Diana, A True Musical Story

Happy Daylight Savings Day! Happy International Women’s Day! And happy longer & warmer days!  Looks like the groundhog was right…at least here in the NY metro area, spring is starting early this year!  I’m not going to speak of snow, specifically, for fear of jinxing myself.

I haven’t blogged in ages!  I’ve said that I have slowed down on blogging but will probably never fully stop, as I always have thoughts about postpartum depression (PPD).  I’ve blogged previously about television shows, movies and Broadway shows that delve into the topic of mental health and PPD, in particular. This time, it is the Broadway musical “Diana, A True Musical Story” that is motivating me to write today.  I saw the musical 2 nights ago in its first week of previews, and loved it.  Though, I do think the end needs some fine-tuning; I guess being in previews for the next few weeks leaves them some room to make adjustments, hopefully?  The music was written by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan who’d won a Tony award for “Memphis” and who I’m fairly sure will get a Tony nomination for Diana.  Another certain Tony nom is the one for best leading actress in a musical for Jeanna de Waal who is amazing as Princess Di….she captures all of Princess Di’s mannerisms, the way she carried herself, walked, etc.   There will no doubt be other Tony noms, including one for Judy Kaye for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth, Best Costume Design of a Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, and of course Best Musical.

I am blogging about this show and about Diana because she posed as a beacon of light for those suffering from mental health issues.  During one of the scenes in which Diana had just given birth to Prince William, postpartum depression was mentioned.  Hey, a shout out about the condition that affects 1 out of 7 new moms!  I couldn’t contain myself and said out loud “Wow, they actually mentioned postpartum depression.” Good for you, Christopher Ashley and Joe DiPietro, for including this important experience of Princess Diana in this musical production!   I am grateful that this show was created to share with young and old: those who were around and when she was alive and loved her (like me) and those who weren’t born until after her death.   She wasn’t referred to the People’s Princess for nothing.  In her short life, she touched so many lives, most of whom had never even met her.

She was a woman ahead of her time, inspiring not only fashion trends, but through her courage of not holding back, not letting her situation crush her, and moving on with her life the way she wanted to live it….

Free of the yoke of being told what she could/couldn’t do because it was considered unbecoming of a princess and a woman.  While reciting her wedding vow to Prince Charles chose to omit the word “obey”….she was the first royal bride to do this, with Kate Middleton and Megan Markle following in her footsteps.  Additionally, she wore her infamous off-the-shoulder and body hugging black “Revenge Dress” (I won’t spoil what the show referred to this dress as, it will crack you up, I assure you) to a Vanity Fair dinner on June 29, 1994 because she knew Prince Charles was going to officially confess his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles there.

Free of the yoke of being tied to a man who didn’t love her.  She confronted Camilla Parker Bowles, the woman Prince Charles was having an affair with, at Camilla’s sister’s 40th birthday party.  During her famous 1995 BBC interview with Martin Bashirshe let the public know “There were three in the marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”  And soon after the interview in 1996, she again broke from religious/royal convention by getting divorced.

Free of the yoke of being Princess of Wales, speaking her mind, leading from her heart, and making the world fall in love with her.

  • She broke from the mold of royalty by being true to herself and honest and open about her feelings with the public.  Her interviews, biographies, recordings and book “Diana-Her True Story by Andrew Morton” (published in 1992) reveal her sense of humor, candor, and heart of gold. Diana was not afraid to tell the world that her life with Prince Charles was far from the fairytale-like marriage people believe it to be.  People in England and all over the world fell in love with her.
  • She was determined to fight the stigma of HIV and AIDS even though the Queen often voiced her displeasure about such efforts.  There are numerous pictures of her shaking hands and conversing with HIV/AIDS patients without any protective gear on.  She became involved with numerous charities in Africa that made a huge impact internationally with respect to the treatment of AIDS.
  • She was determined to fight the stigma of mental health issues like self harm, bulimia, and PPD.  Back in 1982 when Diana gave birth to Prince William, PPD was something that was never discussed with anyone. Her pregnancy was a difficult one.  She didn’t feel well throughout it, and things got worse after she had the baby. All the pressures of being a wife, a mother and the people’s princess were too overwhelming for her.  She worried constantly and struggled in silence.  She would cry and feel panicked whenever Prince Charles didn’t come home when he said he was coming home.  She kept her panic to herself.  The public noticed her getting thinner during her public appearances, which she explained was due to the fatigue from first-time motherhood. In her book “Diana-Her True Story” and her 1995 BBC interview, she finally opened up about her struggles with self harm, eating disorders, and PPD (the root of it all had to do with how unhappy she was with her marriage and how alone she felt).  Diana revealed that she had received very little support from the royal family when she was sick with PPD because they didn’t know what to do, because people back then (and even in many places and cases today) didn’t really know what PPD was.

When no one listens to you, or you feel no one’s listening to you, all sorts of things start to happen. For instance you have so much pain inside yourself that you try and hurt yourself on the outside because you want help, but it’s the wrong help you’re asking for. People see it as crying wolf or attention-seeking, and they think because you’re in the media all the time that you’ve got ’enough attention.’ But I was actually crying out because I wanted to get better in order to go forward and continue my duty and my role as wife, mother, Princess of Wales. – from her BBC interview

The royal family went around saying that “Diana is unstable, Diana is mentally unbalanced” (these words were used in the musical).  Having such negative labels associated with her was unfortunate.  She wasn’t just a first-time mother trying to be the best mother for her child; she was also a young woman trying to adapt to her life as a princess. Between these pressures and the lack of emotional support / personal time and space, her toxic marriage, history of her own mother walking out of her life when she was a small child, shame from not being able to cope with everything, and lack of self esteem, it’s no wonder she suffered from PPD!  So many risk factors!

She never got professional help because she didn’t really ask for it due to the shame she felt.  And yet she soldiered on….the People’s Princess to the very end of her life that was tragically cut short right after her 36th birthday on August 31, 1997.  I will never forget where I was (I was walking in an open market in Sydney, Australia) when I heard the tragic news.

Please go check it out if you were one of the many who fell in love with Princess Di that you were heartbroken for weeks after she died.  Please go check it out if your life hasn’t previously been touched by Princess Di and want to be inspired by the story of a woman way ahead of her time.  From the beginning of her marriage to Prince Charles to the end of it, she managed to become a powerful, independent woman despite all the royal restrictions that were in place.  In the end, she packed her bags and left, refusing to be stuck in a loveless marriage.

Defiant Girl vs Bull

I wanted to post my memorable adventure into downtown Manhattan yesterday afternoon, but wanted to stick with my determination to avoid being political on this blog. But since I’m such a lover of analogies, it just dawned on me how I could work my experience (my visit with the Defiant Girl statue, also known as “Fearless Girl,” facing off with the Charging Bull at Bowling Green) into my blog.  So, here I am posting the experience of the adventure…with a twist.

I took the PATH train to the World Trade Center. This is only the 2nd time I’ve taken the PATH there since 9/11. I used to take the PATH there every day back when I used to work at 7 WTC.  The first time I took the PATH there post-9/11, the Oculus wasn’t even built.  It’s an amazing architectural feat!

I took the subway to Wall Street and walked over to check out the Defiant Girl statue and needless to say there were throng of tourists present on day 2, post debut.  Thank you, State Street (firm that manages $2.5 trillion in assets) for this statue!  I sincerely hope they will make this a permanent fixture rather than taking it away in a week or month!  State Street chose the perfect time–International Women’s Day– to put the Defiant Girl statue there.  And yes, I did take the day off for #ADayWithoutAwoman but I also took today (Thur) and tomorrow off for a long-overdue vacation. The statue was actually, upon further reading about this statue, a joint effort of State Street and the McCann New York advertising agency.  What a clever marketing effort to not just draw attention to the index fund giant’s effort to get more women into executive positions/board roles but also to the anniversary of the launch of an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that tracks companies that have higher levels of gender diversity in their leadership!  The plaque in front of the girl says “SHE makes a difference,” which cleverly not only represents the girl but also the ticker for the ETF.  I was surprised to learn that State Street is has warned the 3500 public companies in which it invests that it will vote their share against them if the directors of these firms do not make tangible progress toward adding women to their boards.

