Elly Taylor of Becoming Us and her 2019 Seed Planting Workshop U.S. Tour

My friend, Elly Taylor, is an Australian relationship counselor, author of the book Becoming Us, and founder of an organization of the same name, which she created to teach professionals and support mothers and their partners.  Both the book and organization’s mission is to help the mother and partner navigate the peaks and valleys of the parenting journey via 8 essential steps that Becoming Us as “map, compass and travel guide all in one.”

Elly and I have a bunch of things in common.  We are both postpartum depression (PPD) survivors and book authors (though hers is award winning).  We were both blindsided by PPD and the challenges of parenting.  We are both members of Postpartum Support International.  Elly loves NYC (where I’ve spent the last 30 years working) as much as if not more than I love Sydney (where she lives).  She is fortunate enough to be out here in NYC each year for the past 4 years on Becoming Us-related reasons; whereas, I’ve been back to Sydney 3x in the past 22 years (I so wish I could return more often!).

Elly will be here in the states for her “Seed Planting” workshop tour in Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, and New York City.  For the complete schedule and how to register, click here.  If you live near those areas and are a couple or family therapist, birth professional, infant or child mental health professional, and anyone else who works with expecting, new or not so new parent, sign up for Elly’s 2-hour interactive seed-planting workshop.

The training will teach you:

  1. how the groundbreaking research- and evidence-based Becoming Us approach can support you to work with mothers/fathers/partners to navigate the different transitions to parenthood, reduce risks for postpartum mood disorders, and support families to thrive
  2. what the transitions are (there are more than 8!), how they can negatively impact mothers and their families
  3. how to plant Becoming Us “seeds” that reduce risk for the most common parenthood problems including perinatal mental health issues and relationship distress
  4. how you can apply the model to your work with parents at any stage of their family life cycle

Then, in Atlanta, Elly will also hold a breakout session/seminar at the CAPPA Conference taking place from June 21-23.  See the CAPPA website for more info and to register.

Additionally, she will hold a breakout session/seminar at this year’s Postpartum Support International conference in Portland, Oregon.  It will take place on June 30th from 9am-noon.  See the PSI Conference website for more details about the conference and how to register.

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)

Free Screening of Not Carol and Panel Discussion – Scotch Plains, NJ on May 29, 2019

If you live in New Jersey, please consider attending this screening of Not Carol, a feature-length documentary about the Carol Coronado case from 2014.  I’d blogged about it here and here.  And in searching for her current status just now (I was hoping there’d be news that would be more positive than that she was spending the rest of her life in prison without parole), I found this article featuring Joy Burkhard of 2020Mom  and her advocacy for Carol and other moms.  Carol’s case is another example of a tragic loss resulting from a postpartum mood disorder, in this case postpartum psychosis.

What:  Free Screening of Not Carol

Why:  Learn about postpartum depression (PPD), its symptoms and how to support mothers (and even fathers) suffering from it.  Public awareness initiatives like this one can help reduce stigma and ensure mothers suffering from a postpartum mood disorder, like PPD or postpartum psychosis, get the help they need.  We must ensure future cases like Carol’s will never happen again.  Note: this screening is not just intended for doctors/psychiatrists/social workers that work with new moms.  You can be a survivor, advocate, or simply a concerned citizen who may or may not know someone in your life that has suffered/is currently suffering from a postpartum mood disorder.

When: Wednesday, May 29 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Scotch Plains JCC, 1391 Martine Avenue, Scotch Plains, NJ 07076

RSVP: Courtney Teicher via cteicher@jccng.org or 908-889-8800 x227

After the film there will be a panel discussion comprised of the following individuals (note that Dr Birndorf and Dr. Levine were on The Today Show on August 3, 2018, which focused on Dr. Levine’s experience as a new father with PPD.  Click here for my blog post about that):

  • Film Executive Producers: Eamon Harrington and Veronica Brady
  • David Levine, MD:  Summit Medical Group physician
  • Catherine Birndorf, MD – Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Obstetrics/Gynecology and founding director of the Payne Whitney Women’s Program at The New York Presbyterian Hospital – Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan.  She is also a co-founder of The Motherhood Center).  I’d met her previously at a Postpartum Support International (PSI) conference.

Speaking of PSI, there will be information and individuals on-hand to provide information about the non-profit international organization.

 

 

Keys to Empowering New/Expectant Moms and Maternal Mental Health

I was talking to someone 2 days ago who mentioned that for millenials, images are the way to go to attract attention to important messages.  In this day and age of limited-word media like Twitter and other social media forums, sound bytes and visuals tend to grab people’s attentions more.  Print media — like magazines and books (like mine) and all the other books I devoured in my quest for knowledge on why postpartum depression (PPD) occurs in certain women — are going more and more by the wayside.  Just today, I stumbled across an email from Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW, (founder of The Postpartum Stress Center and author of numerous books on perinatal mood disorders)1 yr and 9 months ago giving me permission to use the below image on my blog.  This image grabbed my attention and I want to help circulate it.   You should too if you care about mothers.  We need images and information like this to reach more expectant mothers.  We need to ensure they are informed before they even give birth so they aren’t blindsided with PPD.

Why do I feel this information is important? My experience with PPD happened back in 2005, and I blogged about the ignorance of my OB/GYN in February 2009, just shy of 10 years ago.  It was one of my first blog posts. Unfortunately, not much has changed between then and now except for the advent of Facebook and other social media to spread the word via organizations such as Postpartum Support International (PSI), PPD survivors/advocates, social workers, therapists and others who treat perinatal mood disorders (PMDs).  I know this from the stories that come across my feed on Facebook.  I know this from talking to others whose job is to care for mothers who struggle with PMDs.  The general population doesn’t know the difference between postpartum blues and PPD because all too many doctors don’t even know the difference.  Karen Kleiman would not have needed to create the above image if she didn’t see the problem still existing with doctors misinforming PPD moms.

The care model for OB/GYNs should be mandated to include:

  1. adequate training in medical schools/residency programs to ensure doctors know how to recognize symptoms of and treat perinatal mood disorders and know the difference between the baby blues versus PPD
  2.  a 15-minute time slot in every hospital baby care/childbirth training session to go over the basics of perinatal mood disorders (PPD, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, and postpartum psychosis), difference between the postpartum blues and PPD, breastfeeding realities, risk factors, importance of lining up practical/social support before baby’s arrival, insomnia as a common first symptom, etc.)
  3. being prepared to offer referrals to organizations like PSI (which has coordinators in every state that can try to help the mother find local help), maternal mental health facilities and mother/baby units (which are starting to pop up more & more around the country), PPD support groups, therapists/social workers who specialize in helping PPD moms, and even websites / blogs / Facebook groups that can provide online support
  4. screening patients for risk of perinatal mood disorders
    • prior to pregnancy – to establish a baseline of hormone levels before pregnancy and determine if the woman has a history of PMDD  or other risk factors for PPD
    • during pregnancy – consultation comprised of questions to try to detect pre-natal depression and review of a standard small booklet with images and bullet points covering the basics of perinatal mood disorders (PPD, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, and postpartum psychosis), difference between the postpartum blues and PPD, breastfeeding realities, risk factors, importance of lining up practical/social support before baby’s arrival, insomnia as a common first symptom, etc.)
    • during 6-week postpartum visit – including blood work to detect iron/thyroid deficiencies and measure hormone/neurotransmitter levels, thyroid panel, Adrenal Stress Index

Click here to see my Onboarding Questionnaire, Pregnancy Questionnaire, and Postpartum Questionnaire.

As you can see, I am continuing to use my PPD experience to come up with ideas to effect change in the reproductive health care arena.  I will continue to find ways to contribute toward public awareness campaigns, as well as resource development and distribution.

New mothers with babies in the NICU are at increased risk of PPD

The motivation for this blog post is a Huffpost article that popped up in my Facebook feed yesterday titled “NICU Moms Are Struggling With Mental Health Problems–And They Aren’t Getting Help” by Catherine Pearson.  It happens to be from 4/13/2018, but I’m only seeing it now for the first time.

I have blogged about the many risk factors for PPD before.  One of the risk factors happens to be premature births.  Last time I blogged about premature births being one of the risk factors for PPD was 9 years ago.  So, I’m way overdue blogging about this topic again!

A new mother who was pregnant one minute–and expecting several more weeks of pregnancy–and suddenly giving birth and seeing your baby hooked up to machines is an overwhelmingly anxiety-provoking experience.  All new mothers are not only hormonal, exhausted and trying to recover from childbirth, but NICU mothers are also anxious about their babies, unwilling to leave their babies’ sides, and find it hard to eat, sleep or even talk to friends and family members who don’t fully understand what it’s like to have a baby in the NICU. Unable to touch, hold and feed her baby and instead seeing her tiny, precious baby hooked up to so many wires, it is natural for a NICU mother to be consumed with feelings of helplessness, distress and fear.  Each day, the NICU mother spends many hours each day at their baby’s side, pumping every few hours, and on high alert with respect to her baby’s breathing and the noises of the machines keeping her baby alive.

In the daily hustle and bustle of the nurses and doctors in the NICU, having them stop and ask the mother (and/or father) how they are holding up and making sure they are taking care of themselves and getting enough rest are not going to be at the forefront of their priorities, though you’d think it should be second nature for them to do so.  In fact, they are seldom trained to know what to ask.  Even if they did ask, there is an inadequate referral system in place to get help for a mother with a postpartum mood disorder.

“…[Studies have suggested that up to 70 percent of women whose babies spend time in the NICU experience some degree of postpartum depression, while up to one-quarter may experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.”  Simply put, a new mother’s risk of experiencing a postpartum mood disorder is very high.  And that is not surprising in the least.”

What should the screening entail?

I’ve previously blogged about and will repeat here that mothers should be assessed for postpartum depression (PPD) between 4-12 weeks postpartum.   She should be encouraged to have her six-week follow-up visit with her OB/GYN, provided she doesn’t complain about symptoms up to that point.  If she is symptomatic before the six-week visit, she should be screened right then.  If the 6-week screen doesn’t indicate PPD, she should be assessed once more at the 12-week point and also when she weans and when her period returns, since these events can trigger PPD in some women.

