Jennifer Marshall

I married my college sweetheart at 24 and we have two fun-loving, energetic kids. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 in 2006, I had to navigate my pregnancies while managing my mental illness. I write at bipolarmomlife.com to share my experiences with others so they realize that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

You Are Never Alone

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Lesley after having her second daughter

When I first became depressed and anxious after my oldest daughter was born four years ago, I kept it bottled up inside – but its devastating effects on me were all too visible anyway. I wasn’t eating, couldn’t sleep, was mute and crying at the smallest instigation – and I thought I was all alone. Forever.

The first time I felt not alone, despite having been surrounded by family since my daughter was born, was a few weeks in when my husband said, “I think you need to see someone.” I nodded silently with tears streaming down my cheeks as I rocked in our glider while feeding Rebecca, one of the many tasks I apathetically completed during that time. I suddenly felt like perhaps he understood that something going on inside my brain was not right, and felt it start to shift the slightest bit.

Finding my therapist was the next step out of the lonely dark. During our first phone conversation, she made a point to let me know that nothing I had said to her was something she hadn’t heard before. That immediately had an impact – I wasn’t the first person to not be flooded with love for their baby? I wasn’t the first person to not want to take care of their baby? I wasn’t the first person to cry at and feel paralyzed by every parenting decision I had to make? Yet another small mental shift occurred.

After she diagnosed me and while I waited for my medicine to kick in, I found Postpartum Progress. The patient forum. The blog. The symptom list that sounded exactly like what I was experiencing. And while still alone in my apartment, I knew I wasn’t alone anymore. These moms were putting words to the exact feelings in my heart and thoughts in my head, and even more importantly? They were better. They were Warrior Moms, and now I was one too, fighting the battle against my own maternal mental health. That was the biggest shift of all. Until now.

This past weekend, I met more than 100 of these moms in Boston at the Warrior Mom Conference. I hugged them in real life. I talked with women who had the same symptoms I did, some who suffered more devastating setbacks than me, and some who recovered more quickly than I am. Each conversation that we had, at a table during a meal or just in the hallway in passing was loaded with love, light and understanding. There was so much healing going on in the St. Botolph Club that there was no room for judgement – not that any of us is in the position to judge another anyway.

Women nodded with each other as they divulged memories and cried. Tissue boxes were passed up and down rows of seats and emptied quickly. Hugs were handed out freely. The ripple effects of cathartic panel discussions, a group therapy session and small support groups could be felt constantly – and amid the sniffles and blowing of – ahem – Warrior Snot (to be trademarked soon), laughter also prevailed. Smiles were present almost constantly, as personal burdens were shed and women emerged lighter, happier and more whole. The power of this support was undeniable.

The closed Facebook group for Warrior Mom Conference attendees has been a special place since it was created. Attendees chimed in to share excitement, sign up for different parts of the Conference, transfer tickets as needed and more for months. As a virtual pre-conference icebreaker, many of us created introduction videos telling our stories, allowing us to put voices to each others’ profile pictures. And in the days leading up to the event, the group was a buzzing hive of activity where we shared anxiety, excitement, memes and fashion tips. I wasn’t sure what would happen to the Facebook group after the Conference, but – it has only gotten busier. The healing that began last weekend is continuing as we speak, through the power of support.

None of us are alone – a fact we knew as soon as we found Postpartum Progress, and we know beyond a shadow of a doubt now. So despite how lonely any person suffering may feel, know that there is an entire family of Warrior Moms armed with love, light and understanding, just waiting to welcome you – to help you through this tunnel and out the other side – and to support you the entire way. As a Warrior Mom, let me make it abundantly clear – you are NEVER alone.

Lesley & family

*****

Lesley NeadelLesley Neadel is a blogger and freelance writer living in Hoboken, NJ. A mother of Rebecca, 4 ½, and Lila, 10 months, her mission is to give women the most real sense of what pregnancy and motherhood are like – the good, the bad, and the downright nasty. She has written about her struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety, how she’s changed since meeting her husband, her adventures in attempting to breastfeed and how she feels about her babies growing up (HOORAY!). Her raw, honest and often humorous writing has been featured on Yahoo! Parenting, GoodHousekeeping.com, Redbook.com, and MommyPlayZone.com. She blogs at www.RealLifeRealLaughter.com.

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Warrior Mom Conference Re-cap

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This past weekend, over 100 Warrior Moms from around the world gathered in Boston for the first ever patient-centered conference on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. To call it a success would be a massive understatement. We didn’t want it to end.

Postpartum Progress’ #WarriorMomCon was ground-breaking and centered on connection, education, support, and healing. Women who had once struggled with being able to simply get out of bed came together with fiery, sparkly, joyous passion. We were united in our intense desire to collectively raise our voices. Being there this weekend was our way of telling the world that perinatal mental health issues are REAL and we want to do our part to raise awareness in our communities.

