A Letter to My Mother on Mother’s Day

Dear Mom,

You brought me into this world.
You raised me.
You taught me to be a caring, polite, honest and hard-working individual.
I have much to thank you for.

You were always a very caring mother.
Even though you always worried so much…..
Too much, in fact.
You worried so much that you drove me and my brothers bonkers.
Your incessant worrying made for a very tough time growing up as your daughter.

You always did tell me, wait until you have your own child(ren), and
Then you will know what it’s like to be a mother.
Looking back, I do realize you were just trying to be the best mother you can be,
Just as I now want to be the best mother I can be too.

I remember how we used to fight a lot.
Much of it was due to no one being able to see things from the perspective of the other.
And dad was a catalyst to our fights.
My unhappy teenage years didn’t help matters.
Things were tough for me growing up.
I hated school and where we lived so much.

But I know things were tough for you too.
You lived far away from your own parents….
So far away that you only saw them a couple times since you came here in the 1950s,
Seeking a better life for yourself and future family.
You always just grinned and trod on,
Focused on ensuring your children did well in life.

Life has not been that fair for you, I know
And I wish I could have changed your experiences and circumstances
So you could’ve had a better life
That you didn’t have to spend so many lonely days at home alone
After my brothers and I moved out and
While dad worked all day, 7 days a week.

I wish I knew then what I know now.
That your heightened anxiety and obsessive behaviors,
Your worst enemies,
Should have been treated so that
After you had your surgery in 2012,
Your anxiety and obsessive behaviors wouldn’t compromise your health.
Your soon-to-be-84-year-old self
Still doesn’t look your age
Despite all the medical issues you’ve faced.
Had it not been for your anxiety and obsessive behaviors,
I could see you living up to 100 years old,
Full of the energy and youthfulness I remember seeing
As a child while you sang and danced in the kitchen.

I will never forget your sadness that you couldn’t spend more time with your family.
It pains me to remember.
I wish I could’ve done more for you earlier….
Like send you back to see your family more,
But money was always an issue.

This regret will hang over my head for the rest of my life.
This regret has taught me that
It’s not about material wealth, size of home, or appearance of wealth that matters
So much as the fact that time goes by and people age too quickly
Moments are all too fleeting,
And before you know it, there are so many lost opportunities
To do things you wanted/meant to do
That are now too late to carry out.
I may now have the means to send you home to visit your family.
But you are now too old and frail to travel.

I don’t want any more regrets.
I don’t want to later look back with regret that I didn’t see you as much as I could.
I don’t want to later look back with regret that I didn’t cook for you.
I don’t want any more regrets.

I want to be there for you as much as I can,
Within my abilities and despite my shortcomings,
As I am far from a perfect daughter.

Today, on Mother’s Day, a dreary, rainy, chilly day,
I reflect on my shortcomings as a daughter.
I could’ve spent more time with you.
I could’ve cooked more for you.

But things are not too late.
I can still see you every week.
I can still cook a little for you,
Even though I suck at cooking.

You inspire me to be a better mother.
And a better daughter too.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Love always,
Ivy

Parenting is hard

As a follow-up to my July 2018 post about my friend Elly Taylor’s US tour, I would like to help spread the word that PARENTING IS HARD.

 

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That’s right, parenting is NOT necessarily instinctive.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Parenting is a journey that is traveled by the new mom who learns as she goes.

And one in which the new father (or partner) learns as he goes.

Or as per Elly’s training mantra and title of her book, it’s a journey to Becoming Us.

And you, parents, need to and should take as much help as you can get along the way.

There should be no shame with that.

No one says that you need to go it all alone.

The more help you get, the better your parenting experience will be.

Trust me.

And trust Elly and everyone else that is trying to spread this truth and resources to get you that help.

The more we realize this going into parenthood, the less we are blindsided.

The more we are prepared for the twists in the parenting journey that life throws our way.

For 1 out of 7 new moms, postpartum depression (PPD) is one of the twists that they will come across on their journey.

Minimizing surprises leads to a better parenting experience and less risk of PPD.

We should want this for everyone, no?

So, please help spread the word.

PARENTING IS HARD.

 

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Check out Elly’s brand new video.
It is a very important video for all expectant and new mothers and their partners.
I just adore listening to her lovely Australian accent.

Stay tuned to a follow-up post on Elly’s 2019 tour to the United States.

 

Wrapping up Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month: Interview with Lindsay Lipton Gerszt on the Documentary “When the Bough Breaks”

Introduction:

When the Bough Breaks follows the journey to recovery for Lindsay Lipton Gerszt.  It also includes interviews of celebrity mothers (i.e., co-producer Tanya Newbould, Carnie Wilson of Wilson Phillips, celebrity chef Aarti Sequeira, Peggy Tanous of The Real Housewives of Orange County), interviews with other mothers, subject matter expects on postpartum mood disorders (like Diana Lynn Barnes, whom I know), and those who helped Lindsay during her recovery (including her doula, her therapist, her acupuncturist, her OB/GYN).

The film is educational in that it touches on the statistics of postpartum mood disorders and what they are, importance of social support, risk factors, importance of screening new mothers, treatment methods, and the stigma/shame surrounding such disorders…..fundamentally, the same elements that are covered in my book.

The film encourages mothers to speak up and share their experiences, and seek help as soon as they feel something isn’t right.  There should be no shame in being sick with a postpartum mood disorder.  It is not your fault.  It is your body’s physical reaction to your childbirth experience.  The more mothers share their experiences, the less stigma there will be.

I smiled when I saw my lovely friends, Jane Honikman, founder of Postpartum Support International and Postpartum Education for Parents (PEP) and Walker Karraa.  Tears flowed when I listened to the tragic stories, one of which I had blogged about previously (Naomi Knoles). One of my favorite lines from the film referred to PPD as a “sickness of the brain, which is an organ of the body.”  If the public and healthcare folks all treated PPD this way, we would be leaps and bounds ahead of where we are today.  My hope is that one day, the diagnosing and treating of PPD will be as routine as diabetes.  The film ends very much like how my book ends.  There is hope, as there is progress thanks to efforts of many of the folks mentioned in the film.

I know what it’s like to be impassioned to share your experience so that other mothers don’t feel as alone, hopeless and caught off guard as you do.  My 429-page book has no doubt scared a lot of people away from buying and reading it, and I haven’t done a whole lot to market it.  But at least I have my blog, which reaches people via Internet all over the world.  For many people, images and movies have a greater impact.  You just sit back and take it all in.  Now that it’s available on Netflix, the film is available among all the other movies that could potentially be seen by the 94 million subscribers, which is a really huge deal.  And with Brooke, Carnie, Aarti and Peggy’s names attached, the film will surely draw in many, and hopefully, many more people will now have an awareness of postpartum mood disorders and as a result, more mothers with PPD will recognize when it’s not the blues and seek help sooner.  And hopefully, the film will help decrease the stigma associated with maternal mental health conditions like PPD, postpartum psychosis, postpartum OCD, etc.

