Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month

Pregnancy and infant lsos awareness month

Pregnancy and infant lsos awareness monthOctober is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. 25% of all pregnancies end in a loss, which means that many, many of us have been through this difficult and painful experience.

Although pregnancy loss is so common, living through it can leave us feeling isolated and alone. People don’t acknowledge our grief or say the wrong thing (“Oh well, you can always try again”) or we may feel that we don’t have the right to be sad because the pregnancy was “so early” or because we had some ambivalence about it. You have a right to grieve no matter the context and timing of your pregnancy. This is a profound event that happens body and soul and however you experience it, however you need to grieve it, you should be given time, space and respect in your journey.

  • Some women name the baby they hoped to have even if the miscarriage was very early. That’s one right way to do it.
  • Other women may experience an early loss as a loss of possibility, not as a baby. That’s another right way to do it.
  • Some women may join groups and become involved in campaigns to increase visibility and understanding. That’s one right way to do it.
  • Others may feel more comfortable grieving privately or may attend groups but not speak. That’s another right way to do it.

Healthy grief is hard and it’s a path that meanders; “getting over it” or “moving on” are myths that don’t serve us well. In truth, healthy grieving is about integrating our loss into our personal narrative, it’s about learning how best to tell our story to ourselves so that we can understand it and this takes time and effort.

Healthy grief means good days and bad days, sorrow that comes and goes as we grow and change. Healthy grief means going days without thinking about it and then seeing something that brings it to the forefront of our minds again.

The loss is part of our history and so part of ourselves.

If you have suffered a pregnancy loss and want support, no matter when it happened or in what context, please know that there is help for you.

Locally, Kobaker House offers a wonderful group for both mothers and fathers. It meets the first Tuesday of each month and you can call Sarah Phillips at (614) 533-6060 for more information. They will also be hosting a Tulip Bulb Planting Ceremony at their October meeting on the 6th. From their website:

A time of reflection and remembrance, to come together with those who have lost a baby either during pregnancy or in the first year after birth. Bulbs will be provided. Please bring a small spade or shovel. Families and children are welcome.

If you feel more comfortable reaching out anonymously, you can call Backline, a talkline for all aspects of pregnancy including infertility and loss. Their number is 1-888-493-0092.

If you are grieving the loss of a wanted pregnancy where you needed to terminate for health reasons, you may feel particularly lost. Fortunately, this website, Ending a Wanted Pregnancy, offers parent support and information. They also have a public Facebook page.

Finally, you can seek help from a counselor. There are many of us who have specific training and interest in supporting women who are struggling with pregnancy loss. Please feel free to call me. If I’m not the right person to help you, I will work to help you find them.

Breaking free from the prison of intrusive thoughts

Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive ThoughtsIntrusive thoughts are the unwelcome, uninvited ugly thoughts that skitter through our heads now and then. Everyone has them. Think about a time when you stood on a balcony and thought, “What if I jump?” That’s an intrusive thought. (Note: Other than this example I won’t be listing other intrusive thoughts because folks who are sensitive may be triggered by them so I’m going to stick with the balcony throughout.)

These thoughts get problematic when they don’t skitter through. Instead of a passing thought, “What if I jump?” the intrusive thought keeps the thinker frozen on the balcony replaying the possibility over and over. People struggling with intrusive thoughts become afraid that they want to jump or that they will jump or that they’re meant to jump. Is the thought telling a truth they don’t want to confront? They wonder if they’re going crazy.

Intrusive thoughts are common in new moms, particularly those dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety. Again, it becomes problematic when those thoughts get stuck and we feel unable to function.

Sometimes in postpartum the intrusive thoughts are ones of us doing harm to our children and this can be terrifying. I haven’t met a new parent yet who hasn’t thought, “Let’s hit rewind. Let’s not do this. Let me get more sleep first. I’m not ready.” But when we couple those super normal feelings along with intrusive thoughts, it’s terrifying. Visions of news stories rocket through her head — what about those moms who did hurt their children? — and it’s no wonder that her anxiety spirals even further out of control.

