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.

Beautiful, Troubled Path – A Poem by Stacy M

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Stacy, for sharing your touching poem.

 

Path

Photo: Ivy Shih Leung

Beautiful, Troubled Path

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

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

obstacle after obstacle
how many leaps of faith can one take

wound after wound
how much more heartache

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

skinned knees from being on the ground
begging the universe please

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

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

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

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

By:  Stacy M.

My Blog’s 5th Birthaversary and Info on PSI Zumbathon Fundraiser

Some people call it a Blogoversary.  Some people call it a Blog Birthday.  The French say “Joyeaux Anniversaire” for Happy Birthday.   I don’t really care much what it’s called.  I just know that both Blogoversary and Blog Birthday hold the same meaning, and my blog has been around for 5 years!  Woohoo!!!  Actually, five years and one day, since the momentous occasion was yesterday.  But I was too tired to blog last night…..anyway, I’ll just compromise and call it a Birthaversary.  🙂

In these past 5 years, I’ve seen an increasing number of personal experiences with postpartum depression (PPD) posted on blogs, on Huffington Post, on online parenting magazines, etc.  Seeing these articles gives me hope that we are reaching more and more people about maternal mental health issues.

At the same time, however, there are still stories in the news of how we–despite being in 2014–are still failing our mothers all over the world.  Sometimes, I think that it’s willful ignorance that keeps people in the dark.  And like the UK  case I wrote about recently, misguided priorities and inadequate training are still leading to mothers falling through the cracks.

I want to implore all PPD survivors, PPD advocates and medical/mental health professionals to make a more concerted effort to:

ISL_020714

Work together
Remember that a healthy baby means a healthy mother
Really focus on the mother’s well-being
Break down silos
Encourage collaborative care
Support mothers and discourage mom-petitions
Embrace the fact that there is no one right way to mother
Ensure there is increased public awareness and research initiatives to improve early detection and treatment
Encourage a culture of sharing and banish stigma

Before I end this post, I would like to share information about an upcoming Postpartum Support International (PSI) zumbathon fundraiser being held in memory of Cynthia Wachtenheim, a mother whose life was tragically cut short last March.  All proceeds from the event will go to maternal mental health public awareness and support.  I am proud to be a member of PSI since 2006.  It is an organization that is very much at the forefront of all of the positive efforts above.

A “How Are You” Would Be Nice….

Can’t believe it’s been 2-1/2 weeks since my last post.   And a lot has happened in this relatively short time period.  Sandy happened.  It happened with a fury here in New Jersey and in New York.  Thousands without power….many STILL without power.  Many in the coastal areas–from Cape May to Staten Island and Long Island and all too many towns in between–no longer have homes to return to.

People generally can’t fathom, understand, comprehend, imagine–or what have you– what it’s like to be in an area that is the unfortunate target of the terrifying forces of Mother Nature.  That is, not until it happens to them.   I would imagine that people who’ve never been impacted by power outage for days, flooding, or loss of home would not know how to adequately express concern.  Understandable.  But, that doesn’t mean you don’t ask how a person you are speaking with–like a colleague whom you know is in the area impacted by, say, Sandy–how they are doing.  Basic etiquette, yanno?   Before hammering away as you normally would in a business-as-usual fashion, start the conversation with “I hope you and your family were not too badly impacted by Sandy.”   I made it a goal to make that either my first statement in emails I sent–or the first words out of my mouth when speaking–to colleagues in the past couple of weeks.

What do I mean by “hammering away?”  I mean people emailing and calling from other parts of the country–in their usual curt, demanding way, expecting someone to immediately provide a response–with no attempt made to ask how you are and if everything is okay.  They just assumed that, if they could reach you by phone/email, then heck….you must be fine.  Well, you know what they say when you assume?   Yep, it makes an a$$ out of u&me.  Do they realize there are still so many people out here with no power…and in freezing temperatures?  Some with flooded homes? Still others with no homes any longer?