Warrior Moms gather at the Lenox Hotel before the start of the conference

An informal gathering on Friday evening was the start of all the excitement, as Warrior Moms began arriving in Boston. We introduced ourselves, hugged, and the conversations started flowing. You could feel the buzz of fierce energy in the air.

Katherine Stone opens #WarriorMomCon

Katherine Stone opens #WarriorMomCon

On Saturday morning, the conference got underway. Founder and Warrior-Mom-In-Chief, Katherine Stone, kicked us off with an inspiring keynote emphasizing how Postpartum Progress exists because of the dedication and drive of her tribe, Warrior Moms all over the world. She stressed that she may have founded Postpartum Progress, but it wouldn’t be the powerhouse life-changing non-profit organization that it is today without our commitment to the mission of increasing maternal mental illness awareness and providing peer support.

The first panel entitled Educate & Empower: Panel and Moderated Discussion on Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders was filled with eye-opening information on just how many women are affected each year by postpartum depression and anxiety disorders, and how the term “postpartum” isn’t even completely accurate given that 60% of these conditions occur during the “antepartum” period – or during pregnancy.

from left to right: Dr. Ruta Nonacs, Mara Acel-Green, Peggy Kaufman, and Dr. Lekeisha Sumner

Take-aways during the first session:

  • Dr. Ruta Nonacs, Psychiatrist, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School: “PPD is preventable if we can identify the women who are at the greatest risk.”
  • Mara Acel-Green, Founder, Strong Roots Counseling: “Postpartum Depression can happen even when a child is adopted. PPD occurs in approximately 20-25% of adoptive moms.”
  • Dr. Lekeisha Sumner, Clinical Psychologist quoted Maya Angelou: “As soon as the healing takes place, go out and heal.”
  • Peggy Kaufman, Director of The Center for Early Relationship Support at Jewish Family & Children’s Service: “Say the word JOY. It’s very powerful.”

We broke for lunch into small groups, and then met back up for an afternoon full of inspiring knowledge sharing.

Kate Kripke, LCSW presents

Kate Kripke, LCSW presents

 

During her “Thriving After PMAD” session, Kate Kripke, LCSW, Founder, Postpartum Wellness Center of Boulder shared tips and exercises for thriving after a postpartum mood disorder. My favorite quote from Kate’s beautiful session: “Give yourself permission to love yourself.”

 

 

 

Divya Kumar presents on privilege

Divya Kumar presents on privilege

Our final speaker of the day was Divya Kumar, Sc.M., CLC, PPD, Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center. Divya’s presentation focused on teaching us how to reach underserved moms and families in our local communities and how privilege can limit our perspectives and advocacy. My biggest lesson learned: “Don’t make assumptions. Be conscious of privilege.”

We finished up the day with Self-Care workshops where we learned the importance of self-care and how there are endless options for taking time to pamper yourself. Adult coloring books, knitting/crocheting, massage, yoga/pilates/meditation, walking, talking with friends – online via Twitter chats and other social media or in-person, and the list goes on.

Warrior Mom self-care: adult coloring!

Warrior Mom self-care: adult coloring!

The evening ended on a high note: the Warrior Mom Celebration Dinner. It was spectacular.

Instagram photo by @jzb2

Instagram photo by @jzb2

Day 2 started with a panel discussion around “Raising Awareness Online” moderated by Katherine Stone and featuring Jill Krause of Baby Rabies, Morgan Shanahan of the818.com, both leading professional bloggers who have written openly and honestly about their experiences with postpartum mood disorders. They were joined by Jennifer Labit, the founder of Cotton Babies, the official sponsor of the Warrior Mom Conference. It was an empowering and engaging session on how to amplify your impact online.

from left to right: Morgan Shanahan, Jill Krause, Jenn Labit, Katherine Stone

The conference wrapped up with a final session presented by MotherWoman’s passionate Founder Annette Cycon and Program Director, Liz Friedman. After sharing their own experiences with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, Annette and Liz led the group in a guided meditation followed by their support group guidelines. We then broke into small sharing circles where were were able to share our own stories and experience peer-to-peer support and healing.

Instagram photo by @danielle.nelson

Instagram photo by @danielle.nelson

Seven years ago I experienced postpartum psychosis after my first child was born, and five years ago I suffered from antenatal psychosis during my second pregnancy. Those were some of the most isolating and terrifying times of my life. I found Postpartum Progress after I had begun my recovery journey, and I am eternally grateful the blog existed when I stumbled across it. If I wouldn’t have had maternal mental illness, I may never have found Katherine Stone & Postpartum Progress, and might not have met this incredible community. My Warrior Mom friendships are the gift of light born out of my darkest moments and I will treasure them always.

