You have to break through the uncomfortable…Why? Because mothers are dying from postpartum mood disorders

You have to break through the uncomfortable…..We are losing a silent battle that no one wants to talk about.

Amen!  These are the words Brian Gaydos utters when people ask what happened to his beloved wife, Shelane, and his answer “She died from a disease called postpartum depression” makes them uncomfortable.  Discomfort from stigma is what keeps suffering mothers quiet and getting the treatment they need and deserve.

When I read the August 4, 2017 article by Michael Alison Chandler in the Washington Post titled “Maternal depression is getting more attention – but still not enough” and I saw Brian’s words at the end of  the article, I decided I needed to blog about these words and about the tragic death of his wife.  Shelane Gaydos, a 35-year-old mother with 3 daughters, lost a baby in utero at 12 weeks and within 3 weeks died by suicide.  Family members did not realize until a while after her death that she had suffered from postpartum psychosis.  The article mentions, and as statistics have always indicated, women are more likely to attempt suicide during the first year after childbirth than during any other time in their lives.  It is important to note that a woman doesn’t need to give birth to experience any one of the various postpartum mood disorders, including postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum OCD and postpartum psychosis.  She can suffer from these disorders after having a miscarriage as well.

The article mentions certain things I’ve mentioned all along in my blog and in my book:

  • 1 in 7 new mothers experience a perinatal (during pregnancy and after birth) mood disorder, and yet these disorders continue to be under-diagnosed and under-treated
  • A relatively small percentage seek professional help either because they don’t know what they are experiencing deserves and needs  professional help and/or they don’t know where to go to get help and/or they are ashamed to seek help
  • More obstetricians and pediatricians lack than possess the training needed to diagnose and treat perinatal mood disorders
  • Certain risk factors are the reason why certain mothers develop PPD and others don’t: genetic predisposition to biological factors (some mothers are affected by hormonal fluctuations during/after childbirth and after weaning more than others) versus environmental factors (poverty, poor/abusive relationships, premature birth or miscarriage, inadequate support, inadequate paid leave from work)
  • It’s thanks to advocates with platforms with a broad reach to members of the government and media that there has been progress in recent years.  Brooke Shields is one of the first of the advocates to start the trend of sharing their own experiences, spreading awareness, and trying to effect change.
  • There are still stubborn societal myths (thank you to the patriarchal and quite misogynistic forces and views still in place here in the 21st century) that only serve to put unnecessary, additional stress on women, encouraging the false notion that all mothers can not only care for their babies without any sleep or support, but also be able to breastfeed without any issues and return to their pre-baby bodies and weight quickly.  Unbeknownst to many of us stateside, societies around the world (and in olden days here in the good ol’ USA) have customs in place that provide new mothers with the support they need to recover from childbirth and care for their newborn baby.  Instead, because we are a strictly capitalistic society, more and more mothers now work and have anywhere between 0-13 weeks of paid leave and are expected to recover and jump right back to their jobs before having babies, as if they’d never given birth in the first place!  If only men who think “Women have been giving birth for centuries should just up and go back to the way they were” can experience childbirth firsthand sometime!

Certain states, like Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Illinois have passed laws that mandate screening for PPD, and thanks to recommendations by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), healthcare providers are screening for PPD more routinely.  What I would like to know is whether these screenings are even happening (I am dubious):

  • In 2015, ACOG recommended that OB/GYNs screen women for PPD at least once during pregnancy and once after childbirth.
  • In 2010, the AAP recommended that pediatricians screen mothers for PPD at well-baby visits during the first 6 months.

Says Adrienne Griffen, founder and executive director of Postpartum Support Virginia, whom I have the honor of knowing through my affiliation with Postpartum Support International:

Postpartum depression is where breast cancer was 30 years ago.

I truly and sincerely hope and pray that it’s NOT going to be ANOTHER 30 years for us to see a significant change in the way we view PPD as a society and reduce the numbers of women suffering–and even dying–from perinatal mood disorders!

 

 

Steve Bannon’s Ignorance on Mental Health

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

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

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

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

<directing myself back on track….>

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace to you.

Happy 1st Birthday, STIGMAMA!

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

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

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

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

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

Challenges Faced by Asian American Women in the Workplace – Cultural Traits, Ceilings, Guilt, Assumptions and Stigma

Recently, I attended an Asian American professionals event.  Overall, I was happy I attended the event, mostly because the speakers spoke about the challenges they encountered on their path to their current status as successful and well-regarded professionals.  They spoke about having to overcome such cultural traits as humility and introversion, as well as their tendency to avoid speaking up.  Yes, because of the way we were raised, being aggressive is not natural and “silence is golden.”  These are self-defeating traits.  How can you move up the ranks and be noticed if you don’t speak up in meetings?  If you don’t speak your mind because you’re too humble? If you don’t give presentations to peers and management because you are introverted?

In addition to the familiar expressions “glass ceiling” (in reference to women, for the most part) and “bamboo ceiling” (in reference to Asian professionals, specifically….think about how many Asian executives there are in your workplace), when you add new motherhood to the equation, Asian women tend to have perfectionist tendencies and experience shame and guilt far more readily than women in other cultures due to their cultural traits and the way they were brought up.

I realize that the following are not just experienced by Asian American mothers in the workforce, but all mothers in the workforce.  So, in addition to the bamboo and glass ceilings, Asian American mothers also experience what I refer to as the “new mother ceiling.”

New mothers returning to the workforce experience GUILT from having to leave their baby in the care of someone else.  Most households do not have the fortune of having a relative (e.g., spouse, parent, in-law) or live-in nanny living with them, so there is the added challenge of pick-ups and drop-offs, which inevitably means having to take turns with their significant others dropping off (which means getting to work later) and picking up (which means leaving work earlier).  These drop-offs and pick-ups are a really big deal especially when there is a long commute at stake, and the childcare hours of operation mean the earliest you can drop off is 7:00 am (and in a majority of places, it’s not until 7:30 am or 8:00 am) and the latest you can pick up is 6:00 pm.  How in the world do parents deal with these hours?  They just have to.  They make it work somehow.  For some parents, like me, any “fast track” for which I may have been considered would have to wait until a more “opportune” time, when drop-offs and pick-ups no longer get in the way of that fast track.  For other parents, childcare is too expensive and it makes more economical sense for one of them to stay at home, and it’s usually the mother.  Hence, the stay at home mom.

New mothers returning to the workforce experience GUILT from leaving their babies in the care of others spend long days (ELEVEN hours) with someone other than themselves, but they worry about the impact getting in late and leaving early will have on their careers.  They fear that it’s going to put a dent on their performance assessments, that their managers frown on such hours when non-parents don’t have such issues and can get in early and leave late every day.  They fear the judgmental eyes and “another half day, eh?” remarks from colleagues looking at them like they spend less hours at work and therefore should be viewed less favorably by management.  I know, as I’ve been the brunt of these whisperings after my daughter was born.

New mothers returning to the workforce experience GUILT in situations where a woman needs or prefers (and is economically able) to stay at home, and yet you know your parents spent X amount of money for a college education to have a better shot at a successful career.  You feel like it was a waste of their hard-earned money (or blood, sweat and tears) to get you to where you are today.

Here’s where I want to mention that one of the two speakers was a woman who, like the man, explained the challenges she had to overcome in getting to where she is today.  Like any speaker giving a rah rah speech for career-minded individuals at a workplace event, she addressed the crowd in a general fashion, making assumptions in so doing.

She looked at the audience and firmly addressed the women in the audience with a statement that, and I can’t quote her exactly but the gist of what she was saying was, working mothers should be proud for returning to work after having their babies.  That just made it sound like stay at home mothers should feel bad for staying at home with their babies.