Now, I’m going to draw a parallel between people asking about your well being in the wake of Sandy with people asking about your well being after you have a baby.  People just assume that all mothers have smooth, easy and blissful childbirth/postpartum experiences.  Well, no, not everyone has smooth, easy and blissful childbirth/postpartum experiences.  But even if there are childbirth complications, do you ever see an email announcing baby’s birth as anything other than what you traditionally see–i.e., “[Insert baby name] was born at [insert time] on [insert date].  Mom and baby are doing well.”  No, you don’t, do you?  You don’t ever see anything like “Mom had childbirth complications and had to have an emergency surgery to remove her uterus 3 days after giving birth, and mom and baby (and daddy too) had to spend a week in the hospital.”  That, by the way, was MY EXPERIENCE (to get all the details, you’d have to read my book).  That is the email I wanted to send out but didn’t have the nerve to.  The email announcement I had my friend send out for me had the “traditional” language in it.  Here’s an excerpt from my book in the section titled “Hear No, Speak No, See No” as to my theory behind why the traditional language is always used, even when it may not be true:

People only want to hear what they want to hear, which is that your experience was like any other mother’s experience. They don’t even want to hear the details of how the labor and delivery went. They just want to hear these seven words: “Both mom and baby are doing well.” This is what I refer to as the spare me the details effect. Same thing whenever you ask anyone, “How are you?” and you expect the answer to be “Good, thanks.” I always get this strange look from people whenever I provide a response that’s in any way negative.   It’s almost like, how dare I provide a response that isn’t within the socially acceptable “Good, thanks.”

Slowly, the reality of what happened is sinking in with friends and family…and it has been nearly EIGHT years.  To this day, many friends still don’t know the true extent of my childbirth and postpartum experience.   Is it because they are scared of what they will find out?  Perhaps. After all, who likes to talk about negative things if you don’t have to?  Who seeks out awkward situations?  Like I said before, people only want to hear what they want to hear.  HEAR NO, SPEAK NO, SEE NO…..

Even if one does have the nerve to send out a “non-traditional” announcement, what do you think the reaction would be?    Will people leave you alone, not calling or visiting, for fear that they will be a bother or say something that may only make matters worse?  Will they hear the news and scurry away, because it’s human nature to want to avoid hearing bad news, especially when it comes to childbirth?  I’ll tell you this, I will NEVER assume that all is fine with the mom and the baby.  I will always ask how they are, bearing in mind that no matter how much advice I want to pass onto them, I won’t offer any unless they ask me for advice.  I don’t want to hurt any feelings or cause any self-doubt for the new mom.  I don’t want to seem like a know-it-all, all pushy and overbearing.  I will treat others the way that I would want to be treated, keeping in mind what I now know from my own journey to motherhood.

Because people assume (there’s that word again) that everything is fine and dandy just because you appear to be fine and dandy (see my past post on how appearances can be deceiving) and if they themselves have never experienced childbirth or childcare complications or postpartum depression (PPD), they think you should be able to bounce right back as if you’d never given birth before.  At work, that means returning to work immediately (some female executives and employees of small firms) or in 6 weeks (some companies only offer this much in maternity leave) or in 3 months (usual maternity leave duration).   And if you happen to have PPD, they think you should be able to “snap out of it” because “it’s just mind over matter.”  Just like the post-Sandy scenario I describe above, there will unfortunately be those colleagues who will address you as if nothing has changed.  No “How are you feeling?” or “Hope everything went okay.”  Everything is just plain ol’ business as usual.

I’ve said this before and will say it again, one should never assume that just because she’s smiling that everything is fine and blissful.  With one out of eight new mothers suffering from PPD, someone you know–be it a friend, relative, neighbor or co-worker–may at some point experience it.   I wouldn’t want to be in a position where I could’ve asked how a new mom feels but don’t and then later find out that she was suffering from PPD.   All it takes is asking a friend, relative, neighbor or co-worker who has just had a baby “How are you?  How do you REALLY feel?”  You could be saving a life one day, because some mothers do unfortunately struggle with severe postpartum mood disorders….and some unfortunately do not survive.

I could go on and on, but will end with this.  The personal philosophy I choose to live by is to treat others the way I would want to be treated.  How difficult is it to ask these three words “How are you” of someone you know–be it a relative, friend or acquaintance?  Is it that difficult to take the time to show you care about other people in your life?    I sincerely hope the answer to this last question is No.

