many moms were out marching for Earth that day. I don't want to get into a rant about various religious-political-social issues surrounding Earth Day or Creation Care Day or whatever you choose to call it. Once the gears in my head started spinning I really kept thinking of how the natural parenting community, or as we sometimes call it "crunchy mom" community often sees things, especially when it comes to perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. A lot of moms are concerned about taking medications, especially while breastfeeding or are simply interested in seeking more natural remedies for all ailments, including postpartum depression.
If I had a dollar for every time I saw a post in a moms group asking something like "what are natural remedies for anxiety" or "what oils are good for depression" I wouldn't have a mortgage to pay anymore. Seriously.
So, with this in mind, today I want to touch on a few complementary options for treating prenatal or postpartum depression and anxiety.
I just want to throw this out there, there is nothing wrong with deciding to take medication for mental illness. Medication combined with therapy is the most effective known treatment for maternal mood disorder.
As always, consult with your health care provider before starting or stopping any treatment plan, be it pharmaceutical or otherwise.
I also want to mention the value of Mom's groups, you know the kind where you get together with other moms with or without your baby and chat about various topics. Research has shown Peer-to-Peer support is an integral and effective part of recovery from maternal mental illness. It improves outcomes, improves quality of life, helps connect people to treatment, reduces severity, and is cost effective. If you are able to get to a group or even a play date with a couple of other moms, go for it. This may seem like a huge task but if you go, odds are you'll be glad you did. Let us know if you need information on motherhood groups near you, we'll be glad to share a list of resources.
Now if you are able to get out of your home (I say able because I know depression and anxiety can make just stepping outside a huge feat) you may want to consider what are called Complementary and Alternative Medicine or CAM. According to the MAYO Clinic, nearly 40 percent of adults report using complementary and alternative medicine. Doctors are implementing CAM therapies too; often mixing them with more mainstream options — hence the term "integrative medicine."
What is considered “alternative medicine” changes constantly because different forms undergo research and testing over time and tend to become more mainstream. To make sense of the many therapies available, it helps to look at how they're classified by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM):
Whole Medical Systems
A system is more than a single remedy, it's actually many practices or remedies that center on a philosophy, for example:
Thought to strengthen the communication between your mind and your body. CAM practitioners say these two systems must be in harmony or balanced for you to be well. Examples are meditation, prayer, relaxation and art therapies.
I'd like to mention the concept of mindfulness and its power when it comes to motherhood. Mindfulness involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. Practicing mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
Here in Tampa Bay, we have professionals that specialize in Mindfulness, Evelyn Ojeda-Fox of Red Tent Collective is one such professional. I encourage you to check out her Dunedin based business and ask her about services such as mother's circle, motherhood mentoring, even Craniosacral Therapy. Many moms rave about the mother's group that meets there each week!
Biologically based practices
These are dietary supplements and herbal remedies taken as teas, oils, syrups, powders, tablets or capsules. Using ingredients found in nature, these are very popular with people interested in using herbs in place of or in addition to prescription medicines.
Here's a brief article on herbal treatment for anxiety courtesy of the MAYO clinic. I'd like to point out the importance of knowing potential side effects and adverse reactions to herbals and please use caution if you are breastfeeding.
If you're interested in learning more about using herbs or many other holistic options, our friend and supporter De'Nicea Hilton, DOM, AP, holds a Masters of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine is certified as a diplomat of Oriental Medicine with a thorough knowledge of Acupuncture and Point Location, Biomedicine and Chinese Herbology. Dr. D as she is affectionately called recently shared more information with us about her practice and working with women experiencing in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. She offers appointments in both Clearwater and Temple Terrace. The Seventh Mom Project, Inc. is looking forward to inviting Dr. D to join our Temple Terrace Peer-to Peer support group coming soon!
Manipulation and body-based practices
Chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation and massage are examples.