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Lindsay, I’m sure you have heard repeatedly about how wonderful this film is.  It is ground breaking.  It is educational.  It is chock full of information that is so important to share with the public.  Thank you for taking the time to participate in this Q&A on my blog!

Question 1:

When did the idea of filming your experience with PPD first come up? Was there a light bulb moment for you?  What was the pivotal moment that turned your desire to write your story into reality?  For me, there was a specific what I refer to as “light bulb moment.”  Tom Cruise’s words “There’s no such thing as a chemical imbalance” in 2005 was my light bulb moment to write a book about my PPD experience. Incidentally, seeing him included in When the Bough Breaks flashed me back to how I felt when he uttered those infamous words. It was my experience with PPD, combined with childcare complications and lack of social and practical support, that motivated me to write my book One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood.  My mission was to help other mothers realize they were not alone in what they were experiencing and not the only ones seeking practical tips in dealing with childcare complications (e.g., colic, eczema, cradle cap, which I had no idea how to address as a first-time parent), so new moms wouldn’t be as anxious and in the dark as I was on how to cope with these types of issues.

Answer 1:

Director and Producer, Jamielyn Lippman, and Producer, Tanya Newbould, had the idea to make a documentary about PPD.  They put an ad in a mommy blog and I responded, as I felt ready to share my story.  At the time, my son was only a few years old and I was still suffering greatly.  After my interview, Jamielyn reached out to meet with me.  We decided to continue the journey of making When the Bough Breaks with the three of us, and I came on as a producer.

We knew that, in order for this film to really resonate with the audience, we needed to follow someone on her journey.  We needed someone that people could root for and connect with.  When we first started talking about who we wanted this person to be we didn’t have to think further than myself.  I craved to feel better and I realized that I was so far from recovery.  It was also the perfect opportunity for me to seek out different treatment options and to further educate myself on perinatal mood disorders.

What I did not know at the time was how big of an impact making this film would have on me.  The emotions I felt while filming were real, raw and intense.  I had anticipated to “hurt” while sharing my journey but what I experienced through filming was life changing.

 

Question 2:

Can you give a brief overview of what the film is about ?

Answer 2:

When the Bough Breaks is a feature-length documentary about PPD and postpartum psychosis.  Narrated and executive produced by Brooke Shields, this shocking film uncovers this very public health issue that affects one in five new mothers after childbirth.  The film follows Lindsay Gerszt, a mother who has been suffering from PPD, for six years. Lindsay agrees to let the cameras document her and give us an in-depth look at her path to recovery. We meet women who have committed infanticide and families who have lost loved ones to suicide.  Babies are dying, women aren’t speaking out, and the signs are being missed.  When the Bough Breaks takes us on a journey to find answers and break the silence.

 

Question 3:

Is there anything in particular you’ve learned as a consequence of capturing your story and these other people’s stories on film?

Answer 3:

I have never learned more about myself, human nature, pain and love as I have with making When the Bough Breaks. I have always suffered from depression but to suffer while having to take care of a baby made me realize how strong I am and what I am capable of.  I also learned that you cannot judge anyone!  Everyone has a story to tell and we must learn from each story no matter how painful it is to listen.  As hard as it was to make this film, it was life changing and I would not take it back for anything in the world.

 

Question 4:

Who should watch the film, and why?

Answer 4:

When the Bough Breaks is not just a film for mental health professionals.  It is a film for everyone.  Since up to 1 in 5 new mothers will suffer from a perinatal mood disorder, everyone will know someone at some point who is suffering.  We need to know what signs to look out for and how to give the support that those whom are suffering so desperately need.  We need to know what treatment options there are and how those treatments work.  Most importantly, we need to keep talking about this very serious illness and fight the stigma that is attached to it.  With When the Bough Breaks being available in 64 countries, now we have a big opportunity to work with other advocates to keep this important conversation going and reach a huge audience that otherwise does not know anything about PPD.

 

Question 5:

What was the most challenging part in the process of filming this documentary?

Answer 5:

For me, filming the interviews that dealt with postpartum psychosis were the most challenging part of filming When the Bough Breaks.  As producers, you are there to tell a story.  However, when you meet and get to know the many people being interviewed in the film, you start to care for them on the deepest of levels because we are sharing this experience and journey together.  To see their pain in telling their stories–whether it was a mom who suffered from postpartum psychosis, her partner or the children who were affected by it–was very intense and heartbreaking for me.  I personally became very close to Naomi Knoles and her family.  When we lost her, we were devastated but it also made us work even harder to make sure the film reached as many people as possible so her story could be heard and help others.

 

Question 6:

Do you plan to screen this movie in major cities, and if so, is there a schedule?  Is there a plan to get OB/GYNs to watch this movie?

Answer 6:

We have just signed two educational deals that will help get the film out in markets to which we would not normally be able to reach out on our own.  We have also set up a screening license on our website so that organizations and communities can screen and share the film. We need the film to reach as many hospitals, OB/GYNs, pediatricians and any other organizations that work with new mothers, and I am and will continue to work hard to make sure that happens. The screening license can be found here https://www.whentheboughbreaksfilm.com .

 

Postpartum Insomnia Series – Story 2: KIM

This is the second of the series of posts about postpartum insomnia.  I met Kim recently via the closed Facebook group for Postpartum Support International.  Insomnia was one of the symptoms that she suffered as a consequence of postpartum anxiety and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Thank you, Kim, for sharing your story on my blog!

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I’ve always been anxious.  It’s been my temperament since day one; just ask my parents.  I wouldn’t know that I’ve also had OCD must of my life until after I had my first child.  Looking back, all I can say is – DUH! – but in the 90s and even beyond, there just wasn’t a lot of information available about these mental “disorders.” My parents even took me to a child psychiatrist, but to no avail.  Admittedly, it’s hard to diagnose someone at such a young age (I was 10), but the more we talk about it the easier it might become, right?

Anyway, before I became pregnant with my first child, I had a miscarriage, specifically a “missed” miscarriage, during the 12-week check, after which the recovery went on far longer than I expected.  It was painful, emotionally and physically speaking, but we got through it and got pregnant again.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t as anxious as I thought I would be this time around.  Despite moving 2.5 hours away from my family while 6 months pregnant, I was confident everything would be fine.  My sister had had 2 kids prior and, to all outward appearances, she had made it look so easy!

