Maria’s Letter to Her Younger Self

Maria’s younger self in 2009

A note of thanks to my friend and fellow PPD survivor/advocate, Maria, who was gracious in letting me share this letter she wrote last week during Maternal Mental Health Week, and I happened to see it on my feed and totally loved it.  This letter has inspired me to write my own letter to my younger self, which I hope to share soon.

If you are suffering from a postpartum mood disorder right now, please be comforted in knowing there are so many more moms like Maria and me that have suffered and overcome PPD only to become much stronger and empowered women.  You will down the road be able to write–and perhaps even share–your own letters to your younger selves as well.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Dear Younger Maria (2009):

You are going to be okay.

You’re in hell now,
but you’re going to plug along
and find your way out.

It isn’t going to be easy
and it isn’t going to be pretty,
but soon after this photo was taken
you will summon the courage to reach out for help.

You will call the nurse manager in your obstetrician’s office
and in between sobs and heaving breaths,
you will slowly and fully tell her how you think something is wrong.

How you feel nothing when you hold your daughter
and you cry all the time.
How you only want to hide in a locked closet or a locked bathroom,
and in fact that is often what you do
once the kids are asleep or with a babysitter.

You are barely functioning but you are doing it.
You are doing it mama.

And those babies love you.
And you are an amazing mother.
And you are going to shine so brightly.

I promise.

Just hold on,
trust in yourself,
lean on your trusted friends,
and always remember that
you are worthy of more than this feeling.

More than this heart-wrenching,
gut-punching pain
and stifling loneliness.

This emptiness that consumes you will subside,
and soon you will find
a version of yourself that will set you free.

Be brave sweet mama.
I am so proud you.

Love,
Older Maria (2019)

A New Year and Returning to Blogging

“Tomorrow, is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.”
– Brad Paisley

I’ve seen this quote many new years past, but for some reason, it’s sticking with me more so now than ever before.  I haven’t blogged for over 4 months….the longest break since I started blogging in February 2009.  If you’ve been following my blog for some time, you may have noticed it’s been quiet over here and may have wondered if I’ve decided to call it quits.   Well, I’ve previously vowed I would never completely stop.  Blogging about maternal mental health will always be a passion of mine, as my experience 14 years ago has shaped me into the person I am now.  Blogging has also been a huge outlet for my thoughts and anger when I hear about our society’s shortcomings when it comes to maternal mental health.  As I’ve mentioned before, the anger that has fueled my passion has fizzled, and my anger has been directed toward the state of our government instead.  With my district’s Democratic nominee winning on November 6th and now with the House flipping blue (wooooot!!!!) this past Thursday,  I can breathe a sigh of relief and let go of some of my anger.

I’ve also been so busy at work that each day merges into the next and into the next with 10-hour days with no stops and often no lunch breaks……to the point that I’m feeling like my life is flashing before my eyes….and my daughter’s growing up so fast, she’s heading to HIGH SCHOOL this fall!  Plus, my parents and their health and other issues have been weighing heavily on my mind.

And so it comes to my latest philosophies, which are spin-offs of my long-time philosophy of “Just do it” and “Work hard, play hard.”

“Love, laugh and live life with no regrets”

and

“Life is too short for BS”

I don’t really take crap from anyone anymore.  I speak my mind.  I try to maintain work/life balance.  I’ve been trying to achieve more down time on weekends and each evening, trying to to sleep earlier and even squeezing in before bedtime a chapter or two of the bestseller “A Discovery of Witches” by my fellow Mt. Holyoke classmate, Deborah Harkness.   What more motivation do I have than the fact that the show is premiering in two weeks on Sundance Now?!  I’ve tried to see my parents more often.  I’m trying to do more with my daughter before she goes off to college and I <gulp> become an empty-nester. I’m trying to clean out loads of stuff I’ve been holding onto and just try to keep it simpler and less cluttered.  Cuz what am I going to do with stuff I’ve been hanging onto for years and don’t really need anymore?

Finally, as the new year begins, I would like to start up my blogging once more.  After all, I’m not used to not having my blog be one of the first blog resources that comes up when you search the terms “postpartum insomnia,” “can’t sleep when the baby sleeps,” etc.  Time to get to work and get to blogging again!

I Can Understand How the Despair from PPD Can Cause a Mother to Want to End Her Life

As a preface to this post, I’d like to share an excerpt from my book that reflects how the pain from postpartum depression (PPD) can fill a mother with so much despair and hopelessness–especially when she doesn’t know what is happening and why, and that there is a cure for whatever it was that is causing her to feel/behave/think the way she is feeling/behaving/thinking–that she would want to end her life.

One too many times, I gave Ed a miserable look and told him how scared I was that I didn’t know what was going on with me and I was afraid that I’d never get better. There would be tears in my eyes but I couldn’t cry. Most of the time, he didn’t know what to say. It was way after I had fully recovered from PPD that Ed finally admitted that he had feared I would never get well, never return to my old self, and never appreciate watching [our daughter] grow up.

Each day, I’d stand by a window, staring out at the snow and pleading for God to help me get through all this. I’d say over and over again, “Please, God, please help me get through this. My baby and husband need me … help me to be strong!” It was difficult for me to focus on any tasks. Often I’d sit there in the kitchen by myself or stand in the middle of a room, unsure of what to do next or not wanting to do anything at all. I felt like staying in bed all day long or in a tight ball hiding in a corner, rocking myself for comfort, but I couldn’t because I had to take care of [my baby]. During that time, I tried my best to interact with [my baby], to play with her, and talk to her.

…….. I thought I was never going to get better, I wasn’t going to be able to go back to work, and I wasn’t going to ever be well enough to take care of the baby. I just wanted to shrivel up into a tiny ball and disappear. I couldn’t bear the thought I was going to be like this for the rest of my life.

