Tag Archives: fear

Beyond Red Ridinghood: Protecting Children From Our Pain About the World

By Tamara Brennan, Ph.D., executive director of The Sexto Sol Center for Community Action and writer at Mindful Moms Blog. Originally published on www.NationOfChange.org.

If, as the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, what happens when “bad things” keep showing up to disrupt the calm in that village?  For those of us in the United States, watching the news with so many reports of war, shootings in public places, and information about policies that fly in the face of decency and fair play, well, it’s enough to ruin what inner peace we may have left despite of the hectic pace of our lives. Then it starts to rain too much in Colorado, creating yet another of the natural disasters that seem to happen all too frequently these days. As caring people, we carry an awareness of tragedy in our pockets as we go about our daily lives.    1418479_35492784

Each of these events is a part of an endless stream of bad news and tragedy. When they come out of nowhere too close to home, they shake up our sense of safety that we usually take for granted. But as we react to the news of each new shocking happening, the children in our lives are watching us, feeling our reactions and wondering what it all means about the world that they are just beginning to learn about. How we respond to their questions and fears is a test of the depth of our commitment to peacemaking.

Not everyone agrees about what information should be withheld from young children. Decades ago I was involved in informing people about the realities of the dirty wars in Central America, with their characteristic and systematic violation of human rights. On the way to a speaking engagement, I asked my speaking partner if he would consider not mentioning the details of a particularly horrendous and upsetting recent event if children were present in the audience. To my dismay he argued that the good to be gained by telling people the shocking truth about our country’s foreign policy outweighed the possible impact on a child or two.

Sure enough, there was a young girl sitting right in the front row. My partner did not censure his remarks. All I could do was watch helplessly as the child visibly recoiled with the telling. It was like witnessing desecration of holy ground. Afterwards, he and a close friend argued that children “need to know” what is really going on in the world, as if that experience somehow was ultimately for her benefit.

That is a sentiment that I have heard many times from activists, but I’ve yet to hear a compelling reason for this kind of early education about the ugly side human affairs. In a world of terrible atrocities, infuriating betrayals and devastating disasters, teaching young children about “the way things really are” goes way beyond telling them the story of Red Ridinghood and the lecherous wolf.

In order for children to develop in a healthy way, they must be allowed to have a fundamental sense that they are safe and that this is a benevolent universe. Their relative feeling of trust in the world will be the foundation on which they will build all their future experience – no small thing. The world is complicated, absolutely, but how is it beneficial to allow young children to believe that it is threatening, chaotic and loveless?

A child’s ability to comprehend the nature of life develops over nearly two decades. Being mindful that young children do not have our sophisticated ways of coping with news of tragedy, disaster, violence and danger will help us make decisions about what information we expose them to at home or while they are in school.

But let’s be honest. For politically committed and well-informed parents, there are moments when we get full to the top with feelings about the world situation. For all of us, parents or not, whenever our feelings are aroused, it takes self discipline to not blurt things out just to relieve the tension we feel or to register our outrage. If we do, the impact could hit like a careless stone hurled into the waters of the immature awareness of the children in our lives. Is that really what we want to do? After all, isn’t it for their sakes that we work for a better world?

If we are serious about creating a peaceful and sustainable world, we would not do violence to children’s precious and basic trust in life by exposing them to frightening information they can’t assimilate. It is a matter of respect then, to protect our tender children from the fear and anger we feel about the mess things are in. We would do well to face our own pain and disappointment so that we can heal the angst we have been carrying. Not only is doing so good for our families, but when we take back our power that has been trapped in fear, rage and grief, we become more effective as proactive change-makers.

Our world, more than ever, needs healthy people capable of envisioning and creating a human culture based on love and compassion. We need people who are emotionally responsive and thus able to act decisively while leading the way to higher ground with kindness.

There will be plenty of opportunity ahead for “real life” education for our children as realities become apparent to them in a more natural way without premature exposure. Our job as parents, teachers, friends and relatives is to protect them long enough to allow them to develop a healthy faith in a loving and safe world. It is their birthright to have the opportunity to develop a feeling of being empowered before the daunting challenges facing humanity make them feel overwhelmed. If we succeed in creating the conditions for their empowerment to occur, we will see them become the realization of our deepest hopes as they step into their roles as part of the shift toward a the better world we dream of.

Breastfeeding after Sexual Abuse

By Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, PhD, IBCLC, member of API’s Resource Advisory Council and API’s Editorial Review Board, adapted from Breastfeeding Made Simple by Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett

Breastfeeding after sexual abuseFor survivors of childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault, breastfeeding can pose challenges. Unfortunately, sexual abuse and assault are relatively common experiences, affecting 20% to 25% of women. The reactions of abuse survivors to breastfeeding run the whole range of responses – from really disliking it to finding it tremendously healing.

