Peer to Peer Support Proves Effective In Fighting Postpartum Depression

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phoneThose of us active in the PPD community have long hailed the benefit of peer to peer support when it comes to helping mothers combat postpartum depression and anxiety. Now a new study has been published which strengthens the claim that moms helping moms makes a difference.

The anecdotal study, “Quasi-experimental evaluation of a telephone-based peer support intervention for maternal depression” was conducted by nurses in New Brunswick, Canada and results were published this month in the Journal of Advanced Nursing. Participants received an average of 14 calls (364 minutes of phone time in total) from recovered mothers who underwent training to act as peer supporters. The researchers found that depression decreased by nearly half over the course of the study.

This study is interesting to me because the Internet is what I credit for my recovery from postpartum depression and anxiety after Joshua was born in 2009. We all knew I had a greater chance of depression, but for nearly a year I took my meds and did little else to cope. I found Twitter and #PPDChat and Postpartum Progress and suddenly I’d found my “tribe.” My climb out of darkness began and soon I was “back in the world.”

We were led by those who had survived and gradually we became survivors ourselves. Warrior moms.

Many of the women I found who helped me so much were in the trenches with me. Some of my dearest friends were fighting the same battle I was, and our friendships were born of shared experience in combat so to speak. We were fighting for our lives and our families and our children.

In this study, moms were aided by survivors, but, at least so far as we are aware, had no interactions with one another. And still the results were positive.

The researchers found “that some mothers need only one supportive call” to see improvement “likely due to reassurance they have someone to call who understands.”

When I think back to my early postpartum days with Joshua, I remember people bringing food and stopping by to coo over this new baby in my life. I remember people telling me I would “bounce back” and to “enjoy these moments.” But I don’t remember many people asking me how I was but not with that tone that says “no, really, how are you doing?”

That’s not to say that those in my life in the early days weren’t concerned, but many of them weren’t PPD survivors. And that’s really the crux of this study.

Contact with others, particularly with those who’ve “been there, done that” is critical for new moms with a predisposition to depression and anxiety. The simple act of a weekly phone call to check in helped new mothers feel less alone, less judged, and more supported, and as a result, lowered rates of postpartum depression and anxiety to a rate below the rate of the general population.

Just KNOWING someone was out there who understood made a difference. It also helped break down the stigma surrounding mental illness, and those of us working to improve the lives of mothers know the roadblock that stigma creates.

If you’re a survivor, someone who has made it through to the other side, I’d like to challenge you to pick up the phone when someone you know brings home a baby.

Reach out. Give the new moms in your life a call, regularly, and ask how they’re doing. Check in. Then check in again.

While the results of this study are small, not conclusive, and largely anecdotal, they are promising. Even though the study does not reveal what sort of training the peer counselors underwent, there’s enough evidence to suggest that peer to peer support, being an active listener and a non-judgmental presence, makes a difference and improves lives.

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Letourneau N., Secco L., Colpitts J., Aldous S., Stewart M. & Dennis C.-L. (2015) Quasi-experimental evaluation of a telephone-based peer support intervention for maternal depression. Journal of Advanced Nursing 00(0), 000000. doi: 10.1111/jan.12622

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Self Forgiveness in Healing

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scan0003Most of us have heard that forgiveness is a healing step toward recovery. When we read these words, we think of applying the act of forgiveness to the people in our lives. But do we think about the character most central to our lives, and our healing?

I’m talking about us. Me. Ourselves.

Do we offer the same compassion, grace, and forgiveness to ourselves that we work so hard to extend to others? I speak for myself, when I answer honestly, no.

Self forgiveness is bringing the healing act of forgiveness to ourselves and our lives. When we bring love and understanding to who we are, we begin to shed light on healing and recovery. But how can we feel love for ourselves when we hold the strongest barricade against that love – the false belief that we don’t deserve to be forgiven.

That feeling of well being, the peace that we crave, comes from deep within. It is comprised of understanding and compassion, and that includes ourselves as part of our world. With all of the dark and the light, the ups and the downs, the hills and the valleys, all of it makes up our life and who we are. We’ve got to be on our side, though, and not against ourselves, to see it.

Have you noticed, that just as in so many other areas, we fall short when it comes to us. We give our time to others, our love to others, our empathy and encouragement to others… but we neglect to give those very gifts right back to ourselves.

We promise unconditional love to those we cherish, and yet to ourselves we say, “Once you’re perfect, I will love you. When you are without error or fault, I will love you. Once you never disappoint, I will love you.” This sets up any possibility of loving ourselves as a conditional love. We are too beautiful and too amazing to accept that.

