Lauren Hale

Lauren Hale tells it like it is about Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders over at My Postpartum Voice. She is also the founder of #PPDChat, an online Twitter & FB Community dedicated to supporting moms on their journey by harnessing the power of the Internet. You can find her on Twitter @unxpctdblessing.

Birth Trauma: Coping with Triggers

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The following is a guest post written by Karin Beschen, a Warrior Mom living in Iowa with her husband and two sons.  

She works as a psychotherapist, specializing in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.


This morning I walked outside to grab the newspaper and felt the distinct autumn chill. It’s the same chill that has always made me smile because it’s paired with cozy sweaters, hot apple cider and football. Then I took a breath. It wasn’t a breath of warm memories; it was suddenly a breath of fear and panic – an inhale that has become a familiar blend of sinking and stinging through my whole body.
“I’m okay.  I’m safe.”
It’s been years since my son’s traumatic birth, but every first scent of the season nearly sends me to my knees. I have done a tremendous amount of work with the trauma, yet my journey continues to be scattered with these triggers – these “rocks” on my path of healing. Rocks that I kick, boulders that I avoid and pebbles that I hold lovingly in my hand.

Early on, the triggers were overwhelming. My mind easily fell back to my son’s birth and related events and it was difficult – sometimes impossible – to be in the present moment. I was fearful of what I may see, smell, feel or hear that would begin the flood of thoughts and images. Some triggers were more evident and I could prepare for them and work through them fairly quickly.  Other triggers were spontaneous and seemed to have the most power behind them. These were the times when it felt like someone put a fresh set of batteries in my mind – everything felt brighter, sharper, louder … scarier.

People tend to think triggers are negative things – obvious things from the trauma. Many of my triggers were items or experiences I had previously associated with happiness or pleasure – seeing pregnancy, a baby aisle at the store or maternity clothing. Post-birth these things would jolt me and they became a source of avoidance and aversion.  They symbolized a tremendous amount of loss and disappointment. They reminded me how everything changed from calm to chaos in a handful of minutes.

Coping with Triggers

It’s impossible to completely avoid triggers, so it’s important to learn how to cope with them. There are numerous effective, healthy strategies for managing triggers of post-traumatic stress (and can be valuable with any perinatal emotional distress).

The list below outlines a few ideas for lessening the impact of triggers. I’ve found them especially helpful because they can be used in a variety of environments, even when my son was napping in my arms.

Finding Presence: Grounding exercises are a way to connect with the present moment. They help by easing out of the distressing thoughts and becoming more aware of the immediate environment. “Out of the mind and into the body.” Simple body movements like stretching or walking around the house (feeling feet on the floor, altering light and heavy steps) can improve presence.

Taking away the story:  The triggers are triggering because they carry a story. I found it helpful to take in the triggering object or situation for what it was – without the narrative. It can be challenging to do in the moment, but becomes easier with time and practice. For example, the hospital baby blanket was a trigger for me. Even though I had put ours away, the familiar blanket seemed to follow me around town, pop up in other babies’ photos and plague me with fear. I re-introduced myself to the blanket without the story.  It was soft, light-weight, rectangular and had pastel footprints printed on one side. Little by little, the traumatic story that had been associated with the blanket lessened.

Care and affirmation:  Holding my hand to my heart was a way of feeling and showing self-compassion.  It was an important gesture that I did throughout the day, especially at times when I felt the least-deserving of care. It offered a pause. I was going through the most difficult time of my life and I needed to be kind to myself.

I had a few affirmations to write or say to myself to acknowledge that I was safe in that moment (no matter how real my flashback felt) and the original experience/trauma was over.

“I’m okay.  I’m safe.”
“All of my feelings are okay.”
“I will feel better.”
“I can heal.”

Affirmations can become reality. I am safe. Every feeling I’ve had and every one I continue to have is okay. I am better – a lot better.  I’m healing.  Every day brings more healing, and I will continue to walk on the path. Rocks and all.

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Recovery from Intrusive Thoughts

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girl-925548_640After my recent pieces about intrusive thoughts here at Postpartum Progress (which you can find here and hereplease use caution in clicking over as these are both potentially triggering posts), I have received a number of emails from several women. While these are of course, private in nature, what I want to share about them is the theme echoing in all of them – when will I get better? Does this go away? What does recovery mean for us? While these exact words may not have been used, the questions still hang in the ether of the Internet, guarded by hearts fearful of the answer, whispered by the souls of women afloat in their worlds. We feel alone, lost, and as if we cannot discuss this with anyone else. But once we find someone who has been where we are, we are ripped open and everything comes spilling out as we seek answers and hope.

