Lighthouse

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It’s my week for content on Postpartum Progress. My week, as a member of the Warrior Mom Leadership Team, to share something about postpartum mood disorders and help you feel less alone. I’ve known this week was coming for a while, and yet on this Monday night I’m sitting here staring at a blank screen. I don’t know what to share with you because I’m hiding under my vulnerability cloak at the moment. 

I think of this cloak as being kind of like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, except it hides my power rather than freeing it. Instead of letting me go where I need to go, my vulnerability cloak covers me up like an invisible blanket, weighing me down while I hide underneath it.

I’m having a hard time writing lately, no matter the topic. I’ve barely written on my own blog because when I’m struggling I like to write about that, and right now I don’t feel like I can. I’m just feeling too vulnerable.

So why am I telling you that? Mostly, I think, because I need a little reminder that being vulnerable is okay. Telling you that I’m feeling vulnerable is sort of like throwing off the cloak just to see what happens. Just to see if it will be okay. 

lighthouse light

Logically, I know it will be okay. But even more importantly, I know that sharing our hard stories is worth it. I was reminded of that not too long ago when I got an email from someone who had read my story. I want to share a piece of that email here (reprinted with permission) – both for you and for myself.

I really did feel so incredibly alone, and reading your story was a bit like seeing a light from a lighthouse when you’re a lost ship in the fog, about to crash into the rocks. I was drowning. It really did save me. You sharing your experience saved me, and let me know there were others out there like me, and it was ok, I wasn’t a failure, or a horrible mother. I was suffering, and needed help. I do feel a little bit stronger as each day, week, month passes. I think, someday, I’d like to put it into words, on paper, and share what I really went through, am going through, and maybe help other women through telling my story. It’s so important to know that we’re not alone. I was so ashamed, and so afraid… I lived in absolute fear that I would be condemned as a terrible person and a horrible mother and other mothers would screech and point fingers at me as I walked by. That shame and fear were part of the reasons I didn’t reach out for help. It makes me wonder how many more women are out there silently suffering.

Anyway, thank you. Thank you for being brave and courageous enough to share your story, it couldn’t have been easy. Thank you for putting it out there and most likely saving my life.

Being vulnerable is hard. But being a light for someone floundering in the darkness? That’s worth it.

I need to remember that it’s worth it.

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Big News!!! Announcing the 2015 Postpartum Progress Warrior Mom Conference

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In 2004 came Postpartum Progress the blog.

In 2011 came Postpartum Progress the nonprofit.

In 2013 came Postpartum Progress’ Climb Out of the Darkness, the world’s largest event raising awareness of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

And in 2015 …

Warrior Mom ConferenceANNOUNCING THE FIRST-EVER WARRIOR MOM CONFERENCE, a patient-centered, community-focused conference for survivors of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and those still working toward full recovery. There are several great conferences focused on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders mainly aimed at clinicians and organizations in the maternal mental health field, but this, my dear Warrior Moms, is for us!!! Get ready to get together in Boston next year!

The Postpartum Progress Warrior Mom Conference will be a time for us to do three things together: CELEBRATE recovery, BUILD community, and DEVELOP powerful skills for raising awareness and advocacy to help our fellow Warrior Moms around the world.  We will offer self-care workshops, Q&A sessions with top experts in reproductive psychiatry, keynotes and panel discussions, a live PPDchat with its creator Lauren Hale, and so much more we can’t wait to tell you about! The conference will allow us to gather together to share stories and information in a caring and supportive environment.

Here’s what you need to know now:

  • The conference is July 11-12, 2015 (SAVE THE DATE!!), in beautiful Boston, Massachusetts. We’ll be taking over Boston’s beautiful Back Bay at the St. Botolph’s Club – a historic brownstone on Commonwealth Avenue that is the perfect setting for our powerful yet intimate gathering.
  • Early Bird registration is $125 until June 1, 2014, wherein the registration fee will go up to $150. Registration will be capped at the first 125 tickets sold, so you’ll want to register as soon as possible to avoid missing out on all we have planned for that weekend!
  • We are working with area hotels to provide attendees with great rates on lodging — that information will be forthcoming.

This conference wouldn’t be possible without the work of three very special Warrior Moms: Susan Petcher, A’Driane Nieves and Miranda Wicker. Together with the help of other volunteers they have worked their butts off to make this happen, and I am forever grateful to them for their dedication, leadership and hard work.  They are leading the charge on making this an amazing event, and I cannot WAIT!

Spots to attend this conference are limited, so if you want to be the first to know when registration opens up (soon!), sign up for our email alert by clicking the button below and filling out the super short form. Don’t miss it! We want to see you in Boston!

Be the first to know!

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The Importance of Screening and Support: Jenna’s Story, Part 2

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fighting postpartum depression, Warrior MomJenna’s story differs from my own in one key area: support.  She did not receive the support she so desperately needed from her husband.  Warrior Mamas need our support and love.  Jenna needed to hear that she was not alone and that she would get well.  My husband told me that he would do whatever it took to help me get better. That unwavering support helped me so much.   

With my Postpartum Depression and anxiety continuing undiagnosed, I became more and more emotionally detached from my family. I couldn’t handle everyday life without reacting to even the smallest things in explosive anger. And as soon as I flew off the handle, the shame from my out of proportion reaction punched me in the gut. I felt helpless to react any other way, and the spiral of shame was almost paralyzing. I felt unsupported, misunderstood, and like I was a failure as a mom and a wife every single day. But you would never have known, because my facade was one of a happy, pulled together, suburban wife and mom. If other women could do it all by themselves, I didn’t want them to think I couldn’t keep it together. So I kept silent, soldiered on, and gave up thinking that life could be any different.