Fast forward 3ish months and this baby wasn’t budging.  10 days past my due date, they decided to induce.  Again, little to no progress.  After 16 hours of contractions, they finally made the decision to do a C-section and, low and behold, there was my baby!  Yikes!

From night one, he cried.  And cried.  And cried.  I attempted nursing with very little success, but kept trying.  (Eventually, I’d move to only formula, but not before going through several different types before settling on one that didn’t cause the babe major discomfort that led to hours upon hours of late night screaming).

All of this took a huge toll on me physically, emotionally, mentally.  I felt like, because my husband was working, I needed to be the one to take care of my child during the night time hours.  Sleep was not something that came easily…initially, because of the stress of middle of the night feedings/endless screaming, later because of extreme anxiety/OCD and the consequent insomnia.

If there is one thing I’ve learned from this harrowing postpartum experience is that sleep is ESSENTIAL.  We need that time to reflect, to recharge, to RELAX.

Ultimately, the lack of sleep (I was averaging 2 hours a night on the couch with my son so that my husband could sleep) sent me on a terrifying downward spiral.  I began experiencing awful intrusive thoughts that, even thought I didn’t understand it at the time, are directly associated with high anxiety and OCD.  After some research, I discovered Postpartum Progress, an amazingly informative website that helped me to understand what was happening to me.

Even though I was hesitant to start medication, my OB prescribed me Lexapro.  I began taking it and, the first night, woke up experiencing severe anxiety bordering on a panic attack.  Now, please understand that this is a side effect listed in the pamphlet accompanying the medication.  In a twist of utter injustice, these SSRI (selective serotonin re-update inhibitor) medications can sometimes increase anxiety before decreasing it.  It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it did happen to me.

After 3 days of heightened anxiety and very little sleep, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I was a stranger to myself, completely lost in the sleeplessness, anxiety, and panic.  I could hardly take care of myself, let alone my one month old baby.  After a visit to the ER, I made the decision to voluntarily admit myself to a local inpatient mental hospital.  During my 3-day stay, I was able to see different counselors (some more helpful than others), let the Lexapro get into my system, as well as start taking trazodone to help with the insomnia.

It’s not a choice everyone would make.  And, in hindsight, I’m not even sure I would make the same decision again.  However, upon my return home, I was adamant that facing my fears (being alone with my child, especially during the lonely night-time hours) and getting better were my top priorities.  My mother-in-law came to stay for a week as added support and my family was extra attentive to my overall well-being.  I realize that I’m so very fortunate to have this support system and I fervently pray that all of you are similarly blessed.

***If you aren’t, please, PLEASE reach out to someone, anyone.  Join a mom’s group, a Bible study (if that’s your thing), even a Facebook group.  There are SO many people out there who have gone through this.  We just need to start the conversation and keep it rolling.***

I’m not going to lie.  It was a challenging couple of weeks while the medicine took time to really start working. The trazodone helped immensely with my insomnia and the Lexapro helped slow down my mind so I could separate myself from the deceptive thoughts that anxiety allows to creep in. But it got easier every day and, eventually, I began to recognize myself again.  It’s not an easy role shift, I’ll tell you that.  And it really shouldn’t be, regardless of what’s depicted in movies, television, magazines, etc.  There’s a huge learning curve associated with new parenthood.  Some take to it right away; others need a little/lot more time to adjust and that’s OKAY.

But please trust that it WILL come.  You will learn.  You will adjust. And it will be so, so worth it.

Free Copies of “Baby Basics: Your Month by Month Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy”

Psssst…OFFERING FOR FREE!  Note: This offer is for folks living in the continental U.S. only.  As of 12/23/16, they are still available!  I’m one of those folks who hates throwing things out and would rather give away or sell things via local resell/re-use groups or garage sales or eBay.

I have 2 copies of “Baby Basics: Your Month by Month Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy”…this book is available for $8 via the What to Expect Foundation and $13 via the march of Dimes and $5 or so via Amazon.  These copies are unused, so are as good as new.

Baby Basics

I am offering for just the cost of shipping (approximately $4). Please leave me a comment below and I will email you for your address to ship a copy (or both copies) to you. I won’t publish the comment so no one will see your address, promise.

This would make a fabulous gift for someone you care about that is expecting a baby.  The earlier on the expectant mom gets a copy of this book, the better prepared she will be in terms of what to expect during pregnancy and what to prepare for when baby arrives.  The info in it is VERY helpful/important that I wish I had received when I was pregnant back in 2004.  For more details on what the book provides, please click here.

Pet Peeve Blog Post #3 on Celebrity Post-Baby Bodies

I was just browsing the Internet one last time before turning in for the evening.  I was in a relatively good mood, despite having to work late.  It took me less than an hour to get home (a record!) and just in time to watch my favorite of all television shows So You Think You Can Dance, had dinner and a can of Ballas Point grapefruit sculpin while watching the show with my husband and daughter, and looking forward to a day off tomorrow (my third day off thus far this year!).

But then I ran across an E Online article titled “Jessica Biel Debuts Her Amazing Post-Baby Body—See the First Pics!”  The words “post-baby body” used in conjunction with a celebrity peeve me just as much as sitting next to a guy who manspreads on the bus or subway.  It is annoying as ALL HECK.  I started keeping a photo journal of all the manspreading examples I come across during my commute to/from work.  So, I’ve decided to keep a journal of all the celebrity post-baby hoop-la examples as well.   LOL

Jessica Biel is one hot mama!…..she looks incredible!  Wearing a trendy full-length jumpsuit and ankle-strap heels to a local studio for some work, the new mom looked incredibly trim for having given birth in early April! She paired her summery outfit with a light beige cardigan and a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, which we’re hoping she uses to celebrate how great she looks!

So, I’m going to get this off my chest right now.hcx3r

And I’m going to get my good ol’ eye roll GIF out once more to express my annoyance.

Altogether now:   WOOP DE DOO AND LA DEE DA

I am so tired of this crap.

Magazines should stop glorifying the return of a celebrity mom’s post-baby bod, as celebrities do NOT represent the norm.  Do you think new moms want to see or read about this waste of paper (if magazine) or html coding (if Internet page)?  It’s like taunting 99% of the new moms out there with a “Look, this hot mama was able to return to look incredibly trim in an amazingly short period of time.  She’s even got herself a bottle of Veuve Cliquot that we’re hoping she uses to celebrate how great she looks.  Can YOU beat that?”

