A metamorphosis from a rag to Mother…

I was one of those girls who always dreamed of being a mother. I was the go-to babysitter for my 11 older cousins, five older siblings, and our community. I worked in daycares, schools, and specialized in child development, parenting, and marriage and family therapy when I got my Master of Science degree in Human Development and Family Studies. After getting married, I even chose to wait five years before having a child to ensure we worked through major issues, that my partner and I were secure and ready to start a family and have a conscious conception.

During the process of defending my thesis, I discovered I was pregnant. We chose to conceive a bit sooner in our 4th year of marriage because I was greatly sensing that many of my clients, who were parents, were not buying my positive and non-punitive approach parenting. They didn’t think I could truly understand and advise as I was not a parent. I could see where they were coming from yet wanted to prove to them that it was not only possible but ideal, and of course, my partner and I were ready.

You could imagine my shock and dismay when after my son was born, I did not want to hold him. All I wanted was to eat my bagel, drink my smoothie and be left alone. They did bring him to my chest right away as I had asked and I could see the herd of nurses and doctors and my partner taking care of him so I knew he was alive and being attended to. I shocked myself again that when they asked if I wanted him in the nursery or in my room, I was going to actually respond with ‘the nursery’ yet my partner jumped in and said our room as he would stay there all night.

I am grateful my partner asserted himself and our agreed upon goal. I was also blessed that he had three weeks off of work for family-leave to take care of our son and me. For most of my son’s first year of life, I remember many times feeling numb, exhausted and negative. I could look at my son and feel empty. When he was calm and happy, I was too but babies have many more times of crying than not. The most positive feelings I had were more often for my partner as he was so helpful, sensitive, and watching him be a father made me love him more each day.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it was not all a bed of roses in the marriage department either. We told family, who mostly lived out of state, to come after my partner went back to work so we could bond as a family and spread out the support. When my family came to visit, my partner and I had a huge fight about me giving preferential treatment to my family compared to his family. It wasn’t pretty and extremely embarrassing for me as it ended with my partner throwing my breakfast, tea and all, at me in bed…Apparently, he was on his way to bring me breakfast in bed when I made an upsetting comment. Fortunately, my therapist skills kicked in as I worked very hard to empathize with his feelings and needs during a long, private conversation we had in our laundry room while cleaning the feta cheese omelet and tea off our bedding.

During this time, I was also training to be a doula and had to submit my birth story as part of training. They were taken back by how negative my story was and had concerns. Their response actually surprised me because I thought my story was honest and highlighted my gratitude for my partner which was very positive from my point of view. I had also suffered from major depression for at least a decade of my life so compared to my past, I was doing amazing and actually feeling quite decent, calm and very proud of my accomplishments. Sure, I still felt more like a rag than a mother but at least I wanted to live and knew things would only get better. I had come a long way in my healing journey. I felt like I was well connected to my thoughts and feelings like I was objectively witnessing this metamorphosis. I knew this transition would be hard and messy as raising a child is the hardest and least appreciated job out there so I expected and accepted this harsh reality.

I remember when my son was about 11 months old and I was changing his diaper before nap time. That feeling of being a rag, like my sole value is to be spit on, peed on, defecated on, and to be used at one’s disposal 24/7 to clean up everything, was particularly strong that day. Being nap time, my son was extremely fussy and resistant to going to sleep while I was overwhelmed and anxious about all the things I had to get done. Our clash of needs instantly brought rage and hopelessness to my being. I put him in his crib and stormed off to my room. I took some deep breaths, reminded myself that my partner would be home tonight and he would help me like he does so I can handle this. I felt calm enough to go back to my son to gently stroke his arms and face. I looked him in the eyes and could feel calm, joy, and love.

Still gazing and warmly engaging with my son, my train of thought then drifted to my mother who did not have a husband who would come home and help her. Yes, he worked and provided money, shelter, and food yet never changed a diaper for six kids. My mother did it all. If she could do it, then I could definitely do it. There was also a current news story about a mother who killed her two children in a town near my hometown. The news started to rehash the story about Andrea Yates and how could mothers do this to their own children.