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.  🙂

Please Support MotherWoman’s Moms are Worth a Million Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Motherhood and PPD: Changing Attitudes Takes Open Conversations and Being Supportive

I mentioned in a previous post how Gwyneth Paltrow had “come out of the closet” nearly two years ago regarding her postpartum depression (PPD) experience after the birth of her son Moses.  I am happy to see that she is continuing to talk about her experience, this time in the premiere episode of Lifetime’s The Conversation with Amanda de Cadenet. Check out the Celebrity Baby Scoop article and US Weekly article that I stumbled across, thanks to a Facebook post yesterday from my friend Liz Friedman over at MotherWoman.

What caught my attention was the following quote from Gwyneth:

“We think that it makes us bad mothers or we didn’t do it right, but it’s like, we’re all in this together. I never understand why mothers judge other mothers, like, ‘What do you mean you didn’t breastfeed? What do you mean you didn’t do this?’ It’s like, ‘Can’t we all just be on each other’s side?’ It’s so hard anyway. Can’t we all help each other get through it? There’s a shame attached to it because if you say, ‘I had a baby and I couldn’t connect to the baby,’ it’s like, ‘What is wrong with you?'”

Yes, yes, yes….100% with you on that Gwyneth, as I’m sure many moms would agree as well.  Basically, this is the age-old let’s-judge-other-moms-rather-than-help-each-other thing.  Or let’s-keep-quiet-because-I’m-too-ashamed-to-let-others-know-I’m-not-the-perfect-mom-that-bonds-immediately-and-breastfeeds-instinctively thing.

If we’re so gung ho on breastfeeding, then the goal of breastfeeding advocates should be for every mother who needs help to get it whenever and wherever it’s needed.  Just like my past post on breastfeeding and a section in my book in the chapter on motherhood myths, don’t assume that every mom breastfeeds without any issues.  Don’t make a mom feel bad if she decides not to breastfeed for whatever her reason may be.  One should refrain from judgmental tactics. And don’t assume that every woman has smooth pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum experiences.  Why do these myths, or attitudes, need to exist, anyway?  What purpose does it serve, other than to crush the self esteem of a new mother?  How about helping out a fellow mother instead of judging, criticizing, isolating, gossiping?    Let’s say we do away with these myths and attitudes?  Let’s come up with solutions in the form of peer-led new mom/postpartum groups, like MotherWoman and Santa Barbara Postpartum Education for Parents (SBPEP), all across the country.  In cities, suburbs, and rural areas.

And Gwyneth also speaks for moms like me who suffered from PPD and understand that it’s awareness that will empower and make a difference for mothers.

“That’s why I talk about it, because even the awareness of it started to diminish it…..Because I didn’t feel like I’m dying or I’m crazy — period. It’s like, ‘Oh, this is a thing. This is a real thing and these are the symptoms and I have them all.'”

As I stated in the introduction to my book reading last Thursday, I wrote my book based on what I was so desperate to find when I was suffering from PPD myself—comfort, hope of recovery, and helpful tips and facts to help validate that PPD is a real illness with physical symptoms and needs treatment, just as any other illness like diabetes has physical symptoms and needs treatment.

Knowledge is power.

Knowledge–which in the case of PPD, is gained by talking to others and reading about it on blogs, in books, and in articles on the Internet and in magazines–has a tremendous normalizing effect.

Knowledge is key in keeping fear at bay, since fear typically rules in the presence of the unknown.

Knowledge about PPD–what it is, what the symptoms are, and whether you’re at risk–will make you less likely to panic over what is happening to you, less likely to feel helpless and hopeless, and more likely to know where and whom to seek help from immediately.

Knowledge of what is causing you to feel the way you feel can help minimize these very negative feelings. Never hearing any other mothers say they’ve experienced any of these negative feelings, you may end up thinking, incorrectly, that you are completely alone in what you’re experiencing. Not knowing that PPD is causing these feelings, you won’t know what’s wrong with you and fear, needlessly, that you will never return to your old self again.  I didn’t know what was happening to me, so I feared needlessly that I would never return to my old self again.

Let’s keep the conversation about PPD going.  By keeping an open dialogue about PPD going–be it via written format on blogs, books or magazines or in day-to-day conversations we have with others or on TV and/or radio if you have access/connections to media outlets–we have a much greater chance at combating the stigma behind perinatal mood disorders and any other challenges a new mom faces.  Let’s come up with ways to support mothers and increase public awareness!