When I had postpartum depression with my first child, I blamed myself for feeling the way I did. I felt it was my fault that I had it, that my weak character, my inability to be strong, had brought on my postpartum depression. When I began therapy for my PPD, my therapist helped me realize that I did not cause my PPD. I couldn’t have predicted it or prevented it. And I needed to forgive myself for having it.

I held an illusion of myself, one of perfection, as the only canvas where I would apply acceptance to myself. I spent years angry at myself and ashamed by what I interpreted as not good enough parenting while I had postpartum depression. I was sad for what I judged myself as: an inferior parent to a beautiful child. My lack of forgiveness for myself was a shameful secret that I carried on top of the burden of blaming myself for my postpartum depression. The lack of empathy I had for myself and for the difficulty and challenge of what I was enduring during that time stood in my way of being able to understand what I had lived through.

At one time I found it difficult to confess what I believed about myself while in those dark days. That I had done things as a new mother that made me unforgivable. I didn’t smile at my baby, I didn’t laugh with him, I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t joyful. The pain from the honesty of knowing I had disappointed myself, hurt more than words can say. I didn’t give thought to how I was struggling, I only compared myself to those who were being the kind of mother I wanted to be, but wasn’t able to be.

Deep down, my fear was that if I forgave myself, then I was saying that what I remember being, was OK. And I didn’t want it to be OK, because I felt the guilt of not being perfect for my child. During one session, my therapist explained to me that my thoughts against self forgiveness were based on love for my child. It was my wish of what I wanted for him, that made me unable to forgive myself. This made sense to me. The realization that my therapist helped me reach was that as long as self forgiveness remained an intangible, I wouldn’t be able to make peace with that part of my life. My postpartum depression would always feel like a separate occurrence, a step out of who I was, rather than a part of my life and a path in my journey. It would always feel unresolved.

By seeing how much surviving postpartum depression has strengthened my belief in myself, and helped me be part of a community of strong, surviving women, I can appreciate and accept, postpartum depression as part of me, not separate. I don’t need to feel cut off from a part of who I am and I can extend love to all of me, not just the non-erring aspects.

I now see that when I was surviving postpartum depression, I was not a bad parent. I was not an inadequate mother, and I wasn’t unfit. I loved my child, and I fought to be who I wanted to be for him. This insight helps me accept my path, the things that brought me to who I am now and the mother I never gave up hope of being.

My postpartum depression is not something wrong that I did or brought upon myself. It is not a reflection of me or means that I failed. It is part of my life and my journey, but not my entire journey. I have come to let go of my guilt, my shame, and my blame, and now I am able to see what my only desire has always been: to be the mother I knew was there, somewhere, and one who would find her way back again.

Self forgiveness says ‘yes’ to the complete person that is me. I should be forgiven, I need to be forgiven. I did nothing wrong by having postpartum depression, and I did more things right than I allowed myself to remember. I am not the sum of my imperfections or perfections, or stellar care or struggling care. I am the person that I love, the one who is still standing and the one who has finally heard the words she needed to say to herself. It wasn’t your fault, I forgive you.

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Dear PPD & Gang — A Poem About Surviving Postpartum Depression

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The Postpartum Progress Private Forum is a special place. Hundreds of moms come together online, day in and day out, to support one another through their battles with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. The conversations there are uplifting and full of hope. Recently, a mom on our forum shared a beautiful poem with us and we’d like to share it with all of you too. Enjoy!

Dear PPD and gang,

I don’t know and can’t understand why,
You chose me, the wrong guy.
I am so numb, I can not even cry,
You sucked out of me all my energy supply.

You are a monster, there is no match to you,
You accompany me wherever I go and whatever I do.
You stole my mind, and my soul too,
My nest you ripped apart through and through.

You robbed so much from all I hold so precious and dear,
Abandoned me from all whom I love and care.
You tortured me mercilessly with your terror and fear,
You left me alone with pain so impossible to bear.

You have beaten me to the core,
The little spirit from my heart you tore.
I am choking, I can not survive anymore.
This nightmare is impossible to endure.

But as powerful and strong you think you can be,
I am stronger than you regard me.
And when I say I give up it’s YOU talking PPD,
So I will show you at last I will be free.

You won the battle but I won the war,
I am stronger than you ever before.
Do not dare show up anymore
Because you will not win, I am a brave warrior!

~ By Warrior Mom, Kathy Davis

privateforum

If you’re struggling with postpartum depression or a related illness, consider joining our private forum by clicking here. It’s free, and you can choose to remain anonymous if you’d like. We hope you’ll join us. Because together we are stronger.

 

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Connecting is Just the Beginning: How Blogging and Online Community Supported Me Through PPD

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Cover of The Digital MystiqueToday’s guest post is an excerpt from The Digital Mystique: How the Culture of Connectivity Can Empower Your Life—Online and Off by Sarah Granger.