Although I never thought about actually ending my life, I constantly thought about disappearing because I just wanted all the misery to end.  And I most certainly couldn’t imagine staying in my PPD state for the rest of my life.  So it’s a good thing my PPD was cured when it was, as I’m not sure how much longer I would have lasted.  I have heard many other mothers who suffered from PPD that thought about disappearing as well.  I have also heard a few instances of mothers thinking about taking their own lives and/or actually attempting suicide.  Each time I hear these stories, it makes me feel more committed than ever to continue blogging and trying to reach people who are struggling with PPD.

I’ve been wanting to share a couple of important articles about suicide as the second leading cause of death for women in the postpartum period….one article is from last June and the other is from 3 months ago.

The one from 3 months ago (5/2/2018) was written by Catherine Pearson on Huffington Post titled “Suicide is a leading cause of suicide for new moms but awareness is low.”  The article focuses on the story of Kari who died by suicide back June 2010.  Kari’s sister, Karla, shared the story to try to educate other mothers on how deadly PPD can be. Like some of the other stories I’ve shared on this blog, Kari’s family was unaware of how bad her PPD was until it was too late.  Her family was getting her ready to move in with them to help her out until she felt better, but never had a chance to do so.   Within 4 weeks of giving birth, she died by suicide.  Her condition had quickly gone from giving birth to not being able to sleep (what happened to me) to feeling super anxious to wanting to harm herself.  The day before she was going to see a doctor about her condition, she died by suicide.

The one from last June (6/5/2017) was written by Gina Louis for Medium titled “The Night Postpartum Depression Almost Killed Me.” This is the story of a new mother who, after struggling with feelings of inadequacy and feeling a failure of a mother and wife that her children and husband would be better off without, she planned to take her own life one night.  She was going to let the dark hole of despair swallow her up.  But she thankfully didn’t carry it out that night.  She got help.  She is now, like me, a survivor speaking up and trying to help others realize that PPD can be overcome with the right help.  As my experience has made me feel stronger and more confident than before, her experience has made her feel stronger and more confident than before.

What Kari’s sister and Gina Louis are trying to do by sharing these stories is to educate folks on how deadly PPD can be and how quickly things can become deadly.  PPD is a serious condition that can lead to tragic consequences quickly.  If you or someone you know is suffering from PPD, please seek/get them to seek treatment asap.

For a country that is so advanced in medicine and technology, we must ask ourselves why American mothers don’t have enough access to, or education about, maternal mental health treatment and why American policy makers can’t do more to address the stubbornly high rates of pregnancy-related death and pregnancy-related suicides, which account for one in five postpartum deaths.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 
24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line.
Outside of the U.S., please 
visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

Is This the Way A Doctor’s Office Should Treat a New Mom with PPD? Heck No!

Before you read this post, please read this: 
If either you or a loved one gave birth in the last few weeks or months and you are having problems with insomnia, don’t feel like yourself, experiencing a great deal of anxiety and/or rage and/or are scary thoughts, please call Postpartum Support International (PSI) at 800-944-4773 where trained individuals (many of whom are survivors themselves) will listen to you and connect you with informed providers.

Note that the story you are about to read is an example of what may happen if you and your loved ones are not informed about mood disorders that occur during pregnancy and after childbirth, and your OB/GYN and staff are not properly trained to detect, diagnose, treat and/or refer patients with perinatal mood disorders.  It does not mean that the same thing will happen to you.  If you have any concerns about your own situation, please leave me a message and I will get back to you asap.  Or give that PSI number a call.

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This is the Facebook post that went viral right after it was posted this past Friday, January 19, 2018. Instead of taking legal action (which I most certainly would have done), Jessica is paying it forward by sharing her story so the public can see how broken the healthcare system is when it comes to postpartum care for new mothers.  She also turned down the numerous offers for help she has received since her post went viral and instead asks that everyone who has reached out to her offer their service for a woman of color.

Following is her experience in a nutshell.

  1. Usually, new moms have their first postpartum visit with their OB at 6 weeks. Her first appointment wasn’t scheduled until the 3rd Her OB kept cancelling her appointments for a month, so by the time she went she was 4 months postpartum. That’s not good.
  2. At the doctor’s office, Jessica told the nurse practitioner that she had postpartum depression, which included fits of anger and violent thoughts. She also said she wanted to discuss medication options, needed medication and therapy to get through this, had a strong support system at home, and she would never hurt herself or her baby.  If she’d spoken to me or anyone with experience diagnosing and treating PPD, I would think “Okay, this is a woman who is informed and knows what she is talking about. I have no reason to doubt that she knows what she’s saying, so I will have the doctor see her now so they can talk about treatment options and/or referral to someone experienced with treating PPD.”
  3. But instead of telling the doctor so he could properly assess her condition and discuss treatment and/or referral options, they called the police! In exchange for her honesty and being knowledgeable enough about PPD to advocate for herself, she was treated like a criminal!   A grueling 10-hour ordeal ensued, with her infant in tow.  No medication. Never once speaking with a doctor. No follow-up appointment. She drove with her baby to the ER with 2 police cars escorting them. They took her blood and she had to give a urine sample.  A security guard stood guard.  She had to remove all her clothes, which they took away and locked up.

Like Jessica, I would want to effect change but I would want to give the nurse practitioner and doctor a piece of my mind.  I would’ve been so pissed by this overreaction to a mother knowledgeably informing her doctor’s office of her PPD and the ensuing humiliating experience that ensued, plus I don’t forget bad experiences that easily and who would?  When a mother is suffering from PPD, she is already in an emotionally vulnerable state and this kind overreaction can be the tip of an already unstable iceberg.

Everyone who comes in contact with new mothers should ABSOLUTELY be trained to recognize symptoms of a perinatal mood disorder, to understand that a new mother with a perinatal mood disorder needs support and treatment.  This would apply to nurses, OB/GYNs, general practitioners, pediatricians, doulas, and midwives.  At this point, there shouldn’t be a single OB/GYN doctor and nurse that doesn’t know how to recognize symptoms of a perinatal mood disorder and either treat her or refer her right away to someone who can.  This kind of training should not be optional.   IT MUST BE MANDATORY….i.e., you can’t practice as an OB/GYN doctor or nurse without the mandatory training that Postpartum Support International offers. Let’s advocate for change at the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG) level, as I’ve been saying for years.