Sometimes the simple luxuriousness of a massage or the relaxation that comes with a visit to the chiropractor can do a world of good for a mother whose feeling overwhelmed and on the verge of burning out. Chiropractic care in particular is associated with relieving some of the physical ailments of postpartum adjustment. As an example, the hormone relaxin, which is crucial for loosening ligaments in preparation for birth, lingers in the body for 6 months to a year after pregnancy, leaving your pelvic and sacral regions vulnerable to misalignment and injury. Regular chiropractic adjustment is believed to help maintain stability in the region, helping you to recover quicker and more effectively. Dr. Shannon Whitlock, not only offers home and birth center visits, but she holds specials classes and mom's morning out events. Remember those moms groups I mentioned, find one.
A buildup of anxiety manifests itself in tense muscles-a feeling of stiffness and tightness. Hands-on massage therapy treatment can increase relaxation, while helping the body to grow stronger. For our friends on the other side of Tampa Bay, especially if you are currently pregnant, check out Melissa of Rising Lotus Maternity Services and over here in East Hillsborough, Anita Griffin Thomas is a licensed massage therapist who works with chiropractors, neurologists, immunologists, OB/Gyns and orthopedists to achieve the best possible outcome for their patients.
Some CAM practitioners believe invisible energy force flows through your body, and when this energy flow is blocked or unbalanced you can become sick. Different traditions call this energy by different names, such as chi, prana and life force. The goal of these therapies is to unblock or re-balance your energy force. Energy therapies include qi gong, therapeutic touch, reiki, and magnet therapy.
Things to keep in mind
Many doctors practicing today didn't receive training in CAM or integrative medicine, so they may not feel comfortable making recommendations in this area. Bare in mind that mainstream therapies have been researched and tested for safety and effectiveness. Science based evidence does exist for some CAM, for many there is still a lot of unknowns.
Sadly, there are CAM practitioners who make exaggerated and sometimes outright false claims about curing diseases. If your CAM practitioner encourages you to skip treatment from your doctor or therapist be very aware. Mental illness is still a medical condition and it's crucial to ensure proper care and treatment. Large scale, carefully controlled medical studies are costly. Trials for therapies are often funded by big companies that develop and sell drugs. Fewer resources exist to support trials of CAM therapies. That's why National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health was established — to foster research into CAM and make the findings available to the public.
Talk to your doctor about risks and benefits of any therapy you're considering especially if you are pregnant, have other medical problems or take prescription medicines. Don't stop or change your prescription medications — without talking to your doctor first. Finally, be sure to keep your doctor updated on any alternative therapies you're using, including herbal and dietary supplements.
One thing I did not get into here is essential oils. Again there's just not a lot of research and I don't want to give unsafe information to anyone. So I will offer this, if you like the smell and want to diffuse some oils or maybe wear a special skin safe blend, go for it. Please be very cautious when using essential oils as injuries can occur.
In addition to essential oil use I did not talk about placenta encapsulation. I just want to touch on it real quick, since I have written about it before, while there is no science-based evidence confirming that placenta consumption can improve postpartum adjustment there are numerous accounts of anecdotal evidence from moms who have tried placenta encapsulation or placenta smoothies. I cannot tell you for certain that consuming your placenta will improve your mood, speed your recovery, or promote breastfeeding success but it may work for you. Perhaps even the placebo effect is worthwhile. We have been fortunate to work with many placenta specialists, specifically broadening their knowledge of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and are more than glad to help you narrow down your search.
And the last thing I want to mention, is go outside. Plant a tree if you like (this seems like a lot of work) or simply sit in the sunshine breathing in fresh air. Just being outdoors has been proven effective at boosting one's mood. I used to sit on my porch steps nursing my baby in the afternoons just to get my fresh air and sunshine fix and I felt great after each time. In fact, I suggest finding a great moms group that has outdoor meet ups and play dates because, well, outdoors is good for moms and kids. I can even help you find one!
Umbrella is open, today's forecast is a Purple Rain,
Caught in a landslide..no escape from reality... (I am sorry, kind of)
Yesterday morning, I was semi-daydreaming through a workshop titled “Expectations in Relationships”. While the workshop was focused on romantic relationships, I couldn’t help but think about a different relationship and the expectations I had once held for motherhood. The definition of expectation is “the act or state of looking forward; a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.”
