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.