we think of ‘Mother’ we can be drawn to an expectation of ‘kindness’ - it is as
if ‘being kind’ should be one of the core skills on any job description for a mother.
But another expectation that mothers have on themselves is to “get it right”.
love the expression attributed to Wayne Dyer, “When you have a choice between
being right and being kind - choose kind.”
all have experiences of mothers being less than kind. Quite often in doing this
they are trying to prove that they are right. “I told you so!” “You never...”,
“You should...”, “You must...”, “You ought to …”
often these ‘unkind’, but ‘right’ statements are ingrained in the parent - who
has a voice in their own head full of oughts, shoulds and musts, trying to
steer themselves in an attempt to be a perfect parent.
has been a law passed this month in Scotland that makes smacking illegal. This
is a law that is most probably ‘Right’ but is it actually ‘Kind’?
have to admit here that I have smacked my children when they were small. I say
it here, but that doesn’t mean that I am proud of it. I grew up in a world
where ‘caning’ in schools was accepted and teachers threw blackboard rubbers at
kids who weren’t paying attention. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” was an
ageing but recognised concept. So why did I smack my kids? - I really cannot
remember any specific events - but I’m pretty sure that I ‘tapped’ the little
hand that kept moving towards something hot or otherwise dangerous. I also know
that I did smack the occasional bottom as a sudden reaction to a feeling of overwhelm
when I really had no access to my own (or their) possibility of reasoning. The
result of this smack was to stop both me and my child in our tracks. The shock
somehow stopped the spiralling of emotions and we were brought up short, that
moment quickly enabled us both to change to another (usually better) course of
cannot justify my actions and given a choice I would never smack anyone. I did
however have an ongoing dialogue in my own head - with a huge pressure to be a
great mum with happy children.
thing is, with most smacking, shouting or swearing at, it happens at a time
when we are in a state of fight and flight. In this state we have little or no
access to our ‘thinking’ brain. We react rather than respond to a situation or
a behaviour. When parents are overwhelmed, unsupported and exhausted, they are
in serious danger of over-reacting.
let us remember the African proverb - “It takes two people to make a child, but
it takes a village to raise a child”. I believe it also takes a village to
raise a parent. When kindness is shown to parents, when they feel
connected to others, supported and relaxed they will be able to respond
to their children rather than react. Think - responsibility is the ability
will be able to be more kind to their children if they experience kindness from
others and are able to be kind to themselves.
try my best in all my relationships to remember that I nearly always have a
choice between being right and being kind. That certainly doesn’t mean I always
agree with others or that I will never make it clear when I am right. It isn’t
kind to let small children stay up till all hours every night, eat whatever
they like, whenever they like, and cuddle the cat until it can’t breathe. But
getting angry with people to prove your ‘rightness’ is kind to no-one, especially
the key word in the sentence “When given the choice between being right and
being kind” is neither right nor kind - but actually the word ‘choice’. The art
is in remembering that we do have a choice. When we feel we have no
choice and we cannot control our world we feel overwhelmed, frustrated and
parents for smacking their children is a controversial idea. I am not sure what
the punishment will be. Fines will take money away from families, prison
sentences will take parents away from children. If I had been arrested for
smacking my children, yes, I would have felt guilty - but also, I would have
felt real shame. I’m not sure that that would have made me a better mother, and
I’m pretty sure that it would not have made my children happier.
it be great to foster kindness instead of legislating against unkindness?
today take a moment to offer a random act of kindness to a mum you know.
me know what you do - but don’t forget to be kind to yourself.
I remember back in the early '90's' when the term “Mental Illness” was changed to “Mental Health”. It was done with the purpose of making it more ‘acceptable’. If it has worked, it has not gone far enough.
And the one thing it
has done is to confuse people. People will now say “I’ve got mental health”
when they have everything but that. The ‘Needs’ model shows how we can have
mental Health and also give insight into how mental illness develops.
In this blog I am
talking about mild - moderate antenatal and postnatal anxiety and depression. I
am not talking about severe perinatal psychosis - but if you want to know more
about this, then please do read Sara Shoesmith’s story in the link at the end
of this blog.
The factors that
cause perinatal mental health problems can be the same - the difference is how
the mind/body reacts.
If you consider yourself
in relation to physical illness - when you are run down - do you tend to get a
sore throat? An eczema flare up? Tummy troubles?
Then look at yourself
in relation to mental illness/health - when you are running on empty - do you
tend to suffer low mood? Worry? Or reaching for comfort food/behaviours. The
answer to this one gives a clue to whether you might succumb to depression,
anxiety or addictive behaviours or thinking.
