I had the thrill and honor recently to attend the recent Special Legislative Commission on PPD meeting with Representative Ellen Story this month. My new friend (and fierce advocate and mental health professional) Mara Acel-Green extended an invitation to the open meeting – and upon walking in, I was floored by the feeling that Postpartum Progress belonged in the room.
The Commission invited Deborah Wachenheim to speak about her sister Cindy, whose story was featured in The New York Times earlier this year. Listening to Deb speak about the events leading up to her sister’s postpartum psychosis and death, I was struck by the genuine interest and concern of the room. This was a meeting full of top tier mental health and birth professionals, legislators, and non-profit leaders. Their heartfelt appreciation for Deb’s willingness to share something so personal (and freshly raw) and thoughtful questions gave me hope that the meeting was not just government lip service.
As the meeting progressed, organizations checked in with progress reports, included MCPAP for Moms, the Department of Public Health and the Community Health Center pilot programs. Throughout each of their discussions, time and time again, the question that kept resurfacing was “How do we make sure screened mothers are being supported after their diagnosis?”
What these doctors are really concerned about is How do we get moms to follow through with their diagnosis and treatment? The Commission has been focused up until this point primarily on training primary care physicians, pediatricians, and birth care workers on screening for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. But as any survivor can tell you, screening and diagnosis (though absolutely essential) are only the first of many hurdles on the path to wellness. As suggestions were shared, I noticed that their solutions all focused on actionable items for healthcare workers. And it seemed to me they were missing a piece of the puzzle.
Postpartum Progress doesn’t just “drop kick despair.” It kicks stigma in the teeth.
After my own diagnosis, 5 months postpartum, I continued to struggle for almost 6 months with treatment compliance. It wasn’t that I refused treatment, but instead that I was still struggling with so much shame that I just couldn’t comply. Depression and anxiety rob a person of their sense of truth and rationality. Psychosis steals reality itself. How anyone could expect me to take responsibility for my own mental health treatment in 2009 still leaves me in disbelief.
I attended therapy regularly but fought against taking medications. And though I knew the right answers to my therapist’s questions and believed them on some level, deep down I still carried such stigma about mental illness that I couldn’t separate myself from my disorders. Not until I found Postpartum Progress.
Reading stories of other mothers just like me, I found my own courage reflected back to me. Here were women who had battled the same terrible thoughts, who had raged at their babies, and who had felt worthless in their roles as mothers – and I looked up to every. single. one. Postpartum Progress doesn’t just “drop kick despair.” It kicks stigma in the teeth.
This is why I credit Postpartum Progress and #PPDCHAT with saving my life. Not because Katherine Stone or Lauren Hale treated my anxiety and depression, but because they showed me I was worth saving – that I could and would get better.
This is what legislators, healthcare professionals, and non-profit organizations need to know: the key to getting mothers to follow through with treatment? Is to disintegrate the stigma. No one does that better than the Warrior Moms.
I’ll be meeting with the Commission staff and other Massachusetts organizations in the coming months to make sure Postpartum Progress is a part of the important conversations they are having about treating and supporting mothers during and after pregnancy – because the patient community? Is that final piece of the puzzle.
Author’s Note: Postpartum Progress recently collected survey data from its Warrior Mom community and FaceBook fan page. 75% of respondents indicated that Postpartum Progress increased their likelihood to seek professional help for their condition. You can read the entire report HERE.
photo credit: Susan Petcher