Baby blues, averted
Inaugural event to focus on challenges of new motherhood
The Japanese have a word for it: sukinshippu, meaning “skinship.”
It’s a pseudo-English word coined primarily to describe the closeness between a mother and her child and, more generally, “bonding through physical contact, such as holding hands, hugging, or parents washing their child at a bath,” according to Embodying Culture: Pregnancy in Japan and Israel by Tsipy Ivry.
But what happens without skinship? When children, babies especially, don’t receive the loving touch they need? As is well known, they often fail to thrive, with results that can scar them emotionally for life.
One cause of this is what is known scientifically as postpartum depression (PPD)—commonly but euphemistically called “the baby blues.”
Jacqui Brugnano is a therapist who serves as program manager at Youth for Change, where she specializes in infant mental health and children’s behaviors. She is one of five experts who will be leading breakout sessions at the inaugural Embracing Motherhood summit this Saturday, May 9, at Enloe Conference Center.
A baby’s brain is developing extremely fast, Brugnano said during a recent phone interview, and being held and touched is an important part of that growth.
“When women are going through postpartum depression,” she said, “it’s hard for them to notice when their baby needs attention. If the mother is depressed, the baby is not going to get the facial expressions, the holding and the touching he needs.”
Embracing Motherhood is designed for new mothers and mothers-to-be and seeks to raise awareness of the challenges new motherhood presents. It’s grounded in the reality that motherhood isn’t always the blissful experience it’s made out to be, and women—and families—sometimes need help.
It is hosted and organized by First 5 Butte County in partnership with Mothers Strong, a collaborative group of new mothers, families, medical providers and support groups in the North State. In a phone interview, Anna Bauer, program manager at First 5 Butte County, noted that there aren’t many local resources to help women with what are known generally as maternal mood and anxiety disorders. Data suggest that 1 in 7 women experiences some form of perinatal mental disorder.
In addition to depression, these mood disorders include anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and more. In an article from Mothering magazine titled “Understanding Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: What I Wish I’d Known as a New Mom,” author Jenny Everett King describes her obsession with her newborn’s health and safety. When a friend suggested it might be postpartum depression, she scoffed.
“Postpartum depression was when you cried all the time and couldn’t get out of bed and didn’t want to bond with your baby,” she writes. “That wasn’t me. I loved my baby. I loved her so much that it kept me awake some nights, as I lay there counting her breaths, recounting the myriad ways she could face injury or worse. The scenarios played on a loop in my head, violent and absurd. So this was motherhood.”
It was only much later, after she became a certified childbirth educator, that King learned that maternal mood disorders take many forms, including the obsessive anxiety she had experienced. These disorders can begin early, even when the baby is still in the womb, Bauer said. Highly stressed pregnant women can inadvertently flood their babies with harmful hormones, though that condition is treatable.
Low-income mothers, many of whom are single, are most vulnerable, Bauer added, because of the other stressors in their lives. Between 40 percent and 60 percent of them experience some form of maternal mental disorder.
The summit’s keynote speaker is Dr. Shoshana Bennett, an internationally recognized maternal-mental-health expert, radio host, lecturer and author of several books, including Beyond the Blues. Known familiarly as “Dr. Shosh,” she will speak on maternal mental wellness, a subject she studied extensively after twice experiencing life-threatening postpartum depression.
That will be followed by breakout sessions on infants and the importance of touch, a “toddler toolkit” learning session, and a moms-supporting-moms session.
Five experts will lead the breakout sessions. In addition to Brugnano, they are Senta Burton, who works with Family Solutions, in Chico, as a parent educator; Gail Garcia, a licensed clinical social worker at Enloe Children’s Health Center in Chico; Holly Kralj, a certified nurse midwife and nurse practitioner who provides frontline screening and treatment of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders through Feather River Hospital’s Healthy Mothers program; and Bindu Garapaty, PsyD, a maternal/child health consultant who has worked to advance public awareness and understanding of perinatal mood disorders.
First 5’s Bauer emphasized that this is the first of what hopefully will be a series of similar events dealing with the challenges not just of motherhood, but of parenthood, as well. The addition of a baby to a family affects everyone in that family, and it’s widely understood now that fathers can experience their own forms of “baby blues,” she said.
For now, though, the goal is to reach mothers who believe they could benefit from greater awareness of the challenges of motherhood. One of the mitigating factors for PPD, Bauer said, is a support system, whether it’s being a member of a Facebook group, attending story time at the library, or a moms’ group that might develop out of Embracing Motherhood.