Finding the Good After a Loss to Suicide

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Our community feels a little lost, a little angry, a little unsettled right now in light of the loss of a mama to postpartum depression. We’ve been talking about it and how the loss to suicide of Sasha Hettich has affected us on our Facebook page, so I thought perhaps we didn’t need a post here on the blog.

But as I’ve watched things unfold, online and off, in the wake of this loss, I’ve seen some beautiful things happen. If you’re not looking at the whole picture, it’s easy to miss the beauty in the ashes, so I thought I’d share how I’m finding the good after this loss to suicide by postpartum depression.

Finding the Good After a Loss to Suicide -postpartumprogress.com

Finding the Good

1. Sasha Hettich’s husband speaks beautifully and breaks stigma.

If you haven’t yet watched the video of Cody Hettich, Sasha’s husband, speaking out about the need to break the stigmas of mental illness, you need to do so now.

Less than a week after the loss of his wife, he chose to speak out, to share the truth about what mothers and families need as a mom battles postpartum depression. What they don’t need, of course, is the stigma of people saying depressed women don’t need to have children. What they do need is support, love, compassion, caring. And yes, sometimes it’s not enough; a woman gets lost in the darkness and can’t find the light. But Cody’s choice to share their story, their truth, only means that more women will know about available support, will know that they can and should ask for help. It means more dads might better recognize the signs and symptoms in their own partners before it’s too late.

2. The Warrior Mom community is pulling together.

In the wake of this loss, we’ve seen thousands of women pull together. A milk drive was created in order to provide breast milk for Baby Gus who is five months old. A GoFundMe was started to provide for the family and currently (as of writing) sits at over $12,000. Women who never met Sasha but know the horrors of living with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders banded together to do what they could, to support how they could.

I’ve also watched our Warrior Moms combat stigma on Facebook when judgmental people leave unnecessary comments full of misguided information and uninformed opinion. They’ve shared how stigma hurts moms, how it’s not always easy to seek care due to fear of treatment or lack of resources in their area. They’ve fought the fight against misinformation and a lack of compassion. They’ve done so well; I feel so proud of each and every one of them.

Additionally, I’ve watched as Warrior Moms surrounded other Warrior Moms who felt deeply triggered, hurt, scared, and confused by this loss in our community. They’ve encouraged each other to practice self-care. I watched as one mom invited another to a postpartum depression support group, and was moved to tears by the compassion I saw as they reached for each other. I’ve seen mamas lift each other up, share their stories, and love on one another in ways that these mothers truly needed to get through this time. It’s felt encouraging to witness.

3. The more we talk about suicide, the more we support each other.

Even in mental health safe spaces like Postpartum Progress, we tend to shy away from talking about suicide too much. It feels too big to tackle sometimes. No one really wants to go there out of fear or triggering another mama. Sometimes moms fear that by discussing suicide, even with their therapists, they’ll be classified as suicidal and thus risk losing their kids.

But being honest about suicidal thinking—what it looks like, when it happens, what to do about it—is important. It’s important because you don’t have to live with those thoughts. You deserve freedom from those thoughts, and the first step in getting free from them is admitting that they exist. It’s scary to admit to your therapist you have those thoughts when they ask, but it will help you.

And yet…

We recognize none of the good we seek after this loss will bring Sasha back. We would give up all this good to have her back. It feels like a personal blow to each of us, and we realize how much more devastating her loss must feel for those who knew and loved her personally. To them we extend our love, our sympathy, our condolences, our thoughts and prayers. Please know that during this dark time, we are here for you as well.

If this suicide has left you feeling vulnerable we encourage you to reach out to your support system, be it your partner, best friend, family member, or therapist. You can also read our post, Facing the Loss of a Loved One to Suicide. If you feel like you want to talk to one of us, feel free to contact us via our Facebook page. We also strongly encourage you to check out our private forum at Smart Patients where you can talk to other moms in a protected venue about your fears and feelings.

Lastly, if you are having suicidal thoughts or considering suicide, please go to your local emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255. But know this: You are not alone.