So why does the
perinatal period bring about increased risk of mental health problems and why
does it seem to be more common than ever?
I have been working
with people with perinatal illness for more than 30 years and for the last 20
years my understanding of the human givens approach has really helped me to
Let me tell you about
the human givens approach.
Humans, just like all
living organisms have needs that have to be met in balance in order for us to
be physically and emotionally healthy.
We can all look back
at times in our lives where we felt happy, in flow and where all our needs were
met. Some of us are lucky enough to feel this way for a long time and some for
only short periods of time.
When our needs are not
met either very suddenly and significantly or over a longer period of time, we
start to feel stressed, anxious, depressed, angry or more addicted to certain
behaviours and thoughts.
Our ‘Given’ or
‘Innate’ needs are:
Food and Drink
Meaning and Purpose
When we go through a
life change (such as pregnancy or becoming a parent) we find that we cannot
always meet our needs in the same way as we did before. We have to spend some
time re-mapping our lives in order to meet those needs.
Pregnancy is a huge
time of change. Not only does our body change - growing far faster than it has
since we were first born but our brains change as well.
The changes that a body goes through in pregnancy are well documented, so I will not describe them here, but the feelings a woman goes through with these changes can be complex. It can be hard to appreciate the aches and pains, the veins and stretch marks and the change of shape and tone of many body parts.
The changes in lifestyle are often challenging. We spend a lot of time at work and identify with our work colleagues and our work role. When we leave work to have a baby, we suddenly lose that connection with colleagues and can feel isolated and as if we have lost our ‘place’ in our community. We also lose the recognition and achievement that come with our work. Knowing this is OK rationally and feeling it emotionally are two different things!
Our brains change quite significantly during pregnancy and in the weeks afterwards. Most of us recognise our difficulty in thinking clearly, remembering simple things and concentrating. This is due to the changes in our brains that come about with childbirth and nurturing a baby. During this period of change it can feel that we do not recognise ourselves, this alone can cause anxiety. Once we have ‘rewired’ our brains, we think differently often having an ability to see the bigger picture and focus less on the detail than we did before pregnancy.
Apart from Body, Mind and Employment changes there can be other changes that women go through at this time. Moving House, reviewing their whole family relationships, living with their partner for the first time or coping with other life events such as bereavement or other loss.
Take these cases:
Trudy had been
working as a teacher, she had been with James for 9 years and they felt that
now was the time to have a baby. It wasn’t long before Trudy was pregnant, and
they both enjoyed making preparations for the baby. Unfortunately, after a ten
hour labour the baby became distressed and Trudy had to have an emergency
caesarean, Baby Alfie was whisked away to NICU for four hours, and Trudy felt
that it was an age before she was able to hold her baby.
Alfie and Trudy were
well enough to go home 36 hours later. Although they were all tired, James was
very supportive, and Alfie started Breastfeeding.
Two weeks later James
went back to work and Trudy was alone with Alfie. Trudy couldn't believe her
luck to have such a gorgeous baby and felt a rush of love whenever she saw him.
Yet something was wrong. Trudy found she was really tired, weepy and unfocused.
It was all she could do to feed Alfie and keep them both clean and (mostly) dressed.
Trudy wasn’t sure if she was anxious or depressed, she kept checking on
everything, felt that she had lost all powers of concentration and really felt
that she ‘couldn’t be bothered’ to do anything she used to enjoy.
Luckily we also have
a set of innate resources (the illustrations are from in8’s Anxiety Freedom
Cards) Here are some suggestions for how Trudy could use these innate resources
to help herself.
Trudy found it
difficult to work out why she felt so low. There seemed to be no logic to
But she started to
make very short lists of things to do and enjoyed playing Sudoku - this helped
her to re-engage here rational thinking.
catastrophising and imagining that she would always feel like this.
With her Mum she
started to talk about the future, wondering where they would take Alfie and
what games they might play as he got older, a much healthier way to use her
She couldn't remember
much of what she had done in the last few weeks and remembered with fondness
how much easier it had been for her to go to work.
Talking to friends
with babies helped her to remember some of the things she had hoped for and she
started to be able to remember how much she had actually achieved on such
little sleep and in only a few short weeks.
She felt that she
would always look drab and feel low, and when she looked at things that she
used to enjoy all she felt was “well it isn't like that now!”
With a bit of
encouragement from James she saw that she had a pattern of always wanting to do
everything ‘right’ or even ‘perfect’. Motherhood was never going to be like
that. “Done is better than perfect” became her new pattern match.
