May is a special month for postpartum mood disorder (PPMD) survivors. Why? Because it is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month! And I’m participating in the very first Postpartum Support International (PSI) blog hop! The topic of the blog hop is maternal mental health recovery and coping skills. If you are a blogger who has experienced postpartum depression (PPD) or any other PPMD, please consider joining the blog hop to help spread awareness! All you have to do is go to the two blog hop host blogs, Kathy Morelli’s Birthtouch and Dr. Christi Hibbert’s blog, and read the guidelines. There, you will see all the other blogs who are participating in this blog hop. A great turnout is expected!
I’d like to segue into this particular topic with the following overview of my first ever speaker event.
A week ago, I was a speaker for a PPD event that was co-hosted by St. Clare’s Behavioral Health of Denville, New Jersey and the Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey. For a couple weeks leading up to the event, I was a nervous wreck. I’d never spoken in front of a group larger than a dozen people, and there was supposed to be 40-50 attendees, some of whom were mental health care practitioners experienced in the topic I was speaking about and some were PPD survivors. There is nothing more anxiety-provoking to me than standing up in front of a room, being the center of attention (which I’ve always hated) and feeling the 40-50 sets of eyes staring at me and formulating opinions of me. Friends tried to be reassuring by saying things like “You know your topic well. It’s your story. You will do great.” Well, sure I know my topic well, and I have been trying to forget how horribly isolating and desperate I felt–not to mention fearful that I would never get well again–during my PPD days. All my thoughts, which flowed effortlessly and passionately all those years onto virtual pages that became my manuscript, are now forever memorialized in my book “One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood.”
A couple times while practicing my excerpt reading, I would get to this one point where a certain passage–so reflective of how I felt while in my darkest of PPD days–would cause me to choke back tears. Never in a million years would I have ever expected to actually CRY and not be able to stop crying while reading this same passage to my audience last week. I was taken aback. I struggled for a few minutes to try to get the tears to stop, but I couldn’t. I was so embarrassed. This has never happened to me before. I have never even cried in front of friends before. Now, my emotions were completely exposed to this whole roomful of people who, with the exception of two individuals, I’d never even met before. I asked the audience to excuse my–quite literally–slobbering mess, wiping at my nose and eyes with tissue after tissue. I believe I saw the table of PPD survivors crying along with me.
Finally, the faucet stopped running. What a relief! I’m going to have to put a note to myself on the page where the passage appears and make sure this doesn’t happen again. But you know what? The participants insisted that my emotions further authenticated how powerful my words were at moving people.
Why do those words have such an effect on me even today, more than 8 years after my experience? Because of the deep, dark tunnel I found myself trapped in, alone, and with no real emotional support other than my husband. He was there for me, helping with the baby and the housework. He tried to be there for me emotionally, but he had no idea what I was going through. Heck, I didn’t even know what was going on with me and why. My OB/GYN and his staff and my GP only made matters worse for me. I had to suffer through insomnia, panic attacks, weight loss and loss of appetite without any sort of reassurance that I would ever return to my old self. I was not referred to anyone experienced in the treatment of postpartum mood disorders. I didn’t consult with a therapist or PPD support group. I didn’t have any online resources. I did not have such resources like Katherine Stone’s Postpartum Progress blog or #PPDChat on Twitter. I didn’t have any friends who had been through what I was going through.
Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch.
That’s why I cried.
I didn’t have friends who understood what I was going through and who could provide a shoulder to lean on and provide non-judgmental advice–ironically, it wasn’t until after I had completely recovered from PPD that I met my PSI friends–friends like Kathy Morelli–who inspire me with the work they do each day. Even though Kathy is extremely busy, she still found time to appear at the St. Clare’s event to provide me with moral support. Thank you, Kathy! If only I had known you while I was in the depths of my PPD experience! But better late than never, that’s for sure!
I walked into the event a nervous wreck, but came out of it marveling at the warmth of everyone there. From the wonderful ladies who set up the event to the attendees–everyone was just so warm and welcoming! The group of PPD survivors there were a close-knit group–they were members of the St. Clare’s PPD Support Group, and I could easily see myself a member of it….if only I had had this kind of support during my own PPD days. It would’ve no doubt made such a huge difference for me. I would not have suffered the way I did. In fact, I had a very nice chat with members of this group after the event was over. I will never forget this experience, and I can only hope that future speaking engagements like this will have a similar outcome!
And now for my message to you about PPD support groups…..
PPD support groups are led by either professionals or PPD survivors who are using the knowledge gained from their experiences to provide the kind of support that they themselves were unable to find when they were new mothers experiencing PPD. Such groups are usually open-ended, which means there is no start or end. As such, there may be women at different stages of their PPD experience. A support group can be beneficial but will not on its own cure women who are suffering from clinical depression. It can serve as a complement to therapy and/or medication.
The purpose of the PPD support group is to facilitate peer-group support where mothers with similar PPD experiences can share thoughts/feelings with each other in an informal, nonjudgmental setting, and in the process empower one another through education—where information and ideas are exchanged—and support. PPD support groups are:
- A great deal of comfort and encouragement to women with PPD to see that they are not alone in their experience and, like other PPD survivors who had at one point felt as bad as they did, they will get better. It can be such a relief to hear other mothers describe experiences that are very much like your own. Seeing mothers who are on their way to recovery is encouraging, and, most importantly, provides hope. The mere knowledge that there is at least one other woman who has experienced what you are experiencing can serve as a light at the end of the dark tunnel. Hope is a necessary ingredient of the recovery process.
- A forum for sharing thoughts, anxieties, and coping mechanisms.
- A forum for mothers to give each other advice, support, and encouragement to stay on their recovery tracks, including exercising regularly and sticking with medications. This is especially important for those who have no other support system in place and have not been able to lean on their husbands, relatives, friends, or neighbors.
Through the network that PSI has set up across the country (and around the world!), it is encouraging to see more and more postpartum resource centers and PPD support groups forming locally. For more information on these resource centers and PPD support groups, please click here. But we still need so many more!