At the end of her post, Jessica proposes crowd sourcing as a way of coming up with solutions to fix this broken healthcare system. She poses very thoughtful and key questions that should prompt immediate discussions among everyone who has anything to do with maternal mental health (e.g., advocates, mental healthcare practitioners, doctors, nurses).  These are her questions, which I’m putting here to help get the word out, as not everyone is on Facebook.

  • Why is the way I was treated standard procedure?
  • What can we do to improve standard procedures for all postpartum mothers, but also specifically those at higher risk for developing PPD and presenting with signs of PPD.
  • Who is most qualified to make suggestions for improvements?
  • Who is actually capable of making the changes to standard procedures, and how can we can contact them?
  • Why was I let go, when so many others would have been put on a mandatory 72 hour psychiatric hold, and had their children taken away?
  • Why do a disproportionate number of women of color who have PPD not receive the services they need, even when they initiate treatment?
  • Why are a disproportionate number of women of color who have PPD misdiagnosed?
  • Why are black women half as likely to receive mental health treatment and counseling as white women?
  • What can we do as a community to lift up our marginalized members and make sure they receive the quality care that we ALL have a right to?!?

I am hopeful that we will make some headway, since this post has gone viral as she’d hope it would be.  I am already hearing that advocacy groups like 2020Mom reach out to Jessica, who is going to join 2020Mom in a rally in Sacramento, California state capital, which just so happens to be where Jessica’s story took place.  2020Mom is in the process of introducing 4 bills in California.

I have previously shared how my PPD experience was a critical steppingstone to becoming the person I am today, and do not regret it except for the time that I lost during the weeks I was not myself. My PPD experience changed the course of my life.  I believe I had PPD for a reason, as it has given me the courage to speak up, blog, publish a book, and change my career path.

I somehow get this feeling that Jessica’s PPD experience is a steppingstone to advocacy and change when it comes to maternal mental health matters.  I am pretty sure this is just the beginning of her involvement in maternal mental health advocacy.

Thank you, Jessica, for sharing your experience!

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Update to post: 
Jessica Porten’s story has gone viral and made it into various news media, which is what I’d hoped would happen.  The more ways her story gets shared, the more people she reaches (including folks in the medical field). Here are just some of the places her story has popped up:

Sacramento CBS news: “Mom Shocked After Doctor’s Visit For Postpartum Depression Leads To Police Escort To ER” by Steve Large.

NowThis Her video

Medium: “Address Postpartum Depression with Training and Treatment, Not Police” by Ann Smith, current President of PSI.

Slate: “She Asked for Help for Postpartum Depression. The Nurse Called the Cops.” by Darby Saxbe.

Upworthy: “A mom told her OB she might have postpartum depression. Then they called the cops.” by Evan Porter.

Romper: “This Mom Had The Cops Called On Her After Seeking Help For PPD, & Her Story Is A Must-Read” by Karen Fratti.

Romper: “Why Are We Letting Our Mothers Die?” A Conversation About Postpartum Treatment” by Ashley Stoney.

Research4Moms: “No More Excuses: Providers Are Accountable for Their Lack of Knowledge About Moms’ Mental Health” by Shannon Hennig.

Dearly: “Mom Says She Needs Help for Postpartum Depression. Nurse Leaves the Room…to Call the Police” by Prudence Hill.

Huffpo Canada: “A Mom With Postpartum Depression Asked For Help. Her Nurse Called The Cops” by Patricia Tomasi.

Steve Bannon’s Ignorance on Mental Health

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

Here I am, posting again….wow, it’s now 3x in one month.  I haven’t posted with such frequency in a long time.  Guess you can say the state of this country is heavy on my mind.  I had said in my last post that I wasn’t going to talk politics since this site is dedicated to maternal mental health.  I was planning to stick to that guideline.  But then I hit a snag in my plans, thanks to a post I read about Bannon, the individual that Trump has selected to be his chief strategist.  Bannon made a comment about mental health that triggered me so much it had me flashing back to the trigger that set me off on a 6-year journey to publish a book about my postpartum depression (PPD) experience.  What trigger is that?  Well, if you’ve been following my blog for some time and/or you read my author bio, you would know that Tom Cruise and his There’s no such thing as a chemical imbalance comment triggered me back in 2005.  But the outcome of the trigger was good, as I have my blog and book as the end result. And yes, I do thank TC in my Acknowledgments.

There’s nothing good about this trigger related to Bannon, though.  TC is just an ignorant actor. But Bannon is an ignorant white supremacist who will have a role in the White House and will have far more negative consequences than TC ever had.  Bannon made a statement that the cure for mental illness is to spank your children more.  Excuse me?  What.The.Fuck. (oops, forgot to use $ or other symbol to fill in for the “u” for the very first time…..there’s a first time for everything, as they say).  I’ve truly had it with this whole election.  I’ve had it with all the hatred, misogyny and bigotry.  With the cheeto about to become our President and the alt right using him as a tool to ensure there are at least 4 years of revenge for the 8 years they had to suffer under President Obama, they have populated the leadership team with known racists (Bannon, Sessions, Flynn) and ensuring that racism becomes the new normal.  My passion for matters related to racism stems from my being bullied as a child for my race.  But I’m not going to digress here (even though anti-bullying is my other passion)……

Note: If you’re a Trump follower trolling this blog post and thinking I’m bullying Bannon or Trump, then think again.  Bullying is DIRECT harassment to them personally.  I’m exerting my 1st amendment right voicing my thoughts on my own blog.  Thank you very much.

<directing myself back on track….>

Bannon, just like I’ve been wishing to tell Tom Cruise in person, I wish I could tell YOU in person, if you’ve never been through mental illness yourself, then:
Shut the f*ck up.  
Shut.Your.Ignorant.Mouth.Up.  

And get educated about mental illness and how it REALLY works.  It’s not mind over matter, you dimwit.  Take a few minutes to read a blog post that may help you see the light when it comes to PPD.  There are plenty of articles from health organizations and blog posts on the Internet for you to learn the TRUTH behind mental illness.  But I’m pretty sure you won’t bother to spend a second to read anything because you think you know it all, don’t you.