She mentioned how happy she was when her 12 year old daughter recently told her that she is proud of her mother’s successful career and she has no negative feelings or memories for not having spent that much time with her while growing up.  Unfortunately, this is not representative of the reactions of every child out there in similar circumstances.

She mentioned that she gave birth without the aid of an epidural and was in labor for 22 hours.  I have to say that she is fortunate there were no complications during/after her labor and delivery, because unfortunately, not every woman fares this well in similar circumstances.  Some experience childbirth complications, like I did.  Some don’t survive.  Some survive but their babies don’t.

She was sleep deprived and had to return to work within weeks of giving birth.  She mentioned that it’s definitely hard work but absolutely possible for everyone with babies to get by with little sleep and still do well at work.  She said that everyone has the ability to cope with the temporary challenges of new parenthood, juggling work with sleep deprivation.  She said something to the effect of “If I could do it, so can you. Don’t complain, just do.”  This is not a direct quote, mind you, but the gist of what she was saying at the very end of her speech.

I was deeply interested in/commiserated with and appreciated the speakers and what they had to say…..up until this last point.  It’s all good and fine that this is a rah rah speech for career-minded individuals.  But having gone through what I went through….postpartum depression (PPD), which is crippling and can make you doubt you’ll ever be well again, let alone back at work in the highly functioning, ambitious professional you were before you gave birth and ended up in the dark hole of despair that is PPD (and any other postpartum mood disorder), I found myself biting my lip, cringing inwardly while smiling outwardly and thinking to myself “She has no clue and I would venture to guess that even if I went up to her and told her how her last statements can hurt the one in eight women–many of whom are professionals–that end up stricken with PPD, she would wave me off just like the female colleague to whom I had tried to explain my PPD experience waved me off.”

Can I blame her for not getting it because she’s never been there?  No.  But I sure as heck am thinking about sending her a note (with perhaps a link to my blog or a copy of my book) that what she said absolutely does not resonate with everyone, and she should be mindful of the fact that not everyone can JUST DO IT like she did.  As much as one would like to JUST DO IT (after all, that is my favorite mantra of all time, thanks to Lance Armstrong and Nike), I COULD NOT.  Not until I was well again.

Having the attitude of JUST DO or BUCK UP or IF I CAN DO IT, SO CAN YOU is an attitude that fails new mothers not from the standpoint of striving to keep up with male counterparts if we expect to climb up that corporate ladder and break through the bamboo, glass…and new mother ceilings, but from the assumption that no mother EVER has pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum complications.  Saying JUST DO, no matter what, is implying that mothers who have had new mother-related challenges are NOT GOOD ENOUGH and the mother with challenges must be all alone in her experience because, heck, no one ever shares negative stories of new mother-related challenges.  Well, that’s because everyone with negative experiences are all AFRAID of speaking up.  IT’S FEAR, GUILT, AND SHAME THAT KEEP THEM QUIET.

This is STIGMA, folks.  And we need to change attitudes in the workplace.  Do away with all the ceilings–bamboo and glass–as well as the negative perceptions and attitudes pertaining to working parents and new mothers, in general.  All I’m asking is for people to open their eyes and accept that not all new mothers have the ability to return to work, even if they want to.  That they should not be ashamed for the reason.  They should not be ashamed to speak up.  And just because a new mother does manage to return to work right after baby, it does NOT mean there were absolutely no childbirth or childcare complications along the way.  STOP ASSUMING that everything is fine and dandy because in reality, approximately 15-20% of new mothers succumb to PPD.  PPD is experienced by women of all cultures, ethnicities, social statuses, and religions.

Yes, I think I AM going to send her a copy of my book “One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood: Infertility, Childbirth Complications, and Postpartum Depression, Oh My!”

Fixing a Broken System of Stigma and Mommy Wars With Each Other, Not Against Each Other

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

This blog post is a response to the articles in the media regarding the tragedy involving Carol Coronado, the Torrance mother with 3 young children, ages 2 months, 2 years and 3 years.  Read the statement issued by the National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health.  There’s a lot we don’t know about relating to this tragedy.  Does she have a history of depression or other mental health issue?  Did she try to reach out for help prior to yesterday?  Was she under a doctor’s care?  How much emotional and practical support was she getting?  Were there any other issues over the 3 years since her first child was born?  Without knowing the full story, the public is focusing on making her out to be some kind of monster.  True, it’s hard to accept that a parent could kill his/her child, let alone three.  But STOP right there.

Stopppppppppppppp!

Times like this, I just want to make all of it stop.  The stigma.  The Mommy Wars.  The hateful zealotry of people so obsessed with their views of how motherhood should be that they become toxic to others around them.  Yes, some people derive some sick pleasure off of making someone else feel bad (think bully).  They cannot empathize with anyone else’s situation (think sociopath).  JUST. STOP.

The shameful media whose only concern is to generate sales and hits to their websites who in all too many cases don’t bother to obtain the whole truth before causing speculation rife with inaccuracies that feed the ignorance and stigma that are already so damn difficult to do away with.  Media feeds stigma when they title a news article in a sensationalistic way to get the attention of as many people as possible via the newspaper or Facebook/Twitter feeds, insert their own judgmental/ignorant comments, and then encourage the public to share their opinions about the specific negative news event in question.  Of course they are going to get plenty of negative comments.  JUST. STOP.

The hateful words coming out of people’s mouths from ignorance borne from stigma and lack of public awareness surrounding mental health.  JUST. STOP.

The let’s-pass-judgment-before-knowing-the-truth-and-even-knowing-the-truth-doesn’t-matter-because-certain-people-don’t-care-about-the-truth-they-just-think-their-opinion-is-all-that-counts syndrome. JUST. STOP.

The stubborn mindset that depression is something that you can just snap out of does nothing but help keep people’s  blinders stuck in the let’s-continue-to-keep-my-eyes-willfully-closed mode.  JUST. STOP.

The OB/GYNs who for some reason can’t all get on board with becoming educated about perinatal mood disorders (PMD) so they can know how to properly detect, diagnose, treat and refer moms experiencing a PMD.  Instead, they contribute toward mothers (and their families) continuously falling through the cracks.  JUST. STOP.

The flawed mindset of “Well, you can be a Supermom if you want to be.  See Jane over there?  She just had her 3rd baby in 3 years, is a stay at home mom, keeps a perfect house, loves to cook, clean and do laundry.  She does it all herself.  Oh, and she BFd each of her babies for 2 years a piece.  Hell, if she can do it, so can I.”  JUST. STOP.

The name calling, judging and blaming of someone as soon as you hear negative news without knowing the full story.  Does doing this help anyone?  Does it make you feel better by trashing someone?  No?  Well, JUST. STOP.

Let’s face it.  We live in a egotistical, mompetitive, misogynistic, my-way-of-thinking-is-the-only-way-of-thinking society of misplaced priorities, lagging behind so many other less technologically sophisticated countries that are so much more advanced when it comes to the treatment of mothers and postpartum rituals (go figure), and breastfeeding zealots who only care about the well being of the baby, health of mother be damned (this is illogical, as how can you have a healthy baby if you don’t have a healthy mother to take care of that baby?).

Suzy Barston, author of the book Bottled Up and the Fearless Formula Feeder blog, included the following line which I love so much in her blog post titled “Vital Signs: Ignoring postpartum depression and psychosis won’t make them go away” in response to the tragedy:

We spend so much time worrying about a woman’s breasts, while we dismiss her mind.

