Sunday, May 3, 2015

Mothers Day is great... except when it's not

Don't get me wrong. I LOVE Mothers Day. One of two days of the whole year that is just for me. However, there was a time when Mothers Day was one of the worst days of the year- when I was going through infertility. Since that experience, I work hard to be mindful that Mothers Day can be very painful to some. 

In my practice, as a therapist who specializes in perinatal mental health, there are three common categories of women that Mothers Day is hard for (and some men too!). 

1. Women going through infertility (and their partners)
About 12% of women (1 in 8) and couples struggle to get pregnant. It makes sense that a day that celebrates being a mom can be difficult for these people. We need to be aware of how painful it can be for a woman who so desperately wants to be a mom cannot escape that our culture defines success as a woman as being a mom. You can't escape it, especially around this time of year. Go to Target, and right when you walk in the door is the HUGE sign above the card display for Mother's Day. Commercials on TV. Pregnant women with their bellies and young babies going out on walks, as the weather warms. I remember wanting to just stay in bed with a blanket over my head for the month of May. But we have to live. So, if you know someone in your life who is struggling to get pregnant, make sure you acknowledge that Mothers Day is hard for them. Offer to get together and do something fun anyways. Or let her talk, cry, yell about how unfair it all is. And if you or your partner are struggling, it is OK to let people know you are sad. It is OK to be sad for you and happy for the women in your life who are mothers. 

2. Women who have had a pregnancy or infant loss (and their partners)
Here are some statistics from
  • 90,000 children die annually in the United States before their first birthday.
  • Nearly 2,500 babies are lost/year in the United States due to S.I.D.S.
  • Nearly 30,000 babies a year are born stillborn. The number of stillbirths that occur worldwide jumps to more than 4.5 million/year.
  • More babies die as a result of stillbirth than all other causes of infant death combined.
  • Stillbirth occurs ten times more frequently than S.I.D.S.
  • 15-20% of all clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage each year.
This means that it is very likely that you have experienced or know someone who has had a miscarriage or lost a baby. For the same kinds of reasons mentioned with infertility, pregnancy and infant loss is invisible. You can't tell just by looking at someone if they don't have kids by choice or not. And there is still a lot of misinformation and ignorance that some people don't consider miscarriage "a baby", or if a family has had other children, the one that was lost is forgotten. But moms don't forget. Moms remember every year how old that child would have been. Or how differently their family would have looked if that child had survived. So again, be kind, because we don't know what anyone's story is. But if you DO know someone, remembering that baby to them can be so so kind. Tell them Happy Mothers Day. Validate their sadness. And if you are a partner, talk with her about how she wants to acknowledge Mothers Day. Please don't ignore it or pretend it's not happening. 

3. Those who have lost their own mother, or have a poor relationship with their mother 
Stepping outside our own feelings of Mothers Day, about if we are a mom or not, and remember that we all have a mom somewhere. Some of our moms have died. Some of our moms are cut out of our lives for numerous reasons. And some of us still have our mom with us, but the relationship is very complicated and makes Mothers Day a challenge. 
If you have lost your mom, the first Mothers Day will be particularly difficult. Think about how you would like to spend this day, and honor your mom. Share this with your partner or a close friend. Don't go through it alone. 
If you have relationship challenges, make a plan. Do you need your partner or a close friend to take you out and keep you distracted? Let you share your emotions about it? And if you do still see your mom on Mothers Day, set very clear boundaries. It is OK to limit the amount of time that you spend with your mom. It is OK to feel sad, hurt, angry, or frustrated (or all of the above) that you don't get a happy Mothers Day with your mom. Try to plan something to do afterwards to vent and debrief. 

This post is not intended to take away from the joy that Mothers Day brings. If you are a mom, you are to be celebrated. Just know that it is a very emotional day for many people, and to be kind, because we never know what people's story is. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Best Books of 2014... In my opinion

Happy new year! I'd like to start off the year by recapping a list of self-help books and memoirs that I found very readable this past year. Some of them are serious, some of them are funny. Note: this is only MY opinion, and in no particular order...

Self help

"Just Tell Me What to Say" by Betsy Brown Braun is a nice quick read on very common parenting concerns about discipline, friendship issues, sexuality, and conflict resolution. It gives readers a script for ways to navigate these difficult issues. It is geared towards those who have kids in the preschool through high school ages. This book would also be helpful for anyone in a profession that works with kids this age. One of the easier reads that tackles difficult parenting conversations.