The following—in addition to screening tools like the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale or Cheryl Beck’s Postpartum Depression Screening Scale—should be asked at the six-week follow-up visit with the OB/GYN, which can help diagnose PPD:

1. Have you been feeling any of the following for the past 2 weeks:

  • Persistent and mostly inexplicable sadness/tearfulness and feeling empty inside
  • Loss of interest/pleasure in hobbies/activities you once enjoyed; inability to laugh
  • Overall impaired functioning
  • Sleep difficulties (either insomnia or sleeping too much)
  • Weight loss (usually fairly quick) associated with a decrease in appetite
  • Weight gain associated with an increase in appetite
  • Excessive worrying/anxiety/concern about the baby
  • Restlessness/irritability
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Onset of panic attacks
  • Sense of despair and/or hopelessness leading to thoughts of death/suicide

2. How have you been feeling physically and emotionally?

3.  How is your appetite?

4.  How are you sleeping?  Have you been able to get at least 4, if not 5, hours of sleep a night?

5.  Have you had any recurring thoughts/images that are disturbing?

 

If local resources for PPD are not readily available (though all hospitals around the country should have a list of local psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, registered nurses, PPD support groups on hand), the least they can do is provide a pamphlet for Postpartum Support International. Its website lists resources in every state.  And many states have already formed, or are in the process of forming, chapters to focus on state-specific efforts at advocacy, training, and other improvements.

If you are a new mom with a baby in the NICU, please, please, please remember that, though your attention is preoccupied with your baby, if you let your own strength and health go by the wayside, it is possible to succumb to a postpartum mood disorder.  Not everyone will succumb, but just remember the increased risk and higher occurrence among NICU moms.  Don’t forget to take care of yourself.  When your baby comes out of the NICU, you need to be strong and healthy to care for your baby.

 

 

Be the One Person Who Makes a Difference for Someone Else

My first blog post in over 4 months was only 2 days ago.  As you can see, I meant it when I said I would focus more on blogging!

Today’s post is inspired by a Scary Mommy article that appeared in my feed yesterday. The title of the article is “Am I Invisible? One Mom’s Pain-Relieving Response to Being Excluded” by Rachel Macy Stafford.  The title itself triggered my mind to flash back to many experiences of trying to befriend other mothers, only to have my attempts stopped dead in their tracks with the same kind of cold reaction mentioned in the first few paragraphs of this article.   I’ve hated–no, DESPISED– the feeling of being excluded since I was repeatedly excluded as a teen by these 3 C’s:  cliques, classmates and even fellow churchgoers.  Exclusions by teens is one thing.  But exclusions by adults?  Totally unacceptable, unnecessary, immature, inexcusable …..and quite simply, crappy.

As an adult, I have never had any problems striking up conversations with strangers I’ve never met before.  I have done that fairly often during the past 29 years of commuting into the city.  Usually, we are able to have these conversations due to our shared commuting woes.  That is our common bond.

In 2018, I made more new friends in my area in the one year than I have in the past 17 years combined.  As I’ve said in prior posts, I’ve found it challenging making friends in my area.  The friends I made last year arose from shared objectives of ensuring a #BlueWave this past November.  That was our common bond.

In 2016, I made more friends with classmates at my college reunion than when I was in college!  Being alums (without the stress of getting passing grades) was our common bond.

In 2006, I became a member of Postpartum Support International (PSI).  I blogged about our common bond previously in this blog post.

These are just some examples of how a common bond encourages friendships to form and conversations to be had even between strangers.  But that leads me to ask why a common bond of motherhood does not encourage friendships to form and conversations to be had even between strangers?  Why did the author of the Scary Mommy article experience the cold and mean exclusion that she experienced?  Why did I experience numerous cold and mean exclusions of countless mothers, even ADULT mothers of newborns, when we share a common bond of wading through unfamiliar territory together?

Doesn’t matter what the reason is, now does it?  Regardless of the reason–whether it be insecurity, pride or just plain nastiness–I would never do this to someone else.  It’s taken me a long time to piece it all together….the realization that such nasty behavior was actually a favor, as it instantly warned me not to waste any time.  In keeping with my philosophy “Life is too short for BS,” when I see people who–whether they know me or don’t know me yet–behave in a manner that is suggesting exclusion, I won’t waste my valuable time or energy on them.

In keeping with my philosophy of “Love, laugh and live a life with no regrets” I will take my experiences of people turning their backs on me and make sure I DO NOT treat others the way I DO NOT want to be treated myself.   I would NOT turn my back on someone who needed help, a listening ear and/or support.  I am not in the business of being on this earth to earn negative points in the karma area, TYVM.

I would:

  1. Help others who need help because, if the situation were reversed, I would want someone to offer me help
  2. Listen and provide comfort to others who need comforting because, if the situation were reversed, I would want someone to comfort me
  3. Support others who need support because, if the situation were reversed, I would want someone to support me

You know what they say about motherhood?  IT TAKES A VILLAGE.  Do what the Scary Mommy article suggests, which is to be the one person that makes a difference for someone else.  Imagine if everyone did that?  We would truly have a village!

The article urges us to each be the one that makes a difference for another, because all it takes is one person to help, listen/provide comfort to, and support someone else and help them realize they aren’t totally alone in this very-populated-and-yet-quite-lonely-at-times world.  How do we know the other person who’s coming to you for help, comfort or support isn’t in a dire situation?  How would you feel if you found out you could have made a difference by helping them, but was cold to them and there was a tragic outcome?

New mothers who are experiencing, or have experienced, a postpartum mood disorder share a common bond of loneliness, of feeling alone in our experience.  All it takes is one person to help another to not feel alone.  This is why so many new mothers have dedicated their lives to providing help/listening to/providing comfort to/supporting mothers suffering from postpartum mood disorders.  They want to give to someone what they did not receive while they were sick themselves.  Many, like me, did not get help, comfort or support.  Too many new mothers feel alone and for no reason at all.  There is no reason for a new mother to feel alone and at the end of their rope.

I will end with this beautifully-written poem in the Scary Mommy article:

With one invitation, we can take someone
From outsider to insider
From outcast to beloved member
From unknown neighbor to coffee companion
From wallflower to life-of-the-party
From shortened life expectancy to 80 years of joy.

I DO NOT want to have any regrets for not doing something when I had the opportunity.  Do you?

A Must for All New Jersey Medical/Mental Maternal Healthcare Practitioners, Doulas, Midwives, etc.

After a two-month dry spell in posting on my blog due to lots going on at home and at work, here I am briefly to help spread the word for the Postpartum Support International 2-day training on November 15-16, 2018 in Fort Lee, New Jersey:  Perinatal Mood Disorders: Components of Care. 

Led by PSI’s very own Birdie Gunyon Meyer, RN, MA (whom I’ve known since I became a member in 2006), Lisa Tremayne, RN, CPPD, CBC, and Joanna Cole, PHD, it is a critical training intended not just for mental health care practitioners but anyone and everyone who would ever need to care for an expectant or new mother.  That includes obstetricians/gynecologists, general practitioners, pediatricians, doulas, midwives, nurses, ER doctors and their staff, etc.

You can visit the site that goes over the training objectives, location, and cost via the above link, but the training will cover the basics in identifying/treating perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs)–which include antepartum depression, postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum panic disorder, postpartum OCD, postpartum PTSD, and postpartum psychosis–as well as understanding risk factors, treatment options, breastfeeding, consequences of untreated conditions, impact on loved ones, importance of social support, cultural differences, spirituality, etc.

Please attend and/or help spread the word about this training.  It is so, so critical that we ensure as many people as possible are trained so that fewer mothers suffer unnecessarily (like I did) and even worse, fall through the cracks and become another tragic outcome of a perinatal mood disorder.

 

Recent PPD Successes and Failures in the Media

I went from blogging once in two months to 8 times so far this month!  With Maternal Mental Health Month a little less than a week away, a lot of fundraising, training and public awareness events are being prepped to happen throughout May.  Another reason to love this time of year….hello spring!

Okay, so the title of my post is “Recent PPD Successes and Failures in the Media.”  There were 2 things in the media that caught my attention on my Facebook feed today that motivated me to blog once again. One is a success and one is a failure.  If you’ve been following my blog for some time, you would know that one of my favorite things to blog about are successful and failed attempts at depicting new mothers suffering from a mood disorder in the media, like my recent post about “Black-ish.”

Let’s start with the SUCCESS……
On this morning’s Megyn Kelly TODAY a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD) survivor, Ashley Abeles, shared her experience.  The segment also included brief appearances by Dr. Catherine Birndorf and Paige Bellembaum who are the Medical Director and Program Director, respectively, of The Motherhood Center of New York. The Motherhood Center provides support services for new/expectant moms and treatment for PMADs. I met these ladies from the Motherhood Center at previous Postpartum Support International conferences.  If you missed the show, you can watch it here.  We need more moms sharing their PMAD experiences on shows like this!  Experiences kind of like my own that, as her husband explains, isn’t “headline-grabbing” material involving the tragic death of the mother and/or baby.  Because guess what, the vast majority of PMADs experienced by new mothers are NOT headline-grabbing material.  They’re mothers suffering from anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, weight loss and/or intrusive/obsessive thoughts who need medication and/or therapy to recover.  Yes, severe postpartum depression (PPD) can cause a mother to feel so depressed that she just wants to disappear or her baby would be better off without her since she can’t feel joyous like a new mother should, but postpartum psychosis is too-often confused with and lumped under PPD (as a catch-all term) by both the general public and doctors alike.  Yes, doctors!  Also, PPD is not the same as the baby blues and even today, doctors still mix up the two!  We’ve come a long way since I had PPD when it comes to information in the news, in publications, on the Internet and in social media.  But we still have a LONG way to go.

