24th Annual Postpartum Support International Conference

Last week, I spent 3 days (October 27-30) at the annual Postpartum Support International conference.  This year, it was held in conjunction with the biennial (every 2 year) Marce Society conference, which is traditionally held in the city of the current President of the Marce Society.  With the current President of the Marce Society being Katherine Wisner of the Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, this year’s conference took place in Pittsburgh.

Past PSI conferences I attended were in Jersey City, NJ and Kansas City, KS.    With this year’s conference being held in conjunction with the Marce Society, there were over 400 people in attendance, including leading researchers and experts in postpartum depression (PPD).  I was honored to be in the presence of so many individuals who have made such a huge difference on behalf of so many women who have suffered perinatal mood disorders.

Individuals like (note that there are too many to list here, but here are the ones that are most notable to me because I have read their research in the years I have been doing tons of reading on PPD):

  • John Cox, DM, FRCPsych, FRCP, who, along with colleagues J.M. Holden and R. Sagovsky, developed the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) in the 1980s.  Dr. Cox was awarded the Louis Victor Marce Medal in 1986 for his pioneer research and clinical work in perinatal Psychiatry carried out in Uganda, Scotland and Staffordshire.  In 2002 he was elected Secretary General of the World Psychiatric Association.
  • Lee Cohen, MD, director of the Perinatal and Reproductive Psychiatry Clinical Research Program within the Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit of the Massachusetts General Hospital, as well as an associate professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.  Dr. Cohen is a national and international leader in the field of women’s mental health, and is widely published with over 200 original research articles and book chapters in the area of perinatal and reproductive psychiatry.
  • David Rubinow, MD, Chair of Psychiatry and Professor of Medicine at UNC Chapel Hill.  Dr. Rubinow is currently President of the American Neuroendocrine Society and the Society of Biological Psychiatry, has won numerous awards for his research, his clinical supervision and training, and his scientific administration, and serves on the editorial boards of six journals and has authored more than 300 scientific publications.
  • Cheryl Tatano Beck, DNSc, CNM, FAAN, is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Connecticut School of Nursing.  Dr. Beck serves on the editorial boards of 4 journals and has published over 125 scientific articles as well as 4 books.

I was one of the minority there who was not a mental, medical or public health professional, or social worker.  There were 3 other young ladies there who, like me, are simply moms who want to learn more about perinatal mood disorders and find ways to help spread awareness, as well as to advocate on behalf of and provide support to other mothers.   These young ladies were Katherine Stone, Lauren Hale and Amber Koter-Puline.  This was my 2nd time meeting Katherine and 1st time meeting both Lauren and Amber.  This was the first time all 4 of us PPD bloggers were together in one place.

Here we are:

Amber Koter-Puline, Katherine Stone, Lauren Hale, and me

Another highlight of the conference was the appearance of Former First Lady Mr. Rosalynn Carter as the keynote speaker and book signing of the book “WITHIN OUR REACH: Ending the Mental Health Crisis,”  which she co-authored along with Susan K. Golant and Kathryn E. Cade.

There was so much information provided at the conference, but I was able to take away these 2 really important points that I would like to share with you:

  1. It is critical that we integrate behavioral health with medical care that is provided by those charged with the reproductive health of women.  I learned there is a multi-disciplinary approach to treating women with perinatal depression comprised of a psychiatrist, obstetrician, obstetrical nurse practitioner, and psychiatric social worker at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco.  We REALLY need more of these throughout the country!  In certain other countries, it’s the midwives and early childhood nurses–in addition to GPs–that are the front line of screeners.
  2. There was a presentation about the proposed changes being made regarding the treatment and screening of PPD for the DSM-5 due to be published in May 2013.  During this presentation, the ballroom grew noticeably hotter as one by one members of the audience took to the microphone to state their questions and concerns.  Most of them centered around the announcement that 4 weeks is the cut-off date for onset.  I mean, have you heard of a more ridiculous thing than that?!   That means that any screening that may occur (as not all OB/GYNs or other health professionals screen today) would only occur in the first 4 weeks postpartum, since a postpartum mood disorder (PPMD) would’ve had to rear its ugly head by then.   Why, then, you ask would they propose such an outlandish thing?  Well, it’s because all these years the DSM-IV and all its predecessors are based purely on statistics obtained directly from research.  Not doctor’s offices or hospitals or clinics.  Not from data obtained from the EPDS given to the thousands of moms that give birth each year.   Sounds like typical political, ahem, B.S. if you ask me….

