Monday, February 17, 2014

Good In, Good Out

I didn't have the smoothest transition into motherhood. My plans to continue consulting and training for the crisis hotline where I had worked dissolved when the board voted to dissolve the organization. The hotline took it's last call two and a half weeks after Cadence was born; I spent the beginning of that new chapter in life grieving the loss of my place in the workplace as well as all the social connections that went along with it. I had also not anticipated how difficult it was going to be to connect with most of my friends who worked full time; our lives had such different rhythms. I certainly had not anticipated losing friends to motherhood.

I don't want to downplay how much I loved being a mom, but I think most who have been through it would attest to the emotional ups and downs of intense love existing alongside intense fear and loneliness. I became quite the T.V. junkie to numb those negative emotions. Cadence nursed a LOT and didn't sleep well when she wasn't held, so it was easy to spend most of the day planted on the couch watching every iteration of Law & Order while she ate and slept in arms.

Between 3- and 4-months old, Cadence became more aware of the world and it became increasingly difficult to nurse her in distracting environments. I wasn't able to nurse Cadence in front of the T.V. as much and, as my mind was no longer distracted, I started experiencing what the research literature calls 'intrusive thoughts' and what philosophers consider 'existential crisis.' Many times throughout the day, especially when sitting still and nursing, my mind would start playing out various scenarios involving death - Cadence's, Jason's, and/or my own. The nature of the thoughts was not suicidal or homicidal, but they were no less disturbing and the ruminations often brought me to the point of tears. I couldn't bear the thought of our family being permanently separated in any fashion and I felt, at times, like I was going crazy.

I understand, now, that what I experienced is fairly 'normal.' I listed a few citations below, if you're interested in reading more. Intrusive thoughts in individuals who are not considered to have clinical illness, like the thought of leaping when you're standing on a bridge, are universal and may be our mind's way of reminding us of environmental dangers. It makes sense, then, that my mind was keen to remind me of the fragility of life and the importance of keeping my family safe so that I remained alert to our survival. It's a rather unpleasant alarm system and one I was not prepared to experience. I knew all the warning signs of postpartum depression and anxiety, but I did not fit into those diagnoses.

What I did notice, was that the intrusive thoughts and ruminations were worse when I was taking in a steady diet of crime procedurals. At that realization, I quit cold turkey: No more CSI, Law & Order, Bones, Crossing Jordon - none of them! I even stopped watching old reruns of my absolute favorite, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I started being very careful about the images and words I was taking in, knowing that it was much more important to get a good night's sleep than to keep up with the latest critically acclaimed dramas.

Good in, good out. It's become a philosophy for me that plays a much larger role in my life than that of a t.v. guide. I find that when I'm discriminating about everything I take in - entertainment, education, the people I spend time with, activity, food - I'm more able to be well, present, empathetic, and compassionate.

On that note, I'm excited to share that I'm staring a free, weekly e-newsletter:
Good In, Good Out: A steady diet of good stuff to fuel your soul, mind, and body

In addition to linking to Honest and Gentle posts, I'll be sharing the good things I'm taking in to grow, to fuel creativity, to live more healthfully, and to practice empathy. The first newsletter will be going out on Tuesday, March 18th - I hope you'll give it a try and let me know what you think!

You can also sign up HERE if you are not able to see the form, below. 

Subscribe to the Good In, Good Out newsletter:

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For more reading on intrusive thoughts, try Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts in Nonclinical Individuals (a chapter from Intrusive Thoughts in Clinical Disorders, Edited by David A. Clark.

And here's some research looking at postpartum intrusive thoughts:
Abramowitz, J. S., Schwartz, S. A., & Moore, K. M. (2003). Obsessional thoughts in postpartum females and their partners: Content, severity, and relationship with depression. Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings,10(3), 157-164.

Fairbrother, N., & Woody, S. R. (2008). New mothers’ thoughts of harm related to the newborn. Archives of women's mental health11(3), 221-229.

Finally, intrusive thoughts can be a symptom of postpartum depression or anxiety. If intrusive thoughts are causing you distress, please reach out for help. You can learn more and get connected to resources at Postpartum Support International

Image Credit: picture of a woman by freerainbowchildren, cc license


  1. Good in, good out. Love that motto. Congratulations on launching your newsletter, Mary. Looking forward to it!

  2. Thank you for sharing, Mary. Too many women go through the dark without having comfort or support.

    You also touched upon one of the tenets of yoga practice here - Saucha, cleanliness. It's cleanliness in the sense of putting the good and helpful into our bodies/minds and leaving the rest out. That filter is so important to our well being.

  3. Thank you so much, Regina! Deena - Saucha! I love it! I feel like my path keeps looping towards yoga - may be time for some formal study. :)