Thank You, New York Times, for Your Recent Coverage on Maternal Mental Health

These past couple of weeks have been a blur of work and plans for celebrating a couple of milestones in my life.

A little behind, as I usually don’t blog about such meaningful news relating to maternal mental health a couple weeks after they occur, here I am today, taking a quick break from what I am working on right now to applaud the two-part New York Times focus on maternal mental health, the first of which was titled “Thinking of Ways to Harm Her: New Findings on Timing and Range of Maternal Mental Illness” and appeared on June 15, 2014 on the front page and the second part titled “After Baby, an Unraveling:A Case Study in Maternal Mental Illness” appeared the very next day.

Kudos to Pam Belluck, the reporter who wrote the articles and ensured they received such prime spots in such a major newspaper.   Ms. Belluck interviewed three mothers for the first article, and the second article featured the story of Cindy Wachtenheim, who after battling postpartum psychosis, ended her life on March 13, 2013.  Both articles mention Postpartum Support International (PSI), the organization I joined back in 2006 in my search for answers and information as I endeavored to write a book about my own experience with postpartum depression (PPD), which began in January 2005 and ended a few months prior to the first PSI conference I attended in June 2006.

A week ago, on June 23, 2014, an article appeared on HuffPost Parents titled “What the New York Times Got Right and Wrong About Maternal Mental Health” in response to the NY Times articles.  Very good points made by  Christiane Manzella, PhD, FT, supervision director and senior psychologist at the Seleni Institute including how, even though this two-part series in the NY Times was a step in the right direction, it was still a missed opportunity to educate the public on the common misconceptions of postpartum mood disorders.  For example, many cases of postpartum mood disorders actually begin during pregnancy (i.e., antenatal or antepartum depression) or up to a year after and is not strictly limited to the first weeks postpartum.  Also, the spectrum of postpartum mood disorders covers not only PPD, but postpartum psychosis as well, which is still not being diagnosed/treated correctly in all too many cases today…and unfortunately the disastrous outcome hits the news, like in the case of Cindy Wachtenheim.

I also wanted to highlight the June 21, 2014 Letters to the Editor submitted in reaction to the two-part series on maternal mental health.  Note the first letter written by Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW, founder of The Postpartum Stress Center.

Thank you, Pam Belluck and the NY Times for making these articles happen and putting them in the spotlight to bring more awareness about perinatal mood disorders to the public.  For too long perinatal mood disorders have been lingering in the shadows, remaining a topic that has evaded the understanding by medical/mental health practitioners and the public alike.

Every mother deserves to understand what perinatal mood disorders are, as well as how to know when to get help and who to go to for help without fear.  Fear of stigma.  Fear of any potential repercussions. People need to put aside these fears because things can get very bad very quickly if a mother does not seek help in a timely fashion, or gets the wrong diagnosis and/or treatment.

Every mother deserves to receive the right treatment and not be afraid to seek it.  As in my case and in all too many other mothers’ cases, time is of the essence in getting the correct treatment.  If I had gone much longer with my insomnia and panic attacks without the right combination of medications to treat them, I am not certain what would have happened.  I was in a very bad place for a few weeks, and I am ever so grateful for only losing a few weeks of precious time with my baby.  The outcome could have been so much worse.

Fixing a Broken System of Stigma and Mommy Wars With Each Other, Not Against Each Other

*** This post may be triggering if you are suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) and are sensitive to negative news events***

This blog post is a response to the articles in the media regarding the tragedy involving Carol Coronado, the Torrance mother with 3 young children, ages 2 months, 2 years and 3 years.  Read the statement issued by the National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health.  There’s a lot we don’t know about relating to this tragedy.  Does she have a history of depression or other mental health issue?  Did she try to reach out for help prior to yesterday?  Was she under a doctor’s care?  How much emotional and practical support was she getting?  Were there any other issues over the 3 years since her first child was born?  Without knowing the full story, the public is focusing on making her out to be some kind of monster.  True, it’s hard to accept that a parent could kill his/her child, let alone three.  But STOP right there.