And here’s the FAILURE……
The movie “Tully” starring Charlize Theron.  A Motherly post by Diana Spalding titled “We’ve seen Tully– and we’ve got some real concerns” it seems yet another movie director/producer has failed to do their homework about PPD before coming up with the screenplay and releasing it.  What every movie director/producer or TV show director/producer needs to do before even contemplating a movie or TV show about PPD is consult with Postpartum Support International.  This organization is the leading authority on maternal mental health matters and should ALWAYS be consulted to ensure the right information is incorporated into the movie/show plot.  “Tully” attributes the bizarre experiences of Tully (i.e., hallucinations she has of Marlo, frantic baking and cleaning late into the night, impulsive behavior that leads to her car crash, suicidal ideation) to PPD.  However, her behavior is actually attributable to postpartum psychosis, hence this movie spreads misinformation about what PPD really is.  Her talk of suicide is brushed off by her husband, which I can see happening in the real world when loved ones fail to “get it” and ignore the mother’s serious need for help.  While this is a movie and movies don’t necessarily have to educate–after all, this is not a documentary–it should at least get terms right (postpartum psychosis, NOT PPD!)  and it should try to mention at some point that yes, the new mother who’s obviously not well and diagnosed, albeit incorrectly, with PPD needs help!  Maybe put some kind of disclaimer at the beginning or end of the movie like you sometimes see at the beginning or end of a TV show.  Something along the lines of:

“Approximately one out of seven new mothers suffers from a postpartum mood disorder.  If you are a new mother that is experiencing any of the following symptoms: insomnia, crying/sadness for more than 2 weeks, lack of appetite, sudden weight loss, rage, hopelessness, lack of interest in the baby, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, thoughts of harming the baby or yourself, please know that you are not alone, what you are experiencing is not your fault, and you will recover if you get the right treatment.  Contact Postpartum Support International at 800-944-4773 or visit http://www.postpartum.net

Free Webinar: Bringing Light to Postpartum Depression and PMAD

ATTENTION:
OB/GYNs and their staff, general/family practitioners, therapists, social workers – basically, everyone who would ever treat a new mother. Also, new/expectant mothers and their loved ones!

Once again, I’m piggybacking off of my last 2 posts about the Postpartum Resource Center of New York by sharing this great opportunity I learned from this post I just spotted on my Facebook feed for all who care for / about new mothers and their postpartum well being to learn about PMADs, treatments, resources, and how loved ones can help.

PMADs are experienced by 1 in 5 mothers.  What better way to spread awareness than this FREE webinar!  We need more of these opportunities to combat stigma and ensure as many people are educated as possible, as there are still way too many people whose job it is to care for mothers that don’t accurately identify PMADs and get them the help they need.  With more awareness, we will chip away at stigma.  We will ensure fewer mothers suffer alone and in silence.  We will ensure fewer mothers and children suffer the consequences of undiagnosed/untreated PMADs.

When:  Wednesday, May 2, 2018 from 8:00pm – 9:00 pm
Who:  Sonia Murdock (Exec. Director of the Postpartum Resource Center of New York) and Bridget Croteau (St. Joseph’s College NY alumna; Mrs. Suffolk County America 2017-18)
Cost:  It’s absolutely free, and open to the public!
Registration:  Click here to sign up. If you can’t make it to the live session, no problem!  You can access a recording, provided you register.
For more info:  Contact Taryn Kutujian at tkutujian@sjcny.edu

Please spread the word about this!  Share WIDELY on social media!

 

Postpartum Depression Doesn’t Look the Same Across the Board

I always try to keep up with the multitude of articles that feature Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW, founder of The Postpartum Stress Center and author of numerous books on perinatal mood disorders.  This particular article from October 4, 2017, titled “Postpartum Depression May Look More Like Anxiety Than Sadness” that appeared on Well and Good, by Annaliese Griffin,  caught my attention.  It caught my attention because it’s because when my doctor told me 13 years ago that I had postpartum depression (PPD), I didn’t believe him.  I thought “How could I be depressed if I’m not even sad?”  He explained that depression could manifest as anxiety, but did I understand that at the time?  Nope. Little did I know that I was about to embark on a journey to discovering what PPD really was….that it’s a catch-all term that encompasses all postpartum mood disorders, which includes postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, and postpartum psychosis.  That my PPD caused insomnia, weight loss, loss of appetite, and being a shell of a person unable to enjoy anything, and unable to pretty much do anything.  I was so concerned about my baby’s cradle cap and eczema and her bowel movement/feeding schedules that, by the time her colic came and went at my 6th week postpartum, PPD set in and I had no idea what was happening to me.

This article is very important because the number of women suffering from postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) is pretty common.  And I should know because of the number of hits I get on my blog for the symptoms that I experienced.  So, if it’s been over 3-4 weeks since you had your baby and if you are feeling anxious, unable to sleep even when the baby sleeps and unable to function and enjoy things you’re normally able to enjoy (like listening to music), having moments of rage, having panic attacks, and/or having obsessive and even scary thoughts, please go the Postpartum Support International (PSI) website to seek help near you.  You are not alone, there is nothing to feel ashamed of, and you will get better with the right help.  Do not be afraid to ask for and accept help.

Jessica Porten’s story went viral a week ago because she admitted to the nurse at her OB/GYN office that she was experiencing feelings of anger, and that admission was unfortunately not handled correctly.  This, my friends, is why I have been blogging for the past nearly 9 years.  My mission is to help spread awareness and in so doing dissipate the stubborn stigma that refuses to go away because there is still so much ignorance about PPD.  My mission is to also help mothers as much as I can to get the help they need.  Anger/rage is another way that PPD can manifest for some mothers.  Everyone’s PPD experience is unique to that person because we are all complex people that– when emotions, temperaments, hormones, heredity, childbirth experience, and history come together–symptoms manifest differently from one person to the next.  Symptoms can range from feelings of sadness to anxiety, anger and even rage to insomnia, sleeping too much, lack of appetite, eating too much, obsessive/intrusive thoughts, etc.  As such, treatment of these moms will vary from one mother to the next.  Some moms need medication. Some moms need therapy.  Some moms need a combination of medication and therapy.  The duration of treatment will vary as well.  But there is one thing in common among all mothers suffering from PPD:  they need help.  They don’t need to be treated the way Jessica Porten was treated.  They don’t need to be treated like I was treated 13 years ago.

Erica Chidi Cohen, a doula and co-founder and CEO of  Loom in Los Angeles attributes postpartum anxiety to first-time mothers feeling uncertain and anxious about going through childbirth and taking care of a baby for the first time. It is more common than you think for first-time mother to feel anxious but when the anxiety morphs beyond worry to insomnia, lack of appetite, etc. is when medical attention is needed.  A traumatic childbirth experience increases the chances for a new mother to experience PPD.

Click here to visit Kleiman’s The Postpartum Pact. It is an important postpartum toolkit for expectant mothers and their partners and loved ones to review before baby’s arrival.  It truly pays to be prepared, regardless of whether you think you may be at risk for PPD or not.  One never knows, as I have said in prior blog posts and in my book, whether something may happen during pregnancy/childbirth that could lead to PPD.  It can’t hurt to review the pact and prepare to have folks lined up to help once baby arrives to ensure the new mother has adequate practical support, especially if this is her first baby or if she has another little one(s) to take care of already.

Speaking of adequate support, it’s organizations like Loom in Los Angeles and Whole Mother Village  in W. Orange, NJ — two examples of many childbirth, pregnancy, and reproductive wellness communities that have sprouted around the country to provide support, information, referrals and services from preconception to parenthood– that are critical because it takes a village when it comes to a family’s well-being.  Going it alone is not a viable option nowadays, especially when the significant other needs to work to support the family and the new mother is not well and family members are not close by and/or are too busy to provide emotional and practical support.  It really is no wonder there are so many cases of PPD.  Please see my past posts about the importance of mothering the mother and how it takes a village to minimize the occurrence of PPD here and here.

 

 

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.

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

 

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!

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

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.

Journey of a PPD Survivor – Q/A Series – #2

Welcome to the second of my Journey of a PPD Survivor Series!

Laura Winters, LCSW, whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing since we met at this year’s Postpartum Support International conference in Philadelphia, is a therapist specializing in infertility and prenatal/postpartum stress.  We are both members of the recently-established PSI-New Jersey chapter.  Laura is passionate about helping women on their journeys through motherhood, offering individual and group support.  Her practice, Postpartum Health & Harmony, is located in Chatham and Mountain Lakes, NJ.  For more information or to contact Laura, please visit www.postpartumhh.com.

Thank you, Laura, for taking the time to provide my blog readers some insight into your journey as a PPD survivor!

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

Question 1:
Can you please describe your journey to becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and what motivated your passion to help women with infertility issues (which I experienced) and mothers suffering from a perinatal mood disorder? How long have you been helping women experiencing infertility and perinatal mood disorder?

 When I was considering careers, I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted a career that would enable me to make a difference in people’s lives.   Social work was suggested to me and it was a perfect fit!  I started out my career working with children and teens and I really enjoyed helping them through various challenges.  In 2007, I started working in private practice, primarily focusing on families.  It wasn’t until about 2011 that I first started seeing some women who were struggling with perinatal mood disorders.  At that time, it wasn’t a specialty of mine, so I only saw a few new mothers.

In 2013, I became a mother and had an entirely new appreciation for parenthood.  It was incredibly difficult in ways I never imagined.  Breastfeeding was not going well, which caused me a lot of anxiety, sadness, and added to my exhaustion.  My husband and I both felt more like roommates and our relationship was strained.  This experience inspired me to make some career changes, most notably acquiring more advanced training in perinatal mood disorders and developing this specialty in my practice.

As I began to work with more pregnant and postpartum moms, I also started getting referrals for women experiencing infertility and postpartum moms who had gone through fertility treatments.  Once again, I felt a need to learn more and was interested in adding this focus to my practice.  I see these times in women’s lives, when you’re trying to conceive or newly postpartum, as being so precious and yet such a vulnerable period.  For the most part, everyone assumes that they will get pregnant easily and that motherhood will be challenging but amazing.  When things don’t go as planned, it can completely turn your world upside down and have you questioning everything about your life.  My personal experience definitely fueled my passion for supporting moms as well as couples trying to conceive.

