Guest Post: Doing It All Again

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I had the pleasure of meeting Graeme in Boston at the first ever Warrior Mom™ Conference this past July. She’s simply fabulous and her hugs are amazing. She’s also wholly dedicated to mamas with Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders. I’m glad she’s sharing this post today. I can almost picture her exhaling in her oasis. Read on…maybe you’ll be able to picture it too.

veranda-349696_640At the back of our little house is a screened in porch. We’ve never really used it. It’s where our family and friends who smoke go to smoke. It’s where we keep the grill that cannot sit outside even though it has a cover on it. It’s where most of my gardening projects go to die.

Or it was.

A while ago I found an online coupon for pressure washing and when the gentleman came to wash the house I shamelessly used my super pregnant belly to get him to clean out the porch as well.

Then I bought paint. And hanging plants. And an Adirondack chair and a rocking chair. And a rug. Eventually there will be a fan, a space heater, and some art out there as well. I’m doing all of this because I’m pregnant and I’ve been here before.

When my son was born I couldn’t leave the house without having panic attacks for a few months.  I wasn’t anxious or scared about any particular thing. There was no specific fear I could counter – I just could not leave the house and I definitely could not leave the house alone.  He loved being outside though. Just opening the door and standing on the front step could calm him.  It made me feel like crawling out of my skin.

My postpartum depression was filled with rage and angst. There was no place in the house that felt like it was mine. There was no place that I fit.  I was itchy and uncomfortable and hyper-sensitized all the time.  I couldn’t sleep if there was clutter, or too many people, or things out of place. So I didn’t sleep. Then the four- month sleep regression hit and NONE of us could sleep and things got really bad really quick.

Now it is a little over two years later. I’m much better.  My little family is much better.  My son kisses my belly every day before I leave him at daycare and says, “Bye Bebe! Bye Mama!” There is no fear in Adam’s eyes when he comes home from work. When my daughter isn’t trying to score a goal on my ribs, I can actually sleep.

I’d like to keep it that way.  I’ve been back on my medication for about two months now.  I reach out to other mamas who are heading into ‘round two’. My bookshelf is full of recommendations from my friends and doctors. I’ll start seeing a therapist next month to get even more ready.  My diet and exercise are much better and I have a plan mapped out of what to do and who to call if I start to spiral after this baby arrives.

Soon, very soon, I will also have an oasis. I will have a way to be outside without having to be outside. I will have a place that is mine, a place where I fit and where I can feel safe and calm.  In my daydreams I can feed my daughter there while my son plays around us.  If the nightmares come instead, I will have a haven, an oasis.  It is one of many reasons that I can face the fears with strength and hope.

My story didn’t end with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. We’re still in the early chapters yet.


20150711_181851-1Graeme Seabrook is a mother of one, soon to be mother of two, blogger, businesswoman, nail polish fanatic, and survivor of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. You can find her at her blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter as Honestly Mama G.



{photo source: pixabay}

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Love & Hip Hop: PPD in the ATL

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Love_&_Hip_HopLove & Hip Hop: ATL, is one of the highest cable rated shows on right now. In a recent episode, one of the cast members, Kalenna, openly discussed her recent diagnosis of Postpartum Depression.

During the episode, we go to a therapy appointment with both Kalenna and her husband, Tony Vick. You can view the clip of the appointment here: Kalenna Meets With a Therapist

Kalenna starts out by listing her symptoms:

  • Sad
  • Upset
  • Irritable
  • Very short fuse

Sound familiar to anyone? The last two really hit home for me. My fuse was so short it didn’t take much to light it up.

In an aside, Kalenna says the following:

“I’ve been officially diagnosed as having Postpartum Depression and I gotta say that it’s kind of a relief to finally know the truth.”

Again, boom. Knowing what you are fighting, finally, is a tremendous relief. Why? Because it allows you to employ the proper weapons to fight the beast.

What is triggering Kalenna the most?

“They’re killing young black boys every day. I have boys, baby boys…” she says, with tears rolling down her face. She continues, “I don’t want to be that mom on TV, you know……or somebody shot my son….I’m trying to create a different way…”

In this very pointed and direct comment, Kalenna hits on several points which put her at quite an intersection of struggling through new motherhood. As Dr. Motapanyane stated in an email to me after I reached out to her for some insight, “Kalenna is a woman situated at the intersection of at least two identity markers that leave her vulnerable to experiences of marginalization, discrimination, and oppression – she is a woman and she is black. Her family background seems to be working class. Based on this alone, she is likely to be fatigued before she even becomes a mother.”

