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Stephanie interviews Parijat Deshpande, leading high-risk pregnancy expert, about mental health and high-risk pregnancies. They discuss how you can turn off the chronic stress response and heal from pregnancy and birth trauma. Stephanie and Parijat also discuss what to do if you’ve experienced trauma and getting pregnant again feels scary. Parijat has a calm, positive outlook on a topic that is incredibly important and often overlooked. This is a must listen for anyone who has experienced trauma or wants to support someone in their life that may be suffering.
We’d like to say a special thank you to today’s Podcast Partner: Four Sigmatic, a natural superfood company that specializes in mushroom-based drinks that benefit immunity, energy, and longevity. Get 15% off your order on their website with the code WHOLEMAMAS.
Parijat Deshpande 0:04
There’s no one definition of trauma, to say if you check all these boxes, that was a traumatic event. Trauma really is in the eye of the beholder. So what you perceive to be traumatic, is traumatic to you.
Stephanie Greunke 0:20
Welcome back to Whole Mamas Podcast. We’re here to give you tools, resources and evidence-based information, so you can make the best decisions for yourself and your family. Whether you’re trying to conceive or navigating life with a toddler or a teenager, we’ve got you covered. I’m Stephanie Greunke, registered dietitian and Program Director for Whole30’s Whole Mamas Club. I’m also the co-creator of Whole30’s pregnancy program and upcoming postpartum program. And my co-host is Dr. Elana Roumell, pediatric naturopathic doctor and creator of Med School for Moms, an online resource where she teaches moms how to safely be a doctor mom.
I’m really glad we were able to make scheduling work to have today’s guest with us because she is the perfect person to round up the past two episodes on navigating life in the NICU. Parijatt’s wisdom, soothing voice, and encouraging energy is so needed when it comes to the topic we’re going to discuss today which is navigating pregnancy and birth trauma. There’s no do`ubt that moms in the NICU, and really any mama who experiences trauma, needs way more support than what is often given. And they also need to know that there is hope at the end of the tunnel, that there are steps you can take to help process what happened and to start healing deep wounds so you can move forward with less pain. Parijatt is a high-risk pregnancy expert, mind-body health specialist speaker and author who guides women to manage their pregnancy complications so they can give their baby a strong start to life. She’s the author of the best-selling book Pregnancy Brain and the host of the popular podcast Delivering Miracles that discusses the real raw side of family building including infertility loss, high risk pregnancy, bad rest, prematurity, and healing once baby comes home.
Before we jump into the episode, I want to introduce you to our new podcast partner Four Sigmatic. You’ve likely heard about them before but if not, let me introduce you to one of my favorite products that I’ve been using consistently for well over a year. Four Sigmatic specializes in mushroom-based drinks that offer a wide range of benefits supporting our immunity, energy, focus and overall relaxation, which is something mommas and mommas to be can definitely benefit from. Four Sigmatic makes a wide variety of blends including mushroom coffee, mushroom elixirs, hot cocoa, matcha, superfood blends, adaptogen blends and so much more. You’re a little nervous about drinking mushrooms? I get it. I was really skeptical about the taste, but the flavor is mild and the mushroom coffee tastes very similar to your regular cup. I love that their organic mushroom coffee includes lion’s mane which promotes productivity, focus and creativity. And since it only includes half of caffeine as a normal cup of coffee, and provides that boost of energy without the jitters and impact on your adrenals. If you’re trying to limit caffeine, rest assure that many of their blends are caffeine-free. In fact, one of my favorite products from theirs is a hot chocolate with rishi, which helps your body recover from stress and promotes restful sleep, and it tastes delicious. I simply heat up a cup of coconut or almond milk, pour in the hot chocolate powder, and I can literally feel my body calming down and just melting. Elana and I will share more of our favorite products, how we use them, and the therapeutic benefits on future shows. But if you’re interested and want to give it a shot, we’d love for you to head over to their website, look around and see what sounds interesting to you, and if you decide to order some let us know what you think by tagging us on Instagram @wholemamasclub and @foursigmatic. You can head over to foursigmatic.com/wholemamas receive 15% off your Four Sigmatic purchase. Or if it’s easier, just go to their website foursigmatic.com and use code WHOLEMAMAS at checkout to receive 15% off your first order. We hope you love them as much as we do. Alright now on to the show.
Welcome to the show Parijatt, you are a high-risk pregnancy expert, you are a mind/body health specialist, best-selling author, speaker, you’re an advocate for moms with high-risk pregnancies and preterm-birth and so much more. And I can’t wait to hear what you have to say about navigating the mental health aspect of these often extremely painful and difficult season. So thank you for being here.
Parijat Deshpande 4:50
Thank you so much for having me.
Stephanie Greunke 4:52
Now before you share your story and you offer advice for families navigating these experiences. I love to start with our icebreaker question, which is: how did you nourish yourself today or how are you planning on nourishing yourself today, if you haven’t already?
Parijat Deshpande 5:06
You know, today is all about hydration. It’s hot here. And I can just tell I’m really thirsty all the time. So I’ve got this big, big thing of water right next to me all day long, that’s how I’m going to do it today.
Stephanie Greunke 5:18
That’s great. Where are you located?
Parijat Deshpande 5:19
I’m in the Bay Area in California.
Stephanie Greunke 5:21
Oh, nice. Yeah, I’m in California, too. It’s pretty really weird weather by us lately. It’s been cold and then hot. And I just don’t know. I don’t know how to send my kids to school. So I usually give them a couple of layers.
