Friday, April 27, 2012

Baby blues pt. 2

How can the natural wiring of a woman to love and protect her baby be so easily overridden by negative emotions?  How can a woman reject her own flesh and blood, the child she conceived and nurtured in her own body for nine months?

This is seen in the animal kingdom, especially when a mother gives birth to her cubs in captivity.  But we aren't animals, we have the ability to reason and choose what is right and wrong.  The fact that post-partum depression can sink into post-partum psychosis shows us that the power of emotions can lead us down a dangerous path - even to suicide.

If you or someone you know, is preparing to give birth any time soon, stop and think of these questions:

  • What situation were you in when you conceived this child?  Happily married?  Financially stable?  Emotionally prepared?  If not, have you been able to find the support and encouragement you need to deal with the upcoming stress of having a baby?
  • How have you been caring for your health during your pregnancy?  Have you been seeing your doctor/midwife regularly?  Have you been enjoying healthy foods?  Have you quit unhealthy habits/addictions for the sake of your baby?  Have you been trying to exercise and prepare your body for what is to come?
  • How have you been preparing yourself mentally?  Have you been reading books and articles about child-care?  Have you planned out the baby's room or sleeping situation?  Have you chosen a name, and have you started buying any toys and clothes yet? Have you decided whether you want to nurse or bottle-feed?
  • What about your other family relationships?  Have you been speaking regularly to your husband and children about the newcomer to your home?  Have you made sure that everyone is happy and prepared for the new responsibilities?  Are you helping your children to feel loved and important now that they will be a big brother/sister?  Are you still working at keeping your marriage strong and loving?
  • Have you made a plan to purchase all the necessary things for the baby before he or she arrives?  Crib, car seat, clothes and diapers, blankets and baby monitor?  If your finances don't allow you to buy all that you would like, have you found a way to at least gather together all that you need? Are you at peace with the fact that you will still be able to love and care for your baby even without all the things you would like to have?
This seems like an awful lot of questions to answer before your baby is born, and you're right, it is.  Bringing a child into this world is not a game, nor is it a chance to play with a "living doll" as some teenage girls mistakenly imagine.  It is a weight of responsibility that should not be taken casually - ever.

Most of the cases of post-natal depression, are due to unresolved emotional issues that they may not even be aware of because they are buried under layers of denial or fear.  A woman who has a child that she secretly resents because it was conceived at a time or with a partner that she was not happy with, can greatly affect the difficulty level of her birth process, and the way she treats that child for the rest of her life.  A woman who feels guilty that she is bringing a child into the world while she is not yet financially prepared, can both love that child and mistreat it - not because she doesn't have enough money to care for it, but because her guilt doesn't allow her to have a healthy relationship with it.

A woman who conceives a child in the desperate hope that her husband will love her and commit to her more, already puts herself at risk for post-natal depression.  She is putting all her hope on that child to save her marriage, an unfair burden for an innocent baby to carry.

I remember both of my midwives spending a great deal of time talking to me about my emotional state during my two pregnancies.  Their experiences showed that women who were anxious and had unresolved fears generally went through greater complications during labor.  Women with happy homes and peaceful hearts most often had easier labors and babies that adjusted well to life outside the womb.

Our emotions are so closely linked to our bodies.  Not just by influencing choices we make, but even affecting our subconscious bodily functions.  A worried heart can block contractions in labor.  A resentful spirit can dry up breast milk, and a guilty conscience can look at the beautiful face of a newborn baby and want nothing to do with it.

Women who are suffering from postpartum depression need help and encouragement right away, for their sake and their babies'.  For anyone who can see that she is heading in this direction, you need counsel and prayer immediately.  Guilt, fear, shame, anxiety, doesn't go away just by choice.  You need other's with faith in a loving and powerful God to help you heal from this.  The good news is that it can be healed, and your new family can be as happier than you can imagine.

For information on where to find the help you need, email me at

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Baby Blues

Most of us have heard of the baby blues, when mothers of newborns go through a rough emotional patch after the intense physical act of giving birth.  A new mom has been gearing up for this for nine months, dealing with fears of the unknown,  with excitement and eagerness, with the weight of this huge responsibility on her shoulders, not to mention the growing weight around her midsection!