A’Driane Nieves, blogger at Butterfly Confessions and founder of the Tessera Collective on FB , a mental health empowerment group for Women of Color, noted the inclusion in Kalenna’s statement here regarding police brutality and how racial trauma has affected her as she has become a new mother. Just last week, the Tessera Collective addressed Race based trauma and self-care in their chat. You can read the Storify here.

It is incredibly difficult not to draw parallels as a new mother, particularly as a woman of colour, between what is happening to other people of colour and the generation for which you are responsible. The exhaustion is oppressive, fatiguing, adding to their fight against any mental health disorder which decides to show up on the doorstep.

Another important issue Kalenna intimates to is the Strong Black Woman Complex. Dr. Motapanyane sums this up as: “Black women, according to this narrative, stoically withstand just about any life challenge. This has compounded the structural mechanisms at a macro level that silence the experiences, needs, and political interests of the most vulnerable women among us.” Therefore, the overwhelming, historic, and expected need to be all and do all for all people. To not allow anyone to see you as weak, something which interferes with the ability to seek help for any mental health issue. Kalenna nails it in this aside (emphasis mine, meant to reflect her pattern of speech in the clip):

“Therapy is a scary thing. As a Black Woman, I grew up believing you either heal yourself or you go to church. But I’m doing this because I NEED TO. And the truth is? I feel VALIDATED. I’m not crazy. I’m not a hysterical female. I have a TRUE medical condition that exasperates all the stress I’ve been feeling and it steals all the joy away from how I should be feeling about my beautiful baby boy.”

Kalenna goes on, however, according to Dr. Motapanyane, to talk “as if she is a single mother” as she discusses her decision to continue her career. Dr. Motapanyane notes “She is talking as if she is a single mother. …she constructs this narrative as a means of supporting the argument that she needs her career because it is for the future security of her sons. She cannot seem to say that she needs her career because she simply loves it and it brings her joy, or that she wants a sense of her own financial security independent of her husband.” Again, this may well be the Strong Black Woman Complex rearing its head, or it may be that Tony has several other children with several other women which leaves Kalenna determined to have something of her own.

Kalenna is also socially isolated with little to no support. Tony hasn’t realized how much her music meant to her and what a tremendous outlet it was for her as she navigated through this long weary path of Postpartum Depression. In fact, the only time Kalenna brightens during the therapy session is when she is discussing how much her music means to her and how it has been an important outlet. She makes mention of pouring everything into the mic.

I want to step out of the flow for a minute and discuss the issue of race and therapy. I was glad that Kalenna took the time to make the statements that “therapy is a scary thing” and followed it up with how she needed to do therapy – how it validated her – how she isn’t crazy. Therapy is often viewed as a “white” thing, and in “Staying The Course: Psychotherapy In The African American Community” by Dr. Janis Sanchez Hucles states the following: “….black individuals fear that if they seek formal mental-health assistance, they will be labeled ‘crazy’ or blamed for their problems. Unlike other patients, African-Americans are also reluctant to seek services because of a longstanding tradition that dirty laundry should not be aired to others, and that they must solve their problems on their own.”

In her piece, Dr. Sanchez-Hucles goes on to examine what happens when African Americans when they meet with white therapists:

“When African Americans obtain assistance and meet with a white therapist, they are often fearful that these therapists will be biased, use stereotypes, minimize clients’ experiences of discrimination, and not understand black cultural traditions. Even if a black client has a black therapist, the client may rightly fear that the therapist may be unable to relate to the client due to the differences in education, class, or life experiences.”

This brings up a huge points in the clip with Kalenna, Tony, and the therapist. First, the therapist is an African-American woman who appears to not only understand Postpartum Depression, but artfully discusses the cultural challenges and racial issues Kalenna faces as complexities with her own struggle therein. For me, and for A’Driane Nieves, this was a huge point.

Overall, while I know that Postpartum Depression is hell and it takes a lot of strength to fight through it, I am very glad to see that it is being discussed so openly, particularly on a show which has such a cultural intersection – womanhood, motherhood, and navigating the often misogynistic realm of the hip-hop world. Later in the show, Tony and the other men were standing on a creek bank, fishing. Tony was asked how things were going and brought up, freely, Kalenna’s diagnosis. None of the other men seemed shocked, in fact, they seemed to briefly openly discuss it (not in detail, mind you, but without judgment or bias), and gave Tony their support as best they could. For me, that was a huge moment.