She saw that everyone
around her coped well and she was the only one who found it hard.
On a night out with
some of her ‘mum friends’ conversation quickly turned to how exhausted everyone
was and how hard they found it to be who they used to be, just taking time to
get into genuine rapport really helped this.
She wasn’t sleeping
well and longed to feel that feeling when you wake in the morning and the
problems of the day before don’t feel that big.
Trudy talked to
James and told him how much she needed sleep. They agreed that she would have
an early night and sleep in the spare room while James took charge of Alfie,
just bringing him to Trudy when he really needed to feed.
Although in some ways
she felt ‘blank’, she felt that she was being hijacked by her emotions and it
was only the love for Alfie that got her out of bed in the morning.
An old friend
reminded her of how she used to ‘chill out’ by doing Yoga, going swimming and
using 7-11 breathing techniques. She also taught Trudy how to scale her anxiety
level on a 1-10 scale and then do something to lower the anxiety by just 1 or 2
points. Gradually the tsunami of emotions lessened.
Sometimes Trudy really
felt that she had ‘lost herself’ and felt ‘disconnected’.
Trudy’s big sister
came for a visit and seeing Trudy distressed just said “Trudy, Trudy, Trudy,
what do you need right now?” Trudy looked at her sister and said - “I just need
to know its ok” Trudy’s sister said “it’s ok” and indeed at that moment it was.
Trudy found that she often said to Alfie “it’s ok” and she listened to herself
Let’s check Trudy’s
innate needs (in bold) ...
Trudy wasn't eating and drinking as she used to.
She was hardly leaving the house and taking little exercise.
Sleep seemed to be a distant memory
The disturbing birth and the fact that she was home alone a lot made her feel more vulnerable she felt the need for security.
She didn’t feel that she was getting any attention or giving any to anyone except Alfie.
She didn't have an emotional connection with her friends, and hardly cuddled up with James as they used to do.
Trudy felt that she had no control and that she could never do what she wanted when she wanted.
Where Trudy used to enjoy looking back at all the things she had done in the day she felt that she was not achieving anything worthwhile
From being a happy, active, sociable teacher gaining others and her own respect Trudy struggled with being ‘Just a Mum’
Trudy missed her work colleagues and her students, and felt she had lost her community
The day to day looking after Alfie didn’t seem to fit with the true meaning and purpose of bringing up a happy healthy child.
Trudy longed for a few moments’ privacy, just a time to think her own thoughts and be alone.
How might you
If you are a
therapist, you will already have some tools to help but you might be able to be
even more effective by helping Trudy to see how she can start to meet her
emotional needs in this time of transition. For more
info see in8’s Anxiety Freedom Cards
Matrescence - The process of becoming a Newborn Mother
Everyone knows that motherhood changes a woman. Yet we have lived for hundreds of years as if it doesn’t, as if we are waiting to return to ‘normal’ as if becoming a mother somehow makes us less than - and more recently as if we are an interchangeable ‘generic’ parent.
It’s time to bring both the conscious knowledge and the unconscious wisdom together. Time to connect the mind and the body and to understand how to build bridges or weave a web between mothers and others.
It is time to treasure the mothers and the children and to build villages around them - After all it might take two people to make a mother but it takes a village to raise a mother.
I have a vision that we have to find new ways to develop ourselves and our societies by bringing motherhood out of the closet after more than 2000 years and raise ‘the matriarch’ in order to birth a better world.
You might not have heard of Matrescence, but I bet you have heard of Adolescence
Every part of a child’s brain and body changes through the period of adolescence.
Before any sign of puberty is visible the child’s brain starts to pour out different levels of hormones, high levels of growth hormone initiate a growth spurt (bone growth and muscle growth), and then the sex hormones kick in and there are changes in fat storage, hair follicles, skin texture, body shape - every organ of the body is affected. It is only in recent years that we have learned how much the brain changes. A pruning process occurs where neural pathways are pruned, and pathways not used are removed (most of us recognise that if we are not learning languages in our young teenage years - the capacity to learn a new language easily is seriously diminished by the time we reach adulthood).
Adolescence continues from the onset of puberty until the early 20s. These changes to both body and thinking can cause many disturbances to emotional wellbeing. Communication can be difficult as language and interpreting the wishes and thoughts of people around us can be far more difficult than it is for younger children. Let this sink in for a moment before you start to see how a mother’s brain is different again.
As in Adolescence, every part of a woman’s brain and body changes throughout Matrescence. This change starts with the recognition that she is to become a ‘mum’ and continues into the first few years of motherhood.