Here’s where, if I could be granted 3 genie wishes, one of them would be to make all haters/bigots switch places with the ones being hated and the ones who keep insisting that mental illness is mind over matter to switch places with those who are battling a mental illness (e.g., depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, etc.).  You will learn in an instant that the logic you’ve been upholding is COMPLETELY WRONG.  See my past post on this titled “All It Takes Is One Day.”  One day to experience a mental illness yourself, firsthand……THAT’S ALL IT TAKES to snap you to reality and stop living in a world based on assumptions (that only make a$$es out of you).

And speaking of backwards, as women, we should not let ourselves be dragged backwards when it comes to our rights. We must stand up for ourselves and for each other.  We must work harder than ever to support organizations that will help us stay on track when it comes to mental health and women’s rights, especially during the time that women are most vulnerable–i.e., before, during and after childbirth.  Please join me in doing this!

If you’re a mom suffering from PPD right now, please be comforted in knowing that there are plenty of people in this country and around the world who care enough to make it a goal to help moms like you.  Please reach out to me, reach out to others with blogs, Facebook pages….we will help you get through this.

You WILL get through this.  I got through it stronger than ever before, and so can you!

Peace to you.

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.

 

 

Honored to Tell My PPD Story Via A Plus

Thank you, Ashton Kutscher’s A Plus (A+), for selecting me to be one of the moms for your postpartum depression piece titled “What is Postpartum Depression? 5 Moms Tell Us About the Darkest Time in Their Lives” last Thursday.  My story was shared with A+ readers, along with the stories of Amber Koter Puline, Lauren Hale, Alexandra Rosas, and Kimberly Morand.  I would’ve blogged about this earlier if I wasn’t so darn busy, with one day blending into the next and blending into the next….

Truthfully, I hadn’t heard about A+ previously, and I was quite surprised to hear that the founder is none other than Ashton Kutscher!  There are many who still haven’t heard of A+ and I have still yet to see a single A+ article pop up in my newsfeed shared by others in my Facebook circle.  A+ gave me the opportunity to share my story to reach a broader audience, so I am going to give a little plug (even though I don’t really think Ashton and his team need this).

After reading the “About Us” section on the A+ site, I’m feeling more honored than ever. I can see why they decided to share our PPD stories.  It’s for the same reason why the 5 of us (and many others) have been trying for many years (Amber & Lauren since 2007 and me from 2009) to spread awareness and get our message out to other mothers.

We strive to deliver positive journalism to readers, with the intention of making a meaningful difference in the world by highlighting our common humanity, promoting personal growth, and inspiring social change.

Sounds a bit like Huffington Post, don’t it?  Well, kinda sorta.  The specific mission of the stories published via A+ is to “make readers feel better about themselves or the world around them after they’ve read it” and inspire readers to take positive action and to be better people by sharing positive/uplifting stories, encouraging ways for people to improve their personal situations, increasing a sense of community, empathy, and the interconnections that exist between themselves and others regardless of geography.

Our stories encourage readers to see themselves in others and reveal their secret selves. Our stories highlight moments of courage, humiliation, anger, folly, but the ones that hit home are the ones that cause readers to feel that they are not alone with their imperfect selves. We do not make fun or put others down; we find ourselves in them!

I’ve blogged many a time about the over-eagerness of media to capitalize on “click bait” for the sole purpose of generating the greatest number of views possible by coming up with a juicy or attention-getting headline.  Very rarely are those click bait articles about good news.  More often than not, those stories incite negative responses from people, whether it be anger, sadness, outrage and/or the desire for retribution and wishing ill will upon others (think trolls).  Those types of articles feed hateful thinking and behavior and keep the vicious cycle going round and round with no end in sight.  The outcome is greater disappointment in others and the world we live in.  Basically, all of the opposite effects from the mission of A+ noted above.

Upworthy is a media site that tries to inspire positive thinking by sharing positive/uplifting stories. Let’s hope that the A+ movement will continue to differentiate itself from the Upworthy’s and Huffington Posts of the world, and truly succeed at making a difference.  Because, you know what?  We truly need positive change.  And a lot of it!

Naomi

Please visit the Postpartum Support International post about Naomi.
Please read and share that post, and let us really try our best to spread awareness about perinatal mood disorders.
We need to do all we can to ensure that everyone who works with maternal mental health in the medical and judicial systems truly understands and is able to identify symptoms and knows how to react and treat a woman who is suffering from a perinatal mood disorder. These encounters can mean life and death, ultimately, for the mother and her child.

candle

Naomi, on this day of your memorial service
With tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat,
I write this.
Though I did not know you personally,
I do know that you suffered greatly
And experienced unimaginable loss
During your time on this earth.
And I am so, so sorry that you did.
What a terrible loss to the community
Of fellow postpartum mood disorder survivors.
Words cannot adequately express
How sorry I am that your pain was so great.
I feel so guilty for not being able to help you
While you were among us.
Society has once again failed another mother
Through its ignorance and lack of adequate support services.
I cry over our loss of you.
I promise you that I will continue to work with the community
Of maternal mental health advocates and survivors
To carry on your advocacy
And your passionate desire
To prevent other mothers from experiencing
The pain and loss you suffered.
Yes, I will continue to work with others to spread the word
With your spirit in us and
With you looking down upon us
That mothers suffering from postpartum mood disorders are
Far from alone,
They are not to blame for their postpartum illness,
And they WILL recover with the right treatment and support.
Rest in peace, Naomi

Postpartum Support International’s 2015 Blog Hop – Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month

On the eve of Mother’s Day, here I am struggling with a blog post for the 3rd annual Postpartum Support International (PSI) Blog Hop for Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month.  The topic of the blog hop is “You are not alone: Focus on Support Groups and Resources.”

PSI Blog Hop Badge by Lauren Hale

Please consider joining the blog hop to help spread awareness!  All you have to do is go to the Dr. Christi Hibbert’s blog, and read the guidelines.  There, you will see all the other blogs who are participating in this blog hop.  You have all month in which to join the blog hop.

