Writing is Good for You

My first blog post of the year is motivated by an article that appeared in my Facebook feed yesterday titled Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write, by Rachel Grate.  I have been fortunate enough to experience the benefits of writing, so I just wanted to emphasize the importance of writing as a means of therapy and for greater mental and physical well-being.

Growing up, I hated to write papers. It was probably because I hated the books assigned to us for reading and having to write papers for every single one of them—all in short order and on a non-stop basis. Reading these books and writing papers on them had no meaning for me. Sorry to offend the book lovers out there, but just being candid here about how I felt about my school assignments. Back then, I didn’t believe there was any benefit from doing all this.  Especially since I sucked at writing papers. I lacked the patience to read books back then, and I still lack patience today.  I started writing/journaling my thoughts pretty much for the first time, ever, after my daughter was born. And let me tell you….if it weren’t for writing my book and blogging, I would NOT be where I am today—a much healthier and happier person overall!

Well, regardless of whether you write like a JK Rowling or some other well-known novelist, writing can provide both psychological and physical health benefits. Studies, some of which are mentioned in Ms. Tate’s article, have shown that expressive writing can improve mood, reduce stress, reduce the occurrence of illnesses, lower blood pressure, and even promote recovery from illnesses or the healing of physical wounds faster. When there is an improvement of mood and reduction in stress, it makes sense that one is usually able to sleep better.

One study found that blogging might trigger dopamine release, similar to the effect from running or listening to music.

I do realize the ability to sleep better with less stress is a general statement and that there are, in fact, exceptions.  Depression is one example in which medication may be needed to combat insomnia. I’ve been there. I know.  And it’s NO mind over matter thing.  It’s neurochemical.

Expressive writing is when you write about something that is causing stress in your life….from difficulties at work, at home, in your marriage, as a new mom or as a teen having friendship or bullying trouble in school……to emotional traumas such as a current and/or past abusive situation, coping with a mental health disorder, etc. Writing my book and most of my blog posts that were motivated by anger involved extracting all my thoughts from my head and putting them down on paper. This process–what I refer to as regurgitation, rumination, digestion and then transformation of thoughts into words that appear online in my blog or on paper in my book—enabled me to fully process my emotions. To this day, I continue to find great relief in getting my thoughts out on Facebook and/or my blog (depends on what is causing me grief) whenever I am annoyed or upset about something that happened 1) during my commute to/from work, 2) at work, 3) in the news, or 4) online. I have said this previously that every time I get my words out, I feel lighter….like a heavy weight is being lifted off my back.

Instead of obsessing unhealthily over an event, [one] can focus on moving forward. By doing so, stress levels go down and health correspondingly goes up.

As I stated in my interview with Dr. Walker Karraa over two years ago, the process of writing my book helped transform me into a different person…a much healthier person both mentally and physically. I experienced a metaphorsis, thanks in huge part, to writing.

I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not, but ever since 2-3 years ago, which is right around the time I published my book that took me since 2005 to write, I have experienced fewer illnesses. I used to get sick many times throughout the year, without fail, especially in the winter where I would fall victim to frequent colds, the flu, and chronic bronchitis (since I am very superstitious, I am going to knock on wood now as I say all this). Are we supposed to experience fewer illnesses as we get older? Maybe so, but for me it makes an awful lot of sense that there is a direct correlation between levels of happiness and your state of health.  Especially when the scientists and their research show a correlation between happiness and stronger immune systems (and levels of inflammation).

So, if you are reading this post and don’t typically write, then you may want to consider picking up the pen (or putting fingers to keyboard) and writing more starting this year.  You won’t regret it!

Self Appreciation Daily: Accentuate the Positive Blog Hop!

Jaime over at James & Jax is introducing a weekly blog hop.  What a great way to kick off the new year!

I promised I would link up before the end of the week, so here I am.  I sat there for a while tonight, pondering what I did this week that deserves a pat on the back.  Other than the relatively stand-up job I did at work this past week, it took me a while to come up with the rest.

