Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Upside of Orchids

After reading my last two posts, one might conclude that it's better to be a dandelion than an orchid. Sure, one forgoes the shot at the particularly odd brilliance of a well-nurtured orchid, but doesn't being an intelligent, well-adjusted dandelion outweigh the risks of emotional instability that come with orchidness?

Maybe. Maybe not. In thinking about children I've known, one set of siblings stuck out immediately as a clear illustration of the upside orchids and, by extension, the risks involved in dandelion-ness.

Years ago, I was a substitute teacher in a rural New Mexican school district. I taught all grades, so I got to know several sets of siblings fairly well. In one family of six siblings I taught the eldest 6th-grade girl Shania, a second-grade boy David, and the kindergartener Brianna. Brianna and Shania were in special education. David was not. When I taught Shania, I would ask her about her work. She would answer, "I don't know" to my questions often, but with further probing, I often found she did know. She knew a lot. She lacked confidence in herself, and risking being wrong seemed a safer option than being proved wrong. Shania, I suppose, fits the dandelion mold well.

Brianna I taught in the beginning of the year, and then again toward the end. When I first met her, her teacher was drawing dots on her paper for her to trace in order to write her name. When I began teaching her special education class in late April, she sat waiting patiently as I asked the class to write their names on their papers. "Brianna, does your teacher still make the dots for you?" She nodded. "Phoney, baloney, I know you can write your own name! You may have her fooled, but you're not foolin' me!" (Okay, I didn't know if she could write her name, but it was a gamble that ended up paying off, luckily.) Brianna, in shaky handwriting wrote her name, looked up at me, and beamed. She did it!

How did she manage to go through almost an entire school year without once being asked to write her own name? I don't mean to cast blame on her very over-worked teacher, but I can see how Brianna managed to slip through in this case. First, she looks really young. She's petite, and looks much younger than the other five and six year-olds in her class. And she rarely speaks. (I remember she got pulled out by the speech therapist quite often. I often wondered if her speech pathology was a motor problem or just one of extreme shyness.) Brianna mostly sits quietly, smiles, and looks heart-breakingly cute. In an otherwise rowdy kindergarten class, she's every teacher's dream. And an unmistakable dandelion.

David is everything his sisters aren't. Prone to outbursts, tears, and frustration, I know he drove his regular teacher to fits of screaming herself. When I subbed David's class, not one minute into our day David had his first meltdown. I asked the class to take out their pencils and paper. David erupted, "I don't have a pencil! I don't have a pencil!" "Maybe you can borrow one from a friend?" I offered. "I don't have any friends. Nobody likes me! They all hate me!" "Nonsense," I said. "I know your class is very kind and helpful. I'm sure somebody here would like to be a good friend and loan you a pencil. Now, who here has a pencil they'd like to share with David?" Hands shot up among cries of "me, me! I do! I do!" David, within his family as well as his class, was an orchid among dandelions.

After reflecting on my experiences with these three siblings, it's apparent to me how Brianna and Shania tested into special education and David didn't. David, when faced with a problem he couldn't solve, would dissolve into tears and cries of "I can't do it! I can't!" And someone: a teacher, a parent, a fellow student, would come to his aid and help him solve his problem. Brianna and Shania, on the other hand, would say nothing about the difficulty, and thus, never gained mastery over tasks. Not because they couldn't do it, mind you, but because no one noticed that they needed help. And so their brother's orchidness became a cumulative advantage that determined his testing above the threshold for special education while his sisters fell below it. His orchidness expressed itself in such a way that allowed him to get the help he needed while his dandelion sisters slipped through the academic cracks.

It makes me wonder, as a parent, when do I fail to notice when my more dandelion-leaning daughter needs help simply because she doesn't express it in a way I've come to recognize in her older orchid sister? Perhaps there are other downsides to dandelion-ness that have gone unnoticed. I hope that for Shania and Brianna, someone recognized that despite quiet, good-natured ways, they needed academic nurturing just as much as their orchid brother.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

One Orchid, One Dandelion

I don't usually write about my own children here. I tend to think of this blog as my "professional" writing space, and the "personal" stuff I put elsewhere.