Stopppppppppppppp!

Times like this, I just want to make all of it stop.  The stigma.  The Mommy Wars.  The hateful zealotry of people so obsessed with their views of how motherhood should be that they become toxic to others around them.  Yes, some people derive some sick pleasure off of making someone else feel bad (think bully).  They cannot empathize with anyone else’s situation (think sociopath).  JUST. STOP.

The shameful media whose only concern is to generate sales and hits to their websites who in all too many cases don’t bother to obtain the whole truth before causing speculation rife with inaccuracies that feed the ignorance and stigma that are already so damn difficult to do away with.  Media feeds stigma when they title a news article in a sensationalistic way to get the attention of as many people as possible via the newspaper or Facebook/Twitter feeds, insert their own judgmental/ignorant comments, and then encourage the public to share their opinions about the specific negative news event in question.  Of course they are going to get plenty of negative comments.  JUST. STOP.

The hateful words coming out of people’s mouths from ignorance borne from stigma and lack of public awareness surrounding mental health.  JUST. STOP.

The let’s-pass-judgment-before-knowing-the-truth-and-even-knowing-the-truth-doesn’t-matter-because-certain-people-don’t-care-about-the-truth-they-just-think-their-opinion-is-all-that-counts syndrome. JUST. STOP.

The stubborn mindset that depression is something that you can just snap out of does nothing but help keep people’s  blinders stuck in the let’s-continue-to-keep-my-eyes-willfully-closed mode.  JUST. STOP.

The OB/GYNs who for some reason can’t all get on board with becoming educated about perinatal mood disorders (PMD) so they can know how to properly detect, diagnose, treat and refer moms experiencing a PMD.  Instead, they contribute toward mothers (and their families) continuously falling through the cracks.  JUST. STOP.

The flawed mindset of “Well, you can be a Supermom if you want to be.  See Jane over there?  She just had her 3rd baby in 3 years, is a stay at home mom, keeps a perfect house, loves to cook, clean and do laundry.  She does it all herself.  Oh, and she BFd each of her babies for 2 years a piece.  Hell, if she can do it, so can I.”  JUST. STOP.

The name calling, judging and blaming of someone as soon as you hear negative news without knowing the full story.  Does doing this help anyone?  Does it make you feel better by trashing someone?  No?  Well, JUST. STOP.

Let’s face it.  We live in a egotistical, mompetitive, misogynistic, my-way-of-thinking-is-the-only-way-of-thinking society of misplaced priorities, lagging behind so many other less technologically sophisticated countries that are so much more advanced when it comes to the treatment of mothers and postpartum rituals (go figure), and breastfeeding zealots who only care about the well being of the baby, health of mother be damned (this is illogical, as how can you have a healthy baby if you don’t have a healthy mother to take care of that baby?).

Suzy Barston, author of the book Bottled Up and the Fearless Formula Feeder blog, included the following line which I love so much in her blog post titled “Vital Signs: Ignoring postpartum depression and psychosis won’t make them go away” in response to the tragedy:

We spend so much time worrying about a woman’s breasts, while we dismiss her mind.

And over at my dear friend Dr. Walker Karraa’s amazing blog Stigmama, there is a post from today titled “Women. Are. Dying. Shut It Down”  by Ann Jamison.  It’s an absolute MUST READ.  What an amazing writer she is.  Here is an excerpt that really hit home for me:

In the wake of shocking tragedy like this, opinions and judgment pave the well-worn, easy road. We blame this woman and all the women like her. We blame women when they aren’t coping well, we hate on them jealously when they are. We create so much stigma and fear surrounding mental illness that it’s nearly impossible to ask for help. When we do, our pleas go unanswered. When we don’t, and the worst happens, our humanity card is revoked and we’re suddenly monsters…….Women and their children are dying. Make no mistake. Mental illness kills. Mental illness is also the most common complication of childbirth. And we don’t screen for it. We don’t talk about it. Healthcare providers overlook it or are uncomfortable treating it.