 

Question 2:
In your practice, have you seen a correlation between infertility and a perinatal mood disorder? Do you treat mothers who you’d also seen while they were struggling with infertility issues and ended up suffering from a perinatal mood disorder?  Have you treated women suffering from infertility issues who ended up not suffering from a perinatal mood disorder?

 Infertility treatment is a risk factor for a perinatal mood disorder and I do see this correlation in my practice, though not across the board.  There are so many factors that influence whether a mother will develop a perinatal mood disorder.  I’ve seen women who have been through infertility treatment and did not end up experiencing any perinatal mood disorders.  Support and early intervention are very helpful in protecting a mom’s mental health.

  

Question 3:
Can you provide an overview of the services you provide? I see that you help patients in person, online, and even in a support group setting. Do you find one way of seeing your patients is more helpful? 

 I offer individual, couples, and group counseling.  I see almost all of my clients in person.  I offer online and phone sessions for times when clients may not be able to come to the office, such as not having child care available or in the first few weeks after childbirth.  Online and phone sessions are a great way of continuing sessions when life gets in the way.  The support group is open, meaning that you don’t have to register and can come as often as you need.  The moms that come to the group tend to be looking for different support than those who come for individual counseling.  The group moms are often looking to connect more with other moms going through similar experiences.

  

Question 4:
In your practice, what kinds of treatments for postpartum depression do you recommend?

In addition to therapy, I will recommend medication for those that are open to it or who have tried other things and are still struggling.  I also encourage my clients to try to incorporate exercise and a healthy diet into their routine.  For clients that are interested, I may recommend meditation or teach them an acupressure technique called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).

 

Question 5:
Have any medical healthcare practitioners–like IVF doctors, general practitioners, OB/GYNs or pediatricians–ever refer their patients to you?

 Yes, medical healthcare practitioners are great referral sources.  I definitely get more referrals from those healthcare professionals who take the time to talk to their patients about mental health.

 

Question 6:
What do you think medical health practitioners who come in contact with new mothers, like OB/GYNs, GPs and pediatricians, can do to help prevent, detect and treat perinatal mood disorders?

I would encourage medical health practitioners to take time to talk to moms about mental health.  Ask them about their mood and stress level.  Look their patients in the eyes and ask them how they are really doing.  Normalize how challenging being a mother is.  Making comments such as “motherhood is tough” or “you have a lot on your plate now” can go a long way in helping a mother feel comfortable to open up to you.  And having referral sources on hand when their patients need more support is extremely important.  Don’t leave it up to a new mom to have to find help herself.

 

Question 7:
Is there one key piece of advice you would offer to an expecting or new mom?

For expecting moms, I would tell them to make a postpartum plan that outlines things such as who they can count on for specific types of support (baby/childcare, cooking, advice, etc), how they will protect their sleep, and where they can turn if they need support.  For new moms, I would advise them to take breaks, ask for and accept help, and know that challenges come in phases but do eventually end.

 

Question 8:
What would you want to say to women currently suffering with a postpartum mood disorder?

This is the most common complication of childbirth and not an indication of who you are as a mother.  There is a lot of support available out there including counseling, support groups, and other moms who have been there and are happy to offer encouraging words.  You will feel better once you get the support that’s right for you.  Other moms have recovered and you will too.

 

Question 9:
What advice would you offer to friends/family members of a woman who is currently suffering with a postpartum mood disorder?

Reach out to her often – call, text, stop over.  Be there for her when she’s ready to talk.  Try to listen and validate her feelings.  Consider what support you can offer her—including cooked meals, childcare, cleaning, keeping her company—and rather than asking if she wants that help, tell her that this is how you’d like to help.  Tell her when you’re available to provide that support and then let her decide when you can come over.  Most moms will turn down help initially, but when you are very specific with what you can do and when you can do it, it’s harder to turn that down.  Also, it may help you better understand what she’s going through by researching information on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

 

Question 10:
What do you see as the biggest challenge in helping a mother recover from a postpartum mood disorder?

Lack of support and lack of insurance coverage are big obstacles.  It’s hard enough finding a therapist or psychiatrist, let alone when you have an infant and aren’t feeling like yourself.  Whether you have insurance coverage or not can help or hinder the process.   I find that the more support a mother has around her (people who can help with certain tasks and give her breaks), the easier recovery is.  It’s really challenging when you don’t have enough support at home and are expected to do a lot of the childcare and household tasks.  It doesn’t allow enough time for moms to tend to their needs.

Two Important PPD Studies

Since my last blog post, I thankfully haven’t been insane with work as I’d been in earlier weeks.  Truthfully, I’ve just been lazy.  It’s like my body is finally letting me be relaxed and not doing much, for once in who knows how long that I’ve honestly lost track.  I am still in the process of transitioning off of the laptop I’ve had for over 8 years, and with this blog post will be closer to my goal, since it will leave me with only 5 more tabs left open to blog about.  My last blog post included 4 stories of moms who died from severe cases of postpartum depression (PPD).  This blog post is about 2 PPD studies.

BREXANALONE / SAGE-547

This past June, I was beyond excited in reading an announcement from the UNC Health Care and UNC School of Medicine Newsroom titled “UNC researchers lead clinical trial evaluating potential treatment for postpartum depression” about a new treatment for PPD called brexanolone (or SAGE-547) currently in clinical trial phase 3.  The results of the clinical trials have been extremely promising thus far, with SAGE-547 providing a fairly rapid onset of relief for the participants, but it still needs to undergo further tests before the FDA would approve it for use by new moms….and how AMAZING would that be!  It would make a huge difference in the lives of so many mothers and their families–with 1 in 7 new moms experiencing PPD–not to mention save lives!

Brexanalone is also known as allopregnanolone, which is a steroid in the brain (neurosteroid) derived from progesterone that helps to regulate mood.  There is an increase before and a sudden decrease after childbirth when it comes to both allopregnanolone and progesterone, and it’s the sudden drop that seems to trigger PPD for some women. There are currently no medications specifically intended to treat PPD. Antidepressants like Paxil, which are supposed to increase levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, can take several weeks to “kick in” (it took 4 weeks for me), if at all.  For some moms suffering from PPD, multiple antidepressants fail to do anything.  And if you’ve ever been through depression you know how a day spent depressed can feel like an eternity, so can you imagine what weeks, or even months, spent desperate for a relief from symptoms, while caring for a new baby, must be like?

On July 14th, I heard Samantha Meltzer-Brody, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at the UNC School of Medicine, talk in person about the treatment and the study at the annual Postpartum Support International conference in Philadelphia.

You can participate in testing via the Hummingbird Study. The website includes information on how to find out if you can participate.  On the website, there is also a helpful guide on how to to identify the warning signs of PPD of and provide support to a new mom with PPD.

PPD ACT

In order to better understand why some women suffer from PPD or postpartum psychosis and some do not, what causes PPD, as well as how to detect, treat and even prevent PPD and postpartum psychosis, information from as many women as possible needs to be collected for analysis.  To help collect data from as many participants as possible, an app was created. Thank goodness for technology!

Last year, Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody–yes, her again–was part of a team (that included the National Institute of Mental Health, UNC Chapel Hill and Apple) to create the PPD ACT iOS app, which I’d previously blogged about. It is an app that is is free and available to download via iPhone (and now Android phone!) in English and in Spanish in Australia, Canada, and the United States, and is coming soon to the UK and to Denmark.  Any mom who suspects she has experienced symptoms of PPD or postpartum psychosis is encouraged to download the app and join the study.  Even if you think/know you had PPD, you can participate in order to help advance the study to benefit moms in the future.  It only takes 10 minutes of your time.  I just did it myself, and it took less than 10 minutes, including the time to download the app to my iPhone.  Part 1 of the app is a short survey to get feedback on whether you have/had PPD and receive mental health resources if you are currently experiencing PPD. Part 2 involves participation by those who have/had PPD in a DNA study using a spit kit.

Click here for access to articles in the New York Times, Buzzfeed, CNN, Huffington Post, and the Lancet on PPD ACT.

Wake-up call for new moms who feel “off” for days after childbirth (and family members of these moms)

I’m finally blogging again after a slight reprieve from being unbelievably busy for weeks with work and then vacation and then feverishly cleaning my house for guests coming over (if I had more time to clean regularly cleaning wouldn’t be such a big deal).  Also, I am in the process of slowly transitioning off of the laptop I’ve had for over 8 years, so every single tab I’ve had open (which is a lot) need to be closed, obviously.  These tabs have been open for months for me to blog about and/or read but just haven’t had the time to do.  So, here I am trying to get through as many articles as possible.

Many of the tabs had stories about moms who died from severe postpartum depression (PPD), so I decided to blog about the deaths of FOUR moms who suffered from severe postpartum depression (PPD).  These are just four of the deaths from a postpartum mood disorder that have occurred since 2016.  There have been others, but these are the only ones other than the D’Achilles story (which I mentioned back in May) that I have come across in my daily news feeds because loved ones of these women have spoken up  and shared their stories so that others would not suffer such experiences.

In a Good Housekeeping article published on May 19, 2017 by Andrea Stanley titled “The Voice That Said ‘I’m a Bad Mom’ Killed My Wife,” Greg Ludlam opens up about the severe postpartum depression that took the life of his wife Elizabeth on June 1, 2016.  When their second child was around one year old, something about Elizabeth seemed off.  She wasn’t herself.  Little things set her off.  She withdrew from friends and neighbors.  She started saying and believing she was a bad mom.  There was no longer any joy or enthusiasm in things that used to make her happy. She got angry over things at work when she was never previously that way.  These are all trademark symptoms of PPD but Greg had no idea that his wife was suffering from it.  He has had to cope with the guilt of not picking up on what was going on and getting professional help.

Greg Ludlam urges the significant others of new mothers to do the following:

“….[If] you see something not right with your wife or partner, you need to get help right away from a medical professional who specializes in mental health care.  I’m not talking about tomorrow or next week — now.”

He also urges new moms to do the following:

“For anyone who is reading this and you’re feeling overwhelmed or you’re feeling like a bad mom or you’re feeling like a lousy wife, or just feeling unloved and alone — you’re not. You’re not a bad mom. You’re not a lousy wife. You’re not unloved and alone. There’s help. You need to reach out to a qualified mental health doctor right now.”

