WTFP?!: Why Access To Women’s Healthcare Matters

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Recently, on a Thursday, I went to have my annual physical exam. I was completely shocked when, during the breast exam, my gynecologist found a lump. Just a few days later, on Tuesday, I had a diagnostic mammogram. I was sure they’d come in the room right after the mammogram and say all was well, but after looking at the mammogram results the radiologist decided to immediately give me an ultrasound. I was sure he’d come in after the ultrasound and say all was well, but instead he told me I needed a biopsy. Two days after that, on Thursday, I underwent a core biopsy on my right breast. And the next day, Friday, I received the results. I have a benign fibroadenoma. In a little more than a week I was able to get several different exams and find out what was going on inside my body and have a plan for moving forward. And THAT, my friends, is how women’s health should go all the time. We should all have access to the information we need. The tests we need. The trained and competent physicians we need. The supplies we need. The support we need. And all in a timely fashion.

It’s not like that in most places of course. Women don’t have access to even the most basic things like contraception. And it’s not just a few million here and there that don’t have access. It’s 220 MILLION women in developing countries who want access and can’t get it. When you take away that access, you take away the power a woman has to make plans, to design her own life and decide what she wants to do and when. If she has no way of getting her hands on any sort of birth control then she can’t decide whether and when to have children.

I got to spend some time recently hearing from EngenderHealth, an organization dedicated to training healthcare providers around the world in order to help ensure family planning and reproductive health services are available to more women in more places. I appreciate their work and I know it’s important. I was able to plan my own family — my husband and I were married eight years before we decided to have children. We were financially and emotionally prepared and ready to welcome what ended up being our amazing son and, four-and-a-half years later, our fabulous daughter into the world. It was access to contraception and good women’s healthcare that allowed us to make those plans and have a family exactly the way we wanted to. I think other women, other parents, should be afforded that same access.

But because of cost, gender inequality, the huge distance it often takes to travel to a place that might or might not have contraceptive supplies, and lack of trained providers, among many other barriers, millions of women don’t have access to contraception. EngenderHealth is working to change that. And we can help them this fall by raising our voices and taking small actions as part of their WTFP?!  (Where’s the Family Planning) campaign that will lead to more women getting the healthcare they need exactly when they need it.

If you think women should be able to decide when and if they have children, join in. If you think being able to survive childbirth and have healthier babies is important, join in. And if you think women should have the ability to stay in school or build some type of business or career that gives them financial stability before they have a family, if they choose, join in. Because family planning and contraception contributes to all of these things. Join in. Let’s all ask: #WheresTheFP

Find out more by clicking here and be sure to follow EngenderHealth on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn and YouTube.

What does convenient and safe access to contraceptives mean to you? Answer in the comments below for a chance to win a Social Good Goodies bag.

 

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Be sure to visit the EngenderHealth brand page on BlogHer.com where you can read other bloggers’ posts!

 

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Let’s Talk About Sex (and PPD)

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postpartum depression helpSex after baby. We all know the cliche about its nonexistance – after all, the sleepless nights, the leaky breasts, and the lack of personal space that accompany a newborn aren’t exactly aphrodisiacs.

But sex after postpartum depression? Is a uniquely difficult experience for many mothers.

With my husband’s permission, I wanted to take the time this week to share my own experiences with sex, depression, anxiety, and medications. I know I’m not alone – and I want you to know you’re not alone either.


At first, relations with my husband were slowed only by the physical limitations that follow a vaginal birth: pain, scar tissue, and sleep deprivation. You see, I started my first weeks as a mother with postpartum anxiety and it wasn’t until months later that the depression took hold. But as it slowly invaded my brain, my interest in sex waned. This is a common symptom of depression and, for me, the numbness I felt toward my child and my life spread into my marriage.

It took months for me to accept that I was suffering from postpartum OCD and postpartum depression and to seek help. When my doctors put into place both talk therapy and medication plans, I finally began to feel just the smallest bit like myself again. But as my happiness returned, my libido only diminished. And though I knew that couples typically experience a temporary drop in marital satisfaction after the birth of a baby, I couldn’t help but feel concerned. It was more than just a decrease in desire.  I found the thought of having sex completely repulsive.

After some research, I learned that the antidepressant I was using (an SSRI) is linked to sexual dysfunction in a high percentage of patients. I nodded my head as I read about the symptoms, including loss of desire and inability to climax. It felt like I was being punished for treating my depression, and I wondered how a marriage is supposed to survive both mental illness and celibacy.

So as hard as it was, I brought up my concerns with my psychiatrist. Over the two years that followed, we worked through a series of medication trials, finally settling on a mood stabilizer that seemed to alleviate the depression without such a severe impact on my sex life. When I became pregnant with my second child, however, I chose to return to my SSRI, knowing there was more research to support its safe use during pregnancy. I made that decision knowing I would be sacrificing my libido, but fully aware of the risks untreated depression carry for both baby and mother during pregnancy.