But in reading David Dobbs' article in The Atlantic, I found my personal and professional selves were equally piqued. See, I have two daughters, both of whom are wonderful, loving, and endearing. And while they may look much alike from the outside, they could not be more different temperment-wise.

As an infant, the elder required at least 1-2 hours--and sometimes more--of nursing to fall asleep at night. At 20 months, she began crying at any song that was in a minor key. At 3 years-old, she recalls emotionally-stirring incidents that happened well over a year ago. She's my orchid.

Her younger sister is pure dandelion. At bedtime, you can lay her in her crib, she'll pop her two favorite fingers in her mouth, and within a few minutes, she'll be asleep. She weaned herself at about 8 months--just decided to move on one day. She just learned to climb the stairs on her own--not the way her sister learned, mind you: by trying and falling, mastering a few more, falling and trying again. Oh, no. She'd try one stair, fall down, and quit. She seemed content to remain downstairs until one day when she found she had mastered that first stair, she proceeded to climb the entire staircase. She wasn't willing to risk falling the way her sister did to master the skill. She also hasn't learned to walk at 12 months the way her sister did, or figure out how to jump out of her crib at 9 months. She's careful and cautious in a dandelion (and, admittedly, greatly-relieving-to-me) kind of way.

Before I had children, I really believed that environment--not genetics--had the greatest influence on who we become as people. Raising my daughters, however, it's unmistakable to me how parts of personality are hard-wired. Granted, I have a sample size of 2 for this study. And birth order, naturally, must play a part; but, my daughters were different babies in utero. We know the younger self-soothed with her fingers from her ultrasound pictures. Her older sister never seemed to learn to calm herself, was always dependent on her caregivers to help her. I don't know how else to explain these differences in personality other than through genetics.

I hadn't really reflected on it before, but I suppose I'm a different parent to each of them. I tend to think of them as a unit, "the girls," but I'm recognizing that my bond with each of them is different, is based on a unique set of needs and wants. In my coming posts, I hope to explore more the (sometimes ugly, sometimes lovely) truth of who I am as a parent to one orchid and one dandelion.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Raising Orchid Children

I just finished reading a fantastic article in The Atlantic by David Dobbs entitled, "Orchid Children." The "orchid hypothesis" of child development, as Dobbs explains, is quite similar to my own hypothesis about postpartum mood disorders: "Genetics loads the gun; environment pulls the trigger." In other words, genes are responsible for our sensitivity to mood problems, but it's the particular ecosystem in which we live that determines if mood problems develop.

Let me try to explain this "orchid hypothesis" that Dobbs reported on in the article. We all know someone who survived some terrible childhood trauma. This person may have survived verbal, physical, and/or sexual abuse. These people should be complete emotional messes as adults. And yet, maybe with therapy, maybe without therapy, they are pretty well-functioning adults. There's a whole sub-genre of memoirs out there written by such people. ("Once in a House on Fire" by Andrea Ashworth is a fine and much-recommended example.) These people, according to the hypothesis, would be called dandelions. They flourish under all kinds or stresses and in adverse environments, much like the dandelions in lawns--chemically-treated and otherwise--everywhere.

And then you have the orchids. Orchids are much more sensitive to their enviroment. They are highly reactive to even seemingly small amounts of stress. In children, they may be quick to throw tantrums; cry easily; hit, kick, punch or bite their parents or caregivers. In adults, "orchid-ness" often manifests itself as anxiety or depression.

So then, the theory goes, there are 2 types of the same gene that determines whether you have a "dandelion" or "orchid" temperment. You may be thinking it's better to get the "dandelion" variation over the "orchid" form, but it's not quite so simple.

