Scared To Be A Grandma

As I rounded the corner of Mariposa and Puerta, walking toward me was yet another “I Love Being A Grandma!” T-shirt. I smiled, but passed her quickly, not wanting to make conversation.

The retirement community where I live is, of course, packed with grandparents. When meeting someone for the first time, the opening chat often includes, “Do you have children?” If the answer is “yes,” it’s followed immediately by, “Any grandkids?” Usually the asker doesn’t really care about the answer; the question is used as an excuse to brag about the cute behaviors and/or successes of their own grandchildren.

Although my answer to that question is still “no,” my beautiful daughter is 6 months pregnant. She has wanted a baby for years, and I’m truly happy for her. However, for myself, major worry has been emerging ever since she shared the news with me. Just as in motherhood, the expected societal emotion is excited anticipation. As much as I’d love to identify with the T-shirts, at this moment I cannot imagine ever doing so.

I experienced two severe, life-threatening postpartum depression and anxiety illnesses after both of my children were born. Horrifying thoughts and images of harm coming to my babies paralyzed me with fear, often literally rendering me unable to move. I was obsessed with keeping my babies safe, and it thoroughly overwhelmed me.

I felt intense inadequacy about my imagined inability to protect them. The terror prevented me from sleeping, eating, or experiencing any joy. I became despondent. The all-consuming hopelessness about ever feeling normal again led to serious thoughts of suicide. I was convinced my husband and children would be better off without me.

I was plagued with this nightmarish mental state every day and every night for years, since there was no recognition or help for these disorders back in the ‘80s. There was nothing but ignorance and criticism surrounding us. Those who loved me tried their best, but no one had a clue how to help.

After a year into my second devastating postpartum illness, I launched into a new career pioneering the field of maternal mental health. I founded my first postpartum organization and started running support groups from our home. Every week between 5 and fifteen women and their adult support people filled our living room. There was no Internet back in 1988, so word about the groups could only spread through a couple of posted flyers and person-to-person.

I remember the mothers of the new moms in my groups wide-eyed as they realized they themselves had gone through the same illness as their daughters. They thought they had been accompanying their daughters to the groups only as supports. It was magical to watch their amazement as their own postpartum puzzle pieces finally fit. They usually ended up participating fully in the groups along with their daughters–- often with tears of relief and gratitude flowing.

I survived those nightmarish years, however narrowly, and managed to eventually develop a close relationship with my children. My career helping suffering parents around the world, writing books on the topic, and training professionals has been flourishing for over thirty years. However, since my recovery decades ago, I have had no interest in becoming a grandmother.

The thought of another baby entering my world rekindles the postpartum trauma which had taken years to resolve and heal. The old disturbing dreams restarted last night, which finally prompted me to write this article. In my dream I was caring for my daughter, who was a very little girl. I eventually lost her in a crowd – I couldn’t protect her – my worst fear. I made myself wake up, and found myself with a tight chest and in a cold sweat.

Every time I picture babysitting my grandchild, tension in my stomach and chest wells up. I utilize the mindfulness techniques I teach my clients as a clinical psychologist, but sometimes the anxiety gets the better of me.

When I tell my neighbors that my daughter is expecting, they automatically assume I’m elated. But when I’ve expressed ambivalence to those who I would have thought would be sympathetic, my feeling is often met with disbelief, surprise, and downright disdain.

Just like the postpartum feeling about my babies, how could a grandmother not fully love taking care of her grandbaby? The postpartum criticism from others plus my own inner thoughts arise such as, “What do you mean you feel so much anxiety you don’t want to be alone with your own child?” “What’s your problem?” “What kind of a woman and mother (and now grandmother) are you?”

Just as parents-to-be and new parents shouldn’t have any shame about depression and anxiety, grandparents shouldn’t either. The more I speak with survivors of postpartum depression and anxiety in my age group, the more I realize how common this phenomenon is. About 1 in 7 new mothers experience postpartum depression and anxiety, so it makes sense that now as grandmothers these old feelings can be triggered.

We need to start talking about it more openly. As we’re helping to rid society of the stigma of depression in mothers (and parents in general), we should do the same for grandparents. Maybe in addition to postpartum support groups we need grandparent support groups that create a safe place to talk about these challenges. Or maybe even combine these groups into one, like what happened spontaneously in my living room years ago.

I look forward to embracing this baby and experience with open arms and lots of hope for the future. And, who knows? My grandma ambivalence may disappear in time, and I just might join the, “I Love Being A Grandma!” T-shirt brigade in the coming months.

So You Didn’t Get Your Way — Now What?

Moms, dads, kids, caregivers, here’s how to heal after a major loss.

After a hard fight and a tough race, many Americans are very happily surprised right now by the results of the presidential election (if not euphoric). It’s fun and enjoyable when the candidate of our choice wins — especially when most of the predictions were to the contrary.

