I recently read an article about a mother who wants to change her four-year-old daughter’s name because she recently found it that it’s not as unique as she first thought.
The mother, who wished to remain anonymous, named her daughter Esmée, a name that at the time she hadn’t heard much in the last 20 years or so, but once her daughter started school, she quickly learned that there were other girls who had that same name at her daughters school, including two in her class.
The mother apparently is so upset to find out that her daughter’s name is a rarely popular name that she now is considering changing her name.
I have known parents who had a hard time settling on a name for their baby, including one who called her baby by the nickname “Yum Yum” up until the child was about one years old before she finally settled on a name.
While that may sound unusual, it’s not that uncommon. About 11% of parents end up regretting the name they initially pick for their child and end up changing it, but usually within the first year when it really doesn’t have an affect.
However, around one years of age, children began recognizing the sound of their names and around ages two or three, they begin developing a sense of identity which includes who they are in connection with their names.
Changing a child’s name after one years of age can create identity issues, insecurity and confusion within the child as to who they are. Imagine toddler tantrum on steroids in some cases.
My question is, what if whatever name she chooses for her daughter next, becomes popular in the next couple of years? Is she going to change her child’s name once again?
To better understand the underlying problem, we have to better understand the mother who went through some tough times in her childhood due to having a very common name.
The mother wrote, “Every time I hear my real name I shudder,”.
For the mother, this may have in fact been pretty traumatic and something she has never overcome. What she doesn’t understand however is that individuality will come from her daughter’s unique personality, not her name.
Many parents try to relive or redo their lives through their children, but this can be very unfair to the child. Changing this child’s name, in my opinion, would be a very selfish and vain act.
I’m not saying that if the mother did change the child’s name that it would be a traumatic, horrible, life changing mistake. It may have no real affect or long term affect on the child at all. What I am saying however is that there is more to a person than their name. The child may decide to be called something totally different when they get older anyway.
For example, I knew a teenager who’s mother named her Lorraine because the name meant a lot to her. She was very shocked and even upset when she found out that the kids in school called her daughter “Rain” and many had no idea her birth name was Lorraine. The the mother, Lorraine had a special connection, but to her daughter, it had no such connection, but “Rain” did. It was her way of being unique and special.
More importantly, parents have to be careful to not hand down their issues to their children. They should allow their children to be unique in their own right because they already are, no matter if their name is Susan or Rain.
The other day I came across a clip of actor Terry Crews as a guest on the show The View. In the clip, Terry Crews was basically defending fatherhood and I was somewhat amazed at how at times it seemed like one or more of the hosts of The View kept trying to attack fatherhood (the clip is at the end of the page). I realized that fatherhood in general is greatly under valued in today’s society.
So many of us have grown up without reliable fathers or father figures in our lives that we diminish the importance of fathers. So many women have been forced to raise children without a decent man in their children’s lives that they start to believe that a child having a father or father figure is an option that they’d prefer to do without.
As men we have to take some blame in this. Many of us have let or children and women down so much that we are considered elective pieces of the family dynamic and are often made to feel that way. Some women will try so hard to prove that they don’t need a man that they will also imply that their children don’t need a father either.
I’m not just talking about single mothers either. Even in marriages the father is often relegated to a relatively small role in raising the children. Sometimes fathers withdraw nearly completely from the task of helping raise the children, believing that child-rearing is a woman’s job and all they have to do is provide.
And while many single mothers do awesome jobs raising well-rounded children, especially the ones that have to, more often than not, those children struggle from the absence of a strong, positive male role model in their lives.
I am not saying that any man will do. Some men are bad fathers, bad role models or just bad people in general. They will do more harm to a child’s development than good. However, there are many good men who want and try to be good fathers, but are limited or not allowed to because of their child’s mother.
When I worked as a children’s therapist I ran into many women who moved multiple states away just to punish their child’s father. They were mad at him for whatever reason and decided to not only distance themselves from him, but to distance him from his children as punishment.
Many single mothers push their child’s father away either by making it extremely hard on him to see his children, or by turning the children against him. They want to make the father feel unwanted and unneeded and if the man isn’t strong enough, he may give up and walk away or greatly diminish his involvement in his child’s life.
Most of the times these children not only suffered from behavioral problems like stress, depression and anxiety, but many of them, especially the young boys ended up acting out in ways that the mother couldn’t handle, especially as they got bigger.
Many of the boys became disrespectful to the mother and women in general. They did poorly in school, got in trouble with the law and basically became unruly and why wouldn’t they? They were trying to figure out how to grow into a man without any decent examples and so they come up with their own, either modeling other young men, poor examples from their neighborhoods, or rappers, athletes or other celebrities.
Some of these same women often sent their boys back to live with their fathers once they got too out of hand, but by then the father-child bond has usually been so disrupted that the father doesn’t know how to effectively parent that child and the child has little understanding or respect for a parent who has been absent from their lives over a period of time.
While I feel that it is extra important that boys have a good male role model, no matter if it’s their biological father, stepfather, uncle, coach, teacher or any other reliable, nurturing, male, it is important that girls have a father figure as well as I wrote in my post absent fathers can lead to depression in teenage girls.
Healthy and respectful male role models can teach young girls how they should expect men to treat them. While at the same time, even fathers who are in the house that are angry and disrespectful to the mother are more likely to have children that develop anxiety, are withdrawn and are more likely to have unhealthy relationships.
So you see, it’s not just about having a man around, it has to be someone who is giving positively to the child’s social-emotional well-being.
Dr. David Popenoe, one of the pioneers of the young field of research into fathers and fatherhood says, “Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.”
Involved fathers have an impact on a child’s emotional health, cognitive ability and educational outcomes.
Children with involved and nurturing fathers are more likely to be emotionally secure, confident, willing to explore their surroundings and end up with better social relationships. They are less likely to get in trouble at school, have disruptive behaviors or develop anxiety and depression.
Studies suggest that fathers who are nurturing, involved and playful with their infants end up having children with better linguistic skills, cognitive skills and higher IQs.
Toddlers with involved fathers tend to start school more academically ready, more patient and less likely to get frustrated or stressed when compared to toddlers with absent fathers or fathers who aren’t involved.
Adolescents and teenagers with involved, active and nurturing fathers tend to have better intellectual functioning, better verbal skills and higher academic achievement.
All of these benefits are amplified if that involved, nurturing male is the biological father, but it doesn’t have to be in order to still see positive benefits.
I’m not saying that any man will do, or even any biological father because any idiot can become a dad, it doesn’t mean that they will be the best role model for a child. What I am saying is that having a father figure is just as important as having a mother figure for every child. Fathers have a powerful and important impact on the development and health of a child.
There have been times I’ve been critical of shows like 16 and Pregnant because I thought that they glamorize teenage pregnancy by exploiting the teenage girls on the show and even making celebrities out of some of them.
Having worked in a high school in the past with a fairly high rate of teenage pregnancy, I knew that teenage pregnancy wasn’t glamorise at all. All of the girls I worked with in the high school who became pregnant eventually dropped out. Some dropped out only to have another kid a year later.
In my article Young, Poor and Pregnant I discuss some of the downsides of programming like 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, but a new study called “Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing” which was written by Melissa S. Kearny of the University of Maryland and Phillip B. Levine from Wellesley College, found that 18 months after the shows introduction, teen birth rates actually dropped 5.7 percent in 2010. According the New York Times, that 5.7 drop is an estimated 20,000 teenage births prevented.
The study also showed that using Neilson ratings, in areas where the show was highly popular, the rates of teenage pregnancies declined the fastest.
During their study, the authors found that search engine searches and tweets about birth control and abortion grew significantly after the show was introduced. While I have written about some of the negatives of the show, I was surprised and happy to see that it had benefits that show that teenage girls aren’t as brainwashed and reality TV obsessed as some of us adults like to think. In fact, the study shows that many teenage girls can look at shows like this and not glamorize it, but recognize that they don’t want their lives to be as complicated, crazy or hard as most of the teenage moms on the shows.
One of the benefits of shows about teenage mothers is that they discuss an issue that is often shied away from and more accurately show the true effects of being a teenage mom, better than any sex education class or most lectures could. No one is totally crediting shows about teenage moms as the sole reason for the decline in teenage pregnancy. The rate of teenage pregnancy has been on the decline over the last 20 years and things such as the recession also bring the birth rate down.
However, what the show does do is make it more real so that teens can see that real teenage motherhood may not be the fairytale that they may imagine it will be (“now he will stay with me”, “I’ll feel more loved and supported”, etc.). These shows alone aren’t enough to continue to prevent teenage pregnancy. There still needs to be good sex education and parental guidance. One potential negative of the show is that in the study there was a trend for teenage girls who watched the show heavily to perceive the teenage mothers as having easier lives and still have time to be a kid, which usually isn’t the reality. For the most part, the one thing we can take away from this study is that teenage girls are more capable of learning from other teenagers mistakes than we may have given them credit for in the face of so much reality TV where the bad girls are celebrated and consequences seem few and far between.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week which was established by the U.S. congress in 1990 to recognize the National Alliance of Mental Illness’ efforts to raise the awareness of mental illness. It just so happens that last week’s police chase and subsequent shooting and killing of Miriam Carey has brought mental illness and postpartum psychosis into the spotlight.
What Is Postpartum Psychosis?
Many people have heard of postpartum depression, but not many people have heard of it’s evil sister, postpartum psychosis. When I was in graduate school I was so fascinated by postpartum psychosis that I actually did a 20 page research paper on the phenomenon.
It isn’t uncommon for women, after giving birth to feel down, sad or even somewhat depressed. This is what is known as “baby blues” and approximately 70-80% of mothers feel this contradicting negative thoughts and sadness after experiencing the joy of giving birth.
Many women don’t talk about it because they feel guilty or “bad” because of these feelings, but it’s important that they talk about the way they feel so that the “baby blues” don’t progress into something deeper like postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression basically is a much more intense and prolonged feeling of negativity, depression and mood swings when compared to the “baby blues”. This can last weeks, months or even longer.
Postpartum psychosis is the most severe and extreme form of postpartum depression and not only does it typically include the intense sadness, negativity and mood swings of postpartum depression, but it also includes the onset of psychotic symptoms after childbirth.
An example taken from a personal experience I had dealing with a client I diagnosed with postpartum psychosis is that she was extremely depressed at times and then highly erratic and impulsive other times. She was extremely irritable and was having hallucinations which included voices and delusions that her newborn was evil and needed to be killed.
Like a lot of women who deal with the “baby blues”, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, she tried to hide the way she was feeling and mask her psychotic symptoms until it got to the point that she was about to drown her child in the bathtub. It was then she went to her family for help and was taken to the psychiatric hospital.
This particular young lady ended up being okay after treatment which included therapy and a brief period of taking lithium. Her child was subsequently raised by the maternal grandparents although legally this young woman still has full custody and spends time with her daughter often.
Postpartum psychosis is extremely rare which is one reason it is not often talked about and another reason many people who suffer from it try to hide it because they are struggling to try to understand exactly what it is they are going through and may feel alone.
Symptoms of postpartum psychosis Include, but are not limited to:
flight of ideas
grandiose thinking or behavior
Other Famous Examples of Postpartum Psychosis
Although postpartum psychosis is rare, some popular cases include Melanie Blocker-Stokes, a successful pharmaceutical sales manager happily married to a physician.
On June 11, 2001 she gave birth to a baby girl and soon developed severe depression, stopped eating and drinking and no longer could swallow just four weeks after giving birth.
She became paranoid and thought her neighbors closed their blinds because they thought she was a bad mother and although she was in and out of several hospitals, was on several medications and even received electroconvulsive therapy, she killed herself by jumping off of the roof top of a Chicago hotel. Her daughter was only 3 and a half months old.
Melanie always wanted to become a mother and it’s a tragedy that becoming a mother ultimately took her life. She had written in her journal before her death: “How can I explain to anybody how something has, literally, come inside my body…I’m no good to anyone. No good to myself.”
She called some her friends and family and left what they now know were her final goodbyes and to her husband she left a note that simply read: “Sam, I adore you, Sommer and Andy, Mel.” Andy was her husband Sam’s son and her stepson and Sommer (Sommer Skyy) was her newborn child.
Her battle with postpartum psychosis helped congress pass the Melanie Blocker-Stokes Postpartum Depression Research and Care Act in 2010 aimed at increasing research, education and screening of postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. Sadly not much has been done since it was passed, but this is the story that sparked me to write my research paper in graduate school and got me interested in postpartum psychosis.
Perhaps most famously there was Andrea Yates whose mental health seemed to deteriorate with each child she gave birth to. She had attempted suicide twice and was urged against not having any more children after being hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital after her fourth child. Never-the-least she gave birth to a fifth child and three months later she was hospitalized again twice and warned not to be left alone with her children.
However, one day she was left alone for only an hour and tragically drowned all five of her children. She’s currently committed to a high-security psychiatric hospital.
Miriam Carey was a 34 year old mother of a one year old little girl. She was a dental hygienist with plans on going to dental school. Last week she made the decision to drive from her home in Conneticut to Washington, D.C. Some reports say that she was mad with President Obama for listening to her phone conversations.
In any case, with her young daughter in tow, she drove to Capitol Hill, crashing into barricades around the White House, police cars and speeding recklessly down Pennsylvania Avenue before she was shot and killed by law enforcement after attempting to use her car as a weapon.
It’s unfortunate that Miriam Carey was shot and killed, especially with her one year old daughter in the car. After listening to her family talk on CNN last week talk about her struggles with postpartum psychosis and a family history of mental illness including schizophrenia, I wish something could have been done sooner although she was apparently taking medication for an unknown mental illness.
It’s possible that although her family knew she was having some mental problems, they didn’t know how severe they were or even what they were because she was most likely keeping them in the dark and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) keeps doctors and mental health professionals from being able to discuss a persons medical and mental issues with family members which helps explain why her family members and friends where all shocked that she was behaving so erratically and reckless especially with her daughter in the car. They were all shocked to learn that she had even driving to Washington, D.C. out of the blue.
They may have known she had issues, but never suspected that they were as severe as they turned out to be.
According to everything I have read as reported by her family members and her boyfriend, her main symptoms were paranoia and delusions. It’s a good chance that her mental health problems existed before she was pregnant and that her pregnancy exacerbated the condition and developed into postpartum psychosis.
For example, she could have been suffering from bipolar disorder or a mood disorder previously and possibly stopped taking her medication to prevent them from having side effects on the baby and then everything just snow balled out of control with the natural hormonal and mood changes that occur with pregnancy.
Many women who develop postpartum psychosis already have other underlying mental health issues
Her death however is not in vain as it helps bring attention to postpartum complications like “baby blues”, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis so that maybe more women who are suffering silently will speak out and reach out for help.
If you or someone you know is suffering from postpartum depression of any kind, have them speak with their doctor. For more information visit http://www.postpartum.net/ or call 1-800-944-4PDD.