I love that you have the water by you. That’s you know, one of my tricks is I have this 40 fluid ounce container of water. It’s one of those like hydro flask things. And my goal is to have one of those before lunch and one of those like right around by dinnertime. So that’s 80 fluid ounces of water. And I love just having that and carrying it with me all day. Because then I know if I didn’t have one full container by lunch behind it, I need to start chugging.
So yeah, definitely. I find the bigger they are, the more likely I am to actually drink it.
Yeah, absolutely. And if you can get a straw, I found that that really helps. Like if I get a straw for my big hydroflask then I don’t have to lift up this heavy, 40 fluid ounce container. I know it sounds like really pathetic, because I can lift quite a bit at the gym. But this water bottle is just a little bit intimidating for me. But well, very cool. I love that.
So how I am nourishing myself is the fact that my husband is going on a work trip starting tomorrow. And that’s really anxiety provoking for me. I have two toddlers at home, they’re really active, I’m working full time, I’m just kind of waiting for the ball to drop drop when he leaves. And in fact, we had an ER trip yesterday with our little one. So it already kind of has, but instead of letting anxiety kind of drive me, I like to take control a little bit. And so what I did is I made a list of what I can get done today and this afternoon, when he’s home from work and he can watch them, so I don’t feel as overwhelmed when he’s gone. So I wrote down things like ‘get the laundry done,’ so I’m not scrambling for a clean sock when we’re trying to run out the door for school and ‘make sure that they have some really easy breakfast options available’ like hard boiled eggs or healthy breakfast, sausage, yogurt, nut butter, ‘make sure that their food is pre washed and cut,’ those kind of things I can just grab and go. And I’m not scrambling in the morning, and then having some fun activities planed. We got a couple of new puzzles and a couple of new books from the library. So my kids don’t miss him as much and it’s not as emotionally taxing on either of us.
Parijat Deshpande 7:38
That’s awesome. I love that! I feel like that prep is so important. The more you can front load all that, the easier it gets.
Stephanie Greunke 7:45
Definitely, and if you are a new mom, and you’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve never done this or haven’t thought about doing it.’ It’s because I have done so many of these trips where I didn’t front load and plan, and I was scrambling, as I kind of learned for myself. So that’s kind of what parenthood is all about, right? Like learning from mistakes and fixing.
Parijat Deshpande 8:05
Yeah, so true. Like, ‘Oh, I didn’t like that. How do I make sure that doesn’t happen again?’ And then you figure it out.
Stephanie Greunke 8:11
Absolutely. Well, I’m so excited you’re here, because I’ve been following your work for years now. And I think you’re up to such incredibly important things as an advocate for mamas and families who are navigating high-risk pregnancy. So I love to bring you to share a little bit about yourself, and what drives you to do the work you’re doing today.
Parijat Deshpande 8:30
Yeah, sure. So I am a mind/body health specialist for women before, during and after high-risk pregnancy. And that really came from personal experience. My professional training is in clinical psychology, I used to work as a child and family therapist, started a mental health nonprofit, was teaching psychology courses at a college, before all this happened. And then I went through infertility , I experienced loss, had a very high-risk pregnancy, I was in the NICU for months. I realized that this experience is so unique and it’s something that my clinical training did not prepare me for. I knew what I would do as a clinician, had somebody like me walked in my door into my office, and I knew as a patient, that’s not what I needed. And so what really drives me is knowing personally how much it’s just a terrifying experience to not know whether you’d be able to have kids, whether you’re going to be able to stay pregnant, and whether you’re going to be able to bring a baby home, and how much control we actually do have during a time when we are told we have no control. That doesn’t mean we can control the outcome necessarily, but we can control the path to there.
It was really during my very high risk pregnancy, what I was able to experience, and my nurses were able to see, my doctors able to see, I could actually control my preterm contractions. And you could see it on the monitors. When there was anxiety, when I was feeling stressed, when I was scared, the contractions picked up, and when I was able to relax my body, on hospital bed rest in the pariviable stage, when everything was just terrifying, but I was able to relax my body, the contractions stopped. And in that I was able to help my body stay pregnant for 15 days, which allowed us to go from 22 weeks when I landed in the hospital to 24 weeks and five days, which is when my son was born. And I remember thinking if I can do this, anybody can do this. But nobody’s talking about this. If we can teach women how to prepare their bodies, to get pregnant, to stay pregnant, then what could that mean for pregnancy outcomes in the babies that we’re trying to bring into this world, if we can extend pregnancy a couple weeks or a couple months, even? What an amazing thing that’s going to be for families around the world. And so that’s really what drives me, is just knowing that I was there, I had walked that path, and I was able to come out on the other side, having experienced the impact and the power of our my own body. And then wanting to teach that to women around the world, to teach them that no matter what you’ve been through, there are still things you can control. And you just don’t know it, because nobody’s talking about it. So let’s talk about it.
Stephanie Greunke 11:10
Wow, what a powerful story. I mean, I have goosebumps, I’ve heard you talk about it before, but every time it just, I understand why you’re so driven to share this because you know even just a day an extra day when babies in the womb, it makes a world of difference at that point. And and if you can extend it by weeks or by a month, how much of a difference that that can make. And you’re right, these things aren’t being talked about. So I’m glad we’re able to talk about them today. And you have a podcast where you go over a lot of these tools, and also a book that goes over them to where people can find more information. We also interviewed you on the podcast, I think it was Episode 47 of our podcast when it was the Real Food Mama’s podcast and you talked about your story. So we’ll link to your podcasts and your resources there because you just have so much to share. But first, let’s kind of back up and talk about what exactly is considered a high-risk pregnancy? Because, you know, I think some of us who have been labeled as high risk during your pregnancy understand it, but for anybody else that’s wondering, what does that mean? Can you explain what is a high-risk pregnancy?