It was at that moment and for the first time in my life, I had complete empathy for those mothers. Here I was so full of resources and support yet just a moment ago, I had so much rage in me because my baby is crying at me and I could not stop him. The negative thoughts that flooded my body like “What is wrong with me that I can’t comfort my child?!” Even though my logical and wise mind knows he’s only a baby and this isn’t a personal attack on my abilities, all I could feel was inadequate, desperate, alone, and rage. Had I not had so much recovery time, resilience, support and positive coping skills, I could have easily hurt him on many occasions. I can only imagine what these women have lived through… what their relationships were like with their partners and family, … and what unprocessed trauma was tormenting their psyche and connection to body, heart and wise mind?

As a person who is passionate about cultivating healthy relationships, maximizing human potential, healing transgenerational trauma as well as prioritizes taking responsibility, self-inquiry, and reflection, I have been able to pinpoint the trauma and adverse childhood experiences that influenced my depression, my negative core beliefs and reactions as well as connect how they were negatively affecting my attachment and relationship with my son. As well-educated and empowered I was for my son’s birth, I was sadly triggered in the hospital environment and was easily persuaded to accept interventions I did not want. This set off a cascade of medical interventions that lead to a 53-hour excruciating labor and delivery 2.5 weeks earlier than expected. Yes, I know, many mothers have it worse and I should be glad my son was healthy and alive as I have had subsequent miscarriages and a stillbirth so that is painful on so many other levels. Regardless, our bodies react to pain in the same way and all we need is to perceive a threat to our wellbeing to trigger fear and a stress response. Based on my past, I got triggered which shut down the connection to my heart and wise mind when my son was born. Food and rest were all I wanted because I had not eaten in days and endured the most physical pain and exertion in my life. I was in survival mode.

After having a supportive, positive homebirth with my daughter where I did not feel fear, I noticed how alive, connected and joyful I was within my own being and with my daughter. This stark contrast made me realize that I likely had postnatal depression and anxiety with my son. Fortunately, I also had safe places to process my pain and have forgiven myself as well as applied my positive trust-based and attachment parenting to my relationship with my son. Every past relationship pattern can be healed in safe, nurturing, and responsive relationships today. He will be 14 is a few weeks and he is the most compassionate, responsible, and honest teenager I have ever known. Our relationship is a resource in my life.

So for all those parents who didn’t seem to believe me that you don’t need to punish children and that you can be kind and respectful to get them to cooperate, I am happy to report that my son is my living proof. I admit, what I did learn and did not truly understand before having children was utterly how demanding, exhausting, and challenging parenting is 24/7 thus I gained a ton more empathy for parents, especially mothers. You certainly cannot do it alone and you need as much non-judgemental and compassionate support as possible as well as prioritize your wellbeing. Keep doing things daily that nurture yourself and bring you comfort or joy no matter how small they may seem. There is also no one way to parent. It is best to connect and trust your heart and listen to your wise mind.

“Wise cultures are child-wise, and child-wise cultures do everything they can to ensure the mother and baby get off to the best start in the first 3 years of life. They understand the health of their culture depends on it…If the baby has a bonded relationship with mum, he grows heart-brain connections for the highest human qualities and so can make peaceful relationships with everyone in the group.” ~Pennie Brownlee, Dance with me in the Heart

Here is a video on creating secure infant attachment

If you are worried that you or someone you know may be experiencing signs of postnatal depression check out the following links:

8 Little-Known Signs of Postpartum Depression

Postpartumprogress.com

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/postpartum-depression-and-the-baby-blues.htm

7 Reasons Why Mothers Don’t Disclose Their Scary Thoughts

And Dads can get it too: https://www.parents.com/parenting/dads/sad-dads/

If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please call 911 or visit your local emergency room

Call 1-800-273-8255 https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Text 741741 from anywhere in the USA https://www.crisistextline.org/

Take Wonderful Care,

Debra

 

Disclaimer

Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment. This online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers and seek referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy in the state of Illinois, USA

Negative effects of toxic stress

All negativity comes from a state of stress within our central nervous system. Stress can be an emotional, mental, physical, or chemical stimulus that is prolonged, unpredictable, and/or overwhelming to our body and mind. Stress can come in the form of having big and conflicting emotions at once, lacking skills and not knowing how to handle the situation appropriately, or having unmet needs like nutrition, rest, connection, etc. Any stress that goes on unexpressed, unprocessed, and/or misunderstood can become toxic and traumatic.  Naturally, experiences that involve actual or perceived death or serious injury increases the potential for toxic levels of stress and trauma. Toxic stress and trauma lead to dysregulation which is being in a state of STRESS beyond one’s window of tolerance and does the following:

  • Alters the chemistry and functioning of your mind/body/heart connections;
  • Creates unconscious emotions of fear;
  • Activates stress hormones and flight/flight/freeze mode of reactions;
  • Decreases ability to access higher brain functions (i.e. problem-solving, planning, language, knowing right from wrong etc.)
  • Decreases our tolerance level and increases sensitivity to stress
  • Creates more rigid, inflexible, incoherent, temperamental and chaotic reactions
  • Click the following link for more information on Effects of Toxic Stress

Our natural stress response exists on a continuum from hyper-aroused to hypo-aroused with mild to extreme reactions. Hyper-aroused is when we are over-active, on alert and in fight or flight mode. In this state, we may act out aggressively or feel anxious. Hypo-aroused is when we shut down and are in a state of freeze or collapse mode. In this state, we tend to withdraw and feel depressed. Just as we are all different, so are our responses to stress. There are many contextual layers that influence the variance in our responses and the likelihood of negative effects like our window of tolerance, temperament, environment, genetic expression, the availability of protective and supportive relationships along with the presence of risk and resiliency factors.

Our experiences, especially the ones in childhood, create our templates and filters for how to process stimuli and stressors and how to respond. The first three years of life creates the blueprint for all future relationships. Most caregivers do not realize how impactful their reactions, mood, and behaviors are on their children. Children depend on caregivers for everything so if a caregiver is angry, depressed, neglectful, out of control or acting in a way the child doesn’t understand, then the child will perceive this as a threat to their livelihood which will activate their stress response system. It is important to note that it doesn’t matter if the stress is a real threat or not as our central nervous system just has to perceive it as a threat. Our perception and interpretation of a current event instantly get filtered through our past lens of experiences and developed belief system. I highly recommend learning more about how Adverse Childhood Experiences affect our health.

From my experience, negative consequences such as conflict, “disorders” and “diseases” are the result of an overstimulated, fearful and dysregulated central nervous system which manifests itself through different reactions and symptoms dependant on our interpersonal neurobiology. This is why there so many new diagnoses, disorders, and diseases as they keep evolving along with the dynamics and increase of toxins within our minds, bodies, relationships, environment, and our world. As a society, we have failed to promote sustainable, compassionate ways to get our vital needs met. We all have vital needs to feel safe, connected, heard, and understood. When we meet these needs, then we can naturally calm our central nervous system which allows us to access our higher brain functions and innate intelligence as well as integrate new positive experience and coping skills and even heal past trauma. When we consistently meet these vital needs, our central nervous will become securely integrated. When our brains are well integrated then we can optimally process stimuli, self-regulate, connect as well as enable more intricate functions to emerge like insight, empathy, intuition, and morality. This in-depth level of integration results in greater kindness, resilience, and health.

To learn more how you can promote sustainable, compassionate ways to get your needs met in your family, check out my post Promoting Resiliency and Connection Tips

You can learn more about me and my online therapeutic services at WeCounsel

Take Wonderful Care,

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Disclaimer: Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment. This online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers and seeking referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy in the state Illinois, USA

 

Positive Reframe on Risk-Taking

I ran across this article from NPR Is It Time To Bring Risk Back Into Our Kids’ Playgrounds? and I say ‘Yes’ and not just at playgrounds but in life! Risk-taking is a healthy, life-long skill which builds confidence and competence, especially when kids are younger as their brains are doing the most development and the consequences are typically smaller. Overprotecting inhibits natural growth and resilience. How are kids suppose to learn if they can’t experience the decision-making process and the consequences of those choices? There is also no need to punish or add more shame to these experiences like the sadly common reaction of lectures and “I told you so” or “You should know better”.

Children learn when allowed to feel the full range of emotions of the experience and WP_20171110_008have the presence of at least one calm, nurturing and responsive adult who is able to hold space for them as they process their thoughts and feelings as well as to gently guide the child to their own wisdom. I also recommended ‘scaffolding’ whereby you break new skills into manageable and reasonable steps as well as creating opportunities that are just out of their comfort zone yet within reach of their skill level and have supports in place. Even knowing this, I still get tripped up and my fears make me overreact. My interference sends the message that I don’t trust my kids and that I can’t handle my emotions.