Not to be mean spirited or anything, but I have a lot more important things to occupy my mind and time with than to be concerned about a celebrity’s post-baby body, thank you very much.  Why do magazines/Internet sites continue to obsess over that?  Why do the magazines/Internet sites obsess over celebrity women who have babies managing to appear as if they were never pregnant or had a baby?  Exercising to return my body as quickly as possible to my pre-baby condition was not even a blip on my radar after I had my baby.  Exercising still isn’t a blip on my radar, ten years later.  Exercise is good for the health and spirit, there’s no question of that.  But as long as the mother is taking care of herself in the way she chooses to or is able to care for herself–whether that includes exercising or not doesn’t matter–so she can properly care for her baby, that’s all that matters.

Hey, celebrities have money, hired help, personal trainers, etc., which 99% of new moms DON’T have.  Emphasizing such things doesn’t help the majority of people who live in the real world….so it brings me to the question:  Why do it at all?  Why do you keep on emphasizing the point that rich celebrities can immediately go back to their pre-baby bods?  Oh yeah, it probably has a lot to do with the fact that SIX corporations own ALL of the MEDIA in the country and if they choose to continue to be misogynistic, then no one is going to stand in their way.

This is why we need FEMINISM.  We need strong women to speak up, to challenge convention and bring about positive change for the sake of women.

We need to focus on moms getting the help they need–practical, emotional and social support in the 1-2 months following childbirth.  Click here for what really matters to help new moms, and in so doing, help reduce the occurrence of postpartum mood disorders.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again….there needs to be at least one article a month (in every magazine that has anything to do with parenting) that speaks about postpartum depression and postpartum adjustment, mothering the new mother, the fourth trimester, where to find local resources (doulas, postpartum support groups, PPD support), etc.

Let’s focus on what TRULY matters.  #MOMSMATTER

A New Mom’s Needs Matter Just As Much As the Baby’s Needs

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

Nothing recently has truly sparked my desire to blog…that is, until tonight.  One of my Facebook friends had commented on an article on a public page, so it popped up on my Facebook feed on my commute home from work.  The post was titled “Charlotte Bevan’s death: an indictment of a breastfeeding culture that ignores the needs of women,” written by Amy Tuteur, MD.

One of my biggest peeves is an extremist, misguided, self-serving, selfish, hateful and highly narrow-minded viewpoint, whether it be about politics, guns, religion, bigotry, misogynism, women’s reproductive rights…..or in this case, breastfeeding.  I’ve previously blogged about how breastfeeding zealotry led to the deaths of a mother and her baby, and here I am again, blogging about another PREVENTABLE AND SENSELESS DEATH of a new mother and her baby.

WHEN IS IT GOING TO STOP?

If you are in the medical healthcare profession, you MUST place your patients’ wellbeing BEFORE your religious and biased viewpoints, which have NO PLACE in a profession in which lives are at stake. And should you NOT know the appropriate protocols for specific conditions, drug interactions, consequences of taking someone off medications, etc., then you have NO BUSINESS being in your profession.  PERIOD.

Sure, breast is best if it’s best for baby AND MOM.  BUT DO NOT EVER FORGET ABOUT THE MOTHER.  If she is healthy and wants to/can breastfeed, then great.  If she is healthy and does not for whatever reason want to breastfeed, she shouldn’t be forced to/guilted into doing so.  If she is not healthy and cannot breastfeed, then stop guilting her into doing so.  Let her formula feed in peace.

If she has a mental health condition (as in Charlotte’s case) that requires her to continue taking medication, then she MUST do so.  If she has a mental health condition and wants to breastfeed, then have her continue breastfeeding if–as in this case with risperidone–the medication she is taking is compatible with doing so based on research.  If she prefers to feed her baby formula because she is uncertain about breastfeeding while on the medication, then let her feed her baby formula.  Let her formula feed in peace.

Whoever let Charlotte go off her anti-psychotic medications without monitoring her to be sure both she and her baby were okay are directly responsible for her death.  Here again, we have the insidious belief that a baby deserves to be fed “liquid gold,” the life of her mother be damned.  Bottom line, those whom she entrusted her care might as well have just pushed her off the cliff themselves.  Death by negligence. I believe they call it negligent homicide here.

Women around the world continue to be viewed as baby incubators and milk machines, and as such, their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing do not matter in the grand scheme of things.  Their needs as new mothers don’t matter.  BUT THEY DO MATTER.

I had to quote an excerpt out of the post written by Dr. Amy Tuteur here, as it’s perfectly on point:

For most of human history, women have been reduced to three body parts: uterus, vagina and breasts. Their intellect was irrelevant; their talents were irrelevant; their wants and needs were irrelevant. For a while it appeared that we had moved beyond this deeply sexist and retrograde view of women, but now it’s back in a new guise: natural parenting, specifically natural childbirth, lactivism and attachment parenting. These movements place the (purported) needs of babies front and center. They ignore the needs of women.

I firmly believe that extremist thinking is in and of itself an illness.  It is delusional, obsessive and destructive behavior that MUST BE STOPPED.   This tragedy wasn’t just a wake-up call.  There have been all too many wake-up calls.  IT IS TIME FOR US TO WAKE THE F*CK UP.

Women are more than baby incubators and milk machines.

Challenges Faced by Asian American Women in the Workplace – Cultural Traits, Ceilings, Guilt, Assumptions and Stigma

Recently, I attended an Asian American professionals event.  Overall, I was happy I attended the event, mostly because the speakers spoke about the challenges they encountered on their path to their current status as successful and well-regarded professionals.  They spoke about having to overcome such cultural traits as humility and introversion, as well as their tendency to avoid speaking up.  Yes, because of the way we were raised, being aggressive is not natural and “silence is golden.”  These are self-defeating traits.  How can you move up the ranks and be noticed if you don’t speak up in meetings?  If you don’t speak your mind because you’re too humble? If you don’t give presentations to peers and management because you are introverted?

In addition to the familiar expressions “glass ceiling” (in reference to women, for the most part) and “bamboo ceiling” (in reference to Asian professionals, specifically….think about how many Asian executives there are in your workplace), when you add new motherhood to the equation, Asian women tend to have perfectionist tendencies and experience shame and guilt far more readily than women in other cultures due to their cultural traits and the way they were brought up.

I realize that the following are not just experienced by Asian American mothers in the workforce, but all mothers in the workforce.  So, in addition to the bamboo and glass ceilings, Asian American mothers also experience what I refer to as the “new mother ceiling.”

New mothers returning to the workforce experience GUILT from having to leave their baby in the care of someone else.  Most households do not have the fortune of having a relative (e.g., spouse, parent, in-law) or live-in nanny living with them, so there is the added challenge of pick-ups and drop-offs, which inevitably means having to take turns with their significant others dropping off (which means getting to work later) and picking up (which means leaving work earlier).  These drop-offs and pick-ups are a really big deal especially when there is a long commute at stake, and the childcare hours of operation mean the earliest you can drop off is 7:00 am (and in a majority of places, it’s not until 7:30 am or 8:00 am) and the latest you can pick up is 6:00 pm.  How in the world do parents deal with these hours?  They just have to.  They make it work somehow.  For some parents, like me, any “fast track” for which I may have been considered would have to wait until a more “opportune” time, when drop-offs and pick-ups no longer get in the way of that fast track.  For other parents, childcare is too expensive and it makes more economical sense for one of them to stay at home, and it’s usually the mother.  Hence, the stay at home mom.

