Discovering Ways to Cope with the Here and Now

Posted by Katie Moriarty on May 04, 2020
Spoiler Alert: This post discusses events in Season 9 Episode 6.
Ctm s9 06 001 katie blog
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author.
“Some seeds are more predictable than others. We plant them and they send up shoots. We water them and then we watch them grow. They reward us with abundance, with joy, with pleasure in the rhythms of life itself. Water them and they will flourish. Nurture them and they will thrive. Love and light and rain and air are all they need.”

As a midwife I reflected on the storyline of Warren and the unbelievable sense of loss with the loss of a baby. As a midwife we are blessed to be witness to joy, birth, hope and the unfolding of family’s right in front of us. We are blessed to travel along as individuals navigate their path in life. We get to share in family successes throughout the years: sometimes continuing to care for them throughout their lives and other times via ongoing friendships, telephone calls, letters, shared pictures, or even social media friendships. When a family experiences a loss as intense as this family loss of their baby—it is unbelievably hard and the sorrow stays with them but it also is in our memories as well throughout the years.

I was so struck by the Bryant family’s ability to live in this one intense moment by embracing what they did have… they celebrated the now. They celebrated what they had -- which was today. The joys of being together, sharing food, pictures, embracing life—for as long or as fleeting as it is was.

As a Modern Day midwife in the midst of COVID-19, times are difficult as we have to rethink how to share our joys and our struggles and even our grief. This past week I have read of crowded house parties in Chicago, police having to break up mourners from a crowded funeral in New York City, and the suicide of a committed Emergency Room physician. Many are feeling stretched to the limits and struggling with how to cope with sadness, despair and trauma. I think of the families and individuals that are experiencing major stresses and true grief and they are struggling as they cannot do this in the same ways that we have been accustomed to.

This past week I attended a fabulous online seminar that focused on trauma—I wanted to attend this to help my students if they are struggling with their learning. In the seminar they reviewed the physiological impact from experiencing traumatic events. These events can be conscious but also unconscious as well. Currently many feel very helpless—and that can in itself feel traumatic. Our body processes things; we feel; our brain filters things; our brain interprets things; and then we act or our body acts. When we feel a threat, we go into survival mode. So for some, they are experiencing fatigue, reduced concentration, decreased mood, increased stress hormones, panic attacks, depression, self-destructive behaviors, insomnia hopelessness -- all things our entire mind, body and spirit have to make adaptations to.

The seminar talked about the different parts of the brain—the cortex (thinking – the rational part of the brain), the limbic system (feeling, emotional part of the brain), and the brain stem (breathing—survival part of the brain). When we lack information and during times when things feel uncertain our brain really shifts from the thinking (pre-frontal cortex) to the feeling/ emotional part of the brain –our limbic system along with the autonomic nervous system.

So as we sense this danger our rational brain (pre-frontal cortex) struggles—we have less attention, less memory power, less ability to make decisions; our emotional brain (limbic system- which has structures which deal with emotions and memory and regulates autonomic or endocrine function (hormones) in response to our emotional stimuli—also struggles. Within the limbic system there are four main parts: the hypothalamus (deals with learning and memory significance), the amygdala (deals with emotional significance), the thalamus (is the gateway), and the hippocampus (hormone regulation). With all this stress our emotional brain experiences a decrease in the hypothalamus being able to work (learning and memory) and an increase in the amygdala (an increase in stress response); our survival part of the brain kicks in and people can feel increased stress reactions (increased heart rate, blood pressure, breathing is racing).

With the outbreak of COVID-19, people are experiencing stress. There are many different ways that people respond, and it is normal that many experience a range of emotions (including fear, anxiety, and grief). It is very important that people have accurate information about COVID-19. We need to put our trust in science. There are also strategies for coping that can be an effective way to manage stress and connect with others.

We have seen evidence through neuro-imaging studies a documentation that people experience calming in their limbic structures following things such as soothing music, prayer and meditation, mindful breathing, yoga, and exercise. It may be helpful to take breaks from the news, focus on the facts, connect with others (virtually or by maintaining social distancing), make time to unwind, set goals and priorities, take care of your body. Check in on each other and if you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others, the following resources are available (see below for resources). There is help and there is hope.

“Flowers take many forms- each one has its story and its roots. Each one unfurls from its bulb where it’s grown - revealing itself and all its promise - as it will. Each is entirely precious and unique. Each is the best and the only. Each will linger in the mind. Each will teach us what it is to love, to be torn, to nurture, and to let go. Not every garden blooms as we expected. Despite our care not every child can thrive. Tears take the place of rain and the sunshine fails us but the buds however delicate were perfect. They were real and their fleeting scent will live forever on the air.”

RESOURCES

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

National Institute of Mental Health

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

From the NIMH | Sharable resources on coping with COVID-19

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Get Another Take: Recommended Call the Midwife Recaps 
From Thirteen.org | The British Tele Dish
From WTTW Chicago | The Playlist Blog
From NPT Nashville | The Vanderbilt University School of Nursing Recap
From WETA Washington | The Tele Visions Blog
From WGBH Boston | Watch Drama After Darkor Read the weekly recap

About the Author

Katie Moriarty, PhD, CNM, CAFCI, FACNM, RN is a professor on faculty at Frontier Nursing University and a Certified Nurse-Midwife with WSUPG CNM Service at Hutzel Women’s Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. Katie serves on the Board of Directors for the American College of Nurse-Midwives as the Region IV Representative. Previously she was the Associate Director of the Nurse-Midwifery Education Program at the University of Michigan.