And over at my dear friend Dr. Walker Karraa’s amazing blog Stigmama, there is a post from today titled “Women. Are. Dying. Shut It Down”  by Ann Jamison.  It’s an absolute MUST READ.  What an amazing writer she is.  Here is an excerpt that really hit home for me:

In the wake of shocking tragedy like this, opinions and judgment pave the well-worn, easy road. We blame this woman and all the women like her. We blame women when they aren’t coping well, we hate on them jealously when they are. We create so much stigma and fear surrounding mental illness that it’s nearly impossible to ask for help. When we do, our pleas go unanswered. When we don’t, and the worst happens, our humanity card is revoked and we’re suddenly monsters…….Women and their children are dying. Make no mistake. Mental illness kills. Mental illness is also the most common complication of childbirth. And we don’t screen for it. We don’t talk about it. Healthcare providers overlook it or are uncomfortable treating it.

We have an awful lot of people who don’t care.  They just want to do what they want to do, say what they want to say, and feel what they want to feel.  Yes, it’s all too comfortable to lead a life of ignorance for some people.  This is the mindset we’re up against, making public awareness and banishing stigma so damn challenging.

I know my blog post has been a downer, but I’m not saying we have no hope of improving things.  We can make a difference!

For starters, if  you see a new mom, whether she is a friend or relative, ask her how she’s REALLY feeling.  Ask if she is getting enough help.  REALLY listen to her and look deep into her eyes.  If she doesn’t sound herself, is crying, and/or indicates she is not feeling herself (the day the tragedy took place, Carol had shared with her mother that she thought she was “going crazy” AND Carol had spoken to her sister-in-law who thought she didn’t sound herself) and it is past the first 3 weeks postpartum, suggest that she get more help with the baby and see her doctor RIGHT AWAY.

I am not ok_Kleiman

Permission to use image granted by Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW, founder of The Postpartum Stress Center

Better yet, she should see someone who is experienced with treating postpartum mood disorders RIGHT AWAY.  Have no idea where to go to find one?  Start with the Postpartum Support International network of regional coordinators.

Let’s end stigma.  Yes, this is hard, but we can do it, if we each did our part by speaking up and sharing knowledge about maternal mental health matters at every opportunity.

Let’s focus on moms supporting moms.  End the mommy wars!

Let’s stop judging and bashing each other, and start treating others as you would want to be treated.  Provide support when the opportunity presents itself.

Let’s make a difference within our own personal spheres.  One. Mom. At. A. Time.  There are many ways you can help.  If it’s a life calling to switch gears to a career that helps moms, like being a doula, baby nurse, social worker, etc.,  then awesome.  But you can also provide virtual support.  For example, I am a member of Mama’s Comfort Camp, founded by my friend Yael Saar.  It’s an AMAZING forum of non-judgmental, loving support.

Let’s realize we have a broken, patriarchal system and work together and find ways to fix it….together.  Not against each other.  With each other.

FOR MIRIAM

Has it really been over 2 months since my last blog post?  I did say previously that I’ve been slowly losing momentum over the past year or so.  As most bloggers can appreciate, my tendency is to blog in reaction to something that either upsets me or excites me.  While there’s been a general lack of negative news (including ignorant things uttered by the public and journalists about incidents that only serve to further stigmatize postpartum mood and disorders, or PMADs), there’s also been a dearth of exciting new research, legislative and/or postpartum support services developments over the past couple of months to motivate me to put pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard.  The former is good; the latter not so good.

Well, I’ve taken up the virtual pen to write today’s blog post.  It’s a blog post that will share the same title with numerous others (based on the support the For Miriam FB page has received in the past few days) who are banding together to spread awareness about PMADs.  These blog posts are dedicated to Miriam Carey.

Miriam.  We know she was a mother.  We know she had her one year old child in her car.  We know that that child is now without a mother.  We know from what has been shared by Miriam’s loved ones that she was being treated for postpartum psychosis.  We know that medication was found in her Stamford, CT, home.  We know she was using her vehicle in a way that caused law enforcement to, unfortunately, shoot to kill.  We know (but far from like the fact) that they are trained to do that.  Though, I’m not sure the one who shot her feels too good about what they had to do.  This loss of life is, simply put, tragic….and the reason why my dear friend, Dr. Walker Karraa, decided to corral this blog carnival in Miriam’s name.

Anyhow, without Miriam’s doctor coming forward and confirming the actual diagnosis, let’s just say that we are going to take this opportunity—since misinformation was once again so quick to be released to the public—to educate the public about PMADs.  Postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum psychosis (PPP), and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder are some of the PMADs that exist.  They are real and they are treatable.  Problem is, all too many mothers suffering such disorders are 1) failing to seek treatment for whatever reason, 2) seeking help but are either not getting the right treatment or are getting the right treatment but not staying on it long enough for it to become effective, and/or 3) not getting enough support during recovery.

A lot of people have this tendency—a tendency that is in serious need of a reality check—to use PPD to generalize the spectrum of PMADs that exist.  It does not help anyone to report in such a fashion as to fan the embers of stigma and myths that PMAD advocates are trying so desperately to put out.  It definitely does NOT help when you have psychologists who are claiming that “postpartum depression has led mothers to kill their children.”  We know we have a lot of work to do if a psychologist is saying things like this on a show watched by over 4 million people.  Talk about taking 1 step forward and 2 gigantic leaps–not steps–backward.  Geez Louise.  Can’t the networks do a better job of finding true subject matter experts from organizations like Postpartum Support International (PSI)?  They should have PSI on their list of subject matter experts under the category of Mental Health (or more aptly Maternal Mental Health).  PSI should be the very FIRST place to consult with in times like this!

I can’t say that absolutely nothing grates me more than major news agencies spreading misinformation, because I do have a couple things that grate me more….but I won’t get into that here.  But I have to say that it angers me enough to want to do something.  Since video/television opportunities are not something I actively seek—and I’m probably the last person anyone would ever call on anyway—the only thing I can do is lend my voice today, on World Mental Health Day 2013.  Today, I join with other bloggers in a For Miriam blog carnival to try to increase the reach of getting our voices out there for the world to see.

PPD is quite a common illness.  It is experienced by one out of eight new mothers.  I am, in fact, a PPD survivor.  Many of the For Miriam bloggers are PMAD survivors.  Many of us took up blogging to try to reach other moms suffering from a PMAD and making sure they don’t suffer as much and feel as alone as we did in our experiences.  We don’t like it that there’s stigma.  We don’t like it that there are unknown numbers of women who fail to seek treatment due to this stigma.  And we definitely don’t like it when we hear about yet another PMAD-related tragedy.

Granted, information is nowadays very accessible when you search on the Internet for information and blogs about PMADs.  However, I still have yet to see posters and pamphlets in all the offices of medical health practitioners (i.e., general practitioners, OB/GYNs) in this country!  Between misleading statements made by mental health care practitioners, like the psychologist interviewed for The Today Show, plus the lack of information proactively being given to the public, we still find ourselves stuck in a similar ignorance- and stigma-filled rut that we were stuck in 12 years ago after the Andrea Yates’ tragedy.   I can’t say how disappointed and frustrated I really am.

The good that’s stemming from this tragedy is the number of advocates speaking up and sharing their subject matter expertise on PMADs, specifically PPP.

With that <clearing throat>….

AHEM, ALL MEDIA OUTLETS!  Please DO NOT continue to focus on publishing news in a rush because you want to be the first to get your article out to the public.  Ask yourselves:  Is your priority to get your headline to trend?  Or is it to serve the public well by disseminating accurate information?  Please, please, please read the For Miriam posts and please, please, please go to the below sites for ACCURATE information about PPP:

Postpartum Support International
Dr. Walker Karraa
Postpartum Stress Center (Karen Kleinman)
Perinatal Pro (Susan  Dowd Stone)

Now, as I end this post, I would like to humbly ask you to consider doing the following, as part of World Mental Health Day 2013….and for Miriam:

First, to join me in prayer for Miriam’s loved ones.