She's also been dealing with the high doses of hormones pumping through her veins as the baby grows inside of her, and her body goes into major mommy mode, preparing milk production, loosening ligaments and muscles for delivery and secreting hormones into her brain that will cause her to be extra alert and viciously protective of her new child.

Once baby comes, there is the extra stress of exhaustion, nights of limited sleep, constant feedings and diaper changes, and she is forced to enter a new universe where everything revolves around baby's gravitational pull - at least for a while.

For a woman who is not emotionally prepared, this high level of stress can crush her.  The baby blues of being a little irritable, extra tired and in need of some loving hugs and kisses from her husband and children, can turn into something much more harmful.  Full blown depression can set in, and it can last even for years.

The Mayo Clinic website lists these symptoms of post-partum depression:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Intense irritability and anger
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Lack of joy in life
  • Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy
  • Severe mood swing
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby
  • Untreated, postpartum depression may last for a year or more.
The mother often suffers silently, with everyone around her assuming that she is fine and should be fine with such a beautiful baby in her arms.  But the one who usually suffers the most, is her own baby who often is rejected, and treated as if she or he were unwanted.  It doesn't matter how much this mother did want the baby before it's birth, this form of depression can erase all of those positive emotions and replace them with resentment.  That natural protectiveness that a mother's hormones automatically create, somehow doesn't kick in.  Instead of seeing her baby as an extension of her own body, she sees him or her as a foreign object, a burden. 

For those who think that a baby is just fine as long as it is fed, clothed, changed and given enough sleep, are not aware of the damaging effects of being raised by an emotionally distant mother.  Even infants can sense the emotional state of the home where they live, and any loving words, sounds, touches and caresses he or she receives, instantly create pathways in the brain that stay with them for life.  If they are neglected emotionally, they reflect that in their mental and social development. If they are well loved and stimulated emotionally, that is also reflected very early on and is foundational for who they become as adults.  

It is crucial for women suffering with post-partum depression to get the help they need, for themselves and also for the sake of their newborns and the rest of their family.  But as with all forms of depression, it's not enough to tell a woman to just snap out of it and start acting happy. In fact, you'll probably make her feel worse about herself if you speak to her in such a condescending way.

What I have found in our years of counseling, that this intense time of bringing a newborn into the world, can often unearth deeper issues that had remained hidden until then. She needs more than anti-depressant medications, but real help to identify the issues, fears, unresolved anger and frustrations - the real roots of her problems, so that she can begin to heal.  

How can that be done?  Wait for the next post to find out...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Breaking the Trust - So what about you?

One meeting I held with women that had attended our Succeed in Marriage Course, involved the question of what to do when your husband has been unfaithful.  Considering the fact that all of them had just taken part in our seven day series of classes, I knew that they and their husbands had heard a lot of good advice and instruction about that topic.  They knew how tough we are on those who have breached the trust in a relationship, how we don't allow sob stories and excuses to pass off their indiscretions as just simple mistakes.  These women knew that I was there to help them and defend them, but boy, was I not prepared for what happened when I brought up the issue of their role in the problem.

"Excuse me, but that is a slippery slope you are going down!" She pointed a perfectly manicured finger upwards, then turned to all the other women in the room to launch into her sermon.  "I have suffered the indignity of being cheated on repeatedly by my husband, and my therapist told me that the worst thing to do is to blame myself.  It is his problem and his problem alone.  And ladies, let me tell you, if you start to ask what you have done wrong, you will never heal from this."

She sat down with a flip of her hair and looked defiantly back at me.  Trying to pull out all my diplomatic skills, I continued to say with a smile that a cheating husband is, indeed, the one at fault and has no excuse for his behavior etc., but STILL, we have to ask the question: Did I contribute to this?

We can't be so simple minded as to demonize the one who broke trust, and sanctify the victim. No one's a saint.