It was wonderful to see so many young children and families taking pictures of/with the statue. The statue of the girl faces the bull with her hands on her hips and a defiant expression on her face.  I overheard parents explaining to their children what the statue represents. This girl is standing in defiance against the bull, a symbol of not just the market (bull vs bear) but of an industry traditionally dominated by men.  And I thought to myself “This.” Raising a future generation of girls who will be fearless when faced with challenges in women’s rights (e.g., employment, reproductive rights, etc.).  I felt a surge of optimism despite what’s going on under the current Presidency (sorry, I had to mention this because it’s relevant to what I’m writing about). Despite the cold wind as the sun set, I stood there for about an hour, just taking in people’s reactions to the statue.  I will not forget this experience.

Here’s one of many pictures I took of the statue, and she happens to be wearing a pussyhat. I also took a picture of the girl facing off with the bull, which was not an easy thing to do given the number of tourists crowded around both statues and in between, but I managed to get this shot when someone yelled out for everyone to clear the area so pictures could be taken.

Photo credit: Ivy Shih Leung at 5:00 pm, March 8, 2017, International Women’s Day

Photo credit: Ivy Shih Leung at 5:30 pm, March 8, 2017, International Women’s Day

Here’s where my analogy comes in.

If you are fighting postpartum depression (PPD), think of yourself as the girl–with that look of defiance on her face and with hands on hips–and the PPD as the bull.  Tell it to back the hell off.  *It* can be the PPD itself, stigma associated with it, voices in your head that cause you to feel ashamed for not enjoying your motherhood due to this illness, and/or doctors who tell you to *buck up* or treat you with poor bedside manner.  YOU CAN DO IT.  There are resources and caring people around you who can help. It is not shameful to ask for help. It is not shameful to be sick. It is not shameful to have to take medication (I did). It is not shameful to be unable to feel the joy you thought you would feel after the birth of your baby. PPD is an illness that needs to be treated the same way diabetes or any other illness needs to be treated.  

Photo credit: Sarah Kimball who actually knit the hat (taken around 6:30 pm, March 8, 2017, International Women’s Day)

I also wanted to mention that my primary reason for visiting Bowling Green wasn’t even to see the statue (plans were made last week re: pussyhat on the bull but the statue wasn’t put up until 2 days ago, March 7th) but to be present for the pussyhatting of the Charging Bull.  Yes, you heard right. My friend, Sarah Kimball, spent the last couple of weeks knitting a hat just for the bull.  And her goal was to put it on the bull on International Women’s Day.  Here’s a pic of the bull. I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw this (or any other picture taken of it last night) somewhere else online or more ideally in a newspaper, like the NY Times. Brava, Sarah Kimball, for your awesome handiwork, a historic moment that I wish had been captured by a news outlet. But the picture is slowing making its way across the Internet, as it’s been shared via Facebook and Twitter. And now with this blog post.

A Sea of Pink Pussyhats at the Women’s March in Washington, DC

pussyhatI have a lot to say about the amazing experience I had with over 500,000 other women, men and children that participated in the Women’s March in DC last Saturday, January 21, 2017.  For now, I just wanted to post this one picture of the rally crowd (before the march started) outside of the Air & Space Museum.

airspace

I took this picture in the welcome space and tranquility of the museum (and after the welcome lady’s room break that I desperately sought for over an hour, struggling to get through the sea of people that were packed like sardines from the point I left my friends by the stage where the speakers were to the inside of the museum).  Several times, I imagined myself peeing myself and saying “Oh well, what choice did I have” and wishing I had not had the cup of coffee and sips of water up to that point in time. I also wished I had worn Depends.

In any event, it was an amazing experience, and I will write more later. This may not have had anything to do with postpartum depression, but I marched in solidarity with other women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights advocates, plus advocates of countless other groups….it wasn’t just a women’s march.  It became a march of the people for the people….a counter-movement, or #resistance of a nightmare regime that we pray will come to an end very shortly and not last the full four  years.

Honored to be Selected One of the Top Postpartum Depression Blogs of 2016 by Healthline

On November 4th, I was honored to be selected as one of the Top Postpartum Depression Blogs of 2016 by Healthline.  Thank you, Healthline, for this surprising recognition!

I haven’t blogged about it until now due to my trying to recover from the wind getting knocked out of me by Trump’s election. I’m going to keep my opinions to myself here, since this blog is not meant to be a sounding board for my political views.  Unfortunately, it is influencing me as a person and it is making me more determined than ever before to not lose sight of what’s important. What’s important is that we can’t let hate win, and women must band together and stand up for one another.

My mission to help other mothers will always be my mission. I had my daughter in 2004, suffered from postpartum depression in 2005, started this blog in 2009, published my book in 2011….and I am working on an initiative in New Jersey that I will happily share more about later.   I want to be more involved than I have been in the realm of maternal mental health.  I look forward to seeing what my future holds, but I won’t go about it passively.  I will continue in my blogging, helping mothers who reach out to me via my blog, and other PPD initiatives.  My hope is that we will continue the progress we’re making in maternal mental health advocacy and treatment (doulas, therapists, etc.).  In a world that has enough stressors as it is, we need to be there for one another.

For all those who have been following my blog, I truly hope it has helped you.  My blog has been a great satisfaction to me over the years, as it has enabled me to reach and help mothers around the world with what they are going through.

 

 

Scars to Your Beautiful: We Are All Beautiful in Our Own Way

I have been hearing “Scars to Your Beautiful” by Alessia Cara a lot when I’m in my car. And once I hear it, it keeps repeating in my head over and over and over all day long. I’ve been wanting to blog about this but the election side-tracked this until now.  I decided tonight that I had to blog about something positive and meaningful, what with all of the negativity and disappointment arising from the election results.

For the first time, I watched the video with the lyrics so I could get my arms around the words. And then I watched the official video that stars a diverse group of individuals of all different ages, both women and men, some with visible (a man with a disfigured ear, a woman with an abdominal scar) and some with invisible scars (depression?). There’s a girl with alopecia (the disease that prevents hair growth), a woman with cancer, a transgender model, and even the singer JoJo. And many more.

The first part of the song before the chorus comes in is all about society’s perception of beauty–face and body beautiful enough to be sculpted–that causes body image issues. Society, after all, over emphasizes the thin beauties that grace the covers of magazines to the point that individuals are blind to any other beauty that lies within an individual. This societal obsession of outward beauty causes deep pain and body image issues that can manifest as eating disorders, depression, cutting, etc.  These issues are not visible to the observer, but they are there.  A new mother having difficulty returning to her pre-pregnancy weight and figure (celebrities who brag about their quick returns to pre-pregnancy looks don’t help at all) may suffer body image issues that can lead to postpartum depression. Please click here and here for previous posts about this.

What Alessia wants to remind us all is that you don’t have to be beautiful on the outside to be beautiful.  You can have a beautiful, loving and generous heart which will glow from inside out, and the impression that gives people is more meaningful, more memorable, and more beautiful than the person whose beauty is only skin deep.

The chorus of the song repeats several times throughout the song (and this is the part that keeps repeating in my head over and over again…perhaps my mind is telling me something, I don’t know) reminding us that we’re beautiful just the way we are and we shouldn’t have to change anything. The world should change the way we see beauty in people.

You should know you’re beautiful just the way you are
And you don’t have to change a thing
The world could change its heart
No scars to your beautiful, we’re stars and we’re beautiful

Alessia so sagely writes at the end of her video:

Often times, the world both directly and indirectly
tells us that we shouldn’t be happy with ourselves
if we don’t fit certain beauty standards.
Scars to your beautiful is a reminder that beauty isn’t only
one look, shape, size, or colour. It isn’t even always tangible.
It comes in an endless amount of forms
and we need to recognize that.”

Thank you, Alessia, for sharing your talent of music writing, your amazing voice, this video, the message contained in the words of this song and video, and your reminder that we are all beautiful in our own way(s).

But I will go beyond Alessia’s lyrics and say that just because someone is beautiful on the outside does not mean they are beautiful inside. Sometimes the darkness within–hate, jealousy, prejudice, etc.–breaks through that outward beauty and cancels it out, preventing others from seeing the beauty that is only skin deep.

Watch this video. Listen to the music. Never mind any negative thoughts that your mind may be telling you. Never mind any negative thoughts that others may be telling you. Forget the bullies on social media.  Forget the haters.

