Breathe, Mama

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is from a Warrior Mom who endured a traumatic childhood and wants other moms to know they don’t have to end up like their own parents. When you feel triggered, you can choose how to react. You can choose to breathe. -Jenna]

Breathe, Mama

I see you. I see you milling thru another day as someone’s mom. A little human being’s teacher, his guide thru this world.

Maybe you’re pushing a fire truck around with your son and pretending to put out a fire. Maybe you’re changing a diaper and making a funny face at your child as you wipe their bottom for the 17293728th time.

Maybe you’re just going thru the motions while your mind processes something completely different: another time, another place, another child.

Growing up in an abusive household, you often don’t realize that your life is not the norm. You are accustomed to being hit, cut down, bullied, taken advantage of, etc. You begin to brick up your heart and your emotions. You build your wall and before you know it, no one can hurt you. No one can get to you.

The tears become less about being sad and more of an automatic, robotic even, reaction. The yelling becomes less about making a point and more about survival.

Maybe you’re like me: You grow up, move out and in from your childhood, you get married, and you start your own big girl life. You’re in love, and you don’t care who knows it!

Along with marriage comes highs and lows. Though the highs may carry you thru the lows, you enjoy them with discretion, because history has taught you that behind every joy, animosity lurks not far.

“Don’t get too happy,” your subconscious reminds you. “This peace of mind is not what we do!” So you get used to feeling most of the way happy, but never letting yourself 100% feel it.

Then you meet the human that has been growing in your body for nine months (or maybe you adopted, but either way, you’re a mama now.) Then that wall, it begins to sway, like a hurricane is beating down on one side of it. Now you’re a little scared.

What is this sorcery? Excuse me, little bald person, but who are you to waltz in and take over my thoughts like this? Wall demolished. Gone.

Fast forward a few years. The little bald person has turned into a slightly taller, slightly hairier person and today, he wakes up in a mood. Nothing you mention does he want for breakfast. He doesn’t want to get dressed. He refuses to brush his teeth. You hand him a toy and he throws it at you.

You feel your gears starting grind. That feeling of beginning to lose your cool.

Logically, you know that you are trying to reason with a toddler. But at this point, you have learned that logic and toddler do not belong in the same sentence. That toy he hurled at you earlier? That you calmly picked up and handed back to him four times? Here it comes again. This time, your blood boils.

It’s time for limits to be set and bad habits to start being curbed. But then… you freeze.

You see your face in your child’s face. You’re both scared. He, because he can sense that you’re upset. You, because you remember the feeling of being trapped. You break down and cry while your child comforts you and pats your shoulder.

“Why am I crying?!,” you wonder.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll feel it. You are terrified of becoming what you once feared.

This is where you breathe.

You are a compassionate, feeling, caring, nurturing woman. You lived that chapter. It’s over. You lived that book. It’s over. Time for the sequel.

Breathe in your child’s adoration of his mother. Breathe out your self-doubt. Breathe in the freedom of loving and raising your child to be a kind human being. Breathe out the unkindness and animosity of your childhood.

Breathe, mama. You are not your parents. You are not your abusers. You are not them.

~A.S.

I Am a Survivor?

[Editor’s Note: Parts of this post may be triggering as this Warrior Mom and survivor mentions suicide and names some moms who did not survive postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Please read only if you are in a safe place. You are not alone. You can be a survivor, too. -Jenna]

I Am a Survivor?

I balked the first time my therapist used the term “survivor” when referring to me.

Yes, I had been through a horrible illness. I had lost weight and sleep and the basic enjoyment of life. I had been tormented by recurrent and horrible images of my son being injured or killed in random acts of violence.

I had barely left my home in six months, had not trusted anyone else to care for my boy, and yet, paradoxically, had also been unable to take him into the wide, cruel world. I had postpartum anxiety disorder and postpartum OCD.

Indeed, I had endured plenty—but was I a “survivor”? 