Second, to go and read as many of the other For Miriam blog posts that you can find the time to do, and share them on Facebook and Twitter to help spread the word that we will NOT cease in our quest to banish the ignorance and stigma when it comes to maternal mental health matters.

Third, if we see a mom who is in need of support, reach out to her.  Ask her how she’s doing.  If she had a baby within the past year, tell her about PSI.  She just might benefit from speaking to someone on the PSI warm line or seek local PMAD resources.  Remember that  approximately one in eight new mothers will experience a PMAD.

Our mothers matter.  Our families matter. 

Do it for Miriam.

Do it for yourself.

Do it for all the other moms out there who have suffered, are currently suffering, and may someday find themselves suffering from a PMAD.

If Only There’s Such a Thing as a Real-Time Bleeper for Ignorant Words Used in Media Re: PPD

Okay, so much for the 6 blog posts I still have yet to post.  This one now takes precedence!

The purpose of tonight’s post is to provide a wonderful example of PPD moms/survivors speaking up when they see something misleading (to put it nicely) about postpartum depression (PPD) in the media.  This time it was an article over at babycenter.com titled “Can color cure PPD?”  What?  Whoa!  Hold on to your horses.  <record scratch>  I had to do a double take, and then when I did, I realized with dismay “Oh, great! Here we go again. Another false claim to an easy way out of PPD.  A reliable cure for PPD. And yes, this time it’s in the form of….hold onto your seat….COLOR THERAPY!  All you need to do is purchase these beautifully-colored tank tops and bras, and voila, NO MORE PPD!”

Seems like all the reactions to this article in the form of tweets and blog posts occurred during work hours for me, so by the time I realized what was going on, the damage control had already been done.  The title was changed to a much more realistic and acceptable one “Can color help postpartum blues?”  Much, much better and thank you babycenter.com!  And thank you to all the individuals who tweeted, posted on Facebook, and wrote blog posts!  Look at the good that comes out of speaking up!

I feel so encouraged by this, because such concern and diligence for public awareness is of utmost importance in combating the plague that refuses to be cured….otherwise known as STIGMA.  Kudos to all the fellow stigma/myth busters and maternal mental health champions (a/k/a #PPDArmy)!  I am so, so glad to see how the growing number of PPD moms are on the alert and addressing ridiculousness like this.

This is one of my favorite tweets I spotted.  It’s by @SocraticMrMeth: “seriously. #PPD kills and @Babycenter has whipped back to the 50’s to suggest women try prettying up some, not ‘SEE A DOCTOR RIGHT AWAY’.”

I’d like to highlight the efforts of the following #PPDArmy, all of whom I know from Twitter:

  1. Amanda’s tweet: “I am disgusted that you would use #PPD to market tank tops! Way to make #PPDmoms feel no support!”
  2. Kimberly’s tweet: “I’m actually wearing neon bra and matching undies. Last time I checked I was still depressed.”
  3. Esther Dale’s comment on the babycenter.com Facebook page.
  4. Comment to the article by Lexy: “As a two-time sufferer of PPD, I opened this with genuine interest. I was then met with a somewhat bland description of postpartum depression which quickly transferred into a sales pitch for a tank top. Granted, I love clothes too, and I’d probably be very interested in this shirt otherwise. PPD is a bigger, uglier beast than that – clothes and bright colors won’t ‘cure’ it. It almost makes PPD sound like a malady a new mom can quickly overcome or ‘snap out of.’ I’m normally not one to be argumentative, but this subject hit close to home.”
  5. Comment to the article by Amanda: “As a mom currently suffering from PPD that required hospitalization, continued therapy, and meds I find it offensive that you would use PPD as a way to market tank tops…I have been an avid user of your site but will no longer be visiting. I find this as inappropriate as if the headline read Can Color Cure Cancer? No it can’t.”
  6. Comment to the article by Stephanie: “That title is offensive. PPD is not just being sad after having a baby. It’s not about the stress of the adjustment. It’s not about feeling frumpy and different. It is a medical condition that makes some women want to harm themselves or their babies. It can literally ruin the bonding between mother and child.”
  7. Comment to the article by Andrea: “I find this pretty offensive that you could even suggest that color could help postpartum blues!!! As someone who has been through ppd, I know that seeing brighter colors didn’t cure me. This makes me sad that there are women out there really struggling & may find hope when seeing a title like this then just to be disappointed. There is obviously still a lot for you to learn about postpartum mood disorders.”
  8. And of course there was Lauren, author of the My Postpartum Voice blog and #PPDChat moderator on Twitter, armed with her wit, came up with this tweet: “So we should have been prescribed a colour wheel instead of meds and therapy?”  Speaking of Lauren if you haven’t been over to her awesome post in response to this article, then please hop on over there now!  Here’s an excerpt:  “Postpartum Depression is a diagnosis. It’s not a marketing tool, people…….Dear marketers, please, do not use the term “cure for PPD” in your materials. It’s highly offensive and ultimately disingenuous to vulnerable mothers and desperate family members truly searching for successful treatment options.”

I so wish there was such a mechanism as a real-time bleep for every ignorant word used in conjunction with perinatal mood disorders.  But we are much better-equipped for handling such situations than we were just a few years ago, thanks to the #PPDArmy!

You ladies give me hope.  You ladies rock!

Stigma and Ignorance…Go Hand in Hand and a La Dee Da Dee Dum

I was on my way home from work today and thinking it wasn’t such a bad day…that is, until I stumbled across a post on Facebook.  This post made it clear there was yet again an ignorant comment(s) made about perinatal mood disorders.  I went to Twitter to see what the ruckus was about.  Someone–and I’m not going to say who it is because I feel no need to advertise her blog post and give it any more attention than it may have already gotten–put up a blog post today that poses the question of how it is that moms with postpartum depression (PPD) can use their illness as an excuse, a get-out-of-jail card, for killing their babies……okay, then…right.

[WARNING:  I realize that there are moms out there suffering from a postpartum mood disorder that should not be reading articles that will only cause them further distress.  So, if you are currently suffering from a postpartum mood disorder, you should probably wait until you are feeling more strong before reading the following post.]   

Yep, here we go again.  Another case of stigma and ignorance skipping along, hand-in-hand, with the mindset of an innocent child, with limited maturity, experience, and know-how.   A case of instinct to judge, label, hate and turn a blind eye.  The primitive reflex of wanting to see justice done regardless of what the circumstances truly are.   I could picture this blogger (and someone else who posted a comment in her favor)–and just about everyone else who is as ignorant as her and chooses to stay that way–picking up stones and wanting to hurl them at any mom whose circumstances may follow that of an Andrea Yates–who had postpartum psychosis.  Remember the recent cases of women getting stoned to death over in the Middle East?  How we were all horrified at the injustice of it all.  And yet here we are judging and passing on guilty verdicts, regardless of circumstances?