You are beautiful, and don’t you forget that.

Let’s Be Real When It Comes to Women Supporting Women

I wasn’t going to post until after the AFSP Out of the Darkness walk, but I wanted to just quickly say a few words on a topic near and dear to my heart:  Mommy wars and breastfeeding zealots.

Let me start off by saying this:

  • Women supporting women ≠ women verbally attacking other women for choosing how they would like to raise their children, including how to feed them
  • Women supporting women = proactively doing something to promote the wellbeing of other women through S-U-P-P-O-R-T (e.g., help with baby, help around the house, providing social/emotional support in person, by phone or online, doula services, lactation support)

I find it highly ironic that women who purport to have women and their babies’ interests at heart  via radical views on breastfeeding and a fetus’ right to life, while also being the first to attack other women for common-sense notions that are moderate in nature and don’t align with theirs.  They will lunge at you (imagine a monster with glowing red eyes, sharp teeth and claws) whenever they–and I have to laugh about this–stumble across a blog like mine and think that I don’t have other women and babies’ interests at heart and call my blog a disservice to others and the mere fact that my blog is recognized by others in the mental health and women’s health communities as atrocious.

Unlike these fanatical individuals, I’m moderate.  I’m right down the middle.  I’m objective.  I’m logical. I’m empathic. I’m considerate. I look at the COMPLETE picture.  I have no extreme, one-sided, I-don’t-care-about-other-people’s-circumstances-I-only-care-about-my-own, narrow-minded, holier-than-thou, views.  Bottom line, I have no time for bullshit like this.

I GET that breastfeeding is good.  Did I ever say on my blog that it wasn’t?  If you find any indication on my blog that I’m anti-breastfeeding, then I welcome you to please show me.  I totally welcome you to try.

I will also be right down the middle when it comes to abortions.  There is never one right answer for the reasons people need to have abortions.  And I absolutely abhor it when I see people who have no clue about what others are going through making their holier-than-thou claims that anyone who has one–whether it be to save their own lives or consequences of rape/incest–is automatically committing a sin.  Again, who are you to judge this?  Who made you judge and jury?  Everyone has beliefs, but let your beliefs guide you in your OWN life, not OTHER PEOPLE’S lives.  Other people’s lives and how they choose to live them from the circumstances with which they are faced (remember that sometimes things get really ugly for people out of no fault of theirs) is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.

There are WAY TOO MANY people who have nothing better to do than judge other people and try to take pot shots at them for the oddest of reasons.  WAY TOO MANY.  Like the extremely conservative, far right, narrow-minded,  religiously fanatical to the point of obsession ways of thinking trolls that pop out from under their figurative bridge anytime there is anything like breastfeeding or abortions in the headlines.

So when I run into women who claim to support other women that make claims like “Oh, I support all moms who breastfeed and everyone else be damned” (and I don’t care what their situation is, I just know that I’m right and they’re wrong), I WANT TO GAG. And I very much wish I could press a “Make that troll disappear” button to make them go away.

Women supporting other women does not mean you go and attack others simply for not thinking, behaving and having the same exact circumstances as you.  Because guess what?  Each person is a unique individual with genes and life experiences that make them who they are.  We do not live in a Stepford Wives world.  Wake the f$ck up.

#gotnotimefordatshit
#trollbegone
#crawlbackunderbridgeyoupoppedoutfrom
#notaStepfordWivesworld

Let’s Hold Failure of the System Accountable for Tragedies Involving Infanticide

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

I stumbled across this headline on my Twitter feed tonight:  “Three years for Edinburgh mum who killed her baby.”   Wasn’t planning on blogging, but when I clicked on the link to read the article, I was so infuriated that it has motivated me to blog.  Here’s yet another tragic loss from system failure and continued societal blindness to the realities of perinatal mood disorders.

I’ve blogged about this previously…that it seems way too common and easy for people to disassociate the baby from the mother.  That a tragedy like this–a mother named Erin Sutherland who suffered from severe postnatal depression (PND) who smothered her baby–occurred should be viewed from a BIG PICTURE perspective as another example of the system failing a mother AND her baby.  Not just the baby, but the mother as well.  Not just the mother, but the baby as well.

The father of the baby, estranged from Erin Sutherland, and his family felt it was unfortunate that the focus seems to have shifted from the real tragedy at hand….the loss of an innocent baby.  No one can/will contest this, but what people continuously forget is that, had the system NOT failed Erin, the baby would be alive because Erin would have received the treatment she desperately needed.  True, I don’t know the full story here, but the mere words coming out of the prosecutor Iain McSporran’s mouth: “generally speaking six months is a point beyond which PND will no longer be considered a factor” is RIDICULOUS.  Spouting such damning untruths is utterly shameful on his part. Had he bothered to get educated about perinatal mood disorders, those words would not have slipped out of his mouth a la angry let’s-lynch-the-mother-she’s-always-guilty-no-matter-what syndrome.  Mr. McSporran, if you had bothered to become educated about perinatal mood disorders, you would know that it is possible for severe PND to be possible up to the end of the 2nd year or whenever a mother decides to wean her baby.

Why would a mother be turned down for help because ludicrous “rules” state that after six months her condition was no longer deemed to be a “problem factor” for new mothers?  Why are such archaic rules still in existence?  They must be updated with scientific facts!   I thought Edinburgh is supposed to be more up-to-speed on perinatal mood disorders than we are in the states, what with the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) originating from none other than….you guessed it, Edinburgh.  But I guess not!

How could anyone refuse treatment for a mother who is clearly suffering from PND and seeking help for it?!  Especially when the mother had previously received hospital treatment following the birth of an older daughter after being diagnosed with PND and becoming so ill that she needed in-patient care when her child was EIGHT months old! Last I looked EIGHT is more than SIX!!!

The system that created such a nonsensical “rule” is culpable for little Chloe’s death.  It left Erin with no treatment and sealed her and Chloe’s fate.  So terrible that I want to smack some sense into these ignorant lawmakers.  Get with the program! Get educated, for crying out loud!  This patriarchal system catering to old fashioned beliefs based on misogynistic, archaic thinking MUST GO NOW!

In a recent post that also involved another tragedy like this, I posted:

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.

Mothers are more than incubators.  They are living, breathing, humans just like men are.  Just like babies are.  Heck, people seem to be very quick to forget one basic truth:  Without women, you can’t have babies.  Hellllooooo!  I see all the time hateful comments from the extreme right (here in this country) from women, of all things, picking on other women because they were raised brainwashed into believing misogynistic things that do nothing but damn themselves.  Well, I wish women would unbrainwash themselves.  Use their common sense, not have their religious zealotry make them blinder than bats.  It might make a huge difference once women sided with women, don’t you think?

The #1 Killer of Teen Girls Worldwide

I was motivated to write this blog post tonight due to a Telegraph article that appeared in my Facebook feed today written by Nisha Lilia Diu and titled: “Suicide is now the biggest killer of teenage girls worldwide. Here’s why.”

That headline shocked me.  And it is shocking a lot of people, even those firmly entrenched in the fields of global women’s rights.  This headline should shock everyone.  It should shock people into trying to do something to turn those statistics around.

Yes, suicide is now the #1 killer of girls/young women between the ages of 15 and 19.  Suicide has overtaken maternal mortality as the #1 killer of young women in the world….a statistic buried–yes, buried–in the latest World Health Organisation report.  This information does not deserve to be buried.  It needs to be written about, talked about and acted upon!  I am glad Nisha wrote this Telegraph article!  In the article, you’ll see the alarming numbers of suicides in girls ages 15-19 in the different regions of the world.

Teen girls ages 15-19 face, regardless of location:

  • hormone changes
  • emotional changes (e.g., increase in vulnerability and decline in self confidence)
  • behavior changes (e.g., attracting mate, sex drive, competition)
  • identity issues (e.g., acceptance among peers, desire to fit in, peer pressure)

Add to that the following disadvantages society places on women, including:

  • societal expectations
  • disempowerment
  • marginalization

Add to that the use of social media throughout much of the world.  I’ve blogged in the past about it, but I will sum up the basics of the detrimental impact social media can have on emotionally vulnerable teen girls.  The malicious words of a complete stranger, aka troll, that confirm an emotionally vulnerable teenager’s feelings (i.e., self hate, thoughts of suicide) by saying things like “Yeah, you’re ugly alright. Why don’t you just go kill yourself.”  These are the trolls I wish more than anything in the world–with the exception of the complete eradication of mental health stigma, terrorism, misogny and people killing each other–can be located and zapped from existence.  Like in a video game.  These haters are a danger to others and need to be stopped.