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Postpartum Depression Stigma Persists Even In Federal Government

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Postpartum Depression Stigma Still Exists, Even in the Federal Government -postpartumprogress.com
Update: We did hear back from the Office of Women’s Health quite quickly and they apologized for the tweet even though it didn’t come from their office. They assured us that they are fully supportive of moms with perinatal mental illness and that they don’t support stigmatizing language. They’re looking into where the tweet came from and why. We really appreciated the positive and sincere conversation about this. 

Someone told a mom in the Postpartum Progress community the other day that there is no longer any stigma when it comes to postpartum depression. We’re talking about it. We’re doing things about it. Moms need to realize that the stigma has abated! This mom reached out to me because she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The person who had said that in her presence was a person in a position of leadership, a person with a lot of knowledge about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. A person who should have known better.

Here at Postpartum Progress we talk to moms from around the US and around the world every day. We know how much the stigma of postpartum depression and related illnesses persists. And worse, we know how much that stigma scares moms and makes them afraid to reach out for the treatment that can help them.

Today I was fortunate to be part of a Twitter chat with the March of Dimes focusing on postpartum depression in NICU moms. Imagine my surprise when a chat that was supposed to help raise awareness and provide support to mothers ended up creating stigma.

Someone officially representing the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, tweeted the following: “In the United States, postpartum depression is one of the leading causes of murder of children less than one year of age.”

I was stunned. I took a screen capture of the tweet, because I was convinced no one would believe me that a statement like that would be made. It’s not correct. It’s unbelievably stigmatizing. And it came from people responsible for health in our own government. People who should definitely know better.

Tweet from @HHS_OASHRegion2 at 1:32 PM EST on 11/18/15 -postpartumprogress.com
So let’s talk for a minute about perinatal mental health and real information about infanticide. If you are a mom who is sensitive right now, I would suggest not reading any further because data about babies and tragedy can be really hard to deal with when you’re struggling.

Okay? Trigger warning commenced. Okay. 

According to the National Center for Vital Statistics, here are the top 10 leading causes of death of children from 0 to age 1 in the year 2013 (none of these, you’ll notice, is homicide):

  1. Birth defects (congenital anomalies)
  2. Short gestation
  3. Maternal pregnancy complications
  4. SIDS
  5. Unintentional injury
  6. Placenta & cord issues
  7. Bacterial sepsis
  8. Respiratory distress
  9. Circulatory system disease
  10. Neonatal hemorrhage

According to the CDC, there were 23,440 deaths of children between the ages of 0 and 1 in 2013. Their data shows that a total of 282 of those 2013 deaths were homicides, but the data doesn’t drill down any further to offer information about who the perpetrator of the crimes may have been. If you read the infanticide report from Child Trends, a nonprofit nonpartisan research center, however, studies suggest that male caretakers are the perpetrators of the majority of infant homicides.

We can’t ignore, of course, that there is a 4% infanticide rate for women who experience postpartum psychosis. Postpartum psychosis occurs in approximately 1 in 1,000 mothers. Postpartum depression, on the other hand, occurs in 1 in 7 mothers. Thankfully infanticide due to psychosis is rare. It is a very serious illness that can lead a mom to suffer from delusions and/or hallucinations that may lead her to do things she would never otherwise do. This is why it’s so important that we take good care of these moms and that they get the professional medical care they need and deserve… something that is not happening in a lot of places.

Moms with postpartum depression are not likely to harm their kids. That’s the truth. But the fear that they will, or could, is one of the things that makes them afraid to reach out for help. This is what makes them keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves, rather than tell another person. This is why that tweet matters. Because we want women who are struggling to reach out as soon as possible. The sooner they get help the sooner they get better, and that has a big positive impact on both mom’s and baby’s health.

The tweet has since been taken down. That’s important, and we’re glad. It’s a start. But just taking it down doesn’t address what led someone in Health & Human Services to think it was correct and should be shared in the first place. How do we as a community make sure that there is a better understanding of the facts of maternal mental health, and a better understanding of and how to communicate with moms that postpartum depression is common and that it’s important to get help? As the executive director of Postpartum Progress, I have reached out to the Office of Women’s Health and asked them to call us back. We know we can have a really great conversation together. We’ll let you all know what happens next.