We do not expect Adults to behave and think in the same way as children. We should not expect mothers to behave and think in the same way as they did as women.
Most Mums (and people around) them know that they now focus and care about different things.
They seem to ‘see’ things differently, find multitasking easier, have a greater ability to manage some challenges, feel driven to make some changes, and have heightened emotional intelligence.
It is worth noting that both Adolescence and Matrescence can bring up feelings of anxiety and low mood. Understanding and being supported through this process, improves the experience for teenagers and mothers. I have observed these changes both in birth mothers and in adoptive, step and foster mothers.
If you are interested in finding out more about Matrescence and how you might help or be helped through this process - please do contact me.
For me, Friday 23rd August 2019 is a day to remember, as that was that day that I experienced my first (and I really hope my last) panic attack.
As a psychotherapist using the human givens approach, I have helped hundreds of people with anxiety, phobias and panic attacks. I’ve worked both with individuals and groups and have even produced a resource to help people who suffer from anxiety.
The thing is - I don’t generally suffer from anxiety myself. In fact, people often tell me that I am always able to turn things around and to put a positive spin on them. I originally got into helping people with anxiety 20 years ago, because I wanted to help family, friends and the people I work with to cope with and overcome anxiety and depression.
Generally, I am quite laid back, and stay (apparently) calm in situations in which many would be anxious. For me, anxiety is usually a choice and one I simply don’t choose very often. I know that if I get anxious about simple things it doesn’t help me. When I start to stress about something I might have lost, I simply take a deep breath and get into my logical head to retrace steps and find the item. If I am worried about someone, I will check that worry and send them my love and care. This said, I do avoid things I KNOW will make me anxious, such as bungee jumping, skydiving, mountain climbing and wire walking.
Let’s say that on a scale of 1-10 my anxiety levels sit happily within the 2-3 range most of the time. Occasional my stress level momentarily jumps to a 6-7, but I quickly calm back to 2-3 and I am happy to be completely chilled at a 1! I use 7-11 breathing if I find myself getting stressed in a queue or a traffic jam.
The only time I have ever felt close to a panic attack was at Paddington Station after an extremely stressful couple of days in London. I felt a tsunami of emotions which I quelled within 3 - 4 minutes by reciting girls names corresponding to the alphabet in my head! (A technique I highly recommend as it takes you into your rational mind and stops the emotional hijacking.)
I have had some extremely trying and worrying times in my life - and I have not panicked. So here I will just explore what happened on this occasion and put it into a context that makes sense to me, and hopefully to you too.
What led up to the panic attack.
I work from ‘The Needs Model’ of wellbeing and my experience shows that Anxiety is caused when emotional needs are not met and/or our innate resources are not used well.
Let’s look at what happened on that fateful Friday, by examining which of my innate needs were (not) met and the specific events that led up to the panic attack and what it felt like at the time.
We had been in Canada for three days and had adjusted fairly well to the climate, the dollars and the really big buildings in Toronto.
We were in town for a three-day conference.
For me, just like an accident, this panic attack was not caused by one big thing happening - but a set of unfortunate incidents that lead up to the event.
I will outline the events and then share my ‘emotional needs audit’ for the day - as you will see, individually, none of them was a big deal.
Our hotel neighbour’s alarm was exactly the same as ours and woke us at 5:00am - starting the day with 2 hours less sleep than usual.
Meeting new people - finding places and not being entirely sure what the day would hold.
The music and the conference speakers were so loud I had to buy earplugs.
Navigating a large hotel, finding a shop (for earplugs), coffee, toilets and WiFi in a short time frame.
Having two lunch dates, made a wrong first decision and then was late for the second option. Missed part of the talk, part of lunch and any networking opportunity.
Being given (and expected to wear) tee shirts and a baseball cap. Attire that is WAY out of my comfort zone!!
I’m still finding the auditorium speakers very loud even though we have moved to the back and I’m wearing earplugs.
End of day - but only a very short turn around before heading out for the evening 'jolly' on a boat.
I need to pick up supplies, meet up with husband, go to the hotel room, change clothes, ‘powder my nose’ and find a boat before it leaves in 15 minutes.
I am aware that my experience of these events was very different from the experience of many others. I also know that we are all capable of experiencing anxiety and panic but looking back at how my own emotional needs were being met the first 14 hours of that day I can see that I was heading for the panic that happened. Party people who are used to working in a busy environment with long and busy days may well thrive on this, but I didn't!
An Emotional Needs Audit
How am I doing?
Scale out of 10 (higher = more stressed)
Food and Drink
Ok, but I am hungry now.