The goals of the workshop were to decide if we should have expectations? Identify Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Expectations, and to offer tools to build healthy expectations.
Immediately I thought about how Motherhood is rampant with misconceptions, expectations, and idealizations that unlike the gradual reality of a romantic relationship, are typically thrust upon you in one final push.
Some healthy examples of expectations for relationships included: my partner will communicate with me and my partner will put in their share of the work. Unhealthy examples included, my partner will know what I am thinking, and my partner will complete me or make me fully happy.
Comparing the examples to the list of “Motherhood Expectations” I solicited from an online group of moms, I found that many moms are entering this relationship full of unrealistic and unhealthy expectations for themselves, their partners, and their babies. The crash of reality with these unrealistic expectations has to do damage mentally, emotionally, and socially.
Where do our Motherhood Expectations come from?
Expectations typically come from our experiences (ie, we decide to do things or not to do things the way our mother did them), our past experiences with infants, and societal norms. One way our unrealistic expectations are allowed to develop is the fact that nobody talks about the ugly, the unpleasant, or the unmentionable. We often only see the pretty side of motherhood, amazing birth photos or new nursing mom's with a happy baby perfectly latched, or my personal favorite, calmly sleeping babies in a beautifully decorated nursery. Social Media highlights the joys and precious moments. What about the sore bottoms and chapped nipples? Friend and mentor Sarah Workman Checcone of Postpartum Society of Florida decided to change this by discussing the unspoken details in her book From Bump to Grind.
Let's look at some of the Motherhood Expectations voiced by the mom's group members.
Full disclosure, for my first son, some of these expectations were met. So I had no reason to believe otherwise that there weren’t universal truths. And in the same manner, some realities were blown with him, so my second time around I had no expectation of a clean house, healthy prepped dinners, or routine. But each expectation or “ideal” we strive for, is an opportunity for disappointment.
Part of me laughs as I say the easiest way to deal with this disappointment is to drop the expectations. But realistically, we will have expectations. So, based on the suggestions from the presentation, I would like to offer some tools, or tips really, for creating healthy expectations.
Occasionally, even when we manage to lower our expectations, we discover that something about motherhood just doesn’t meet the bar. When these expectations are unmet, it is common to feel upset. So I leave you with a few reminders of what to do when you find yourself disappointed by unmet expectations.
I remember asking Daniel to go get a pregnancy test. He scoffed at me and blew my instinct off because so many times I had felt pregnant and was wrong. Still he came home with a pregnancy test that night after work.
Unlike the 20 or so pregnancy tests I took hopefully expecting a positive result during my first marriage, this pregnancy test I was praying would be negative. I had just been laid off a few months earlier. Neither Daniel nor I had a driver’s license. I was 20 pounds heavier than my heaviest weight. I was not prepared to be pregnant. I knew this was the worst possible time in my life to be pregnant. There was no way after trying for 5 years and not getting pregnant. There was no way to conceive with out fertility treatment like I’d been told in my last marriage. How could this be happening now with no medical intervention?
Obviously the pregnancy test was positive, or I wouldn’t be writing about perinatal mood distress.
Daniel’s knee jerk reaction was, “What if we abort it? You really shouldn’t be pregnant or deliver a baby with all your health issues.”
I sat outside on our balcony. I thought about aborting the pregnancy. I thought about how I had always wanted to be a mom. I knew I had to have the baby. I had to give it a try because what if I never get pregnant again.
So we decided to have a baby. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
We moved the weekend following the positive test. This was December 2009, by Christmas we told our family.
Before New Year’s I realized something wasn’t right. I just felt so hopeless. I couldn’t eat. My mind was consumed about how everything in my life was going wrong. I had no money. I had no way to get around without depending on my mom. I had no health insurance.
The uncontrollable crying began. The intrusive thoughts, of hurting myself or falling on my uterus causing the baby to be aborted, began.
I told my mom and Dan about my fears. We took steps to find help. I got my proof of pregnancy from the health department. I called an Ob/Gyn to help me find a provider to take me to provide treatment for my depression during my prenatal care. I was told sure they would give me prenatal care as self pay but I had to see a psychiatrist for depression. I called psychiatrists and they told me that I needed to see an OB for it because I was pregnant.