New mothers returning to the workforce experience GUILT from leaving their babies in the care of others spend long days (ELEVEN hours) with someone other than themselves, but they worry about the impact getting in late and leaving early will have on their careers.  They fear that it’s going to put a dent on their performance assessments, that their managers frown on such hours when non-parents don’t have such issues and can get in early and leave late every day.  They fear the judgmental eyes and “another half day, eh?” remarks from colleagues looking at them like they spend less hours at work and therefore should be viewed less favorably by management.  I know, as I’ve been the brunt of these whisperings after my daughter was born.

New mothers returning to the workforce experience GUILT in situations where a woman needs or prefers (and is economically able) to stay at home, and yet you know your parents spent X amount of money for a college education to have a better shot at a successful career.  You feel like it was a waste of their hard-earned money (or blood, sweat and tears) to get you to where you are today.

Here’s where I want to mention that one of the two speakers was a woman who, like the man, explained the challenges she had to overcome in getting to where she is today.  Like any speaker giving a rah rah speech for career-minded individuals at a workplace event, she addressed the crowd in a general fashion, making assumptions in so doing.

She looked at the audience and firmly addressed the women in the audience with a statement that, and I can’t quote her exactly but the gist of what she was saying was, working mothers should be proud for returning to work after having their babies.  That just made it sound like stay at home mothers should feel bad for staying at home with their babies.

She mentioned how happy she was when her 12 year old daughter recently told her that she is proud of her mother’s successful career and she has no negative feelings or memories for not having spent that much time with her while growing up.  Unfortunately, this is not representative of the reactions of every child out there in similar circumstances.

She mentioned that she gave birth without the aid of an epidural and was in labor for 22 hours.  I have to say that she is fortunate there were no complications during/after her labor and delivery, because unfortunately, not every woman fares this well in similar circumstances.  Some experience childbirth complications, like I did.  Some don’t survive.  Some survive but their babies don’t.

She was sleep deprived and had to return to work within weeks of giving birth.  She mentioned that it’s definitely hard work but absolutely possible for everyone with babies to get by with little sleep and still do well at work.  She said that everyone has the ability to cope with the temporary challenges of new parenthood, juggling work with sleep deprivation.  She said something to the effect of “If I could do it, so can you. Don’t complain, just do.”  This is not a direct quote, mind you, but the gist of what she was saying at the very end of her speech.

I was deeply interested in/commiserated with and appreciated the speakers and what they had to say…..up until this last point.  It’s all good and fine that this is a rah rah speech for career-minded individuals.  But having gone through what I went through….postpartum depression (PPD), which is crippling and can make you doubt you’ll ever be well again, let alone back at work in the highly functioning, ambitious professional you were before you gave birth and ended up in the dark hole of despair that is PPD (and any other postpartum mood disorder), I found myself biting my lip, cringing inwardly while smiling outwardly and thinking to myself “She has no clue and I would venture to guess that even if I went up to her and told her how her last statements can hurt the one in eight women–many of whom are professionals–that end up stricken with PPD, she would wave me off just like the female colleague to whom I had tried to explain my PPD experience waved me off.”

Can I blame her for not getting it because she’s never been there?  No.  But I sure as heck am thinking about sending her a note (with perhaps a link to my blog or a copy of my book) that what she said absolutely does not resonate with everyone, and she should be mindful of the fact that not everyone can JUST DO IT like she did.  As much as one would like to JUST DO IT (after all, that is my favorite mantra of all time, thanks to Lance Armstrong and Nike), I COULD NOT.  Not until I was well again.

Having the attitude of JUST DO or BUCK UP or IF I CAN DO IT, SO CAN YOU is an attitude that fails new mothers not from the standpoint of striving to keep up with male counterparts if we expect to climb up that corporate ladder and break through the bamboo, glass…and new mother ceilings, but from the assumption that no mother EVER has pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum complications.  Saying JUST DO, no matter what, is implying that mothers who have had new mother-related challenges are NOT GOOD ENOUGH and the mother with challenges must be all alone in her experience because, heck, no one ever shares negative stories of new mother-related challenges.  Well, that’s because everyone with negative experiences are all AFRAID of speaking up.  IT’S FEAR, GUILT, AND SHAME THAT KEEP THEM QUIET.

This is STIGMA, folks.  And we need to change attitudes in the workplace.  Do away with all the ceilings–bamboo and glass–as well as the negative perceptions and attitudes pertaining to working parents and new mothers, in general.  All I’m asking is for people to open their eyes and accept that not all new mothers have the ability to return to work, even if they want to.  That they should not be ashamed for the reason.  They should not be ashamed to speak up.  And just because a new mother does manage to return to work right after baby, it does NOT mean there were absolutely no childbirth or childcare complications along the way.  STOP ASSUMING that everything is fine and dandy because in reality, approximately 15-20% of new mothers succumb to PPD.  PPD is experienced by women of all cultures, ethnicities, social statuses, and religions.

Yes, I think I AM going to send her a copy of my book “One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood: Infertility, Childbirth Complications, and Postpartum Depression, Oh My!”

Common Bond of Parenthood

There is nothing subtle about the common bond of parenthood, as shown at the end of this video sponsored by Similac, a formula company.  I’m practically certain that an anti-formula group of breastfeeding (BF) zealots would never have sponsored such a video.  The last thing the BF zealots want to show is that there is even a hint of commonality between moms who BF and moms who formula feed.

What is the common bond?  Well, as you’ll see by watching this video, it’s that parents are–regardless of our parenting style or choices–parents.  Period.  The video even has a group of men (whether they are single parents or stay-at-home-dads is not clear), which is Similac’s intent to bring fathers into the picture, because after all, fathers are parents too.  Parents have a desire and obligation to do the best they can to care for their children with the means best suited for them.  Our children are our responsibility.  We brought them into the world.