Surprisingly, research has shown us that abuse survivors are more likely to breastfeed. The two published studies on this topic showed that abuse survivors had a higher intention to breastfeed and a higher rate of breastfeeding initiation. Our research has also shown that a higher percentage of mothers who were abuse or assault survivors were breastfeeding compared with mothers without a trauma history. We have also found higher rates of Attachment Parenting behaviors, such as bed-sharing, among the abuse and assault survivors.

If you are an abuse survivor who wants to breastfeed, I congratulate you for making a positive life choice to overcome your past and parent well. However, there still may be some difficulties you face as you breastfeed your baby or child. If you are having a difficult time, here are some suggestions that might help:

  • Figure out what makes you uncomfortable – Is it nighttime feeding? Is it your baby touching other parts of your body while nursing? Is it when the baby attaches to your breast? Or all of the above? The intense physical contact of breastfeeding may be very uncomfortable for you. You might find breastfeeding painful, because your abuse experience lowered your pain threshold. The act of breastfeeding may also trigger flashbacks.
  • Can you address the problem? – If skin-to-skin contact is bothering you, can you put a towel or cloth between you and the baby? Can you avoid the feedings that make you uncomfortable? Nighttime feedings are often good candidates. Would you be more comfortable if you pumped and fed your baby with a bottle? Can you hold your baby’s other hand while breastfeeding to keep her from touching your body? Can you distract yourself while breastfeeding with TV or a book? Several mothers have shared with me that works well for them. Experiment, be flexible, and find out what helps.
  • Remember that some breastfeeding is better than none – You may not be able to fully breastfeed, but every little bit helps, even if you must pump milk and use a bottle or if you are only breastfeeding once a day. Some abuse survivors find that they never love breastfeeding, but they learn to tolerate it. And that may be a more realistic goal for you.

Past abuse does not have to influence the rest of your life. I know many abuse survivors who have become wonderful mothers. I’m confident that you can, too. Nurturing your baby through breastfeeding is a great place to start.

From Fear to Breastfeeding

By Grace Zell, staff writer for The Attached Family

To breastfeed or bottle-nurse?When I was pregnant for the first time, I wasn’t sure what I would do and I was actually a little afraid of committing to breastfeeding and being my child’s sole source of sustenance.

After my son was born, I decided to combine breastfeeding and bottle-nursing. I was ready with a breast pump, sterilized bottles, and formula. My son was a very alert and agitated infant, and he awakened every hour during the night in the beginning. Bottle-nursing gave me the ability to sleep for a four-hour shift while my husband took over. I had planned to fill the bottles with breast milk, but my son was such a high-needs infant that I fell behind with pumping and, after about three weeks, gave up completely and used formula in his bottles.

An Early End to Breastfeeding

I had been unable to get my son to latch on for nursing and did not get very nurturing support from the lactation staff at our hospital. They had led me to believe that I wouldn’t be able to pump and bottle-nurse. (I have since seen women who pumped for several months without their baby actually nursing and a woman who got her infant to latch on after about three unsuccessful weeks of trying.) Continue reading From Fear to Breastfeeding

The Story of Emily Fran

By Rita Brhel, editor of The Attached Family publications


Emily Fran was born at 8:27 a.m. on Tuesday, October 23, at 19 inches long and six pounds, 12 ounces. I waited a long time to write her birth story. Emily was more than a year old when I finally decided to sit down and put it on paper. The reason is because my pregnancy with her was rather bittersweet: I had been happy to be pregnant again, but stressed by the fact that my previous pregnancy had ended in a dangerous condition that had formed for no known medical reason. I didn’t want to put another baby in a life-threatening situation, but with none of my questions answered from the previous pregnancy, I didn’t see how this pregnancy could be any different.

Emily is our second child, our second daughter. Unlike her sister Rachel, my pregnancy with her was never threatened with anything more than my extreme fear that something may go wrong and that Emily would be born early. But Emily was no less a miracle child. She didn’t survive against all odds, but she was my hope…a wonderful, beautiful gift from God that helped me heal and taught me about faith.

Emily didn’t come when my husband Mike and I were planning for a second child — in fact, I found out I was pregnant only a week after Rachel came off the last of her medicines for apnea of prematurity; Rachel was nine months old.

Through my mother’s OB/GYN office, I found a very experienced specialist who was able to answer all of my questions of what exactly went wrong with my first pregnancy. Terry Foote, MD, had more than 30 years of experience; in fact, he delivered my brother John and shared the office with the doctor who had delivered me when I was born. He helped me come to terms with what had happened with my first pregnancy and what had to happen with this pregnancy. I learned that the placental abruption most certainly had its root in a fluke in how the placenta had developed and that the threatened miscarriage was the sign of this, but that the real reason for the abruption was undiagnosed pre-eclampsia. The fact that I suffered no edema, not even swollen ankles, during Emily’s pregnancy and that my blood pressure never rose supported this theory. The premature labor and birth with Rachel was likely the only one I would ever experience.