I remember going to PEHMS Emergency Adult office downtown St. Pete. I stood at the receptionist window sobbing. The lady was nice, but she told me because I had no insurance and no Medicaid, I was ineligible for services. She also said, “It’s normal to be so tearful in pregnancy, it’s just the hormones.”
Even with my attempts to find treatment, I received nothing. No meds, no counseling, nothing. My depression and isolation worsened. I began looking into midwives and birth centers. Insurance policies and finances excluded many of these options. I had some prenatal care at one office, but I wasn’t happy with my care there. I went to Breath of Life and spoke to Chris Hildebrandt. She listened, she didn’t dismiss my depression. She recommended Family Systems of Care.
After an intake session and setting up some case manager visits at home I got to be seen at Directions for mental health with a counselor. My first counselor there again dismissed my issues as pregnancy related and told me that everything would be better once I had baby. I was so distraught, I felt belittled and ignored by yet another person dismissing my condition.
I spoke up to my case manager and was assigned a new therapist. Finally I had a therapist that I could work with. I also began seeing a psychiatrist about the possibility of taking medicine. Things got better. The light at the end of the tunnel could be seen.
That light ended with a beautiful baby. I am so happy to be raising a delightful little boy. I still struggle with mental illness, but I now know it is common and can be treated when caught by knowledgeable and caring providers.
I want all moms and anyone that works with moms to know that pregnancy or prenatal depression is real. It isn’t just hormones, though it can be exacerbated by the hormones of pregnancy. I want providers to know that treating mood disorders like they are simply side effects of pregnancy or the postpartum period and not addressing the root illness is the ultimate reinforcement that mothers don’t matter. There were more instances of my experience being dismissed I only mention the most memorable. These examples of dismissal say to me that women’s mental health issues aren’t important enough to be dealt with and treated. I ask myself, “How do psychiatrists not have knowledge of prescribing medications during pregnancy? How do obstetricians not know more about how to address refer and treat women who sit on their exam tables suffering?”
Due to my experiences, I desperately feel that appropriate care for moms experiencing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders is a human rights issue. Thankfully, Chris caught me and directed me to Family systems of care, who helped me obtain treatment at directions was my salvation. Sadly, Directions is currently unfunded.
So who is helping moms like me today? That's right, I am.
Cat, a fellow Seventh Mom
A Note form The Seventh Mom Project, Inc.
Perinatal Mood Disorders, such as Depression and Anxiety can rear their ugly heads anytime during pregnancy or in the postpartum period (up to one year or more!)
Please watch yourself for these symptoms:
Contact your provider if you have any questions regarding your mental health during or after pregnancy. If you are not sure who to contact, please feel free to contact us for assistance. In an emergency, please contact 9-1-1.
Thank you for visiting our blog and for continuing to stand with moms. We are very excited to announce our participation in this year's Give Day Tampa Bay!
Please read the entire Press Release and learn more about this wonderful event here.
You can register to attend the event here.
Help us out by joining our #AprilShowersBringMayFlowers Social Media Campaign!Join us to spread the word during April in our #AprilShowersBringMayFlowers campaing. Share your images of you holding your umbrella in support with the hashtags: #theseventhmomproject #GiveDayTampaBay #weatheringstorms #livehere #givehere
PLEASE post your photos and share ours or you can email your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org for us to post throughout April leading up to Give Day Tampa Bay on May 3, 2016!
I have no opposition to medications and medical interventions when necessary, but I also believe that we need to treat the cause not just the symptoms. Sometimes we are so focused on managing symptoms that we forget to look for underlying cause. This applies to perinatal mental health as well. Sometimes our hormones are out of balance and we need pharmaceutical help and sometimes we need dietary changes or more simply things to ease the transition into motherhood, like solid peer support. Make no mistake, I whole heartedly believe that medication saves lives. I also believe that often women are improperly diagnosed and treated thus exacerbating symptoms of distress.