We have an awful lot of people who don’t care.  They just want to do what they want to do, say what they want to say, and feel what they want to feel.  Yes, it’s all too comfortable to lead a life of ignorance for some people.  This is the mindset we’re up against, making public awareness and banishing stigma so damn challenging.

I know my blog post has been a downer, but I’m not saying we have no hope of improving things.  We can make a difference!

For starters, if  you see a new mom, whether she is a friend or relative, ask her how she’s REALLY feeling.  Ask if she is getting enough help.  REALLY listen to her and look deep into her eyes.  If she doesn’t sound herself, is crying, and/or indicates she is not feeling herself (the day the tragedy took place, Carol had shared with her mother that she thought she was “going crazy” AND Carol had spoken to her sister-in-law who thought she didn’t sound herself) and it is past the first 3 weeks postpartum, suggest that she get more help with the baby and see her doctor RIGHT AWAY.

I am not ok_Kleiman

Permission to use image granted by Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW, founder of The Postpartum Stress Center

Better yet, she should see someone who is experienced with treating postpartum mood disorders RIGHT AWAY.  Have no idea where to go to find one?  Start with the Postpartum Support International network of regional coordinators.

Let’s end stigma.  Yes, this is hard, but we can do it, if we each did our part by speaking up and sharing knowledge about maternal mental health matters at every opportunity.

Let’s focus on moms supporting moms.  End the mommy wars!

Let’s stop judging and bashing each other, and start treating others as you would want to be treated.  Provide support when the opportunity presents itself.

Let’s make a difference within our own personal spheres.  One. Mom. At. A. Time.  There are many ways you can help.  If it’s a life calling to switch gears to a career that helps moms, like being a doula, baby nurse, social worker, etc.,  then awesome.  But you can also provide virtual support.  For example, I am a member of Mama’s Comfort Camp, founded by my friend Yael Saar.  It’s an AMAZING forum of non-judgmental, loving support.

Let’s realize we have a broken, patriarchal system and work together and find ways to fix it….together.  Not against each other.  With each other.

Upcoming PPD Awareness Events

With Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month just a few days away, there are a number of postpartum depression awareness events coming up.  The purpose of today’s post is to highlight three of the events occurring in the next two months.  In the order in which they will occur, they are:

Shining a Light on Postpartum Depression: The Role of Programs, Policy and Public Health – A Community Forum

When:  Thursday, May 29, 2014 from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm (EST)

Where: Congregation Beth Elohim, 271 Garfield Place, Brooklyn, NY 11215

Theme:  A dialogue on what role the city and state can play in education, screening and treatment of PPD

Presented by: Brooklyn Community Board 6 Youth, Human Service and Education Committee, State Senator Liz Krueger, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, State Assembly Member Joan Millman, Council Member Brad Lander, and Council Member Stephen Levin

Moderated by: Rain Henderson, Deputy Director, Clinton Health Matters Initiative at Clinton Foundation

2 Panel Discussions:

  1. First panel to focus on clinical symptoms associated with PPD and resources for women and their families.  Panel members to include the amazing Sonia Murdoch, Executive Director, The Postpartum Resource Center of NYRebecca Benghiat, Executive Director, Seleni Institute, and Catherine Birndorf, MD, Clinical Associate Director of Psychiatry and Obstetrics/Gynecology  and founding director of the Payne Whitney Women’s Program at the New York Presbyterian  Hospital – Weill Cornell Medical Center
  2. Second panel to focus on what role the city and state can play in education, screening and treatment of PPD.  Panel members to include New York State Senator Liz Krueger, New York City Councilman Stephen Levin, and New York City Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (NYC Council Women’s Issues Committee Chair).

For more information on this event, click here and/or contact the event organizer, Paige Bellenbaum at p.bellenbaum@ccgbrooklyn.com or 646-228-2381.