I hope that by participating in this weekly blog hop, it will help me stay more focused on the things I do well, and help build on the confidence that I know is growing over time.  Self awareness and self appreciation is an evolutionary process that takes time and occurs over a life time.   My self confidence and self esteem have been steadily growing.  Given how stark my outlook was as a teenager, I am truly amazed and thrilled that I have come this far.  This growth has occurred mostly from the time I emerged from my postpartum depression (PPD) through the publication of my book.

But it isn’t stopping with the end of my book writing journey.  I’m going to challenge myself to take more notice of the things that I do each and every day that deserve more than to be forgotten–basically taken for granted– by the next day.  My memory finds anything past a day challenging to remember as I get older.

Thank you, Jaime for this inspiration that, blog hop or no blog hop, we all need to focus more on self care, in terms of taking better care of ourselves, as well as patting ourselves on the back for not just the big accomplishments but the little ones that are all too often easily ignored.

Well, here is my list of things I want to pat myself on the back for this week:

  1. Not only did I make it through one helluva stressful week at work, I handled it with confidence and managing to stay organized and meeting deadlines, while not letting the stress get the better of me like it has done so often in the past.
  2. I handled seeing and even talking to the two people that made me feel bad in a previous encounter like a real trooper.  The thought of seeing one of them twice a week and the other one once a week for the next couple of months is not having the kind of impact (i.e., dread) it would’ve had on me in years past.
  3. I handled my daughter’s breakdown on day 1 of her new swim class, new instructor and new pool like a trooper, in my opinion (which is saying a lot, since I’m pretty hard on myself usually).  Thankfully, she didn’t spend too much time crying and before I knew it, she was swimming in the pool….and I avoided the kind of embarrassing episode that left me looking helpless and defeated in the past.
  4. I survived another week of my lovely–and sometimes very long and irritating– commute to/from the City.  I didn’t let 4 separate occurrences of my 10 pet peeves I encountered get to me.
  5. Granted, I’m nowhere near the level of chauffering my other friends do with their multiple kids and their various weekend activities.  But I think I am doing a decent job as schedule keeper/chauffeur, if I do say so myself!  I always make sure my daughter and I get up 1-1/2 hours before any weekend activities, including Chinese school, ballet, and swimming.  That gives us time to eat breakfast (and she’s a very slow eater) and get some TV or playtime in before leaving home.  Transitioning environments has always been somewhat of a challenge for our daughter, but thankfully, she is getting better about it as she gets older!

Please click on the “I’m Doing It Right” button below to check out Jaime’s post and the other blog hop participants’ posts, and consider joining us in this weekly blog hop!  If you can’t join weekly, that’s alright, just join when you can!  It just might make a positive difference in your outlook!

What Do Pregnancy Loss and PPD Have in Common?

On Facebook yesterday, I stumbled across a link to an article on Babble.com titled “Suffering in Silence — How One Woman Coped With the Loss of Her Baby.”  It is truly one of the best written articles on pregnancy loss–in this case, miscarriage–I have ever read.  In reading the article I couldn’t help but be reminded of how I felt after my ectopic pregnancy and when I found out the twin to my daughter didn’t make it past the second month of pregnancy.


So, what do pregnancy loss and PPD have in common?  Well, to start with, both seem to have become through the years taboo topics that you rarely hear others bring up on conversation….least of all by those who are in the process of grieving their pregnancy loss and those who are suffering from PPD.   The only people you would be willing to share such a private matter with are certain family members and close friends.   Ironically, it’s at times like this that you need support the most.   Grieving in private, which is what I did when I suffered both my losses, only increases your risk for depression.


Second, because people don’t talk about their experiences, society as a whole really has no concept of how frequently pregnancy losses and PPD occur.   The author, Jody Pratt, points out:

“An estimated one in seven pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Each year in the U.S. alone, over 700,000 babies don’t survive to be born. Millions of people must be mourning them. So, where are they?  ‘The only tradition our society does have regarding miscarriage is that you’re not supposed to talk about it.'”