Support Groups and Resources can be in the form of local organizations, like PPD support groups in a local hospital or in your community (too many to name, but I do list many under my Support Groups/Local Resources links on my blog, in addition to all the local resources listed on the PSI resources page).  You can also find a number of excellent online PPD communities for support, like the closed Facebook groups Postpartum Progress#PPDChat Support, and Postpartum Support International.

I saw a post earlier tonight that inspired me to write the below “poem.”  I’m not sure what I wrote constitutes poetry, but at least you can see I tried to rhyme.  That’s all I remember from my high school days of writing and reading poetry.

I was just telling my husband earlier tonight how it seemed that more mom friends I know are either indifferent about Mother’s Day or dreading it for one reason or another.  Even this morning’s Z100 phone tap was focused on a son’s pretending to argue with his mom about having a big get-together at Peter Luger’s Steakhouse for Mother’s Day.  She was dead set against it because she historically has never wanted to celebrate Mother’s Day (and she could have a very good reason but we don’t know what that is….and neither does the son, apparently).

Before my own motherhood journey that made me realize that not all motherhood experiences are glowing from the get-go or at all, I just assumed that all mothers looked forward to Mother’s Day because it was a day that celebrates and acknowledges mothers for all their love and hard work.

Now, after having gone through what I went through and meeting many new moms in the past ten years, I know there are a lot of moms wishing there wasn’t such a thing as Mother’s Day. It’s these moms I want to dedicate today’s post to.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Are you pretending to look forward to Mother’s Day
When all you really want to do is treat it like any other day?
Or be left alone so you don’t have to spend the extra energy showing your children
How happy you are they remembered to abide with the tradition
Of a card, flowers, gift and/or brunch or dinner out.
After all, that’s what Mother’s Day is really about….

Or is it?

I know that for some women, Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of certain things.
I won’t bring up the reasons for the pain for fear of triggering negative feelings.
Whatever the reason,
Know that you are not alone.
Just like childbirth and motherhood experiences always appear so smooth and happy,
They aren’t…..it just appears that way.
It’s natural for you to feel alone if you had any childbirth or postpartum difficulties.
But there are communities
Of women out there who share a similar deal
As you and can help  you to heal.

So, if you are feeling low
And don’t feel up to celebrating Mother’s Day, then say so.
No point in pretending to say and do
Whatever people expect of you.
Like have a whole big to-do
With the extended family, in-laws too.

The important thing–and it should be every day–
Not just on Mother’s Day (a good ol’ Hallmark Day),
Is that you focus on self care.
Whether it be sleeping in and then sipping a hot cup o’ joe, lounging in PJs, getting a manicure,
Watching a flick or two, sipping a glass o’ wine or two, reading
A favorite book, or a day free of laundry, dishes, cooking and cleaning.
You deserve to treat yourself in such a way
Not just on Mother’s Day, but every day.

With love,
Ivy

Sounds of Silence 7th Annual Run/Walk – May 9, 2015

prcny-sos-run-general-flyer-2015-FINAL-i-LRJoin the Sounds of Silence, Friends of the Postpartum Resource Center of New York’s 7th annual run/walk to help raise funds in the effort to increase awareness of perinatal mood disorders, such as postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum OCD, and postpartum psychosis.   Not only is this for an excellent cause, it will be a nice opportunity to race (or walk) a beautiful 5K boardwalk along the Atlantic Ocean.

Please note that this annual fundraiser was started back in 2009 by sisters Erin Mascaro and Lisa Reilly.  It was Lisa’s experience with postpartum depression (PPD) after the birth of her daughter–an experience so deeply painful and full of suffering (a suffering that many others like her feel forced to endure in silence) that was witnessed by Erin and other loved ones–that motivated Erin and Lisa to break the silence of PPD with the Sounds of Silence annual run/walk .  I only found out a few days ago that Lisa tragically succumbed to depression last fall. This year’s run/walk will be in her memory.   Please help spread the word about this fundraiser by blogging or sharing the flyer on Facebook/Twitter.

Date:  Saturday, May 9, 2015

Time:  Registration from 8:00-9:00; race/walk begins at 9:30 AM.  There will be a Kids Fun Run, Raffles, Food and more.

Place:   Jones Beach State Park, Wantagh, Long Island (Field 5)

Registration:  $25 (adults); $15 (ages 11-18); $5 (ages 10 and under); register here.

Other Race Details:  The top female and male runners, plus top fundraiser, will receive awards.  Back in 2009, I was one of the two top fundraisers, bringing in over $1,000 (as an individual).

For more information about the run/walk, please click here to visit the Postpartum Resource Center of New York site.

All proceeds will go towards supporting the important services the Postpartum Resource Center of New York, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit organization (tax ID #11-3449880), provides to new mothers and their families.  To learn more about its services, go to:  http://postpartumny.org.

Happy 1st Birthday, STIGMAMA!

I am proud of my friend, Dr. Walker Karraa, for so many reasons.  Today, I would like to acknowledge and congratulate her for the success of her amazing blog, STIGMAMATM. Happy 1st birthday, STIGMAMATM!!!

You have grown soooo quickly! In what feels like less than a year to me–because last year went by so fast–you have had over 70 contributors, garnered over 16,000 followers on Facebook, and been recognized as a leading health blog, and the list goes on. You are the fastest growing blog specifically about mothers (of all ages), mental illness, and accompanying stigma.

I have not had a chance to contribute to you as of yet because I spent half of last year studying for two exams. But I am definitely going to join the ranks of the over 70 contributors that have written for you to date.

If you haven’t followed Dr. Walker and STIGMAMATM by now, please do. They are on a mission to help eradicate stigma. Let’s join them on that mission!