Here’s the comment I posted on the woman’s blog:

Firstly, let me just say that everyone is allowed to wonder things, especially when you don’t have any personal experience with an illness such as postpartum depression–or in the cases you cite (Andrea Yates, Otty Sanchez), postpartum psychosis–AND you’re not a medical/mental health professional.  But let’s just get something straight here.  There is a HUGE difference between postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum psychosis.  I blogged about this very thing back in Sept ’10 when certain comments–comments made out of ignorance– rubbed me the wrong way.  It’s not through your fault or the public’s fault that there is not a whole lot of knowledge about perinatal mood disorders out there.  But it’s the lack of awareness that is causing the general population to have misconceptions, which can be very dangerous.  Dangerous in that mothers who suffer from a perinatal mood disorder suffer the consequence (e.g., fear of getting help, fear of being labeled another Andrea Yates when in fact Andrea had postpartum psychosis, far rarer than PPD). And that really pisses me off.  These misconceptions cause a vicious cycle of ignorance and incorrect generalizations and assumptions–such as moms deliberately setting out to use PPD (not even the right term illness) to escape punishment for killing their babies.  Before you go running around proclaiming that the mother who is devastated by a horrible illness such as postpartum psychosis and in rare instances may kill her baby deserves to be put to death herself, become knowledgeable about postpartum psychosis.  So, please read the article by Katherine Stone (that link was provided via a tweet today), and please read this: https://ivysppdblog.wordpress.com/2010/09/17/postpartum-psychosis-know-the-facts-and-stop-judging-based-on-ignorance/

 There is a whole lot more to it than you think.

We need to open our eyes.  Really know the facts before we start labeling, judging, and hating. 

Blogging for World Mental Health Day – Blog Party 2011!

Glad you can join me as I participate in the very first blog party devoted to World Mental Health Day, hosted by PsychCentral.  I am happy to be one of the bloggers from all over the world who are coming together today to help increase public awareness of mental health concerns, and welcome to World Mental Health Day (October 10), designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to help spotlight the lack of care mental disorders all too often receive around the world.

I’d like to start my post–the original title of which was going to be Let’s Let Our Voices Be Heard: Conquering the Stigma of Mental Illness Together–by asking you what motivated you to start blogging.

  • Was it to get your thoughts out because doing so is therapeutic?
  • Was it to voice your opinion on a topic near and dear to your heart?
  • Was it in the hopes of trying to make a positive difference by sharing what you learned from your own experiences?

All three reasons motivated me to blog about the topic I am utterly passionate about: postpartum depression (PPD).  Other than sharing my own experiences and providing lessons learned from those experiences, my posts would very often address recent developments in this country, particularly as it pertains to PPD in the media (newspapers, television, Internet), legislative developments, and ignorant comments I happen to stumble across in newspapers and online.

What’s my #1 peeve?  I’ve said it before on this blog and will say it again.  Let’s say it together now:  Behavior & remarks made out of ignorance, prejudism, condescension. I have zero tolerance for any of this, thanks to my wonderful high school experience.  While growing up, I was taunted and isolated at junior/senior high school by an all-white crowd for….I’ll give you one guess.  Yep, being Chinese.  As a consequence of my teenage experiences, I am a passionate anti-bullying advocate.  I am determined to become active in my community when it comes to taking a stand against bullying.  Heck, who knows?  I may become active at the state or even federal level.  Another consequence of my teenage years–when the kids had their own cliques, didn’t like the way I looked, didn’t liked the way I dressed, and just plain looked down at me in general…I’ve become quite intolerant of behavior/remarks made out of ignorance and condescension.

Which leads me to where I stand today.  I’ve spent the past 6 years working on a book (which should be out by Thanksgiving) and the past 2-1/2 years blogging (has it really been that long already?) because of the following:

  • All the ignorant comments made by people around me—including colleagues, acquaintances, my doctors, and their staff
  • The way I was treated by my doctors
  • No one telling me about PPD in the first place
  • The lack of information that is given to the public via magazines, hospital training, doctors’ offices, and television
  • The way society makes assumptions that all mothers have smooth and easy pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum experiences

Yesterday morning, an encounter with someone I know almost threw a wrench in the day that I had planned with my daughter.  It took me until I wrote this post last night to put 1 and 2 together to figure out why in the world I was in tears by the time I got home. It’s because 2 of my 3 triggers–or actually “crushing blow” points–were pulled today.  There was a momentary lapse in my determination to stand strong against these types blows. (believe it or not, in the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a personal transformation due to an increased self confidence due to my blog, the book I’m just about to publish, and public speaking classes; at work, I’m able to let certain people/circumstances slide while in the past I would’ve been crushed). 

What were the 2 things that bothered me so much yesterday? 

  • Ignorance – I got an “okay, then” look when I told her about the topic of the book I’ve been slaving over the past 6 years…..like it didn’t matter because it didn’t mean anything to her
  • Feeling of isolation (that’s how I felt all through high school from kids picking on me, not wanting to be my friend because I didn’t dress well and because I was a shy Chinese girl) – For several weeks now, whenever this woman (and I’ve known her for over a year now and we are on friendly terms) is speaking with another friend while our 3 daughters are swimming, she has yet to introduce me to her friend (I know, I can introduce myself, but heck, it’s the principal I’m struggling with here).  I’m trying not to take it personally, but it’s tough. I always introduce someone I’m talking to if someone else I know is sitting with us. I would never ignore the 3rd person (yesterday, that 3rd person was me…very ignored) and deliberately exclude her from the conversation. I don’t think I’m being overly sensitive. I think someone is being rude here. And I really don’t need rudeness in my life, thank you very much.

Okay, now more on the topic at hand.  Postpartum depression (PPD). This has been the topic I’ve dedicated the last 6 years to my book and the last 2-1/2 years to my blog. 

If asked what the number one complication of childbirth is today, most people would probably say C-sections. One would never think that depression is the leading complication of childbirth because no one ever talks about their experience. As a result, so many cases go unreported and untreated. This is more than likely the reason why, aside from ignorance about PPD and stereotypes of motherhood, postpartum illnesses don’t receive the attention of health practitioners, hospitals, and funding for education and public awareness that they deserve.

Frankly, I’m amazed that there is still so much ignorance about PPD. That ignorance is perpetuated by the lack of information about PPD available to the public, not to mention the general unwillingness of people to talk about it. Had I known about PPD before I had my baby, I would not have suffered the way I had suffered, not knowing what in the world was wrong with me. Ignorance, or the fear of not knowing, can intensify an already bad situation exponentially. There is no need for that kind of suffering, especially at a time when a new mom should be enjoying her baby. After all, she only has one shot at experiencing her baby’s first few months.

Before my own experience with PPD, I’d never really heard much about it before. I thought it was rare. I’d heard of the occasional sad news of a stillbirth or miscarriage, but in terms of experiences after the baby’s arrival, I’d only heard women rave about how great motherhood is. I’d never heard of any terrible motherhood experiences. I never thought it would be something that would happen to me. I thought it was all a matter of mind over matter.

Had I known that as many as one out of eight new mothers develop PPD, I would’ve tried to become familiar with what it is, its risk factors, and its symptoms before having my baby, and I would’ve never traveled that long, lonely, and dark road during those dreadful weeks I was sick with PPD. But I emerged from my PPD experience much smarter and stronger than before, and for that, I am grateful.

Having PPD is so embarrassing and difficult to talk about, that most women will not tell their stories to people they know, let alone to the world. There’s this fear of being judged, criticized, and labeled as inferior mothers. Well, I am not afraid to tell my story, especially if it means helping other mothers. I want to make a positive impact by empowering women with knowledge about an illness that is more prevalent than people think.

From all the books and articles I’ve read, it appears that denial, embarrassment, and/or pride keep women from admitting they have any psychological issues. Out of curiosity to see if this holds true, and since I am unafraid of admitting to anyone, even a stranger, that I suffered from PPD, I’d try to broach the subject whenever possible to try to get a new mother to tell me she had PPD. Other than a couple mothers who thought they had PPD when in actuality they probably only had postpartum blues (based on the description of their experiences), I couldn’t find a single woman who had actually experienced PPD. Or I just didn’t find anyone who would admit that she’d suffered terribly, too ashamed to admit to having such a negative experience at a time when everyone expects her to be happy. It wasn’t until after I started blogging that I realized there are a lot of women out there who are currently suffering from or who have suffered from PPD. Perhaps it’s the anonymity that comes with blogging under, in many cases, aliases that is encouraging more and more women to speak up about their experiences.  People openly talking about their own experiences encourages others to do so as well. Whether it is via online media (blogs, discussion forums, PsychCentral, WebMD, etc.), newspapers, magazine articles, or public service announcements, we need more of this!

