Lauren Robbins talks to us about trauma in the perinatal period. What the body and brain know and remember and how this time period can be particularly triggering. She also gives us great tips on how we can cope, even outside of the therapy office.
Lauren Robbins, MS, LPCC, LADC, PMH-C, CCTP
I am the Clinical Director and owner of Wild Tree Psychotherapy outpatient mental health clinic with locations in St. Paul, White Bear Lake and Eagan, MN. I specialize in treating trauma, particularly adults who are impacted by childhood experiences, as well as perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and becoming a parent.
Welcome listeners to baby brain. I'm Samantha hug. Your host. And with me tonight is Lauren Robins. She is the executive director of pregnancy and postpartum support, Minnesota, and also the owner of wild tree psychotherapy. We're going to later get into how we might connect and what wild tree psychotherapy is. But Lauren's first gonna talk about trauma.Speaker 2:
I'm a bit of a trauma nerd, and I wanna acknowledge that the way I think about trauma is that we all experience trauma to varying degrees. We might have kind of tiny traumas along our life's journey and then sort of larger ones that can stop us in our tracks and really disrupt how we navigate the world, how we see the world and how we interact in our relationships. So when we're talking about the perinatal period, and we're talking about expecting parents and moving into parenthood and raising little ones, um, trial can really show up in disrupting the way that we interact in relationships. So that might show up like, uh, sort of explosive reactivity. It could show up in these automatic responses to withdraw or avoid challenges or conflict. It can also show up with increased anxiety, worry thoughts, hyper vigilance, or that keyed up experience. It can show up in sort of intrusive thoughts in, um, or memories that kind of keep coming in. And I think of them as like, kind of smacking us in the head like, oh, remember me remember me, even though we're not wanting to remember it, if it just keeps popping up and disrupting our day to day experiences, I would say to varying degrees, sometimes it feels sort of manageable, but it's in the background maybe, uh, sort of whispering in your ear or popping up here and there other times a bigger trauma can show up in really interfere, uh, with our day to day functioning and feel like we can't see our way around it. And our brain starts to make these, uh, connections, uh, something that feels anxiety provoking our brain automatically jumps to a really scary, traumatic experience and alters the way that we feel like we can move through it or manage it.Speaker 1:
I think you were describing intrusive thoughts, which can be a part of trauma. How do you differentiate those intrusive thoughts between some of the obsessive compulsive intrusive thoughts that people might have and trauma related, intrusive thoughts?Speaker 2:
What was the ed intrusive thought is likely gonna be more of a worry thought of what if, if I do this, if I stand too close to the stairs, am I gonna drop the baby? If I drive by or, or drive this route is a bad thing gonna happen versus a trauma intrusive thought is more gonna be a, a thought about the me, uh, the experience or a memory of a past experience that sort of feels like it bombards you. Like, I didn't wanna think about that yucky thing or that painful thing or that scary thing. And it still keeps popping up maybe thinking about the past. So trauma from the past versus fear about the future would more show up with a, an OCD presentation.Speaker 1:
Oh, I like that differentiation because we do use, especially in perineal work the term intrusive thoughts an awful lot. And I think sometimes people get confused about what, when and how that might be. Is there something special about the perinatal period that might be a trigger for trauma symptoms?Speaker 2:
We can have a variety of traumatic experiences that can pop back up when we become pregnant. And when we become parents and we're navigating how to raise little ones that could include a history of sexual abuse, sexual trauma, including sexual assault at any point in the lifespan. But it could also include experiences when we were young related to our relationship with our primary caregiver, that can kind of feel like it lays dormant while we're navigating maybe teenager or young adulthood. And when we move into parenting, it's almost like it can be thrown back in our face because now we're confronted with raising a little child. And the only reference point we have in child rearing is our experience of being raised ourselves.Speaker 1:
I bet that there are some specific triggers as you're preparing to become a parent. What are some of those that we might encourage people to watch out for?Speaker 2:
Because when we're carrying a baby in our body past experience of trauma to the body, which could include sexual abuse or sexual assault or physical abuse or physical assault or experiences that connect to disordered needing patterns or body shame can show up when our body starts to change. And we're moving into this space of sacrificing our body for the wellbeing of another, and maybe feeling a little bit out of control around what happens with our body. That can absolutely be a trigger that starts to bring some past experiences back into the forefront and they no longer feel past they feel present. And that's one of the hallmarks of noticing when posttraumatic stress disorder is showing up that the thing that has happened to you in the past feels like it's in the present and often feels like you can't get away from it. Other triggers that might show up is simply raising children or being around children. When we've had childhood experiences that have left us feeling lonely, lost, abandoned, disconnected, it can be a scary experience to, to bring a baby into the world or bring a baby into your family and have a hard time connecting or have a hard time figuring out how to love on a little one. When we maybe didn't have that experience. And it brings forward some of our fears or pain around abandonment and disconnection. And that leads us into thinking about attachment. And that's one of the things that we're primarily working on when we're raising an infant zero to two attachment and attunement,Speaker 1:
We might think that we've worked through trauma and believe we have it all buttoned up, but fail to understand that just like our brain, our body has memory. We talk about muscle memory when you're exercising and working out, but our bodies can respond in a traumatic way also, and we might not make that mental attachment to it. Can you talk a little bit about how somebody might first recognize that and what they should do about it?Speaker 2:
Sometimes that can feel a little confusing because the thoughts that we're having or our cognitive functioning or our rational brain functioning, doesn't feel like it matches what's happening in our bodies. Our bodies might start to feel tension, discomfort, pain, a keyed up sensation and anxious sensation. That doesn't make sense to us. If we look around in our world at present our body stores stuff so that we don't have to be bombarded, it's a protective factor. And when we experience triggers and so trigger is being confronted usually with a sensation, an experience, uh, a memory that reminds us of a past experience that didn't feel good when we experience a trigger, things are pulled to the forefront and sometimes our body is the first one to give us a sign. Hey, something's being stirred up and it doesn't feel good when we're young, our brains do a wonder for us. They tuck things away because we need to get through life. We need to be able to navigate relationships and keep going. Even if we don't have all the supports in place that we, that we would want. So it gets kind of tucked away or packaged up. And we can think of that as being held in spaces in our body. And that sort of leads us into one of the most effective ways to treat trauma is to access the body experiences, the body sensation, the, we might not have active memory. And part of that is because trauma experiences are stored in a different part of the brain than our cognitive functioning. And when we use interventions like eye movement, desensitization, and reprocessing or EMDR, for example, we are accessing bilaterally or both sides of the brain in order to integrate the experience and take it from exacerbating and bothersome and painful to neutral.Speaker 1:
Is there a way that we can begin to heal ourselves as we're going through trauma, especially if we're caring for our newborn.Speaker 2:
One of the first things is bringing mindful awareness to your present experience. So like I mentioned, what can happen when we've experienced trauma? Is that things from the past feel like they are the present moment. And so if we can be active in practicing bringing ourselves present, and that might mean checking in with my five senses, what is happening around me? What, what do I see? What do I hear? What do I smell, bringing myself into my present awareness and helping my brain and my body recognize that this is a memory that came in that feels present, but it is not. And part of the reason that happens is because our brain, again, tried to take care of us and protect us is scanning the world for cues that what happened and was painful might happen again. But it's almost hyper aware. And so it's over reactive and can say, Hey, Hey, Hey, emergency emergency red light. We gotta watch out for this. So if we can bring ourselves back into the present and check in with what's happening for me now, check in with your body. You can do something called a body scan. You might stop at the start at the top of your head and move down slowly through each part of your body, all the way till you get to the bottom, stick your feet, and simply notice there's no judgment. There's no drawing conclusions from the sensations you're experiencing. You are just noticing and witnessing. And part of what we're doing in that practice is cultivating compassion and just making a little breathing room for what is present to be present. And that's also a lot of what we do when we're raising an infant or a child. We just are observing, witnessing, and ultimately validating and validation is saying, I see this without judgment. I'm witnessing it. We do that for our children. That's how we help them learn self containment. And self-regulation, that's also how we start to heal. What bubble, what can bubble up for us in this process.Speaker 1:
There's gotta be some risk factors involved with, to what degree we experienced this at. What are some of those that you have noticed in practice or professionally?Speaker 2:
One of the things that we're mindful of is what was your childhood experience like? What was the relationship like between you and any adult caregivers that you had in your life? That's why when you go into therapy, sometimes it doesn't always feel like relevant. Why is my therapist asking me about what we call our family of origin? Why do they wanna know all this history stuff? I wanna tell them what my symptoms are right now, so we can resolve the symptoms. And the reason that we're asking about those past experiences is because that attachment, that I mentioned before has a huge impact on how we navigate future relationships and future attachments with the children that we might end up caring for. So if there is a disruption, so, um, if you know about the ACEs study or the adverse childhood experiences study, that was a big study that basically showed us that adverse childhood experiences, like having an absent parent, like having an incarcerated parent like experiencing, um, you know, medical interventions or traumas, all of those have an impact on our health outcomes, both physical and mental health in the future. So if you were somebody who knows that you maybe had some childhood experiences, and like I said, they could be big. What we call big T trauma, which is physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, or assault, or smaller disruptions in connection or attachment that can sort of prime us to experience potentially some trauma. The other piece I will mention specifically to the perinatal population is being a bit more of a rigid person. We can't always help that sometimes it's just who we are, but the more rigid we are about how things need to play out specifically, let's use the example of a birth plan. The more rigid we are with a birth plan, there is some risk in any divergence from the plan can set us up to experience symptoms of trauma.Speaker 1:
Do you have some advice or tools that people experiencing trauma reactions in the perinatal period might be able to utilize?Speaker 2:
The best things to do is have social support. When we think about some of the childhood wounding that can set us up for more chronic or pervasive trauma, we're looking at elements of guidance, protection, and nurturance. And so as we start to heal things we're gonna look for is what are the experiences that we can cultivate for ourselves that give us a sensation or experience of guidance, nurturance, or protection. Some of that comes from building our social support networks to feel like we have a safety net or people that care about us and show up for us. Another part of that is self-compassion. So building relationship with yourself, and part of this is a natural thing to start to work on when you become a parent because of the process and the upheaval, the developmental upheaval that happens when we move into parenthood, it feels like a self re discovery or there's sort of an identity shift that happens. And that's a perfect opportunity to jump into learning more about who you are, building a relationship with yourself. And I know that sounds maybe sort of odd, but the one person that will never leave you is you. If you cultivate that relationship,Speaker 1:
Can you talk a little more about the work that you do professionally while tree psychotherapy, you are the owner and also a provider there and you specialize in trauma work. So tell us how you can connect and what people might expect from doing trauma work.Speaker 2:
I'm a licensed professional clinical counselor, and I provide services mostly to individual adults, as well as couples focused on resolving trauma across the lifespan from a mind body approach. And so what that means is that we are looking at what's happening in your body. Also what's happening in your mind. I wanna know the thoughts, but primarily the body sensations and the emotional responses that are happening in order to support processing and integration of past experiences to move to a place of neutrality and resolution.Speaker 1:
If somebody would like to connect to wild tree psychotherapy or wild tree wellness, which is a mental health clinic with the integrated health options, how might somebody do that?Speaker 2:
The best way to connect to us is dumping on our firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find us on Instagram and Facebook at wild tree wellness.Speaker 1:
Thank you so much for joining us tonight, Lauren, all of the ways to connect will be listed in the description of the podcast below, plus some information about Lauren.