27th Annual Postpartum Support International Conference

When:  June 18 – 21, 2014

Where:  University of North Carolina Center for Women’s Mood Disorders, Chapel Hill

Theme:  Creating Connections between Communities, Practitioners, and Science:  Innovative Care for Perinatal Mood Disorders

Sadly, I will not be able to make it this year.  I will miss seeing so many of my friends.  :(  Please click here for my blog post about last year’s conference in Minneapolis and the wonderful time I had there.

For more information, including the agenda, presenters, and registration details, click here.

Climb Out of the Darkness 2014

When:  Saturday, June 21, 2014

Where:  Anywhere you choose to hike up a mountain, climb or walk.

Created byPostpartum Progress Inc., a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization that raises awareness and supports pregnant and new moms with maternal mental illness.

What is it?   It’s the world’s largest grassroots event raising awareness of perinatal mood disorders, in which people around the world hike, climb or walk outside on the longest day of the year (June 21st).

For more information and/or to register to participate, click here.   You can participate by joining a group climb or even start your own individual or group climb.

Lovely Book Review Over at Resplendent by Design

A friend of a friend, Bobbi Parish, therapist and author of the blog Resplendent by Design and book “Create Your Own Sacred Text” has written a very lovely book review of my book “One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood.”  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, Bobbi, for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to read my book and write a book review.

One of the many rewards for writing my book–aside from the personal satisfaction of seeing the fruit of your six years of labor result an attractive book with content that can help make a positive difference for others–is making new connections, especially ones who would go out of their way to spread the word about a fellow mom’s book intended to help other moms.  Another reward is knowing that you are contributing in some small measure toward reaching mothers and their families with information that can help empower them to recognize when they are suffering from a perinatal mood disorder, where to go for help, what the treatment options are….not to mention, realize that what they are going through is experienced by more women than they will ever know, they have no need to feel guilty, and they will be well again with the right help.

The best part of Bobbi’s review is the fact that she is recommending my book for patients of obstetricians, midwives and doulas:

In my opinion, this is a book that should be on every Obstetrician, Midwife and Doula’s shelf and in their waiting room. It should also be on a list of resources about Postpartum Disorders handed out to every pregnant woman by their health care professional. It will absolutely help women battle this insidious mental health disorder and thereby enable them to have a healthier, happier postpartum period with the full capacity to care for and bond with their newborn.

Please go over to her blog and read the rest of her book review.

If you are an obstetrician, midwife or doula, please consider following Bobbi’s recommendation of 1) keeping a copy of my book in your waiting room and 2) including my book on a list of resources which I hope you already have (and if not, please consider putting one together now) about perinatal mood disorders handed out to your pregnant patients.

If you have stumbled across my blog and want to read more about my motherhood journey and what I learned from it, please consider buying a copy.  My book is available at Amazon via Kindle and both paperback and hard cover format.

If you know a mom who has found herself as blindsided and scared as I found myself when I was hit hard by postpartum depression, please consider buying her, or recommending she buy, a copy of my book.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

<3

The Every Mother, Every Time White House Petition: What It Means

Okay, today was a reaaaaaally rough day at work.  I got home around 8:15 pm.  Missed a woman’s club meeting I was planning to attend.  Was able to see my daughter for a little over an hour before having to put her to bed.  I’ve had 5 hours of sleep for the past few nights straight.

But…. I am making this post a priority.

My last blog post was written and published 2 days after Ebony Wilkerson drove her minivan into the ocean at Daytona Beach, but I have since updated it with new information relating to the White House petition, Every Mother, Every Time that was subsequently created.  There are now nearly 1500 signatures to the petition, and we need 100,000 to mandate a national conversation about perinatal mood disorders (PMDs) and how we can help prevent mothers like Ebony, Miriam Carey, and Cynthia Wachtenheim–these are just some of the tragedies that took place here in this country in the past few months (the list goes on)–from having to fall through the cracks.  With an occurrence of PMDs of approximately 1 out of 7 new mothers, people like the amazing Dr. Walker Karraa are tired of the status quo of being reactive.  It’s time to be PROACTIVE!