Fortunately, my kids and I have such a secure relationship that they can tell me when I am interfering and I back off and trust them. They really know what they are capable of and want to learn. And when they ask for help from me on things I know they are capable of but are frustrated or unmotivated, and I am in a regulated state, I say, “I trust you to work it out and I wouldn’t want to rob you of the joy you’ll get when you figure it out:)” They don’t like that response yet they have been able to experience the joy and trust so accept it. They also know that I would be right there for them when they truly need it. If I am in a dysregulated state, then I tend to go off on my emotions to which they reply, “You can just say ‘No’ mom. I don’t need to hear all that.” If we are both dysregulated, then we each react out of our own stress response and unable to connect until one is calm enough. Deep breaths, baby steps and enjoy the ride of parenting and healing the child within ❤

Here is a link to a free download of book No Fear: Growing up in a risk-averse society by Tim Gill  https://rethinkingchildhood.com/no-fear/

Take Wonderful Care of Yourself and Family!

Debra

Positive Reframe Online Services at WeCounsel

Disclaimer

Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment. The online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention. Thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers, engaging in respectful dialogue with friends and family as well as seek referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy in the state Illinois, USA

 

New filters to live by…

I can handle anything.

Everything that needs to be done will get done

             …when it needs to be.

Let go, fear less, and LOVE more.

Today is a present, open it with joy and curiosity.

 

As human beings, we are constantly absorbing stimulation from all our senses (i.e. sight, touch, smell, taste, sounds, and intuition). In order to function efficiently, our brains filter the stimuli to prioritize and respond. Our initial filter is to determine if the stimulus is a threat. If we perceive a threat, then our stress response system kicks in and we react to protect ourselves. There are more steps that occur instantaneously in this complex process. Yet ultimately, the presence of a calm, nurturing, and safe person and/or connection to secure, positive beliefs and memories can stop the stress response from taking over. Thus promoting resiliency and more positive, secure connections within our mind, body, soul, and relationships.

After receiving counseling and training in trauma and brain development, I discovered I was a highly sensitive person who experienced complex trauma. My central nervous system was also often in a hyper-aroused state. So along with having enhanced sensory sensitivity, I was hypervigilant and intensely surveying every environment I was in. I had a tendency to perceive stimuli as threats and had exaggerated reactions. I was able to pinpoint specific traumatic events that occurred during sensitive stages of my development and in my parents’ lives that I accepted that I was essentially born, wired in fear.

When I was a stay-at-home mom with two young children, overtired and not prioritizing my needs, I was constantly feeling triggered.  I was having strong negative reactions during my own children’s sensitive stages of development. Fortunately, I was aware of what was going on in me so I reflected further on what my biggest fears were. Then I came up with specific statements that targeted those fears and provided compassionate and trusting beliefs to filter the stimuli and my negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors through. My son had drawn a rainbow that I had hanging on our refrigerator. I followed my impulse to take it down and scribbled down the following statements on it:

I can handle anything.

Everything that needs to be done will get done

             …when it needs to be (and not always in my control).

Let go, fear less, and LOVE more.

Today is a present, open it with joy, and curiosity.

I put it back on my fridge and read it every time I got triggered which I knew was happening when my children were upset or acting out and I connected to my “felt sense”. I would notice my chest tighten, heart racing, my body trembling and overheating, my voice tone shifting up, and negative thoughts flooding my brain. I would also take deep breaths and step outside for fresh air.

I refuse to pass on any more trauma onto my children. There is enough suffering in the world to endure. I made a conscious choice to give them a safe space to process all their negative thoughts and feelings so that they could securely connect to their innate intelligence and shine through any negative stimuli. I loved the visual of the rainbow my son drew and reminded me how the sun shines through and creates a rainbow after a storm. Here is what this creation looks like… 

 

Over time, I periodically added new messages that my body, mind, and soul needed to believe when I got triggered. We all can get triggered and easily fall back to negative habits and reactions. The goal is to take responsibility for your triggers: Notice when you are getting triggered, what are you thinking, feeling, and doing; and what will you choose to do to get through it faster. 

Healing our triggers often takes time so be compassionate with yourself as you go through this process. The ability to even notice your triggers and negative reactions is progress even if you cannot stop them yet. Awareness is first to step so when you catch your stress signals or negative reactions, do something nurturing, breathe, and love yourself through. I like to remind myself how it takes an average of 21 times to repeat a new behavior before you make a positive, secure connection in your mind, body, soul and in the relationship itself. The deeper the issue, the more times it takes. Do your best to celebrate each step and choose love over fear. Today is a present, open it with grace, joy, and curiosity.