Children have intrusive thoughts, too, and because kids tend to be very black and white in their thinking, they may think that bad thoughts mean that they are bad people. Many of our intrusive thoughts are embarrassing or shameful, many of them are about hurting ourselves or others or may be sexual in nature. Kids who are trying to figure all of this out — bad feelings, angry feelings, sexual curiosity — may be too ashamed or scared to tell parents.

Intrusive thoughts can be part of a Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The thoughts are the obsession and the compulsion is whatever the child or adult needs to do to make the thought stop.

How do you know if you or someone you love is having intrusive thoughts?

  • The thoughts come out of nowhere. You’re unpacking at the hotel, in a good mood because your vacation’s started, and suddenly you’re thinking about jumping off the balcony. The thought is disconnected from your mood and your actions, it may be triggered by a passing piece of the landscape or when someone walks into the room.
  • The thoughts are upsetting to the thinker. The thinker does not want these thoughts and starts to avoid triggers (won’t go near the balcony, for example).
  • There is ritual tied to the thoughts. The thinker has to do something to get the thought out of their head — sing a song, wash their hands, tense their jaw three times. A child continually comes to their parent for reassurance (a sign that their compulsion includes action on the parent’s part to help them turn the thoughts off).

So what can you do?

  1. First of all, know that intrusive thoughts are treatable. Anxiety is treatable. We do not have to be imprisoned by bad or scary thoughts.
  2. Do not try to stop the thoughts because, ironically, that’s what makes them stick around. (It’s that old, “Don’t think of an elephant” joke. Say that to someone and they won’t be able to NOT think of an elephant.) Remember that we all have intrusive thoughts but as long as they come and go quickly, they’re not an issue.
  3. Recognize the anxiety that comes up when the thoughts come up. Practice relaxation techniques — deep breathing, gentle movement, visualizing the thought washing in on an ocean wave and receding with the wave. Help your body relax so that your mind will be able to release the thought.
  4. Remember what I said about not stopping the thoughts? Not stopping them, letting them come and go will help us get used to having them, which will reduce our anxiety about them. When they show up we can learn to say, “Oh look it’s you! That unwelcome, uninvited thought!” Getting used to them will reduce our sensitivity to them.
  5. Another way to reduce our sensitivity is to tell someone about them. This is where a counselor can come in handy because counselors are bound by confidentiality, which means you can trust that they will never ever ever tell anyone what you say in the office. Note: Some people are afraid to tell a counselor because they know that we are also bound by ethics that say we have to alert authorities if someone is going to hurt someone. But we are also trained to recognize intrusive thoughts. (This concern can be especially present for new moms who may also have intrusive thoughts about someone taking their baby from them.) If you’re unsure, ask them. Say, “I think I’m having intrusive thoughts but I’m afraid to tell you about them.” That’s OK; learning to manage anxiety is a process.

It’s easy to get stuck in intrusive thought traps — thinking that there is meaning behind them (there isn’t! They’re just brain blips!), thinking that you have to make sense of them (you can’t! because they don’t make sense!). It does not mean we want to hurt ourselves or someone else. It does not mean we want to perform that sexual act that showed up unbidden. It does not mean that we want to do that embarrassing thing that just occurred to us. Our brains are capable of putting together some weird ideas but having a thought is in no way shape or form the same as acting on it.

Dealing with intrusive thoughts isn’t easy and it’s definitely a place where I think counseling can make a huge difference. A neutral person to hear your thoughts, to help you learn to manage your anxiety around them, to support you and to believe in your ability to heal is a big, big deal.