In a CTV News article published on January 18, 2017 titled “B.C. widower urges moms suffering postpartum depression: ‘Please seek help ‘” Kim Chen opens up about the severe PPD that took the life of his wife, Florence Leung shortly after she gave birth to their son in October 2016.   She had gone missing shortly after giving birth to her son and her body was pulled from the water near an island close to Vancouver, British Columbia.  Florence was being treated for PPD before her disappearance.  Chen urges new moms who feel anxious and/or experiencing low mood to seek help and share their feelings.  He mentions there is a too much pressure and too many misconceptions regarding breastfeeding, as the hospital where they delivered the baby had Breast is Best materials that reiterated over & over how breast milk should be the only food for babies for the first six months.  He realizes the benefits of breast milk but at the same time believes formula is totally fine as either a supplement or replacement for breast milk.  It should be a personal choice and dependent on circumstances.

Chen wants new mothers to know:

“Do not EVER feel bad or guilty about not being able to “exclusively breastfeed”, even though you may feel the pressure to do so based on posters in maternity wards, brochures in prenatal classes, and teachings at breastfeeding classes.”

In a Her View from Home article published in September 2016 titled “New Mom Takes Her Own Life After Silent Battle With Postpartum Depression: Why All of Us Must Share Her Friend’s Plea,” author Julie Anne Waterfield  opens up about the severe PPD that took the life of her friend Allison on June 28, 2016.  Allison leaves behind her husband and daughter.  Julie wants people to know that there is nothing shameful about PPD.  The transition to being a mother can be very difficult and it is important to get help from your husband/partner, friends, relatives (and if you’re not feeling yourself, seek help from a counselor and/or support group).  The road to motherhood is not always smooth or peachy.  For some new mothers (like me), the road is very difficult–not to mention lonely and for first-time moms uncertain, guilt-ridden and downright scary.  For these mothers, not having a birth and postpartum experience as they envisioned it *should* be makes them feel ashamed.

Julie wants new mothers to know:

“To all those mothers out there experiencing some of these same feelings: you are not alone, and you are not a bad mother!  PPD is lying to you.  It is twisting your memories, feelings, and beliefs and reshaping them into an overwhelming falsehood.  You will not be judged, only loved, as you seek help.  To those breast-feeding mothers taking Reglan (metoclopramide) to increase milk supply: stop and do research. Reglan has detrimental side effects such as new or worsening depression, suicidal ideation and suicide.  Supplement with formula if needed.  Your baby will be just as perfect and healthy with or without the breast milk.  Having more breast milk is not worth sacrificing your mental health or possibly your life.”

And finally in a The Hour article published by Kaitlyn Krasselt on September 8, 2017 titled “Norwalk sisters raising awareness about postpartum depression, suicide,” the sisters of Kara Kovlakas open up about the severe PPD that took Kara’s life (one day before she was to turn 33) on October 13, 2016, nine months after giving birth to her 2nd child.  Kara’s family created the Light for Kara website in her memory and to help raise awareness about postpartum mood disorders.  Kara had suffered from depression and anxiety before she had children.  Within 7 months after giving birth, her thoughts started to become jumbled and she couldn’t think clearly. She had doubts that she was a good parent.  A dark cloud followed her everywhere. She couldn’t see the positives, only the negatives each day. She had been seeking outpatient treatment for her depression and anxiety, and kept insisting to her family that she was getting better.  From the outside, she looked fine to everyone.  But taking her own life was something that her family and friends never expected.

Kara’s sister, Lauren Shrage, wants people to know:

“This is a real mental illness. The shame new moms feel about needing to reach out for help is real. As a new mom, you’re expected to have it all together. We’re all new moms too and the only thing anyone ever mentioned to me about postpartum depression was a pamphlet in the folder I took home from the hospital. That’s not enough.”

Please take these experiences to heart. Share them with others. We need to de-stigmatize PPD by being open about it and avoid being judgmental. Remember that not all postpartum experiences are peachy, and that one in seven new mothers experience a postpartum mood disorder. Let’s keep a close eye on the new moms in our lives.  Offer them help, not criticism. Don’t help push a new mom over the edge with Breast is Best or other one-size-fits-all tactics.  ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL.  Everyone is different.  Everyone’s childbirth and postpartum experiences are different. We want mothers AND babies to thrive, not die.

If you or a loved one doesn’t seem to be herself for days after childbirth, reach out and ask her to share about her postpartum experience with you and/or a health practitioner.  Getting help can mean life or death, as you can see from this blog post.  Postpartum Support International has a warmline (800-944-4773) and a listing of local resources to help with finding local help.  Reach out to me by leaving a comment below and I can respond via email.

Did you know that you can text 741741 when you are feeling really depressed or suicidal? A crisis worker will text you.  It’s a free service by The Crisis Text Hotline! (Only in the US).  Texting has proven to be a more preferred way of reaching out for and getting help.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7. If you or a loved one needs help right now, call 1-800-273-8255.  It’s confidential and provides a network of over 140 crisis centers nationwide.    You can also visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Why is it still so damn hard for moms to find help for postpartum mood disorders?

We are in the 21st century.  It is now 2017.  We have someone leading the country and the GOPs in trying to make it even harder for people to get access to healthcare, and in particular, mental healthcare.  Check out the articles “How Trumpcare Will Affect Moms Fighting Postpartum Depression” and Psychology Today’s “How Trumpcare Will Affect Mental Health Care.”  But we mustn’t let such ignorant, selfish and typically capitalist initiatives impede progress.  We must never stop resisting any initiative to make conditions worse, to stop forward momentum!

It is 2017 and I am asking the question so many of the other attendees of last week’s Postpartum Support International (PSI) conference are asking: Why is it still so damn hard for moms to find help to treat their postpartum mood disorders, like postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum psychosis (PPP) and postpartum OCD?  A common theme across the training sessions offered at the PSI conference, and a common topic of my blog, is the fact that there are mothers seeking help across the country daily, and we may have names of therapists or social workers, but in many cases, these professionals aren’t anywhere near where the mothers are located.  Or there’s the issue of affordability.  Or when the professionals can see a new patient (could be weeks).  Or how about there just aren’t enough professionals who can see new mothers suffering from postpartum mood disorders, period.

A recent article by Crystal Edler Schiller, PhD, assistant professor in the Center for Women’s Mood Disorders and Department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, titled “Maternity mental health care should be accessible” highlights the issues.

Although the numbers of professionals is increasing slowly over time, there is just not enough of them to treat the actual numbers of mothers needing care.  Many PSI members are social workers, registered nurses, peer group supporters, psychologists and psychiatrists, which is great.  But the numbers of people in these roles throughout the country fall pitifully short of the help that’s actually needed.   So many mothers suffer in silence, and you only really hear about the ones who openly discuss their experiences via social media (like me) or other articles or in the news.  Or you hear about the mothers in the news who weren’t able to get the right help and their illnesses led to their deaths and/or death of their babies.

I’m fortunate that I’m in New Jersey, a state that mandates screening for PPD and has a state initiative called “Speak Up When You’re Down.”  We also have The Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder Center at Monmouth Medical Center, the very first center dedicated to maternal mental healthcare in the state, which I blogged about previously.  A group of PSI members in New Jersey have come together to form a PSI-New Jersey chapter.  These members meet monthly and we discuss the support they provide mothers via their own practices and/or via the Partnership for Maternal & Child Health of Northern New Jersey, Central Jersey Family Health Consortium, and the Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative. My own experience with PPD pre-dates all of these initiatives, and needless to say, there was a whole lot more ignorance back in 2005.  It’s truly satisfying to see these initiatives take root, with more in the works.  However, this is just New Jersey and as far as I’m aware, only California, Massachusetts and Illinois have similar screening and care initiatives in place and/or in development.  There are 47 other states who are extremely behind when it comes to maternal mental healthcare.

The slow change I’ve seen just in New Jersey alone over the past 12 years since I suffered from PPD is unacceptable.  You would think that all therapists know how to diagnose and treat mothers suffering from a postpartum mood disorder.  Unfortunately, they don’t.

How do we speed up progress?  We need funding to make the printing of pamphlets/flyers available in ALL doctor’s offices that could potentially see new mothers (i.e., OB/GYNs, family doctors, general practitioners, pediatricians).  Medical schools must mandate that all training programs for all healthcare professionals (i.e., doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists) include a minimum of a semester in maternal mental health conditions and are led by PSI educators, and without these programs people cannot obtain their degrees/licenses.  Unless we start putting these measures in place, we are not going to see any significant improvement in addressing the scores of mothers needing help in our lifetime.

I’m going to leave you with the last sentences of Dr. Schiller’s article, which makes the common sense statement that, thanks to ignorance due to stigma, is all too often taken for granted by all too many people, healthcare professionals included:

Let’s dispense with the outdated idea that the body and mind are separate, which is at the foundation of decisions to pay for physical but not mental health care. Mental health is physical health, and our bodies and our babies are only as healthy as our minds.

 

 

 

Wrapping up Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month: Interview with Lindsay Lipton Gerszt on the Documentary “When the Bough Breaks”

Introduction:

When the Bough Breaks follows the journey to recovery for Lindsay Lipton Gerszt.  It also includes interviews of celebrity mothers (i.e., co-producer Tanya Newbould, Carnie Wilson of Wilson Phillips, celebrity chef Aarti Sequeira, Peggy Tanous of The Real Housewives of Orange County), interviews with other mothers, subject matter expects on postpartum mood disorders (like Diana Lynn Barnes, whom I know), and those who helped Lindsay during her recovery (including her doula, her therapist, her acupuncturist, her OB/GYN).

The film is educational in that it touches on the statistics of postpartum mood disorders and what they are, importance of social support, risk factors, importance of screening new mothers, treatment methods, and the stigma/shame surrounding such disorders…..fundamentally, the same elements that are covered in my book.