As for PPD, an estimated one in eight new mothers experience it.  So, where are they all?  Before I had PPD myself, I hadn’t heard squat about it from anyone I knew.  After I had PPD, I’ve only come across a handful of those I personally know that mentioned their own experiences to me.  Believe me, they are out there.  Thanks to the stigma of mental health and lack of awareness, all too many moms suffering from PPD continue to keep their experiences to themselves, not knowing that what they have is a true illness and there should be no shame associated with feeling the way they do.


Another consequence of people not talking about their experiences is that people have no real concept–not unless they, of course, have firsthand experience themselves–of what it’s like to lose a baby during pregnancy, regardless of how early in the pregnancy the loss occurred.   Comments that either I or others receive in reaction to the news of pregnancy loss lean in the direction of “Just keep trying….you’ll succeed.”  “At least this happened now rather than later on in the pregnancy, after seeing your belly growing and feeling the baby kicking and moving and feeling your love for the baby growing daily.”  You wouldn’t think that it would be possible to feel an emotional connection within the first few weeks of pregnancy, since there is nothing about an embryo that resembles a baby yet.  For me, even the few weeks during my first pregnancy was more than enough time to become emotionally invested.  When I found out it had to be terminated due to what they referred to as an ectopic pregnancy, I was devastated.   Then, when I lost the twin to my daughter at two months, I cried on and off for a few days but forced myself to move on because I couldn’t risk having my grief jeopardize my pregnancy. 

When it comes to PPD, unless you’ve been through it yourself, it’s hard to really know what the PPD mom is really going through.  All people know is that having a baby is supposed to be a happy time and you only really see happy moms.  So, when a mom who is suffering from PPD isn’t glowingly happy but instead is suffering from PPD, comments she receives may tend to send like the following:  “You have the healthy, beautiful baby that you’ve always wanted.  What more could you want?  How could you not be happy?  Pull yourself together…your baby needs you.  All new moms go through this after having a baby.  It will pass on its own.  You’ll be fine in no time.”


Parents who grieve should speak up more.  Though, with the reactions they get from even the most well-meaning of family and friends, it’s no wonder people want to keep their grieving to themselves.  It’s also no wonder that most expectant parents do not tell anyone about their pregnancies until the end of the first trimester, because there is a greater likelihood for pregnancy losses to occur during that time.  As a consequence, if you do (God forbid) experience pregnancy loss, you automatically end up suffering in silence because people didn’t even know you were pregnant to begin with.  Being as risk-averse as I am and prone to believing in “jinxes,” you better believe my husband and I didn’t tell anyone at all about my pregnancy until the first trimester was over and I didn’t tell colleagues until I could no longer hide it from them at around 6 months!   I grieved in silence after both of my losses because they occurred before the first trimester was over.

At the same time, family members and friends should learn how to support grieving parents better.  Maybe take some sensitivity training or something.  Learn that keeping what you say to a minimum–in this case, LESS IS MOST DEFINITELY MORE–just your being there for the grieving parents and offering a listening ear (if they ask you) and avoid offering advice especially if you’ve never suffered a loss like this yourself.  Read up on articles such as the one Katherine Stone had previously written up that provide suggestions on how to support someone who is grieving.  Follow the blogs I list under Pregnancy Loss/Infertility Websites & Blogs.  It would also help tremendously for people to know that there are many others who are going through–or have gone through–pregnancy loss (or PPD).  I mean, look at the numbers!   Articles like this one written by Jody Pratt should be accessible via pregnancy books, magazines, and newspapers.  In all forms of media that expectant parents would have easy access to.  As I mention in prior posts, the best place to obtain non-judgmental emotional support is a therapist that specializes in pregnancy loss (or PPD).   Doing so is an investment in your mental health down the road as you embark on future pregnancies that will one day, hopefully, be successful.


