How Writing The Truth About Motherhood Was The Ultimate Self-Care

Today’s Warrior Mom guest post comes from Sammie Prescott.

By Sammie Prescott

Before motherhood, I always thought self-care was about physical care, not mental. I pictured things like going to the salon, or taking a hot, silent bath. Back then, it really was amazing what a fresh coat of nail polish, and 10 minutes of Adele could do for the psyche.

Things became different after having a baby. A trip to the nail salon left me anxious, uptight, and nauseous. I had no time to take a bath, and I really didn’t want to sit in silence. As my mental illness reached its climax, silence was scary.

I knew I had to take care of myself, or I couldn’t take care of my son. But how? How does one practice self-care when your whole world revolves around a baby? I did the typical Pinterest search on “self-care for moms,” and came across suggestions such as “talk to a friend” or “go to an animal shelter.” My stomach curled. I didn’t want to be anywhere near other people. The very idea of stepping out of my comfort zone, or even putting on pants actually caused me to experience the deepest, soul-clenching panic one could imagine. So I sat with my infant, and let my depression and anxiety build into something massive. There were days when hours would slip by and I wouldn’t move. My heart was heavy, while my head was messy. The darkness pulled me in, but I let it. After a while, the drive to do anything was just gone.

As my life progressed, I decided — well, actually it was my husband who decided — that I needed something. One day, it came to me. I opened my laptop and just started writing. I poured out every emotion I could. I spared no shameful frustration, or dirty detail — and I mean dirty. I talked about the diapers, the vomit, the tears, and everything in between.

Here’s a passage I wrote during those days.

“Sometimes I use my feelings of total failure and anxiety to clean my house. I harness the evil for good, I suppose. I can’t always aggressively Swiffer, so when that doesn’t work, my mind runs wild. I argue with myself about how we will fix the scary things in our life, and how I will lose the weight. I worry about what dinner will be, and when the couch will get vacuumed.

Last night was one of those nights. I was worried, scared, and felt like I had truly failed. My group of mom friends had a rough day, and we took it out on one another. I feel like I failed as a friend. Tater wouldn’t stop crying, and I didn’t know why… another feeling of failure, and to top it all off, I forgot to cook dinner for B who was at work all day. That’s three “failures” on top of the others that loom over me.

I cried.

(I firmly believe that the universe is an amazing place, in which everything happens for a reason)

I looked up on my Facebook to see the post that said “I haven’t failed, I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” I laughed, said forget it! And proceeded to eat 400 Oreos and forget about my anxieties for a second.”

After writing just for myself for a while, I decided to share one of these informal essays with the ladies I had become close with on my Birth board. They all laughed, while encouraging me to share more. I love the feeling of making people laugh. It’s almost soul-cleansing, knowing that your words or actions can change a person’s mood. I felt like my essays were relatable. There was no “perfect parent” talk, or showing off. It was all about real moments in my everyday life. So every night, I carved out at least 30 minutes where I could spill everything I was feeling. The more I wrote, the better I felt. My light was finally lit again, after being out for so long. I enjoyed my quiet time, and sometimes I even wrote when my life wasn’t quiet at all.

I decided to further share my words by starting a blog. I told myself that even if no one reads it, at least this will make me feel OK.

With the blog started, I just let it flow. Every emotion poured out of me, in the snarky, humorous way that I spoke. The more and more readers I got, the crazier it all got. The feedback was warming my damaged soul. Even when the negative feedback came in, it still meant someone was taking the time out of their day to read what I wrote.

Now, two years later writing is my safe space. I was lucky enough to be given a writing prompt journal from my best friend. It’s filled with 300 questions, and space to answer them. They make me dig deep into my emotions, and sometimes they make me laugh. I also journal, for when writing a post, or filling in a prompt just aren’t doing it for me.

Self-care isn’t the same for everyone. You have to soul search to find out what works best for you. It may take a few tries, but never get discouraged. Practicing self-care has made me a better wife, a more patient mom, and truer version of myself.

Want to start writing as self-care? Here are my tips:

  • Find a space in your home where you can write consistently. This will be your grounding zone. It’s a bit of stability in the forever unstable battle that is mental illness.
  • Carve out at least 15 minutes a day to write. I usually sit down in my reading corner after my little person is fast asleep. Some days I need 15 minutes, some days I need an hour. You can start journaling (here’s my favorite journal), or if that isn’t your style, there are a wide variety of notebooks that come with writing prompts in them. You have to find what kind of writing works for you.
  • Get comfortable. Throw on those yoga pants, and wrap a soft blanket around you. I often light a candle as well. The smell of sugar cookies seems to clear the mind, and makes my bedroom smell less like toddler.
  • When it’s time for me to write, I sit down and enjoy a few minutes of quiet first. I let the day leave my mind so I can give my full heart into what I’m doing.
  • Finally, let your mind go. Write what you feel, and feel what you write. With prompt writing, I always take a few minutes to really read the prompt before I let the pen go. With journaling, it spills out like water. Hold nothing back.