If you are a blogger, please join the blog hop to wish StigmamaTM a very happy 1st birthday, and many, many, many more! Create your blog post, click on the button below, and add your information to the blog hook-up page that comes up via InLinkz.  Not a blogger?  That’s okay.  There are many other ways you can help celebrate. You can spread the word about StigmamaTM to your friends.  On Twitter, you can chat with Dr. Karraa and her contributors and other followers by using @Stigmama1 or #StigmamaBirthday. On Facebook, you can leave Dr. Karraa and her contributors a message(s) on the Stigmama Facebook page.

Why I Blog and What Social Media Means for Me

I am a part of the way through something I am working on this summer that is causing me to have no time to follow the over 500 Facebook pages whose news appears on my feed on a daily basis that takes, easily, up to 4 hours a day to read through.  Reading everything in my Facebook feed requires me to be on Facebook on my commute to and from work (about 1 hour each way), plus 2 or so hours after I put my daughter to bed each night.  I’m fairly certain that all my Facebook friends–at least those that have NOT hidden me from their feeds–are relieved at not having to see every single time I Like a post with a Global setting (thank you, Mark Zuckerberg, for this ridiculousness).  Ha!

A couple of friends recently asked me if I plan to cut back from Facebook on a permanent basis, like I did with Twitter a couple years ago because that became too time consuming (and I was getting tired of the cliquey snark and popularity contests that left a bad taste in my mouth….and I don’t have time for that sh*t), and as a full-time employee with a long commute to/from work each day, I found it impossible to keep up with it.  At this point, I do not know.  I will have to see how it goes.  I must say, though, that it is so freeing not to have to feel like I MUST get through everything in my news feed every single day!  More time to do what I have to do.  Less stress.

A couple of friends also asked me if I planned to keep up blogging, to which I indicated that I will always keep up my blogging and advocacy for maternal mental health and anti-bullying.  They indicated it seems I have reached the end of my journey of documenting and processing my emotions and experiences that occurred before, during and after I had my daughter. But I told them that I will always need an outlet and I will always be passionate and outspoken about these two topics.  And after all, the origin of the word “blog” came from web log:  an online journal or diary, a means to get one’s thoughts and feelings out and at the same time sharing with individuals who can appreciate your posts.

I may not have amassed that large of a following, but what I do know is that I am reaching people on a daily basis who find me via certain key words.  I am content knowing that I continue reaching and helping others feel less alone with their experiences and I continue to spread awareness so fewer new moms will go through what I went through…..the original intent of this blog.

I am not using social media for popularity purposes.  In fact, on Facebook I choose to keep a very small circle of Facebook “friends.”  I limit this small circle to those I know IRL (in real life) or with whom I have corresponded regularly online for a certain length of time and with whom I feel very like-minded.  And if I know the person IRL, I have to have a positive relationship with that person (this is pretty logical, no?).

I’m not blogging strictly to see how many Likes or Shares I can get or friends I can make.  If that were the sole purpose, I would’ve stopped a long time ago.  Despite the fact that I have been blogging for over 5 years and people still haven’t heard of my blog–even in the field of maternal mental health–and certain individuals who used to support my blog but don’t any longer, I am going to keep on doing what I’m doing.

I’ve said this in previous posts that my blogging style (as straightforward, down to earth, genuine, no BS, and “what you see is what you get” as you’ll ever come across….which reflects the kind of person I am IRL) isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay.  Everyone is different. I am staying true to myself.

I care about new moms who feel as lost as I did when I first had my baby.

I care about teens who get bullied.

That is all.

Thoughts of Suicide and the Taboo of Discussing It

I think the title of my post speaks for itself, but just in case, I will add a trigger warning…

*** This post may be triggering if you are are emotionally vulnerable right now***

Below is an excerpt from a recent Facebook post over at the Angel Rehtaeh Facebook page I’ve been following since Rehtaeh Parsons of Novia Scotia died by suicide on April 7, 2013.  The cause of her attempted suicide has been blamed on the online distribution of photos of an alleged gang rape committed by four boys in November 2011, and subsequent persistent cyberbullying and bullying that took place that drove her to try to end her life.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I am just as concerned about girls’ mental health as I am about maternal mental health because there is risk of postpartum mood disorders occurring when there is a history of depression, bipolar disorder, or other mental health issue.  And as many of my blog followers already know, since I was a victim of bullying while growing up, I am just about as passionate an advocate for anti-bullying as I am an advocate for maternal mental health.  And mental health/depression and suicide as topics for discussion?  Still very taboo in our society today.  Yes, they are still very hush hush and make for awkward topics to talk about.  But not awkward enough for my lunch group today, which I had the pleasure of organizing as a mini reunion of four fellow Postpartum Support International (PSI) members from as far away as Arizona in addition to Long Island and of course, New Jersey.  Yes, we talked about suicide, among a number of other maternal-mental-health-related matters….not to mention our books (3 out of the 4 PSI members are book authors).

Not speaking up about suicide is just like not speaking up about mental health….it doesn’t do anyone any good.  It just keeps it a completely taboo topic.  It makes people who experience it feel ashamed and alone, when in fact they are far from alone.   People with suicidal thoughts may feel like no one cares and no one will ever understand what they are going through.  That’s simply not true.  There are always people who care.  The key is whether you spoke to the right person about what you’re going through.  When I say right person, I mean a loved one whom you trust and can help connect you with someone who is trained to help those who are in a dark place say that there truly is a light at the end of the tunnel.