I wish I could tell you that the sexual side effects were limited to my first postpartum period. But, sure enough, they returned as the medication took hold and I felt the depression and anxiety lift. I also wish I could tell you that this is a story written entirely in the past tense, but almost 3 years postpartum, I still take the SSRI daily, and it continues to impact my desire and performance.

At times, it feels as if I have to choose between sanity and marriage. I hate that the medication that works so well — that allows me to feel like a calmer, more rational version of myself — takes something so important away from both me and my husband. But I am also grateful for the life it allows me to lead. My doctors and I speak about the sexual side effects of my medications at each appointment and are constantly balancing them with the therapeutic benefits – and we have tweaked dosages and timings to help as much as possible. (I won’t get into the details – that is something for you and your doctors to discuss.) For now, we’ve found a plan that, while far from ideal, allows me to continue treatment for my medical condition.

I hope that if nothing else, these last 6 years negotiating the world of antidepressants, mental illness, and sex allow me to help someone who may be suffering in the same way:

I want you to know that if you are experiencing sexual side effects from your anxiety, depression, or medications that you are not alone.

It’s important to be honest and open with your doctors about all side effects and symptoms you are experiencing, including loss of libido and lack of performance.

Finding the right medication and other treatments for postpartum depression (and other mood and anxiety disorders) can be a complicated process, but there are many options out there and probably one that will fit your needs.  Don’t give up.

photo credit: fotolia.com

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The Importance of Connecting

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women connectingI recently got the chance to sit around the table with some amazing women and talk about what I do every day and how it has impacted my life and the lives of others. This might be one of my favorite topics, given how social media and blogging has changed my life. I feel like women used to be so disconnected. I mean, we had the neighbors down the street, the people in our communities of faith, our family members, yes, but what were the odds that among that group we’d come across someone who was having the exact same problem we were? Someone who could deeply understand and connect with us based on shared experience? Now we have access to women everywhere. There is most definitely someone out there to talk to who gets it and who can offer guidance and support, no matter the situation. In my line of work supporting pregnant and new moms with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like postpartum depression, this matters. Mothers need to be able to talk to people who’ve been in the same exact boat. I’ve seen those conversations and connections reduce stigma, guilt, feelings of shame, and even, in my opinion, the burden of disease. I feel so fortunate to live in a time when we have technology that allows us to connect to so many people and their stories. I can’t see any other way that I would have had the opportunity to reach so many, and I see lots of other women in the BlogHer community who are able to have the same impact when it comes to the causes and issues they care about. We need each other, and now we can find each other, and it was great to sit around a table with other bloggers at the BlogHer Conference in San Jose and talk about that ability to connect across the ether and how it has made our lives better. I’m grateful to Stayfree® pads for recognizing the importance of that connection and giving us the chance to talk about it. I hope you’ll watch the resulting video and perhaps get some inspiration to share your own stories even more boldly than you already have and make the kinds of connections that can change your lives and theirs for the better.

 

Inspired by high-performance fabrics, Stayfree® Ultra Thin® pads have flexible layers that move with your body and ThermoControl® technology to wick away moisture. So you’ll stay dry and comfortable. Stayfree.® Keep Moving.™ To get $0.50 off any Stayfree® product, including Stayfree® Ultra Thin® pads, visit www.stayfree.com/special.     Enter for a chance to win a $100 Drugstore.com gift card! Leave a comment below letting me how you pamper yourself for a chance to win a $100 Drugstore.com gift card

 Sweepstakes Condensed Rules: No duplicate comments. Your household may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:

1. Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post

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This Sweepstakes is open to legal residents of the 50 U.S./D.C. age 18 or older (19+ in AL & NE). Void elsewhere & where prohibited. Winners will be selected via random drawing, and will be notified by e-mail. The notification email will come directly from BlogHer via the sweeps@blogher email address. You will have 72 hours to respond; otherwise a new winner will be selected. The Official Rules, by which entrants are bound, are available here. This Sweepstakes runs from 9/10-9/30.

Be sure to visit the Stayfree® brand page on BlogHer.com where you can read other bloggers’ posts!

Sweepstakes is sponsored solely by BlogHer. Energizer Personal Care LLC is not a sponsor. Sweepstakes is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Twitter. © 2014 Energizer.     Stayfree and all other trademarks are owned by Energizer. Bloggers were compensated for creating blog posts in this Stayfree® campaign.  

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Taking an Active Role in Your Postpartum Recovery

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sfb groundbreakingBelief

Shared community

Information

These items are the beginning tools for a successful recovery from postpartum mood disorder. I say this confidently, because I believe in recovery being possible. I was once someone who never felt that I’d be normal again nor that I’d ever find my way back to who I used to be. But recovery is made up of small steps that lead us to a successful life of overcoming postpartum mood disorders — these steps toward wellness matter, because being active versus passive about your recovery greatly increases a positive outcome.