 My PPD and anxiety went untreated for a total of almost 7 years, by which time I’d had two more children with my ex. Eventually the rage, dissociation, self-loathing and isolation became more than I could bear.  I couldn’t stand the numb, closed off feeling any more, and something had to give. I decided that my children and I deserved a better quality of life. So, I went against my then-husband’s wishes and made an appointment with my family doctor. I didn’t go into any depth about the severity of my emotional issues, but casually inquired whether rage and detachment were possible features of depression. Without much discussion, I was prescribed my very first anti-depressant, and it quelled the rage substantially.  

Unfortunately, the intrusive thoughts and anxiety continued to exhaust me at night, and a few months later, I approached my doctor about additional medication. I was prescribed an anti-psychotic, and I have to tell you, that first pill was really difficult to take. For the first time in a very long time, the intrusive thoughts that had plagued me went completely away. Every night for all those years, I’d panicked about being murdered in my sleep, and my children being kidnapped because I didn’t deserve to be their mom.  Every night, there was a video loop in my head that replayed my failures as a wife and a mom.  With the additional medication came a degree of apathy and some significant weight gain, but it was still a relief.

 I no longer live in that place of crippling overwhelm, and not just because of the medication.  I sought out a therapist on my own, and I eventually weaned off all of the medications I was taking. In the couple of years since my diagnoses of depression and anxiety, I’ve come to a place of peace with who I am as woman and as a mom. I know my limitations for dealing with stress as well as sleep deprivation. I started making self-care a priority. I’ve (mostly) stopped comparing myself, my parenting skills, and my particular children to others. As my confidence has grown and my healing has continued, I’ve done a lot more sharing, a lot more reaching out, and a lot more self-analysis. I’m involved with the PPD community on Facebook and make time to read blogs authored by women who suffer with Postpartum Mood Disorders. I have a support system now. Those closest to me (including my boyfriend of 18 months) are familiar with anxiety and depression.  After dealing with so much on my own, it’s important to me that I can be real with those I allow close to me, and that they get me, can identify with my struggles, and respect my story.  I can trust them to encourage me, and when I feel ashamed, they can remind me that it takes strength to reach out and be vulnerable. Trusting people who can give validation to my emotions has been instrumental in my healing and helps a lot with my day to day stability.

I’ve often wondered how I survived those dark, lonely years when I was coping with PPD and PPA on my own. It was certainly by the grace of a higher power. Having traced the onset of my symptoms back to my second pregnancy, I also wonder whether my quality of life might have been better if I’d been screened for PPMDs during my pregnancy or at any of those six week checkups. The truth may be that I’d have hidden my feelings from my provider, if I’m honest.  I would have at least had the opportunity to decide whether I wanted to reach out if anyone had asked. 

Thank you so much Jenna for sharing your story.  I appreciate it so much.  Again listening and validating a Warrior Mom’s struggles is so key to stomp out the stigma that surrounds perinatal mood disorders.  Consistent screening coupled with strong social support can help ease the struggles of Warrior Moms.

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The Importance of Screening and Support : Jenna’s Story, Part 1

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pregnancy depressionI’m welcoming a fellow Warrior Mom friend of mine today to share her story with the Postpartum Progress community.  Jenna and I met online through #ppdchat, and we became fast friends.  Since I only experienced postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety with the birth of my youngest, I really wanted the perspective of a mama who had suffered multiple episodes of postpartum depression.  I wanted to showcase the idea that all women should be screened for perinatal mood disorders throughout their pregnancy and all through the first year postpartum.  Thank you so much Jenna for sharing your story.  It is a pleasure to welcome my dear friend.

My longest lasting episode of depression began during my pregnancy with my second oldest child. It was marked by anxiety and irritation, and a loose cannon rage that would come out of nowhere over both big and little things. I was ashamed of my lack of ability to control my anger, and that I’d become a parent who yelled often. I attributed it to being pregnant and hormonal and having a high need 2 year old, but I didn’t connect it with depression at all. I didn’t make that connection because I wasn’t sad, tearful, lethargic, or unmotivated. How could it be depression if there were no tears?

After my baby was born, things only got worse. She had colic for 3 months, screaming from 11 pm to 2 am most nights, while I walked a groove into the living room floor. Once the colic abated, she was a terrible sleeper. She woke as many as half a dozen times a night for the first two years of her life, and I was the primary caregiver. Due to the chronic sleep deprivation, I was detached, full of rage, and anxious.  I also began having intrusive thoughts and paranoia, most often involving fear of home invasion or replaying the worst parenting moments of my day. Some were worse and more vivid than that.

I mentioned my anger and detachment to my ex (who I was still married to at the time) when she was about 10 months old, and he told me, “If you had a closer relationship with God, you would not be in despair.”  Medication and therapy would be a waste of money, he said, because the problem was in my head and was rooted in sin.  I was devastated and felt even more shame as I internalized this possibility.

When you’re already feeling worthless and ashamed, it’s easy to believe unkind words about why you feel the way you do. Because of his reaction and invalidation, I never told anyone about how I was feeling. I didn’t have the courage to admit to the intrusive thoughts and paranoia once he told me that I was the problem. But I knew my feelings were real, and I knew they weren’t normal.  I didn’t know I could look for support or help because I didn’t really know what to call my emotional state other than angry, detached, and overwhelmed. It didn’t seem like any depression I had ever heard of.

… tune in tomorrow for part 2 of Jenna’s story …

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