Okay, so what does this all mean?  This means that moms will not only continue to have their OB/GYNs dismiss their PPMD symptoms, but now in addition, there will be a specific cutoff of 4 weeks.  Anything after 4 weeks will risk being shrugged off, as doctors will be referring to the handy dandy DSM-5 as the Bible and complacently inform these moms that they couldn’t have a PPMD because they were more than 4 weeks postpartum.

There is still opportunity to improve on the DSM-5 as it is being proposed.  You can help make a positive difference.  How?  Well, starting in May 2011 and ending midnight of June 30, 2011, the public will be able to submit comments on the draft of the DSM-5 on the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM Development website.   I will be signing up to do so, and I hope you will too.   The more women who do, the better chance we have of convincing the powers that be that they need to extend the onset period to 1 year (or even 3 months would be far better than 4 weeks)!  Voice your concern.  Tell them why.  Share your story.  I know numerous women whose symptoms of PPD didn’t begin until after the 6th week.  Like me, for one.   Other countries who have had ancient social support customs in place for centuries have had 6-8 weeks as the period in which the new mom must be cared for.  There is a reason behind that….just as there is a reason behind the Swedish model of the primary care physician (or general practitioner) performing postnatal screening between 8 and 21 weeks postpartum, with 13 weeks as peak prevalence.

To think that women who are sick with PPD will continue to be shrugged off and go untreated and allowed to suffer unnecessarily angers me to no end.    We are supposed to make progress, but instead, we are more concerned about statistics obtained during very limited studies.   Folks on the DSM-5 committee, this is a blatant example of not being able to see the forest for the trees. 

Last Day of the 21-Day Self-Care Challenge

Well, that was a very quick 21 days!   I’m sure you found how rewarding taking a few minutes each day to do something for yourself truly is.  

As we go about our daily lives, let’s not forget to include taking care of ourselves on our lists of things to do.  Take care of yourself physically, mentally, spiritually.  Eat well.  Exercise.  Get enough sleep.  Meditate.  Do something that you enjoy and feels rewarding to you, like reading, writing, cooking, drawing, singing, or some other hobby.   Treat yourself to an occasional manicure and/or pedicure.  Join a charitable organization that meets once a month and finds ways to give back to your community and raises funds for a worthy cause.

A friend of mine just sent me a short note after seeing my status on LinkedIn that said that I am headed to the annual Postpartum Support International/Marce Society conference taking place in Pittsburgh for the next few days.  He said “Glad to see you’re keeping up with your passion!”    Yes, my passion is learning all there is to learn about postpartum depression (PPD) and sharing that knowledge through my writing.  I am very much looking forward to meeting my fellow bloggers Katherine Stone, Lauren Hale (for the 1st time), and Amber Koter-Puline (also for the 1st time).  I look forward to seeing my other friends from PSI, like Jane Honickman, Wendy Davis, and Birdie Gunyon Meyer.  I also look forward to meeting others who are experts on the subject and heavily involved in postpartum support groups, like Liz Friedman of MotherWoman.

Life is a gift and each one of us should make the most of it.   Find what it takes to be happy and healthy, which includes making time for yourself and finding your passion.

Thank you, Diane Sanford and Anne Dunnewold, for leading this self-care challenge!

Halfway Point of the Self-Care Challenge: Loving Yourself

Today is Day 11 of the self-care challenge, and today’s mantra is:  “I love me, with all my strengths and human faults.”

Why am I tuning in now, after being quiet since my last post, which was day 1 of the self-care challenge?  Well, for one thing, I just got back yesterday from Disney World, having a great dose of time off away the realities of the daily grind made up of the stress of work and the cooling weather–neither of which I care for very much.   Second, we are exactly halfway through the 21-day self-care challenge and I couldn’t not set aside some time today to reach out to my blog readers.  And lastly, today’s mantra has special significance for me.

It is healthy–and actually quite critical–for each and every individual out there to value herself/himself.  Despite what you may have been told while growing up, you are important and you are able to overcome challenges at home, at school, at work, and among peers as long as you put your mind to it.   It all has to do with mindset, which is determined by heredity.  Is your personality more passive than aggressive, more shy than outgoing, more serious than humorous?  It is also determined by environmental factors, such as 1) how much you are nurtured, encouraged and supported by your parents from the time you are an infant through your teenage years, 2) the examples your parents and other elders in your life set for you, and 3) your life experiences.