I need to mention the tragic story of 12 year old Izzy, which I learned about from this blog post last week.  While we do not know what exactly led to her being publicly shamed online by her father after he hacked her hair, and it is unlikely that the video alone led to her jumping out of a car and off a bridge to her death, what I do know is that ANY teen acting out (e.g., doing drugs, rebellious behavior, locking themselves in their rooms) needs help, NOT punishment or public shaming.  FULL STOP.

As in so many cases you will read about in the news of teens taking their own lives, there may have been no signs that they were distressed to the point that they felt they had to end their lives to escape the pain with which they are struggling.  Today, I came across this touching obituary written by the parents of Clay Shephard in North Carolina, whose son was smiling despite what was driving his drug addictions. There was no indication whatsoever that he was going to take his own life.  Included in the obituary were these words that sound very much like my post about a fellow alum’s son’s sudden tragic passing a few months ago:

To all parents, pay attention to your children and the world that revolves around them – even when the surface is calm, the water may be turbulent just beneath.

You may wonder how all this has anything to do with postpartum depression (PPD).  It’s important to remember that many cases of depression surface during the teenage years and follow you throughout life.  One of the primary risk factors of PPD is a history of depression. I delve into relevant statistics and risk factors in my book. And you may be interested in checking out my prior posts relating to teenage years.

It’s with knowledge that there is any hope of REDUCING STIGMA AND REDUCING DEPRESSION!

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!”

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

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back – Maternal Matters

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

I felt like blogging tonight.  Partly to keep my mind preoccupied so I won’t be nerve wracked all night, worrying about a presentation I have to give at work tomorrow.  Some of you know that I absolutely HATE public speaking of any sort.  HATE.  😦

As my regular readers may have noticed, I don’t rant much any longer….I’ve mentioned before that my years of book writing and blogging have been EXTREMELY cathartic.  I mentioned in my last post that I will continue to share what I feel to be newsworthy developments in research and media that demonstrate a continued forward momentum in the mission to de-stigmatize postpartum mood disorders and provide mothers with the care that is so desperately needed and is yet so lacking, still.  I will also continue to share interesting tidbits I run across from my daily reading material that comes up in my Facebook news feed or elsewhere.

Tonight’s post shows how –despite valiant efforts in advocacy, public awareness and mother support on the part of many, some of whom I personally know–for every one step forward that’s made, there are forces out  there that are ever so ready to drag us two huge steps back.  I would like to highlight two examples of barriers to progress that were mentioned in news articles in the past couple of weeks.

FIRST ARTICLE
This week’s announcement of the closing of the Shuswap Family Resource Centre’s Mother’s Journey Prenatal and Postnatal Support Group in British Columbia, Canada, is an example of how, despite the known benefits of having a postpartum support group, establishing and maintaining such groups within communities that don’t observe social support customs and rituals when it comes to expectant and postpartum mothers has been an ongoing challenge, mostly due to lack of funding.  The postpartum support group offered mothers education (including self awareness and coping mechanisms) and support on 25-week open-ended cycles, meaning that mothers were able to freely join or leave at any point.  Despite the realization of the importance of such a postpartum support group by healthcare practitioners and the community, and the simple fact that there were so many PPD cases and not enough trained individuals to provide the needed care, this center is closing its doors for good.  Even while it was open, because there was no other support group like this anywhere in the area, PPD moms generally had to wait several weeks just to see someone.  If a couple of days felt like an eternity for me when I was in the depths of my PPD, having a mother wait several weeks is simply unacceptable.  Postpartum support groups should be opening, not closing, their doors to mothers!

We need more postpartum centers that focus on the needs of mothers and ensuring there is adequate support in the first one to three months after childbirth. Early intervention and women-centered health initiatives and programs and support services need to be the standard of care rather than the exception!

SECOND ARTICLE
The title of the article is “10 reasons why breastfeeding is out of fashion,” written by Beverly Turner in the The Telegraph.  I don’t get why women in media–or actually in this case a journalist who reminds me a lot of the other political developments that pop up in my Facebook news feed everyday that make me wonder how we could be in the 21st century and still be faced with so many anti-women initiatives (but I won’t go into there because I KNOW how right wing versus left wing thinking can terminate friendships at the snap of a finger, and this blog is not a political, feminist, or pro-choice versus pro-life blog) –want to be a barrier to progress for women?  What she wrote made me sit there and re-read certain parts of her article, all the while scratching my head and going “Huh?  I don’t get it.  This makes no sense whatsoever.  And she’s supposed to be a journalist?  This article is so poorly written!  How could she criticize other women when she doesn’t have a clue about their experiences?”

Now, as for her so-called ten points:

1.   “Lack of post-natal care to help women establish feeding pattern.”
Sure, we need an overall increase in the availability of postnatal and breastfeeding support for new moms in the first 3 months.

2.   “Lack of high-profile role models breastfeeding.  This is why I implore the Duchess of Cambridge to get out her royal orbs when she has her first next month.”
I actually think there are a good number of celebrities that have announced that they are breastfeeding, or breastfed, their babies.  Granted, there could be more, but we have more now talking about breastfeeding than ever before. Honestly, though, did she have to refer to the Duchess’ boobs as “royal orbs”….?!   Does she sound like a man, or is it just me?  From this point on, the article goes downhill very quickly…..never mind very quickly, try at warp speed.

3.    “Noisy loons creating ‘Brestapo’ caricatures to appease their own consciences.  These women are oddly vocal contingents, who bring their own neuroses to public forums shouting that women ‘shouldn’t be pressured…rather than helped (doh!). They are the same crowd who shout ‘women who have caesareans haven’t failed’! rather than, ‘what the hell is wrong with a system that is failing so many women’? It’s oddly misogynistic.”
WTF?  Hypocritical much? I don’t need to go into this in detail because the fabulous, er, Fearless Formula Feeder has already blogged about this in a brilliant letter addressed to this, er, so-called journalist.

Reasons 4-6 and 8-10 may make sense being included on this list but the points she makes for each are weakly written.  Not even worth mentioning, really.

4.    “Reluctance to give time to our babies.”
WTF WTF WTF?  This screams mommy war completely.  How does she know what each mother’s experience is like?   Get this woman a huge dose of empathy, STAT!  I wish people like her who’ve never known firsthand what it’s like to experience PPD or other postpartum mood disorder and/or serious breastfeeding challenges would just keep their flapping and condescending lips shut.

There is a correlation between success in breastfeeding and PPD occurrence, which is why I think it’s important that as many of us that have been there–suffering from PPD and/or experiencing breastfeeding difficulties, and having very little support for either–speak up and have our voices heard.  Because without our voices, we will forever be taking steps backward.  We want progress!  Mothers should support each other, not bash each other!

LET’S KEEP OUR FOCUS ON THE FOLLOWING:

  • End the mommy wars!
  • More breastfeeding support can increase breastfeeding success.
  • We need more postpartum support groups, not close their doors!
  • If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!
  • Continue steps forward, no backward steps allowed!

Finding My Tribe

I know, I know….it’s been well over a month since my last blog post….the longest pause from blogging since I started this blog over 4 years ago.

I’ve recently mentioned that, as time goes on, I feel like I am losing momentum when it comes to writing blog posts.  After a while, you just feel like you’re posting the same ol’ stuff over and over again.  I can only blog so much about my  postpartum depression (PPD) experience and what I learned from my road to motherhood…. without sounding like a broken record.  I still look for media developments that give me hope that things are starting to change with regard to public awareness, as well as research that sheds new light on postpartum mood disorders.  My recent attendance at the annual Postpartum Support International (PSI) conference has inspired me to write this post.