We still have a very, very long way to go in removing the stigma of battling against Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders, but Love & Hip Hop: ATL, just took a HUGE leap forward for all families of color fighting against this insidious true medical condition. Thank you.


Further recommended reading:

Motapanyane, Maki, ed. Mothering in Hip-Hop Culture: Representation and Experience BradfordDemeter Press, 2012.

Sanchez-Hucles, Janis. The First Session With African Americans: A Step-by-Step Guide. Jossey-Bass, 1999.

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Expanding Outreach to Underserved Communities

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Divya KimarIn July, I had the privilege of speaking to over 100 survivors of PPD and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders at the first Warrior Mom™ Conference about expanding outreach to underserved communities. When those of us who are survivors expand our advocacy efforts to support other struggling moms, we can benefit from reflecting on our own experience and understanding how the experience of perinatal emotional complications differs across different groups.

First, what do we mean by “underserved”? While women from ALL different places and backgrounds struggle with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders during pregnancy and postpartum, they face different challenges based on their identities, privilege, and life circumstances. A large body of research indicates that rates of maternal mental health disorders are higher among women who are disenfranchised. Women of color and low-income women experience PPD and related illnesses at nearly twice the rates of middle class white women; in fact, one study indicates that 40-60% of women living in poverty experience postpartum depression.[1] [2] [3] Moms who struggle with domestic violence, have a history of previous trauma, are recovering from substance abuse, and become a mother during the teenage years experience higher rates of depression and anxiety.[4] [5] Women of color are also more likely to experience poverty and pregnancy complications, which can lead to and exacerbate emotional complications. Lack of support, social isolation, and lack of access to physical and mental health services also contribute to and worsen depression and anxiety.[6] Plus, not only do women of color and economically disenfranchised women experience higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders, their rates of treatment are significantly lower.

Examining privilege, intersectionality, and the lens of diversity

As survivors, we may have ideas of how to help other moms who are struggling, based on our own experiences with PPD and related illnesses and what we found to be helpful. Before we can think about how we can support others, though, it is important to look at our own privilege. Privilege refers to any unearned benefit or advantage we receive in society because of an aspect of our identity, such as race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, class/wealth, ability, etc. When we say, “we warrior moms,” we may be making many assumptions about who “we” is, and, despite our best intentions, we may fail at being inclusive and/or representing folks outside our demographic. Reflecting on our privilege helps us think about how we can work with folks who share our privilege– as well as those who don’t– to create changes that benefit everyone.

Looking at perinatal mood and anxiety disorders through a “lens of diversity” can help us see how different aspects of our identities—and our privilege—affect our experiences with PPD, including whom we felt we could tell, the treatment we sought, our barriers to care, and the professionals who helped us. This process can illuminate why what was helpful for us may not necessarily be helpful to other moms. Here are some questions to consider:

What does postpartum depression mean for different communities? Here’s the thing: being able to SAY that you are experiencing postpartum depression, anxiety, or another perinatal emotional complication (let alone have the ability to seek treatment for it) is a privilege. For many moms, the challenges of unstable housing, poverty, homophobia, unsafe neighborhoods, and racism may exceed the need for treatment. Different moms have a different hierarchy of needs, and addressing their own mood and mental state may be seen as overly indulgent when there are bigger fish to fry.

Moreover, these same challenges may BE the actual source of stress for some moms. For example, one study found that 30% of low-income families can’t afford adequate diapers for their baby, and that this specific need was linked to depression and anxiety.[7] Research has clearly demonstrated the link between extenuating life circumstances (such as poverty, trauma, isolation, etc) and maternal mental illness, so, for some moms, it can be difficult—and not really relevant– to parse out the difference between a mental health issue and an expected reaction to incredible challenges.

Also, along these lines, some communities may view postpartum depression and related illnesses as unacceptable—or as something that happens to other people. A qualitative study of African American women provides some keen insight into the different conceptualizations and experiences of mental health issues.  According to one participant in the study, “There is no postpartum depression. Only white people go through it.” Another participant stated that a neighbor had told her that, “depression is something young mothers do to get out of needing to take care of their kids”.[8]

Who seeks and receives treatment and why? Treatment (such as talk therapy or medication) may be appealing and possible for some women and not others. One study found that Black and Latina women receive treatment at nearly half the rates of white women, and, considering that rates of depression and anxiety are higher among women of color, this statistic is particularly troubling.[9] In some communities, mental/behavioral health issues are heavily stigmatized; moreover, women may not have the ability to see a mental health provider who looks like her or represents her community. Just like many women may want to see a female Ob-Gyn, women of color may want to see a clinician of her racial/ethnic group—and may not be able to do so.