A well-tended "orchid" when it blooms, blooms magnificently. When "orchids" are raised in highly responsive, stable, and emotionally-attunded ecosystems (which includes every caregiver with whom the child has contact), these children channel their propensity for risk and excitement in, well, exciting ways. You may know some of these people, too. They take on interesting and creative projects. They maintain a network of fun, diverse friends. They may be empathic beyond the norm. They have that vision thing, seeing possibilities where most see nothing at all.

So, this hypothesis has got me excited for all kinds of reasons. Here are some of the possible implications I've been thinking about: What if the orchid hypothesis also applies to parents who suffer postpartum mood disorders? Does being an "orchid parent" mean that recovery from ppmds or baby blues makes one a more intuitive, sensitive parent in the long run? In raising "orchid children," how do we best help them succeed? In successfully raising an orchid, do "dandelion siblings" reap benefits, or does the dandelion-parent bond suffer?

In my coming posts, I hope to explore all these (and more) questions further. In the meantime, peace to all the dandelions and orchids out there.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Preventing Holiday Meltdown

Feeling overwhelmed by the mad dash to the holidays, I took a break to read my friend Kristen's thoughts on preventing holiday meltdowns--both for yourself and for the little ones. I will keep her ideas about setting realistic expectations for holiday activities much in the fore of my mind over the next few weeks. Thanks, Kristen!

Friday, October 16, 2009

New Workshop on November 12 for Expectant and Pre-Adoption Couples

Baby-Proof Your Relationship Workshop
(for Expectant and Pre-Adoption Parents)

Is the thought “We’re not prepared for this baby!” keeping you up at night?

In this workshop, you and your partner will create a toolbox to:

• Improve communication
• Resolve conflict
• Create a values-based schedule for post-baby life
• Set a strong foundation for a partnership that can weather the ups and downs of parenthood
• Gain confidence in your ability to parent as a team
• Know the warning signs of Postpartum Depression and other mood problems and where to go for help
• Access community resources to develop your vocation as parents

WHEN: Thursday, November 12, 7:00-8:30 p.m.

WHERE: Rainier House Meeting Room, 5270 Rainier Avenue South, Seattle 98118

COST: $40/Couple

For more information and to register, contact:

Shannon Armitage, MA, LMFT at Center for Life Transitions, LLC

Monday, October 12, 2009

Play’s the Thing: Inoculate yourself and your relationship against the stress of parenting

Doctors are fond of saying to patients, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This same notion holds true for the health of family and couple relationships as well. Parenting is undoubtedly a rewarding and fulfilling endeavor, but it can also be a taxing and trying one—especially on a couple’s relationship. To help weather the ups and downs, couples would do well to take stock of the preventive methods they have at their disposal against parenting stress and burn-out.

Children innately know this idea that parents often have to re-learn: Every day should include time for play. Through play, one learns how to solve problems, cooperate, express creativity, and master new skills. Growth as individuals, couples, and families is predicated on constructive play. By following these three steps, couples will inoculate their relationship against the strains of parenthood.

1. Make time to be on your own
Spouses may want to choose a night that one can call her/his own. This “time off” is really “time on” to strengthen one’s sense of identity outside of the family, to engage in healthy activities, re-connect with friends, or simply decompress.

2. Make time to play as a family
Depending on the ages of the children, families can expect to find new and different ways of playing together as children grow. Parents of young children might enjoy outings to playgrounds, beaches, zoos or children’s museums. Sports events, video games, movies, hiking, or amusement parks are all fine ways of playing with older children. The key is to find activities everyone finds pleasant.

3. Make time to play as a couple
Couples often fall into the trap of thinking they need a babysitter to have a “date”. While a babysitter does make it easy to have time together as a couple, parents can also enjoy “stay-dates” by making time after the children are in bed to talk, massage each other’s shoulders, or listen to music that isn’t child-friendly. Parents would do well to check in with each other about how well they’re doing as individuals, a couple, and a family in ensuring everyone’s needs for separation and connection are being met.