Finally, negative life events related to childbearing–e.g., history of and unresolved grief associated with pregnancy loss (previous stillbirth, abortion, miscarriage) and  multiple failed IVF cycles are a significant risk factor for PPD.  There is a lot at stake emotionally with the baby that is conceived after years of trying, possibly with the help of IVF and after failed attempts/cycles and perhaps even miscarriages.  Click here and here for more info.

Start off 2011 by Saying “No” to Sensationalistic Media

Wishing you a Happy & Healthy 2011!

I was hoping to find inspiration in and blog about something positive to start the new year off on a pleasant foot, but…..Katherine Stone’s blog post today was about one of my all-time favorite topics–media using their spotlight to help spread misconceptions about postpartum mood disorders–and that got me going.  I can’t help but be dismayed, to say the very least, that Time magazine has struck out again as far as editing their content about a postpartum mood disorder (PPMD) before publishing is concerned.  

What did they do this time?  Well, in the article titled “Study: Depression, Fear of Abandonment Can Lead Moms to Kill Babies,” the author Bonnie Rochman uses the words “mad mommies” and “psychotic nut jobs.”  C’mon now….are these words really necessary?  I wish I could tell her and other authors like her to try being realistic rather than trying too hard to grab people’s attention.   There’s simply no need for that.  It’s articles like this that, though the author no doubt thinks she’s doing a huge favor by publishing an article in the health section and educating the public, she’s doing quite the opposite.   Articles like these in a magazine like Time–and we’re not even talking about the National Enquirer or some other gossip mag–only serve to scare new moms out there from getting the help they so desperately need.  It’s this fear of being viewed as “nut jobs” that only contribute to all the moms out there who are falling through the cracks, struggling with a PPMD but going undiagnosed and untreated and sometimes leading to disastrous consequences. 

Thanks, but no thanks for keeping the stigma of mental health going, Ms. Rochman.  Time Magazine, when are you going to help, rather than hinder, progress when it comes to public awareness and education about PPMDs, sticking with the facts and nothing but the facts (i.e., sans sensationalistic terms)?  

For all you PPMD survivor mamas out there–and family members who have seen you suffer and emerge from the dark and desolate tunnel of your experience–please, please, please do your part to help raise awareness.  As I’ve mentioned many times before, be an advocate.  Speak up.  Don’t be afraid to share your stories with your family, friends, neighbors and colleagues.  Don’t be afraid to comment on these articles that incorrectly portray PPMDs, and even submit letters to media outlets that put out articles like this.  If you hear remarks like this being said by those around you, don’t be afraid to provide your honest opinion that comes from experience.  You PPD survivor mamas have what most of these authors and people in the media don’t have…..firsthand experience of what it’s truly like to suffer from a PPMD.  And DON’T YOU FORGET IT!

This Thanksgiving Day…..

I am thankful for many things, but foremost on my list of things to be thankful for are:

  1. My husband who is there for me through the good and the bad….all the things that a marriage is all about (through sickness and health, etc.)…..even though we do drive each other crazy on occasions.  :)
  2. My beautiful and smart little girl who amazes me each and every day.
  3. My life experiences–both good and bad….if it weren’t for them, my eyes wouldn’t be as wide open as they are today, able to empathize with others and be as passionate an advocate when it comes to postpartum depression and anti-bullying matters.
  4. The beauty of nature and wildlife that surrounds all of us….we should never take any of that for granted.
  5. Those around us who have dedicated their lives to helping others and saving lives (e.g.,  postpartum support groups, hospital staff, those who staff hotlines/warmlines, etc.) and those who serve our country (our military).
  6. Last but far from least, I am thankful for the health of my family members.  Life is all too fragile and one’s health should NEVER be taken for granted.  

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

November is Prematurity Awareness Month – Join in blogging efforts to raise awareness on November 17, 2010

Premature birth is the #1 killer of newborns during the first month of life.  Each year 20 million babies–half of a million of them in the US– are born premature.  A baby that is born too early is not fully developed and thus cannot even suck and/or breathe on his/her own.   It’s simply heartbreaking.  