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The Dignity of Every Recovery Path

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[Editor’s note: This guest post had me giddy from the very first sentence. I too, have always related to Perkins-Gilman’s story, The Yellow Wallpaper, even before I became a mother. After experiencing my own maternal mental health challenges, I discovered that Gilman’s authorship of this story and her determination to speak up about the deficiencies in her own treatment actually caused her physician to change his mind about how women who fought “hysteria,” as it was called back in her day, should be treated. You see? Gilman is a Warrior Mama, just like all of us.

I love the message of this guest post and I know you will too. Go forth and read!]


There’s a story called The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It was written over a hundred years ago about a woman suffering from exhaustion. She was locked in a room, all by herself, and she quite obviously started to go mad.

I guess I’ve always related to the narrator of that story because I’ve suffered from mood disorders for most of my life, most notably after the birth of my daughter.

When I got pregnant with my first daughter, I decided to go off of the medications that I had been on for years. I was lucky because while I was pregnant I was also working full time and was quite busy. I had a lot of distractions, and I had a lot to keep my mind occupied. I was able to function with therapy but no medications.

And then one day I gave birth. It was beautiful and life changing and miraculous and breathtaking.  It was the full of human experience distilled and brought to light in a single moment.

I was a mom.

I was different.

The world was different.

We brought home that little bundle, and we loved her with every ounce of our beings. After enduring years of infertility, I finally had my little girl. My family could ride off into the sunset of our happily ever after.

Except that’s not how it went. At all.

I spent half the time with her in her bouncy seat facing away from me because I didn’t want her to see her mother sobbing. I stopped talking to most people because conversations just left me feeling empty—like I was skeleton talking to a real person. I couldn’t leave our house. The sunlight was too much. Too much of a contrast between what was in my head and what was out there in the world.

We sat inside of our house with all of the curtains closed for months. I gave her every ounce of my being. It took everything I had to sing to her and rock her and read to her and cuddle her. But that was all of me. That was all I had. When she would sleep, I would retreat into nothingness. I had no hope. I had no belief that a future existed. All I had was panic and despair.

Finally one day through sobs and dizzying thoughts, I realized this wasn’t working. I contacted my therapist and asked for an opinion about medication. Within seconds he responded that he thought it was a good idea, and a day later I had a prescription to fill.

Life didn’t instantly get better. I went on a new medication and it made me near manic. It was scary. But then I found one that worked, and with the support of my husband and a daily habit of journaling and very close contact with a therapist, I climbed my way out.

I share this story out of a desire to spread hope, but I also share it to inspire acceptance: Acceptance of every woman’s right to choose her own path to recovery.

I share this story out of a desire to spread hope, but I also share it to inspire acceptance- Acceptance of every woman's right to choose her own path to recovery. -postpartumprogress.com

As I started the piece with, centuries went by where treatments for mood disorders were forced on women by men who couldn’t have understood women’s issues less. We were locked away and our brains were drilled into and we were burned at the stakes.

Now, however, we live in an era where there are actual, legitimate treatments. They won’t eradicate depression, and there’s no one right drug or combination for every woman, but they are out there, and they can make a difference.

My concern is that while we live in a time with more effective options, I’m not sure we live in a time that is more kind or is more accepting of women’s different circumstances. Nearly daily, I read an article or hear a speaker who will say the medications are okay in some circumstances. Or medications are okay short term. Or medications are not necessary because I did XYZ and it worked incredibly well.

Whenever I find myself listening to those stories, I find myself cheering for the authors, genuinely grateful that they have been able to find their cure, but I also find my heart breaking for those women out there who are still suffering. Women who have been offered medications, who might desperately want to try them, but who might feel the sting of the stigma.

There are millions of women in this world and many of us will suffer from a mood disorder at some point. We are all complex, full, vibrant, unique human beings. Our suffering might appear the same, but it can be caused by so many factors. My hope is that we are able to come together and erase the stigma that surrounds antidepressants. That we no longer label them as the purview of the weak. That we no longer see them only as a last ditch effort to be tried when our lives are on the brink of destruction.