Most parents recognize that their children’s job is to play. Making appointments to play alone, as a couple and as a family is harder to remember to do. Parents would do well, however, when scheduling their children’s play-dates to make sure their scheduling their own as well.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Postpartum Support International of Washington Celebrates 20 Years

Congratulations to PSI of WA for reaching its 20 year milestone. To celebrate, PSI of WA is hosting a luncheon on Wed. October 28 at the Hilton in Seattle. Dr. Shoshana Bennett, whose books I've cited in this blog, will be the keynote speaker. Bennett is the author of "Postpartum Depression For Dummies" and co-author (with Pec Indman) of "Beyond the Blues: Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression." Her latest book, "Pregnant on Prozac," was released in January. Click here for details and tickets.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

When the Bully Rats are our "Friends"

I recently listened to an episode of "This American Life", where I learned that, on average, half of people's relationships are with friends whom we care a lot about, and yet, these relationships are rife with negativity and animosity. So why do we stay in these friendships? We stay for reasons we seemingly impose on ourselves: out of a sense of loyalty, belonging, or hope that the other person will change. We stay friends with "frenemies" because we think we must. We stay despite the feelings of anxiety, anger, and angst these relationships evoke.

Going back to my earlier post about "bully rats", I've been thinking about how to reduce the stress we experience within ourselves and within relationships. So what to do when our "bully rat" is a friend?

Here's a strategy for confronting what's unhealthy in the relationship: First, sit down with your friend and acknowledge what's good and healthy about the relationship. When is the relationship fun, supportive, comforting? Second, acknowledge what challenges your relationship faces. When does the relationship devolve into negativity, competitiveness, blame, shame, etc.? Finally, make a pledge that you will seek to avoid that which makes your relationship undesirable. Ask your friend to do the same. And pledge that you will hold each other accountable to the pledge against these undesirables. If either of you can't agree to the contract or don't uphold the agreement, it's time to move on. Give yourself permission to do this: Everyone deserves to be loved unconditionally by our friends, or else the "friendship" is just another bully rat in our cage.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Intentional Fathering Lecture at Mosaic Coffeehouse on Sept. 30

Postpartum Support International of Washington presents an evening with psychotherapist Derek Trlica, MA, LMHC on intentional fathering at Mosaic Coffeehouse on Sept. 30. Burning questions to be answered include: What kind of father would I like to be? How do other dads do it? What might stop me from being a good father?

Here are the deets: Mosaic Coffeehouse is located at 4401 2nd Ave. NE. in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle. The lecture is scheduled for Sept. 30, 7:00-8:30 p.m. A $5 donation is suggested to benefit PSI of WA. RSVP to 1-888-404-7763 or

Sunday, September 6, 2009

When the "Baby Blues" Strikes Dads

Sex therapist and relationship counselor Ian Kerner, PhD recently wrote about his own experience of depression after the birth of his first son in this article. He very astutely points out that for him, as well as for many new dads experiencing depression, he turned to the liquor cabinet as way of coping. Alcohol, being a depressant itself, further exacerbates depressive symptoms.

Kerner also lists other warning signs to look out for if a new dad you know seems to be struggling to cope with the transition to parenthood, including: changes in libido, putting up a good front, isolating himself, difficulties sleeping (even when feeling tired), family history of depression, or self-medicating. I would also note that the term "self-medicating" often refers to drugs or alcohol, but in some men, could also mean food, internet, or pornography.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Un-rutting Your Inner Rat

Poor rats. They are subjected to all kinds of torture: electric shocks, cohabitation with "bullying" rats, simulated drowning and so on. And for what purpose? So they might most closely resemble ourselves at our most stressed out. Sheesh!

Thanks to our rat friends, scientists in Portugal have studied these "stressed out" rats and found that after four weeks of living under these conditions, the ordinarily clever rats were stuck in a rut: unable to innovate when faced with ordinarily solvable problems. Happily, as this New York Times article points out about the study, the rats showed marked improvement after four weeks of rat "vacation". With even a short break from stress, the rats were able to return to their formerly cunning problem-solving selves.