Ok, but I was either sitting, standing in crowds (which gives me backache) or rushing. By the time I panic I have been unable to move for 30 minutes.
I have been awake for 14 busy hours.
Out of my comfort zone on several occasions.
Not knowing what was happening for much of the day. I don’t know where we are going or when we will get off the boat.
Unable to talk to others due to not being able to hear above the noise.
Not being in the right place at the right time to meet and chat throughout the day. My husband is around but we ‘lose each other’ several times in the crowd.
Feeling like an outsider as unable to talk to others.
Feeling a ‘failure’ late, disorganised and not having had any good conversations.
I’m really not feeling ‘seen’ and not proud of the way I am feeling right now.
Meaning and Purpose
I love sharing ideas and want to connect but cannot.
I cannot hear myself think - There is nowhere to go to ‘get away’
Even though I have been feeling at a stress level well above my normal for 14 hours now I do get to the boat, in time, with my (lovely and very understanding) husband.
This next part of the story tells of my experience of a panic attack.
The music is louder than a live band in a small space.
The boat does not leave for around 30 minutes after we get on.
I sit near my husband - we both try to have conversations with people close. Everyone is shouting. I cannot hear above the music. - (I didn’t think to bring earplugs and my ears are hurting) I soon see no point trying to talk to anyone so I look out of the window and take a few photos and distract myself by playing mindless games on my phone.
Our boat arrives at the destination. With everyone else, I stand up and walk towards the exit. However, we are having trouble docking. I look out at everyone looking frantically happy on the quayside. I cannot engage conversation with anyone here though as I cannot talk loud enough or hear them. I am slow to realise that I have moved even closer to the speakers. I stand by the window. My husband is in the line a few feet behind. I watch people having fun on the shore. I hear people chatting and laughing behind me. I feel really, really stuck, and isolated. I don’t want to be here. I cannot hear myself think…. I want to scream. I want to hide…. My internal narrative says: “What if I curl up in the corner?” “I could crawl under the table” “No that would just be silly” "Come on - just look out of the window, it won't be long and you can get away from the noise”…. Boat is still docking. It feels like about 20 minutes have gone by, I have no idea of time. Then I start to cry. I’m facing the window and the shuddering starts, “Why doesn’t anyone reach out?" “I hope no-one sees me”. Luckily I am not by an open window at this point as I consider jumping the 12 feet onto the dock…. None of these thoughts are working for me I know... I cannot hear anything except the noise that hurts my ears. As I shudder and cry - I step away from the window and catch the eye of my husband - he raises his eyebrows and I shake my head - then it starts, without warning I shout - it is totally involuntary, just a shout - then another shout bubbles up - I slap my hands to my face to try to stop the shouts escaping but they just keep coming, and I keep hitting my face. I knock my glasses off as Alec and others guide me to the outside of the boat. There are people around - they look at me as if I am mad - they try to move away. The shouting starts to form words “I can’t bear it, I can't bear it, make it stop, please make it stop” It is as if I am watching myself totally dissociated from the noise that fills me and the words that erupt from me. Alec, my husband is behind me - strong. Two women start talking to me, as they ask what they can do for me (I have no idea or words that would make sense anyway) but they form that amazing human connection and bring me back into connection with myself. I know this is a panic attack. I know that I will be ok, I know I am not "broken" and that I will recover from this, I just need to be free of the loud noise in a confined space.
Until the panic started I had been able to use my innate resources to meet my needs and be OK with the situation.
This table shows how I was able and then unable to use these resources.
When it works
When it doesn’t
Use phone for photos and games.
Can’t concentrate now.
“It’ll be fine as soon as we are off the boat and have food”.
“We are never getting off this boat”.
Feel “it’ll be ok soon”.
I’ve been at loud gigs and busy meetings before and been fine.
This feels like the worst nightmare ever.
People are friendly when we get a chance to speak.
I’ve never been anywhere this scary before.
Smile and move to the side where others are looking out of the window.
Just manage to shake my head at my husband ...
Not asleep - hope it works later.
Not asleep - hope it works later.
It’s ok, just act normally Bindi! Later I will be OK and able to see the bigger picture.
I am observing my body from a completely detached position. It is shouting and sobbing and not under my control.
Once connected with other humans and away from the direct fire of the speakers, I can think more clearly. I am hungry and exhausted - I know that other people will judge me for the actions of this shouting, out of control woman. Yet I know that I have been to a place that so many people live on the edge of. I am grateful that I know that this does not have to happen to me again. I have not ‘blown a fuse’ I was nowhere close to death or madness. I do not blame myself or feel shame at finding the limits of my own stress tolerance. I know that there are always more people who will help and care for me than there are who would judge me and consider me ‘less than’.