The following excerpt is being quoted with permission from Rehtaeh’s mother, Leah Parsons:

The sad part about thoughts of suicide and the taboo of discussing it is that so many people especially teenagers go through times where they have these thoughts. Instead of acknowledging that these thoughts are more common than we know…we make people feel like there is something “wrong” with them. That somehow they are “weak” and can not handle life’s pressures. Schools need more talk of mental health- not less. Not talking about mental health does not equal less suicides. Actually, talking with supports in place is the answer to helping peoples – especially teens deal with their emotional struggles.  So what would I say to someone who is wanting to leave this beautiful world?
I would say:

1. You are not alone.
2. This too shall pass….what seems like the darkest of days can lead you to the brightest light.
3. When we come out of darkness we have a better lense in which to view the world.
4. Find the smallest of things to look forward to everyday. It can be the feeling of crawling under your comfy blankets at night. Embrace comfort!
5. Ask for guidance to something bigger than yourself…even if you don’t believe in God, ask the Universe..you will get an answer but you have to be present. Listen,be present for that opportunity!
6. Look around you for beauty….it’s there and inside of you too.
7. Find one person you trust…find “YOUR” therapy whatever that may be…explore that.
8. Look around you at the people who love you…you matter to them even if it feels like your a burden…thats not true that is something you are feeding yourself to confirm your negative feelings. Its a trick your mind plays with you when you are down.
9. Life is hard and again YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
10. What seems like desperation and sadness today is not permanent….it will not always be that way.
11. Don’t compare your journey to another.
12. Someone else may seem strong and have everything going for them, but they too will struggle or are struggling.
13. You are loved…find the love in you and feed yourself the way you would a friend that is down.
14. Listen to your thoughts, is that how you would talk to a friend? Be that friend to yourself!
15. Please Stay there will never be another YOU!

I would like to end this post with a reminder to reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline if you are feeling like you are at the end of your rope, there is no hope, there is no way out of the situation that is making you feel so bad, and/or your loved ones would be better of without you.  Contrary to what you may believe, your loved ones will NOT be better without you.

Sounds of Silence Friends of the Postpartum Resource Center of New York. 7th Annual Run/Walk – May 10, 2014

Join the Sounds of Silence, Friends of the Postpartum Resource Center of New York’s 6th annual run/walk to help raise funds in the effort to increase awareness of perinatal mood disorders, such as postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum OCD, and postpartum psychosis.   Not only is this for an excellent cause, it will be a nice opportunity to race (or walk) a beautiful 5K boardwalk along the Atlantic Ocean.

Date:  Saturday, May 10, 2014

Time:  Registration from 8:00-9:00; race/walk begins at 9:30 AM / 1:00am – Kids Fun Run, Raffles, Food and more

Place:   Jones Beach State Park, Wantagh, Long Island (Field 5)

Registration:  $25 (adults); $15 (ages 11-18); $5 (ages 10 and under)

Other Race Details:  The top female and male runners, plus top fundraiser, will receive awards.  Back in 2009, I was one of the two top fundraisers, bringing in over $1,000 (as an individual).

Click here for more information on the Sounds of Silence, Friends of the Postpartum Resource Center of New York.

Lovely Book Review Over at Resplendent by Design

A friend of a friend, Bobbi Parish, therapist and author of the blog Resplendent by Design and book “Create Your Own Sacred Text” has written a very lovely book review of my book “One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood.”  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, Bobbi, for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to read my book and write a book review.

One of the many rewards for writing my book–aside from the personal satisfaction of seeing the fruit of your six years of labor result an attractive book with content that can help make a positive difference for others–is making new connections, especially ones who would go out of their way to spread the word about a fellow mom’s book intended to help other moms.  Another reward is knowing that you are contributing in some small measure toward reaching mothers and their families with information that can help empower them to recognize when they are suffering from a perinatal mood disorder, where to go for help, what the treatment options are….not to mention, realize that what they are going through is experienced by more women than they will ever know, they have no need to feel guilty, and they will be well again with the right help.

The best part of Bobbi’s review is the fact that she is recommending my book for patients of obstetricians, midwives and doulas:

In my opinion, this is a book that should be on every Obstetrician, Midwife and Doula’s shelf and in their waiting room. It should also be on a list of resources about Postpartum Disorders handed out to every pregnant woman by their health care professional. It will absolutely help women battle this insidious mental health disorder and thereby enable them to have a healthier, happier postpartum period with the full capacity to care for and bond with their newborn.

Please go over to her blog and read the rest of her book review.

If you are an obstetrician, midwife or doula, please consider following Bobbi’s recommendation of 1) keeping a copy of my book in your waiting room and 2) including my book on a list of resources which I hope you already have (and if not, please consider putting one together now) about perinatal mood disorders handed out to your pregnant patients.

If you have stumbled across my blog and want to read more about my motherhood journey and what I learned from it, please consider buying a copy.  My book is available at Amazon via Kindle and both paperback and hard cover format.

If you know a mom who has found herself as blindsided and scared as I found myself when I was hit hard by postpartum depression, please consider buying her, or recommending she buy, a copy of my book.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Adjusting Well, by Ann Jamison

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

Call to Participate in a PPD Survey

My dear friend Walker Karraa, er, I mean Dr. Walker Karraa, is looking for postpartum depression (PPD) survivors to participate in a survey on ways PPD changes women who experience it.

For those who have followed my blog for at least the past year, Walker’s name may sound familiar.  Almost exactly a year ago, I blogged about her need for participants in a dissertation on the transformational dimensions of PPD.  Thanks to the participants of that study, she was able to put together a wonderful dissertation that helped her earn her PhD in Philosophy (she uses philosophy to examine scientific, social and cultural paradigms of women’s mental health — particularly maternal mental health).

With respect to this survey for which she is now seeking participation of at least 500 women, the results will be used for the book she is now working on that will be based on her research into the ways PPD changes women.  Please, if you haven’t participated yet, take a few minutes to do so and if you aren’t a PPD survivor and know someone who is, forward them this information and encourage them to participate.  Thank you!

While you’re at it, please also follow Dr. Walker Karraa’s professional page on Facebook, the content of which is dedicated to the full spectrum of issues of regarding women’s mental health and wellness.  You can expect her to keep you abreast of important updates in research, events and news on maternal mental health.

My Journey to Motherhood Was Far from Perfect….and I’ve Learned to Accept That

This morning, I saw an acquaintance who had a baby just a couple weeks ago.  I told her she looked great, like she never even had a baby.  And she replied “I feel pretty good and yes, it does seem like I never even had a baby.”  I then said to her “You are blessed, you really are.”  To which she shrugged and that was the end of that conversation.  She didn’t think it was a big deal that she’d just had a baby, and I wasn’t about to make it a big deal.  She looked as good as she did before she had her baby.  She didn’t look tired.  She has two other children, and seems unphased by the new addition.  She really is blessed, she really is.