Question one:  Have I been neglecting my spouse over a long period of time?  Before whipping out a list of all the things he or she has neglected to do for you, just look honestly at yourself.  Have they asked for more time alone with us, but we always had a reason to say no, like the kids, the budget, work, a sick family member, just plain busyness?  Has he or she asked anything of me that I haven't provided? Is this affair just an act of final exasperation because he or she is convinced I really don't care anymore?

Question two: Do I have a tendency to ridicule his or her ideas?  "Well you can't expect me to just stand by and listen while she talks about ideas that make no sense!" If you want to prove he or she is wrong whenever they come up with a thought, no matter how right you are, you can drive them away from you, starve them for affection and drive them into someone else's arms.  If your husband or wife really is an idiot and doesn't deserve to have his or her opinions valued - why did you marry them?

Question three: Are my insecurities making me irritating?  Allowing your husband's or wife's approval or praise (or lack thereof) to determine how you feel about yourself which then determines the way you behave around them, turns you into a slave of their opinions.  If you find yourself moping because he or she didn't speak to you the way you had wanted, or if you lash out at because you are convinced that he or she gave you that look, you're reacting to how badly you feel about yourself and how dependent you are on how they treat you from moment to moment.  You assume the worst, that they don't really love you, that they don't care.  So you act like it, and then you confirm to them that you are irrational and impossible to please.

I have known many an unhappy woman who has given up on her husband because he doesn't speak to her in a way that makes her feel attractive, so she stops trying to be attractive, which makes him unhappy that she doesn't want to be attractive, which causes him to say unkind things about her appearance, which turns into a never ending cycle.  Actually it does end, when someone else appears with kind words for either her or him, rekindles those feelings of being wanted, and it's good-bye marriage, hello affair.

Question four:  Did I fool myself into believing I was marrying a trustworthy person in the first place?  There are often plenty of visible signs that a person has an unfaithful character, but sadly, both women and men can be blinded by emotions and choose to ignore them.  "I know she's still good friends with her ex, but I'm open minded." "He's giving up going to strip joints with his buddies just because of me - isn't that sweet?" Yeah. Real sweet. 

 Out of that intense desire to love and be loved, we see what we want to see and rational thought goes out the window.  When reality strikes, it's only after a lot of damage has been done.     

The good news is that damage can be healed, turned into a great learning experience, and used to make you stronger. And yes, you can be healed, even though you ask yourself these questions. These are only four of the biggest ones, and there are many more that can be asked. So I beg to differ from my former student who dislikes dealing with her own flaws, but solutions to relationship problems can only begin with yourself.     

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Breaking trust - just get over it?

When a relationship has suffered the pain of a breach of trust - lying about how money was spent, hidden addictions, a spouse confiding in others about private issues, and the most painful of all, an affair - rebuilding that trust can seem impossible.

For most people once an affair has happened, the relationship is over.  There's no second chance.

Packing up and walking out is often the wisest choice, and there are times I've encouraged it.  Yet one thing can't be ignored.  The one who was cheated on is rarely the innocent victim. Rarely.  He or she needs to question whether their own behavior or attitudes contributed in some way to the disintegration of the relationship.  If they break up and move on, but carry those same negative qualities with them, they could continue repeating the same painful experiences again to some degree or another.  Even if their spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend was the most deceitful, evil and selfish of the two, and inflicted the most pain, it always takes two to destroy a committed relationship.  He may be 90% in the wrong, but who's to blame for the other 10%?  Though your 10% pales in comparison to his glaring mistakes, it's still negative and needs to be changed.    

So what if you want to give that person another chance?  What do you do?

One thing you don't do, is just slip right back into the same old habits.  Broken trust means that the hard work of building a good relationship wasn't done well in the first place, which means rebuilding requires even more work than what's required for just maintaining a good relationship.  The idea that forgiving and trying again means that everyone is starting from zero, is totally wrong.  The one who cheated is being given a chance, but he or she is deep in the hole.  They've forfeited their rights to be treated as honest and trustworthy.  If they don't like it and balk at being questioned where they were, who they were with and what they were doing, they don't deserve another chance.  They have to be totally transparent - emails, text messages, Facebook accounts.  If they can't allow themselves to show  what they are doing and with whom at any time, they are sending the message that they have something to hide.  