No, the label didn’t seem right. Survivors walk away from plane crashes or flash floods. Survivors beat cancer. Survivors escape from domestic abuse. “Survivor” didn’t seem like the proper way to describe what I had been through.

Time passed and, as I slowly recovered, I became an outspoken advocate for maternal mental health. I attended trainings and conferences, read books and journals, changed careers, and even started a support group. I became a state coordinator for Postpartum Support International (PSI), and I joined the board of a local nonprofit called Postpartum Education and Support.

Even with all of that professional exposure, I still had a hard time identifying as a survivor. A mother, wife, daughter, advocate, doula, yes. But survivor?  It still didn’t feel right.

The turning point for me came in June, at our local Climb Out of the Darkness event. I self-consciously wore the “SURVIVOR” sticker that was passed to me. At the time, the country was reeling from the Orlando shooting, and I felt especially uneasy identifying myself as a survivor. 

As a group, we listened to a message from Katherine Stone read tearfully by the organizers and then had a moving invocation. Emotions ran high as we waited for the walk to begin. I found myself standing next to an older couple named Anne and Mark. Most of the attendees were young families so they stood out. I introduced myself and we began chatting. I asked what brought them to The Climb and Anne responded,

“Oh, I work with Leslie (one of the organizers) and, well, I knew Jackie. She didn’t survive.”  

For a split second, I didn’t understand what she was telling me. Then it hit me. Anne knew someone who had taken her own life while struggling with a postpartum mood disorder.

Jackie was a woman just like me. She wanted to be a mother more than anything, but then felt like she had totally lost herself after the birth of her son. Jackie developed the most severe and rarest form of postpartum mood disorder: postpartum psychosis. We both sought treatment and both fought to get better. We both had very strong support from our family and friends. Yet, I survived and Jackie did not.    

I felt like I had been punched in the gut and all the unease I had felt about being a survivor dissipated in a moment. Why hadn’t this hit me before? I knew that suicide was a real risk of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. In fact, suicide is the number one cause of death for women in the first year postpartum.  

Of course I am a survivor. I survived a terrible illness that sucks the joy and will to live from your very soul. I survived night after night of staying awake to watch my son sleep because I was afraid he would die if I closed my eyes. I survived the images that played through my mind on a gruesome loop.

I did survive, yet so many others do not.

Annie Imlay-Spangler,
Sarah Walker Judson,
Jennifer Lynne Knarr,
Cynthia Wachenheim,
Aimee Ziegler,
Emily Cook Dyches,
Sasha Lewis Hettich,
Allison Goldstein,
Melanie Blocker-Stokes,
Casandra Ashley Vaughan Perkins, and
Jackie

These women didn’t survive, and I did. Calling myself anything other than a survivor would be an insult to their memory. 

If you are struggling, please reach out for help.

Join the other Warrior Moms at Postpartum Progress. You are not alone. Connecting with others is a powerful tool in your recovery.

Find your local PSI coordinator. They will help you find support groups, therapists, and doctors in your area. You can also access Postpartum Progress’ lists of specialists and support groups, or reach out to them via Facebook.

You will be a survivor, too.  

~Carrie Banks

Connecting Black Moms with Black Mental Health Providers

Connecting Black Moms with Black Mental Health Providers

The Problem

Postpartum mood and anxiety disorder symptoms don’t discriminate against some of the most vulnerable groups in our society. The social and environmental inequalities leave Black mothers struggling with access to care, support, and kindness while also facing rhorrific systemic racial hurtles.

We know that Black women and women of color are less likely to be believed when they report symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. We also know that their symptoms are more likely to also be passed off as other illnesses. We find this unacceptable.

The Facts

The facts are that more women will suffer from postpartum depression and related illnesses this year than the combined number of new cases for men and women of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy. Of those women, around 25% are in low income areas and report symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety.

Black mothers tend to trend higher in the “low income” category because of the way systemic racism has impacted poverty. The racial and ethnic difference that peer-reviewed evidence shows us requires that we make changes to how Black women and women of color are receiving care.