Parijat Deshpande 12:19
Yeah, definitely, it’s a really large umbrella term. So there’s a lot of things that can go underneath that. High-risk really just means that you have factors that put you at risk for developing complications or your baby developing complications. That’s really kind of the broad stroke definition of it. High-risk doesn’t mean necessarily that your pregnancy is going to progress any particular way. But underneath that umbrella, there are factors that very often qualify you as high-risk. One is age – in America, it’s defined as 35, eight years or older. If you’re carrying multiples, if you have a history of preterm delivery, if you have a history of pregnancy complications, if you have history of other medical complications that could impact your pregnancy, like asthma, diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, cancer, things like that, if you have any genetic concerns, or any issues that are coming up, that could affect baby. Really, there’s so many different ways that you can qualify as high-risk. And what I love is that a lot of doctors are now including history of mental illness as high-risk. So any type of diagnosable clinical mental health disorder is often considered high-risk as well, because we just want to keep eyes on our moms and make sure that we have enough support for them. And I just, again, want to say that just because you’re labeled high risk does not mean anything in particular about your pregnancy, it can progress as a very normal healthy pregnancy, you can still deliver a term and have a very low-risk delivery. And that is still possible, even with this high-risk label, so to speak, during pregnancy.
Stephanie Greunke 14:05
Yeah, I’m really glad you mentioned that too. Because like you’re saying, the first thing that you listed was age. And now I know a lot of 35 year olds that are much healthier than the 18 year old that is having their pregnancy and their birth. So that was really great to really consider the context, when we’re looking at the labels and realizing that the labels just a label, it may not mean anything, and to really look further and kind of use some of the things that we’re going to talk about today to help guide your mental and physical experience during your pregnancy and birth. So we had two interviews before this one where we shared stories from really strong, brave mamas like yourself, who had high risk pregnancies and experienced life in the NICU with their little ones, and they personally shared things that helped them navigate this experience. But I wanted to bring you on to discuss that mental health aspect of navigating life in the NICU, you as well as high-risk pregnancies season general. So, you know, these moms have experienced, you know, two months or a full year in the NICU, and you were in there for 100?
Parijat Deshpande 15:13
One hundred and nine days. Yeah.
Stephanie Greunke 15:16
Yeah. And so, it’s a scary experience, right? So let’s kind of talk about that from the perspective of a mom’s mental health. And maybe you can start with how you perceive the experience yourself. And then what you see with the moms that you work with, and what are some common experiences that they have?
Parijat Deshpande 15:35
Yeah, absolutely. For me, we knew that he was going to be preterm when I landed in the hospital at 22 weeks and four days, making it to 40 was pretty unlikely. At that point, we’re kind of hoping for 28, and then 25. And then he came at 24 plus five. So I had a little bit of time to prepare myself that he was going to be preterm, not all moms have that experience. Sometimes there is spontaneous preterm delivery, there’s no indication of it. And then one day, something happens. And before you know it babies here and in the NICU, and that is a whole other experience. So there’s a couple ways that this could happen. And what I know for me, even though I was prepared he was going to be in the NICU, I had even started looking for pictures for what does a 25 week or look like, to prepare myself visually for what this is going to be – even then it is a tremendous shock. It is a tremendous shock to accept that the pregnancy is over, to wrap your head around what does this even mean for my child, to be at a place where you can look at your baby months before you were supposed to meet them and they are covered in tubes and wires, and there’s machines everywhere. And the NICU is not a relaxing place, I will tell you that, it is loud, it’s busy. Depending on the circumstances of your delivery, and the circumstances of your baby’s health time of delivery, there might be a lot happening with your baby at the very beginning just for them to stabilize the baby. And it’s just it is a tremendous shock to the system, there’s just so much sensory overload from just having delivered, you might be pumped full of medications, you may not even be able to see the baby right away, depending on your health status. And then being in the unit, it’s an unfamiliar place. I know the first thing that I thought of was, I don’t trust any of you guys, I don’t know you, you don’t know what we’ve been through, you don’t know us. And there was just this sense of like, ‘And now you’re supposed to take care of my baby and keep him alive?! How do I trust you?’ I mean, there’s inherent inherent trust in that there are doctors and nurses at a hospital that I chose, but they didn’t know our journey and they didn’t know us as people yet they just knew us as diagnoses and numbers on a chart. And so to me, it felt like I was warped into this whole new world faster than and I was ready for, even though we knew he was going to be preterm. And so even more so I imagine that happens for women who spontaneously deliver preterm as well. And that shock to the system, it’s overwhelming. And it can go one of two ways I find – it can either amp up your arousal system so much that you just can’t think and sometimes can’t talk, you can’t make decisions, you’re just like so amped up. And for some people, it amps up so much that the only way to do it is to shut down and there are there are women who just can’t engage, and it’s not their fault. It is literally a biological reaction to the amount of shock that just happened in a very short amount of time.
Stephanie Greunke 18:46
Yeah. And for for a lot of these families, they can see the situation as traumatic right. And that’s something that you you talked about in a podcast episode, which I think you did a really awesome job at explaining more what trauma means and how is often overlooked or miss identified. So can we kind of take a minute to explore that? What is trauma?