The film encourages mothers to speak up and share their experiences, and seek help as soon as they feel something isn’t right.  There should be no shame in being sick with a postpartum mood disorder.  It is not your fault.  It is your body’s physical reaction to your childbirth experience.  The more mothers share their experiences, the less stigma there will be.

I smiled when I saw my lovely friends, Jane Honikman, founder of Postpartum Support International and Postpartum Education for Parents (PEP) and Walker Karraa.  Tears flowed when I listened to the tragic stories, one of which I had blogged about previously (Naomi Knoles). One of my favorite lines from the film referred to PPD as a “sickness of the brain, which is an organ of the body.”  If the public and healthcare folks all treated PPD this way, we would be leaps and bounds ahead of where we are today.  My hope is that one day, the diagnosing and treating of PPD will be as routine as diabetes.  The film ends very much like how my book ends.  There is hope, as there is progress thanks to efforts of many of the folks mentioned in the film.

I know what it’s like to be impassioned to share your experience so that other mothers don’t feel as alone, hopeless and caught off guard as you do.  My 429-page book has no doubt scared a lot of people away from buying and reading it, and I haven’t done a whole lot to market it.  But at least I have my blog, which reaches people via Internet all over the world.  For many people, images and movies have a greater impact.  You just sit back and take it all in.  Now that it’s available on Netflix, the film is available among all the other movies that could potentially be seen by the 94 million subscribers, which is a really huge deal.  And with Brooke, Carnie, Aarti and Peggy’s names attached, the film will surely draw in many, and hopefully, many more people will now have an awareness of postpartum mood disorders and as a result, more mothers with PPD will recognize when it’s not the blues and seek help sooner.  And hopefully, the film will help decrease the stigma associated with maternal mental health conditions like PPD, postpartum psychosis, postpartum OCD, etc.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lindsay, I’m sure you have heard repeatedly about how wonderful this film is.  It is ground breaking.  It is educational.  It is chock full of information that is so important to share with the public.  Thank you for taking the time to participate in this Q&A on my blog!

Question 1:

When did the idea of filming your experience with PPD first come up? Was there a light bulb moment for you?  What was the pivotal moment that turned your desire to write your story into reality?  For me, there was a specific what I refer to as “light bulb moment.”  Tom Cruise’s words “There’s no such thing as a chemical imbalance” in 2005 was my light bulb moment to write a book about my PPD experience. Incidentally, seeing him included in When the Bough Breaks flashed me back to how I felt when he uttered those infamous words. It was my experience with PPD, combined with childcare complications and lack of social and practical support, that motivated me to write my book One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood.  My mission was to help other mothers realize they were not alone in what they were experiencing and not the only ones seeking practical tips in dealing with childcare complications (e.g., colic, eczema, cradle cap, which I had no idea how to address as a first-time parent), so new moms wouldn’t be as anxious and in the dark as I was on how to cope with these types of issues.

Answer 1:

Director and Producer, Jamielyn Lippman, and Producer, Tanya Newbould, had the idea to make a documentary about PPD.  They put an ad in a mommy blog and I responded, as I felt ready to share my story.  At the time, my son was only a few years old and I was still suffering greatly.  After my interview, Jamielyn reached out to meet with me.  We decided to continue the journey of making When the Bough Breaks with the three of us, and I came on as a producer.

We knew that, in order for this film to really resonate with the audience, we needed to follow someone on her journey.  We needed someone that people could root for and connect with.  When we first started talking about who we wanted this person to be we didn’t have to think further than myself.  I craved to feel better and I realized that I was so far from recovery.  It was also the perfect opportunity for me to seek out different treatment options and to further educate myself on perinatal mood disorders.

What I did not know at the time was how big of an impact making this film would have on me.  The emotions I felt while filming were real, raw and intense.  I had anticipated to “hurt” while sharing my journey but what I experienced through filming was life changing.

 

Question 2:

Can you give a brief overview of what the film is about ?

Answer 2:

When the Bough Breaks is a feature-length documentary about PPD and postpartum psychosis.  Narrated and executive produced by Brooke Shields, this shocking film uncovers this very public health issue that affects one in five new mothers after childbirth.  The film follows Lindsay Gerszt, a mother who has been suffering from PPD, for six years. Lindsay agrees to let the cameras document her and give us an in-depth look at her path to recovery. We meet women who have committed infanticide and families who have lost loved ones to suicide.  Babies are dying, women aren’t speaking out, and the signs are being missed.  When the Bough Breaks takes us on a journey to find answers and break the silence.

 

Question 3:

Is there anything in particular you’ve learned as a consequence of capturing your story and these other people’s stories on film?

Answer 3:

I have never learned more about myself, human nature, pain and love as I have with making When the Bough Breaks. I have always suffered from depression but to suffer while having to take care of a baby made me realize how strong I am and what I am capable of.  I also learned that you cannot judge anyone!  Everyone has a story to tell and we must learn from each story no matter how painful it is to listen.  As hard as it was to make this film, it was life changing and I would not take it back for anything in the world.

 

Question 4:

Who should watch the film, and why?

Answer 4:

When the Bough Breaks is not just a film for mental health professionals.  It is a film for everyone.  Since up to 1 in 5 new mothers will suffer from a perinatal mood disorder, everyone will know someone at some point who is suffering.  We need to know what signs to look out for and how to give the support that those whom are suffering so desperately need.  We need to know what treatment options there are and how those treatments work.  Most importantly, we need to keep talking about this very serious illness and fight the stigma that is attached to it.  With When the Bough Breaks being available in 64 countries, now we have a big opportunity to work with other advocates to keep this important conversation going and reach a huge audience that otherwise does not know anything about PPD.

 

Question 5:

What was the most challenging part in the process of filming this documentary?

Answer 5:

For me, filming the interviews that dealt with postpartum psychosis were the most challenging part of filming When the Bough Breaks.  As producers, you are there to tell a story.  However, when you meet and get to know the many people being interviewed in the film, you start to care for them on the deepest of levels because we are sharing this experience and journey together.  To see their pain in telling their stories–whether it was a mom who suffered from postpartum psychosis, her partner or the children who were affected by it–was very intense and heartbreaking for me.  I personally became very close to Naomi Knoles and her family.  When we lost her, we were devastated but it also made us work even harder to make sure the film reached as many people as possible so her story could be heard and help others.

 

Question 6:

Do you plan to screen this movie in major cities, and if so, is there a schedule?  Is there a plan to get OB/GYNs to watch this movie?

Answer 6:

We have just signed two educational deals that will help get the film out in markets to which we would not normally be able to reach out on our own.  We have also set up a screening license on our website so that organizations and communities can screen and share the film. We need the film to reach as many hospitals, OB/GYNs, pediatricians and any other organizations that work with new mothers, and I am and will continue to work hard to make sure that happens. The screening license can be found here https://www.whentheboughbreaksfilm.com .

 

The First Center of its Kind in New Jersey

As I mentioned a few days ago, I took the day off because  I needed to witness the grand opening of the very first center of its kind in my home state: The Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder Center at Monmouth Medical Center.

 

 

 

 

 

After paying this center a visit personally and hearing about the immensely positive impact it has had the past 6 years since Lisa Tremayne first endeavored to provide a place for mothers suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) to go to for help, I am just so, so amazed and have such tremendous respect for Lisa and for the staff.

 

 

 

 

There were many mothers/babies there that were there to celebrate with Lisa and the amazing staff.

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Graebe, MD (Chairman of the OB/GYN Dept) kicked off the ceremony.

 

 

 

 

 

Followed by Mary Jo Codey who recounted her personal experience with PPD so long ago.  I’ve heard her speak what must be a dozen times by now, but hearing her wrenching experience from when she suffered from severe PPD in the 1980s and a second time in the 1990s always serves as a reminder of how far we’ve come and yet how much further we still need to go when it comes to helping new mothers realize when and how to get help, helping doctors correctly diagnose and treat PPD.  She wrapped up her speech with a statement about how grateful she is for the existence of this center and how we need to make sure more centers like this open up in New Jersey.  Click here  and here for articles posted earlier today that include pictures and video clips.

After the former First Lady’s speech came Lisa Tremayne who gave a brief history of the center and how it has been helping mothers since 2011 and then introduced PPD survivors Meg Santonacita, Luciana Mangyik, and Carolyn Stack, each of whom shared their experiences and how the center helped each of them to recover.

 

 

 

 

 

After the speeches came the ribbon cutting ceremony!

Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month – 2017

Just like this time last year, I’ve come across so many things on my Facebook feed in the past few days–all in anticipation of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month– that I’m just going to highlight all the exciting work, developments, other mothers’ experiences, and upcoming events all in one post.  It’s just a shame that these exciting developments, including articles to boost awareness, don’t happen all year round!  Think about how much more progress there would be if that were to happen!

As I stumble across more articles this month, I will add them to this blog post.

 

House Bill 1764 in Illinois

I saw an exciting announcement today on my Facebook feed from my friend Dr. Susan Benjamin Feingold, a nationally renowned expert on perinatal (pregnancy and postpartum) disorders and the author of Happy Endings, New Beginnings: Navigating Postpartum Disorders.  She testified yesterday in the Illinois Senate Criminal Committee.  HB 1764 just passed the Senate Committee and must next pass the full Senate.  Once the Governor signs off on it, it becomes Illinois law, making Illinois the first state to pass such a law!  Such a law has existed in the UK since 1922 when the Infanticide Act was put in place to ensure mothers receive psychiatric treatment and rehabilitation, rather than a death sentence or life in prison. Canada and several other European countries have also adopted similar laws.  It’s about time the US did too!

It’s due in large part to the following individuals that HB 1764 has made it thus far:  Dr. Feingold and Lita Simanis, LCSW who provided critical testimony, Bill Ryan (retired Assistant Deputy Director at the Illinois Department of Family and Child Services who regularly visited the Lincoln Correctional Center in Logan County, IL and heard the stories of numerous women serving long or lifetime prison sentences for crimes committed while sick with a postpartum disorder) who proposed the law and brought it to State Representative Linda Chapa LaVia (83rd District) who sponsored it, and Barry Lewis (Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney) who provided a written brief and expert testimony as to why this law is constitutional (in response to opposition from the State Attorney).