What barriers do women face when speaking honestly about emotional complications and/or seeking treatment?   Women of color and/or women who are economically disenfranchised may face numerous barriers to seeking and receiving care, including cultural stigma, lack of mental health providers who accept Medicaid, lack of culturally or linguistically appropriate services, lack of childcare, lack of transportation, and fear of children being taken away. Also, although women of color are at a higher risk for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, they are less likely to disclose symptoms to a healthcare provider. 

What are common images of women who suffer from perinatal emotional complications? What do they look like? Do they look like US? Like everyone? One participant from Sampson’s qualitative study “criticized current TV commercials for antidepressants, saying,

“Based on what you see on TV and their commercials and the ones holdin’ the dog by the window, that is so completely garbage. When asked how a commercial that accurately portrays PPD would look, one participant gave this vivid example: She movin’ around. She droppin’ the kids, you tired, you overworked. She doin’ the most, she cookin’, she cleanin’, she washin’ dishes. Doin’ everything at one time….Baby hollerin’, hand doin’ this here, I mean it’s just no time to stop, no time to stop.…Everything has to be done. Nobody else is gonna do it.”

Common media representations of mental health issues did not reflect the experiences of these women. What does that say about how we represent mental health issues?

What do we usually say to women who are struggling with perinatal emotional complications? We as survivors and advocates may be quick to say things like, “It’s OK, it’s not your fault, many women struggle like this, please don’t be ashamed, there is help, you can heal and be well”, etc. While many women will gain comfort from these statements, not all will. In some communities, postpartum depression is seen as something that affects weaker mothers and that “strong” mothers don’t “catch” depression. This blame, along with stigma, lack of diversity among mental health professionals, copious barriers to accessing care, and the stark reality that no amount of therapy will erase poverty and racism, illustrate how what we say will resonate differently with women in different life circumstances. In other words, the statement “there is help for you” doesn’t mean much if the logistical and cultural barriers to accessing help feel insurmountable.

So, when we look at maternal mental health disorders through this lens of diversity, we can see that we as advocates cannot talk about the importance of getting treatment without understanding the context of women’s lives: life circumstances; privilege, and lack thereof; and the barriers faced by so many women—transportation, childcare, lack of insurance, language, cultural stigma, lack of mental health providers of color.

So, how can we, as survivors, be better advocates for all moms who are struggling with PPD and related illnesses? We’ll discuss that, along with some tangible places to start making a difference, this Friday in Part Two!

[1] Chaudron LH et al. Accuracy of Depression Screening Tools for Identifying Postpartum Depression Among Urban Mothers. Pediatrics. 2010. doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-3261

[2] Satcher D. Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity: A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC; 2001

[3] Isaacs MR (2006). Maternal depression: The silent epidemic in poor communities. Baltimore, MD, Annie E. Casey Foundation.

[4] Troutman BR & Cutrona CE Nonpsychotic postpartum depression among adolescent mothers. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 1990; 99(1) :69-78.

[5] Ross L & Dennis CL (2009). The prevalence of postpartum depression among women with substance use, an abuse history, or chronic illness: A systematic review. Journal of Women’s Health, 18 (4), 475-486.

[6] Templeton L. Velleman R, Persaud A., Milner P. The experiences of postnatal depression in women from black and minority ethnic communities in Wiltshire, UK. Ethn Health. 2003;8(3):207-221.


[8] Sampson M et al. A disease you just caught: Low-income African-American mothers’ cultural beliefs about postpartum depression. Women’s Healthcare. 2014 Nov:44-50.

[9] Kozhimannil, K. B., Trinacty, C. M., Busch, A. B., Huskamp, H. A., & Adams, A. S. (2011). Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Postpartum Depression Care Among Low-Income Women. Psychiatric Services(Washington, D.C.), 62(6), 619–625. doi:10.1176/


Divya Kumar, Sc.M., CLC, PPD Divya Kumar has a Masters in public health and is certified as a postpartum doula and lactation counselor. In 2013, she helped create a state-funded perinatal support pilot program in four community health centers in Massachusetts. She currently provides perinatal support for women and families at Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center, one of the four pilot sites. In addition, she facilitates support groups for new parents and conducts workshops about the transition to parenthood. Divya tells it like it is and brings honesty, compassion, camaraderie, and humor to her work with new families. She is also the mother of two children and a survivor of perinatal emotional complications.

photo credit: ©Fotolia – Rawpixel

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Therapy Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All: Part 2

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DSC_6923_editedYesterday, I told you my story of learning through experience that therapy, and mental health care in general, are not a one size fits all type of thing. Today, let’s get down to the practical side of things.