Parijat Deshpande 19:09
Yeah, that’s a question that I imagine you get a lot too. I hear it all the time. ‘Was that a traumatic event for me?’ And if you’re asking, that the answer probably is yes. Because there’s no one definition of trauma to say if you check all these boxes, that was a traumatic event, trauma really is in the eye of the beholder. So what you perceive to be traumatic, is traumatic to you. Essentially, what that means is something has happened that has activated your arousal system and your body. And it has activated it to the point where you can’t come down from it, to put it very simply. And that physiological experience is what we consider trauma that can happen by walking down the street and hearing a dog bark from the other side of a fence, that can happen when you’re watching your baby having a procedure done, it can happen with anything in between really. There’s no one type of trauma that we consider trauma and the others are not. It’s really in so individualized for everybody. And you can tell that it’s happened because, like I said earlier, you can feel it in your body, your body is so tight, like you’re ready to fight a bear, that is what you’re ready to do, or you’re ready to run away from this bear. Either that happens or everything just gets shut down and it feels like you’re walking in a cloud, or a bubble and you just can’t quite hear and you know, people are talking to it doesn’t really sink in and it just kind of feels like a fog or a haze. And that’s how our body responds to anything that we consider to be traumatic.
Stephanie Greunke 20:47
Yeah. And you know, in the podcast, you gave examples and some of those examples where if moms have undergone maybe an intervention during pregnancy or birth, that they didn’t feel like they gave full informed consent, or maybe if they have a history of sexual abuse, or maybe it was an episiotomy that they didn’t know they’re getting or they didn’t want, or conversations that they had with their doctor in the exam room that were uncomfortable. So it’s not just about moms that have been in the NICU or experienced a high-risk pregnancy, this can really happen with anybody. And it’s not about, ‘Well, okay. I was only in the NICU for three months, and she was in it for a year. And so I can’t qualify is having trauma.’ No, absolutely, you can. And I loved that one of our podcast guests before you, Emily, she said that at the end of our podcast, she’s like, I don’t want anybody to feel like they their struggle or what they experience wasn’t enough, because I went through a year in the NICU. She’s like, we’re all really navigating this together. And so I love that that is a conversation that we can have right now is if you’re asking that question, ‘Was it traumatic?’ Or are you feeling some of the things that you just discussed, yeah, it was trauma. So when can this pop up? Is this something that will happen immediately? Or do you see people experience that years after the event?
Parijat Deshpande 22:08
So that’s an interesting question. So a trauma reaction looks very similar to PTSD. And I think that’s something that it’s really important to clarify that if you are in the middle of a traumatic event, like say, being in the NICU, for example, experiencing things like flashbacks or wanting to avoid the place or wanting to avoid your ob gyn who delivered the baby or certain smells that just kind of take you back to being in the unit, when you’re not in the unit. Things like that are very normal trauma reactions, that is supposed to happen when you’re in the middle of a trauma. The unique thing about something like being in the NICU is that trauma, that traumatic event, lasts a very long time. It’s not like a car accident where it happens, and then it’s over. And so what if you have that reaction immediately, and through NICU, it makes perfect sense, it’s actually an adaptive response to being in a place that feels traumatic.
But I’ve also found in the women with the women that I work with, is that once baby comes home, that doesn’t necessarily go away. Because for some, like in our case, when once a baby came home, there was still medical interventions that needed to take place, there were still a lot of uncertainty about his future, and his health, and all of that. And so the trauma wasn’t actually over. And for others, afterwards, when it all kind of takes a moment to sink in, let’s say you take home the baby, there’s no medical complications. And really, you can, so to speak, say it’s over, it’s not really over. Because a few weeks after, when you settle into your your new normal with the baby at home, and as a family together outside of the hospital, that could be a time when some of that trauma processing starts to happen, where your body and your mind kind of go, ‘Wait, what just happened? Wait, wait, what? Wait, really?’ and you start really kind of going back and processing all that. And that also is a very normal experience and reaction as you’re really trying to process literally, if you can imagine, like how we put food in a food processor, you’re grinding it up from something huge and overwhelming to something more easy to accept and look at and hold and kind of go, ‘What was that? And how did we get past that?’ And that can happen weeks or months later, or even years later. You know, there’s research that shows this happens for men later than women. For the most part, I mean, when they’re only looking at heterosexual relationships, but we process it at different times. And so it could happen a few weeks after discharge, it can show up close to the first birthday, or the discharge date, one year anniversary of homecoming, those kinds of milestones can also remind you and bring up some of the unprocessed trauma that you’re holding on to.
Stephanie Greunke 24:59
So this is great information. Now, what do you help mamas do to heal from this tr,auma or get help if they’re experiencing it?
Parijat Deshpande 25:08
So as I mentioned, my background is in clinical psychology, but I don’t practice psychotherapy anymore. Because I have found through my personal experience that the trauma is not in our heads. It’s not the way that we’re thinking about it, or the way that we are imagining it or remembering it, it is really literally stuck in our bodies. It is like if you imagine a bell curve, you have your pregnancy and then it shoots up because the traumatic experience happened, say it’s delivery, preterm delivery, you’re in the NICU. And what happens in a normal trauma response is then you come down from that and back to baseline and that down piece is what’s missing. And so what I help moms do is actually reset their nervous systems. So I do a lot of body work, to train their bodies to one feel safe again, because when we are stuck in that trauma response, nothing feels safe, we’re always on high alert, or we’re always prepared to run or to fight, because we don’t feel safe, it teaches them how to then trust their bodies again, and then it teaches them how to bring that down so that we can actually turn off that trauma response and really turn off that sympathetic nervous system, so that they can recover and heal from what they have been through. And that work, what I love about it is you can do it anytime – it can be right after discharge, it can be seven years after baby has come home and it’s not a baby anymore. But you can always retrain your body to feel that safety again. And that’s what I do.