Click here for more information about postpartum psychosis and why this news is of such significance and a major stepping stone to what will hopefully be the passing of similar legislation throughout the U.S.   Cases of postpartum psychosis are rare and cases of ones leading to infanticide are even rarer.  But as the article states, all cases of postpartum psychosis are neurochemically caused.  Usually, women who are sick with postpartum psychosis don’t even know that’s what was wrong with them and their conditions go untreated, undiagnosed or diagnosed but not properly treated.  During trial, these women are not allowed to talk about their conditions or have them considered as mitigating factors in sentencing.  Although the idea of infanticide is truly tragic and unfathomable, try donning your empathy hat and imagine what it would be like if it were you (be sure to read up on what postpartum psychosis is and what it does to a person first) that was being controlled by  neurochemistry gone completely out of whack until tragedy strikes with an act you commit–one that you could not prevent or control due to your illness–that you will pay for dearly for the rest of your life enduring painful, unrelenting regret, many years or life in jail (or even face the death sentence), and with your illness never addressed or treated.

 

PPD Screening in NYC and Texas:
On May 18th, First Lady of NYC, Chirlane McCray, announced that NYC Health + Hospitals will screen EVERY new mother for maternal depression.  NYC Health & Hospitals provides healthcare services to more than 1.4 million New Yorkers in more than 70 patient care locations and in their homes throughout New York City.  Click here for the link to her Facebook page announcement.  Click here for more about NYC Health & Hospitals.

On my Facebook feed on May 23rd, I saw a link to an article that made my eyes pop wide open!  How exciting was it for me to read that, over in Texas, House Bill 2466 was passed for new mothers participating in federally-backed health care programs (for low-income families) like Medicaid to be screened for PPD when they bring their babies to see their pediatricians.  Yes, mothers who bring their babies in for their checkups can get screened for PPD by their babies’ pediatricians, and the screening would be covered under their children’s plan, like the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Research has shown that PPD is less likely to be identified and treated among low-income mothers, and this bill seeks to detect PPD through newborn checkups.  The rationale is–which I’ve blogged about previously and even wrote about it in my book–since mothers are not required to see their OB/GYN after childbirth unless there’s a medical issue that needs treatment, there is the opportunity at their babies’ 1-month checkup for the pediatrician to screen the mother.

 

Alexis Joy D’Achille Center for Women’s Behavioral Health:
In my Facebook feed today, I spotted an article about a new center like The Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder Center at Monmouth Medical Center, which celebrated its grand opening on May 5th.  Click here for my blog post about this first of a kind center in New Jersey.  Due to open this fall, the the Alexis Joy D’Achille Center for Women’s Behavioral Health will offer comprehensive maternal mental health care at West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield, PA, in partnership between Allegheny Health Network and the Alexis Joy D’Achille Foundation.  This new facility will offer a wide range of treatment, including weekly therapy, an intensive outpatient program and partial hospitalization for women with more severe forms of PPD.  The Alexis Joy D’Achille Foundation was founded by Steven D’Achille in memory of his late wife who at the age of 30 lost her battle against the severe PPD that hit her after she had her daughter in August 2013.  The article about this new center talks about the work it has done to benefit new mothers since 2015, and the work it plans to do once the facility is completed.

 

Personal Success Story: If You Only Ask – by Jordan Reid
Being your own advocate by being informed about postpartum mood disorders, knowing your risk, and being prepared for the possibility – unfortunately, you have to for self-preservation purposes because there aren’t enough resources to catch the moms who fall through the cracks of doctors failing to diagnose, treat or even refer maternal mood disorders. The post reflects the main steps I suggest in chapter 5 of my book, which delves into risk factors and coming up with a prevention plan.  I also touch on being prepared in a previous blog post by having a therapist lined up, just in case, if you think you are at high risk for postpartum depression (PPD).  I’ve also blogged about risk factors for PPD.

 

Postpartum Support International (PSI):
The annual PSI conference is coming up in Philadelphia!  Register by May 8th to take advantage of early bird rates for its PMD certificate course from 7/12-13, as well as for the regular 2-day conference from 7/14-15).

Additionally, PSI has just announced its partnership with the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) School of Medicine to expand the PPD ACT.  The PPD ACT is an iPhone app previously released in the U.S. and Australia to study PPD, which is now expanding its reach to iPhones in Canada and to Android phones in the U.S. and Australia.  The app was designed to help understand why some women suffer from PPD and others don’t, in the hope of improving the ability to minimize risk and find more effective treatments.  Women with the app can participate in surveys and DNA testing to study the genes of those suffering from PPD.  This study is the first of its kind.  Last year, approximately 14,000 women enrolled in the study.  Many women who participated were successfully treated for PPD. Ultimately, the hope is to be able to expand the study across the globe.  To download the app or learn more about the study or PPD, click here. For more information about the PPD ACT, click here to access the UNC-Chapel Hill announcemen, here for a HuffPost Canada post announcement, and here for a Mom.me post titled “Find Out If You Have Postpartum Depression Without Leaving Home” by Claudiya Martinez on May 15, 2017.

 

National Coalition of Maternal Mental Health (NCMMH):
And last and most definitely not least, please have a look at how you can participate in Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week (May 1-7) led by the National Coalition of Maternal Mental Health (NCMMH).  Click here to see how you can partner along with other organizations, blogs, authors, mental healthcare providers, etc. in the awareness initiative by becoming a social media partner (like me) to NCMMH.  Help spread the word about the #1 complication of childbirth on Facebook and Twitter by changing your profile pictures and cover pictures, as well as re-tweeeting/re-posting digital messages from the NCMMH’s Twitter and Facebook accounts from May 1-7.

 

The Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder Center at Monmouth Medical Center – Grand Opening on May 4, 2017

Announcing the Grand Opening of The Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder Center at Monmouth Medical Center (MMC)!  This is such an exciting development for New Jersey that I’m taking the day off from work to attend this grand opening to meet the program’s multi-disciplinary team of experts and clinicians certified by Postpartum Support International.

When:  Thursday, May 4 at 1:00 p.m. (ribbon cutting starts then)
Where:  Maysie Stroock Pavilion (Pavilion & Second Avenue, Long Branch)
RSVP:  Email teamlink@rwjbh.org or call 888.724.7123
Agenda:  Speakers will include Mary Jo Codey (former NJ First Lady who will share her personal experience with postpartum depression (PPD), Lisa Tremayne, Robert Graebe, MD (Chairman of the OB/GYN Dept), and several PPD survivors who are former patients of the center.

Thank you to Lisa Tremayne, RN, CPPD, CBC, CCE — maternal child health nurse at MMC — for graciously providing the details of how New Jersey’s VERY FIRST perinatal mood and anxiety center of its kind has evolved under her persistent efforts.

After the birth of her triplets (after 6 years of not being able to conceive naturally and one round of IVF) in 1998, Lisa suffered from what she later learned was postpartum anxiety/postpartum OCD, which greatly affected her life as a new mom.  She experienced racing thoughts and living in a constant state of anxiety.  She never received help, no one ever questioned if she was okay, and it took years for her to fully recover.

It wasn’t until 2007 when she was at a mandated lunch and learn with the Central Jersey Family Health Consortium that she learned she had what they referred to as postpartum depression (PPD).  Not telling anyone about her experience, she started volunteering for the consortium, and helped patients find resources and help. In 2011 she became the MMC Childbirth Education Manager. As facilitator for a new moms support group she quickly realized many mothers were suffering from PPD.  She then received permission to start a PPD support group, which was instantly well received and attended by large numbers of mothers.  It was at that point she broke her silence and shared her experience with others. She presented her plan to start a PPD program to new business development, but it wasn’t until April 2015 that the plan was accepted and the program was started with the support of the chairperson of OB.  The program consisted of Lisa, a therapist and a psychiatric nurse practitioner on a part-time basis. Since then, the program has grown.  It is now a mother/baby program in which babies are not only allowed but encouraged to attend with their mothers so the staff can assess mother/baby attachment at all times.  Many classes/workshops are designed specifically for the mother/baby.

Lisa and the other dedicated members of the program are excited about the grand opening that is finally going to take place on May 4th!  To date there have been intakes of over 800 women, and 500 women have received medical evaluation, treatment and referrals to appropriate services through the program.  On average, there are 30 new patients a month.  Lisa hopes the program will evolve into a partial day stay program by 2018.  The program is interdisciplinary and every member is completely passionate about helping moms/babies, normalizing this temporary and treatable illness and educating the public that this is the #1 complication of childbirth.

Postpartum Insomnia Series – Part 5: VAN

I want to thank Van for sharing her postpartum insomnia experience with us.  She reached out to me via my blog back in January and we’ve corresponded via email since then.  She is nearing the end of her postpartum depression (PPD) journey.

From the time she first reached out to me, I realized her symptoms were very similar to mine.  Every time she reached out to me, I felt like I was experiencing PPD once again. I empathized with her so much, I just wanted to give her a hug and try to do more for her.  But she was very far away.  Thankfully, we were able to exchange emails.  The primary difference between her experience and mine was that she gained weight and craved food, while I lost weight quickly and had no appetite.

Like me, she had a traumatic childbirth experience, hemorrhaging, and a 1-week stay in the hospital.
Like me, she was caught blindsided by insomnia and panic attacks within a few weeks of giving birth.
Like me, she was frightened and had no idea what was wrong with her.
Like me, she was desperate for answers and understanding.

Her frightening experience has resulted in a desire to help other mothers going through PPD.  I figured what better way to start doing so by sharing her own experience on my blog!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

QUESTION:
When/what was the first indication that something wasn’t right, and how long after childbirth did the first sign occur?

ANSWER:
Looking back in hindsight, I felt something wasn’t right shortly after I gave birth but I didn’t think much of it. I attributed it to a traumatic birth (I haemorrhaged and lost 1.5 litres of blood), no sleep, and exhaustion. I remember feeling overwhelmed and very scared. I kept on thinking “What have I done? I don’t want this baby. How am I going to look after this person?” All I wanted to do was get away from this little person, but knew I couldn’t.