Remember to focus on your strengths, realizing of course that we all do have shortcomings, as NO ONE IS PERFECT.  I’ve found that discovering your strengths doesn’t stop with the end of your school years.   You will continue to discover and build on your strengths and talents all throughout life.   Life has so much to offer.  So many different things to take interest in.  So many places to see and explore.  So much culture.  So many chances to help and make a difference for others.

I spent the majority (about 30 yrs) of my life disliking myself, not feeling like life was worth living, and incessantly comparing myself to others around me who were more attractive, smart and talented than me.  Well, first of all, remember the age-old saying “Beauty is only skin deep.”   I believe that inner beauty is far more important than physical beauty.  Physical beauty will only last you so long, but inner beauty can only get more vibrant as you become older and more mature.  While it’s very easy and tempting to compare yourself to others, don’t do it.  It’s a total waste of your time.  Every individual is unique.  Every individual has her/his own talents.

While I was in school, I felt so mediocre.  Nothing I did seemed special.  I wasn’t particularly smart enough to score consistent A’s or get scholarships.  I did well in English, but never cared to read the books I was assigned, let alone write papers about them.  I sucked at taking standardized exams, like the PSATs and SATs.  And yet, I got into a good school and am doing okay for myself today.

Aside from singing in choirs, I didn’t have any interest in art (because I suck at drawing and painting) or dancing (which I now regret).  I didn’t play sports–in fact, I hated all team sports.  I have no doubt that things would’ve been different had I not been so shy and withdrawn.  I don’t remember much of my childhood, though I do know that I was reluctant to do much of anything.   I used to think that my parents could’ve tried harder to introduce me to different things (like gymnastics, dancing or soccer) and try to figure out what I liked to do or was good at doing.  Now that I have a daughter that is also shy and withdrawn, I know that it’s not that easy to get such a child to take interest in a whole lot–even if you do your best at supporting and encouraging.    What I’ve learned is that there is a time for everything, and for some people, that time comes later in life.   I broke out of my shy shell of a person gradually through the years, but particularly once I got out of college and started finding out who I really am.  Nowadays, one would never think that I was that shy.  Put me in a roomful of strangers and I can talk to practically everyone as if I’d known them all their lives.  Just don’t put me in front of that roomful of people, and I’ll be just fine.  Yes, like many others out there, I have this fear of public speaking, which I’ve been working on by way of public speaking classes, the latest of which was an absolutely wonderful class at NYU.

As Diane and Anne are encouraging you to do, write down at least 5 things you love about yourself.   Here are my 6 things that I love about myself (and those who know me well know that I am NOT the bragging type):

1.  My ability to empathize with others

2.  My ability to write

3.  My ability to truly see and appreciate the beauty of nature and outdoor settings through photography

4.  My persistence (or shall I say perseverance)

5.  My work ethic…perhaps that is why I’ve been able to survive so many changes and a recession with 1 company for 21 years

6.  My ability to see the positive in my negative experiences, such as my postpartum depression (PPD)

Now, it’s your turn.  Don’t be bashful.

NOTE:  In case you’re wondering if I’ve digressed from the topic of PPD, I haven’t really because self care is key to one’s mental health.  My past posts on the risk factors of PPD and self care during the postpartum months all tie in to how important it is for new moms to be nurtured so they can, in turn, nurture their babies.

Join the Self Care Challenge!

For practical self care tips comprised of really quick (10-15 min) and simple strategies that will hopefully inspire you to lead a healthier lifestyle, visit the Living the Self Care blog starting today, October 6th, through October 26th.  You can sign up for daily reminders to check in for the trip/strategy of the day by subscribing to the Living the Self Care Challenge blog.  Please share your experience and thoughts about the tips/strategies with Drs. Diane Sanford and Anne Dunnewold by leaving a comment on their blog and/or Facebook page and/or tweeting them using #SelfCareChal or @RealMomExperts.

As a Self Care Challenge Champion, I encourage you to share these strategies with friends and family members, and via your own blogs, Facebook and Twitter. 