At the end of the video, when a baby and parent need help, everyone–regardless of their parenting style or choices–drops their differences and runs to the aid of that baby and parent.  Now, that’s what it SHOULD be all about.  Forget about stupid and meaningless mommy wars.  Putting aside our differences and recognizing and respecting each others’ differences– instead of putting up walls to separate ourselves from those that are different from us– is what it should all be about.  Non first-time parents know what it’s like to be a parent for the first time and know how challenging taking care of a newborn baby and being a first-time parent really is.   Wouldn’t it be nice if experienced parents shared their experience with other new parents instead of thinking “Well, I learned the hard way, so can he/she.” Wouldn’t it also be nice if there were parent support groups in EVERY community, not just here or there and not known to/hard to find by the vast majority of those seeking support?  Parenting is about community, not about individual parents in isolation, left to their own devices because of how they choose to parent.

It takes a community to parent, period.  You can’t go it alone.  And you should not have to.

For added perspective from a writer and advocate for mothers whom I admire very much, please visit Suzie Barston’s Fearless Formula Feeder’s blog post about this video.  It’s titled “You’re Proving the Point.”

And another piece written by Amy Newman titled “Let’s Lower Stakes in Breastfeeding Debate.”

Beautiful, Troubled Path – A Poem by Stacy M

Stacy M. wrote this poem one year after her first postpartum depression (PPD) meltdown/hospitalization. 

She wrote it as a reflection of the obstacles she hadn’t expected becoming a mom would entail, including a devastating pregnancy loss. 

Despite the deeply wounding obstacles she came across, she never gave up. 

She felt so broken during her  hospitalization, after which she was able to realize that she could heal and move on and still be a great mom.

She wanted to share this poem with other moms who are on a beautiful, troubled path now or have also traveled a similar path.

Just like her, you may not have expected that becoming a mother–a traditionally happy, joyous occasion–could have any pain or darkness associated with it.

Just like her, you will find that the pain and darkness will pass and  beauty will prevail in the end.  Yes, beauty is at the end of the path.

And the difficult experiences are what make you a stronger individual.

Thank you, Stacy, for sharing your touching poem.

 

Path

Photo: Ivy Shih Leung

Beautiful, Troubled Path

have you seen how dark it can get in a grieving mind
have you tried on the shoes that I have walked in oh so many times

have you felt the heavy rain turn to hail upon your shoulders
or have you tried living life moving constant boulders

obstacle after obstacle
how many leaps of faith can one take

wound after wound
how much more heartache

the path to having a family of my own
has set off tears that will never dry

skinned knees from being on the ground
begging the universe please

strength and patience is the hardest to hold onto
when waiting to find inner peace

balancing my mind day in and day out
balancing the pain with a breathe of fresh air
is the only way to heal
to feel

the beauty underneath this troubled path
of becoming a good parent and a better person

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

By:  Stacy M.

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.

Postpartum Support International’s 2014 Blog Hop – Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month

May iPSI Blog Hop Badge by Lauren Hales a special month for postpartum mood disorder (PPMD) survivors.  Why?  Because it is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month…..and you can participate in the 2nd annual Postpartum Support International (PSI) blog hop!  The topic of the blog hop is Perinatal Mood Disorders: What Helped Me Recover: Self, Family & Community Resources.

If you are a blogger who has experienced postpartum depression (PPD) or any other postpartum mood disorder (PMD), 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.

You have all month in which to join the blog hop.  So, PPD survivor mamas, get your creative writing juices flowing!  Let’s get the word out that moms need not feel alone and unaware of where/who to go to for help!

SELF:
Let’s empower PPD mamas so they have the knowledge they need to understand that what they are going through is not their fault and they will be well again as long as they get the right help.  As I mentioned in my book, in past post posts on this blog, my PSI blog hop post last year, and even on my Huffington Post piece titled “Hindsight is 20/20: Taking Personal PPD Experience and Helping Other Moms,” I was not aware of any online or group resources, I suffered–alone and frightened–without anyone to really talk to about what I was going through except for my husband.

FAMILY:
Support can be in the form of practical (and perhaps even emotional support) from the mom’s significant other and other family members.  Click here on the importance of and historical/cultural aspects of mothering the mother.

COMMUNITY:
Community resources can be in the form of local organizations, like PPD support groups in a local hospital or like MotherWoman and others (too many to name, but I do list many under my Support Groups/Local Resources links on my blog).  You can also find a number of excellent online PPD communities for support, like the closed Facebook group #PPDChat Support.

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.

Adjusting Well, by Ann Jamison

I’ve never re-blogged anyone’s blog posts before, but I had to for this.  This piece–so moving and honest and raw–brought me to tears…reminding me so much of my own dark, lonely, helpless days of PPD.

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.

Who Will Catch Me? MotherWoman Perinatal Support Group Webinar: February 6, 2014

Quick post from me today.

I promised Liz Friedman, MotherWoman Program Director, that I would post information about their next webinar this coming Thursday, February 6th, at 3 pm EST.   Click here for details and to register.  If you are a postpartum depression (PPD) survivor and/or are simply interested in knowing how to help make a positive difference in the lives of mothers through a support model that has been proven successful and key to the recovery of moms suffering from PPD, please register today!

The webinar will be led by MotherWoman’s trainers Annette Cycon (Founder) and Liz Friedman, and hosted by Praeclarus Press and The Simkin Center at Bastyr University.

Click here on one of my prior blog posts about MotherWoman and its important mission.  Peer support–the kind of support that entails emotional and social support–is something I completely lacked during my own PPD journey and I am convinced would have made a HUGE difference for me.  I didn’t know where to find such support.  My OB and his staff’s lack of awareness regarding PPD and lack of bedside manner aggravated my condition because I thought I was suffering from some incurable illness.  They provided ZERO comfort.  Their coldness is something I will never forget.  My GP’s complete and utter lack of bedside manner–even though he prescribed the right combination of medicine that ultimately helped cure me–also aggravated my condition and is something I will never forget.  My symptoms occurred so suddenly and so severely that I had no choice but to seek medical help right away.  Even though I had medical help, the fact that NO ONE acknowledged my feelings or even understood them enough to comfort me is a sad reflection of the state of our current maternal mental healthcare system.

Postpartum Support International (PSI) and MotherWoman are two organizations which advocate and train individuals who are committed in their maternal mental health missions.  I urge you to join in the mission today and help ensure NO mothers fall through the cracks!

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

Learning from Tragedies: Listen to the New Mom and Respect Her Needs

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

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

There was another tragic and preventable loss of a new mother’s life.
AND
Another family is now without their mother.

This mother’s name is Joe Bingley.  Joe’s husband is determined to try to prevent what happened to his wife from happening to other mothers.  He has formed the Joanne Bingley Memorial Foundation to raise awareness of this debilitating, highly stigmatized, misunderstood, and potentially life-threatening condition experienced by approximately 1 out of 8 new mothers.  Realizing the family history for postpartum depression (PPD) that ran in Joe’s family, he is determined to prevent what happened to Joe from happening to his daughter.  Joe’s death occurred back in April 2010, and this Daily Mail (UK) article was posted a few days ago to raise awareness of PPD and of the foundation that has been set up in her name.  I am writing about what happened to Joe to raise awareness and point out the importance of LISTENING TO NEW MOMS.  I mean, REALLY listen to them.