Within minutes I am off the boat, sitting quietly on the edge of the party, I have food and drink and can even join some conversation above the noise.
An hour later - I board the boat for the return journey, I check with the captain where the noise will be least and enjoy watching the night time sky from the top deck - Sitting with Alec I don’t even consider engaging in conversation!
The next day - many of the same challenges are repeated, but I stay calm and easy and make the most of the experience of learning together with a great bunch of people.
When I reflect on what happened, I felt more and more alienated from others, my partner and eventually myself. The real help I got was from the people around me that were prepared to be ‘there for me’ both at that moment and the next day. I have always hoped I would be able to be there for someone in extreme distress, I now know that that simple human connection really does work wonders. The only way I could see myself as a human being was in the reflection of others who showed me their true humanity.
I share my experience in the hope that it might help others. If you have had panic attacks It might help you to know that you are not alone in having these experiences. If you know someone that sufferes from panic attacks this might help you to see how it can happen and what you might be able to do to help them.
I sometimes come up with a big idea and very often because it has been bubbling for a long time. This is my response to a post in a facebook group discussing the perils of climate change. I want to thank my grandmothers for their part in this. “I feel very strongly that mothers have a vital role to play. We are the people who understand on a very deep level what nature and creation are about. We are the people who have direct experience of the interconnectedness and non-duality. A part of us walks the earth without a physical connection to us. If we can connect as a web of mothers we just might have a chance to exude kindness, nurturing and care. This may just change the many systems on the planet that need changing. Imagine if all our governments were run by mothers - if countries were run like families. If our health and education systems were based on love, not fear. This surely is our message and our contribution, let us stand on the shoulders of the mothers who came before us.” This is for my children and grandchildren- and yours 💕
Motherhood is the state of being that begins after a woman carries a baby long enough for the physical and mental processes of change to become manifest within her.
Just as adulthood is heralded by the changes to both body and mind that result in the first menstruation, motherhood is heralded by a changing body and mind that results in the birth of a baby.
We totally accept that an adult brain is very different from a child’s brain. An adult’s thinking is different and patterns are set more clearly. Simply put, an adult brain can learn to drive on busy roads safely. They can judge speed, assess theoretical risk, and continue prioritising responsibility throughout the journey. A child cannot do this. Puberty is not the same as adulthood.
In the same way, childbirth is not the same as motherhood. A mother's brain can see the bigger picture more clearly, can put herself in another person's shoes more easily, can gather and link seemingly unconnected objects and experiences and has the ability to 'know' more about her surroundings and those of the people she cares for. A woman needs time and support as she learns to drive her new way of being after becoming a mother just as a teenager needs to practice the skills to drive a car.
All this talk about driving is a prelude to opening a conversation about what motherhood is, how it affects us personally and how it affects those around us and the world we live in.
We know what an adolescent brain is like in the full swing of hormonal changes because we have all been there. The classic “I dunno” response of a teenager is because they are rewiring their brain and the old pathways that used to take them to a clear answer to the question is simply no longer there.
Asking a teenager “Would you like burger or sausage for tea?” becomes complicated. Now, there is much more for her to consider in regard to this question. Until this is done and the new pathway is wired in, a young person really doesn't know. It takes some years for this process of change and often a turbulent sea of anxieties, risk-taking and mood swings has to be crossed in this time. But we never expect an adolescent to return to the ‘normal’ body shape, size and thinking style of their 10-year-old self. Yet how often do we find ourselves expecting women to revert to their pre-pregnancy physique, capabilities and ‘knowing’?
We (mothers) know that the simple pre-pregnancy question to a rewiring matrescent brain of “would you like to leave the baby with granny overnight?” is a far more complicated question than it was pre-pregnancy. The mother's brain is rewiring and needs time to do this.
Adolescence and Matrescence
Pregnancy and mothering can be thought of as two parts of the journey to motherhood. Motherhood, like childhood and adulthood, is a distinct state. Both puberty and pregnancy are driven by bodily changes that inform and precipitate the emotional and mental changes. These periods of change are termed adolescence and matrescence. The practice of ‘adulting’ or ‘mothering’ over weeks, months and years is what forms us as the adults and mothers we become.
Checking the distance...
As adults we can define times in our lives where we recognise that we have ‘grown up’. We have gone through another stage of adulthood. These are both physical and emotional experiences. Such stages can be: leaving home; having our first adult to adult relationship; getting a job; losing a parent; travelling alone; the list goes on.