These questions about thoughts going away, recovery, and getting better are ones I struggle with mightily because there is no definitive answer for any of us to any of the questions which crop up as we move through Perinatal Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I am a very logic-minded person and I prefer things to be cut and dry. When they are not, I find myself frustrated and confused, hence, my attitude toward these questions. I do my best to answer them but I still find myself reaching to find the right words in order to strike a balance between hope and truth. It is a very, very fine line.

In the most basic sense, the following two sentences strike the simplest answers:

Yes. The thoughts fade.

No, they don’t ever completely go away.

But a longer response is below:

The thoughts fade into the background as you heal and grow stronger. What stays, and what is difficult for those of us who have OCD to differentiate, are typical parental fears – the nagging fear something might happen to your child when you’re not watching. THAT stays forever. It’s not intrusive, it’s a normal heightened awareness which comes with parenting. When you have survived Perinatal Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, however, it is a never-ending battle to keep these normal heightened awareness type thoughts from spiraling into intrusive thoughts. We constantly battle to keep them from growing into giant monsters, renewing the fight every single day.

So then, what does recovery from an episode of Perinatal Obsessive Compulsive Disorders look like? Here’s my take:

Recovery, for me, is a constant involvement in awareness of my feelings, reactions, and coping methods in regard to the ever changing world around me. It’s ensuring that in addition to my daily requirements, I’m taking care of myself as well.

Recovery is not a discharge notice from a hospital, nor is it the last pill swallowed at the end of a prescription. It’s not the final therapist visit nor is it uttering the words, “I’m okay.”

This is how the dictionary defines recovery:

Recovery Definition

What is recovery in the living world?

Recovery is life.

It’s ebbing and flowing with a tenacity learned in the depths of hell, a grip on enjoying all the little things and a determination to not go back to the dark depths. It’s knowing that even if I do go back, I have a road map tucked safely away which will lead me back out again. (see also: Netflix & chocolate)

Recovery is self-care, self-compassion, and self-respect.

It is knowing it is okay to not be okay. Recovery is navigating the ups and the downs. It’s getting to know yourself SO well that you recognize the difference between yourself and depression/mental illness. Recovery is knowing exactly how to soothe the ugly beast  when it rouses – how to rock it back to a deep slumber. It is about arming yourself with a cadre of weapons guaranteed to slay the succubus.

Recovery is acceptance.

It’s being okay with the tough days and providing a soft (guilt-free) place to land when they happen. It’s having a support system in place for the bleak days, one that will also be there for the good days. It’s understanding that sometimes, you are gonna feel angry about your mental health and that’s okay. It’s learning the range of healthy and unhealthy emotions. It’s knowing when you have hit your wall and need to lean on others for support.

Recovery is being imperfectly perfectly you.

According to Alexander Pope, “To err is human.” Perfection is a fallacy. Control, an illusion. They are impossibilities we set up in our minds, standards most of us will not reach. Do the best you can with what you have. There’s a special kind of joy (and peace) to be found when you let go of any expectations you, life, or anyone else may have forced upon you. When you are truly yourself, you shine. Be your own patronus.

Recovery is personal.

We cannot compare our journey to that of others. There are similarities, sure, but we each carry our own luggage and travel our own road. Our stories are as vastly different as we are from one another. Knowing someone else who has traveled a similar road helps. But it is absolutely important to remember that just because someone was at point X by a certain point on their Y timeline does not mean you will also be at point X at the same time. There are SO many variables to every story. It is impossible to compare so stop doing just that.

Recovery is…..

Your turn. What is recovery to you? Share below.


{photo credit: Girl, Sunset, Ocean, Waves via pixabay}

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grapes-690230_640Today, I did something for myself. I went to a salon and had my hair done. Not just a simple trim, wash, and go. Nope. I had a full hair color session complete with highlights. It was a huge deal for me to walk into somewhere completely new, trust someone I never met before with my hair, and not feel an ounce of anxiety over any of it.