Stephanie Greunke 26:36
So can you give me an example of what that looks like? What would somebody do, like maybe one or two things?
Parijat Deshpande 26:41
Well, so the work that we do is very body-centered. And so it really starts with when we are experiencing a trauma, we dissociate from our bodies, we stop listening. The best way to describe it is, if you can imagine you’re being chased by a bear, you’re not going to sit there and wonder while you’re running, ‘Am I thristy? Is my mouth feeling dry? Should I drink some water?’ that’s not the point – you need to get away from the bear. And that’s where our bodies are stuck even after the trauma or the traumatic event is over. And so it starts with reconnecting with our bodies, really paying attention and listening to our bodies. And for some women, that can be really scary, because the last thing they remember feeling was say a contraction, or the pain of the epidural or something that was right before delivery, if the birth trauma was kind of where it where it began. And so we have to do that very gently of how can we reconnect with our bodies in a way that’s very safe? How do we start paying attention to the very simple basic needs of our body, because again, what the way that I work is, is from a bottom up approach of teaching us, if we attend to the needs of our body, our brains will know that we’re not in a fear based situation, again, for the exact same example that you’re not going to stop and take a drink of water when you’re running away from a bear. Therefore, if you do stop and take a drink of water, that can kind of signal up to your brain and really reset your nervous system to go, ‘Oh, maybe there is no bear. Maybe this is over.’ And so really re-engaging. And it really starts that simply, with addressing very basic needs that we have completely forgotten how to pay attention to, because we’re stuck in that trauma response.
Stephanie Greunke 28:27
So what about even addressing the fact that you’ve experienced trauma? So being able to say out loud to either yourself or to somebody else that you’ve experienced trauma, to kind of help understand what happened, is that something that you encourage?
Parijat Deshpande 28:43
I do but I encourage it later.
Stephanie Greunke 28:48
Okay, so the first processes to really kind of identify what you need at a deeper level. So understanding, ‘Oh, I need to drink this glass of water.’ or ‘Even though I’m not feeling hungry, my body needs food.’ or ‘I’m really tired, okay I need to take a nap.’ That type of thing is where you start?
Parijat Deshpande 29:05
Exactly. And the reason for that is because when we start talking about the trauma, acknowledging, which is very, very important, but if we do it too soon, before we feel safe, it only re-triggers, and can re-traumatize you. Because you’re kind of going from an alert arousal state to even higher than that. And so acknowledging I’ve had a trauma, yes, women, when they work with me, they’ll call me or email me and say, ‘Yes, I’ve experienced this traumatic event.’ So they have gotten to that point of acknowledging that that happened. Totally fine. But in terms of the details of the trauma, we don’t actually touch that for weeks into our work at the beginning, it is all about feeling safe again. Because without that, everything is just going to it’s going to act like putting a match to an open wound, you know?
Stephanie Greunke 29:55
Absolutely. So when you get to that point, when you are able to say ‘I experienced trauma,’ and kind of peel back the layers of that and and understand what happened, how do you use storytelling as a way to heal from trauma?
Parijat Deshpande 30:09
Yeah, so I find this part of it so much fun. Because the way trauma is stored in our memories, traumatic events are stored not as memories. If you can think back to see your favorite birthday party, you can remember the whole thing, ‘Oh, I walked out here and the cake look like this. And these were all the people and this is what it was like it.’ It’s a narrative, it’s a story that you remember. Traumatic events are stored in our memory as snapshots like pictures, where there isn’t a connecting narrative. But there are just moments that you remember. I come from the philosophy of you don’t actually have to remember all of it to heal from it. But even though it’s not stored in our heads as a narrative, it is stored in our bodies. And so with my clients, when we get to this point of storytelling, so to speak, we start by addressing the snapshots. And we start noticing, really connected to their bodies, where in their bodies these snapshots are located. For example, what parts of their body ache when they think about the delivery, what parts of their bodies experience a temperature change, when they remember seeing their baby in the NICU for the first time. And it is such powerful work, because now it doesn’t matter how we remember it, because our body is telling the story that we can’t always remember. And from addressing it from that perspective, then we can again very safely start to heal our bodies. And then ultimately, it starts creating a narrative in our mind, because now we’re not coming from a place of fear, we’re coming from a place of safety, and then going, ‘Oh, now I remember – I walked into the unit, and this is what I was wearing. And this is what the nurse was, and this was her name…’ and you start slowly recalling some memories and start creating a narrative around that based on what your body is really informing you because it has stored all of those memories instead of your your mind.
Stephanie Greunke 32:10
Oh, that is so fascinating. Yeah, I’ve heard that before, but just hearing you explain it now, it makes so much sense that that’s where we store it. I mean, thinking about even just stress on a daily basis, we still have stress different ways. And we have that tension that we’re carrying, and different medical conditions that we’re experiencing, or if we’re having a thyroid condition, there is some theory that we’re having a hard time communicating what we need. So yeah, I find that absolutely fascinating. And you know, if somebody is listening, and they really like what you’re saying, I know there’s some stigma when it comes to working with a therapist. And sometimes we feel like, well, maybe we should be strong enough to do this on our own right. And it is true, and it’s unfortunate, but you know, I would love to kind of hear, if you’ve gone through an experience like this, who should be on your team, like who would be the dream team to have if you are working to heal.