For those that survive the first year, all too many end up facing serious health challenges and lifelong disabilities.  What is alarming is the fact that the rate of premature birth is increasing (i.e., it has increased > 30% since 1981).  In half the cases, the cause of premature birth is not known, which is why we need to unite in our effort to raise awareness, raise funding and promote research efforts to prevent premature births! 

Here are a couple of things you can do to help promote awareness of this crisis:

1.      November is Prematurity Awareness Month®.  If you are a blogger, please grab a badge and post it on your blog for the month, as well as join other bloggers on November 17th to raise awareness of this crisis.   You can join in this event at Bloggers Unite and at the March of Dimes site.

2.  Ask your U.S. Senators to support the PREEMIE Act (S. 3906), a bill designed to increase research and education on preterm birth, by sending a letter to your Senators and tell them to act quickly on this March of Dimes priority.  To see details of the bill, click here.

3.  Sign up for advocacy alerts, which is a great way to stay informed on legislative developments.

Some of you who have been following my blog for some time and read my blog post last year on the same topic, the following is a reiteration, which I’m including again because I think it’s highly relevant……

What’s premature birth got to do with perinatal mood disorders, you ask?  Well, for starters, approximately 1 out of 10 women experience antepartum (antenatal, prenatal) depression (or depression during pregnancy), though unfortunately many cases go undiagnosed.  Research has shown that preterm births are twice as likely to occur for women suffering from prenatal depression (or depression during pregnancy). To complicate matters, antidepressants to treat prenatal depression have also been shown to contribute to premature births.  And let’s not forget that there is a high risk for postpartum depression (PPD) in women who give birth to premature babies, not only for those with prenatal depression—since depression during pregnancy in most cases will follow into postpartum—but also because the amount of anxiety, stress and exhaustion caused by having a baby in the NICU for an extended period of time can lead to PPD. 

In Deborah Sichel’s and Jeanne Watson Driscoll’s “Women’s Moods: What Every Woman Must Know About Hormones, the Brain, and Emotional Health” (pg 178),  “Anxiety, whether mild or severe, can…..harm the fetus.”  Per Sichel and Driscoll, high levels of anxiety can cause premature births, stillbirths, low birth weight babies, and other complications due to the reduced blood flow, and therefore flow of oxygen and nutrition, to the fetus that results from the constriction of arteries in the uterus when the mother experiences high levels of anxiety.  You need to be aware, if you don’t already know, that the fetus is connected to you via the placenta.  The fetus is basically a part of you.  Just as all the nutrition you get from your food passes between you and the fetus through the placenta, medicine that you take will pass through to the fetus.  Similarly, stress hormones in a woman’s bloodstream from chronic anxiety will flow through the placenta.  In severe cases, stress hormones can cause blood vessels in the placenta to contract so much that it can pull away from the uterine wall, causing hemorrhaging and premature labor.

BOTTOM LINE:  Depression during pregnancy can lead to premature labor and delivery, not to mention low birth weight babies.  Since antepartum depression and antidepressants can cause premature births, more research is URGENTLY needed for the early detection and treatment of prenatal depression, as well as to find ways to treat prenatal depression without harming the developing baby.

American Academy of Pediatrics on the Importance of Screening New Moms for PPD

According to the latest American Academy of Pediatrics report published on November 1st in the journal, Pediatrics, with the over 400,000 infants born to moms with depression each year, perinatal (both antenatal and postpartum) depression is “the most underdiagnosed obstetric complication in America [which untreated and improperly treated] leads to increased costs of medical care,….child abuse and neglect,….family dysfunction and [adverse] affects [on] early brain development.” [1]

As I have said in prior posts, depression in new moms impacts the entire family.  Not only do fathers have an increased risk for developing depression themselves, but babies are at increased risk for insecure attachment, which can lead to developmental (cognitive) delays and behavioral (social, emotional) problems as they grow older.  Children exposed to maternal and/or paternal depression are at much greater risk of developing mood disorders, such as depression.  Hence, to ensure the health and wellbeing of the baby, it is important to ensure the health and wellbeing of the baby’s mother, which is why pediatricians are in a good position to screen new moms for postpartum depression (PPD), as well as help provide referrals for treatment and community resources/support services.

