Perinatal Mental Health Hero

Share Button

Perinatal Mental Health Hero

I recently was introduced to a Labor & Delivery nurse who is making a huge impact on the state of perinatal mental health care pathways. I could feel the passion come through in her voice as we spoke a few weeks ago on the phone for nearly two hours about what she was doing to raise awareness and increase access to quality care in our local area (Washington, DC metro area) for women who desperately need it.

I asked Kisha to share her story in a few paragraphs, and this is what she sent me to share with you:

“I grew up in the small southern town of Crowley, Louisiana. After graduating High School, I enlisted in the Coast Guard to see the world. I was stationed in Hawaii for 3 years at a small boat station, then became a USCG Dental Technician Petty Officer 3rd Class. My final duty station was at the Department of Transportation in Washington, DC. Prior to leaving the USCG, I became a Massage Therapist. It was during my 5 year stint as a Massage Therapist, that I rediscovered my heart for nursing. I graduated college, became a Registered Nurse, and a mom at 30 years old. After working as a Mother-Baby and Pediatric RN, I took a chance on Labor & Delivery and found my niche in nursing!  Eight years later, I am still working as a full-time night shift L&D RN.

Being a Labor & Delivery RN is one of the most exhilarating & frustrating experiences. Over the years, I have gained invaluable frontline skills, instincts, and knowledge about calming a woman’s fear in the throes of labor and empowering her to embrace motherhood. I am proud of these abilities and love sharing the birth experience with women and their families, but in all honesty the realization of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) prevalence among mothers and its detrimental impact on families has dramatically shifted my perception and purpose. My heart breaks knowing that over 8 years and countless births, 1 in 7 of those pregnant women and new mothers that I cared for inevitably went home suffering in silence from a PMAD. Maybe some of them already knew they were high risk and had support in place, but for many they went home with an infant and the expectation that their mental health was secondary in motherhood. As I continue to bear witness to the subtle shifts that seem ‘normal’ after childbirth (lack of sleep, lack of self-care, lack of support) that directly contributes to this needless suffering, I have found my life’s work is to destigmatize PMADs, while alleviating the unnecessary suffering of these women and their families.

As a frontline nurse, I believe that we as a profession are key to a long overdue paradigm shift in perinatal mental health. We are well-positioned and equipped to assess the mental health of pregnant women and mothers in the acute care setting, provide them with the first aid emotional support they need, and connect them to the appropriate perinatal mental healthcare providers and resources in their community.”Kisha Semenuk is a mama to two young boys. And as a night shift nurse who recently obtained her Masters of Science in Nursing, Kisha completed her Nursing Capstone Project on the knowledge gap she identified when researching perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and effective postpartum depression screening using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) among frontline perinatal care providers (OBs,Perinatal RNs, & Mother-Baby RNs).Through her deeper research, Kisha became acutely aware that as a frontline RN she was bearing witness to the silent suffering of so many women and families. Nothing was being done about it on the frontline and Kisha wanted to take action to make lifesaving changes.

She began actively networking with frontline OBs and built a team of fellow perinatal mental health champions who helped her to compile and organize an online resource which will allow women and their families to easily locate specialized, local professionals, support groups and treatment facilities. This resource will be kept at the fingertips of frontline nurses who are often the first healthcare professional to recognize the emergence of a perinatal mood disorder.Kisha’s mission with the DMV (DC-Maryland-VA) Perinatal Mental Health Resource Guide is to develop, disseminate, and maintain a comprehensive, up-to-date, regional directory of specialized mental health providers, support groups, advocacy organizations, and other relevant clinical resources pertaining to perinatal mental health. This directory will assist providers, patients, and their families with obtaining specialized mental health evaluation and treatment during pregnancy and postpartum.

How amazing would it be if we could create a guide like this for every city in our country? I am so energized and extremely appreciative of all the blood, sweat and tears she has poured into this project and I cannot wait to see it take off and bring help and relief to so many families who in the past did not know where to turn.

I applaud Kisha’s dedication and drive for instituting change in an area all of us here at Postpartum Progress care deeply about.