So take your meds. Or exercise. Or do yoga. Or stand on your head in the middle of a field of daisies if it will help you. Learn your body. Learn your mind. Make up your mind. And let’s lead ourselves into a future where every choice will be respected, even those that come from a prescription pad.


Mandy

Amanda Knapp is a stay at home mom and a writer who has been published on Psych Central, Mothering, and her own blog, Indisposable Mama.

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Birth Trauma: Coping with Triggers

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karin

The following is a guest post written by Karin Beschen, a Warrior Mom living in Iowa with her husband and two sons.  

She works as a psychotherapist, specializing in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

 

This morning I walked outside to grab the newspaper and felt the distinct autumn chill. It’s the same chill that has always made me smile because it’s paired with cozy sweaters, hot apple cider and football. Then I took a breath. It wasn’t a breath of warm memories; it was suddenly a breath of fear and panic – an inhale that has become a familiar blend of sinking and stinging through my whole body.
“I’m okay.  I’m safe.”
It’s been years since my son’s traumatic birth, but every first scent of the season nearly sends me to my knees. I have done a tremendous amount of work with the trauma, yet my journey continues to be scattered with these triggers – these “rocks” on my path of healing. Rocks that I kick, boulders that I avoid and pebbles that I hold lovingly in my hand.

Early on, the triggers were overwhelming. My mind easily fell back to my son’s birth and related events and it was difficult – sometimes impossible – to be in the present moment. I was fearful of what I may see, smell, feel or hear that would begin the flood of thoughts and images. Some triggers were more evident and I could prepare for them and work through them fairly quickly.  Other triggers were spontaneous and seemed to have the most power behind them. These were the times when it felt like someone put a fresh set of batteries in my mind – everything felt brighter, sharper, louder … scarier.

People tend to think triggers are negative things – obvious things from the trauma. Many of my triggers were items or experiences I had previously associated with happiness or pleasure – seeing pregnancy, a baby aisle at the store or maternity clothing. Post-birth these things would jolt me and they became a source of avoidance and aversion.  They symbolized a tremendous amount of loss and disappointment. They reminded me how everything changed from calm to chaos in a handful of minutes.

Coping with Triggers

It’s impossible to completely avoid triggers, so it’s important to learn how to cope with them. There are numerous effective, healthy strategies for managing triggers of post-traumatic stress (and can be valuable with any perinatal emotional distress).

The list below outlines a few ideas for lessening the impact of triggers. I’ve found them especially helpful because they can be used in a variety of environments, even when my son was napping in my arms.

Finding Presence: Grounding exercises are a way to connect with the present moment. They help by easing out of the distressing thoughts and becoming more aware of the immediate environment. “Out of the mind and into the body.” Simple body movements like stretching or walking around the house (feeling feet on the floor, altering light and heavy steps) can improve presence.

Taking away the story:  The triggers are triggering because they carry a story. I found it helpful to take in the triggering object or situation for what it was – without the narrative. It can be challenging to do in the moment, but becomes easier with time and practice. For example, the hospital baby blanket was a trigger for me. Even though I had put ours away, the familiar blanket seemed to follow me around town, pop up in other babies’ photos and plague me with fear. I re-introduced myself to the blanket without the story.  It was soft, light-weight, rectangular and had pastel footprints printed on one side. Little by little, the traumatic story that had been associated with the blanket lessened.

Care and affirmation:  Holding my hand to my heart was a way of feeling and showing self-compassion.  It was an important gesture that I did throughout the day, especially at times when I felt the least-deserving of care. It offered a pause. I was going through the most difficult time of my life and I needed to be kind to myself.

I had a few affirmations to write or say to myself to acknowledge that I was safe in that moment (no matter how real my flashback felt) and the original experience/trauma was over.

“I’m okay.  I’m safe.”
“All of my feelings are okay.”
“I will feel better.”
“I can heal.”

Affirmations can become reality. I am safe. Every feeling I’ve had and every one I continue to have is okay. I am better – a lot better.  I’m healing.  Every day brings more healing, and I will continue to walk on the path. Rocks and all.

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