The title of the Daily Mail news article isThe ‘breast is best’ obsession and a mother driven to take her own life: This new mum was taken into hospital TWICE because she couldn’t feed her baby, but her pleas for help went unheeded.”  Between its posting date on January 2, 2014 and now, it has been shared 37,144 times and garnered 667 comments (none of which I had any desire to read).  Thanks to the attention-getting headline, it caused a large number of people to “converse” about the issues at hand as soon as that article was posted and started circulating via social media.  Having a dialogue about topics like PPD and breastfeeding (BFing) difficulties is good—especially since we don’t have enough dialogues on these “shush” topics, in general, hence the stigma—as long as it is done WITHOUT attacking one other.

The article quickly made its way around cyberspace, including many in the PPD world, as well as on such Facebook pages as The Fearless Formula Feeder (because many in that community have also survived PPD).  Unfortunately, it also attracted the attention of lactivists (hereafter referred to as breastfeeding zealots or BFZs, for short).  The FFF page’s post also attracted the attention of the BFZs who left trollish, angry comments until the entire post (it was merely a link to the Daily Mail article) was taken down…..but not before I read most of them.

When I saw the article title, my gut instinct was to REALLY wish I could pay a visit to all the healthcare professionals that failed to heed all the signs that something was wrong and failed to prevent such tragic loss of life, and tell them how I really feel and how they failed this poor woman and her family.  In this day and age, it is simply inexcusable for any healthcare professional that comes in contact with new moms—from the obstetrician to the nurses, lactation consultants—to fail to recognize that a new mom is in a distressed state and needs immediate treatment.

The gut instinct of the BFZs, on the other hand, was to be incensed about the title, insisting that it was deliberately worded to make it sound like BFing was a direct cause of Joe’s PPD and subsequent death.  They got their panties all up in a wad over AN ARTICLE TITLE.  I would like to ask the BFZs to take a step back and realize that there will only be progress in maternal mental healthcare as long as mothers feel safe in sharing their PPD experiences and BFing experiences.  What do they hope to accomplish by bashing, hating, forcing people to think their way is the only right way, and looking for conflict where there is none?  Progress can only successfully be made if we work together in finding ways to provide the support new mothers need and helping them to feel less alone and guilty in their struggles as new moms, rather than adding to the anxiety and guilt new mothers feel when they fail to perform up to so-called societal standards.

There were at least half a dozen BFZs who kept on insisting that Joe’s death had NOTHING AT ALL to do with BFing and everything to do with the lack of mental support—all the while insisting that everyone was erroneously confusing the two issues.  They claimed that Joe would’ve gotten PPD regardless of how she fed her baby.  Um, did you become an expert at PPD and a fortune teller all at the same time?  How can you possibly know this?  For Joe, these two issues were ABSOLUTELY interrelated!

The following is what I took away from the article, and  I sincerely hope the healthcare system in the UK would seriously learn from such tragedies…tragedies that could have been prevented by simply listening to the mother and nurturing her rather than letting a failing NHS system in the UK allow guidelines for postpartum assessment fail to be followed repeatedly (as in Joe’s case) and in so doing, destroying lives and families:

  1. Joe’s BFing difficulties were one of the many risk factors she had for PPD.  a) A history of miscarriages, family history of PPD (her mother, grandmother and aunt had all suffered PPD), b) personal history of PPD after 2 miscarriages and not receiving treatment (her home visitor told her to stay occupied to keep her mind busy….wtf?!), c) high anxiety levels from being a first-time mother who had previously had miscarriages so she was worried about her baby thriving, and d) feelings of BFing failure (her daughter was losing weight and she wasn’t producing enough milk)…. these were some of the risk factors that caused her PPD to rear its ugly head. Her prior PPD experiences after her miscarriages increased her risk for PPD after the birth of her daughter in 2010, and yet her home visitor, GP and everyone else who came in contact with her during her bout with PPD failed to make that connection. A mom’s feeling of not being able to provide the most basic and most critical function of being a mother to a baby–especially when the distress is so evident that she was hospitalized twice for BFing difficulties alone– can most certainly be the last straw that breaks the camel’s back. Plus, Joe was not told that it was okay to supplement breast milk with formula until her PPD was at a severe stage. If BFing challenges and pressure to BF did not exacerbate Joe’s PPD, it’s safe to say that these issues never would’ve been brought up in the article.  Even Joe’s husband clearly stated that the tremendous pressure to BF and her struggles with it were a contributing factor.  Joe’s husband is quoted as saying:

Joe was beside herself and returned to hospital on March 10. Her medical records say she was stressed and tearful. They suspected she was suffering from post-natal depression, but she was never referred for any kind of mental health help, only help with breastfeeding. The hospital seemed only to focus on the breastfeeding issue, not the mental health one. That’s the breastfeeding lobby for you…Joe ended up being connected to a breast pump for most of the day. By the time I got there in the evening, her chest was battered and bruised. She looked as if she’d been in a fight and was in a desperate state…I questioned why no one had suggested that she bottle-feed the baby. The midwife said that unless Joe or I specifically asked for advice on bottle-feeding, then they weren’t allowed to raise the subject.

  1. Joe had tried to seek help for her mental state.  However, despite her signs of distress and red flags for PPD, instead of being treated for PPD, she was re-hospitalized twice to provide her with BFing support!  The fact that they admitted her into the hospital for BFing reasons…and yet they did not give her any mental help?   Does that not tell you that HER wellbeing was not important?  Why on earth was there SO MUCH emphasis on BFing that her mental state was ignored and she was not treated despite her PPD symptoms?  How in the world could the health professionals who saw Joe ignore her cries for help?  Better yet, how in the world could they make a claim that her anxiety levels were considered normal for a first-time mother?  THAT is seriously messed up.    Public health services continue to fail our mothers by failing to prioritize maternal mental health services and policies.  Maternal mental health absolutely should demand the same kind of attention as BFing. Mothers need support REGARDLESS of how they feed their babies.  What I don’t get is this obsession with the baby with the mom falling by the wayside.