 

Community Forum for Parents and Caregivers of Trans*/Gender Non-Conforming Youth & Adolescents

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(I am not affiliated with this training but am excited to make you all aware of it! I met Erin at another workshop/networking event and she told me about her work. I asked her to let me know when she next offers this forum and she was gracious enough to do so. Please contact Erin — her email is below — if you are interested in learning more about the panel or about her work with transgender youth. Erin also offers a free support group for transgender kids 5 to 12 and you can contact her about that, too.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Stonewall Columbus
630p-830p
1160 N. High St
Cols, 43201

A panel conversation and community dialogue focused on supporting parents and caregivers

Topics will include:

  • Supportive & Therapeutic Resources
  • Working with Schools
  • Conversations with Family & Friends
  • Finding Community
  • Medical Resources/Options
  • Identity Development
  • Siblings
  • …and more!

**Thank you in advance for respecting this as an ADULTS ONLY space for those currently parenting or providing care for trans*/gender non-conforming children**

Facilitated by Erin Upchurch, LISW-S

From Erin’s counseling web site: Erin Upchurch is an Independent Social Worker who joined CCBT as an Independent Practicing Affiliate. She is an advanced, generalist practitioner who specializes in working with women, youth and families, LGBTQ, and minority communities. Her practice areas of interest include empowerment, mindfulness, health and wellness education, women’s issues, organization and education of communities, creativity, and social change.

Please contact eupchurchlisw@gmail.com for more information

Anxiety is a Dirty Rotten Liar

Anxiety is a Dirty Rotten Liar

Anxiety is a Dirty Rotten LiarAnxiety loves to tell lies. Anxiety likes to stand behind you and reinterpret the world in a negative way. Someone tells you that they like your shirt? Anxiety whispers in your ear, “They just feel bad for you leaving the house looking like that.”

Anxiety blows it all up and makes everything worse. Anxiety is a dirty rotten liar.

But the biggest lie anxiety tells you is that it’s telling you all of these dirty, rotten lies for your own good; anxiety lies by telling you that it’s just trying to keep you safe.

“I just don’t want you to get hurt again!” Anxiety says. “I just don’t want you to get in a wreck so I make you too nervous to drive! I just don’t want you to lose your job so I need you to check that submitted file for the umpteenth time for typos instead of getting some sleep!”

What we need to do is the same thing we’d do with anyone we thought was lying to us — we need to confront them about their lying.

Recognizing Anxiety

The first thing to do is to get good at spotting it when anxiety is doing the talking. This sounds easy but when we get anxious we don’t always know that it’s anxiety; we think it’s real. We think, “Oh lord, am I nervous” or “Oh gosh, am I scared” or “Oh man, I’m overwhelmed” and we run with it. When we acknowledge that anxiety is this voice living alongside us, we can say, “Oh lord, am I nervous but I think that’s my anxiety talking.” That alerts us to look for the lies.

We are having an experience — eating an ice cream cone, seeing a dog run across the field next to the park where we’re pushing our kid on a swing, ironing our clothes for work tomorrow — and then anxiety comes in and colors what’s happening. Suddenly that ice cream is a stand in for every body image issue we’ve ever had. Suddenly that dog is Cujo waiting to spring. Suddenly work is a pit of despair and fear. But when we see that anxiety is the overlay, we can go back and say, “Before I go there, down the anxiety path, I can stop and recognize that I’m just having this very specific moment right now.”

That’s the first step.

Speaking Truth to Anxiety

The next step is recognizing that anxiety is not the expert on the situation. Remember, anxiety is a liar and wants you to see things through it’s lying lens. Anxiety will turn an ice cream cone into a major moral dilemma. What we have to do is talk back to it, speak truth to it. We do this by recognizing the way that anxiety distorts our thinking; these are called cognitive distortions or thinking errors.

Here’s the hand out that I use the most in my office: Unhelpful Thinking Styles You can download it and put it on your ‘fridge or the mirror in your bathroom or just keep the PDF handy on your computer.

