Maya in the media

Maya talks about postpartum hypomania, the baby pinks, on CTV Canada AM

Thursday
May072015

Mothering when you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse

by Maya Hammer

Becoming a mom is a significant life transition. Many new moms are working hard at parenting while struggling with traumatic memories from child sexual abuse. Research tells us that 12% to 35% of women experience some form of sexual abuse or sexual assault before to the age of 18.

The impact of sexual abuse will vary from person to person. As a parent, a survivor mom may experience increased anxiety, for example related to parenting confidence or keeping her child safe. In clinical practice, I see women who are paralyzed by fear they may sexually abuse their own child while changing a diaper. Some women are unable to go out in public for fear that a perpetrator may harm their child. Survivor moms may also experience symptoms such as sadness, self-doubt, fatigue, intrusive thoughts, and nightmares. It is important to address these symptoms during pregnancy and once the baby has arrived. Some women may have addressed and healed from the trauma prior to becoming a mom, while for other women parenting can trigger memories and hurts that were previously suppressed.

If you survived childhood sexual abuse being a mom can be extra challenging. You may want to focus on your own healing and recovery so that you can be present as a mom. This can mean bringing awareness to the abuse and seeking support through individual or group therapy as well as other complementary and alternative modalities.

Your healing journey will enable you to develop confidence and a sense of empowerment as a mom. In turn, this will enable you to cultivate a secure attachment bond with your child while also letting go as your child becomes more and more autonomous each day.

Because you may not want to emulate parenting models you had as a child, you can work towards developing your own system for parenting based on respect, openness, and trust. Establishing healthy boundaries and limits will support age-related development. As your confidence and ability as a mom increases, you will be able to ride out the day to day stressors that come with parenting.

Being a survivor and a mom requires checking in with yourself as you move through your child’s stages of development as well as your stages of recovery. For example, when your child reaches the age of onset of your abuse you may need extra support to address emerging thoughts, feelings, and sensations. In addition, you may want to be conscious of containing your process and keep is separate from your child’s experience in life. This may require extra support, such as strategizing safe visits with family members if they were implicated in the abuse.

Transitioning into motherhood, and from victim to survivor, is an ongoing process. Check in with yourself regularly and add extra support and modifications as needed.  

 

Tuesday
Mar102015

Hold Me Tight or Hold Onto Yourself? How to re-establish intimacy after having a baby

by Maya Hammer

 

Having children impacts your relationship or marriage, especially with regards to intimacy. It is not uncommon for couples to find themselves disconnected physically and emotionally during a pregnancy, after the arrival of a child, and when parenting young children.

Here are some typical complaints I hear from couples with some tips on how to address concerns:


1. I am tired all the time. I have no energy left for my partner at the end of a day being with a baby, or managing work and children’s drop offs.

TIP: Set aside time during the day, perhaps during nap time on a Saturday or Sunday, rather than trying to be intimate at the end of a long day.

 

2. There is no time for sex, our evenings and weekends get booked up or we end up watching TV when the kids go to bed.

TIP: Book intimacy time at least once a week for an hour or two. Stick to that time like it’s a doctor’s appointment. If it isn’t booked, it won’t happen.

 

3. I don’t feel sexy.

TIP: In her book Great Sex for Moms, Dr. Valerie Raskin suggests taking time to cultivate feeling sexy and in tune with your body by finding self-care strategies that make you feel good. For example, before an intimacy date go for a workout, by sexy lingerie, and have a luxurious bubble bath while your partner puts the kids to bed. If you are not up for intercourse (for example because of a perineal tear or difficult birth recovery), get creative and come up with others ways of pleasuring yourself and your partner whether you climax or not. Let go of any goal other than being present with yourself and your partner.

 

4. I want to have sex but my partner doesn’t. OR My partner won’t stop asking me to have sex and it is the furthest thing from my mind.