Let me just begin with the fact that– despite the fact that I look Chinese– I act and speak very American.   I’d readily have a conversation in Mandarin with someone from China or Taiwan, and then just as readily turn around and speak to the caucasian person next to me with zero hint of being of Chinese descent (and not even of NJ residency, either, or so I’ve been told).  Standing next to an Asian woman from China or Taiwan, I am painfully aware of how different I am from them.  I am much darker skinned and a heck of a lot heavier.  Growing up, I was always described by my parents’ friends and relatives as “healthy looking” or “sturdy” via a specific word in Chinese.  That’s not really meant to be a compliment or anything.  Just a nicer way of putting the fact that I was “big.”  Funny thing is, when I was a teen (and compared to how I am now), I appeared frail and was always getting sick.  At one point, I considered becoming bulimic (forcing myself to throw up after eating so I could be slimmer), but luckily only tried it once.  It was gross.

Also, unlike so many Asians I know–those born in the states and those born overseas– I’m not reserved or shy with letting people know how I truly feel about something.  I say what’s on my mind.  There’s no holding my thoughts back and I’m finding that, as I get older, my filtering mechanisms don’t work as effectively as they used to!  I mean, c’mon, I blog and wrote a book about my PPD experience, for crying out loud.  I wasn’t like this all my life. It’s more of a recent development that began with my PPD recovery and peaked this past year.

I’ve gotten tired of doing something just in the past year.  What is it, you ask?  Well, I have stopped feeling bad about not being able to make friends with Chinese women (from overseas) whose daughters are about my daughter’s age who are completely the opposite from my daughter in that they look and behave like they’re from overseas.  They speak Mandarin fluently, not to mention are already competitive and driven to succeed.  I get this vibe from these mothers that make me feel like I am on a completely different wavelength (or planet, even) from them.  I carry myself differently from them, speak differently, look different, and see things through a different lens than they do.  Doesn’t help that I feel like a football player next to them….all big boned and “sturdy” looking.  Ha!

All my life I have been looking for a group with which I could readily identify.  Sure, I get along with people easily, in general, but that’s not something I found easy to do until very recently.  When I was a teenager, I didn’t fit in with the rest of my caucasian class of approximately 350 students.  Nor did I fit in with the kids in my Chinese church.  I fit in more with my Chinese teen club because these were kids who were about the same age as me and who, like me, grew up in very caucasian environments as a Chinese American.  But I still didn’t closely identify with any of them. Nothing really changed in college.  Although there were Asian clubs at my alma mater and throughout the Five College area that my alma mater happened to be a part of, as well as at Columbia University and NYU (since I had friends at both those schools), I still didn’t really feel like I truly fit in with anyone in those clubs.  I learned that–we could be Asian-looking on the outside–but that doesn’t matter.  As far as women are concerned, the claws will come out and their lips will flap to turn others against you, and gullible guys (and women) who don’t know any better will listen to them.

And the working world in the Tri-state area hasn’t been that much better.  At work, it’s non-stop work, work, work.  In this day and age, the environment is one of high stress and very little time to have the opportunity to develop friendships with any co-workers.  Sure, I was part of a determined group that started up the very first Asian employee network in the NY metro area for our company, and I’ve made a good number of friends from my involvement with this network for many years.  But again, there was no meaningful bond.

And I won’t even go into detail about my ‘hood because I’ve blogged about this before, and let’s just say that I’ve found it hard to fit in here as well.  I always feel like I’m on a different wavelength with the majority of people living in my immediate area….perhaps it has to do with the fact that I am one of the few mothers that went right back to work promptly after my 3-month maternity leave was up.  Doesn’t help that–like I’ve said previously–I was raised by parents who never really mingled with neighbors or relied on them for anything.  I know I have the ability to change that tradition, but honestly, it’s hard when you work all day long and by the time you get home, it’s only a few hours before you gear up to start the cycle all over again the next morning.  It’s also hard to get beyond the feeling that you are just not as great as parenting as they all are…these mothers who seemed to lead perfect maternal lives, keeping perfect homes, cooking and baking for their families, carpooling with other neighbors’ kids to/from school each day, attending their kids’ soccer matches, etc.  O-M-G.  I’ve been having a hard enough time just scraping by–having emerged from my PPD experience back in 2006–in taking turns with the hubs in rushing off in a panic to drop the kid off  at before care each morning, coming home from work late everyday and trying to scrape a meal together for all of us before it’s time to put the kid to bed.

fence_ISLI refer to my predicament I’ve found myself in all my life as being on a fence.   A fence between people of different wavelengths…not really  fitting in with one particular group or another. Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve had good friends for many years, but there was always some invisible barrier preventing me from truly feeling like I was part of a cohesive group, which because of a common bond, that people automatically identify themselves a part of.  In other words, a tribe.  What is a tribe?  Dictionary.com defines it as “any aggregate of people united by ties of descent from a common ancestor, community of customs and traditions, adherence to the same leaders, etc.”

I’ve been a member of PSI since 2006 and have attended a number of PSI annual conferences to network with and pick up the latest information from subject matter experts. Here’s an excerpt out of my book:

It was at my first Postpartum Support International conference that I felt a sense of belonging, understanding of the pain I’d experienced, and validation that I wasn’t the only one who had suffered such an experience. I finally found a group with whom I shared the common bond of wanting to become more knowledgeable about PPD and wanting to help other women. I felt comfortable and comforted being in their midst. The attendees were, for the most part, PPD survivors who became impassioned enough about the subject to become MDs, PhDs, and social workers who treat women with PPD.

It wasn’t until this past conference that I just attended in Minneapolis that it dawned on me that….hey, wait a second, I think I’ve found my tribe!  I’ve always felt like I shared a common bond with the amazing ladies that are members of PSI, but I have to say I’ve never felt such a natural bond with people from different parts of the country and with all different personalities and backgrounds–than I felt at the PSI conference last week.  I felt incredibly comfortable and at home, despite the fact that I was in a city I’ve never been to (and had never previously thought of visiting).  Being with this group of women helped me to feel like I was at home.

Most of us are survivors of a postpartum mood disorder.  Most have dedicated their lives to supporting women from a research and/or support basis as social workers, lactation consultants, midwives, doulas, therapists, and founders of PPD support organizations in their local communities.  I am a PPD survivor, blogger and book author who shares their desire to spread awareness about postpartum mood disorders and providing mothers with the support they need during the postpartum period.  I’d like to do more, but I just haven’t figured out what exactly yet.

These ladies are caring, dedicated, down to earth, and amazing.   They are far from catty, competitive and superficial–attributes I remember all too well among fellow students and even among colleagues at work.  It felt good and natural to be with them, and I must say that I look up to each and every one of them.  I have so much respect and admiration for all of them.  They make me realize I have certain shortcomings that prevent me from doing what they do each and every day, working directly with women who need help.  They inspire me to want to do more for mothers out there!

I had such a great time in those 2 short days I spent at the conference, and so looking forward to seeing them all again at next year’s conference at the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill!

PMS + Recent News = One Unhappy Mama

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

 A few days ago, I felt the way I hadn’t felt in a long, long time.  Thanks to PMS (I still do get it even though I’m missing my uterus), I felt so down in the dumps emotionally that I almost feared I was going to relapse into depression, which I haven’t experienced since my dark days of PPD.  I’ve posted about PMS before (and how it should not be confused with PMDD, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder).

I was already “blue” from my ol’ buddy PMS, so the news from last week….the deplorable words uttered by Todd Akin (holy smokes, how anyone today can utter Middle Ages crap the way he did and supposedly be an educated person acting in Congressional capacity is beyond me)–so ignorant that ACOG had to issue a statement to point out how misinformed he was and dangerously so; the Latch on NYC campaign and other similar campaigns that will only succeed in making mothers feel more guilt-ridden than ever if they can’t for whatever reason breastfeed successfully; the GOP no-exceptions stance on abortion (i.e., even in cases of rape and incest); the increasing gender gap in the political race; bullying incidents; shootings; and so on.  No wonder the depression rates are so high.  We are living in a society of people who lack empathy.  Society is heading down a slippery slope because we are focusing less and less about each other and more and more about who is superior, wealthier, more powerful.  What about education of our future generations?  What about mental healthcare of our mothers suffering from perinatal mood disorders and returning troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and in need of help in transitioning back to their lives back home?  The list goes on….boy, are our priorities all screwed up!