At that point, I felt really awkward.  I didn’t know her that well, so what else was there to say?  Though the conversation, albeit brief, stayed on my mind for a while today (because I immediately thought this would make for a good post), I refused to let it get to me.  Knowing what I now know, that I am far from the only one who didn’t experience a perfect pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum experience, I didn’t react with feelings of resentment, jealousy, or even regret like I probably would have if I hadn’t had postpartum depression (PPD) but was just struggling with my first crack at motherhood, all anxious and uncertain.

I reminded myself of what I’d written in my book….you don’t know what goes on in someone else’s life.  She could have relatives close by that can help watch her baby regularly and other two children and/or she could have a very good babysitting arrangement.  She seems to have a very laid-back personality, with no predisposition to anxiety, self esteem issues, or even pessimism.  She exudes confidence.  None of these describe me or my experience.  But again, I have to tell myself that I don’t really know what’s going on in her life.  How things appear in public could be very different from what they’re really like in the privacy of one’s home.

My journey to motherhood has taught me many things about myself.  I believe I was meant to experience PPD, and survive it…..and emerge from it a very different person.  Had I not experienced PPD, self doubt and self esteem issues would more than likely have engulfed me and caused me to react to situations like my conversation this morning with the mom with the “everything is hunky dory and oh, did I really just have a baby because I feel that awesome and look that great and motherhood is a snap” attitude in a–let’s just say–negative way.   Why would I have reacted in such fashion had I not experienced, and survived, PPD?  Well, unlike some moms, I had ZERO experience taking care of babies until I had my very own.  I never babysat, nor did my mother ever ask me to help take care of my two younger brothers.  When you have ZERO experience, your self confidence would naturally not be that great.    And in my pre-PPD days, my self esteem was so lousy that my self confidence would take a nose dive at every little thing.  Negative thoughts and attitudes people had about me once used to have a crippling effect on me.

For the past 3-1/2 years, I’ve come to know many moms who, like me, experienced far-from-perfect roads to motherhood.  I’m NOT the only mom who’s had infertility problems.  I’m NOT the only mom who’s lost pregnancies.  I’m NOT the only mom who’s had childbirth complications.  I’m NOT the only mom who’s had PPD.  I’m NOT the only mom who’s felt uncertain, anxious, and a failure at motherhood (and breastfeeding too).  I am FAR FROM ALONE in feeling like–how shall I say it–the opposite of a Supermom.

I am not going to let my negative experiences defeat me.  Instead, I’m going to take them and make the most of the rest of my life.  My PPD survival played a pivotal role in changing me…for the better.    My PPD experience—and subsequently writing my book and my blog—has given me a voice and a strength I didn’t previously know was possible for me to possess.  After I completed my book last year, it’s like I came out of a cocoon.  I metamorphosed into a new person.  This change has made such a positive difference in terms of my attitude at work and the attitude others have of me at work.  Rather than take offense to, get crushed by, and harbor grudges due to annoying and even condescending behaviors of colleagues at work, I let all that stuff slide now.  I tell myself it’s totally not worth getting bent out of shape about.  IF I SURVIVED PPD, I SURE AS HELL CAN LET THIS PIDDLY SH$T SLIDE.  Not only do I see the change in me, I feel that my colleagues have also seen the change in me.

So, am I going to let this morning’s conversation and realization that there are indeed people who have it seemingly easy when it comes to motherhood get to me?  Nope.

I’m a Bottle Baby and I Am……a Mother of a Bottle Baby and Proud of It

As I have mentioned quite often on my blog, surviving my postpartum depression (PPD) experience has had a transformational effect on me.

My experience has:
1.  Educated me on the stigma and ignorance that exist with respect to mental health issues (and maternal mental health issues, which are of particular importance to me) in this country….and throughout the world, for that matter.
2.  Educated me on our society’s trend in the wrong direction with respect to ensuring that new mothers get the care and nurturing they need in the first weeks after childbirth.
3.  Opened my eyes to the toxic societal trends in the form of motherhood myths that cause unnecessary anxiety and unnecessary feelings of guilt and shame.
4.  Instilled a desire to help other new moms suffering from PPD (and any moms just seeking non-judgmental emotional support).

Speaking of  toxic societal trends, there are quite a number of them, the latest of which has the Breast is ALWAYS the Best fanatics behind it….brings to mind the far-right views on abortion (no exceptions, even for rape or incest), but I won’t go into that here.  This fanatical thinking that breast is ALWAYS the best–despite congenital/neonatal issues, childbirth complications (like mine), needing to take PPD meds to recover in order to BE a mother to your baby (like me), and the list goes on–needs to cease and desist!

Year of the Dragon – 2012

When it comes to the mental well-being of a new mom, I am ever so mindful of the stigmas, ignorance, attitudes, beliefs, myths, etc. that have a toxic impact on a new mom.  The dragon in me comes out (picture me with fire coming out of my mouth) and  I get VERY IRRITATED by the things I come across– whether it be from discussions I overhear (or have with people), articles/posts/comments I read on the Internet, or hear in the news–that have to do with any toxic ways of thinking.  Hence, much of what I post are my reactions to the good and the bad–there is unfortunately more of the latter out there. 😦

In the past few months, I joined these two wonderful Facebook groups for moms:  The Fearless Formula Feeder and Bottle Babies (Brisbane, Australia).    I wish I had such resources when I was having trouble breastfeeding over 7 years ago!    The ladies who make up these two groups are truly amazing, and I respect them so much for their dedication in helping new moms and providing them with non-judgmental emotional support.  Together, they recently released this video titled “I’m a Bottle Baby and I Am…..” that I would like to share with you:

“[How] you fill your [baby’s] tummy is not as important as how you fill their heart, mind and spirit.”
– Bottle Babies

Amen!

I’m such a new member of these two groups that I missed the opportunity to contribute to this video.  Well, anyway, here’s a picture of both me and my daughter as examples of two healthy, bottle-fed individuals with good heads on our shoulders.  🙂

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: