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Conversations with Elizabeth Stallone-Lowder

Today we’d like to introduce you to Elizabeth Stallone-Lowder.

Hi Elizabeth, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
As a trained trauma therapist, I knew how to help women in crisis. I’d worked closely with women affected by intimate partner violence and sexual assault since the mid-90, and I witnessed hundreds of women heal and feel more empowered due to talk therapy.

During this time in my career, I became pregnant for the first time, a pregnancy my husband and I were very excited about. Elation quickly became a debilitating illness as I was diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) around the 8-week mark. This under-researched, widely unknown pregnancy-related disease is commonly conflated with morning sickness – but it is much more serious. In addition to unrelenting nausea and vomiting, it also includes severe dehydration, weight loss, and inability to eat or drink. It can lead to organ failure and fetal and maternal death. With many medical interventions, my baby and I survived that ordeal after 32 weeks of pregnancy, a bout of preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome, and a two-week stay in the NICU.

Almost five years later, I had built the courage to add another member to our family. While battling HG a second time during a long period of bed rest, I realized what I needed in addition to my home health medical care and periodic ER visits, was trauma therapy! That’s why I founded Sage Tree Therapy in 2012, responding to my experiences with traumatic, high-risk pregnancies and two preemie births via emergency C-section and NICU stays. All of my clinical training in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) prepared me for the struggles 1 in 5 women will have postpartum.

Sage Tree Therapy specializes in working with women experiencing symptoms of PMAD, or perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. We also work with women in their homes who are on bedrest and can’t travel to an office and offer telehealth services to all of our clients. People experiencing fertility challenges, miscarriages, or even infant loss are welcome and taken care of in our practice. I want to support mothers and birthing or adoptive parents in any way they need because I get that parenting is HARD work. All moms deserve support even if they don’t have a diagnosable condition like postpartum depression. I want to help people struggling with general overwhelm with having a newborn (or a toddler, or school-age kiddo, or a tween/tween) and the moms who don’t feel like themselves anymore. Moms who have lost their sense of self feel consumed by hopelessness, irritability, or even rage. We know that therapy helps people recover from PMAD, and I’m committed to walking with fellow moms through it to the other side where they can find calm, comfort, and joy in their lives.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
One of the hardest things about working with moms and PMAD is the societal expectations we unfairly put on mothers, especially via social media. Pressure to be the “perfect mom,” and the thing is, being perfect-anything isn’t possible! Moms are inundated with curated images of sexy, put-together “boss babes” that have supposedly figured out the secret to balancing everything! Starting a business, having tons of babies and “getting their body back’ before maternity leave is over, having an amazing sex life with a partner, magically having a spic and span house 24/7, and going on epic vacations. What’s their secret?! Well, for starters, the secret is that NO ONE is nailing 100% of the things 100% of the time. Perfection is not possible! Before returning to work, we don’t need to have a freezer stash of breastmilk. We don’t need to get our bodies back after the baby. It never left. We still have our body and can feel proud about what it’s accomplished; we don’t need to refrain from asking for help managing everything; we can lower our standards of how clean our house can get and stay clean while we have children at home.

This pressure keeps moms from recognizing that their feelings and experiences are normal and that expecting help as a parent is acceptable. To not have to do everything by yourself or you’re not a good mom. When moms start therapy, they’re often conflicted about taking care of themselves versus their family, as if it’s an either/or scenario. I often remind moms that they can’t pour from an empty cup. We can’t give the care, attention, and love our family needs and deserve if we don’t ensure we’re taken care of first! So we do a lot of advocating for our clients to put themselves on the list of priorities and then gradually make their way to #1 on that list every day! It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. Not only are we modeling healthy self-care to our children who might grow up and become parents, but we’re also showing our kids that moms are people. We have needs just like anyone else. Needs for alone time to have fun, relax and connect with other adults. A well-rounded, well-self-cared parent is a good parent.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar, what can you tell them about what you do?
As the premier group practice based in St. Louis specializing in Mom Therapy, we’ve expanded our clinical services to include Missouri and Illinois statewide. We have advanced training in perinatal mental health, birth and pregnancy trauma, and infant and pregnancy grief and loss. Sage Tree Therapy serves women and birth parents affected by perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD).

These symptoms can include, but aren’t limited to:
Sleep and appetite changes, tearfulness, anxiety, depression, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, foggy brain, anger, and irritability, difficulty bonding with baby, and extreme worry about baby’s safety.

Risks to being diagnosed with a PMAD can include:
Family and personal history of mental illness, personal history of trauma, being a single parent, having a premature baby, high-risk pregnancy, issues with addiction, high-stress work or home environment, and low access to resources before, during, or after pregnancy.

Treatment is available, and PMAD conditions like postpartum depression, anxiety, and PTSD respond very well to treatment. People need to know that they can heal from these conditions but that they don’t go away on their own. Treatment is necessary with someone skilled in working with PMAD.

Where do you see things going in the next 5-10 years?
Awareness of PMAD and postpartum mental health is improving. Moms have been uniquely affected by the pandemic. We are often viewed as the ‘default parent’ and take off work more, quit our jobs more, and earn less money than our non-birthing counterparts due to the last two-plus years. Because of the emerging emphasis placed on mental health, I hope we see more moms signing up for therapy services. In addition, support for parents and families should be including more funding for childcare, paternity, and maternity leave that is paid and longer in duration. Universal insurance coverage for mental health services and more mental health services can fill in gaps between free peer-led support groups and inpatient psychiatric treatment. I think we’re learning as a society that when moms are doing well, their families do well.

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Image Credits
Holly Wentworth with Hapacity Marketing

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