TIP: Dr. David Schnarch, author of Intimacy and Desire and Passionate Marrige says that every relationship has a High Desire Partner and a Low Desire Partner, and in fact roles can switch. Schnarch explains that it is essential to strengthen your own sense of self, to be able to self-validate rather than depend on your partner for validation of your needs and desires. By ‘holding onto yourself’ and learning to tolerate and manage your emotions and needs you can interact with your partner in an authentic and collaborative manner to address sexual desire. Schnarch suggests that this is hard work as each partner must honestly reflect on behaviours and actions, and in turn propel themselves to change and grow. He recommends trying “tender loving sex” where you allow yourself to be held and seen, as well as “fucking” when you allow yourself to be adventurous and playful.

 

5. I don’t feel emotionally connected to my partner. We never talk unless it has to do with the kids.

TIP: According to Dr. Sue Johnson, author of Hold Me Tight, couples can default into communication patterns that undermine a secure attachment necessary for healthy functioning. Johnson believes that couples can re-establish a secure attachment by elucidating unhealthy patterns and, in turn, cultivating a sense of security and connection. For example, Johnson recommends having ‘hold me tight’ conversation to address fears related to the relationship and then make a request from their partner to help address this fear and need. For example, asking a partner to reassure you that they are listening to you, that they are committed to the relationship, or asking to be held and affirmed in your feelings.

 

You can work on ‘holding on to yourself’ through internal strength and validation, or ask your partner to ‘hold me tight’, or book regular intimacy time and set yourself up for success in advance of that time. No matter which method you draw on, be sure to put ongoing effort into intimacy and connection with your partner. This is the foundation for your relationship and, in turn, provides a framework for the family unit. 

 

Maya Hammer has a private practice  at Caldwell Psychology and works in the Outpatient Mental Health and Addictions Program at the Chatham-Kent Mental Health Alliance in Chatham, Ontario. Maya sees a range of clients for individual, couples, and family therapy. One of her special interests is promoting mental and emotional well-being during the perinatal years.

Tuesday
Apr302013

Coping with secondary infertility

by Maya Hammer     

 

Secondary infertility, trying to conceive after having one or more children, is very common. This experience can be extremely painful and isolating, as if you are lost in void between couples struggling with primary infertility and families having a second or third child.

 

Accepting the circumstances (trying to conceive a second or third child for more than 6 months to 1 year, depending on your age) is the first step towards balance and health. Make an appointment with your family doctor, a fertility clinic, naturopath, or Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Seek therapy for emotional support. Try to balance optimism and pessimism. Agree as a couple how long you will try, what type of treatments you are willing to try, what alternatives you are open to, and how much money you are willing to spend. 

 

Take time to acknowledge your feelings. Grief, a deep sense of loss, guilt for feeling unsatisfied with just one child, guilt for not providing a sibling to your child, sadness, depression, anger, and frustration are common. Be aware of how your feelings may be impacting your child. Seek support and childcare during important times, for example after receiving news of another negative pregnancy test. Learn ways to manage hurtful comments and advice. Let close family and friends know what comments are hurtful:  “You just need to relax” or “Aren’t you satisfied with the child you have?”. Encourage people to support you by saying: “I am sorry” or “This must be very hard for you”.

 

Prioritize self-care by sleeping well and eating protein-rich meals with plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Keep a regular exercise routine. Try to balance the experience of secondary infertility (appointments etc.) with hobbies and interests, nurturing time with supportive family and friends, fun time with your child where you are fully present, and time for you and your partner/spouse to stay connected. Allow yourself to decline certain social engagements (baby showers or birthday parties) if they are too painful. What can you do to bring compassion to yourself now? How can you support yourself?

 

Stay connected to your partner/spouse. Does your partner/spouse process this experience differently?  Be open and honest when you communicate. Allow yourselves to acknowledge and feel your emotions. Support each other and help each other explore all options. Are there ways that you could effectively support your partner? Are there things that you want to ask from your partner?

How has trying to conceive impacted your relationship/marriage and your sex life? Plan regular date and intimacy times.