"Change your Brain, Change your Body" by Daniel Amen, MD  This is not the first book I have read of this authors, nor will it be the last. What I love about his books is he is a advocate for people who choose treatments of all different modalities. He talks about Western medications, but also eastern integrative medicine, such as homeopathic treatments and supplements. He also emphasizes the importance of good old self care: sleep, diet, exercise. He also includes nifty brain scans that show the science behind his research, and how it literally can change the structure of your brain. He includes wonderful mental health information as well as other physical ailments.

"The Secret of the Shadow: The Power of Owning your Whole Story" by Debbie Ford This is not a new book, but one I finally just got around to reading this past year. I fell in love with one of Ford's previous books, and had to read this one as well. I like this one better. It takes the information from some of her other books and makes it more about using it to improve your current and future life. This book will help people who struggle with low self-worth and self-esteem. Through guided exercises, you will learn to like yourself better, and except that even if bad things have happened to you, you are still a great person.

"The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brene Brown This is another wonderful read about self-esteem. In a culture that values perfection, we need to learn how to handle the reality that we are not perfect. But how do we embrace that? This book walks you through Brown's ideas of how to do that in a simple straightforward way. If you would like to get a flavor of brown before buying, she also has a video on TED about shame and imperfection.


"Dad is Fat" by Jim Gaffigan Not only is Jim Gaffigan hilarious, but he is also the father of five very young children. This memoir is filled with short essays about his experience as a dad and son are laugh out loud funny. This would make a wonderful gift, not only for dads in your life, but for anybody who appreciates parenting humor.

"Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua A controversial read, I really liked that the tone of this book was not about "this is how you should parent" but about how she did follow the cultural mores of her family's parenting style, and how it went wrong in some ways. She also shares the challenges of having a blended cultural marriage, and how they made that work. It is a good breed that makes you think about your own parenting style and about how the American culture can be a challenge for people living here from other cultures.

"How Starbucks Saved My Life" by Michael Gates Gill Okay, I'll admit it: the reason I picked up this book was all about being addicted to Starbucks coffee. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this memoir written by a man who basically loses everything. He was raised in a wealthy family, and had a very wealthy lifestyle until the market crashed. I won't give anything away, however I will say that what I loved about this memoir is that it shows that people can be happy without all of the material things that are culture tells us we "need". He makes a very difficult new start and is inspirational. PS. It's also not a very long book, so good for even those who do not like to read.

Motherhood Comes Naturally, and Other Vicious Lies" Jill Smokler  As someone who works with postpartum moms, I am always looking for books that talk about motherhood in a realistic way. Smokler, founder of the blog Scary Mommy published this book a very funny essays about the realities of motherhood. If you are looking for a gift for a new mom, or you are a new mom yourself, pick it up on a bad day and just read one essay. It's a great reminder that motherhood does not come naturally.

Happy reading! 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The need for attachment

Science is showing that the need for attachment begins even before birth. The in utero environment can impact a fetus's developing brain. After they enter the world, you attach to your baby by making eye contact, holding, cuddling, cooing, feeding and other ways of otherwise nurturing and letting your baby know you are there for them.

Once the "baby stage" ends, they enter toddlerhood. The often tumultuous, emotional time where children want to be both "big kids" and babies all at the same time. This can be frustrating for both parents and children, who do not understand the process that kids are going through developmentally. Watch the video below, which does a much better job than I can of demonstrating the attachment needs of toddlers:

As anyone who has survived the twos, threes and fours of early childhood, it is a no-brainer how challenging and tiring it can be at times for your child to need so much of your energy. It can be overwhelming some days, and not make sense on others. It can feel like a breath of fresh air for kids to become school-aged, and not need those frequent attention and check-ins. Or so it seems...

I have a nine year old daughter who plays hockey. Last weekend, at her hockey game, I had a light bulb moment where I was reminded that this need for safety and security does not end after toddlerhood. My daughter plays goalie- which is a really tough position to watch your child play, BTW- and I noticed that after someone scored on her, she would look up to the stands where we were sitting, needing to check in and make eye contact. I would give her some kind of sign to let her know "It's OK! Keep going!" and she would turn back to the game. I then observed her block a puck, and I was hoping she would look up to me with the excitement I knew she was feeling. But she didn't. I noticed this pattern throughout the game- check in if a goal went in, but stay focused on the game if it didn't. And it occurred to me that she was checking in, just like in the video, seeking reassurance ONLY when she was disappointed, worried, in need of reassurance. A sign of her secure attachment was not seeking out our connection when she was successful- likely because she knows we are proud of her.

As kids get older and become adults, they will continue to search for safety and security. The need to attach to loved ones, to find that secure base, never ends. It just changes.