The summer of 2005 found me in a distressing place. I was on vacation in London with my husband—and was six months pregnant with my daughter—when I started experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions. It wasn’t the first hiccup of the pregnancy. I’d had a mild hemorrhage during the first trimester. Fortunately, after an uncomfortable flight, we made it home to California.

The contractions continued the following week, more than four an hour, so I went to the hospital to be examined. Driving there, every possible worst-case scenario ran through my head. What if I gave birth early? What if my baby couldn’t breathe on her own? The doctors confirmed the early contractions, but I was sent home with medication, destined for bed rest. I had cut back on clients as a digital media strategist due to the early hemorrhage that had led to an earlier bed rest during the first trimester, so I found myself in an unusual position of having nothing to do except lie on the couch and worry. Luckily, I had grown up with computers, so my first reaction was to go online.

With my laptop resting on my swelling belly, I clicked away, seeking answers to my questions and comfort for my concerns. What is the difference between Braxton-Hicks contractions and the “real” ones? How do new mothers cope with raising preemies? I found myself on the March of Dimes website, exploring their “Share Your Story” community, a place where pregnant women and new parents blogged about their experiences with early contractions and/or preterm labor as well as premature births.

As I read these blogs by other women like me, I felt an immediate connection. It was as if I were suddenly reunited with long-lost friends. I felt at home, no longer alone on my couch. And although I spent a lot of time feeling fearful of the unknown, crying over the stories some women shared of babies they had lost and some who overcame incredible odds, it still felt better to be in the virtual company of others who understood my concerns. As the weeks passed, I celebrated completing each week with these women, and I edged closer to a safe delivery date. When they were sad, I commented on their blogs with encouraging words. When I shared my fears, they lifted me up. I became a part of this very real, very necessary community online.

Once I reached 37 weeks I relaxed a bit, knowing that my daughter was in the safe zone and that my pregnancy was now considered full-term. I looked forward to giving birth so I could get up off the couch and figure out a new normal as a parent. Little did I know what I was yet to face. My daughter was born two weeks late, and I suffered complications during delivery that injured some major pelvic nerves, causing excruciating pain. So instead of jumping off the computer and into motherhood, I sank into a serious depression. I was unable to sit without feeling like I was on a bed of nails or stand without feeling like there was an anvil in my abdomen. This left me dejected, scared, and even more alone than before while attempting to care for my newborn daughter.

The blog that I had assumed I would easily abandon became a new source of comfort. Because those women knew and understood pain and loss, I didn’t have to hide what I was going through like I did when I spoke with people in my offline life. (Let’s face it— most people just wanted to see photos of my new baby and hear about how happy I was to be a new mother.) Somehow, it was easier to be myself, knowing there was no professional connection that might suffer or personal friend I might alienate.

During the first year of my daughter’s life, I was in so much pain I couldn’t even stand up long enough to wait four minutes for the toaster to toast a piece of bread. It was too painful to walk from the kitchen to the living room couch, so I often opted to lie on the floor. I’ll never forget how humbling it was to lie there, eyes closed, imagining I was somewhere other than my kitchen floor.

So again, in order to have an outlet away from my physical pain, I turned to blogging. A new blog had just launched where I live called The Silicon Valley Moms Blog. I thought, Hey, I’m a mom in Silicon Valley. I’ve blogged before. Why not give it a try? I started slowly, gradually writing about parenting, Silicon Valley culture, daily life, whatever seemed to fit the blog. Then as I became more comfortable, I began writing on other topics like the arts, technology, politics, whatever interested me.

I found my voice as a blogger. The blog was my outlet, allowing me to focus my mind away from the pain. I started my own blog at Sairy.com, based on a nickname a friend had given me in high school (now migrated to sarahgranger.com). Eventually, I started another pseudonymous blog about pudendal neuralgia, the diagnosis I received for my nerve injuries and pelvic pain. I didn’t post there often, but I shared what I could about what I was going through with all of the various treatments I tried that failed and how I persevered onto the next.

I slowly began healing from what would become a long-term chronic pain condition— but the progress was incredibly slow. For each day of a normal person’s recovery from pregnancy, it took me a year to cover the same territory. As my daughter grew into a toddler, I began blogging for more sites and resuming my work advising organizations on how the Internet and social media could help them. I gained momentum blogging for a few of these organizations and for The Huffington Post, and I became involved in the BlogHer blogging network. I made friends, and I found a renewed purpose.

Excerpted from The Digital Mystique: How the Culture of Connectivity Can Empower Your Life—Online and Off by Sarah Granger. Available from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2014.

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