Parijat Deshpande 33:10
Oh,` I love that. You know, who I would start with is a postpartum doula. I wish I had had one.
Stephanie Greunke 33:18
They are angels, I love them.
Parijat Deshpande 33:19
I know, oh, my goodness, I’ve met so many of them. Since my son’s birthday, I’m going, ‘Oh, my goodness, I wish I’d had you in my life back then.’ So I would start there for sure, they’re so good. I mean, it’s really going back to basic needs, right, you’re responsible for either pumping, or breastfeeding, or even if you’re not, you’re formula feeding, but you’re going to the NICU, I mean, your basic needs are not number one. When you’re in the NICU, mom, they’re just not a priority. And as much as we can tell it and say, ‘self care, self care,’ it’s just not realistic when your baby’s in the hospital. So having somebody else look out for you, and maybe shove a water bottle in your face going, ‘Here, drink this,.’ I think just getting your basic needs met, is going to be tremendously powerful.
I would say the second piece is when you’re cleared by your ob gyn, add a pelvic floor physical therapist, because even though they’re not addressing the trauma directly, our bodies do tense up when we have experienced a traumatic event. And you’ll find that in that population of people who have experienced any type of traumatic event there is a very high correlation of increased pain. And that is very closely tied to how our bodies have actually stored that trauma. And I don’t mean that in a spiritual way, necessarily. I mean, that could be there too, I’m not very familiar with that. But it’s really even just physiologically, our body literally freezes in a certain place. And so to heal from the actual experience of pregnancy and childbirth, really addressing your pelvis and bringing that health back up. And having support there, I think would be tremendously powerful.
I think it’s extremely powerful and important to have a community of support. I know for me, when my son came home, it was really hard for me to connect with other moms because they just had completely different concerns and issues on a day to day level than I did having a 24 weaker at home with medical complications. So find your people. And sometimes they’re not necessarily the people that you would think of. One of my closest friends and most biggest supporters, she ended up delivering preterm but later than my son was born, but he was very sick. And so even though gestational age wise, they had completely different issues, just knowing that there was somebody else there who understood the day to day of how busy it is, how crazy it is, how exhausting it is to care for a child that needs a lot, was just tremendously powerful. So keep an open mind about who that community might be. You’ll be surprised there might be some people who you’d never would have guessed, but who really, really understand even if on paper what they’ve been through is very different than what you’ve been through. And then I think being really open and honest about the type of support that you need. As I’ve mentioned before, I no longer practice psychotherapy, because I find body work to be far more effective in trauma release after reproductive pregnancy and birth trauma. And you can find support with that a lot of different places, people like me, or massage therapists who are trauma-informed, yoga therapists who are trauma-informed, dance art therapist, you know, there’s so many different places where you can go and learn how to release that trauma. And if you prefer the more traditional psychotherapy approach, I would certainly reach out to a licensed mental health provider who is trauma-informed, who can help you process what you’ve been through. I think it’s just so important.
Stephanie Greunke 36:49
Is there an easy way for us to find somebody near us that is trauma informed that does those kind of modalities that you talked about, like massage and chiropractic? Or is that something we just kind of Google in our area and see what comes up?
Parijat Deshpande 37:02
Yeah, I am not familiar. If I find the resource, I’m happy to share it with you so you can put it in there later. But as far as I’m aware, and this is such, it’s like, let’s make this as hard for moms as possible. There’s just nothing there. Right? There’s no database necessarily. So what I would do is search online. And then when you call them, ask them if they are trauma-informed if they have received trauma training, in trauma release, and in the modality that you would find most effective. Some people massage therapy is really their thing, just make sure that it’s not just massage therapy, that they all are also familiar with and experience working with trauma, because it’s a different type of approach, even with yoga, things like that.
Stephanie Greunke 37:45
Yeah, yeah. And what I tend to do, because I do a lot of postpartum mental health work, and what I usually do if I have a mom who wants somebody trained in like maternal health, or mental health, or somebody that just gets that part of life stage, I have them go Google a birth network in their area. So like San Diego birth network, or San Jose or whatever city they live by. And then when you get to that birth network, maybe they don’t have a specific provider that you’re looking for, but they’ve got a team of people who know what’s in the area, and they can help you find somebody that is trained or they understand birth trauma.
Parijat Deshpande 38:23
That’s a great point. I think a lot of postpartum doulas are also really well connected.
Stephanie Greunke 38:27
Yes, yes. Another great reason to love doulas. Now, I would love to kind of talk about medication, because there’s certainly a time and place for medication. And for those you know, who’ve experienced trauma or pain, or they’re experiencing anxiety, whatever it is on their journey to motherhood. And I know you and I are on the same page with this and that we really need to stop shaming moms who decided to go that route or forcing an anti or pro medication agenda, really listening to what the person needs. So you know, I would just kind of love to hear what you think about that. Because I know, there is a point where the work that you’re doing may not be enough for some mom, so how do you help them make the decision whether or not to use medications? I mean, obviously, it’s a team approach. But how do you walk them through that decision?
