1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? I am first and foremost Wife of OJ (not Simpson) and Mom to Braxton (15 ½ ), Tre (15), Colton (13), Brody (11), Kennedy (8), and Sydney (4). In my “spare time” (ha!) I’m also a Clinical Psychologist in Private Practice specializing in Perinatal Emotional Health, Parenting, Women’s Emotions Across the Lifespan, and Grief/Loss, and I run a weekly Pregnancy & Postpartum Adjustment group too. I’m the Founder/President of the AZ Postpartum Wellness Coalition (Est. 2005) and a Posptartum Support International (PSI) co-coordinator for Arizona. I’m also a frequent speaker and educator, and the Producer of the Postpartum Couples DVD. Most recently, I am a blogger for my new website, www.drchristinahibbert.com, and an author working my tail off to get my first book, This is How We Grow, published soon! Oh, and I’m also a singer-songwriter when I get the chanceJ.
2. When did you decide you wanted to become a psychologist and focus on mental health related to childbearing? I knew I wanted to become a psychologist my sophomore year of college, after my 8 year-old sister died. I went through a couple months of counseling that really helped me through my grief. I also had this amazing Intro to Psych teacher that semester who was a mom, a professor, and had a private practice. She inspired me to believe I could do the same.
It wasn’t until I had graduated with my Bachelor’s, was married, and had my first son that I knew I wanted to go back to school to focus my doctoral studies on perinatal mental health. (see next answer for more)
3. How did you first learn about postpartum depression? I had always wanted to be a mother, so when we found out I was pregnant I was ecstatic. But after a tricky birth and plenty of sleep deprivation, I was floored by postpartum depression. My husband and I lived with my Mom and Dad, on their living room floor for several weeks as I tried to find help for whatever was happening to me. My OB just sent me a pamphlet on “The Baby Blues;” others said, “Oh, it’s nothing. You’re just tired.” All I wanted was for someone to recognize what I was feeling was real and to tell me, “Yeah. I felt that way too.”
Two and a half years later, when my second son was born, I was prepared (or so I thought). I’d researched postpartum depression and I had a plan, but it was still a huge challenge for me and I still had no outside support (though my husband was great). I started grad school when that baby was 4 months and my oldest was 3 and that’s when I found Jane Honikman and Postpartum Support International (PSI). I started volunteering with PSI in 2000. I took every course I could on perinatal mood disorders and read every book. Then I did my dissertation on “Postpartum Mood Disorders: The Couple’s Experience,” and produced the Postpartum Couples DVD along with it.
I graduated with my Psy.D. on a Sunday, gave birth to our first baby girl the next Sunday, and moved home to Arizona the next Friday. Being an “expert” on Perinatal Mental Health at that point did help: I was very well connected and had incredible supports in place. But it didn’t prevent my third experience with postpartum depression and anxiety; it only made it a little easier to get through. (I might have also had PPD with my fourth baby, but considering I’d just inherited two kids weeks before giving birth, it was tough to say what was what! See below for more details).
4. What helped you overcome your own experience with postpartum depression? 1) Allowing practical help when people offered (help with kids, home, etc) and letting go of the idea that I had to do it all on my own.
2) Recognizing the importance of sleep! I know now that when I am too tired I simply cannot be nice. I learned to prioritize sleep by taking naps or letting my husband help in the night so I could occasionally sleep through—I’ve even gone away to a hotel for a night just to sleep!
3) Reaching out for emotional support from others who understand and have “been there”. Though there wasn’t a warmline around when I had my babies, I learned to call on friends, family, colleagues and other PSI volunteers just to talk and feel supported. (That’s one reason I’m very proud of our AZ warmline I co-founded in 2003 that is still going strong! Now no one in AZ needs to feel alone like I did!)
4) Being real about it helps too. Learning to let go of unrealistic expectations is huge and saved me from so much unnecessary suffering! It was important for me to understand and really believe that having PPD didn’t make me a “bad” mom or any kind of mom—it was simply an illness that was preventing me from feeling like the kind of mom I wanted to be (and actually was), like clouds preventing me from seeing the sun on a rainy day. It helped me learn to give myself credit for all I was doing and who I was becoming through those difficult experiences with PPD.
5. What do you think is the best way of educating others about mental illness related to childbearing? Talk about it. To your friends, family, doctors, women at the park and the grocery store. Talk away! For too long it’s been a “secret,” something women and families have felt ashamed of, something they’ve felt afraid to admit. But the more we talk, the more we can accept that perinatal mental illness is real, not our fault, and doesn’t mean anything about who we are. Speaking up shows others that it’s ok (and even better) to be open about how we’re feeling, for this allows us to seek help and feel better so much sooner.
And we need to not only talk to moms. We must talk to dads and other family members and not only because dads can have PPD too, but more so because this is a familial disease—it affects all parties involved with mom and baby.
Of course, providers need to talk about it too. In medical and mental health practices this discussion needs to become a routine part of the childbearing experience. “Describe your emotional health” should be part of every intake form and monthly perinatal visit at doctors’ offices, and “Tell me about your childbearing experience” should be part of every mental health intake form and counseling session with new moms (and dads!).
If every mother, father, friend, grandparent, doctor, nurse, counselor, lactation consultant, (you get my drift) routinely discussed perinatal mental illness with pregnant and postpartum families, imagine what difference that would make!
6. What message would you like to share with mothers and families facing mental illness related to childbearing? I really believe in the PSI message and wish every mother, father, and family could not only hear it but believe it: You are not alone. You are not to blame. With help, you will be well.
I would also tell them, as a multiple PPD survivor and now a mom of older kids and teenagers (who are bigger than I am!) that it’s all worth it. All the heartache and suffering and hard work to get well is absolutely worth it. You will have years upon years to enjoy your kiddos, but you have to let yourself seek out whatever help you need to get well first.
And for those who are finally feeling “better,” I would add, don’t just get better. Choose to become even better than better by growing through PPD. I don’t say this to put any pressure on—quite the opposite. I say this as a message of hope that there is so much joy in you to uncover if you will let yourself work to uncover it. I certainly never dreamed up the life I am now living, thanks to the detour handed me by PPD. But choosing to grow through the difficult experiences I’ve been given has made all the difference. Who knows where your PPD experience will one day take you!
7. How has your professional experience/expertise helped you in your own life? One reason I was drawn to psychology is because everything I learn can be applied in my own life. I am passionate about becoming the best I can be and then helping others do the same, so I guess you could say my professional experiences help me each and every day as I overcome, become, and flourish in my own life.
But the most profound time when my professional experiences have helped me have been the years after my sister and brother-in-law died in 2007, when we inherited my nephews and had a baby, going from three to six kids in just three weeks. Here I was, an “expert” on Postpartum and Women’s Emotional Health, Parenting, and & Grief and Loss, faced with putting together a new family through grief and loss while “postpartum” myself. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how we are each prepared for the challenging circumstances that come our way. I was definitely prepared to put this family together. It’s been an indescribable journey for all of us, but the boys are now adopted and we have not only overcome our trials, we are flourishing! (You can read about my experiences in my upcoming book, This is How We Grow).
8. What are your top 3 tips for maintaining positive emotional health?
1) Take good care of your body through sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Good physical health is the foundation for your emotional well-being.
2) Learn all you can (through books, therapy, classes, etc) about how to overcome your personal emotional health challenges. Do you struggle with depression, anxiety, low sense of self-worth, or something else? Seek out wisdom and practical tools that you can use to overcome whatever seeks to bring you down.
3) Don’t stop at overcoming. Focus on who you wish to become. Create a vision for your life and who you desire to be. Fill your mind and heart with all the good things you desire, including healthy thoughts and emotions. Remember, only you can create the life you envision, so don’t wait around for it to be created for you. Get out there and build it yourself. This is the path to emotional health and, even more so, the path to flourishing!
(Can you tell my tagline is “Overcoming, becoming, flourishing”?!)
9. I understand you are sometimes called the “singing psychologist” so, in your opinion, how does music play a role in one’s emotional health? Personally, music is huge for my emotional health. When I am writing a song, singing, or playing the guitar or piano, I know I am emotionally well, for music lights me up. It fills me with creative energy that carries throughout my day.
I know not everyone creates or plays music, but listening to music can have a similar effect on our emotional health, for music can create emotion in us. Listening to uplifting music brings a smile to our faces. Listening to sad music can bring us to tears. We can use music to change our mood or to keep us stuck in a mood. Music speaks to us in a language that is quick and deep, and reaches a place that is often hard for us to reach—our soul.
So when your soul needs a lift, put on uplifting music. When you need to know you’re not alone, put on a song that sings straight to you. Avoid filling yourself with music that is contrary to who you are working to be, and instead fill yourself with music that helps you create the emotional well-being you desire. It’s a fabulous tool!
10. How can readers follow-up with you and is there any other information you would like to share? I would love for readers to join me and my community of “Really Great People” on my website, www.drchristinahibbert.com, where they can subscribe to my blog, use the resources provided, and connect with me personally too. I would also love to connect on Facebook (www.facebook.com/drchibbert), Twitter (@DrCHibbert), Pinterest (Christina Hibbert), or Goodreads (Dr. Christina Hibbert).
Thank you, Jennifer, for all the incredible work you are doing to help our perinatal families! I appreciate you having me as your guest.
I would love to end with one of my favorite quotes by Karen Kaiser Clark and a question to take with you and ponder:
“Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely.” What will your choice be?
The interview questions are prepared by Jennifer Moyer for her website/blog and answers are published on her website, www.jennifermoyer.com, with permission from Christina Hibbert, Psy.D.
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