However, the fact that I had such a difficult time delivering a three-and-a-half pound baby with my first pregnancy was troubling. I have a narrow pelvis, meaning that my bones along the birth canal are misshapen so that I cannot deliver a baby larger than four pounds. I would have to have a Cesarean section; a vaginal delivery is impossible for a full-term baby.

The night before my scheduled C-section, I couldn’t sleep at all. I was nervous for the surgery, having never gone through one before — anxious for myself, for Emily, for Rachel. Mike got me up at 5 a.m. on October 23, at 39 weeks gestation, and drove me from our home in Sutton, Nebraska, to Mary Lanning Memorial Hospital in Hastings, Nebraska, the same hospital where I had been born 26 years earlier.

The surgery wasn’t pleasant, and there were some complications for both Emily and I, so I couldn’t hold her anymore than I had held Rachel when she was born. A nurse held her up for me to see for a couple minutes before I had to be put to sleep to finish the surgery.

Unbeknownst to my doctor, I had become anemic during the last month of my pregnancy and with a hemorrhage during the surgery, I had lost a lot of blood. My iron level had dipped down to 5, when the normal is 12 to 16. I also had a spinal fluid leak due to the spinal injection for the narcotic-anesthetic for the C-section.

Emily had low blood sugar when she was born, but more than that, her poor nose had apparently been smashed up against my pelvis since she turned head-down in utero. The newborn doctor used a naso-gastric tube to open up one nostril to make sure she could breathe through both sides of her nose.

Editor’s Note: Read the rest of this story in “Pregnancy & Birth” section of TheAttachedFamily.com with the article, “Sibling Spacing: One Year Apart, Too Close or Just Right?” or click here.

Parenting Style Changes Gene Expression

From API’s Communications Team

DNAResearch has, for many years, shown that the way a child is parented will physically shape his brain — that each interaction, good or bad, will create pathways within the brain as a reflection of the emotions surrounding that interaction. And that a pattern of neglect or abuse will shape the brain differently than will a consistently loving, attachment-promoting relationship.

Now, a new study published in a February 2009 issue of Nature Neuroscience — as reported in the The New York Times article, “After Abuse, Changes in the Brain — shows that, in addition to shaping the brain, patterns of interaction change the way a person’s genes are expressed.

Researchers at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, have found for at least ten years that affectionate mothering alters the expression of genes in animals. These changes in the genetic code are then passed on to the next generation. For the first time, there is direct evidence that the same happens in human DNA. McGill researchers report that people who were abused or neglected as children had genetic alterations that made them more biologically sensitive to stress.

McGill teamed up with the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences to compare the brains of 12 people who had difficult childhoods before  committing suicide with the brains of 12 people who did not suffer abuse or neglect as children.

When humans are under stress, the hormone cortisol circulates and puts the body in a state of anxiety. One way the brain reduces this response is to make receptors on brain cells that help clear the cortisol, reducing the feeling of distress and protecting neurons from the damaging effects of extended exposure to cortisol.

Researchers found that the genes that code these receptors were 40 percent less active in people who had difficult childhoods than those who did not.

There is still speculation as to why some people with difficult childhoods are able to regulate stress more easily while others are not. Possibilities include individual genetic differences or an individual’s ability to connect with other people who help stabilize his stress response.

To read this entire article, go to: www.nytimes.com/2009/02/24/health/research/24abuse.html?emc=eta1.

Do Two Halves Make a Whole?

By Isabelle Fox, PhD, author of Being There and Growing Up and member of API’s Advisory Board

**Originally published in the Fall 2006 Divorce & Single Parenting issue of The Journal of API

Custody BattlesI frequently receive e-mail from parents who practice Attachment Parenting (AP) across the United States and in other countries asking for help and support in custody cases when they are contemplating shared joint custody of their infants, toddlers, and preschool children.

Most of the communications come from single moms who never married or were married only briefly. They often have a poor working alliance with the child’s father and have been unable to establish or maintain a loving, committed relationship with him. As a result, finding an equitable and responsible solution to child custody issues can become a low priority. Money, support payments, anger and/or resentment may be the underlying cause of the conflict.

The best interest of the child is often forgotten. It is tragic that courts and lawyers are frequently insensitive or unaware of the developmental needs of infants and toddlers who lack the language to express their anxieties, stresses, and concerns. Continue reading Do Two Halves Make a Whole?