Parijat Deshpande 39:17
Yeah, absolutely. It starts with really just assessing, can you get through your day to day? And see it all goes back to basics, that’s really our baseline? Can you take a shower, when it’s possible, having a little baby at home, right, but can you do it? Are you eating enough? Are you drinking enough water? Are you sleeping enough? Given the circumstances, right? It’s all within context, nobody’s expecting eight full hours of sleep when you’ve got a newborn at home or a premie at home. But can you take care of yourself? Or are you having trouble getting out of bed? And this is not a one day kind of thing, right, this is a pattern that happens. We’ve all had days like this. Are you able to maintain relationships? Or have you isolated yourself? I mean, we look at the context and go, given what’s happened, are the changes in your life, what you would expect? Or do you feel like they’re more than you expected? And are you still able to take care of yourself or not. And, what I want to highlight here is I don’t mean take care of yourself, and that you just never take a shower and you’re you’re just completely let everything go, because there’s a gradient, right that, you know, when this doesn’t feel right. And so I trust my clients with that, ‘I feel more down than I feel like I should be. I feel more angry that I feel like I should be or this doesn’t, I don’t feel like myself.’ That’s usually the key phrase, when I hear that we go, okay, we need to have this conversation.
And then we look at are you doing everything that you can and do have support with that? How is your nutrition? How is your sleep? How is your social support? How is your mood? Are you exercising? (Based on what you’re allowed to do given your approval with your OBGYN and all that). Are we really doing everything? And if the answer is yes, and if she’s saying I don’t feel like myself or something feels wrong, or something’s not right, and both those come back is yes, then we talk about medication. I do find and I will say this honestly, I do find that when we approach mental health, such as postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, from a trauma perspective, very few women actually need medication. And I think that’s true for all depression and anxiety. And really, most of mental health issues is one, when you look at it from a traumatic lens, we will see the amount of the need for medication to come down. But until we can do that work, if you can’t, if you’re having trouble with the basics, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking medication. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Because our goal is for you to be a happy, healthy mother. And if medication is required to do that, by all means, go do it. Because that is the ultimate goal here. And there’s nothing wrong with you, you are not broken, you are not flawed, you are not less than, none of that, that you might be telling yourself is true. None of it, we all have different needs. We all require different types of medications for things that others don’t need, or vice versa. And if this is one of those things that would help you be a happier, healthier mother, then by all means, absolutely reach out for support, reach out to a psychiatrist and figure out which is the right medication for you. And give it a try and see how you feel. And when you do that, continue the work of reviewing your overall wellness and supporting your overall wellness. Maybe eventually you’ll be able to come off that medication. Or maybe you’ll find that I can do everything and I still need that medication for some time. There’s no right or wrong with that.
Stephanie Greunke 42:50
No, I love that answer. That’s just that’s perfect, because there really is no right or wrong. But at the end of the day, regardless of if you go on medication or not, we still want to be taking the steps to address you know, the nutrition and the sleep and the trauma and all that. So I just love what you had to say about that. And, you know, one of the reasons I wanted to ask that too, is because then you know, we look at okay, this experience happened, but then we have families who want to try for another baby, right? And then they they’re worried about being on medication or wondering if they should go on medication because they’re kind of still battling the trauma. So, you know, what do you do? Or what do you talk to parents if they’re looking to conceive again, but getting pregnant again, feels really scary. But yeah, what can they do?
Parijat Deshpande 43:36
Those are actually the clients that I see the most often. Right now, all of my clients are that person. It is terrifying. I mean, it’s absolutely terrifying. And this was not something that I have personally experienced with. But I can imagine that had that been a choice for me to get pregnant again, it would have been terrifying. And so what I often tell women is, if it feels scary to imagine yourself pregnant, or going through fertility treatment, again, even before you’re pregnant, or if any of that makes your body kind of seize up or just feel like ‘Oh, that doesn’t feel good,’ don’t do it. Not yet, now’s not the time. And the reason for that is because that is a sign of unresolved trauma in the body, which means that your stress response, that arousal system is on high. And this is the premise of my book, Pregnancy Brain, that you mentioned earlier, is when that stress response is high, it puts you at risk for pregnancy complications, and preterm birth and all of that, that you might already be afraid of happening again. And so if you’re really wanting another child, and my goodness, I understand that desire so much, I really highly recommend doing the trauma work first. Get your body ready and you can start feel the difference, you will feel the difference. My clients, I mean, you can just see on their faces, how different they are, because of when they’re able to release that trauma. And when you do that, then you can actually start imagining getting pregnant again, without the fear popping up. Now, that doesn’t mean that you’re not going to be worried, right? That, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m crossing 24 weeks and crossing 32 weeks is everything, okay?’ And that might happen once in a while. But our goal is to take the charge out of that and to make sure that your body is in a good place. So that even when you remember these milestones, or you’re experiencing these milestones, it doesn’t shoot that arousal system back on without having the tools to bring it right back down and keep your body in a good place to be able to give it the best chance to have a healthy pregnancy.
Stephanie Greunke 45:45
And I’m really grateful you gave that answer because you know, it’s not the answer that people may want to hear. It’s a real answer – you are taking into consideration what’s going to be best for them and for the baby. Even though you may not win points right away by saying that, I think that the advice that will be appreciated when they do do the trauma work, and they’re able to resolve that as best they can before having the next one, I mean, it really can make a significant difference. And that’s also what I recommend too personally. For me, it’s a lot of the postpartum depression anxiety, like, let’s work on that. Let’s get your anxiety, at least under control. So where you’re not feeling terrified of another pregnancy before you have the next one.