For me, a belief in the process, along with an open ear to advice, and full engagement in dialogue with your recovery team of your physician and your therapist, possibly a support group, is essential. I used to go to my appointments and sessions with a notebook filled with questions or thoughts that I had had during the week before the appointment. I wrote everything down of the information they gave me so that I could refer to it later. This helped, since it was difficult for me to concentrate and remember during my time of PPD and PPA. It also shows your recovery team that you see yourself as integral to recovery and that you are there to advocate for your mental health.

Life while in postpartum recovery can feel isolating. For that reason, you need a shared community. You can find a group through your area hospital, health clinic, checking out what’s offered in a local events calendar, or finding one online by searching postpartum progress. To hear others share their current struggles, or by listening to stories of those in recovery or recovered, is a lighthouse during this storm. You can feel encouraged and find ideas on ways to work toward your own eventual recovery.  You don’t have to be “fully recovered” to participate in any group and you don’t have to be fully recovered to start to feel better.

A few nights ago, I was talking with some postpartum warrior moms, some that were currently in postpartum phase, some on the way to recovery, some recovered. I asked them for suggestions on how to be active in PPMD recovery. Here’s what worked for us:

Define your goals. You decide what recovery would mean for you. For me, it was to once again smile, laugh, and enjoy my life.

Accept the importance of your role and the responsibility that you have in your recovery. That means being aware of how and where you spend your time, and who with. Sometimes it means guarding your environment and stimuli at a time when you’re not strong enough to take much negativity.

Know that you have power, and are not weak. You are the one in charge when you see your recovery team. Listen to what they say, but be honest about how you are feeling. If something doesn’t feel right, or you’ve tried and it hasn’t helped, let them know. I have heard cases of women being on the same medication for months with no alleviation or improvement of symptoms. Let your physician know, and work together.

Getting better is not just through pharmaceutical aid. Recovery can take longer than we want it to, and the easy way out is to think that just taking a daily pill will fix us. But other things need to be part of your lifeplan: sleep, diet, exercise, state of mind. Incorporating what spirituality is to you, and a mindful practice, like meditation, creativity, maybe yoga. Only you can discover what centers you, so search new activities out. For me, waking up 15 minutes earlier so I could deep breathe and have a mind free of thought was the cornerstone to my day.

Your social network and friends and family support are what will hold you up. Let people know how they can help you, as well as what is detrimental to your recovery. Relationships and community provide a feeling of belonging and lesson isolation. Isolation can be a huge trigger for PPMD, so reach out and ask for support when you need it.

PPMD recovery is possible with treatment and identification. It comes slowly, and is a growth process because your life has changed. You are no longer someone without a family or children. We have to learn skills and ways to adapt to our new normal. Allow room and space to understand setbacks, transitions, bad days. We learn from what works and what doesn’t work. No one does everything perfectly, and the best way to learn is by paying attention and being aware.

Write in a journal, especially days that feel good. It’s too easy for us to internalize that we are always depressed, or tired, or manic, or incapable. But we are more than that. If and when you have a good day (you will, trust me, they come…) write down what that feels like. See if you can figure out what led to the moment, even if it’s just a flash. In my case, my son was ten weeks old and he suddenly kicked his legs and giggled. I found myself smiling for the first time in a long time, and I believed then, I could get better one day. For you, it might mean a task completed, or standing up for yourself in a situation, maybe having face to face time with a friend. Remember them, write them down, refer to them to help you believe better times are on their way. Find out what promotes a positive feeling in you.

Prepare a list of go-to activities that make you feel better. When your mind is muddled, it’s hard to find a way out of dark thoughts. I kept a list taped to the inside of my kitchen cabinet, on it were things like a trip to the bookstore or a walk. I also had “watch SNL” because laughter was and still is, important to me. Be sure to exercise, sleep adequately, eat right, drink water, take your medication, talk to someone at least once a day. You could list creativity, cooking, photography, writing, nature walk, yoga. Whatever is part of things that need to happen every day for you to recover. I still refer to a daily list for my mental health, it includes sleep, exercise, good food, and water.

If you have a bad day, tell yourself that it’s not permanent. The feelings are not here forever, and tomorrow is a fresh start. Have a plan for a bad day, whatever that may be. For me, I have a close friend whom I trust. She always knows what to do, she just listens.

Recovery from PPMD is possible. After a long time of being depressed, we have trained ourselves to think that’s who we are and it’s easy to fall into old habits, with thoughts of discouragement and hopelessness. I don’t make light of the challenge it will be to be active in your recovery, but the result is one of hope and empowerment.

There will be better days, but they won’t happen by magic.

Medication and therapy are an important part, but reframing how we talk to ourselves and being open to change and implementing suggestions for lifestyle changes by our recovery team, are just as integral. I know it’s not easy, especially at a time when you have never felt more lost or overwhelmed. Recovery is an arduous process that feels endless on some days — there were times when I thought I would never get better,  but I assure you, the day will come when PPMD will be behind you. The way to increase your chances on the path to recovery is to take an active role in your personal journey. It’s a lot of work, but there are many people here to help you, and it’s a thousand times worth it.

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