We should all develop a zero tolerance position when it comes to ignorance, and stigma, of mental health.  Ignorance leads to: 

  • New mothers not knowing about PPD and being blindsided, they won’t necessarily realize what they have requires medical and/or mental health care, and unnecessarily suffering feelings of shame, fear, guilt, and self-doubt come from not knowing what causes PPD in the first place. With awareness of what causes PPD and why, there would be fewer mothers struggling with such negative feelings. The belief that it’s just a mind-over-matter thing and that if they were truly a good mother they wouldn’t be feeling this way at all must be eradicated. The only way to do that is through constant hammering away the message in as many forms of media as possible that PPD is a common occurrence, that it happens more often than you know because most mothers don’t talk about their experiences, and it has a biochemical cause.
  • People mistakenly believing that PPD is the same thing as the blues and moms should be able to snap out of it, since it’s mind over matter.
  • Misconceptions, prejudices, comments and societal attitude that cause new mothers with PPD to suffer in silence and hide their condition behind smiles, unwilling to get treatment.
  • Lack of sympathy or understanding by the public because there’s just not enough being done to educate the public on what it really is (instead of inaccurate depictions of PPD in the media). Because the only cases of a postpartum mood disorder you hear about in the news are about mothers who kill their babies, the general population has misconceptions of what PPD really is. As long as women are afraid to speak openly about PPD, the longer the public at large will remain ignorant about it, its prevalence, and its seriousness. Try asking people if they realize that one out of eight new mothers suffers from PPD. I can almost guarantee that they won’t believe you. The terrible irony of the ignorance about PPD is that it will continue as long as mothers are afraid of telling others what they are going through.

We need to get to the point where the public acknowledges PPD for what it is: a real medical illness. The PPD mom deserves support, not criticism. She did not bring this on herself, nor is PPD a contrived illness. PPD doesn’t just arise out of a new mother’s failure to cope with her transition to motherhood, despite what some people who don’t know better would try to have you believe. It is not mind over matter, and she cannot just snap out of it whenever she feels like it. This should not be a negative reflection on her. PPD does not mean a woman is weaker or less of a mother than those who don’t have PPD. In fact, those who speak up about how they are truly feeling—unafraid of what others think—are brave women who are not afraid to take that first courageous step toward recovery because they realize their health is critical to the overall family’s health.

Instead of looking back with regret at my PPD experience, I look at it as an experience that has truly made me a more knowledgeable and stronger person. And that is what I hope other PPD survivors and those who are battling (and survived) depression will do. My hope is that more of you will speak up. The more that speak up about their experiences, the less ignorance and stigma about depression there will be.

You Are Perfect to Me, Says the Parent to the Child

Two songs with meaningful lyrics, by two of my favorite artists, P!nk and Bruno Mars, have been at the top of the Billboard music chart.   

Bruno’s lyrics were a remake of the original (and I love this rendition, just like I love the video…one of my favorites), with this phrase catching my attention:  “You’re amazing just the way you are,” which he tells his girlfriend all the time because she doesn’t see the beauty that he sees in her.  The lyrics go on to say “When I compliment her, she wont believe me, and its so, its so sad to think she don’t see what I see.”   Looks like some low self esteem, though I’m not too sure whether the public has been thinking that deeply about what the lyrics actually mean.  

Speaking of low self esteem, that’s where Bruno’s “Just the Way You Are” lyrics intersect with P!nk’s “F**kin Perfect” lyrics.  P!nk wrote her lyrics and created her video for a specific purpose, and it was a very emotional experience for her.   With the goal of promoting awareness and the desire to effect change, P!nk’s lyrics and video were designed to grab one’s attention, make people think and talk about the topic at hand–a lack of nurturing environment for children/teens that lead to feelings of isolation that lead to desperation and depression.  The words that grab my attention in the song are:  “Mistreated, misplaced, misunderstood…. Mistaken, always second guessing, underestimated…You’re so mean, when you talk about yourself, you were wrong….Change the voices in your head, make them like you instead.  Pretty pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel like you’re less than f*ckin’ perfect.  Pretty pretty please, if you ever ever feel like you’re nothing, you’re f*cking perfect to me.”  Click here to see the complete lyrics.

I love it when celebrities who have the platform, the spotlight and therefore the ability to attract the attention of so many people use them to try to bring attention to important topics.  Now that P!nk’s song is a #1 hit, she can pass on the message that depression is an extremely serious problem in this society, and we need to stop ignoring it and do something about it.   And it all starts with discussion.  After all, we don’t typically like to talk about things like depression, cutting, suicide and other mental health issues due to the stigma relating to all of that.   With more people speaking up, there will be an increased awareness of the problem at hand and a decrease in the stigma that has prevailed for too damn long.   People will be less bullying, more empathetic.  Less competitive, more caring. 

There are two possible tacks we can all take to address this problem (but obviously it’s the first one that is preferable): 

1.  Proactive and preventive: 

Help people understand how their actions can have serious consequences on others.  Love, nurture, provide emotional support and patience to your children.  Ahem, parents, that would be you I’m addressing this to.  See past post on teen angst and depression.  We can lower the depression rates by creating a nurturing environment for our youth and teaching them how to cope with issues head-on, building self-confidence and self-awareness, and thinking positively.   Yes, we have the power to lower the risk for depression in our youth…and subsequently, there will be fewer adults with depression..and that includes women with postpartum depression!  Granted, depression tends to be hereditary, but that does NOT mean that everyone with depression running in the family will develop depression.  The environment in which our youth grow up is KEY.

2.  Reactive and remedial: 

Ensure individuals experiencing low self esteem, feelings of isolation, and depression get the help they need right away.   Be educated enough to recognize the signs that something is not right, and ensure they gets the help they need immediately.  DO NOT WAIT and think that things will resolve on their own because they WON’T.  Today, we are in dire need when it comes to improvements in mental healthcare.   Former First Lady Mr. Rosalynn Carter’s book “WITHIN OUR REACH: Ending the Mental Health Crisis” is a must read if you want to get a better understanding of the reality of our mental healthcare system as it stands today.  I’m sure there are many other books that can be read about this, but her book was the only one I’ve read (she signed my copy of it at the Postpartum Support International and Marce Society conference I attended last October).  It’s a quick read and  does a very good job summarizing today’s state of affairs.

I wanted to bring to your attention an excerpt of P!nk’s message regarding the reasons behind her lyrics and video (and I’ve chosen not to embed her video in my post because if you haven’t seen it yet, it can be very triggering):

“Cutting, and suicide, two very different symptoms of the same problem, are gaining on us. (the problem being; alienation and depression. the symptoms; cutting and suicide). ….Its a problem, and its something we should talk about. We can choose to ignore the problem….but that won’t make it go away…..I support the kids out there that feel so desperate/numb/powerless, that feel unseen and unheard, and can’t see another way.. I want them to know I’m aware. I have been there. I see them. Sometimes that’s all it takes.” 

Amen, P!nk, Amen!  I know you were writing these lyrics with your own baby in your belly in mind, and you want to be sure your child grows up in a warm and loving environment….one in which you yourself didn’t have.  I am going to ensure that my daughter has a much different experience than I had when I grew up.

What Do Pregnancy Loss and PPD Have in Common?