Parijat Deshpande 46:29
Absolutely, absolutely. And it doesn’t have to be perfectly resolved. I don’t either one of us is saying that, it’s just let’s get you to a better place because we know we can get better. But more importantly, you know that you can feel better. And if you really believe that, then let’s work to get there. And it doesn’t have to take very long, it’s not going to take years necessarily. A lot of my clients are actually going through fertility treatment to and so I really understand the push, there’s a timeline, there’s a deadline, like we’ve got got a do this, there’s insurance coverage, and there’s realistic pressure that’s there. At the same time, if you do push it, and you do it too soon, I’ve seen this happen also, then you’re putting yourself at risk of re-traumatizing yourself and the women that I work with kind of come to me and go, ‘I really want to enjoy my next pregnancy, I really don’t want to have to go through that again.’ And if that’s what you’re feeling, then then yeah, I think waiting is really the best option at this point. Give it a few months, and do the work with the person that you feel the most comfortable with.
Stephanie Greunke 47:31
I could talk to you forever, there’s so much that I want to ask you and just get a nerd out about it, it really does give so much to support our mamas in our community. But I also know that they have limited time, and we’re not going to keep them too much over an hour. But I do want to finish with this last question. And that is, you have your experiences. Your journey is something that you shared on our podcast, and I’ll link to because you know, every story is just so unique. And I think it’s really great to hear other people’s stories, what I’m basically trying to ask is what are some things that you learned from having those complications during your high risk pregnancies that you think could help other people?
Parijat Deshpande 48:14
I think the biggest thing that I learned is we are so much stronger than we ever give ourselves credit for. And by ‘we’ I mean us as mothers, and our partners, and our babies. There is such a tremendous power in the human body and in the human spirit. And I experienced it myself when I could see and feel that my contractions were stopping when I was able to use some of the tools that I had at my disposal to do that. And then I really reinforced it when I saw my son fighting for his life in the NICU. And then really, really reinforced that when I see him every day doing things that all the doctors told me he was not going to do. And so no matter how dark and bleak and awful the situation is, and I really, really get it, that there are moments where there is no light, there’s nothing there. In those moments, I would love to encourage you to look inward for that light, it’s not going to come from anywhere else. But inside you have built in you a system to push you forward, to guide you forward, to fight for this life and it is tremendously powerful. And it is that system inside, that light inside, that will help you heal when this is all over.
Stephanie Greunke 49:43
Oh, that is so encouraging. Again, I just love listening to you talk Yes, actually like a soothing voice and I have goosebumps again. I mean, I’m so glad we were able to make this work for you to come on the show to kind of wrap up the interviews that we had with the NICU and to help give some really actionable advice to help navigate this trauma and help mamas identify what trauma is so that they can get the healing that they need and move forward. So thank you again for being here. And this won’t be the last time we talked to you, this won’t be the last time we talked about the NICU or traumatic birth, we’re going to keep having these really important conversations. But I’m glad you were able to be here with us today to share what you’ve learned and what you’ve experienced.
Parijat Deshpande 50:26
Thank you so much. And I really look forward to continuing this conversation. It’s so important. So thank you for what you do.
Stephanie Greunke 50:32
Oh, absolutely. So how can people get in touch with you if your story resonated with them or if they want to connect and maybe get more help with with your book and with your tools?
Parijat Deshpande 50:41
Yeah, the best place is to go to my website, parijatdeshpande.com. And from there, you can see on the menu, you can go to my book, you can learn about how to work with me privately, and connect with me on social media.
Stephanie Greunke 50:59
Perfect. Thank you so much for being here. I loved it.
Thanks for listening to today’s show. And don’t forget if you’d like to cheers with me and unwind from your busy day a momming with a delicious low-sugar organic hot cocoa that has a power of reishi mushrooms to support a more restful sleep, head over to foursigmatic.com/wholemamas to get 15% off your order. And okay, before we go, I’ll let you in on a little secret: if I have had A day or A week, I’ll kick it up a notch and use their reishi elixir about an hour before bed, because it has even more reishi, about 1500 milligrams compared to 500 milligrams in the packet of hot cocoa, and that really helps me unwind shut off my monkey mind. And reishi has been shown to reduce sleep latency, meaning you’re able to fall asleep faster. If you’re not into hot cocoa, which I think kind of shocked if you weren’t, you can consider trying their popular mushroom coffees, super food protein powder, gold milk latte mix, or their matcha. Again you can grab 15% off by visiting foursigmatic.com/wholemamas.
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- How Parijat’s high-risk pregnancy sparked her passion for helping moms
- The real definition of trauma
- Signs you’re experiencing trauma
- How to start healing from trauma
- How to build a postpartum dream team
- Making the decision to use medication
- What to do when getting pregnant again feels scary
- Reassurance and resources
- Parijat’s Website
- Parijat’s Book: Pregnancy Brain
- Follow Parijat on Instagram
- Parijat’s Story on the Whole Mamas Podcast
- The HMHB Weekly Email Series
- Whole Mamas Pregnancy Program
- Dr. Elana’s Med School For Moms
- Dr. Elana’s Medical Center: Nourish Medical Center
- Follow Steph and Elana on Instagram
- Whole Mamas Podcast Archive
This episode's guest
Parijat Deshpande is the leading high-risk pregnancy expert, mind-body health specialist, speaker and author who guides women to manage their pregnancy complications so they can give their baby a strong start to life. Her unique approach has served hundreds of women to manage pregnancy complications and reclaim a safety and trust in their bodies that they thought was eroded forever.
Parijat is the author of bestselling book Pregnancy Brain: A Mind-Body Approach to Stress Management During a High-Risk Pregnancy. She is also the host of the popular podcast Delivering Miracles®, that discusses the real, raw side of family-building including infertility, loss, high-risk pregnancy, bed rest, prematurity and healing once baby comes home.