Many people aren’t so euphoric and are probably feeling deflated — as if the wind got kicked out of them. And many others still feel upset and disgusted with how harsh the rhetoric was from the media and many other corners throughout this campaign season, no matter whether “their” candidate won or lost.

Or maybe family members are just feeling vastly disappointed for some other reason connected to the long election season.

First, whenever someone grumbles about how dissatisfied he or she feels about our politicians and how people are behaving in office, I ask the person a simple question: “Did you vote?”

Often there’s a pause or an uneasy facial expression before “no” (followed by an excuse, of course). I kindly but abruptly end the interaction with, “Then you have no right to complain.” Those of us who did exercise our right to vote as citizens of this great country can feel really good about it.

That said, at this moment many folks are feeling, at a minimum, like Cleveland Indians fans after the World Series — and possibly much worse. After all, when sports events are over, they’re over — and we get back to our usual lives and emotions fairly quickly. But when a new president is elected, there are ripples and waves of feelings to handle for years. Initially some degree of depression, if mild, is quite common when the candidate people supported isn’t the winner. More hype than usual in the air and on the airwaves this time around did not help, and emotions were at a fever pitch with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton fans.

The more tightly we’re wound before an election, the harder we can fall afterward — so it makes sense that depression might be settling in right about now for many people. Here is some smart advice for those who fall into that category or for anyone who needs an assist:

Allow the healing to happen.

Instead of trying to either squelch uncomfortable feelings of sadness, anger, and frustration, or express them inappropriately, take those feelings out for a walk or hike in nature. Make sure to look up at the trees and sky, un-pretzel your arms, and lower your shoulders down where they belong — instead of up by your earlobes. If you dare, turn your phone off. Breathe.

Commiserating with others who are in the same boat can be supportive to a point — but keep it brief. What’s done is done, and the election is over. Even though it’s difficult, it’s time to accept what’s happened instead of staying in resistance.

There’s nothing like productive and positive action, contributing in whatever way(s) you’re able to promote your values.

Contact a local politician you support, and ask if there’s a big or small way you can volunteer or donate financially to help the cause you believe in. And, if volunteering or donating isn’t your thing, simply what you say and do as you go about your usual life can make a major difference in your mood.

Watch how you speak and carry yourself on a daily basis, going about your activities.

If you’re a grump, you’re pulling everyone’s morale down with you — which is neither useful nor effective. Be the model of your values at home and in the world — speaking up about what you don’t like, certainly, but also adding a hopeful tone about what’s possible for the future.

If the down-in-the-dumps, blah, and angry feelings don’t lift significantly after a few weeks, do the strong and wise thing: Get some help.

A couple of sessions with the right therapist can help you get unstuck and move forward. Regardless of who lives in the White House, you will be just fine. The president does not determine your happiness — you do.

Originally posted on MomZette (Article and image used with permission)

The Right Therapist for Perinatal Emotional Challenges

Don’t settle for the wrong therapist! It sounds so obvious, but this phenomenon happens much too often. My colleagues and I have seen it throughout the years, and it’s quite unfortunate. When Mom or Dad with postpartum depression (PPD) settles for an inexperienced and under educated professional – just because the therapist is covered under their insurance — the whole family suffers. It’s never worth it.

The 2016 INA Conference

At this point in my career, I pick and choose carefully which projects I take on. Training is one of my favorite activities, and I especially enjoy speaking at conferences for engaged, eager audiences. The INA (International Nanny Association) conference has always been one I love! I’ll be in D.C. training these wonderful folks again in May 2016 and I thought you’d like to know about it.

Dark Side of The Full Moon

Dark Side of The Full Moon is creating a powerful tidal wave of support for the mental health of parents. This wonderful film is the first to explicitly illustrate the barriers to treatment for suffering new moms in the U.S. Shocking and moving stories depict many of the difficulties and consequences faced by women and their partners who don’t receive the help for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders they so desperately need and deserve.

6 Important Ways To Help Your Partner Cope With Grief

These six guidelines to helping your significant other mourn a loss can make a big difference.

When your partner suffers a major loss, it is an opportunity for the two of you to grow closer, whether the relationship is new or well-seasoned. However, if handled insensitively (no matter how well-intentioned), the opposite can easily occur, and a wedge between you will grow instead.

Telling Your Husband You Have Breast Cancer

How do you break the news to your husband as you’re dealing with your own emotions?

Telling your loved ones of your recent diagnosis of cancer is difficult. Having been in this scenario quite recently, I can tell you from the inside out—it is a challenge. First, you’re dealing with your own emotions about the diagnosis. Second, it’s hard not to try and take care of and feel responsible for your spouse’s reaction.

Abandonment Issues: How Are They Affecting Your Love Life?

You accept the love you think you deserve.

Abandonment issues can certainly appear after we’re grown—contrary to popular assumption, they’re not always caused during infancy or early childhood. Still, whenever the problem begins, you can be assured that these issues can be completely overcome and need not stand in the way of having a healthy, satisfying relationship.