{The DC-MD-VA (DMV) Perinatal Mental Health (PMH) Resource Guide is launching online by November 1 and is a result of an ongoing collaboration between the DMV PMH Resource Guide Team and existing DMV-based PMH Professionals and Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) survivor support network. Team members include: Kisha Semenuk, L&D RN and MSN; Aimee Danielson, Director of MedStar’s Georgetown University Hospital Women’s Mental Health Program; Lynne McIntyre, the Mid-Atlantic Postpartum Support International Coordinator/Mary’s Center Maternal Mental Health Program Coordinator; Helen Conway, Psychology Major (C’15) Summer Intern; and Dina Karellas, L&D RN and Nurse Informatics Graduate Student; in addition to Adrienne Griffen, Founder of Postpartum Support Virginia (PSVa), and Nadia Monroe, Founder of Postpartum Support Maryland (PSMd).}

Share Button

Reward and Risk: My Decision to Stay On An SSRI During Pregnancy

Share Button

postpartum depression medicationNearly two years to the day after my overdue diagnosis of postpartum depression and anxiety, I found myself pregnant and still on an SSRI antidepressant. We had been trying; I had done my research, consulted my OB and my Pediatrician for their thoughts on wether or not I should taper off of my medication prior to becoming pregnant again. They both agreed that the risk was outweighed by the reward-a healthy me was the best way to guarantee a healthy baby in the long term. When I specifically asked my pediatrician about the increased risk in heart and lung defects, she stated that we could handle it on the back end, IF it needed to be handled.

Fast forward three weeks. To our complete surprise, we discovered we were expecting not one baby, but two. Fast forward a few more weeks, a lot of tears, panic, a couple of therapy sessions, and dozens of honest conversations with my husband, doctors, and some other Warrior Moms later, and I had decided that the best thing for me and my babies was to remain on my Celexa until the third trimester of the pregnancy.

SSRI antidepressants do cross the placental barrier during pregnancy. This means that the fetus will be exposed to the medication while in utero. My doctor suggested that I wean off of the medication during the third trimester because some babies exhibit “‘withdrawal’ symptoms such as breathing problems, jitteriness, irritability, trouble feeding, or hypoglycemia (Psych Central, 2006).” However, she stressed that many of these symptoms, specifically irritability and trouble feeding, are normal for newborns and would likely be hard to discriminate from the normal behavior of newborn twins. [Read more…]

Share Button

How My Doctors Missed My Antenatal Anxiety

Share Button

antidepressants pregnancyI was in my first trimester of my first pregnancy when antenatal anxiety washed over me like the tide, insidious and unstoppable.  We were living on our own in the midwest at the time, and the loneliness was crushing.  I compensated for my irrational worries by donning a brave face and making light of my anxiety, to both friends and my doctors, and I assumed all newly pregnant women felt the same trepidation and slight panic I was suppressing.

I was 8 weeks pregnant when my OB called me into her office.  My fears and worries were suddenly compounded by a previously-undiagnosed kidney disease.  A giant mass in my abdomen.  And they had no idea what it was.  I taciturnly absorbed all the doctor said and then politely asked for a few moments alone.  When the door shut behind her, something in me broke.  I walked out of there a shadow of myself.  The next 6 months brought a multitude of diagnoses.  I was ultrasounded and MRIed (twice).  I met with several surgeons and had a cathertized void test done.  There were very few cases of pregnant women with my eventual diagnosis of severe unilateral hydronephrosis with 1% kidney function, and so few doctors could tell me exactly what to expect or how it would impact my pregnancy.  And that scared me to death.

Six months into my pregnancy, we moved to the North East.  My need for my family (who had moved up to the Boston area a few years before) outweighed my terror at the prospect of moving, but leading up to moving day, I had increased symptoms of panic attack.  I refused to drive while house hunting, irrationally fearful of the alien traffic patterns of our new-home-to-be.  I fought back waves of nausea at each apartment-hunting appointment, instead playing the part of the happy, expectant couple.  The night before our final flight out of the midwest, I became convinced I had a blood clot in my right leg – and the resulting (unnecessary) hospital trip ended in a 2am leg ultrasound for me and a busted blood vessel in my husband’s eye from the stress.  My husband tells me that when I fainted from panic on the 4 hour flight to Boston the next day, he took special notice of the halfway mark in the flight.  “At least there was no turning back,” he says, only half-jokingly.

Unfortunately, arriving in Boston alleviated the anxiety only temporarily.  As I neared the end of my pregnancy, I began having irrational, intrusive thoughts about my husband leaving me.  “He’s only staying until the baby is born,” the lies whispered, “he never wanted a baby anyway.”  I became increasingly irritable and emotional, and finally suffered enough to mention it to my OB, a high-risk, high-profile doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital.  With my mother in the room, I explained my heart palpitations and my trouble breathing.  I outlined my mood swings and my panic attacks.  It took every ounce of courage in my body to admit that I was struggling.