Dr. Karraa had a Q&A interview with Every Mother Counts, founded in 2010 by none other than Christy Turlington.  Click here for the Q&A.    Dr. Karraa also guest posted today over at healthyplace.com about the petition.  Click here to read it.  Please take a few minutes to read both pieces so you can learn what the petition is hoping to accomplish and why.  Don’t let any preconceived notions or fears that you may have keep you from opening your eyes and making a judgment for yourself.

You’re probably wondering why you haven’t heard about this petition via more media outlets, organizations, blogs, and other social media.  I can’t say that I understand why.  Perhaps they feel that 100,000 is unattainable and therefore not worth the effort?  Or this is a conflict of interest of some sort (not sure how that could possibly be the case because this is about advocating for increased public awareness and resources to treat and support new mothers suffering from PMDs)?  Or for some of the other reasons mentioned in the two Walker Karraa pieces.

Whatever the case may be, I want to just say that, if there is an opportunity for a conversation to be brought to the forefront so that more OB/GYNs–those who have dedicated themselves to women’s reproductive health–take responsibility to screen (i.e., ask a couple simple questions, know how to recognize and properly diagnose a PMD, know how to provide their patients options, refer patients to mental health practitioners if necessary), I am going to drop what I’m doing and help pass the word on.

I’m asking that you do too.

My Blog’s 5th Birthaversary and Info on PSI Zumbathon Fundraiser

Some people call it a Blogoversary.  Some people call it a Blog Birthday.  The French say “Joyeaux Anniversaire” for Happy Birthday.   I don’t really care much what it’s called.  I just know that both Blogoversary and Blog Birthday hold the same meaning, and my blog has been around for 5 years!  Woohoo!!!  Actually, five years and one day, since the momentous occasion was yesterday.  But I was too tired to blog last night…..anyway, I’ll just compromise and call it a Birthaversary.  :)

In these past 5 years, I’ve seen an increasing number of personal experiences with postpartum depression (PPD) posted on blogs, on Huffington Post, on online parenting magazines, etc.  Seeing these articles gives me hope that we are reaching more and more people about maternal mental health issues.

At the same time, however, there are still stories in the news of how we–despite being in 2014–are still failing our mothers all over the world.  Sometimes, I think that it’s willful ignorance that keeps people in the dark.  And like the UK  case I wrote about recently, misguided priorities and inadequate training are still leading to mothers falling through the cracks.

I want to implore all PPD survivors, PPD advocates and medical/mental health professionals to make a more concerted effort to:

ISL_020714

Work together
Remember that a healthy baby means a healthy mother
Really focus on the mother’s well-being
Break down silos
Encourage collaborative care
Support mothers and discourage mom-petitions
Embrace the fact that there is no one right way to mother
Ensure there is increased public awareness and research initiatives to improve early detection and treatment
Encourage a culture of sharing and banish stigma

Before I end this post, I would like to share information about an upcoming Postpartum Support International (PSI) zumbathon fundraiser being held in memory of Cynthia Wachtenheim, a mother whose life was tragically cut short last March.  All proceeds from the event will go to maternal mental health public awareness and support.  I am proud to be a member of PSI since 2006.  It is an organization that is very much at the forefront of all of the positive efforts above.

Just Be There For Her

I’m on a roll……4 blog posts in less than 1-1/2 weeks!   Is this a new trend? Not really.  I just have a lot on my mind lately.

I said the last post was probably going to be one of my shortest, but by the time I finished writing it, it wasn’t that short anymore.  Hey, I am the first to admit I’m verbose. I just have a lot to say, s’all.  But then again, being verbose isn’t a great thing when it comes to the working world (people like to see points…they refuse to read anything in paragraph form), for book writing, for blog/article submission requests with a very limited word count restriction, and for the audience that can’t stand blog posts longer than 200 words a pop and whose eyes glaze over if the content isn’t eye-catching, hilarious, dripping with satire or sarcasm, and/or mesmerizingly ingenious.