Managing Anger: What to Do When You Want to Have a Tantrum

By Tricia Jalbert

**Originally published in the June 2000 issue of API News

AngryIt’s one thing to understand how remaining calm, supportive and objective can be a great service to our children and another thing to do it when we’re exhausted, frazzled, and sleep-deprived.

It’s also another matter when the emotional wounds from our own childhoods come roaring forth like a fire-breathing dragon. Until one has children, it’s often easy to escape the darker parts of our personality. Yet, once we become a parent, we are often so tired or pushed or overwhelmed that those darker sides we’d rather not acknowledge make all-too-frequent appearances. Fortunately, these events can mark some important growing points and can provide opportunities to help ourselves and our children work through difficult feelings.

So What’s a Parent To Do?

Children learn from watching how you deal with your own feelings, just as they learn by watching how you deal with theirs. While you wouldn’t want to saddle your child with inappropriate exposure to your adult issues and emotions, it is not unhealthy for them to simply see you angry. It’s what you do when you are angry, and how you manage your intensity, that are important. Showing healthy responses to strong emotions teaches children that these emotions can be expressed and managed safely. Continue reading Managing Anger: What to Do When You Want to Have a Tantrum

AP from a Preemie Mom’s Perspective

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

**Originally published in the Spring 2007 annual New Baby issue of The Journal of API

Rita doing Kangaroo Care with Rachel
Rita doing Kangaroo Care with Rachel

It was a big day for me, my husband, and my daughter. In mid-January, seven months after Rachel was born, when she had reached 18 1/2 pounds and 26 inches long, her pulmonologist told us she was ready to come off the cardio/respirations apnea monitor that had been a constant part of her life since she left the hospital five months earlier. I was nervous, but her doctor told me that it was OK – in all his many years of practice, he had never seen a healthier looking preemie than Rachel.

It was a great compliment. My daughter was born in June at 30 weeks gestation, due to a significant placental abruption, a serious pregnancy complication in which the placenta prematurely separates from the uterus. Weighing three and one-half pounds and measuring 16 inches long, Rachel was nearly three months early.

A Traumatic Start

I had been planning a drug-free childbirth, but what I got was anything but easy, natural, and beautiful. It was traumatic for me, both emotionally and physically. I had been in the hospital for four days after hemorrhaging, and I was being treated with several anti-labor drugs, one of which (magnesium sulfate) left me so weak that I required oxygen. I was given an epidural in case I needed a C-section, and I had an episiotomy that became a fourth-degree tear and later acquired an infection. This was not the childbirth of my birth plan. Continue reading AP from a Preemie Mom’s Perspective

Issues Facing Adoptive Parents of Children with Special Needs

By Heather T. Forbes, LCSW, founder of the Beyond Consequences Institute

**Orginally published in the Winter 2007-08 Adoption issue of The Journal of API

boyThe typical scenario of a young married couple adopting an infant from birth has changed dramatically and has been redefined. Historically, a traditional adoption was defined as a healthy infant placed with an infertile, middle-class white couple.

Today, adoptions can be characterized from a much broader spectrum. Many children being adopted are not infants, but are older children of various races being adopted from either the public foster care system or orphanages overseas. Often, children in these groups have suffered abuse, abandonment, and/or neglect.

Due to a history of trauma, these children are considered “special needs” and require special parenting once adopted into permanent homes. Many of these children are dealing with mental health issues such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD), reactive attachment disorder (RAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and/or depression. Continue reading Issues Facing Adoptive Parents of Children with Special Needs

Rosie’s Adoptive Birth Story

By Sara Cole

**Originally published in the Winter 2007-08 Adoption issue of The Journal of API

Sara and her daughter, Rosie
Sara and her daughter, Rosie

Recently, the Seattle API group had a birth-sharing night. Four of us sat down in my living room and shared the stories of how our children came into the world. Listening to the other mamas talk about their different experiences with each of their children, it occurred to me that I also had two stories to tell. As the mother of two children, you’d think this would not have come as a surprise to me.

But I had come to the evening with the expectation of only telling one story – the story of my biological child’s birth. Along the way, though, I realized there are different parts to our birth stories. One part is what happens to us, the mothers. Another huge part is how our babies come into OUR worlds. This is one of the stories I had the privilege of sharing that night in that warm, safe space.

The Roller Coaster of Adoption

Preparing for a child, in adoption, begins with piles and piles of paperwork. Once the paperwork is complete, the agency warned us to be ready for a period of waiting, probably around eight months. Ready to hurry up and wait, my husband and I sped through the forms and essays, compactly scheduled all the necessary home study appointments, and on a non-descript Friday in June, we became “waiting” parents. Continue reading Rosie’s Adoptive Birth Story