On Facebook yesterday, I stumbled across a link to an article on Babble.com titled “Suffering in Silence — How One Woman Coped With the Loss of Her Baby.”  It is truly one of the best written articles on pregnancy loss–in this case, miscarriage–I have ever read.  In reading the article I couldn’t help but be reminded of how I felt after my ectopic pregnancy and when I found out the twin to my daughter didn’t make it past the second month of pregnancy.

UNNECESSARY TABOOS

So, what do pregnancy loss and PPD have in common?  Well, to start with, both seem to have become through the years taboo topics that you rarely hear others bring up on conversation….least of all by those who are in the process of grieving their pregnancy loss and those who are suffering from PPD.   The only people you would be willing to share such a private matter with are certain family members and close friends.   Ironically, it’s at times like this that you need support the most.   Grieving in private, which is what I did when I suffered both my losses, only increases your risk for depression.

THE NUMBERS…YOU WOULD NEVER KNOW

Second, because people don’t talk about their experiences, society as a whole really has no concept of how frequently pregnancy losses and PPD occur.   The author, Jody Pratt, points out:

“An estimated one in seven pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Each year in the U.S. alone, over 700,000 babies don’t survive to be born. Millions of people must be mourning them. So, where are they?  ‘The only tradition our society does have regarding miscarriage is that you’re not supposed to talk about it.'”

As for PPD, an estimated one in eight new mothers experience it.  So, where are they all?  Before I had PPD myself, I hadn’t heard squat about it from anyone I knew.  After I had PPD, I’ve only come across a handful of those I personally know that mentioned their own experiences to me.  Believe me, they are out there.  Thanks to the stigma of mental health and lack of awareness, all too many moms suffering from PPD continue to keep their experiences to themselves, not knowing that what they have is a true illness and there should be no shame associated with feeling the way they do.

ANOTHER CONSEQUENCE OF THE TABOOS

Another consequence of people not talking about their experiences is that people have no real concept–not unless they, of course, have firsthand experience themselves–of what it’s like to lose a baby during pregnancy, regardless of how early in the pregnancy the loss occurred.   Comments that either I or others receive in reaction to the news of pregnancy loss lean in the direction of “Just keep trying….you’ll succeed.”  “At least this happened now rather than later on in the pregnancy, after seeing your belly growing and feeling the baby kicking and moving and feeling your love for the baby growing daily.”  You wouldn’t think that it would be possible to feel an emotional connection within the first few weeks of pregnancy, since there is nothing about an embryo that resembles a baby yet.  For me, even the few weeks during my first pregnancy was more than enough time to become emotionally invested.  When I found out it had to be terminated due to what they referred to as an ectopic pregnancy, I was devastated.   Then, when I lost the twin to my daughter at two months, I cried on and off for a few days but forced myself to move on because I couldn’t risk having my grief jeopardize my pregnancy. 

When it comes to PPD, unless you’ve been through it yourself, it’s hard to really know what the PPD mom is really going through.  All people know is that having a baby is supposed to be a happy time and you only really see happy moms.  So, when a mom who is suffering from PPD isn’t glowingly happy but instead is suffering from PPD, comments she receives may tend to send like the following:  “You have the healthy, beautiful baby that you’ve always wanted.  What more could you want?  How could you not be happy?  Pull yourself together…your baby needs you.  All new moms go through this after having a baby.  It will pass on its own.  You’ll be fine in no time.”

BREAKING THE CYCLE

Parents who grieve should speak up more.  Though, with the reactions they get from even the most well-meaning of family and friends, it’s no wonder people want to keep their grieving to themselves.  It’s also no wonder that most expectant parents do not tell anyone about their pregnancies until the end of the first trimester, because there is a greater likelihood for pregnancy losses to occur during that time.  As a consequence, if you do (God forbid) experience pregnancy loss, you automatically end up suffering in silence because people didn’t even know you were pregnant to begin with.  Being as risk-averse as I am and prone to believing in “jinxes,” you better believe my husband and I didn’t tell anyone at all about my pregnancy until the first trimester was over and I didn’t tell colleagues until I could no longer hide it from them at around 6 months!   I grieved in silence after both of my losses because they occurred before the first trimester was over.

At the same time, family members and friends should learn how to support grieving parents better.  Maybe take some sensitivity training or something.  Learn that keeping what you say to a minimum–in this case, LESS IS MOST DEFINITELY MORE–just your being there for the grieving parents and offering a listening ear (if they ask you) and avoid offering advice especially if you’ve never suffered a loss like this yourself.  Read up on articles such as the one Katherine Stone had previously written up that provide suggestions on how to support someone who is grieving.  Follow the blogs I list under Pregnancy Loss/Infertility Websites & Blogs.  It would also help tremendously for people to know that there are many others who are going through–or have gone through–pregnancy loss (or PPD).  I mean, look at the numbers!   Articles like this one written by Jody Pratt should be accessible via pregnancy books, magazines, and newspapers.  In all forms of media that expectant parents would have easy access to.  As I mention in prior posts, the best place to obtain non-judgmental emotional support is a therapist that specializes in pregnancy loss (or PPD).   Doing so is an investment in your mental health down the road as you embark on future pregnancies that will one day, hopefully, be successful.

PREGNANCY LOSS – A RISK FACTOR FOR PPD

Finally, negative life events related to childbearing–e.g., history of and unresolved grief associated with pregnancy loss (previous stillbirth, abortion, miscarriage) and  multiple failed IVF cycles are a significant risk factor for PPD.  There is a lot at stake emotionally with the baby that is conceived after years of trying, possibly with the help of IVF and after failed attempts/cycles and perhaps even miscarriages.  Click here and here for more info.

Start off 2011 by Saying “No” to Sensationalistic Media

Wishing you a Happy & Healthy 2011!

I was hoping to find inspiration in and blog about something positive to start the new year off on a pleasant foot, but…..Katherine Stone’s blog post today was about one of my all-time favorite topics–media using their spotlight to help spread misconceptions about postpartum mood disorders–and that got me going.  I can’t help but be dismayed, to say the very least, that Time magazine has struck out again as far as editing their content about a postpartum mood disorder (PPMD) before publishing is concerned.  

What did they do this time?  Well, in the article titled “Study: Depression, Fear of Abandonment Can Lead Moms to Kill Babies,” the author Bonnie Rochman uses the words “mad mommies” and “psychotic nut jobs.”  C’mon now….are these words really necessary?  I wish I could tell her and other authors like her to try being realistic rather than trying too hard to grab people’s attention.   There’s simply no need for that.  It’s articles like this that, though the author no doubt thinks she’s doing a huge favor by publishing an article in the health section and educating the public, she’s doing quite the opposite.   Articles like these in a magazine like Time–and we’re not even talking about the National Enquirer or some other gossip mag–only serve to scare new moms out there from getting the help they so desperately need.  It’s this fear of being viewed as “nut jobs” that only contribute to all the moms out there who are falling through the cracks, struggling with a PPMD but going undiagnosed and untreated and sometimes leading to disastrous consequences. 

Thanks, but no thanks for keeping the stigma of mental health going, Ms. Rochman.  Time Magazine, when are you going to help, rather than hinder, progress when it comes to public awareness and education about PPMDs, sticking with the facts and nothing but the facts (i.e., sans sensationalistic terms)?  