Occasionally a mom reaches out to me for what she thinks maybe postpartum depression. Sometimes, through care and professional evaluation, moms find that while they are definitely overwhelmed with new motherhood, they are not experiencing maternal mental illness. Sometimes. Fortunately, here in Tampa Bay we really do have this amazing wealth of resources for families. Not only do we have a large natural birth and parenting community, we have a large number of alternative and complimentary therapy practitioners (such as massage therapist, hypnotherapist and acupuncturist), several support groups, educational programs and more.
In my own quest to understand my struggles with maternal mental illness I studied every treatment possibility I could. Read many case studies, consulted with professionals and eventually came to a treatment plan that was suitable for me. I found a combination of prayer, medication, cognitive behavior therapy and alternative therapies worked for me, after obtaining an accurate diagnosis.
Now I know every woman is different however if you are considering alternatives to medication, I want you to know what is out there. I recently chatted with Dr. De’Nicea Hilton, owner of Hilton Holistic Health and founder of Sisters of Flow. Doctor D, as she is sometimes called, is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture Physician working with families in Tampa Bay. With years of study and national certification, Dr. D specializes in encouraging self-healing and wellness.
If you’re not familiar with acupuncture, it is an art of inserting (or non-insertion for some styles) sterile, one-time use needles in specific points that are all over the body. By stimulating these points, it’s believed we are calling these points to activate with a greater purpose of helping the body to harmonize and thus promote self-healing. Pretty neat huh.
I asked how acupuncture treats mental and emotional issues, as in what is the theory behind acupuncture for health and mental health? Here’s how Dr. D explained it to me;
“While the physical act of performing acupuncture is working with the body, there is an intimate connection with the mind as well. Each organ system houses a part of our mental/emotional state. You hear that our physical health is a representation of the mind or vice versa. I see it all the time. Thought patterns and physical complaints may seem completely unrelated but they are very much so related due to the understanding/nature of the organ systems. For example, someone may describe having constipation and when asked about having difficulty "letting things go" in life, they often agree that they do. So, you can see it is more in understanding the organ systems and the relationships between each other. Body, mind and spirit are tightly connected. Often times, the physical symptom is a way your body is communicating. We hold emotions in various parts of our bodies. It is part therapeutic talk and acupuncture and herbs are a tool to further the therapeutic process by balancing and harmonizing the body, mind and spirit.”
In preparing for this post, I went searching for information on acupuncture and its use in the field of maternal mental health. I didn’t find much, in fact, one study, mentioned at Postpartum Progress was the most detailed I could find. I shared it with Dr. D and asked here to help me understand (in plain mama English) and she was glad to expand on it. Take a break, go read it and come back to us.
Back again? Here’s our pal Dr. D’s reply;
“The author of the post did a great job in presenting both sides of the findings of the study. It is very clear that the opposing author does not believe in or consider Qi to be something that exists. However, it does exist and since 2010 when that article was written, more and more scans and studies have come out. Cardiologists are recommending Qi Gong and Tai Chi for patients for its benefits in reducing blood pressure. Other physicians are recommending it for pain relief and even helping to manage tremors in patients with Parkinson’s disease.
As for the methodology of the study, it can be difficult to say you are going to treat a blanket diagnosis as depression without going through the pool of potential study participants and setting the inclusion criteria to maybe only represent a specific TCM diagnosis. I appreciate the thought in the performing acupuncturists not knowing the diagnosis beforehand. The notion of "sham acupuncture" is interesting to me because although the needle may not be inserted, the points can still be stimulated. Non-insertion technique is commonly used in Japanese acupuncture. Commonly you will hear about Toyohari and Shonishin.
It's necessary to point out that TCM is one of many acupuncture theories and practices. For some patients, TCM acupuncture may not be as effective as Japanese, Six Stage, Five Element or Korean. This list is not exhaustive by any means. I mention this because practitioners practice differently. With that, you may ask if there is a certain style preference she or he uses.
Overall, I would consider what TCM diagnosis was made for each of the participants and their histories. Acupuncture itself can help for sure, and I believe herbs and nutrition work harmoniously. Lifestyle is another consideration. It is not going to take just one thing to correct something. It takes a holistic approach.”
