Warrior Moms Are Key to Fighting Stigma

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Susan and Tiny BeanI 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

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Off to Preschool: Postpartum Depression Milestones

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I tearfully sent off my nearly DSC01078four-year old PPD baby to preschool yesterday.  She beamed with excitement and pride as she marched off to “big girl” school with her older sister, a first grader.  I spent my day alternating between sorrow and happiness.  My sweet baby girl is no longer a baby.  My postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety manifested itself in a hyper connection with her.  I worry that I have damaged her by being so sick the entire first half of her first year of  life.

I felt so helpless as I saw her uncertain face and her tiny hand waving at her dad and I as we dropped her off. I wanted so badly to take her in my arms and just keep her small.  This childhood transition rocked me to my core.  It exposed all of those old feelings of inadequacy, guilt and shame that ruled my psyche with an iron fist during my darkest days.  I decided instead to write a long letter to my daughter’s teacher.  I wanted this new teacher to understand how sometimes my early experiences of being my baby girl’s mom cloud my perception.  My sweet girl loved her first day, and she told me all about it for a half hour.  Her joy and excitement were contagious.  Her favorite part of her day was music class.  She skipped into school this morning with the confidence of someone twice her age.  I know that she knows how much I love her.  I hope that she always remembers that.  I will keep reminding myself to give myself grace during these milestones and transitions.  I am a good enough mom, and I am exactly the mom my sweet girl needs.

I offer this to my fellow Warrior Moms.  Give yourself grace during these childhood transitions.  Know that you are exactly the mom that your baby needs.  No one else can take your place.  Do not forget to bring Kleenex and sunglasses so that your baby will see your lovely smile behind the tears.

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Navigating Your Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorder

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8363033986_503c7a47f3As a mom with bipolar disorder who blogs openly about my experiences surviving a postpartum mood disorder, people often ask my opinion on ways to deal with and manage their diagnosis. I am not a medical professional, so I hesitate to even answer these emails. But my heart tells me I need to address their questions.

Having been in the same shoes not long ago, I remember the desperate desire to connect with others who had gone through something similar. Back then, people weren’t talking as openly about mental illness, the stigma was thick and heavy, and I felt as though I was harboring a shameful secret. It wasn’t until I found Postpartum Progress that I truly felt I had found a group of women who understood.

So I get it when other moms, and sometimes dads, write to me about their story, asking for advice on what to do after receiving a diagnosis. They’re looking for the same connection I found. The same searching that led me to join this community.

Here are my suggestions: [Read more...]

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It’s Harmful to Pretend to be Supermom

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I remember all the feelings from when I had my first baby almost six years ago. Joy, utter disbelief at how we created something so freaking amazing, relief, exuberance, nervousness, exhaustion. But none was more harmful than the feeling of being invincible.

This feeling of invincibility is actually a symptom of postpartum psychosis, but I didn’t know it at the time.

I was now in charge of a new, helpless little baby. It was as if my ego grew tenfold in the moments he was extracted from my belly and the only person who could do things right for this tiny person my husband and I had brought into this world was me. Because I was his mama, of course.

He liked how I swaddled him best, how I rocked him just right, how I fed and burped him. I was trying to breastfeed exclusively which, looking back now was a mistake given how lack of quality sleep is a trigger for mania in my case, but I was putting the baby first, not my mental health. I never gave myself a break because I thought if I did, I’d be failing as a mom.

What I know now, after experiencing postpartum psychosis when my son was four weeks old, after recovering and going on to have a second baby, is that pretending to be supermom is harmful. It’s probably one of our worst habits as moms – pretending everything is fine when it’s not. This type of facade hurts everyone in the family, especially the mom. [Read more...]

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