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.


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.


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.


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.
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.