My last blog post was coincidentally about self care and the importance of new moms taking care of themselves.   Self care is important, in general.  It shouldn’t just be a focus during certain times of your life, as in during pregnancy and postpartum.  It should be programmed into your daily routine.  It should be your way of life.  Exercise, getting enough rest, eating nutritiously, meditation/yoga, pursuing interests that are fulfilling and make you happy (e.g., hobbies, reading, writing, blogging, volunteering, outdoor activities) are but some self care examples.  A happy, healthy person will be less susceptible to physical and mental health issues.   And that’s a fact.

The Myth That Loving Your Baby Means Never Taking a Break

Okay, so you now have a brand-new, completely helpless infant to take care of.  Loving your baby (and your other children if you have any) means never needing to take breaks from her.  Somehow, new mothers all seem to feel guilty at the mere thought of taking a break, convinced that taking time for themselves makes them selfish and bad moms.  C’mon….how ridiculous is that? 

Sure, your priorities have shifted and you need to take care of your new bundle of joy.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t have any time to yourself or time to rest.  You can’t take care of yourself, let alone your baby when you’re completely drained.  You can’t continue on an empty tank, not allowing your body to restore your energy in the form of sleep and adequate nutrition.  You are, after all a human being, not a super-being or the Energizer® bunny that keeps going and going and going.  No one, not even the Energizer® bunny, can run on empty.  The bunny can’t keep on going and going and going without new batteries. If you deprive your body of the sleep, nutrition and rest it needs, there is only so much time before your body will send up a warning flag and succumb to the stressors with which you are faced.  Sure, you put the needs of your baby before yourself.  You make sure she’s fed, cleaned and comforted.  But at the end of the day (figuratively, not literally), you must also be sure to tend to your own needs.  With energy, you can put more energy into mothering.  Can’t be more logical than that!

Mothers should be allowed/allow themselves to take breaks from the baby at least once a day.  If getting more sleep means having someone watch your baby so you can sleep soundly for 4-5 hour blocks and/or take a nap, then so be it.   This may mean arranging for that person to take the baby out while you nap or have the baby stay with them overnight.  Remember, the more well-rested you are, the better off the baby will be. 

If you cannot manage to find a small block of time to nap each day, then the least you can do is close your eyes for a few minutes every couple of hours.  You know you need help when you start to feel like you can’t manage on your own.  You should not wait until you get to that point, especially women at high risk for PPD.  You need to have a postpartum wellness plan lined up and ready to go upon your baby’s arrival.  The plan should include ensuring you have someone to help you each day for the first couple of months so you can get a 4-5 hour block of uninterrupted sleep each day, as well as take breaks from the baby once a day.  In most cases, you won’t be able to rely on your significant other because they need to go to work.  So perhaps your mother, mother-in-law, housekeeper, or nanny.  Someone.  If you don’t already have a cleaning person, hire one to come by once a week, once every other week or once a month. 

 Importance Of Self Care

 “Taking care of yourself is self respect not selfishness.” – Anonymous

What I learned from my PPD experience is the importance of taking care of yourself.  In fact, taking care of yourself is a necessity, NOT a luxury!  Aside from getting as much rest/sleep as possible, here are some tips that I hope you will seriously consider adopting for yourself!

 You’ll be a lot better off if you lower your expectations for yourself:

  • Don’t feel compelled to go to social gatherings or host any parties, particularly if you’re not feeling up to it.  There will be plenty of opportunities down the road for all that. 
  • Don’t expect to keep up with all your chores in addition to caring for the baby, all on your own.  Don’t expect to keep a perfect household in the first months postpartum, unless of course, you can hire a housekeeper.  Don’t push yourself too hard, and don’t feel bad for not being able to do it all.   No new mother can do it all by herself.  It’s simply unrealistic.  Do what you can manage, get your husband or someone else to help with the rest, or just do it later.  This includes making your bed.  There’s no need to make it everyday.  Doesn’t even matter if the clothes you wear are wrinkled or worn several times already that week.  Remember, your priorities are caring for your baby and making sure you get as much rest as possible.  The key is to minimize your stress as much as possible and avoid overexerting yourself.
  • Don’t feel compelled to pick up the phone every time it rings.  Let the answering machine do its job every now and then, especially when you’re busy with the baby or when you’re trying to get some sleep.  In fact, if and when you do try to sleep, you should try to forward the calls to voicemail so you won’t be disturbed.