This is how it works. You need to call and order a pizza only you don’t like to talk on the phone. Talking on the phone makes you nervous. Your hands start to sweat and your throat starts to close up. You start worrying about making that call. What if they don’t understand you? What if you forget how to order a pizza? What if there are all of these choices and you freeze and can’t remember and the person taking your order thinks you’re stupid?

The first thing you do is take a deep breath (because you have to calm your body down to get to that thinking part of your brain instead of the scared REACT part of your brain). Then you speak truth to those lies.

Jack Nicholson saying that you can't handle the truth

This is you, blowing anxiety’s mind

You look at your handy hand-out posted on the ‘fridge and you say to yourself, “I’m really jumping to conclusions. Why would the order guy think I’m stupid if I get confused by the crust choices? People find those dumb crust choices confusing all of the time. Boy howdy am I practicing some emotional reasoning. Just because I feel scared to order a pizza doesn’t mean it’s actually a dangerous thing to do. It’s not like ordering a pizza on the phone is putting me at any kind of actual risk. And oh my gosh, am I doing some catastrophizing or what? It’s just a pizza order for crying out loud!”

You may still feel the way you feel but this is the first step to dismantling the elaborate false front that anxiety is building around you. You can talk yourself down from this. You can remember that anxiety is a dirty rotten liar but you know the truth or at least you know how to get there.

Getting into the praise mindset

getting into a praise mindset

getting into a praise mindsetWhen our kids are driving us crazy it’s easy to get locked into negativity. They’re being terrible, we’re trying to get them to quit being terrible, which often causes us to also act terribly and then we’re all being terrible with and at each other and that’s where many people are by the time they land in my office.

When this happens, one of the best things parents can do is to look for times their kids are being good and then praise the heck out of them. (Even if they’re not being all that good.)

To explain how this works, let’s use Goofus (as in Goofus and Gallant) as our example. Do you remember them? They’re from Highlights Magazine and Gallant does all the good stuff and Goofus is just plain rotten. (As a kid I didn’t really like either of them because Gallant was so good he made the rest of us look bad and Goofus seemed like the kind of boy I wanted to avoid during recess.)

For absolutely understandable reasons, Goofus’s parents are likely pretty sick of parenting him. Per Highlights:

  • Goofus barrels through people in the way and bosses them around.
  • Goofus is rude when responding to others’ ideas.
  • Goofus uses his book with dirty hands.
  • Goofus berates the bus when he misses it.
  • Goofus yells when he can’t get what he wants.
  • Goofus takes the last apple.

Man, Goofus, seriously. GET. IT. TOGETHER.

What all this means is that Goofus’s parents probably sound like this all of the time:

  • Watch where you’re going!
  • We do not talk that way in this family!
  • Stop touching that!
  • What is wrong with you?!?
  • Go to your room!
  • Put that back!

Given his track record, it’s no wonder Goofus’s parents are always steeling themselves for yet another Goofus screw up. They’re behind him before he’s done anything wrong saying, “Careful! Watch it! You better clean that up when you’re finished!” and he’s got it in his head that he’s a lousy person, someone who does mess up all of the time so why even bother?

Seeing as we’re the ones with fully developed frontal lobes, it’s up to us parents to disrupt the pattern. Goofus’s parents are the ones who have to help themselves (and help Goofus) see him as someone who can and will do better. And often this starts with finding ways to say, “Good job!”

When Goofus grabs his book with dirty hands his parents could ignore the urge to tell him to go wash up and instead say, “Goofus, you are such a great reader!” (Unless the book is a priceless edition or belongs to someone else, it can always be replaced so ignore the grubbiness for the sake of paradigm changing.)

Of course some things demand intervention — safety issues, for example. Parents can’t ignore it when Goofus (per one Highlights example) brings glass into the pool area but because they’ve learned to let go of things like dirty hands on books, Goofus is more likely to listen. First they can say, “I love the way you pay attention to your thirst signals, Goofus! That’s a smart thing to do in hot weather” before adding, “But let’s get a plastic cup to be sure you stay safe.”