In return, she told me to “stop worrying.  Pregnancy is an emotional time.”

That was it.  We moved on to belly measurements and discussions of pain management during labor.

With only two sentences, she had me doubting my need for help. I suddenly “just wasn’t trying hard enough.”  And I believed her.

Throughout the course of my first pregnancy, I saw 5 different OBs, 3 surgeons, 2 primary care physicians, and a myriad of nurses and techs.  None of them EVER asked about my emotional well-being, and when I did speak up for myself?  I was ignored.  Dismissed.  And the thing that angers me the most is that MGH has a world-renouned Center for Women’s Health, run in part by the incomparable Dr. Marlene Freeman, an expert in the field of pre and post-natal mood and anxiety disorders.  Sitting in my OB’s office, I was one elevator ride away from help.

Instead, it took me 5 months after my daughter was born – five months of intrusive thoughts about shaking my baby or letting her slip in the bath tub (I would like to emphasize here that intrusive thoughts are distinguished from psychosis by a mother’s ability to recognize the thoughts as scary) – five months of obsessively folding and lining up burp rags and matching bottle tops to bottle bottoms by shape and color – five months of rage and of falling apart behind the scenes before I recognized I needed help.

It’s hard for me to think back through that time because I find myself so ANGRY.  My struggle was preventable.  Avoidable.  Not once during or after my pregnancy was I asked about my emotional well-being, and when I mentioned physical and emotional symptoms of my condition, they were ignored.  A few simple questions and an honest conversation with a trusted doctor was all it would have taken.

I want you to know that there are many wonderful doctors, psychologists, and social workers out there.  Many obstetricians and primary care physicians are well-educated and have amazing bedside manner.  But a large percentage of them are still grossly undereducated about antenatal and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.  Advocates in the PPD community are working towards universal postpartum mental health screening, but in the meanwhile, each mama has to be her own best advocate.

  1. If you are struggling, tell the truth, the whole truth, to someone you trust.  I know how scary this is (really and truly), but it’s vital you are honest about your symptoms in order for you to get the best treatment possible.
  2. Keep telling it until you are listened to.
  3. Ask for help finding a therapist or doctor who has experience treating postpartum mood and anxiety disorders and seek support groups in your area.

You deserve to be well.  We’re here fighting with you and ready to help you find the care you need to feel like yourself again.

Share Button

14 Tips for Mamas with Past Sexual Trauma

Share Button

As I teen, I experienced a date rape. It was a one time incident, but it rocked my mental health in ways I never knew possible. In fact, its the event that brought my chronic mental illness to the surface. It affected my self image and sexuality in ways I don’t care to admit.

I never considered that one time thing could have also impacted me during the process of getting pregnant, birthing my children, and the subsequent postpartum depression and anxiety that resulted. But after recently discussing it during the #sexabusechat on Twitter (Tuesdays at 9pm ET/6pm PT) , I started to think about it in a different light.

These kinds of sexual assaults are so common, and I’m willing to bet a lot of you are shaking your heads right now because it happened to you too. I spoke about it once at a retreat and afterward several women came up to tell me they had lived through it too.

I’m also quite sure a few more of you have also experienced more long-term childhood sexual abuse. Its sadly way too common, and when you’ve lived through that kind of pain, it can absolutely have a lasting impact on your lifelong sexual experiences, pregnancy and motherhood.

So I reached out to Kathy Morelli, a Licensed Professional Counselor and author who focuses on Holistic Counseling for Maternal Mental Health, Family Systems and trauma from sexual abuse and medical intervention. Today she’s sharing with us how we can start to move beyond sexual abuse before and during motherhood.

So without further ado, I want to welcome Kathy to Postpartum Progress.

trauma feature image

Childhood sexual abuse and a woman’s subsequent reproductive years, including menstruation, pregnancy, birth and ongoing sexuality, occurs years or even decades apart. Yet, in my clinical practice, I have found these issues to be intertwined.

Sexual themes resonate with a woman on multiple levels: within her body, her emotions and her psychology. And distress from childhood sexual abuse can resurface during the emotionally and hormonally charged time of pregnancy and postpartum. What research exists, finds that women who suffered from childhood sexual abuse have an elevated risk of postpartum depression, besides other physical and emotional symptoms.

Related triggers around reproductive health:

During Pregnancy

Body-based feelings in pregnancy can be re-triggering to a woman who has deep, somatic memories of childhood sexual abuse. Simple things such as the position of your body during vaginal exams can bring back emotional memories of past abuse.  The baby moving inside your body might cause intense joy, but might also create an underlying uneasiness.