Nothing Wrong With Doing Something Nice For Yourself…In Fact You Deserve It

  • Do take the time at least once in the first 3 months to treat yourself to a trip to a beauty salon or massage parlor.  Do something you wouldn’t usually think of doing, like get a makeover, a completely new hairdo, a facial or a massage.  Or do something that you simply haven’t had time to do and is long overdue, like get a perm, highlights, hair coloring, pedicure and/or manicure.  It may be something you can do yourself that you simply haven’t been able to find the time or energy to do since the baby’s arrival, like put on makeup, pluck your brows, or put nail polish on your fingernails and toenails.  However, if you are breastfeeding you may want to put off a perm, highlights and hair coloring, since the chemicals can get into the bloodstream and into your milk.  I’ve been getting highlights since before I got married in 2000 and had to put it off from the time I got pregnant until I changed over to formula feedings.  I was feeling unkempt, not having had a haircut in a while and unsightly, with highlights grown out and long grey roots showing.  I can’t tell you what a relief it was to finally get my hair cut and highlighted again.  I felt rejuvenated, a new person!

Importance of a Healthy, Balanced Diet

  • Do maintain a healthy, balanced diet.  Remember, your body has gone through a series of huge biological changes.  It shouldn’t have to be explained that sleeping, eating and staying hydrated are the 3 minimum and essential requirements for a person to stay alive.  Your body requires adequate amounts of all three to recover from childbirth and recharge each day.  Poor nutrition, sleep deprivation and dehydration will make you more vulnerable to illness and stress, putting you at greater risk for PPD. You must be sure to make time to eat (nutritiously).  Make sure you get enough carbs, fiber and protein.  It is never acceptable to not eat because you can’t seem to find the time to do so because of all the new pressures and responsibilities you now have—not to mention you desperately want to return to your pre-pregnancy weight and figure.  Now’s not the time to cut back on the nutrition your body needs to recover and—if you’re breastfeeding—what your baby needs to get from your milk.  If you’re not healthy, it makes taking care of your baby all the more difficult.  Never mind that your body has just undergone huge changes, blood loss and trauma (some more than others).  If you’re like me and suffer from a loss in appetite and weight, you will cause things like vitamin deficiencies, which in turn, can contribute to fatigue and make your PPD worse.  Yes, another vicious cycle to try to avoid! 
    • To repair your body and bring it back to its former condition, as well as develop enough milk and prevent anemia, be sure to eat enough protein.  Tofu, beans, nuts and of course meat are great sources of protein. 
    • To help with constipation, which is common in the first week as your body recovers from childbirth, not to mention a common side effect of antidepressants—eat foods high in fiber, like fruits, veggies and even beans.  There is no prep work needed for pre-cut veggies (e.g., baby carrots), bagged salads, bananas, and grapes.
    • Rather than eating 2-3 large meals a day, you may be better off with small meals throughout the day.
  • Do avoid sugar, including soda and foods high in carbs, since it can cause rapid swings in your blood sugar level that can cause mood changes.  The key to keeping your mood stable is by maintaining your blood sugar at a constant level.  If you’re experiencing a loss of appetite, try to eat small, nutritious meals throughout the day.  Avoid junk foods that are quick and easy ways to satisfy your hunger but have no nutritional value.  If you want something quick and easy to eat, yogurt is a healthier option than Tasty Cakes, Twinkies or candy bars.  Frozen dinners like Weight Watchers and Lean Cuisine or even Subway sandwiches are healthier options than fast-food meals from McD’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, etc.  Despite my lack of appetite, I made sure to stick with my 3 meals by eating oatmeal (carbs) for breakfast, ramen (carbs) and bok choy or a caesar salad with grilled chicken (protein) for lunch, soup with meat and veggies for dinner and yogurt if I got hungry again later in the night.  Temporarily, my husband hat to eat cooked dinners alone because I didn’t have the appetite to eat more than a couple bites of food at any given time. 
  • Do avoid caffeine since it can cause mood changes, an increase in cortisol levels, and even insomnia.  Coffee, tea and soda all have decaffeinated (reduced caffeine) and caffeine free (no caffeine at all) versions. During my PPD, I abstained completely from caffeine.  If you are a regular coffee, tea or soda drinker, it will be especially tough to abstain during the first weeks when you are completely exhausted and want to get a caffeine boost to start off your day and/or keep you awake during the day and/or night.  It was tough for me, but not impossible, to go completely without coffee during my PPD.  Fortunately, I had already weaned myself during pregnancy to only drinking a small cup of decaffeinated coffee per day, which helped me avoid the usual headaches I get from missing my traditional morning cup o’ joe.
  • Do avoid alcohol, since it is a depressant that can cause sleep disruption.  Contrary to popular belief, alcohol is not a sleep aid.  It may cause drowsiness and help you fall asleep, but it doesn’t help keep you asleep and may in fact keep you up the rest of the night.  It is especially important to avoid drinking alcoholic beverages while you are still breastfeeding—even if you are tempted to relieve your stress with a glass of wine or two or to believe advice you may have received about alcohol’s ability to promote milk supply/milk letdown—since alcohol can be carried through breast milk to the baby.