So what can we take away from this rat study? For one, when we are at our most stressed out, we tend to try the same strategies to solve a problem, and when it doesn't work, we do more of it without success, until we could caught up in an unending loop of amplifying anxiety.

The next time we find ourselves in one of these stress ruts, we would do well to recall those stressed out rats. Instead of trying to solve the "maze" we're in, why not set the maze aside for awhile, put up our feet, read a good book, take a nap, do nothing. Or at the very least, take a break from the "bully rats" in our lives. (I, for one, am going to stop racking my brain trying to figure out how scientists developed "bully rats" to begin with!)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Katherine Stone Corrects the Record on The MOTHERS Act

Recently, Time magazine did a story about the "controversy" surrounding postpartum mood disorder screening, which is advocated by a pending piece of legislation called The Mothers Act. Katherine Stone of the Postpartum Progress blog wrote this response to help educate journalists and the rest of us what this piece of legislation is intended to do.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Recommended Reading for Expectant Parents

A very dear friend of mine recently gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. In her quest to feel more empowered than she did with the birth of her first child, she did some homework. A lot of homework! After reading her way through numerous books, here are her "must reads" for expectant parents:

1. Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin
2. Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin
3. Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Dr. Sarah J. Buckley
4. The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer
5. The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger
6. Birthing from Within by Pam England
7. Hearts & Hands by Elizabeth Davis
8. The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin

I wish all expectant parents a birth story that's full of ease, grace, and delight.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Postpartum Phone Support Available for Dads

I've written here before about the mounting evidence that fathers experience postpartum mood disorders at about the same rates as mothers: approximately one in ten. The resources available for treatment, however, are much more oriented toward a mother's needs and experiences.

Postpartum Support International is working to correct this imbalance. PSI hosts a weekly "Chat With an Expert" every Monday for men who are experiencing symptoms of PPMD or for others who care about someone who is. Will Courtney, PhD, and Susan Dowd Stone, MSW, LCSW, will be taking calls to answer your questions.

Monday, June 22, 2009

When Religion Arouses Anxiety

In my history of consulting with others who are affected by anxiety, I have noticed that for some, religious faith can either heal or exacerbate anxiety. Those whose anxiety is heightened by religious faith often talk about wanting to live out or discern God's plan for their lives. With these conversations in mind, I was intrigued by this talk by Jin Kim in which he promotes the contrasting idea that "God doesn't want us to do anything."

I'm wondering how Jin Kim's ideas about faith can lead to a quieting of anxiety's messages about how one should live and can it lead to a place of "shalom" or "peace" as he purports.

Big thanks to my friend Mike Bischoff over at the Spirit of Institutions blog for the video clip.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

When the "Home Game" Isn't Dad's "A Game"

I heard Michael Lewis, author of "Home Game," interviewed on Charlie Rose today. While a number of women have come forward about their feelings of numbness after the birth of their children (Brooke Shields, most notably, comes to mind), men have been virtually silent on the issue. It was so refreshing to hear this interview where Lewis confesses, despite the social pressure to remain silent, that he did not feel instant love for his newborn. He shares how he eventually came to love his baby, but only after the fog of sleep deprivation and new parent anxiety lifted. An important new book has arrived just in time for Father's Day.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Stuff of Life

I was visiting a friend the other day who, much to my surprise, treated me to a delicious loaf of freshly-baked bread. Now, the surprise wasn't so much in the bread itself--it was the manner in which the bread was made. My friend has two very busy and active boys under the age of 3. And yet, at 11:30 on a weekday morning, she was pulling out two beautiful loaves of hearty bread out of her oven.

How on Earth did she do it, I wondered. She explained that she can have that feeling of being away from her children, yet still be close enough to intervene with them if necessary. When she's kneading the dough, she can have a meditative moment while still observing the busy movements of her boys around her.

I found this an apt metaphor for coping with other "distracting" forces, such as depression or anxiety. The "noisiness" of anxiety or depression can demand much of one's attention, but when engaged in such meditation, as in kneading bread, we can observe its play from a distance. By achieving such space, one can come away with a deep sense of renewal and satisfaction.