If you've cheated on your partner, the worst thing to tell him or her is, "I told you I'm sorry, so just get over it.  Forgive and forget."  Nope, you've got a lot of hard work to do to prove yourself worthy of their love and trust.  They said they'd take you back.  Be grateful and deal with the reality that you are going to be in the doghouse for a good long time until that trust is rebuilt.

But the one who has been wronged - what can you do to change yourself?  How can you ensure that this doesn't happen again?   Answers are coming in the next post...

Monday, April 2, 2012

World of Warcraft and impotent heroes

"Playing `World of Warcraft' makes me feel godlike, I have ultimate control and can do what I want with few real repercussions. The real world makes me feel impotent ... a computer malfunction, a sobbing child, a suddenly dead cell phone battery – the littlest hitch in daily living feels profoundly disempowering." - Ryan Van Cleeve, video gaming addict

Van Cleeve, is like many men we have counseled in the past few years.  Professional, intelligent, family men with responsibilities. These men are lured into the fantasy world of real-time warfare, linked through the internet with gamers just like them around the world, taking on fantasy alter-egos to battle against evil creatures.  They suddenly become heroes, conquerors, kings of their universe.  

And in so doing, their wives and children in the real world are left behind, as clever computer graphics take priority over them. Not only does an addict waste hours of his life by neglecting his job and family, but when real life interrupts, it's common for him to fly into a rage and even attack the ones he loves.  Just days ago I saw the bruises and cuts on the wife of a gamer who did just that.  

For those who have no interest in gaming, this type of addiction can seem ridiculous.  Of course it's ridiculous, just as any other addiction is.  But it is very real and very destructive.  Men, as we can expect by the nature of the game, are those who are most taken in by games such as this.

Ryan Van Cleeve's explanation says a lot.  The need to feel like the hero, to be recognized for his achievements, to feel the thrill of a hunt, a quest, a dangerous mission, is all part of his biological wiring.  This is an innate part of maleness.  If a man is constantly ridiculed by his wife, is put down and overlooked on his job, is unappreciated for the accomplishments that he does have, he can easily feel like a failure, and the drive to find some way to eradicate that feeling can be overwhelming.  Often affairs are a result of that unresolved need.  Drugs and alcohol can be an escape from his low self-esteem.  But a beautifully designed game where he can imagine himself to be strong and in control of his life, can become irresistible. 

As a mom of two boys, video games are nothing new, yet never has any game become an addiction in our household.  Frequently games that they buy or receive as presents, end up being sold or given away because of a fast, or left behind as we leave for a new location.  And always, every game has to be screened and approved by Dad, who has no interest whatsoever in playing them.  Sure some benign games can be entertaining, can keep rowdy kids quiet for a while, and can pass the time.  There are silly ones, "educational" ones (I have my doubts about that), violent ones, and like World of Warcraft, ones that have a life force of their own, that suck you into their universe, and never let you go without a determined fight to break free.

Just yesterday a friend of mine told me about a family in her church who's eight-year-old tried to stab his own father with a kitchen knife when his game was taken away at bedtime.  Gaming addictions are no joke, there is often a very evil spiritual side to these games, that do far more damage than create distractions.  People who try to give up World of Warcraft, World of Starcraft and others like those, often find themselves dreaming in that virtual world, waking up with a jolt of adrenaline, and desperate to get back on the computer for one more quest.  For those who don't understand the power of evil and the need for deliverance, only sheer willpower can keep them away from it - for a while.

If you have a husband, child or any other loved one who you fear is addicted, if you know that World of Warcraft is a part of their life, seek out help for them immediately. Realize that perhaps you have contributed to this feeling of impotency that they feel, this low sense of self-worth.  They need freedom, and an understanding of who they are before God, that they are not failures, but can become the heroes of their own lives as they learn to become warriors for Him.