As mothers we also go through many stages in our motherhood: becoming pregnant; having a baby; feeding the baby; leaving the baby with others; becoming a working mum; a single mum; a student mum; a disabled mum; a grieving mum; a step mum; a mum with an empty nest; a grand-mum. With each of these experiences, we grow as a mother and our mother brains and minds learn and adapt and support us and those around us.
A mother brain is never ‘alone’ physically and emotionally. It is connected to other brains. Did you know that a child’s DNA can be found within a mother’s brain tens of years after carrying the child? If you get the chance to, do watch a mother with a two-year-old, observe how far she will allow her child to stray or explore before she cannot stop herself going to their aid. She knows exactly when to step in, you can almost see the cord between them. But you also know she is letting out that cord little by little as she grows as a mother.
When I say that I work with Mothers people inevitably assume that I mean new mothers. However, my work is more often with mothers who find themselves unable to be the mothers they want to be. These mothers feel their motherhood is being challenged by loss or change and are needing support to change gear in order to protect themselves and those they love.
If I said that I work with adults you would not think that I was working with adolescent girls. At this point, they most need their family, friends, teachers and other communities around them. This is the same for Mothers, matrescence is a time to explore what motherhood means to them personally. They need support from those around them who know them well as they metamorphosise from woman to mother.
My passion is to support and recognise mothers as they come into, exercise and develop their powers and skills as the mothers they truly want to be in their own lives, their family’s lives and their communities.
My mission is to get a million western women involved in redefining what ‘motherhood’ means to us, taking our messy, big picture thinking into building loving resilient families and connecting communities.
Fatherhood and Parenthood
P.S. Fatherhood and motherhood are different. Many of the skills learned are similar and can be covered by the term ‘parenthood’. However, the body changes, hormonal effects and the brain changes are different. I fully acknowledge that we need both mothers and fathers in our families in order for us all to thrive. I also recognise that some parents do not define themselves as ‘mother’ or ‘father’ but I hope that if this is you, you will be able to hear what I say and test it in the light of your own experience and use what is useful to you and discard that which is not.
When you work in a field, any field, you can find yourself watching the news and see something published that you have known about FOR... EVER !!!
This is how it was for me today when I heard Anna Simpsons story on BBC News. Anna had been hoping for a normal birth but describes having an emergency c-section as the most frightening experience of her life. She went on to have treatment for PTSD and described her journey.
It is no surprise to me that Dr Rebecca Moore, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, went on camera to say that many women who experienced PTSD were being "failed by the current provision".
Anna is not alone. In my 30 years of working with women and families I have met countless women whose experiences around childbirth have left them with the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I even worked with a midwife who felt unable to have a second baby due to undiagnosed perinatal PTSD which was still affecting her 25 years later.
And it is not just the women. Partners and Maternity staff have often come to me for help dealing with the symptoms of PTSD. Childbirth can be the most wonderful experience a human can go through but very occasionally it can also be the most terrifying time of your life.
If you are concerned that you or someone close to you has PTSD read on and I will summarise the symptoms and experiences that can occur.
You might have PTSD (relating to childbirth) if you were exposed to a traumatic event around childbirth in which both of the following were present:
You experienced, an event where there was actual or threatened death or serious injury to Mum and/or Baby.
You felt intense fear helplessness or horror.
Do you experience (one or more of) the following?
Uncontrollable memories of the trauma.
Recurrent distressing dreams of the event.
Flashbacks to the event.
Overwhelming emotional reactions to associated people/places/things.
Physical symptoms (sweating, racing heart, abdominal symptoms) when encountering people/places/things that remind you of the event.
Do you try to avoid things or feel ‘numb’ especially (three or more of the following)?
When people talk about childbirth.
When you come across activities, places or people that remind you of the trauma.
You find you cannot remember an important aspect of the trauma.
You don’t want to do things that you used to enjoy.
You feel isolated and detached from others.
You feel unable to have loving feelings, or to laugh and cry as before.
You have an overwhelming sense of vulnerability and feel scared that there is no future.
Do you have (two or more of the following)?
Difficulty falling or staying asleep (even when the baby allows it).
Irritability or outbursts of anger.
Difficulty in concentrating.
Hyper-vigilance - looking out for danger everywhere.
An exaggerated startle response - jumping to the slightest sound/movement.
Has this gone on for more than one month?
Do you have significant difficulty in work and/or social situations because of this?