I am already thinking about what I want to bake when I need a moment of solitude among the noise. I'm feeling inspired by Orangette's recipe for Everyday Cake. Even though she's taking a break right now, this Seattle food blogger has a wonderful index of recipes from which you might find your own domestic respite.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Your Imaginary Friend Plays Columbia City Farmer's Market (For Real!)

Living in the northern half of North America has its benefits as well as challenges. Here in Seattle, we enjoy a wealth of outdoor activities during spring and summer (many of which are free or cheaper than dirt) for all to enjoy. The farmer's markets provide a chance to connect with the people who produce the food we eat, visit with neighbors, and sometimes hear live music. This Wednesday's Columbia City Farmer's Market offers all of the above. Local children's band Your Imaginary Friend will be playing the market, located at Rainier Ave. and S. Edmunds Street, behind the Bank of America from 4:00 to 6:00 pm. Singer Jana Vitols has the most exquisite voice, sure to put those winter blahs behind us for good. Bring a blanket, a picnic, a friend (real and/or imaginary), and a pair of dancin' shoes because free outdoor fun is what makes the season great.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Reflective Parenting Lecture in Seattle

For all the Seattle parents, I highly recommend this Reflective Parenting lecture by Margaret Bergmann-Ness. Margaret is a very thoughtful practitioner and Tuesday's lecture is sure to leave parents feeling recharged and in charge. I would attend myself, but alas, I'm seeing a client that night. Here are the details:

What does my child need during a tantrum?

What do I need??

How do old patterns from my childhood
repeat in my current family?

Postpartum Support International of Washington
proudly presents an evening with

Margaret Bergmann-Ness, MA, LICSW

to discuss

Reflective Parenting

An approach to parenting that can
· improve communication
· help you understand your child's emotions
· increase your confidence as a parent

Tuesday, May 19, 2009
7:00 - 8:30 pm

Mosaic Coffeehouse - 4401 2nd Ave NE, Seattle, WA

Suggested donation $5

Questions? 1-888-404-7763 (PPMD)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Feeling Anxious About Having "The Talk" with your Adolescent?

I read this story about the Birds and Bees Text Line in the New York Times, and thought it might interest parents of adolescents who are feeling anxious about talking about sex and getting it right with their adolescent. With the text line, teens can text a question to a trained public health officer, and receive a response within a few minutes. The article also has links to other useful sex ed sites like Go Ask Alice.

You don't have to have all the answers to your adolescents' questions. It's good to know there's someone out there (who is more informed than the other kids in the locker room) who does.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mastering Test Anxiety

It's springtime, which brings many welcome happenings. School exams, however, can be one dark spot on the season.

In a former life as a special education teacher, it was my opinion that my students were no less talented than their "mainstream" peers. I'd argue that they did not have "learning differences" so much as "anxiety differences." These differences could be explained by home-lives that would make anyone sensitive to anxiety's messages. And with the added pressure of standardized tests, I'd watch them just fall to pieces.

Here are some ideas to help your test-taker (or yourself) block out anxiety before or during the test:

1. Give reminders that this test doesn't define who you are. Your friends will still be your friends. People who love you will still love you. The test has no bearing on your past or future accomplishments.

2. Remember that you will know the answers to some questions, but not to others. This is ok. Do your best. Take your best guess. Some of your guesses will be right in the end.

3. When you feel anxiety making it hard for you to think, resort to one of your anti-anxiety tools in your toolbox. Before the test date, make a list of all the ways you can calm yourself. Drinking water, taking deep breaths, stretching, repeating a mantra (e.g. "I have good test-taking skills" or "I am best when I test" or come up with your own), or touch can be soothing. I like to massage the muscle between my thumb and forefinger to help clear my head. Rubbing temples or doing shoulder shrugs can also encourage the body to relax when the mind gets tense.

Test-taking needn't be an anxiety-producing activity. But if anxiety should choose to pester the mind while taking a test, equipping your toolbox with these test-taking tools should allow the mind to perform at its best.

