Sharing the Journey with Karen Kleiman


Yes, I know this month’s interviews are dedicated to moms of women with PPD but I am just so excited about this interview that I just had to put it up!

If you’ve been following this blog from the beginning (and thank you if you have!), you know that Karen’s book, What am I thinking? Having a Baby after Postpartum Depression was what I grabbed immediately after the positive pregnancy test. It was that very book that led to the inspiration for this blog so in a way, this is coming full circle for me because it was about this time last year that I found out I was pregnant.

Karen runs The Postpartum Stress Center in PA and her website and books are the first places I will send a new mom or family member. She’s got her stuff together and in my opinion has some of the best straightforward advice and information for women and their families! I am so honoured to be sharing this with you and even more honoured that Karen agreed to do the interview. Thanks Karen for all your hard work! Keep it up!

 

What led you to specialize in women’s issues?

To steal a line from my new book, “Ever since I was a young child, I wanted to be a mother.”  I remember playing with dolls and always taking on the role of the perfect mother.  I remember proudly asserting to my own mother, “when I grow up, I’m going to be a mother!”  After studying to be a therapist and then, becoming a mother myself, it felt natural to narrow my professional focus to women and their unique needs.

How did the idea for The Postpartum Stress Center come about and what brought it to fruition?

When my children were born, twenty plus years ago, I went back to work part-time as a social worker and trained to be a lactation consultant so I could connect with new mothers when I wasn’t working.  That experience provided one of my earliest exposures to the emotional upheaval of new motherhood.  Women started telling me how bad they were feeling.  (As you can imagine, if you can talk to a stranger about your nipples, you can talk about anything!)  I wasn’t sure if it was because I was a therapist or because they were so overwhelmed, it didn’t matter who was on the other end of the phone, but either way, I became aware of how many women weren’t feeling good after they had their babies.  Some felt bad about their babies, some felt bad about their marriages, some felt bad about them selves.  The common themes were: lack of support, exhaustion, and chronic worry. 

So when I went into private practice, I started studying postpartum depression to better understand what some of these women might be experiencing.   It didn’t take long for me to realize that most of these women were falling through the cracks of the medical community, remember, this was twenty four years ago.  No one was talking about postpartum depression like they do today.  As my practice developed and I started treating more and more women with depression, it was apparent how insufficient the healthcare system was in response to this great need.  This is when my clinical practice evolved into the next phase which included psycho-education, trainings, in-services, and writing, in order to enhance the community’s understanding and promote optimal treatment options.

As a mother yourself, what has been most challenging? Least challenging?

As much as I hate to admit it… this Empty Nest thing… I don’t love it.  It’s funny, I often think to myself how fortunate I am to have such a loving husband (twenty five years with me cannot be easy!), a fabulous career and all kinds of wonderful things to fill my days.  Still, it’s hard not to have the kids here.  Both are close enough to home, but, it’s not the same.

Least challenging?  Laughing with and about my kids.  You know that feeling that a new mother gets when she hears her baby belly laugh for the first time?  It’s like you want to stop the whole world and tell everyone to listen to this exquisite sound, as if no one had ever heard a baby laugh before!  Nothing in the world feels better than hearing your baby belly laugh.  And when the baby is 15 years old, or 21, or 24?  It feels exactly the same way.  It’s magical.

How has becoming a mother changed you?

Motherhood has inspired all that I do, most of what I say, and much of who I am.

What activity refreshes you the most when you’ve had a rough day?

I love coming home and sitting on the deck with my husband after a day’s work; surrounded by flowers, birds, dogs, good food, and lots of laughs.  It is actually essential to my well-being.  I get very cranky if I don’t laugh.

In your opinion, what aspect of motherhood should be celebrated the most?

I don’t think there is any aspect of motherhood that can be singled out to be celebrated.  I truly think all mothers, as well as fathers, always do the best they can at any given moment.   Women need to stop comparing themselves to others; they need to try to quiet the critical voice inside their own heads and believe in themselves.  Mothers need to learn to celebrate their own accomplishments, big and small, and realize the greatness in all that they do.  If they wait for appreciation from others, they will, undoubtedly, be disappointed and disillusioned.

What led you to write The Postpartum Husband?

After working with the postpartum population for some time, I began to realize that husbands were often kept out of the treatment loop.   As more and more partners were joining our sessions, I became aware of their enormous influence on the recovery process.  Not only did they need information and support, but their presence and their connection to the process made a significant difference in how women recovered.

Your book, What Am I Thinking?: Having a Baby After Postpartum Depression, was what I grabbed when I got my positive pregnancy result for Cameron and it really helped me to put a positive spin on my pregnancy – inspired this blog, actually. What went into the authorship of this book and why would you recommend it to women who are facing either a decision about pregnancy or an unexpected pregnancy after experiencing a Postpartum Mood Disorder?

Well as you know, the decision to get pregnant after experiencing a previous postpartum mood disorder is a difficult one.  In my practice, I have seen that women will feel more confident, more in control and less anxious if they have information.  The information gathered from a previous experience of depression can arm a woman with details that can help her learn a great deal about herself.  It has been shown that preparing for the postpartum period by fortifying her resources can reduce the likelihood of a full-blown depression.

  As with all the books I have written, the women I see in my practice have literally led the way.  They tell me what they need to know, which is how I determine what should be addressed.  Postpartum women have taught me what I know and what I need to teach others.  I’m so glad to hear my book helped support you through your pregnancy and postpartum period!  And it inspired this blog?  What a sweet thing to say.  I think this blog is such a fabulous idea and I’m certain it has offered much support to women going through similar circumstances.

 I hope you don’t mind me plugging my newest book which is due out this September.  “Therapy and the Postpartum Woman: Notes on Healing Postpartum Depression for Clinicians and the Women Who Seek their Help” (Routledge, 2008 ) will be a nice companion book for women with PPD who are either in therapy or considering therapy. 

Any sage advice for families currently experiencing issues with a Postpartum Mood disorder? What steps should they take to help Mom get better?  

Talk to her.  Sit with her.  Stay close to her.  Tolerate her anxiety and ambivalence.  Encourage her to contact her healthcare practitioner.  If she doesn’t, make sure she knows you will do that with her or for her.   Do not assume she is fine if she says she is.  Stay connected to the process.  Do what needs to be done to enable her to sleep, eat, rest and get out for fresh air.  Remind her she is loved and no matter how long this takes, you will be there.  Tell her she will not always feel this way. 

If there was one piece of advice you could give to an expectant mother (new or experienced), what would it be and why would this be important for her to hear? 

An expectant mother is at a turning point in her life.  She knows that no matter how things unfold, her life will never be the same.  This can be experienced with great anticipation or with great anxiety.  Either way, it is best to prepare by being mindful and attentive; to her own needs, to those of her partner and to those of her marriage.
 
For women who may be symptomatic during or after their pregnancy, I am reminded of a wonderful quote by Emory Austin:

“Some days there won’t be a song in your heart.  Sing anyway.”