So this then lead me to asking how Hilton Holistic Health approaches maternal mental health, most importantly, how Dr. D works with Moms.
“I love the way this question is asked - "work with moms." That's exactly how I think of it. I meet moms where they are at. By speaking with her, we can really see where she is, including her present symptoms and hearing about her life before pregnancy and her birth story. Details of the birth gives me an idea of what the state of her body was before she went into the pregnancy and the birth. There is some vital information to be found there. For example, she may have had a history of very light menstrual cycles spread apart and then had a very long labor which may have ended up in a C-section. This tells me she had some underlying deficiencies and in the present state, her body has just been really taxed and needs some vital support. It just so happens that she is manifesting it in the way she is now: be it depression, anxiety, poor memory, fatigue or even low milk supply. This is a very common diagnosis of Blood and Qi Deficiency (which could be of different organs based on mom) due to the major loss of those substances during birth.
What helps most often after an Eastern medicine diagnosis has been found, is to replenish the system. This happens via nutrition, herbs and acupuncture. I use a Micronutrient test to see where she may be most deficient and where she's not absorbing these important pieces of our proper bodily function. My preference is using whole food supplements because the body is more readily available to absorb them. Plus, when you are absorbing and processing properly, the herbs are able to go in and do their job as channel/organ system balancing. Acupuncture seals the deal by activating the points to further balance the disharmonies.”
I really love the notion of professionals who encage their patients, really speak with them not at them. By helping moms explore what’s going on with their bodies, Dr. D is planting seeds of healing. Sometimes just having someone who is caring and nonjudgmental to listen can make a world of difference.
I’m also really excited to share another special project from Dr. D called Sisters of Flow. Sisters of Flow is currently a podcast where Dr. D and guest go with the flow, about anything and everything menstrual cycles.
“ I started it out of my personal experience with painful periods which sometimes made me really unproductive because I would have to sit with a space heater on the floor at work or would miss class because I would just have to stay at home in bed with heating pad. While in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine School, I learned about treating this and it worked! All I used was acupuncture and herbs. Later I incorporated vaginal steaming as a regular regimen to make sure I'm shedding all that I need to shed each month. As I began talking with other women, I learned they did not know that the cycle is not supposed to be painful or even there were other options to use besides birth control pills. Thus, Sisters of Flow was born to provide a platform to educate those who menstruate about what their options are, raise awareness about disparities in regards to women's health and exploring different cultures' perception about menstruation.”
“I would LOVE for moms to know the cycle you once knew may change. This may be for the better or for the worse. If there is anything to find comforting, it is that in this new phase of your life, you now know there is a lot of support. If it is for the worse, heed that as a sign that you may need some additional support. For some, it may be cramping or back pain and it can stay that way or get better. For some, there is definitely a connection. The timing of the menstrual pain along with the flow, color, odor and duration are taken into consideration. Though not true for everyone, some with cycles that may have been closer together, painful before and first days with heavy dark bleeding may experience more anxiety. On the other hand, those with prolonged pain throughout the cycle and even afterwards with a lighter color and longer time in between may experience more depression. In these instances, the menstrual pain and information about the cycle in general adds great information in painting the picture of her overall being.”
I’m also a little excited, I recently got to be a guest and “go with the flow” talking about cycle changes after multiple births and various types of birth. We’ll be sure to let you know when it airs, warning its probably pretty TMI for some but you know how open I am. I also think menses is another topic, like mental illness that gets shushed too often. If you are interested in learning more about Oriental Medicine, acupuncture and more, please contact Dr. De'Nicea Hilton, Doctor of Oriental Medicine, and Acupuncture Physician. I warn you though, you may find yourself laughing with her and chatting so much you forget the needles.
Dr. De'Nicea Hilton, DOM, AP
Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Acupuncture Physician
Hilton Holistic Health - www.hiltonholistichealth.com
Sisters of Flow - www.sistersofflow.com
Text or call: 727-300-6722
Each walk is different, but we walk together, and that makes all the