How do you go about trying to find a mental health professional who has at least a working knowledge of PPMD, if not lots of specialized experience?  I’ll give you some tips that helped me, but please realize that this is NOT an exhaustive list, and I would LOVE To hear what has (or has not) worked for other Warrior Moms out there.

  • Use the Postpartum Progress Depression Treatment Programs & Specialists page. Did you know Postpartum Progress has a page specifically for listing postpartum depression treatment programs and specialists who help women with PPMD? We do!!! How awesome is that? Make use of our fantastic resource. Even if you don’t find anyone near you, or anyone near you who is taking new patients, ask them if they can refer you to anyone else.
  • Get specific in your Google search. Throw the word “postpartum” in there, or even a specific PPMD. For example, instead of just doing a basic search for “Atlanta therapist”, try something more specific like “Atlanta therapist postpartum”.
  • See if your insurance has an online in-network provider database. My insurance is through TriCare, so that’s the experience I can speak to/from. TriCare has a website you can go to search for providers who are in network. This gives you contact information and you can then contact the provider directly and ask if they’re still accepting your insurance, taking new patients, and do they have experience with PPMD. Word of caution: make sure they still take TriCare. TriCare’s website has been known to be not entirely accurate/up to date on providers. If you’re with a different insurance company, see if they offer something similar.
  • Use the Psychology Today therapist listings. Psychology Today has listings you can use to look up providers in your area. This can be rather like drinking water from a fire hydrant, but it can give you lots of options to start from and narrow your search field as you go.
  • When you call to set an appointment, ask them directly. Say something like “I’m looking for a therapist who has experience and education dealing with Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Is this an area you have worked in before?” If you’re speaking with a person other than the mental health professional themselves, you can always ask if they can call you back directly to discuss it.
  • Ask your OB/GYN, midwife, psychiatrist, family practice doctor, or other medical professional. They may very well have knowledge about what mental health professionals in the area specialize. Doulas can also be very helpful in this area.
  • See if there’s a birth group in your area and ask them. There is a specific birth group on Facebook that has been invaluable to moms in my area for finding all kinds of help, from OB/GYN and midwife to picking hospital to deliver a baby at to recommendations and reviews on therapists and support groups. If you need help finding a group, feel free to shoot me a message and I can try to help you find a group local to you, or if you find a local doula, they should be able to help you find a group if there is one.

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to mental health professionals who specialize in PPMD, and I realize this. If the only therapist you have access to is one who doesn’t have much experience with/education about PPMD, these tips may be helpful. Again, this is not an exhaustive list, it’s just a couple of things that I have learned from past experience.

  • When you make the appointment, make sure they are aware of your situation. This allows them to do some research. Don’t be afraid to recommend Postpartum Progress to them, we even have a page specifically for clinicians.
  • Print off some information to bring with you. Check out the previously mentioned Postpartum Progress page for clinicians and see if there’s anything on there you want to bring with you. Also look around the rest of Postpartum Progress. I am personally a HUGE fan of the Plain Mama English pages that give Plain Mama English descriptions and symptom lists. Print these out and take them with you. Highlight what you feel is applicable, underline stuff, write notes in the margins. I’m actually a huge fan of taking notes like this with me to the doctor in general so I don’t forget my questions or concerns or whatever.
  • Talk to your OB/GYN, midwife, psychiatrist, family practice doctor, or other medical professional. Yes, this is a repeat, but that’s because it’s still applicable. If you are seeing/will be seeing a mental health professional who is not very well versed in PPMD, ask your… let’s say, midwife, for suggestions. Or even your family practice doctor may have some insight on how to prepare for the appointment.

Whatever your situation, I’m glad you’re getting help. And please, don’t be afraid to reach out to the Warrior Moms community. We are here for you. We love you, we see you, we stand with you, we validate you and your experiences. You are not alone.

What tips, stories, or suggestions do you have that you want to share?

Photo credit: Esther Dale

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