Our Investment in a Solution

The evidence is troubling. The Postpartum Progress mission includes ALL women and for that reason we have established strategic goals around addressing the very vulnerable women who are not being served by a discriminating system.

Most recently we have created tools to empower women of color.

We created the Black/African New Mom Checklist.
We created the Hispanic New Mom Checklist.

In addition to these checklists, we have also compiled a list of 100 Black Providers as a resource for Black women. Being seen and heard without the roadblocks of judgement and bias are important in obtaining recovery for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

Often the racial differences between client and provider can make an already difficult process even more difficult. All of these providers are also women, because we believe in the unique power and ability for women to help one another. Our hope is that this list provides another layer of support for Black women on their journey to recover from postpartum depression and anxiety.

How EMDR Therapy Helped Postpartum Me

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from a Warrior Mom who employed EMDR Therapy in order to process her postpartum depression and anxiety. EMDR is one of eight types of psychotherapy for postpartum depression treatment. We’re thankful she shared her experience for others considering this option. -Jenna]

How EMDR Therapy Helped Postpartum Me

I thought I had digested it, processed it, was done with it.

I wasn’t.

Here I was, sitting in my EMDR therapist‘s office, discussing my postpartum depression and anxiety days almost ten years later. With each question asked, I delved deeper into my past, isolating that one biggest moment I knew something was wrong.

I was currently analyzing the ER at my hospital.

Buzzers gently vibrated my right hand, then my left. I was being trained to reprocess this memory. A memory I thought I had processed many years ago.

The ER was bleak, bare, suffocating. It was a small room with beige walls filled with grey fabric chairs with black plastic arms and legs. The carpet was grey too. There was no natural light except for the front doors. I was seated facing forward with the doors on my left.

The chaos around me was shut out by my mind. Random worries played Pong in my head as I tried hard to keep up with all of them. If I wasn’t pacing the floor, I was rocking back and forth in the chair next to my mother.

I hated this woman, this woman I had become. I spent years trying to remove myself from her. I was a failure, a disgrace. Mothering should not have been an occupation given to me as I was clearly failing with that too. I was ashamed.

I couldn’t care for my daughter; I couldn’t even stand to be around her. I hated her and because of that, I deeply despised myself.

How quickly I went from admiring this beautiful baby of mine to cringing at any sound she made. Looking at her adorable face just deepened the hate I had for myself. I removed myself, becoming robotic, between vomiting and crying fits, when taking care of her.

Here I was, in the ER, exactly one month after she was born.

My therapist had thought it a good idea to reprocess this moment. He believed that my postpartum depression and anxiety were connected to the recent events of fostering a special needs toddler and ultimately succumbing to the evil grips of Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety again after having to give him back.

I failed once again at motherhood. I couldn’t balance his needs, my daughter’s needs, and taking care of myself.

Once again, like all those years ago, it seemed as if Postpartum Me was returning. I was dry-heaving every morning and most afternoons and evenings. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating. I was obsessively worrying about his care and overlooking my daughter’s.

I broke and wound up in the ER once again. I had come full circle.

As I sat with the buzzers going off in my hands that day in therapy, I truly began to think about that day, all those years ago, in the ER. Staring at my Postpartum self as I was now, I deeply looked at her.

She was a mess but she would get better. My therapist told me to go with tha,t which was him basically saying to continue with that thought. Present Day Me knelt down beside Postpartum Me. I took her hands in mine and looked into her eyes. She, still rocking back and forth, was focused on a floral print picture on the wall directly in front of her.

“It’s okay,” I told her, “I know because I have been there. You will get better. I did.”

With that, Postpartum Me stopped rocking back and forth and focused her eyes on mine. Present Day Me was crying. Ten years and I finally had compassion for myself. It was freeing in so many ways. Not only was I able to fully reprocess my Postpartum years, but in turn, because of that, I had processed my Post-Foster years.

EMDR therapy saved me. It gave me the compassion I needed for myself. The compassion I give to so many others, I was now able to give to me.

~Stephanie Trzyna