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

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

What caught my attention was the following quote from Gwyneth:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowledge is power.

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

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

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

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

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

Group Approach to Prenatal Care…Start of A New Trend, Hopefully

I realize its been 2-1/2 weeks since my last post. …yikes!  Time flies…as we know all too well!  I’ve been caught up with a lot of things going on at work, home, editing my manuscript, celebrating Chinese New Year, etc.  Yes, Chinese New Year….the Year of the Rabbit.  For all those who observe, may it be a year of good fortune, happiness, and above all, good health!    The Chinese New Year festivities period began on February 3rd and lasts 15 days, until February 17th.  新年快樂! 恭禧發財!

I have been out of the loop for the past couple of weeks and only stumbled across a tweet from Amber Koter-Puline regarding a Delawareonline.com article titled “Building A Sisterhood Among Moms-To-Be” that caught my attention.  Why did it catch my attention?  Well, specifically, the word “Sisterhood” caught my attention.   This is, I feel, so lacking in this society.  A society that used to be more about social support of new moms and their families during pregnancy and postpartum and is now based on a model of competitiveness, do-it-yourself, and the ever prevalent supermom myth.  And let’s not forget the 2-minute visits with the OB/GYN too.   The model upon which society and women’s healthcare are now based is, quite frankly, pitiful.

So, take a few minutes to read through that article and see if you agree with me that we need to have more of this type of approach in not just prenatal care, but postnatal care as well!   The article tells us about the Christiana Care’s Smyrna Health & Wellness Center and its group approach to prenatal care and how its patients feel.   It’s important for a woman who’s pregnant, especially for the first time, to feel empowered, confident and prepared, rather than apprehensive and feeling like she’s all alone in that apprehension.  To be able to participate in a group setting where advice and thoughts/feelings/concerns of other pregnant women are shared is extremely valuable and reflects the way it used to be when society was more social support-oriented.

They refer to their approach as Centering Pregnancy, which focuses on not just medical care but education and support…again, what you would’ve found back in the days of social support in days gone by (and in other cultures today).   This program, which is optional to patients of the Center, is limited to about a dozen women at a time and is comprised of 10 visits altogether.  These women would begin at around 4 months into their pregnancies.    Each appointment in the program takes about 1.5 to 2 hours.  In addition to the one-on-one time with the healthcare provider going over test results and other concerns, patients spend the majority of their time in the program with other pregnant mothers, listening to and sharing experiences with each other.  Healthcare providers also provide presentations to the group of women on topics related to pregnancy and wellness, including breastfeeding, nutrition, and postpartum depression (PPD).  Yes, even PPD!   

The benefits to such a program are many, including the fact that healthcare providers don’t need to repeatedly go over pregnancy and wellness topics individually with each patient because the information is provided all at once to the group of women in the program.  It’s important to note that there has been a reduction in the number of pre-term births for mothers enrolled in the program….I’m sure due to the lower anxiety levels in these mothers, as there is a correlation between high anxiety levels and pre-term births.   Additionally, many of the women become friends with each other during the program and stay in touch–even arranging playdates for their babies– after the program ends for them.   What I’d be interested in finding out is if there has been a reduction in the number of mothers with PPD as well…..though,  I have to say that I wouldn’t be a least bit surprised, since there is a correlation between high anxiety levels and PPD.

We DEFINITELY need more of these prenatal programs across the country IN ADDITION TO postnatal programs like Santa Barbara Postpartum Education and Support (SBPEP).