Friday, April 10, 2009

MOTHERS Act Passes in the House of Representatives

Now on to the Senate! A very kind woman named Susan Stone is compiling a list of people who support the passing of this legislation to support postpartum parents. If you'd like to lend your name in support, please email her at with your name, state, and credentials (if appropriate).

Gotta love democracy in action!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sometimes You Just Need to Sleep it Off

I read this article in the Globe and Mail about getting sleep with a new baby. Sometimes the best medicine requires you to forget what you read in all those well-intentioned sleep books and just use your intuition about what's right for you and your family. (Full disclosure: my own 4 month-old is asleep on the couch in the other room as I write this entry. Never wake a sleeping baby, right?)

Here's to a good night's sleep for everybody!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New Study Reveals PPMDs Are Treatable and Potentially Preventable With Counseling

I watched a documentary on PBS recently about Parkinson's Disease, entitled "My Father, My Brother, and Me". One of the researchers interviewed said of the disease, "Genetics loads the gun; environment pulls the trigger."

This metaphor seems apt for post-partum mood disorders, as two recent studies point out. Some women may be genetically predisposed to PPMDs, but they still might escape its effects if it weren't for a colicky baby, a weak support network, or other "trigger." Similarly, strengthening the environment through supportive communication with a mental health professional or other trained helper can speed healing or even innoculate against PPMDs.

I find this new research especially exciting because it means a "talking cure" for PPMDs really exists, as long parents are connected with a trusted, knowledgeable counselor.

Postpartum Support International of Washington Support Groups

Since I've been on my own maternity leave these past 3 months, it occurs to me that now is good time to post the newest listing of postpartum support groups in Washington (where I live). Don't live in Washington State? Check the Postpartum Support International Web site here to find a group in your neck of the woods.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Important Postpartum Health Study Invites New Moms and Dads to Participate

The UNLV Maternal Health Lab is conducting two surveys on postpartum
mental health. We need 500 postpartum women and their partners, who have had
children within the last year and who are 18 years and older to complete a
30-minute anonymous survey. Please go to this site and click
either the Postpartum Moms or Postpartum Dads links. Thank-you for your assistance.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Making the Parent-Track the Fast Track

Hearing the news that Caroline Kennedy had withdrawn her name as a possible successor to Hilary Clinton in the Senate reminded me of an essay I read by the fantastic New York Times work/family life writer Lisa Belkin. Belkin argues that "experience" only counts on a resume if it's "work" experience. Work done outside of a job, say, serving on a board or volunteering at a child's school is valued less when interviewing for a paid job. Inherent in this assumption is that unpaid work experiences are less valuable than paid ones. Yet, the skills gained in these volunteer experienced could prove incredibly useful to employers. A parent who starts a club or program at a school knows something about doing research, working collaboratively with other stakeholders, and responding to feedback. In organizing a fundraiser, parents learn about marketing, soliciting community members, and event coordination. To my mind, these seem like directly applicable (paid) job skills.

When parents consult with me about leaving or re-joing the (paid) workforce, I hear a great deal of anxiety in these decisions. How will this time away from paid work be viewed? Will I be considered for jobs after an extended absence?

It seems to me that we as parents need to better articulate what we've gained from parenting and translate that experience into terms employers can understand. Our parenthood can make us more efficient at work (all the better to get home to our families sooner.) We are better at hearing out differences in opinion. We can adjust to change more easily.

There are a host of intangible benefits to parenting. And some of these intangibles can have real value in the marketplace of paid work. We as parents need to start talking as our "time off" with kids as "time on." As Belkin says, "But let’s stop with this talk of inexperience when we mean a range of experiences, many shaped by motherhood. The only way work will become more flexible for everyone, for all of us, is if the untraditional begins to count."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

When to Turn to a Parent Coach (or other Parenting Consultant)

This article by Lora Shinn in the winter issue of Baby Map (in which I am interviewed) explains just what parent coaching is and how it may be helpful.