PPD? Nah, It Could Never Happen To Me….Or So I Thought

Do any of these statements sound like you? 

“PPD?  Nah, it could never happen to me.  I’d never let it.  Especially now that I have a baby I’ve always dreamed of having.”

“I’m a strong person.  I’ve overcome many challenges in my life, both on a personal and professional level.  I can handle taking care of a baby.  Plus, I’ve never been depressed before, so how would I get depressed all of a sudden now?”

“I’m busy enough as it is with preparing for the baby’s arrival.  I’ve read all there is to read on infant care, breastfeeding, etc.  I don’t have the time, or need, to read up on PPD.  If it were that big a deal, then why have I never heard anyone I know say they’ve experienced it?  Why don’t you ever see anything in the media about it?  Must not happen a whole lot, so what are the chances I will get it?”

If you look at the Postpartum Support International poster, you’ll see the eye-catching statement that surprised me when I first saw it, as I’m sure it would surprise most people:  “The #1 complication of childbirth is depression.”  Like me, many people have heard of “postpartum depression” but don’t know what it means, at least not until it affects you directly. 

Before I learned about 4-5 months after my daughter was born, 3-4 months after my first symptoms started, and 2-3 months after I learned I had PPD, I didn’t know anyone who has had it (and I’m not counting the likes of Brooke Shields and Marie Osmond either).  In reading up on pregnancy, labor and delivery, I skipped everything that was titled “postpartum depression,” whether it be a pamphlet from the hospital’s childcare class you enrolled in or a chapter in a pregnancy book.  I never thought it would be something that would happen to me.  I thought I had succumbed and overcome many obstacles in my life without ever having depression, I would never let something like PPD happen to me.  I thought it was all a matter of mind over matter. 

The words “Knowledge is Power” have a deeply significant meaning here, because had I known that as many as one out of eight new mothers develop PPD, I would’ve tried to become familiar with what it is, its risk factors, and its symptoms BEFORE having my baby, and I would’ve never traveled that long, lonely and dark road during those dreadful weeks I was sick with PPD.  It hit me suddenly and without warning, and since I didn’t know squat about PPD, my anxiety levels were through the roof.  Insomnia led quickly to panic attacks, quickly debilitating me to the point that I couldn’t sleep, let alone function, without being medicated. 

But I emerged smarter and stronger than I was before my PPD experience.  For that, I am ever so grateful.

The Mental Cost Behind A Nomadic Childhood Experience

Thought you’d never see me post again, eh?   I think this is the longest (2-1/2 wks) I’ve gone without posting since I started this blog up in February ’09.  I just got really, really busy.  One would think that the summer would be all fun and stuff, but nah, not for me.  Work has been crazy busy, and I had to get my house ready for about 30 guests this past Saturday, which meant a week’s worth of cleaning.

I rely in many cases on what my blogging friends post to give me inspiration on what to blog about.  I also rely on tweets.  But since I’ve been out of the loop– as far as the Internet is concerned–for the past 2-1/2 weeks, I don’t have the latest scoop on anything.  So, I am going to blog about something that caught my attention 2 months ago.  It was a NY Times article titled “Does Moving a Child Create Adult Baggage?” by Pamela Paul.  

Without a doubt, the answer to the question is “YES!”  This is from personal experience.  Now, before you think I’m digressing from the topic of postpartum depression, read on…and read on all the way to the end of my post, and you’ll see why I am writing about my nomadic childhood experience.

When people ask me what my home town is, I can’t say North Caldwell, NJ, even though that is where I spent the majority of my life.   Plus the fact that I didn’t care to live there at all…I don’t have any pleasant memories of my 20+ years as a resident there.   Before North Caldwell, I had lived in 7 other places.  That’s 8 homes by the time I was in 7th grade.   For a while, I was moving on average once a year. 