As I sat down in the salon and waited for the stylist, Fight Song by Rachel Platten came on over the radio. I shared, in the conference Alumni group, that it was a sign I was precisely where I needed to be at that moment. I sighed, sank into the chair, and let my mind wander away until it was time for me to move over into the chair. Once I was seated in front of the mirror and saw my reflection, a funny thing happened. It was the first time, while at a salon, that I didn’t hate my reflection. I finally, finally looked like ME.

Back when I was experiencing Postpartum OCD, there is no way I would have done something like I did today. Nope. For me, back then, pushing my boundaries was as big as managing a trip to the grocery store with an infant strapped to my chest or sometimes, just making it through the day without a panic or rage attack. My world was so small then. So dark. So scary. So…hopeless.

But now?

It’s bright.

It’s filled with self-care.

It’s filled with warm people who know where I have been because they have been there as well. They get me.

It’s a lovely place to be, to be honest.

For that, I am grateful. But not in the way you would think.

In college, one of my favourite professors would often babble on about how one had to taste the sour grapes life offered in order to fully appreciate the sweet ones.

Postpartum OCD (and friends depression, PTSD, and antenatal depression) was my big ole’ bunch of stinking sour grapes.

This life now? The happy full one filled with amazing strong women, genuine happiness, personal strength, and boundaries larger than I ever thought I would see? My sweet, sweet, sweet grape.

If you’re in the midst of a bunch of sour grapes right now? Know that your sweet grapes are waiting for you. They are.

{photo credit: pixabay Grapes, bunch, fruit, person holding}

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Guest Post: Doing It All Again

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I had the pleasure of meeting Graeme in Boston at the first ever Warrior Mom™ Conference this past July. She’s simply fabulous and her hugs are amazing. She’s also wholly dedicated to mamas with Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders. I’m glad she’s sharing this post today. I can almost picture her exhaling in her oasis. Read on…maybe you’ll be able to picture it too.

veranda-349696_640At the back of our little house is a screened in porch. We’ve never really used it. It’s where our family and friends who smoke go to smoke. It’s where we keep the grill that cannot sit outside even though it has a cover on it. It’s where most of my gardening projects go to die.

Or it was.

A while ago I found an online coupon for pressure washing and when the gentleman came to wash the house I shamelessly used my super pregnant belly to get him to clean out the porch as well.

Then I bought paint. And hanging plants. And an Adirondack chair and a rocking chair. And a rug. Eventually there will be a fan, a space heater, and some art out there as well. I’m doing all of this because I’m pregnant and I’ve been here before.

When my son was born I couldn’t leave the house without having panic attacks for a few months.  I wasn’t anxious or scared about any particular thing. There was no specific fear I could counter – I just could not leave the house and I definitely could not leave the house alone.  He loved being outside though. Just opening the door and standing on the front step could calm him.  It made me feel like crawling out of my skin.

My postpartum depression was filled with rage and angst. There was no place in the house that felt like it was mine. There was no place that I fit.  I was itchy and uncomfortable and hyper-sensitized all the time.  I couldn’t sleep if there was clutter, or too many people, or things out of place. So I didn’t sleep. Then the four- month sleep regression hit and NONE of us could sleep and things got really bad really quick.

Now it is a little over two years later. I’m much better.  My little family is much better.  My son kisses my belly every day before I leave him at daycare and says, “Bye Bebe! Bye Mama!” There is no fear in Adam’s eyes when he comes home from work. When my daughter isn’t trying to score a goal on my ribs, I can actually sleep.

I’d like to keep it that way.  I’ve been back on my medication for about two months now.  I reach out to other mamas who are heading into ‘round two’. My bookshelf is full of recommendations from my friends and doctors. I’ll start seeing a therapist next month to get even more ready.  My diet and exercise are much better and I have a plan mapped out of what to do and who to call if I start to spiral after this baby arrives.

Soon, very soon, I will also have an oasis. I will have a way to be outside without having to be outside. I will have a place that is mine, a place where I fit and where I can feel safe and calm.  In my daydreams I can feed my daughter there while my son plays around us.  If the nightmares come instead, I will have a haven, an oasis.  It is one of many reasons that I can face the fears with strength and hope.

My story didn’t end with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. We’re still in the early chapters yet.


20150711_181851-1Graeme Seabrook is a mother of one, soon to be mother of two, blogger, businesswoman, nail polish fanatic, and survivor of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. You can find her at her blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter as Honestly Mama G.



{photo source: pixabay}

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