During Birth

Childbirth is an intense experience; a time of hormonal, physical and emotional exertion.  Early trauma can be triggered by a particular scent for example, or a body position.  If you feel powerless, not heard, or disregarded by your healthcare providers during childbirth, it can activate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress and flashbacks of your past trauma.

During Postpartum

There are many physical, emotional and psychological factors feeding your emotional health during this time. And it’s true that a pre-existing personal depressive or anxiety disorder, or pre-existing PTSD, sets your body up for another episode postpartum.

Intense physical and hormonal changes, plus adjusting to a new lifestyle caring for an infant is physically and emotionally challenging. Feelings of frustration emerge as you adjust your schedule to accommodate your baby. The endless touching may leave you feeling like your body isn’t your own anymore. Breastfeeding may feel triggering to some, as it too may cause confusing sexual feelings.

So what can you do to proactively manage your mental health during these phases of motherhood?

First, I want you to know that your childhood sexual abusive does NOT define you. Your past does NOT have to be your destiny. With perseverance, you can move beyond being a survivor towards thriving and blooming beautifully.

It’s not an easy task, but your self-esteem is worth the fight! Managing the effects of an abusive childhood is an on-going deeply personal experience.  It’s honorable life work, and highly individualized. As you move along your healing path, you’ll choose what’s right for you.

Tips to help enhance your experience of pregnancy, birth and postpartum:

  1. Recognize that post-traumatic stress is a real disorder, not some fake diagnosis.

  2. Practice Self-Love. Self-love is not just an empty cliché, it’s something worth fighting for. Allow yourself to rest and be gentle with yourself during all three stages of motherhood.

  3. Try to make time to get help with a licensed mental health professional before pregnancy. It’s best to put in your emotional work before starting a family, but it can also be done if you are already pregnant or postpartum (see below.) It’s never too late to begin.

  4. Face your fears and past, at your own pace, in a safe and professional environment.

  5. Work with a gynecologist/obstetrics/midwifery provider with whom you feel comfortable enough to discuss your history of trauma. Investigate the hospital or birth center where your provider practices to make sure it’s the right fit for you. If your provider or institution don’t meet your needs, you are empowered to find another. It’s important to advocate for your own health care.

  6. Find an experienced childbirth educator who is accepting of your personal choices. Birthing and breastfeeding classes really do help on an emotional level as well.

  7. Remember that birth is an unpredictable experience. If your birth experience doesn’t follow your birth plan, you can still feel good about it. You are not less of a woman or mother, no matter how your birth happens.

  8. Honor the achievement of childbirth and motherhood. You are growing a life! That is a huge accomplishment.

  9. Understand that your hormonal balance takes at least three months after birth to come back to pre-pregnancy levels.

  10. Honor and protect yourself during “the fourth trimester” and beyond, as your body shift towards balance:

    1. Rest; develop the mindset of being, not doing.

    2. Practice good nutrition with whole foods and good supplements.

    3. Get help.  If you can afford it, set up some time with a postpartum doula or a baby nurse so you can rest. Enlist the help of family or friends. You don’t have to do this on your own.

    4. Don’t underestimate the power of sleep. Work out a sleep plan. Even if you are breastfeeding, don’t be the only one getting up to feed the baby.

    5. Practice mindfulness and relaxation to counteract the inevitable challenges of caring for a newborn and the emotional change of identity in motherhood

  11. Nurture yourself with complementary care. Safe touch such as shiatsu and acupuncture can re-balance your body and mind.

  12. Expect some emotional ups and downs and realize these are normal.

  13. Social support is important. Women who “Tend and Befriend” in real life and online feel supported.

  14. If you feel very sad or anxious, there is a lot of professional help available to you. You are not less of a mother if you see a doctor or therapist. Taking care of you makes you a better mother.

A beautiful book about healing from child sexual abuse that I highly recommend is “A River of Forgetting” by Jane Rowan.

If you had the experience of childhood sexual abuse, know that post-traumatic growth is possible. Don’t wait to honor yourself by doing the emotional work. You can ask for and get help. You and your family are worth it.

And know that you are not alone.

Reference:

Perez-Fuentes, G., Olfson, M., Villegas, L., Morcillo, C., Wang, S. & Blanco, C., (2013). Prevalence and correlates of child sexual abuse: a national study. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 5(1), 16-27. 

Share Button