Some days it’s a lot harder because some days Goofus is probably even more awful than usual. On those days, parents can and should find any little way to praise him. Even if it’s just, “I really appreciate the way you walked across the room there, buddy, without bopping your brother on the head.”

Goofus’s parents need to start looking for the good in him and pointing it out so that Goofus can start finding the good in himself. This can be really hard to do if you’re locked on molding your kid to be more like Gallant — it can feel like you’re allowing mayhem into your home if you’re not offering lots of correction. But you know that “be the change you want to see” quote? You need to SEE the change you want your kid to be before it ever happens.

Trust me, most kids know when they’re being rotten and they would like to find another way to be but they either don’t know how, or feel stuck in the immediate gratification or they think that’s the best way to get their parents to put all eyes on them.

Goofus’s parents need to see it for him. They need to ignore the filthy socks on the floor and instead say, “Thanks for changing your socks everyday.” They need to download one of those “100 Ways to Say Good Job” posters and memorize it so they have a whole bunch of phrases at the ready.

Now this is not empty praise; it’s finding new things to praise. It’s changing the atmosphere between parent and child and finding new ways to interact. It takes time to create a new way to be and it can be scary. It can feel downright neglectful not to call your kid out whenever he does something wrong so it’s important that both parents get in on the plan and have a clear idea about what’s non-negotiable (safety) and what they’re willing to ignore for the sake of building back a positive relationship.

For kids who are really entrenched, I think it makes sense to find a therapist. Many of the children I see who are acting out are struggling with other issues — anxiety, low self esteem, etc. It’s not fun to be Goofus, at least not all of the time.

What’s Under the Anger?

What's under the anger?

What's under the anger?This is a nifty exercise to do with kids and I’ve had occasion to think about it lately so I thought I’d also write it up here.

Many of the kids I see are struggling with angry behaviors and getting to what lies under the anger is part of our process together. Depending on the child’s age and understanding, we do a modified version of this exercise.

First we talk about how angry is made up of lots of different emotions but figuring out which ones is tricky. So I tell them that we’re going to play detective and look at some different scenarios to figure out what’s going on under the anger.

I use index cards or slips of paper with the following emotions listed on them (these are taken from this Managing Your Anger poster).

  • Anxiety
  • Disappointment
  • Embarrassment
  • Fear
  • Frustration
  • Guilt
  • Hurt
  • Jealousy
  • Sadness
  • Shame
  • Worry

We go through the list and I make sure they have a basic understanding of what each one means. I also have blank cards available for children to add an emotion if they feel like there’s something missing. Sometimes they’ll want to add something that seems redundant to me, like Unhappiness. I’ll check in, does Sadness cover that or do they want to add it? Sometimes they won’t realize sadness is there or sometimes they’ll explain to me why Unhappiness is different and I get to learn something new about their experiences. Likewise if they say that Anxiety and Worry seem the same to them I tell them to just use whichever one they feel is the best fit.

To keep kids interested, we usually use figures or puppets to set the scenarios up. This might be acting out the scenario or it might just be placing the figures as a kind of panorama of what’s happening. This can be a lot of fun for them. I’ll say, “Ok, for this one we’ll need a sister or brother and a mom” and they giggle to pick out the people or animals who fit.

I try to choose stories that the children can relate to and I try to choose ones that come from real life. Something like:

–Amy wakes up super excited about going to the park but when she comes down for breakfast her mom tells her that it’s going to rain so they have to cancel the park date. What do you think is under Amy’s anger?

or

–Sebastian is supposed to play four square with his friend at recess but when he comes out after lunch is friend is already playing with someone else. What do you think is under Sebastian’s anger?

For older kids I might use more complicated scenarios:

–Cleo has been thinking about the slumber party for weeks and can’t wait to go. When she gets there she finds out that the other girls have been texting each other plans for the night but Cleo doesn’t have a phone yet so she wasn’t included. Now all the girls are giggling about something and they won’t tell Cleo what. What do you think is under Cleo’s anger?