One in seven women will experience a postpartum mental illness {postpartum/antepartum depression, anxiety, ocd, psychosis}. Chances are, if you haven’t gone through it yourself, someone close to you has or will in the future. Postpartum Progress is here to help, every step of the way. Share this video and it’s message. We can conquer postpartum mental health disorders together. We are warrior moms.

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Mental Illness Didn’t Crush My Dream of a Family

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3347120739_0d840078faPhoto Credit: carf via Compfight cc

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder after experiencing two manic episodes in the same month, each requiring hospitalization. At the time I was devastated and felt as though my dream of having a family had been shattered.

I knew I wanted to be a mom from a young age. I adored babysitting and loved being in charge. In my mind I’d meet the man of my dreams in college, we’d get married soon after, and when the time was right, we’d start a family.

In reality, that all did happen, with one exception.

I met the love of my life while in college. We dated for four years before he proposed. At 24, we said our vows in front of family and friends, promising to love each other in sickness and in health. Little did we know sickness wasn’t far off. We’d have just over two years of health before mental illness knocked the wind out of our nearly perfect love story.

Madness struck me before I’d even had the chance to decide that I was ready to try for a baby. My diagnosis of bipolar disorder left me wondering if I’d ever be healthy enough to be a mother. A year went by as I struggled to keep my chin above water, my depression pulling me deeper and deeper into the ocean of despair. I felt like I had nothing to live for.

My husband and parents fought hard for me. I saw countless psychiatrists, and even a noted doctor from NIMH (National Institute for Mental Health) who told me, as I sobbed in his office with my husband by my side, that I could still have children if I wanted. It was possible, he said. And staying on medication under doctor’s supervision would be a good idea.

After a year of intense suffering, I couldn’t take it any longer and finally agreed to try a medication my doctor had been recommending. It took several months for me to feel the full effects, and for my old, up-beat personality to begin to reemerge. My husband and I took things one day at a time, and when the weeks added up to a full year of stability, the year of hell began to fade into the shadows of our minds. Thoughts of pregnancy began to fill my head, and all of a sudden I was pleasantly distracted from my illness.

I’d accomplish my dream of having a family; it was so close I could taste it.

Looking back now, with two healthy kids and six years of parenting behind me, sure, I’d do things a little differently.

I was medication-free for my first pregnancy and although I did fine and had no symptoms of my bipolar disorder during the 40-weeks, the same can’t be said for the four weeks after my son was born. Postpartum psychosis ripped me from my newborn but I was fortunate it only took a week in the psych ward to return me to my family. In hindsight, part of the problem was the pressure I put on myself to be a “perfect” mom to my new baby. Maybe if I wouldn’t have been so insistent on breastfeeding, I wouldn’t have gotten sick. Maybe if I would have let family help more with the night feedings, my mind wouldn’t have lost control of itself.

Lessons learned, I agreed to do things differently the second time around. I thought I had all the proper precautions in place. I did my research and decided that since the medication I took had the greatest risk to the fetus during the first trimester, I’d work with my doctor to taper off the med once I got a positive pregnancy test. The plan was to go back on the med in the second trimester and remain on it for the duration of the pregnancy.

Unfortunately, the exciting news of the two little pink lines sent me into a manic episode after a week-long battle with elated insomnia. I spent five days in the psych ward at five weeks pregnant battling the most severe mania I’d ever endured. The doctors brought me back from my break in reality with powerful anti-psychotic drugs and I feared I might lose my baby.

Recovery from that most recent hospitalization in April of 2010 was the most difficult. I worked closely with my doctors and my baby girl was thankfully born completely healthy. My postpartum period with her was drastically different than that of my first child, due to the plan I had put in place before she was born. We formula-fed from the start, since breastfeeding wasn’t an option anyway due to my meds. Knowing she’d be a bottle-fed baby from the moment I became pregnant made it easier to get past the sadness over not being able to breastfeed.

Since my husband and I knew that lack of sleep was my number one trigger, he did the middle-of-the-night feedings in her first few months which allowed me to get a solid chunk of quality sleep. We even had my sister-in-law stay with us for the first two weeks since she was home on a break from her job at the time, and she took the night shift. Sleep was still a challenge in those first few months, but luckily she was a great sleeper and we made it through.

One thing is certain: I didn’t let mental illness rob me of my dream of a family. My family is everything to me.

Parenting is no easy task. Throw in mental illness to manage, and it can get intense. Intense, but not impossible. There are resources out there, there is support out there. My kids are worth it all, no doubt about it. I share my story – our story, really – so that other women out there can find hope.