I seriously need to unplug.  And yet I can’t.  So I can only blame myself if I continue to let news and subsequent emotions drag me down.  But at least I will know immediately if I get to the point of being depressed.  I’ve been there before.  It’s not a “mind over matter thing” as is the narrow-minded and ignorant conviction of depression naysayers–most if not all of whom have never been depressed before…..which brings to mind the narrow-minded, completely lacking in empathy, callous and narcissistic view of breastfeeding nazi’s who have the gall to come out and say things like “there’s absolutely no reason why a new mother can’t breastfeed; nope, none at all.”  Depression is a serious health issue that needs professional attention.

The common denominator of these examples is a holier-than-thou, completely narcissistic/egomanical attitude of the ones holding the power (or believing they hold the power because they are just that high on themselves).   The feeling that there is utter lack of control over all the events occurring around me made me look at my own personal situation and feel the same way–about work, my house, and the people in my life–and prompted me to say the following last Wednesday on Facebook:

Feeling pretty disillusioned by a lot of things lately. Work, neighbors, people you think that are your friends, what comes out of the mouths of people (govt level and general population) that are narrow-minded and sometimes even hateful. I’m tired, folks, really tired of it all……
[These] are all separate issues (one has nothing to do w/the other) that have been bugging me and making me question my relationships w/people…..
Sometimes I just want to up and move but I know we should stay put for [my daughter’s] sake. She needs the kind of stability I never had while growing up…..
It sucks to feel so “stuck” in a situation you want to desperately have more control over…..  
I’ve had moments of doubt but never this bad. I really feel like I’ve had it with everything.  I need a change. A new house and ‘hood ( same town) would be a great start. I also need to unplug for a while. We’ll see….
I’ve been letting the news get me down. Seems like there is more bad news than ever before. I need to unplug for just a couple of days….but find it nearly impossible. That’s affecting my attitude in general, so as a result, my feelings about work and everything else is getting dragged down.

Fortunately, after a night’s rest with SIX hours of sleep (I had gotten between 4-5 hours of uninterrupted sleep the 3 nights prior to that), I felt a tad better….and I have no doubt that the improvement was mostly due to my PMS packing up and leaving me alone for the next month.  I was able to go to work and feel like my ol’ self….thankfully.  But during those 2-1/2 days, I was scared I might be depressed again.  This time, I was prepared to seek cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which I admit wouldn’t hurt because I have a feeling that my proclivity to think negatively could use a serious makeover.  I need to know how to redirect my negative thinking, which just might improve all aspects of my life.  No more being overly defensive even with my own husband, which causes arguments.  No more thinking that my family and I are not welcome in our ‘hood; hence, my desire to move but realizing we need to stick it out until my daughter goes off to college.  No more feeling like I’m going to beat my head against the wall due to the thankless environment in which I’m stuck at work.  No more feeling like I’m growing farther and farther apart from the friends I’ve had for years.

All these thoughts were weighing down on me, and it didn’t help that I had an awful headache for the whole 2-1/2 days that I felt blue.  The sweet responses from my friends helped a lot.

Now, if only I can stay away from those dreadful articles…….there is yet another one waiting for me to read before I shut down my PC for the night.   I have a feeling it’s going to be a doozy, thanks to the title of the link that showed up in my Facebook news feed a little while ago.  Even if a new President were to be elected, the bad news is going to continue unabated.   I may sound like a pessimist, but I’m not.  I’m a realist merely pointing out how things are.  It’s not pretty out there.

Bottom line…..I think we all need to learn how to care about/empathize with each other more.  Empathy needs to be engrained in our youth starting from a young age.   Parents and other adults in a child’s life need to model empathy.   After all, children mimic their parents’ behavior.  Schools need to establish empathy programs to help reduce bullying incidents.  Empathy is the key to improving the state of the world we live in.  Otherwise, we are going to continue to raise children to be just like all the narcissistic/egomaniacal, narrow-minded, greedy, uncaring and callous individuals I keep reading about in the news lately.  Not saying all of you that are reading this blog post are going to raise children that way….just saying that unless we open our eyes and realize the difference empathy can make for us all, things are going to get uglier and uglier out there.  Here’s a site worth checking out: Start Empathy.

Latch on NYC – An Initiative that Fails to Consider the Well-Being of New Moms

A couple weeks ago, the announcement in the New York Post that Mayor Bloomberg was kicking off his Latch on NYC program intended to promote breastfeeding created such a stir in the blogosphere…and with very good reason.  My instinct was to blog about it.  But everyone was blogging about it.  They are still blogging about it.  And after letting the initial waves settle, I’ve finally decided to jump in.

I’m sure everyone is aware by now what this program is all about.  It’s NOT just about restricting the distribution of formula freebies in the “swag” bags that hospitals give to new parents as they leave the hospital, in an effort to increase breastfeeding rates, which is consistent with the ongoing effort over the past decade or so for maternity wards to reduce the amount of formula marketing.  It’s about REQUIRING hospitals to keep formula locked up and only available to a mother asking for it after hospital staff documents EACH AND EVERY occasion and reminds her that breast is best.  You no longer need your mom or mother-in-law to remind you that breast is best.  You’ve got hospital staff preaching it to you EACH AND EVERY time you ask for a bottle.  Having to be preached to by hospital staff for a decision that only the new mother and her partner should be making–and dependent, certainly, on circumstances like the health of the newborn and the condition of the new mom—is completely out of line in my honest opinion.  Frankly, I am disappointed in Mayor Bloomberg.  When people around me criticize him, I’ve been standing up for him.  Not any more, I’m not.

Granted, it’s been 7 years since I had my daughter and from what I recall, my “swag” bag contained more breastfeeding paraphernalia than samples of Similac and Enfamil and bottles from the likes of Playtex, Avent, and Dr. Brown.  But even back then, I felt pressure to breastfeed, given the countless images of breastfeeding paraphernalia that I kept seeing in magazines and on the Internet, and from all the people who kept asking me “So, are you going to breastfeed?”  I had planned to try to breastfeed for at least the first three months of my daughter’s life.  Though, I must admit I headed into it with much trepidation, not knowing what to expect or how successful I would be. I knew it was part of my maternal duty to provide the best nutrition for my daughter, so when I had to stop pumping due to the medication I had to go on for my postpartum depression (PPD), I felt so sad, so guilty.  But I knew I had to get better for her sake so I could be there for her and take care of her.  That was my #1 concern.  After all, what good would I be to her if I was completely ill and debilitated to the point of not being able to take care of her?  I was completely useless once I was caught blindsided and struck down by my PPD.  Now, looking back, I can honestly say I am content knowing that I did the best I could, given the circumstances with which I was faced.  I am content knowing I was able to provide some manner of breast milk to my daughter for the first one and one-half months of her life.

While I do feel that breast is best for the health of the baby (builds up immune system) and even for the mom (reduces risk of cancer), I am completely opposed to this dictatorial method of getting moms to breastfeed by putting formula under lock and key and only under medical circumstances can a mom ask for it.   Hospital staff preaching and unlocking formula for medical reasons only will only cause new moms to feel like they are in a prison. Formula is another feeding option.  Preventing moms from getting access to formula in the hospital, unless there is a medical rationale behind it, is so NOT RIGHT.

While I am all for the notion that breast is best, I am not in agreement that it is ALWAYS the best.  A woman has the RIGHT to choose how to feed her baby.  Whether she uses her breasts to do so or not should be up to her.  After all, her breasts are part of her body.   She should NEVER feel coerced into choosing one feeding option over another.  Some moms prefer to formula feed right from the get-go.  Some moms–and even babies–physically cannot do it.  They just can’t….and all you naysayers among the breastfeeding Nazi’s/extremists, yes, there are moms and babies who physically CANNOT breastfeed.   And then there are the moms, like me, who give it all they’ve got and under their particular circumstances (for me, it was childbirth complications, a partial hysterectomy three days after childbirth, anemia, extreme fatigue, being starved for about 6 out of the 7 days I was in the hospital, not enough lactation assistance, and overall trepidation and uncertainty with breastfeeding in general) had to stop after several weeks due to the extremely small quantity of milk produced, pumping such small amounts that there was no choice but to supplement with formula.

