Some of you are probably thinking “Well, looky here….Ivy finally posted this.” Yes, I know some of you who have your blog set up to receive my new blog posts have seen this title come up a few weeks ago. I was indeed planning to post this a few weeks ago, but before I had a chance to write anything, I hit “Publish” by mistake. And then of course another topic came along that I felt had to be published right away. Before I realized it, a few weeks have gone by. I finally found the opportunity to write this one up.
Why I Do What I Do
Those impassioned about certain causes usually aren’t motivated in such fashion unless they are directly impacted by a life-changing experience such as illness or death of a loved one. It takes life-altering experiences, such as cancer, postpartum depression (PPD), or surviving the death of a loved one to motivate individuals to try to make a difference in the world and to try to help others. Some are determined to help others by sharing their stories, like Brooke Shields, Marie Osmond, and Lance Armstrong. Others do what they never dreamed they would ever do, like run for United States Congress, which is what Carolyn McCarthy did after her husband was killed and her son was severely injured during the Long Island Railroad Massacre, and after the representative in her district voted against an assault weapons bill.
For me, it was anger of people’s ignorance – those who were my doctors, those to whom I’ve talked and those in the media who say stupid things – that propelled me to write a book. I was angered by the way I was treated by my doctors. Angry for no one telling me about PPD in the first place and the lack of information that is given to the public via magazines, hospital training, doctors’ offices, and television. Angry for the way society makes assumptions that all mothers have smooth and easy pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum experiences. I decided I would channel all the energy stemming from my anger and do something positive and try to help others. I would tell my story in the hopes of helping and educating as many people as possible about this silent and potentially deadly condition. I would chronicle my experience and share the horrific feelings and manifestations of PPD that I experienced, so that others can know better what to look for.
Determined to learn more about this misunderstood, underdiagnosed and undertreated illness, I joined Postpartum Support International in 2006 and attended two annual conferences since to network with and pick up the latest information from subject matter experts. Each time I sat down at the computer to write more, I felt lighter and lighter. I have never believed in keeping things to myself. It is not healthy to keep things all bottled up. Keeping things bottled up and keeping yourself so busy you don’t have time to think about things that are bothering you—these are popular tactics used to avoid having to deal with problems at hand. But there is a major price to pay when it comes to doing either. To maintain a healthy body and mind, you need to deal with the problem, rather than letting it build up over time until the brain becomes overloaded with stress, which can have mood and behavior consequences. You need to talk about whatever is bothering you either verbally or in writing.
I’m of the mindset that things happen in for a reason. If I hadn’t gone down that incredibly painful path and been angered by the idiotic rantings of Tom Cruise and angered by the lack of compassion and understanding of the medical professionals with whom I sought treatment, I would not have felt impassioned about the topic of PPD and about writing a book….or blogging, for that matter. Having my own blog has given me more courage in speaking out about my PPD experiences and what I have learned from those experiences to others.
Be the Change
If we all adapted the attitude or belief that each individual is capable of helping to bring about change, the odds would be in our favor in terms of reducing the numbers of moms suffering unnecessarily from it each and every year, and perhaps–just perhaps–lowering the PPD occurrence rate….because and repeat after me “KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.” If we all just sat on our tushes, waiting for the next woman to do something to make a difference, change will continue to crawl along at a snail’s pace. Just as my experience with PPD has inspired me to write this book and set up my own blog, as well as tell people in person about my experience whenever the topic comes up, I hope your experience inspires you to try to increase awareness of this common and all-too-often ignored illness. I hope you will feel the same urge to share your experience with others, so that in the long run, there will no longer be ignorance about PPD and as a result, fewer women will suffer this debilitating illness at a time when they should be enjoying their babies. I hope you feel the same passion to help other mothers get access to the resources and treatment needed for a speedy recovery.
Be An Advocate
There is still too much ignorance out there about PPD. If you are currently suffering from PPD, consider joining the ranks of PPD advocates like Katherine Stone, Lauren Hale and Amber Koter-Puline to educate others after your recovery. Be a legislative advocate like Susan Dowd Stone, whose efforts to support the Mother’s Act sponsored by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) helped push it through recently under the Health Insurance Reform. Join Postpartum Support International and consider being a regional coordinator to provide support and local resources to PPD moms, start a blog, create a website, advocate education to expectant parents by hospitals, advocate education to all medical school students, or travel around the country to educate others about this serious condition affecting so many women, create a PPD support group, or write a book about your experience.
As long as society remains ignorant about PPD, the stigma associated with mental illnesses–particularly around a time that is supposed to be happy (i.e., childbirth)–will continue to keep mothers mouths shut and suffering unnecessarily in silence. It’s unfortunate how so many mothers suffering from PPD tend to feel ashamed for not being able to cope like all other mothers around them (not realizing that many around them may also be suffering in silence).
The more PPD survivors speak up, the more people in general will know about PPD. Then, hopefully, PPD moms will feel less afraid to speak up and seek help. PPD survivors must come together to break down that wall of silence and fight the stigma associated with PPD. Look how long it’s taken to get where we are today. If we sit there and don’t do anything, do you think change will happen on its own? Do you think research will continue full-steam ahead? I don’t think so. So, it’s up to us PPD survivors to make a difference for our fellow women.
Last but not least, and I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again…..progress in destigmatization of depression and postpartum depression includes addressing ignorant remarks whenever they are heard. Simply ignoring them won’t accomplish anything, least of all public awareness. For all those who are PPD survivors, whenever you hear people say off-the-mark comments about PPD, speak up and be heard!
Help Other Moms
If you are currently suffering from PPD, consider helping other moms after your recovery. Being a warmline volunteer and/or PPD support group volunteer would be tremendously beneficial to a mother who is suffering PPD. Just think of it this way. Try thinking back to the time when you wished you had someone to talk to about your experience, someone who could understand what you were going through. Wouldn’t it have made a difference had you met a PPD survivor—a mother who has been through what you are going through and who is living proof that you too will get well?
If there is a lack of PPD or postpartum support groups near you, after you are well again, you may want to consider forming one with other PPD survivors. We need more leaders like Jane Honickman to take initiative and more organizations like Santa Barbara Postpartum Education for Parents need to exist. She also, incidently, founded Postpartum Support International. Now, this is what I call BEING THE CHANGE!
Dr. Shoshana Bennett is a 2-time survivor of undiagnosed PPD who was inspired by her experience to become an expert on PPD, having published multiple books, earning multiple degrees (2 masters degrees, a PhD and licensing as a clinical psychologist), founding one of the first postpartum groups in the country in 1987, acting as former President of Postpartum Support International, helping over 18,000 women worldwide through individual consultations, support groups and wellness seminars, traveling all over the world as guest lecturer and keynote speaker, and training medical and mental health professionals to assess and treat perinatal mood disorders. Now, this is what I call BEING THE CHANGE!