A Message To Moms: Your Worth Is Not Measured In Ounces

A powerful Facebook post by new dad Kim Chen has been generating shares and support from around the world. Kim’s wife, Florence Leung, died by suicide last year after silently battling postpartum depression. In the post, he opened up Florence’s struggle, which included her feeling pressured to exclusively breastfeed.

Remember, there is no one-size-fits all story around whether moms should or shouldn’t breastfeed, and we must support all women in their choices. 

Today’s Warrior Mom guest post comes from Avery Furlong of Ogden, Utah. She writes about her own journey in feeding her child.   

By Avery Furlong

I can still remember the shrill cry of my brand new baby boy as I tried to get him to latch. It tugged at my heart, and made my eyes burn with tears of frustration.

“Come on, buddy!” He finally latched, but the pain that accompanied it was excruciating. I yanked him off and burst into tears. My husband quickly came in and took him from my arms as I ran to the bathroom. I slammed the door and sunk to the floor. I let the tears fall.

Everyone could breastfeed. Everyone. Right? That’s what I had read. That is what the nurses at the hospital said. Breast is best. It was supposed to be the most natural thing in the world. But I hated it. I straight-up hated breastfeeding. I had seen a lactation consultant who assured me everything looked fine. I asked friends for help, but nothing was working.

I hated feeding my own child. Wasn’t feeding supposed to be bonding? I dreaded being near him because I knew I would have to try to nurse him, and that meant an hour of both of us crying. I constantly thought about hurting myself or running away so I wouldn’t have to put my son, or myself, through such misery just to feed him. Not to mention my reoccurring mastitis. (Seven times. Seven. Times. I wouldn’t wish mastitis on my worst enemy.) It’s NOT supposed to be like this. What is wrong with me? What kind if mother am I if I can’t even give my son “the best”?

Completely desperate, I switched to exclusively pumping to eliminate the pain, but that made things even worse. I spent more time trying to squeeze out one more ounce than I did with my baby. I missed out on so much being attached to that pump. Especially sleep. Every time I fed him I was bitterly thinking about pumping for the next feeding and wishing I could just sleep instead. Those thoughts always turned into awful thoughts of ways that I could disappear so I wouldn’t have to keep doing this.

I finally thought I could confide in a few close friends about how miserable I was. It felt like a slap in the face when they looked at me and said, “Well, breast is best. It’s worth it.” As if it didn’t matter that I hated feeding my child so much I wouldn’t even look at him when I fed him. As if it didn’t matter that I was missing out on my baby because I was so stressed out about pumping enough ounces. As if it didn’t matter I was having suicidal thoughts as I fed my son. I felt the full pressure to give my son that liquid gold, even though it was slowly killing me. But it didn’t seem to matter, because “breast is best.”

I reached the darkest and scariest place I had ever been before I finally saw my doctor. On top of starting medication and therapy, my sweet doctor, who is a dear family friend and supported me through my difficult pregnancy, looked me right in the eyes and told me it was ok to stop pumping and attempting to nurse. He gently reminded me that formula does not equal failure.

The guilt ate at me as I prepared that first bottle. I worried he wouldn’t need me any more. I felt like giving him my milk, even though I hated it, was the only thing I was doing right. I wanted him to have the best.

And then I fed him the formula. His big blue eyes gazed up at me, and he smiled. He reached up and patted my face. And for once, I didn’t look away. I didn’t have the urge to hand him off to someone else. There were no negative thoughts about pumping or pain. I smiled back. I tickled his toes. I ran my fingers through his red hair and sang him my favorite lullaby. He giggled. It was the most peaceful, happy, truly bonding moment I had ever had with him. And it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t have to stay up and pump for the next feeding. Instead, I watched him sleep peacefully in my arms.

I am a firm believer that fed is best. Breastmilk is absolutely amazing. There is so much science behind that, and I won’t deny it. But formula gave us something that breastmilk couldn’t. It gave me my sanity back. Formula was best for us. No amount of breastmilk could ever replace me as a happy and healthy mother. He needed ME more than he needed my milk. Because I am “the best” for him. I am enough. You are enough. Your worth as a mother is not measured in ounces.