As a PPD advocate, I have to say that I absolutely DO NOT SUPPORT this Latch on NYC initiative.  We really need to avoid adding to the anxiety levels of new moms who face first-time motherhood with uncertainty and inadequate support (in general, and I’m not even talking about inadequate breastfeeding support).   A new mom, especially one who has already suffered from childbirth complications and/or neonatal issues with her baby(ies), needs support, not made to feel forced into breastfeeding if for whatever reason that does not end up to be the way she ends up feeding her baby.  The Latch on NYC program will undoubtedly make new moms who can’t/decide not to breastfeed feel guiltier than necessary, and that’s not an ideal way to begin her postpartum experience, her first few days of motherhood.  No, not at all.

If the intent is to boost breastfeeding rates, then there should be a direct correlation with the availability of breastfeeding support and education.  New moms need to be adequately prepared with such details as the process of milk production and who can address questions and concerns as they come up (e.g., what colostrum is and what it looks like, how long before real milk comes in, how long each feeding can take, how many feedings may be needed per day, why mastitis occurs and how to alleviate it if it does, and how to cope with leaky breasts).  For Latch on NYC to work and not have a detrimental effect on new moms, there should be an increase in the number of lactation consultants on staff at each and every hospital in NYC.  Is NYC prepared to do such a thing?  Hardly likely, since the objective is ALWAYS about cutting costs.  Hey, even the breastfeeding organizations out there will be the first to admit that the goal is to reduce healthcare costs, and hence, the number of trips made to a pediatrician.

Surely, Mr. Bloomberg, you can’t expect to increase breastfeeding rates without also ensuring an increase in education and support for breastfeeding?  Difficulties getting the baby to latch properly and breastfeeding complications like mastitis—these are but some of the factors that can contribute to an increased risk for PPD, which is why an increase in education and support are crucial.  There needs to be an uptick in breastfeeding (and also postpartum) support services that are easily accessible—not to mention, affordable—to new moms throughout NYC.  All too many moms are not educated on what it takes to successfully breastfeed on demand, around the clock during the first weeks.  You don’t know that all too many moms are left struggling to breastfeed without any help.  If all mothers had access to adequate support, I’m sure more moms would stick to breastfeeding longer. Fewer moms would give up out of frustration, complications, and sheer exhaustion.

Mr. Bloomberg, do you want to see an increase in the number of new moms embarking on their first-time motherhood experiences stressed out from your well-intended but poorly planned initiative (from a consequential standpoint of what this could mean to maternal mental health)?  Your intent may be noble from the standpoint of providing the best start to life for newborns, but it does not necessarily take into consideration the mental well-being of new mothers, now, does it?  Do you know what it’s like to struggle with breastfeeding challenges, inadequate support, extreme fatigue, childbirth complications, and neonatal complications?  Do you not realize that the health of the family unit is dependent on the health of the new mom?

Mr. Bloomberg, if you want to improve the well-being of babies, you cannot forget about their mothers. Hand in hand with this Latch on NYC initiative of yours should be an initiative to educate new moms and their families about PPD, as well as developing postpartum support programs, which are desperately needed but pitifully lacking.  You really need to be educated on maternal mental health issues at hand to know the impact your Latch on NYC program will have on new moms.

I’d like to end this post with some reminders to new moms faced with the decision of whether to breastfeed or not, or faced with breastfeeding challenges (including having to take medication for PPD):

  • Don’t let anyone else influence you into believing you must breastfeed. You and your husband are the only ones who should have any say in the manner in which you feed your baby. It’s no one else’s business. You will be making the decision based on what you feel comfortable with and what you think is best for your baby. Feeding your baby formula doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom.
  • Don’t feel guilty or deficient about not being able to breastfeed.
  • Don’t feel guilty for having to stop breastfeeding if you need to take medication to recover from your PPD. The priority is for you to be well again so you can care for and establish a warm and loving relationship with your baby.

For more thoughts on Latch on NYC around the blogosphere, check out these blog posts:

The Importance of Mothering the New Mother

Chinese call it Zou Yue.
Mexicans call it la cuarentena.
Greeks call it sarántisma.
Indians (Hindi) call it Jaappa.

Regardless of what it’s called or how long it is observed–be it 30 or 40 days–the goal is the same.  Taking care of the mother, so she can take care of her baby and get adequate sleep to recover from childbirth.

Many other countries in Asia, the Middle East, South America, and Africa observe a traditional mothering the new mother period.  40 seems to be a magical number, a number that has survived through the centuries and therefore has special significance….no doubt it has something to do with the fact that 40 days is the average length of time for a new mother’s body to recover from childbirth and return to a pre-pregnant state.  That is also why your OB/GYN will say to you once you’ve given birth that he will see you in 6 weeks.

The May 11th NY Times Well section included an article How to Mother a Mother by Tara Parker-Pope.  In it she talks about Claudia Kolker’s new book, The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn From Newcomers to America About Health, Happiness and Hope and how practices such as la cuarantena can help Americans (if they are willing to learn from immigrants) to achieve–just as the title says–health, happiness and hope.

Cuarentena sounds like how the word sounds in English for quarantine, or a period of isolation for illness.  The term refers to the first 40 days after childbirth in which the female family members and friends of the new mother surround her and provide her and her baby with care, so that the new mother’s only focus is on getting rest and bonding with/feeding her baby. They also help around the house and prepare meals.  Certain rituals are observed that are similar to those observed by the Chinese Zou Yue, such as the preparation of certain foods, like chicken soup, to help keep her body/system warm, as chicken is viewed as a warm food.  Foods that are considered cold, like cucumbers, are avoided.  She is to be protected from feeling overwhelmed; hence, visitors are kept away (or kept at a very minimum) during this time (this is probably how the term la cuarantena was derived).  She is told to avoid bathing for fear of catching cold.  All these rituals have the mother’s well-being in mind.  I am rather surprised to see such similarities between the Mexican and Chinese customs….after all, the countries are nowhere near each other!  In terms of breastfeeding, female family members are on hand to teach her how to do it. In these other cultures, there is no expectation that the new mother know how to breastfeed instinctively and easily.  There is a reason behind the phrase It takes a village.

Since I blogged previously about the importance of social support and how through the years we seem to have lost perspective on things when it comes to the community coming together to help a new mother who has just had a baby, I won’t repeat myself here.  What I will say is–because we can’t emphasize it enough nowadays–that getting adequate social support–comprised of both emotional support (e.g., shoulder to cry on, listening non-judgmentally) and practical support (e.g., help with breastfeeding, cleaning, errands, laundry, taking care of the baby for a few hours so mom can take a nap or shower) IS CRITICAL FOR NEW MOMS.  Having enough support during the first 4-6 weeks–until your body recovers from childbirth and your hormone levels return to their pre-pregnancy state–can help keep anxiety levels down, help you get the rest you need from all the changes your body has gone through with childbirth, and minimize risk for postpartum depression.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help or accept help from your significant other, family members and/or friends.  Before baby’s arrival, you should try to line up 4-6 weeks’ worth of live-in help from a family member (mother, mother-in-law, sister) or at minimum help with night-time feedings those first few weeks is critical in allowing you to get adequate rest.  If you don’t have any family members nearby and/or willing or able to help, you may want to consider hiring a postpartum doula, if finances allow.  The presence of a doula that is experienced in infant care can help keep anxiety levels and concerns about infant care to a minimum, and provide comfort in knowing that both you and your baby are in good hands.  Click here to learn more about postpartum doulas and how to find one near you.

I devote a chapter in my book to the importance of social support, what social support entails, how to go about ensuring you get adequate support in your first postpartum weeks, postpartum rituals in various countries, and postpartum support services in this country (including support groups like Santa Barbara Postpartum Education for Parents, as well as doulas)–and unfortunate lack thereof and the trend of having postpartum doulas fill the void in support for new mothers.  I have Sally Placksin’s book Mothering the New Mother to thank for educating and inspiring me to write about social support in my own book and every chance I can get.

I started writing this blog post on Monday (late at night after my daughter went to bed), lost gas quickly and stopped.  I started it up again on Tuesday (late at night, again after my daughter went to bed) and lost gas quickly (the result of a combination of a long, stressful day and aging).  On Wednesday, I had a lovely time catching up with a good friend over dinner so I didn’t get a chance to write at all.  Just today, I happened to stumble across a website/blog named Mother Love Postpartum Doula Services that just recently linked up to me by way of its blogroll.  Thank you, Liz, for linking to my blog!    She happens to touch on the postpartum rituals I touch on in this post.  What fortuitous timing, as I just needed to finalize the post…and voila, I’m hitting the Publish button….now!