A woman who is depressed NEEDS HELP.  If she is suicidal, she needs to be taken SERIOUSLY.  Do not doubt for one second that she would carry it out.  According to the article, this poor woman had mentioned numerous ways she’d thought of killing herself.  At that point, she should have been immediately admitted to the local mother and baby psychiatric unit (that had 3 beds open at the time), but no one suggested such a thing!  Despite personally witnessing her deteriorating condition and hearing her say that she’d be better off dead, the home visitor continued to stand by the recommendation that she be cared for at home.  Frankly, I am shocked.  Here I thought the UK was leaps and bounds ahead of us with respect to postpartum support services, treatment protocols for perinatal mood disorders, the presence of psychiatric mother-baby room-in units, in-home health visitors to check up on the new mother, and even infanticide laws.  But it looks like somewhere along the way, time has stopped dead in its tracks across the pond.

Every single obstetrician, nurse and lactation consultant—whether it be in the US, UK or elsewhere—MUST BE required to receive training on perinatal mood disorder (PMD)—including but not limited to PPD, postpartum OCD and postpartum psychosis—symptoms and what to do if a PMD is suspected.  This includes training on when to recognize when an emergency situation (requiring hospitalization) and to react accordingly, taking into account: 1) every mother is unique, 2) every mother’s needs are unique, 3) every mother’s birth experience is unique, and 4) the risk factors for PPD are different for everyone who experiences PPD.  For some, it’s the birth experience itself.  For others, it’s the way they are treated by healthcare professionals (i.e., being disrespected, dismissed).  For others, it’s inadequate social and/or practical support.  For others, it’s sleep deprivation and the hormonal changes from childbirth.  The list of risk factors goes on and on.

How I’d like to address some of the comments I read:

  1. If moms claim that BFing cured them of their PPD, then we need to question whether it was PPD or the blues that they experienced.  Differences between them are still misunderstood by the public.  I know this because of recent conversations I’ve had with various people, including friends and co-workers.
  2. PPD can happen in both BFing and formula feeding moms.  Neither BFing nor bottle feeding should be seen as a sole remedy to PPD.  BFing can reduce the risk or severity of PPD for some mothers, but for a larger number of mothers, BFing can exacerbate the situation for moms already experiencing  sky-high anxiety levels, uncertainty due to lack of self confidence, inadequate support—not to mention difficulties with BFing.  If a mom has PPD, then she needs to seek treatment from a licensed mental health practitioner.  She also needs social support AND practical support.  That social support would include BFing support IF SHE CHOOSES TO BF.  If a lactation consultant provides BFing support to a mom with PPD, then she should be able to at least recognize that there is PPD to be reckoned with and provide her with referrals.  They should NEVER let the mom’s health fall by the wayside.  That’s just common sense to me.
  3. Every mom is not an abundant milk producer.  The mom is not a machine to pump milk from.  She needs to be well to produce milk well.  See my previous post on mothering the mother….a very important concept at which industrialized/capitalistic societies fail miserably.  Being well doesn’t just mean being physically well.  It also means being mentally/emotionally well.  Every woman is not confident—or even prepared—to BF.  There could be a physical issue preventing milk production and mom’s milk alone is insufficient, then formula or donor milk should be made available (they would come into play should she choose to stop BFing altogether).  If a new mom has a preference not to BF (that reason is important to her and we must acknowledge that), then so be it.  As long as the baby is eating and thriving, that’s all that really matters.  The priority should be to ensure the baby is fed.  Period.  If she wishes to BF, then adequate support should be provided (by a lactation consultant).   The mother should be supported regardless of how she feeds her baby.
  4. I wasn’t breastfed, just like many others from my generation.  Does that make me physically/mentally deficient because I didn’t have breastmilk?  I would like to think not, thank you very much.
  5. Just because one mom has a positive BFing experience doesn’t mean that all other moms must have positive BFing experiences.  For all those who think this way:  it truly helps to keep an open mind and trying to put yourself in another person’s shoes.  There’s a word for that:  EMPATHY.  Everyone is NOT the same.
  6. BFZs insist that the tragedy had nothing to do with BFing or the pressure put on women to BF.  But for many women (just read the comments in the FFF and Bottle Babies communities to see that this is the case), the pressure to BF and the ensuing difficulties to succeed with BFing has led many a mom down a PPD spiral.  There should NEVER be any pressure to BF.  But that pressure is there.  It’s all around the pregnant mom. It’s in daily conversations.  It’s in doctor visits.  It’s in advertisements.  It’s there once the baby arrives and never ceases to let up.  All this pressure sets up the first-time mom to experience high anxiety during pregnancy and if things don’t go well during the first postpartum days, the high anxiety in a mom with high risk of mental health issues can most definitely tip the scale toward PPD.  BFZs are concerned about one thing only:  that mothers use their boobs for the reason that they were designed: to feed their babies.  They don’t care one smidgeon about any extenuating circumstances that could preclude BFing.  They are so blinded by their passion that they are willing to make bold claims about BFing struggles/pressure to succeed and guilt for BFing failure as having nothing whatsoever to do with PPD.  They are so obsessed (mostly due to inexperience and some kind of narrow-minded superiority complex) with BFing at all costs that they can’t see the forest through the trees.  They can’t see the big picture.  Posts and comments written by women who don’t exactly think the way they do—like moms who have actually experienced BFing difficulties and/or PPD—cause  their panties to get all up in a bunch.  And that’s when they come a trollin’ in their narrow-minded, petty, and condescending mindset.

I want to see the end to this crazy system that we have going on here that sets women up for PPD. The impossibly high stakes raised by the BFZs whose mantra is:  the one and only and most important thing a mother can do for her baby is to BF her baby—everything else, including the mother’s health, be damned.  The BFZs will make claims that the sleep deprived, anxious mom who lacks support and confidence in BFing and is clearly having difficulties feeding her baby is just lazy and is merely making up every excuse in the book to feed her baby formula–that sub par, evil stuff.

Nah, the new mom doesn’t need sleep.  She can stay on—er, up—all night long because her boobs will automatically pump out endless amounts of milk on demand. She doesn’t need any nurturing or rest to regain strength.  After all, she’s a machine, right?  Not a living, breathing individual who just lost large amounts of blood during many hours of delivery—perhaps even had a complication or two (like I did with the placenta accreta and emergency partial hysterectomy)—and is in the process of hormonal upheavals.

Sound absurd?  You bet!

Bottom Line:
We all know the benefits of breastmilk and most, if not all, mothers would like to provide what’s best for their babies.  BFing is beneficial to the mental health of some moms, but NOT all moms.  EVERY MOM’S EXPERIENCE IS UNIQUE TO HER.  To ensure the health of the baby, you need to ensure the health of the mother.  Societal attitudes of the baby’s life meaning more than the mother’s (you’ll find evidence of this in daily posts on the ways certain states want to control women’s reproductive lives) NEED TO STOP.  EACH AND EVERY MOTHER’S voice must be heard, not ignored or shrugged off.

REALLY LISTEN TO THE NEW MOM
AND
RESPECT HER NEEDS