My brothers were basically born and raised there, so all the friends they made in preschool followed them through to elementary school and then onto junior high and senior high.   I, on the other hand, had to make friends from scratch when I started 7th grade for the first time in this school district.   I had to do that at the toughest stage of any person’s life, which is puberty–a roller coaster ride (and boy, do I HATE roller coaster rides) I wanted to get off of so many times but couldn’t.  I really hated life then.  It didn’t help that I was shy and sensitive.  Not sure if I was born that way or that was the consequence of moving so many times.  Plus the fact that I was the only Chinese girl in a class of about 350 students who were primarily of Italian or Jewish descent.   Why else do you think the producers of “The Sopranos” chose to base their show out of N. Caldwell, NJ?  Teenagers can be mean to begin with.  When you put a stranger in their midst, and one who is quiet, probably not the most attractive and definitely not the best dressed, and Chinese to boot, you get P-R-E-J-U-D-I-S-M. 

Now, back to the article.  Up at the top, the author writes “THE GIST: Moves in childhood may do long-term harm.”   I agree wholeheartedly.  The long-term harm it has done to me is a lifelong insecurity in terms of my relationships with others, which is key to my generally low self esteem that I have been fighting to overcome all my life and hasn’t helped my job situation all that much, believe me. 

“PITY the military or academic brat.”  

Everytime I tell people that I used to move a lot, I get the same ol’ question “Oh, is your father in the military?”  It’s gotten to the point that I beat people to the question with the explanation “We weren’t military or anything.  It was due to my father’s job situation.”   He kept moving because he couldn’t find a job that he wanted to stick with.  It wasn’t until he established his own company, which is when we moved to N. Caldwell, that he was content to settle down.  Timing was great for my brothers.  Lousy for me.

“Psychologists, sociologists and epidemiologists have long recognized that children who move often tend to perform worse in school and have more behavioral problems than those with a firmly rooted picket fence.”

I could’ve told people the same thing even without reading this article.  This is the reason why my husband and I intend to stay planted where we are now until our daughter graduates from college. 

“[Findings suggest that] serial movers tended to report fewer ‘quality’ social relationships. The more times people moved as children, the more likely they were to report lower ‘well-being’ and ‘life satisfaction’ as adults (two standard measures used to quantify that ineffable thing called ‘happiness’).”

That first sentence describes me.  I would say that staying rooted in one place is important to enable quality social relationships to develop, which is a key part of most people’s lives.  After all, humans are social beings. 

“[Frequent moves during childhood negatively impact] “certain personality types. Introverts and those [who are deemed] moody, nervous or high strung…..were adversely affected, while extroverts remained blissfully unmoved.  Though this is just one study, Professor Oishi said, ‘Parents who are considering moving need to think about their children’s personalities and the potential risk.'” 

Though this research is too late for me, I now know better as far as my own daughter is concerned.  She is, like me, on the more nervous and high strung side of things.  I know what I need to do is to give her a stable, firmly rooted, non-transient, non-nomadic lifestyle.  The kind of lifestyle I wish I had had while growing up.

“Relocating is much harder on middle schoolers, already wrestling with puberty, than on younger and older children.”

Well, there you have it.  Now that I know what I know now, I am going to make sure my daughter has an easier life than I did when it comes to things that are within my control.  Like moving, for instance.  My husband and I will do our darndest (knock on wood) to have our jobs revolve around where we live.   From experience and knowledge of the impact of decisions we make, we can try our best to pave the way for our children to have less stress during their formidable years, which are basically their school years, and minimize the risk for teenage angst the best we can.    I want to minimize my daughter’s risk for depression…and postpartum depression when she hopefully has her own child(ren), God willing (so I can be a grandma).

Finally, as I’d mentioned in a previous post, the predisposition for depression in many cases is genetic, but whether those genes are expressed, or turned on, depends on the following:

  • your experiences during childhood and adolescence
  • the overall environment in which you live during those years
  • the severity of stressors with which you are confronted early in your life
  • how much nurturing (support, positive role modeling and positive reinforcement) you get from your parents

If we want to keep our children free of depression, along with nurturing, loving, encouraging and spending quality time with them, we need to minimize the stressors that they face within reason, especially as they go through adolescence.  Be aware and supportive of your children’s school experiences and activities, and help them with any challenges they face.   We can help minimize and even help prevent the onset of depression when our children are at their most vulnerable emotionally, which is during their adolescent years.