If you have read through this and have been answering “yes” to lots of the questions it might not mean that you ‘have PTSD’ but it does mean that you are struggling with life and are not able to enjoy it as much as you would like to. Maybe it is time to find a way to let go of the overwhelm and anxiety and to start feeling more like the ‘you’ you used to be and the ‘you’ you want to be for yourself and your family.
So please, If you are concerned that you may have PTSD and want help please talk to your health professional or get in touch with me. There are fast and effective ways of overcoming this debilitating condition.
Perinatal PTSD does not only affect Mothers but it can go on to affect the whole family. If you are still experiencing the above symptoms more than 3 months after the birth it is time to talk.
Q:If I say I am not coping will ‘they’ take my baby away?
A: NO! You are asking for help and you may well be surprised by how much help will be offered.
Q:I don’t think I could talk to anyone about the birth - can you still help?
A: Fortunately (with many therapies including human givens therapy) you do not have to talk about the events that caused the trauma (as this reliving can further embed the trauma).
Q:People will think me weak - I should be happy that I have a family, I have no reason to feel like this do I?
A: Why some people get PTSD while others don’t is not fully understood but may occur because some people ‘freeze’ at the moment of trauma. This freezing is a normal human response to extreme danger.
Q:I think I have had PTSD for 20-30 years is it too late for help?
A: No, it is never too late. I have helped people many, many years after trauma.
Q:If I have another baby will the PTSD come back?
A:If you have treatment for PTSD and can talk about the birth and go back to the hospital without feeling the symptoms then there is no reason that the PTSD symptoms will return with a subsequent birth.
Q: Can you definitely diagnose whether I have PTSD or not?
A: I am a fully qualified psychotherapist, but I am not Doctor or a Psychologist so I am unable to give you a diagnosis. I am however experienced in helping people overcome the symptoms that I have described above. I spend my time and yours helping you to feel better rather than examining the detail of each of the symptoms in order to give you a label.
If you have any other questions at all don’t hesitate to get in touch.
This is me sitting on my great grandmother’s knee in 1958
Today, on Remembrance day, I choose to remember May, my great grandmother, I do remember her as a little round lady who wound her plaits around her head, had a whiskery chin and a tin full of sweeties on her table.
I didn’t know her as a young woman growing up as daughter to the village butcher, nor as the girl who rode her horse too fast. I didn’t know her as she married Norman, the son of the village brewer. I didn’t know her as she gave birth to six children in the first 15 years of the 1900s. I didn’t know her as Norman left for France, nor did I know her when the letter came that he was missing in action. I didn’t know her as she held her family together or how she felt about her sons joining up. I didn’t know her when a year later the letter came that Norman was alive but had been injured, I didn’t know her when her disabled husband returned, nor when she had 2 more children. I didn’t know her as every day for more than 40 more years she looked at her husband knowing he had survived where many hadn’t, yet had injuries that changed his mind and body perhaps beyond recognition.
I know little of my other three great grandmothers or eight great grandmothers. All I know is that I, just like you come from a long line of strong women who gave birth to a daughter who became a mother, and did the best they could with what they had.
This story was left untold for 50 years, we did not know it to remember it. Now I can share it with you, and your story will have a mother who saw her husband, brothers or sons changed by war. On remembrance day or any day take a moment to remember her.
I have created this 'Being Here Day' as this time of year always signifies New Beginnings to me and a time to start welcoming the longer days as we edge towards the spring. There will be Tai Chi and Pilates, Stories and Poems, Exploring consciousness, singing and using natural remedies and techniques for managing anxiety - and lots more! Have a holiday in a day - no guarantee of sunshine but a warm glow of friendship and log fires!
When? Sunday 18th February 2018 What Time?10.00am - 4.00pm Whereabouts?Cleeve House, Seend, Melksham, SN12 6PG 01380 827129
About the day
This is a day of sharing, relaxing, stretching and wellbeing, come and join us in this wonderful venue in the heart of the Wiltshire countryside. You can choose to bring something to share, or just bring yourself and enjoy what others have to offer. All activities and talks are optional and included in the price. Lunch and refreshments are also provided.
What is going on?
Everything and nothing, there will be talks, movement practices, time for laughter and meditation. A chance to learn and a chance to share but most of all a chance just to be!
Will there be food?
Yes, teas and coffee will be available throughout the day, and a warming lunch will be served.
As well as activities there will be jigsaws, colouring and oracle cards to explore.
If you want to make new friends, spend time with old friends, learn something new, stretch or relax your body and feed or quieten your mind then this is for you.
OR If you want to come, to read a book, sit by the fire, or walk among the trees, then this is for you.