Today, that sweet boy is an extremely healthy, loving, active little boy. He is definitely a momma’s boy. Our bond is stronger than ever. Unless I told you, you’d never guess if he or his brother were formula fed or breastfed. To be honest, it doesn’t matter. They are both happy, healthy, and loved. And I am too. That is the best.

Birth Matters: A Collaborative Research Project Exploring Birth Trauma

trauma; traumatic

Editor’s note: Since our original publication of this piece on November 29th, we’ve received a lot of feedback about survey participants only being eligible if they’re six months postpartum or less. We know that often trauma and a diagnosis of PTSD come long after the six month mark, however we have to limit our eligibility criteria. The information collected from this survey will give us the evidence to do more work with more moms – and expand our criteria in the future. The deadline to participate is January 31, 2017.

The most humbling part of being a staff member at Postpartum Progress is meeting moms and hearing their stories. Whether a mom is newly diagnosed, or is recovered from a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder there is something special about being entrusted with her story.

The more I listen the more I notice common themes; many women tell me about events during pregnancy or birth they consider to be traumatic. These often contribute to their later diagnosis of postpartum depression, anxiety or another mental health concern.

One of most common issues that comes up is birth trauma. So many of our moms experience something traumatic that leaves them feeling scared and alone. And trauma doesn’t look the same for everyone.

Trauma can occur if your wants and needs are ignored and you are treated without respect. Poor communication from your doctor that leaves you uncertain about your health or that of your baby can be traumatic. Protracted labor, poor pain management, medical interventions, emergency c-section, a baby in distress, a stay in the NICU; any of these can be traumatic and each of us responds differently.

Because responses to childbirth can vary from very positive to negative and traumatic, Postpartum Progress is teaming up with Dr. Sharon Dekel from Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital to collect information about emotional responses to childbirth. We want to learn about different reactions to childbirth, why they happen, and what their long-term impacts to mom and baby are.

We want to survey as many women as possible, with all kinds of childbirth experiences – to find out what is the emotional impact of childbirth on women.  Our goal is to know how we can help women overcome their negative experiences and improve positive ones. This information can help to develop assessment and prevention tools for traumatic childbirth reactions.

No matter your birth experience, if you are at least 18 years old and have had a baby in the past six months can take our survey. It is completely anonymous and will take about 20 minutes to finish.

Together we can start to better understand and treat traumatic birth experiences.  Click here to find out more about the survey and to participate!  The deadline to participate is January 31, 2017.

Postpartum Progress Receives $15,000 as Part of the PCORI Pipeline to Proposal Program

Postpartum Progress Receives $15,000 as Part of the PCORI Pipeline to Proposal Program
We are excited to announce to our Warrior Mom community and all of our partners, friends and supporters that Postpartum Progress has received a Pipeline to Proposal funding contract from the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute! This contract will help us build stronger relationships with researchers and other stakeholders, all in the pursuit of conducting our own research about technology, peer support and maternal mental health.

This is a big deal. The Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute, or PCORI for short, is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that is authorized by Congress. Since 2010, they’ve provided over $1 billion dollars in funding to projects that are committed to involving patients in all aspects of the research process. Their mandate is to increase the quality and quantity of information available to patients and the public when making important decisions about their health care. Patients and their desired treatment options, outcomes and the impact of these factors on their families and communities are just some of the guiding principles of PCORI’s work. PCORI calls it “research done differently.”

So where does Postpartum Progress fit into all this? We’ve received $15,000 as part of the PCORI Pipeline to Proposal program. This tiered program gives organizations like ours the money necessary to start important conversations with researchers about issues that matter to us. Things like, “we know peer support is really important for moms recovering from PPD, so how can we improve access to it?” And, “what innovative ways can we use social media and other technology to build community for Warrior Moms – and then generate evidence that it works?!”

Here’s the best part. Not only are we connecting with researchers, we’re also involving our Warrior Moms. In fact, you’re the biggest part of our upcoming project! There is going to be an opportunity to not just participate, but to help guide the process and work alongside researchers, other Warrior Moms and staff at Postpartum Progress.  

Once we meet our project goals and have demonstrated success with our initial contract, there are more funding opportunities that will help us to continue building partnerships and engaging our moms. The goal is to create a formal research proposal that evaluates important aspects of peer support and our online community that YOU think are important and matter most. The research proposal will then be submitted to PCORI for review – and hopefully funding!

So many of us are left feeling isolated and alone during our PPD journey. We question our experience and wonder about our self-worth, our abilities as a mom and any impacts to our children. This funding is recognition that our lived experience matters. That our mental health matters. And that we can make a difference when it comes to improved treatment options.

Stay tuned for more information about our upcoming project and how you can get involved.