Due to my blood loss, infection and complications with the baby, we had to stay in hospital for a week. It was a day after I gave birth and during my hospital stay that the panic attacks started. I remember pacing up and down the ward, not knowing what was happening to me.  I felt an overwhelming surge of adrenalin that made my heart race and made me feel like I was going to die.  It didn’t register that something was wrong.  I just attributed it all to exhaustion, and staying in a busy ward with no sleep.  I thought things would be okay once I was home. I spoke to the midwives about it and they said that what I was going through was normal.  Since they dismissed it, I did too.  It wasn’t until after I was home and the insomnia and panic attacks continued and worsened that I finally acknowledged that something was really wrong.

QUESTION:
Did you suffer from insomnia? What other symptoms did you experience, if any?

ANSWER:
Yes, I suffered from severe post-partum insomnia. I have suffered bouts of insomnia in the past, but didn’t really have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. My past insomnia experiences weren’t as prolonged or severe as my post-partum insomnia. I am not too sure whether it was the anxiety and panic attacks that caused the insomnia or the insomnia that resulted in the panic attacks. For the first four months, my life was pretty much a living hell. I’d have panic attacks 3 times a day, sometimes lasting 2 hours at a time. I was very hysterical and desperate.  Aside from the insomnia and panic attacks, I had a huge appetite and ate 7-8 meals a day. Every 2 hours I’d feel hungry and I didn’t know when to stop.  I would eat throughout the night too. I gained a lot of weight during the first 4 months post-birth. I later found out that sleep deprivation causes changes in the digestive hormones.

I constantly had a dry mouth. I also felt like I had a constant lump stuck in my throat and that my windpipe was closing up. I couldn’t feel my body.  It felt like my nerve endings weren’t working properly.  If you pinched my cheeks or arm I couldn’t fully feel the sensations. I couldn’t feel heat either. My heart would palpitate so much it felt like I was having a heart attack. I felt nauseous pretty much every day.  I couldn’t feel my legs, and felt this constant pins-and-needles sensation on the soles of my feet.  I didn’t know whether that had anything to do with the epidural. I later learnt that all these sensations were symptoms of anxiety. Every time I closed my eyes to try and sleep, all I could feel was the surge of adrenalin through my body.  It felt as though there was a battle between my sleep hormones and adrenalin.  It was a very horrible feeling. I could never relax and I was constantly alert. I developed a fear of sleeping because of all this.  Every night I would get scared about sleeping, wondering whether I would be able to sleep or not. I became very paranoid. I was scared to go out. I became slightly obsessed with certain things. I had certain rituals that if I didn’t/ did do them I thought I wouldn’t get better. I was very desperate to get better and I was so afraid that I wouldn’t. I feared that this would be my life forever. Every day was a battle. I felt I was dying every day. Since I wasn’t sleeping, my mind was very foggy like there was cotton wool in my head.  At the same time, I was very alert and wired. I constantly felt dizzy. Ten months after giving birth I still feel dizzy sometimes.


QUESTION:

Did you see a doctor right away, and was he/she able to help you?  What course of treatment did he/she prescribe? Did he/she diagnose you with a postpartum mood disorder?

ANSWER:
I didn’t see my GP until 10 days after I gave birth. I didn’t sleep at all during those 10 days. I have vivid memories of the day I saw my GP.  I walked into my GP’s office and broke down.  I was hysterical. Tears streamed down my face as I begged in desperation for someone to help me.

My GP wasn’t much help, and he certainly wasn’t reassuring. He prescribed me Zoplicone to help with sleeping and Propanolol for the panic attacks. He said he has never seen anyone like me before and never heard of post-partum insomnia. I wasn’t given a formal diagnosis, but I was referred to the peri-natal team. They did some assessments and concluded that I was very depressed. But I kept saying I wasn’t depressed….. what I needed was sleep. The peri-natal team referred me to a psychiatrist who only wanted to give me anti-depressants, which I didn’t want to take. I was prescribed Paroxetine.  I had to wait 2.5 months post partum until I had my first CBT session. I had 6 sessions in total, once a week. After the 6th session they released me, as they decided I was well enough and didn’t need to continue. If I had a relapse at any point I was suppoed to contact the peri-natal team. So far, I haven’t had to.

 

QUESTION:
If you had to take meds, what was it/what were they and how long did you have to take it/them?

ANSWER:
I took Zoplicone for my sleep and took that for 2-3 month. On some nights I was able to sleep for 2.5 hours with Zoplicone.  On some nights, though, it didn’t help me sleep. I took Propranolol only for a week because I felt it was making my anxiety worse. I was also prescribed Paroxetine, but I never took it because I was so scared of the side effects it’s been known to cause.

 

QUESTION:
Did you have enough resources to help you with your recovery?  What kind of resources did you have (e.g., support group, postpartum doula, psychiatrist, partner reduced work hours/worked from home)? Did you have enough practical help (e.g., late night feedings) with the baby?

ANSWER:
Fortunately, I had a very good support network of family and friends. My mum stayed with me for 5 weeks. She was brilliant and looked after me, my husband and my baby. I remember one night, in particular. I was having a panic attack, and my mum held and rocked me and sung me a lullaby. That night occurred during the lowest point of my experience with my post-partum disorder. My husband was also very supportive.  He did all the night feeds for about 3 months until I felt I was able to do them.  During that time, he still went to work every morning. He was amazing.   He supported both me and the baby. The focus was for me to sleep and get better, so I slept in a separate room from my baby and husband so I wouldn’t be disturbed. My mother-in-law also came to help with the baby while I was recovering.  My friends visited regularly.  l called my friends whenever I had a panic attack, as I found talking to others helped me through my panic attacks.  Although I had a brilliant support network, nobody really understood what I was going through. I remember one afternoon when I was having a panic attack. I was alone upstairs in my bedroom crying, and my heart was beating so much that I thought I was going to die from a heart attack. I remember feeling so alone and terrified, and crying and praying for all this to end. It wasn’t until I found Ivy’s blog about post-partum insomnia and disorders that I felt less scared.  Reading her blog and other people’s experiences helped me realize that post-partum depression really does exist and it wasn’t just me.  This realization helped with my recovery.

My peri-natal team was very good.  Someone came to visit me every week for 3 months to check up on me. My CBT therapist, Annie, explained to me that my body had gone into survival mode after a traumatic birth, which could be one of the reasons why I was having panic attacks and experiencing chronic insomnia.

I was so desperate to find answers to what was wrong with me that I was constantly on the Internet trying to find answers. I became a bit of a hypochondriac, thinking that I suffered from everything I read about. I thought I had diabetes, thyroiditis, and adrenal fatigue. I consulted a nutritionist and explained what I was going through. I did an adrenal fatigue saliva test and my cortisol level was very high, especially at night. No wonder I couldn’t sleep! He designed a food plan for me to lower my cortisol levels and told me to take certain vitamins and minerals. To my surprise, I was able to sleep better after being on his food plan. Since I was very reluctant to take medication, I sought alternative therapies. I found crystal healing helped with my recovery. Although the crystals may very well be just a placebo, I still sleep with them. On nights I feel a little anxious, I hold my crystals and I’d fall asleep.

 

QUESTION:
When was the first sign of light at the end of the tunnel and you were starting your recovery?

ANSWER:
I can’t really pinpoint when I started to feel better.  It was a gradual process. I took it one day at a time. Slowly, I got out of the house more, I obsessed less over what I ate and when I ate, and I stopped obsessing about my heart rate and Googling my symptoms. The panic attacks became less frequent. I got more solid hours of sleep. I didn’t ruminate as much about how I felt and how my mind was fuzzy. But recovery was such a long process. Sometime it felt like I was taking one step forward and two steps back. I remember emailing Ivy on one of my low days asking her “Will I get better?” She reassured me and said yes. I always looked forward to Ivy’s emails as they made me feel like I wasn’t going crazy.  Slowly but surely I recovered and began to enjoy motherhood and being with my son.

 

QUESTION:
Did you have any more children after this PPD experience, and if so, did you do anything to prepare yourself and were you able to ward off PPD the subsequent time(s)?

ANSWER:
The whole experience did put me off having another baby initially, as I didn’t think I could go through the whole ordeal again. But now, 10 months after giving birth, I think I could do it again because I now know what to expect if I were to have another baby. If I were to suffer from PPD again, I wouldn’t be so afraid and I know it would only be temporary and things will get better.

 

QUESTION:
If you could go back in time what advice would you give yourself before you got pregnant?

ANSWER:
I would advise myself to read up on PPD. I don’t think there is enough awareness on PPD. If you are a first- time mother suffering from it, it’s a very scary situation to be in if you don’t know what is happening to your body and mind.  Throughout my pregnancy no one mentioned PPD. Healthcare providers emphasized pregnancy, labour and giving birth but never once talked about the post-partum period or possible complications during pregnancy and childbirth.  If I had known about PPD, I wouldn’t have felt so scared and isolated. I would also look into hypnobirthing and/or active birthing to have a better and more natural childbirth experience. I would hire a doula to help with childbirth and the first few weeks post-birth.

 

QUESTION:
Did anything positive come out of your PPD experience?

ANSWER:
My experience has had a huge impact on me. I really want to help women going through PPD. I think I’ve grown as a person. I’ve learnt to appreciate the small things. I’m more compassionate and less judgemental and generally happier than I was before my pregnancy.

 

QUESTION:
What would you want to say to women currently suffering with PPD?

ANSWER:
What you are going through is horrible, your hormones are trying to find a balance, and sleep deprivation is beyond awful.  At times you will feel like you are going crazy, but you aren’t. You have hormones that are making you depressed, angry, anxious and/or unable to sleep.

Every day is a battle. Take each day at a time, and do things you think will help you get by each day.  If you think having acupuncture will help, do it.  If you think going shopping will help you get through the day, do it. Do whatever it takes to get through the day.

Get help and support. Get your partner to look after the baby. At the moment, self care is important, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Get medical, practical and emotional support if you haven’t done so already.

I know it doesn’t seem like you will get better, but you will! Slowly but surely you will see snippets of your old self come back and you will be laughing again soon. This is only temporary.