 
 

Resources

Toronto Meetup groups:  Secondary Infertility Support

Wanting Another Child    by Harriet Fishman Simons

Twice Blessed by Ninotachka Beavers

Inconceivable and The Fertile Woman by Julia Indichova

Thursday
Apr252013

Mat Leave Blues

by Maya Hammer

 

In Canada it is typical for women to take a year-long maternity leave, with some variation amongst those who are self-employed or sharing the leave with a partner. While parental leave is a great opportunity to take a break from your professional life to raise your child, the day-to-day experience of mat leave can be lonely, boring, and exhausting. Being a mother is hard work as you are in high demand and have limited control over your schedule. Feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, irritability, and exhaustion are common, especially for high achieving Type A individuals who adhere to a rigid schedule and time management structure. Spending 10 or more hours on your own, five days a week, is quite removed from traditional ways of raising children in community, extended family households, or tribes.

 

It is important to find ways to support yourself during this time. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself as you grow into your new role. Take time to identify what you need in order to feel good on a day –to-day basis, specifically addressing times that feel most difficult, such as first thing in the morning or the final hours in the afternoon before your partner comes home from work. Stay connected to your partner, family, and friends while seeking out new mom friends so that you do not feel isolated. Connect with people by phone or online when it is too difficult to leave the house. Use your support network to help with childcare or hire a babysitter for 3-4 hours so you can nap, exercise, do something fun, or catch up on errands and other responsibilities. Involve your partner/spouse as much as possible with care for the baby.

 

Learning to be flexible, creative, and let go will serve you well on maternity leave. This requires a paradigm shift from being productive, organized, and ambitious, qualities that may have been integral to your life pre-baby. Making the switch from ‘doing’ to ‘being’ is not always easy. In the book Momma Zen, Zen Buddhist priest and mother Karen Maezen Miller describes her relentless path towards letting go of expectations, welcoming mistakes, and reconnecting with her innermost self. Maezen Miller reminds us that being a parent is an excellent opportunity for growth and transformation if you accept what is happening, without judgment, on a moment to moment basis.

 

Maya Hammer, M.A., Counselling Psychology

Tuesday
Feb262013

Postpartum Hypomania

by Maya Hammer

 

We all know about the “baby blues”, a common experience of emotional ups and downs in the first week or two postpartum. Many of us, however, have never heard of the “baby pinks”, or The Highs, a feeling of intense happiness or euphoria following birth.

 

Symptoms of postpartum hypomania include:

-racing thoughts

-fast talking

-being very active

-decreased ability to concentrate

-impulsivity, e.g., shopping

-decreased need for sleep

-irritability

 

These symptoms can be triggered by childbirth and usually subside after 6-8 weeks postpartum. In some cases, however, postpartum hypomania is an early indicator for bipolar disorder, depression, or psychosis. Therefore, it is very important to seek treatment if you or a loved one you know is experiencing symptoms of hypomania. 

 

Causes

Pregnancy and childbirth can trigger mental imbalance because of physiological changes such as stress, dysregulated cortisol, increased inflammation, decreased serotonin, and hormonal fluctuations. In addition, psychosocial factors can impact mental well-being including disrupted sleep, the demands of caring for a baby, lack of support, life stress, marital difficulty, or trauma. Genetics plays a part too: a personal or family history of mental illness, in particular bipolar disorder, predisposes a woman to prenatal and postpartum mental illness. 

 

Treatment

It is important to seek treatment immediately if you notice unusual behaviour in your partner or loved one. Treatment can involve:

 

1)      mood stabilizer medication

2)      therapy to stabilize mood and regulate daily schedule

3)      support and education for partners and families

 

For further reading, check out this mom’s experience of hypomania induced by anti-depressant medication, a study on the prevalence of postpartum hypomania, and another study demonstrating that hypomanic symptoms can be used to correctly diagnose postpartum bipolar disorder.

 

As well, check out an article in Today’s Parent, and Maya’s appearance on CTV Canada AM talking about the baby pinks.

 

Maya Hammer, M.A., Counselling Psychology | www.mayahammer.ca