Can I recover from a PMAD or Birth & Reproductive Trauma?
Updated: Dec 30, 2021
Trigger Warning: Discussion of various traumatic events in the Perinatal Period, intrusive thoughts
The answer is YES!!!! In my last blog post, I discussed what a PMAD (Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder) looks and feels like, so if you haven't read that post, go check it out. I will also be discussing Birth and Reproductive trauma in more depth in a future post.
Diagnosis and Treatment Options
So now that you’ve come to the realization that you might have a PMAD or that you might have experienced a traumatic event in the Perinatal Period what do you do? You frantically Google for Postpartum counselling or trauma counselling but realize it’s hard to find the right support.
The first step is to speak to someone, any one of your supports. I say this because it can take time to find professional support or to get an appointment with your health care provider, so talking with someone close to you can be such a helpful first step.
Next, it's a good idea to talk to your health care provider and ask them to screen you for symptoms of PMAD's and recommend treatment. This can include medication and talk therapy. There are different medications that are safe to take during pregnancy and breastfeeding that can be really helpful in managing your symptoms. A lot of people are apprehensive about taking a mental health medication. If someone cannot cope with the symptoms they’re experiencing, and they cannot access the coping skills that we discuss in therapy, then I usually recommend they talk to their doctor about medication options. Medication can help clear the fog, help you come back to yourself and allow you to cope. Because you start medication does not mean you’re broken or that you will have to take it forever. Following a course of treatment for a PMAD gives you the best chance of recovery and reduces your chances of the symptoms reoccurring in the future.
If you reach out to a therapist that is trained in Perinatal Mental Health, then they can also screen you for a PMAD and therapy can include talking about your specific symptoms and what can be helpful to manage them. If you've experienced trauma anywhere in the Perinatal Period than you can discuss managing your post-trauma symptoms and then eventually process the traumatic event, if you choose to.
What's therapy like? A lot of times, it's about giving you the space to let it out. To tell your story, what's going on with you or what has happened to you. Letting it out can be so helpful. And discovering coping skills to help manage whatever you're experience can include deep breathing, grounding skills, managing your thoughts, reducing compulsions, mindfulness and so much more. Just hearing from your therapist that what you’re experiencing has a name, it’s not your fault and you’re not broken can help you get on the road to recovery.
There are ups and downs when you're in treatment. Often people can start to feel better and then they have a difficult few days and they worry that they’re not better at all. This is so common. We all have good days and bad days and the same goes when we’re in treatment. If we keep taking care of ourselves as best as we can, we can make it through.
Barriers to Treatment
What stops someone from getting help? Stigma, judgement from family and friends and a lack of knowledge. This is why I do this work. The more we talk about Perinatal Mental Health, the less “off-limits” the topic becomes. If your health care provider asked you if you were experiencing any mental health symptoms such as anger, irritability, sadness, panic, etc, you would have an opportunity to talk about those symptoms. If they routinely asked these questions, you would think that it must be a common occurrence in the Perinatal period and so it is safe to talk about.
Because of the lack of knowledge and the negative stereotypes that abound about Postpartum Depression (such as mothers with PPD hurt their babies), women in particular feel shame or guilt when they have intrusive thoughts and oftentimes are scared to share with anyone that they are experiencing them. This fear, shame and guilt can prevent people from accessing outside support. Most people, if not everyone, have intrusive thoughts at different times of our lives. We cannot control all of our thoughts that pop into our head. And so, you are definitely not the only parent to experience these distressing thoughts. My next blog post will talk about intrusive thoughts in more depth.
A lack of awareness about where to go to get help also leads to people not seeking help. You can go to www.psychologytoday.com and search for a therapist in your area that works with prenatal, pregnancy and postpartum issues. You can also check out the directory at Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Trainings to check for Canadian therapists. And PSI also has an international directory and supports in many areas of the world, including Canada.
Your Support System
We are not meant to have children in isolation. And we are really seeing the importance of community as we struggle to parent and have babies during a pandemic. It is very important to build your own community supports. These can include:
Community Mental Health Programs
Pelvic Floor Specialist
Online supports including support groups, parent and baby groups.
Can you think of any others? Make a list of all your supports and keep their phone numbers or contact information handy. Reach out to someone when you need to!
Self-care - Nailing the Foundations of Health
In my initial assessments with clients, I always talk about the foundations of health because what we think of as basics are critical to our wellness. Sleep, nutrition, water, hygiene, movement and routine are key factors in our overall health. And I recognize that these can feel SO hard to take care of when we’re living with depression or anxiety or any other PMAD. I’ve been there and sleeping properly or drinking enough water felt impossible. What is one small thing you can do today to help you try and sleep better or drink water or get a breath of fresh air? Who can support you to be able to do some of these things? You don’t have to put all of these things in place instantly however working towards a healthy sleep routine, drinking enough water, moving your body every day, eating as well as you can and taking care of your hygiene can really help with your recovery and also help you stay well once you’re feeling better.
Grief, Processing and Healing Trauma Wounds
Once you’ve had some time to recover, to learn what helps to keep you well, to access your supports and start feeling like you’ve got a handle on things you might want to look at processing the traumatic events you experienced, with a trained therapist. Not everyone does this and it’s not a necessity of healing however it can be a very helpful piece of the recovery journey. Healing a trauma wound from a traumatic delivery, for example, can be helpful if you are preparing to try for another baby or going to be giving birth soon.
There also tends to be a lot of grieving that happens after experiencing a traumatic event, a PMAD or challenges in the perinatal period (breastfeeding, fertility treatments, etc.). A lot of times people need to grieve the time they felt they lost when they experienced a PMAD or grieve what they thought their maternity/paternity leave would look like. Some people are going to be grieving the loss of a baby, pregnancy or experience. All of those grief wounds can benefit from feeling heard and supported. Grief never goes away but we can learn to cope with it and adjust to it with support.
My hope for people seeking treatment for a Perinatal Mental Health issue or trauma is that they can recover and heal in order to trust and parent from the Self.
Take it one step at a time. You do not have to do this alone and with treatment you can be well.
What barriers do you feel exist that prevent people from seeking help? Comment and let me know so we can keep talking and break down that barrier!