Please Support MotherWoman’s Moms are Worth a Million Mission

Here we are, in the month of May already.  Spring….and Mother’s Day both come to mind.  I know, some of you out there think Hallmark when you hear “Mother’s Day.”  But I have to say it should be way more than that…

Tonight’s post is about….you guessed it…MOTHERS.  Not hard to guess, considering my blog is devoted to maternal mental health.  🙂  Mothers have the toughest, yet most rewarding job…. a job that in this society often gets taken for granted…and is an unpaid one at that.  After all, isn’t being a mother an instinctive, no-brainer kind of thing? <shaking head vigorously>

My post from last night mentioned motherhood myths and societal attitudes that don’t help, but rather make motherhood all the more challenging.  The end result is that the new mother often finds herself isolated both in terms of perception and in reality when it comes to having adequate social support.  The motherhood myths, societal attitudes, and social support are things I actually tackle in depth in my book….and I might add, with great relish.  Because I really LOVE to combat false notions that are detrimental to mothers!

Today’s post is about MotherWoman’s latest mission….and what better time to announce as Mother’s Day approaches!  I can’t agree more with the following, which lies at the very heart of that mission:

When you support a mother, you uplift her family.
When you uplift a family, you strengthen their community.
When you strengthen a community, you change the world.

The theme is the same as what I’ve said before and I’ll be happy to say again:

A healthy and happy mother means a healthy and happy family.

Isn’t that the truth?  Yeah, you know it!!!

MotherWoman’s latest mission, which I think is absolutely critical, is to raise $10,000 for scholarships by July 2nd to enable 25 community leaders and professionals working for nonprofits to take a 3-day MotherWoman Support Group Facilitator Training to learn how to provide peer-led support to moms.  This year, the training is taking place in Massachusetts, New Jersey (in June…I plan to be there), Washington, and Guatemala.  There have been requests for training in other locations, which is a wonderfully encouraging thing to hear, because we so desperately need more support groups for mothers out there!!!!  Coincidentally, I was just saying this in my post last night!

Please take a few minutes to watch this video and hear about the impact this project has had on four mothers and how they are now giving back to other mothers by leading MotherWoman Support Groups in their communities.

 

Please consider helping to support the project by donating and/or spreading the word about this mission to others on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, via email, or even in person!

Click here to donate and see some of the neat perks to donating.  Any amount would be appreciated! 

Also, if you are interested in applying for a scholarship yourself, contact Liz@motherwoman.org.

Media’s Over-Emphasis on Celebrity Post-Baby Bods After Childbirth

I’m annoyed.  I wasn’t going to blog tonight, but just had to, after seeing a Yahoo headline titled “Beyonce Shares Stunning, Make-Up Less Bikini Pic” and then of course you see a picture of her just as the title indicates.  Stunning.  Make-up less (i.e., naturally beautiful). Bikini. Okay, we all know that Beyonce is beautiful.  But must we focus so darn much on the fact that she’s able to look as stunning as ever in a B-I-K-I-N-I weeks after having a baby?!  Pleeeeease.  C’mon media.  Stop it.  Stop rubbing into the faces of all mothers out there that this is the way it should be–i.e., gorgeous and in shape a few weeks after having a baby….and if you aren’t then there must be something wrong with you!  <insert disdainful suck-teeth noise>

Media, you do such a great job of perpetuating this fallacy.  Too good of a job, actually.  Do you realize just how badly you make 99% of the moms out there feel?  Oh yeah, that’s right.  You don’t care.  After all, it’s glamor and stardom that make money for your women’s magazines, right?  But do you understand how the celebrity hot mama out there actually gets into shape with personal trainers on a daily basis?  That they have the time to do this because they have nannies to take care of their babies night and day?  That they can afford this star treatment, and 99% of moms out there can only dream of such a lifestyle and in fact struggle with the realities of coping with motherhood all too often with very little help?!

New moms generally find themselves 1) struggling with a topsy-turvy emotional state due to the tremendous hormonal crash that occurs with childbirth, 2) being a first-time mom and struggling to learn how to understand their babies cries, 3) breastfeeding with oftentimes tremendous difficulty, 4) dealing with uncertainty and a great deal of anxiety that they’re doing the best they can in caring for their babies, and 5) struggling with extreme sleep deprivation. Yes, it’s great to be able to successfully squeeze in some exercise a few times a week.  But it’s not unusual for a new, sleep-deprived (and maybe even depressed) mom to feel exhausted and put exercise and self care, in general, at the bottom of her list of things to do.

It’s not just Beyonce I’m trying to poke at….yes, I realize one of my recent posts was about that whole deal with her in Lenox Hospital hogging up the floor and preventing parents from seeing their babies in the NICU.  I don’t have it out for her.  I happen to like her.  But when I see a situation in which society, or in this case media, is perpetuating a situation that lowers the self esteem of moms who have better things to do than worry about whether their bodies can return to their pre-baby state right away, I’m gonna damn well blog about it!

It happens all the time. This emphasis on beauty and body.  Covers of magazines that you can’t avoid, even as you are waiting on line to pay at a supermarket.  They are everywhere.  Ugh!  I got my thoughts out on my blog.  But that’s about it.  There won’t be any changes in my lifetime when it comes to how media chooses to focus on the things that mean the least in the grand scheme of things.

But I want the mom who sees images of beautiful post-baby bods to try not to pay any heed to them.  That’s not the norm.  Not at all.

There is No Sure-Fire Way to Prevent PPD (and PPD is NOT Mind Over Matter)

I’ve blogged previously about people who–despite seemingly good intentions–blog about a topic they claim having subject matter expertise but don’t really.  Refer to my blog post from a couple months back about breastfeeding…a post that was better left in the author’s Drafts until she got her facts straight.  The outcome was an uproar about how breastfeeding should be a mother’s choice rather than being forced upon everyone without considering their situation. 

Well, this time, there was uproar once again, but I was a few hours too late to see what it was really about….which is fine by me because I was having a very stressful day Thursday, and the last thing I needed was an article that provides misleading information to the public about postpartum depression (PPD) to put me over the edge.  I never had a chance to read the full article, but if you click here, you’ll see most of the original text. Evidently, it was modified from the time it was first posted, started to receive unfavorable comments, and was then subsequently pulled.  I’m grateful for the many responses to the article on the Postpartum Progress Facebook page.  I did go to the author’s own website and saw how her techniques could “prevent PPD”…….all at a cost. It reminded me of my previous post of a sure-fire cure for PPD…all at a cost.  Nothing ticks me off more than, whether intentionally ignorant or not, misinformation about PPD. We’re trying to raise public awareness of the truth, not increase the stigma at the expense of maternal (and consequently, family) health.

If you didn’t suffer from PPD and/or you aren’t a professional psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or other health care professional dedicated to treating mothers with PPD, you probably wouldn’t see anything wrong with the article.  But please note that, with no mention of the biological aspects of PPD–which are of utmost importance if you want to truly understand what PPD is, why it occurs, understand the risk factors and how you can minimize your risk for it, and how to treat it– the article is leading the public to believe that the cause is purely psychological.  The gist of the article implies that PPD is no big deal and you hold the key to preventing PPD from occurring by doing X, Y, and Z.  Basically, it’s another attempt to try to tell you that PPD is purely mind over matter.  You can empower yourself to prevent it from happening, and if it does, you can sure as heck snap right out of it all on your own accord.  A PPD mom’s #1 pet peeve expression:  “Snap out of it.”   Makes me grit my teeth everytime I hear it.

Though it’s true that knowledge is empowering and if you were to understand PPD and why it occurs, you can minimize risk for it, you CANNOT completely guarantee that a new mom won’t succumb to it if there are certain biopsychosical factors that are making her particularly vulnerable to it at that point in time.   A mom with PPD experiences physical symptoms (e.g., insomnia, weight loss) due to altered neurotransmitter levels resulting from a combination of biopsychosocial factors.  Some of those factors are out of your control, like your hormones crashing, events that occur during labor & delivery that prove to be traumatic, baby in the NICU for a period of time, and so on.

For accurate information on PPD, visit Postpartum Support International and Postpartum Progress.