Between the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommending similar screening earlier this year and now the AAP, I truly hope that this will mean more new moms with perinatal depression being properly diagnosed and treated!  According to this report, although most pediatricians agree that screening for perinatal depression is something that should be included in well-child visits during baby’s first year, they also felt that they didn’t have adequate training to diagnose and treat PPD.  The report also states that the “perceived barriers to implementation [include] lack of time, incomplete training to diagnose/counsel, lack of adequate mental health referral sources, fear that screening means ownership of the problem, and lack of reimbursement.”[2]

There are indications, based on the report, that there have been efforts to move toward inclusion of women’s perinatal health in pediatric practices as demonstrated by programs like the one set up between Dartmouth Medical School and 6 pediatric practices in New Hampshire and Vermont, which show that pediatricians have the ability to effectively screen for PPD.  There is also the ABCD (Assuring Better Child Health and Development) Project, which is comprised of 28 states and their AAP chapters.  It’s wonderful that in Illinois, one of the ABCD states and one of the only states with a postpartum depression law, pediatricians who use the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale to screen new moms for PMDs are actually paid (yes, paid!) by Medicaid for doing so.   Once again, Illinois is setting a positive example for the rest of the country when it comes to looking after new mothers and babies.  For more information on the initiatives going on in the various ABCD states, visit www.abcdresources.org and www.nashp.org.

What we need to do is mandate pediatrician (and OB/GYN) training to recognize PPD symptoms and provide proper referrals to medical/mental health practitioners trained in treating PPD.  The ideal goal would be the establishment of a multi-disciplinary approach (like I mentioned in my last post) wherein doctors–be it OB/GYNs whose patients are the new mom or pediatricians whose patients are the babies of the new mom suffering with PPD—would collaborate with each other and mental health providers in their communities to ensure new moms suffering from a PMD does not fall through the cracks.

I’d like to end this post by pointing out the difference between the AAP’s view of PPD timeframes of occurrence and peak prevalence versus the proposed guidelines I wrote about in my last post with respect to the DSM-5.   The AAP indicates that the peak for a PMD is 6 weeks postpartum, with another peak occurring 6 months postpartum.  It goes on to state in the report:  “Given the peak times for postpartum depression specifically, the Edinburgh scale would be appropriately integrated at the 1-, 2-, 4-, and 6-month visits.” [3]  Hey, American Psychiatric Association, the AAP gets it more than you do!  Please get with the program!

In Conclusion:

From the mere fact that it’s the primary care pediatrician that sees the new mother and her interactions with her baby within the first six weeks (before the postnatal follow-up visit with her OB/GYN at 6 weeks), the pediatrician is in the best position to detect maternal depression early and help prevent adverse outcomes for the baby and the family. “In addition, it is the [pediatrician] who has continuity with the infant and family, and by the nature of this relationship, the [pediatrician] practices with a family perspective [since a healthy functioning family means the healthy development of the child].”[4]  Screening can [and should be] be integrated into the well-child care schedule, as it “has proven successful in practice in several initiatives and locations and is a best practice for [pediatricians] caring for infants and their families.”[5]  The report further clarifies that, since the infant is the pediatrician’s patient, just because the pediatrician screens for PPD does not mean that the pediatrician must treat the mother. It just means that if a PMD is detected during the screening process, the pediatrician would provide information for family support and referrals for therapy and/or medical treatment, as needed.

[1] Earls, Marian F. and The Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family. Incorporating Recognition and Management of Perinatal and Postpartum. Pediatrics 2010;126;1032-1039; p. 1032.

[2] Ibid., p. 1034.

[3] Ibid., p. 1035.

[4] Ibid., p. 1035.

[5] Ibid., p. 1037.