–Dane studied super hard for the math test and thinks he did well. The next day the teacher calls him over and tells him that his answers were exactly the same as the student sitting next to him. Dane realizes that his friend must have copied the answers. What do you think is under Dane’s anger?

We do several of these with the child picking out the emotion cards that fit the situation. After they’ve done this we take a minute to contemplate what they’ve chosen. I always praise the child’s insight and we discuss those underlying emotions.

I don’t ask why they made their choices as in “Tell me why you chose Worried” because that can put some kids on the defensive. First I agree with them and then I might ask for more: “Yeah, frustration, I bet Sebastian was really frustrated! I’m curious about Fear, can you tell me more about that?”

I do not ask them what they’re missing or if they can think of one more because this exercise is to help them start feeling more confident about their ability to identify emotions (and sometimes it’s also a good assessment tool for me if I’m not sure where they are). If I do think there’s a glaring omission I might say, “This is really excellent. You’ve caught the Sadness and Frustration that might be under Amy’s anger. I wonder if she might feel Disappointed, too. What do you think?”

And we talk about it.

I usually do five or six of these generic scenes (with one specifically picked because the child will probably relate to it — for example, using a sibling scenario if the child struggles with anger towards a sibling). Using a generic but familiar scenario opens up the idea that we can come up with a scene from their own lives. Most of the time they’re willing to do this but if not, that’s fine.

Sometimes we invite a parent to come in and play the game to see if they can guess what feelings are under their child’s anger during a particular incident that’s come up in therapy and then the child gets to tell their parent what they got right and what they got wrong.

We can also talk about how Worried Anger might need a different response than Embarrassed Anger and we can come up with a game plan that the child can share with loved ones to help them deal with the next meltdown. If they’re not willing or able to talk about an incident from their own life or relate the exercise to their own experience we stay focused on other stories and I heap on the praise. If a child is having a hard time with emotional literacy than my goal is to build their confidence as we build their skills. Heck, if a child can identify one emotion — or can understand why I chose an emotion and help me talk about it — that’s a big accomplishment and sets the stage for more storytelling and emotional identification later on down the line.

Writer Dan Chaon on being adopted

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Last year I read Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon and I made note of this on my Kindle then but am just now going through my stored notes. Here’s what he said about his own experience as an adopted person:

 For the most part I am pro-adoption, but for better or worse it’s definitely a form of identity theft, at least as it was practiced during the time I was born. My birth certificate has the names of my adoptive parents, and my original, “real” birth certificate is weirdly, permanently classified. When I apply for a passport, for example, the state of Nebraska must act as an intermediary for me — and in that way, I’m a little less real than a nonadopted person. the bureaucracy that surrounds closed adoptions has the effect of creating this secret, ghost life that I trail along behind me, even though I have actually met my biological parents. Nevertheless, I will go to my grave without my official right to this basic information about myself. It’s just one of those odd things.

As many of you know, just this past spring Ohio finally gave all domestically adopted adult adoptees the right to access their original birth certificates. It was the right thing to do and I hope that other states follow suit because it is a form of identity theft and it’s my strong belief that every adoptee has the right to define his or her identity as they see fit and not how the state (or anyone else) sees fit.

Interestingly, if you check the history secrecy in adoption is relatively new here in the states. Originally and historically privacy has been the norm with access still allowed for “parties in interest” (i.e., adults and children-turned-adults who were part of the adoption).

Nearly half a million birth certificates can theoretically be accessed now here in Ohio, which means that thousands upon thousands of people — adopted adults, birth parents, adoptive parents, other family members including siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. — stand to have their lives changed as the original birth certificates come to light.

For those of you who might be reading and who might be impacted by the law, it’s important for you to know that there is support out there. There are in-person groups here and in Cleveland and one starting in Cincinnati. You can learn more about them by going to Ohio Birthparent Group and Adoption Network Cleveland.