I’m sure a lot of people look at the length of my book and say “OMG, not for me.”  Hey, perhaps that’s why some people who have indicated they would read and review my book haven’t done so yet…..because when they received my book they realized it was a freaking encyclopedia and haven’t had the heart to tell me they didn’t have the time or interest any longer in writing a review.  :-/  Honestly, you should have seen the manuscript in its earlier stages.  Extremely challenging to manage would be putting it mildly.  What can I tell ya, I had a lot to say about my postpartum depression (PPD) experience, and I wanted to share my experience with as many people as possible.   Every last word I ultimately kept for the book was important, in my opinion.  I simply couldn’t cut any more information out.  I wanted this to be a “one stop shopping” experience of having everything I would’ve wanted to see in a book about a mom’s journey to motherhood that included PPD that I had a very hard time finding anywhere back in 2005, when I first started writing my book.

The Executive Director of Postpartum Support International, Wendy Davis, had written a wonderful review of my book, taking fully into account the length of the tome but in a very positive fashion.  I was going to attempt to sum it up, but in re-reading her words, I couldn’t bear to leave any of it out, it’s that good.  So, thank you again, Wendy, for your glowing words of praise.  I can never thank you enough!

One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood is a wonderfully thorough and accessible treasure trove of research, compelling information, and encouraging advice. It is sure to become a favorite, like a great cookbook that you return to over and over, knowing that you’ll find just what you want and references too! Ivy Shih Leung has written a thoroughly informed book with such a warm approach, it is easy for the reader to take in the solid information and the message of hope and recovery at the same time. Reading that Ivy has overcome her own struggles and written such a wonderful guide is in itself empowering and hopeful.  Every chapter is full of information, written with honesty, clarity, and perceptive suggestions. I am very careful about books to recommend to families and providers who want to learn about pregnancy and postpartum mental health; this is one book that I can recommend without reservation.  Ivy’s background in biology, her careful research, and her strong spirit have worked together to create an insightful author, and we are all the better for it. Thank you Ivy for being such an inspiring advocate and sharing this contribution to the field of perinatal mental health!

I posted this on my Facebook feed earlier today…because I couldn’t keep it bottled up….it was annoying the HECK out of me…and it’s not as if I don’t know that I should try to be more succinct and I haven’t been making any headway in that respect….I’ve been making a HUGE headway in that at work, thank you very much:

Something that just made my day <overflowing with sarcasm>. I was told I am quite verbose and I should learn to be succinct. Please tell me something I didn’t already know!!!

Y’see….I started off wanting this blog post to be short and sweet, and I’ve gone off topic from the intent of this post which is, as the title indicates, to just be there for the new mother.

Be there

I was going through some emails this evening and stumbled across one from Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW, founder of The Postpartum Stress Center and author of numerous books on perinatal mood disorders, giving me permission to use this image, which I saw pop up on my Facebook feed a day or two before Thanksgiving, for a blog post.  This image sums up the fact that what a new mom needs is non-judgmental company from loved ones…no words necessary.  This especially holds true for those who have never experienced a mood disorder like PPD, and are unsure of how to behave or what to say around a loved one who is suffering from it.  Although my book repeatedly mentions the importance of providing emotional and practical support to the new mother–whether she is suffering from PPD or not–the key to it all, should you be uncertain of what to say or do to help  her, is to JUST BE THERE FOR HER.  It is so important because the feeling of loneliness and isolation with respect to her experience of being home alone with the baby is one that is shared by many a mom with PPD.

Moms with PPD tend to be more sensitive, their feelings will hurt more readily, and they will be more prone to feeling unimportant. She will tend to lack self confidence especially with respect to her new mothering responsibilities. Certain well-intended comments or advice can end up hurting her feelings. In my book, I offer suggestions for the ways friends and family members can be more supportive without being judgmental.  I wrote these suggestions, remembering how alone I felt in my PPD experience.  

So, there you have it….another post that I had every intention of keeping to a couple sentences but has easily exceeded 1,000 words!  Ironic that for a post that supports the notion that words are unnecessary, I am wordy as can be.

xoxo