Take wonderful care of yourself as the world needs you ❤   

Debra Wallace MS LMFT Wecounsel Online Profile

Disclaimer: Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision-making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment. The online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention. Thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers, engaging in respectful dialogue with friends and family as well as seek referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a licensed marriage and Family Therapist in the state Illinois, USA

 

Anxiety, Sleep, and Trying Again and Again…

I have had a unique relationship with Anxiety my whole life. Anxiety had affected just about every facet of life, especially sleep. For as long as I could remember, I had trouble falling asleep. I would lie awake for hours worrying, and replays of my past experiences and decisions haunted me. In 2005, it got even worse; I would wake up in the middle of night and could not fall back to sleep no matter what I tried. I complained that it was my stressful job and my partner watching violent TV shows at bed time. I desperately needed to sleep and wanted my job and my partner to change.  Anxiety continued to sabotage me. In order to get a peaceful night of sleep, I had to do the following:

Step 1: I had to accept that my job is stressful and that I cannot control other people’s reactions/behaviors.

Step 2: I had to take responsibility for getting my own needs met.

I finally dragged myself back into therapy and my therapist recommended listening to an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing; click here to learn more) CD which plays soothing sounds that alternate playing in each ear to mimic REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Guess what I told her? … “I tried that, it didn’t work.” I did try it two times about a year before. I had put my boom box on my bed (very uncomfortable) and then the CD started skipping at song 4. She said she’d make me a new copy of the CD and I could go buy a portable CD player.

Easy solution right?

Step 3: TRUST

Well, I am a frugal person so I mulled over buying a portable CD player for weeks. My husband didn’t think it was necessary purchase. I thought of all the things he buys that seem frivolous to me and decided to trust my therapist’s suggestion to buy one. Suffering from anxiety of course, I stood in front of the CD players for 20 minutes and still couldn’t decide. I even had to call my sister for advice on which player to get (I am 30 year woman at this point).

Step 4: Put my words into action and implement plans.

I finally bought one for $30, which of course I felt guilty about. I put in the batteries and new EMDR CD to go to bed only to find out that the CD is not working properly; the music was not alternating between ears. I complained to my husband and he suggested maybe the headphones are not in stereo. So he finds me another pair from around the house. It worked!!! I had to listen to the CD twice but I did fall asleep peacefully. When I woke up in the middle of the night and listened to it, and it soothed me again but then I ran into another hurdle…because I was using batteries, the player ran out of power right as I was falling asleep. A few days later, I had no more batteries to replace with. I kept buying more and more batteries but they ran out so quickly. I was so irritated and ready to give up…

Step 5: Love myself through trial and error!!! Give myself permission to feel exasperated and any other negative feelings. Believe in success.

So I told myself: That I can work through this. I know this will work. I have to keep trying.

For a couple weeks I kept trying different power adaptors around the house. On my 4th attempt about 2 weeks later, I found a working adaptor. Eureka!!! I was able to fall asleep …except the bulkiness of the headphones limited my sleeping positions. I complained again. My husband found me a pair ear buds.

Finally, after 20 years I was able to fall asleep with no problems and sleep through the night. The progress was gradual and rocky. I needed to listen to the entire CD a couple times to fall asleep and would still awake in the middle of the night. Then I got to fall asleep after one time through the CD and didn’t wake up in the middle of the night. Eventually, it got to where I’d fall asleep during the first song. After about 3 weeks* of listening to the CD every night, I could fall asleep with out it. I changed a problematic behavior and situation in two months with no drugs. Now, I only use it once in a while. It took a heavy dose of: acceptance, taking responsibility, trust; commitment to act with perseverance, unconditional love, and support from people who genuinely care about my needs.

  • It takes on average, 21 times to repeat a specific behavior to make a secure connection in your brain and within your relationships.

So when it comes to positive, healthy, and proactive changes, please try again and again. Genuine and sustainable healing takes time. Trust the process.  ~Debra

Here is a link to a EMDR CD target for Anxiety: anxietyreleaseapp

This is not the CD used though I have read and used included CD of Mark Grant’s book: Change Your Brain, Change Your Pain success and progress