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Perinatal Mental Health Hero

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Perinatal Mental Health Hero

I recently was introduced to a Labor & Delivery nurse who is making a huge impact on the state of perinatal mental health care pathways. I could feel the passion come through in her voice as we spoke a few weeks ago on the phone for nearly two hours about what she was doing to raise awareness and increase access to quality care in our local area (Washington, DC metro area) for women who desperately need it.

I asked Kisha to share her story in a few paragraphs, and this is what she sent me to share with you:

“I grew up in the small southern town of Crowley, Louisiana. After graduating High School, I enlisted in the Coast Guard to see the world. I was stationed in Hawaii for 3 years at a small boat station, then became a USCG Dental Technician Petty Officer 3rd Class. My final duty station was at the Department of Transportation in Washington, DC. Prior to leaving the USCG, I became a Massage Therapist. It was during my 5 year stint as a Massage Therapist, that I rediscovered my heart for nursing. I graduated college, became a Registered Nurse, and a mom at 30 years old. After working as a Mother-Baby and Pediatric RN, I took a chance on Labor & Delivery and found my niche in nursing!  Eight years later, I am still working as a full-time night shift L&D RN.

Being a Labor & Delivery RN is one of the most exhilarating & frustrating experiences. Over the years, I have gained invaluable frontline skills, instincts, and knowledge about calming a woman’s fear in the throes of labor and empowering her to embrace motherhood. I am proud of these abilities and love sharing the birth experience with women and their families, but in all honesty the realization of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) prevalence among mothers and its detrimental impact on families has dramatically shifted my perception and purpose. My heart breaks knowing that over 8 years and countless births, 1 in 7 of those pregnant women and new mothers that I cared for inevitably went home suffering in silence from a PMAD. Maybe some of them already knew they were high risk and had support in place, but for many they went home with an infant and the expectation that their mental health was secondary in motherhood. As I continue to bear witness to the subtle shifts that seem ‘normal’ after childbirth (lack of sleep, lack of self-care, lack of support) that directly contributes to this needless suffering, I have found my life’s work is to destigmatize PMADs, while alleviating the unnecessary suffering of these women and their families.

As a frontline nurse, I believe that we as a profession are key to a long overdue paradigm shift in perinatal mental health. We are well-positioned and equipped to assess the mental health of pregnant women and mothers in the acute care setting, provide them with the first aid emotional support they need, and connect them to the appropriate perinatal mental healthcare providers and resources in their community.”Kisha Semenuk is a mama to two young boys. And as a night shift nurse who recently obtained her Masters of Science in Nursing, Kisha completed her Nursing Capstone Project on the knowledge gap she identified when researching perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and effective postpartum depression screening using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) among frontline perinatal care providers (OBs,Perinatal RNs, & Mother-Baby RNs).Through her deeper research, Kisha became acutely aware that as a frontline RN she was bearing witness to the silent suffering of so many women and families. Nothing was being done about it on the frontline and Kisha wanted to take action to make lifesaving changes.

She began actively networking with frontline OBs and built a team of fellow perinatal mental health champions who helped her to compile and organize an online resource which will allow women and their families to easily locate specialized, local professionals, support groups and treatment facilities. This resource will be kept at the fingertips of frontline nurses who are often the first healthcare professional to recognize the emergence of a perinatal mood disorder.Kisha’s mission with the DMV (DC-Maryland-VA) Perinatal Mental Health Resource Guide is to develop, disseminate, and maintain a comprehensive, up-to-date, regional directory of specialized mental health providers, support groups, advocacy organizations, and other relevant clinical resources pertaining to perinatal mental health. This directory will assist providers, patients, and their families with obtaining specialized mental health evaluation and treatment during pregnancy and postpartum.

How amazing would it be if we could create a guide like this for every city in our country? I am so energized and extremely appreciative of all the blood, sweat and tears she has poured into this project and I cannot wait to see it take off and bring help and relief to so many families who in the past did not know where to turn.

I applaud Kisha’s dedication and drive for instituting change in an area all of us here at Postpartum Progress care deeply about.

{The DC-MD-VA (DMV) Perinatal Mental Health (PMH) Resource Guide is launching online by November 1 and is a result of an ongoing collaboration between the DMV PMH Resource Guide Team and existing DMV-based PMH Professionals and Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) survivor support network. Team members include: Kisha Semenuk, L&D RN and MSN; Aimee Danielson, Director of MedStar’s Georgetown University Hospital Women’s Mental Health Program; Lynne McIntyre, the Mid-Atlantic Postpartum Support International Coordinator/Mary’s Center Maternal Mental Health Program Coordinator; Helen Conway, Psychology Major (C’15) Summer Intern; and Dina Karellas, L&D RN and Nurse Informatics Graduate Student; in addition to Adrienne Griffen, Founder of Postpartum Support Virginia (PSVa), and Nadia Monroe, Founder of Postpartum Support Maryland (PSMd).}

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