For all you PPMD survivor mamas out there–and family members who have seen you suffer and emerge from the dark and desolate tunnel of your experience–please, please, please do your part to help raise awareness.  As I’ve mentioned many times before, be an advocate.  Speak up.  Don’t be afraid to share your stories with your family, friends, neighbors and colleagues.  Don’t be afraid to comment on these articles that incorrectly portray PPMDs, and even submit letters to media outlets that put out articles like this.  If you hear remarks like this being said by those around you, don’t be afraid to provide your honest opinion that comes from experience.  You PPD survivor mamas have what most of these authors and people in the media don’t have…..firsthand experience of what it’s truly like to suffer from a PPMD.  And DON’T YOU FORGET IT!

Depression and Teen Suicides….It WILL Get Better

I’m on a real roll right now with 3 blog posts in < 1 week!    Well, what has spurred me to post today is an article titled “Experts fear copycat suicides after bullying cases” by Geoff Mulvihilli (AP) that I came across today concerning the recent teen suicides….6 since Tyler Clementi’s suicide on September 22, 2010.  I am digressing from postpartum depression in that I am blogging about teen suicides, though suicides do occur in cases of postpartum mood disorders (PMDs) as well.   I did blog about teen suicide once before, and in that post, I wrote about what makes girls more prone to depression once they hit puberty.

The circumstances that led to Tyler’s suicide were disturbing, despicable and disgraceful.  The lives of those involved will never be the same, ever.  The good that will come out of Tyler’s story is the realization that something must be done to put an end to bullying that has always occurred among our youth but its effect has become all the more deadly thanks to the Internet and other social media tools, whether it be live video streams (as in Tyler’s case), chat rooms, texting, or Twitter.  President Obama and celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres have made public appeals.  The Trevor Project’s “It Gets Better” campaign has been very active in the past couple of months in reaching out to teens and providing them with resources and hope.   States that hadn’t previously had anti-bullying laws have since either put them into place or are in the process of putting them in place.  There are now only 5 states with no anti-bullying laws.  Click here for state-specific legislative details. 

Click here for a Photo Essay of the victims of bullying just from this past year.  If these pictures don’t make you want to try to help stop bullying, I don’t know what will.  Having been a victim of bullying, you bet I will do whatever I can to help spread awareness and join any campaigns against bullying.  From the time my daughter reaches first grade until she graduates from high school, I will be involved in anti-bullying matters at her school.  And if there isn’t any anti-bullying policy in place in her school when she’s there–or at the very least counselors adequately trained to recognize signs of depression and know what to do when there is bullying going on–I sure as heck will do what I can to make sure one is put in place.

Per the article, Laura McGinnis, spokeswoman for The Trevor Project, said that her group’s crisis hotline has seen a 75% increase in calls and an increase in requests from schools and community leaders for “survival kits” since Tyler’s death.  I’d like to highlight what Ms. McGinnis said with respect to–and this applies to all individuals who are troubled and in need of someone to talk to–crisis intervention:

“It’s important for people who are feeling suicidal to know where to turn to for help, whether it’s a hot line, a friend or a hospital.  There are people out there who can help you, who are willing to listen.”

Says Ann Haas, director of prevention programs at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

“If youth are struggling with depression, the impact of bullying can be quite different than if they’re otherwise emotionally healthy.”

And this, folks, is the one very big distinguishing factor between how different teens handle situations like bullying, teenage angst and/or a dysfunctional family.  When I saw a Facebook comment a few weeks ago from one of my “friends” who happens to be in high school how he could never, ever feel down enough to hurt or kill himself despite all that he had to put up with in high school, so what’s up with the new trend of teens killing themselves instead of dealing with their problems, I had to speak up.  I basically said that one who has never suffered from depression will never understand what it’s like to be depressed–to feel so alone, worthless, and desperate enough to want to end it all.   Just like this article says, it’s not just one factor (i.e., bullying) that may lead an individual to thoughts of suicide.   There is a whole lot more to it.  Personality (i.e., self esteem), the way a person was brought up to deal with issues, and support system among family/friends (or lack thereof) all have a lot to do with it.  People need to open their eyes to see when someone in their lives isn’t himself or herself, could use someone to talk to and provide a shoulder to lean on, and needs a hotline/warmline and/or professional help.

I am going to now draw a parallel with PPD here.  Moms who have never had a PMD will never understand what it’s like to have a PMD.  That’s a fair statement to make, but it shouldn’t keep people from becoming educated.  From opening their eyes.  From forgetting the dumb stigma that’s associated with depression, especially depression occurring after childbirth.  From forgetting the even dumber motherhood myths.  From recognizing when something is not right with a new mom and helping her to seek professional help.   From recognizing when a call to 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is needed.

What we all need to do is to become educated on symptoms of depression in the people in our lives and know what to do to help.   Everyone deserves help and support.  With the right help and support, any situation that’s troubling an individual can and WILL pass.  As the Trevor Project motto goes “It Gets Better”…..it really does.

Here are some important Suicide Prevention Resources:

When Will Clueless Comments about PPD Stop?

Wow, 3 posts in a row!  What inspired me to write at 12:30 AM on a Friday night?   Something irked me.  Irked me real good…or bad, actually.   Wanna guess?  Oh, the title gave it away?  Darn.  Well, let me just tell you then.  I ran into some more ignorant comments about PPD just now, which got my blood boiling. 

I am just going to highlight this one in particular because it just shows how a person who’s NEVER BEEN DEPRESSED AND THEREFORE HASN’T GOT A CLUE WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE DEPRESSED can let such words come out of her mouth without realizing the impact such ignorance has on moms who have suffered or are currently suffering from a postpartum mood disorder: 

I have hypothyroid and if I don’t take a thyroid pill everyday…I’m exhausted like I haven’t slept in weeks. As a mom, [exhaustion and sleep deprivation don’t] stop me from loving my child and taking care of her.  I know I’m not going to let my condition get in the way of my parenting.

Excuse me?  You KNOW you’re not going to let your condition get in the way?  You think a mother just brings PPD upon herself?  You think a mother (like me) who’s dreamed of having a baby–only to have those dreams come crashing down a few weeks postpartum with the sudden and unexpected onset of  PPD symptoms–brings these symptoms upon herself and she has full control over them?   All of a sudden, she can’t sleep, she can’t eat, she may have panic attacks, she is completely and utterly debilitated, she can’t smile, she can’t function, PERIOD, and there are those like you who question whether there is a physical/biological basis to these symptoms?  Well, I’d say not sleeping, not eating, and not being able to function–even if it entirely the desire of the new mother to do all that plus take care of her baby–are all physical/biological issues.  PPD is NOT a mind over matter kind of thing.   

Society overall uses the word depression in the context of a state of mind where “sad” and “depressed” are interchangeable, which feeds the misconception.  Misunderstood not just by the public at large, but by medical professionals, and largely because there is no singular cause.  Though the word “depression” implies a mental condition that impacts a person’s thoughts and feelings, its symptoms—caused by a combination of biological and psychosocial factors—are physical, affecting the way a person eats, sleeps and functions.

I’m going to end with these last few thoughts.  Get real, lady.  It’s comments like yours that contribute to the stigma keeping mothers out there suffering in silence.  Until you have experienced PPD for yourself, keep these types of comments to yourself and stop judging others.   Just remember that PPD is the #1 complication of childbirth.  That is not a fictional statistic.  No one is immune, not even you.  It just might do you some good to become familiar with what PPD is REALLY about.   You never know if you or someone you know may end up with PPD one day.  Read some of the blogs out there that belong to PPD survivors.  Read some books.   Become educated and do us all a favor and stop saying and thinking those ignorant things!

AOL News and Other Media Outlets: When Are You Going to Get It Right?

So, I’m at work this morning and all of a sudden I get wind through an alert from Kat Stone regarding another public media screw-up, this time in the form of an AOL article on Shaquan Duley, the mother accused of killing her 2 year old and 18 month old sons in what they are indicating was a staged accident reminiscent of the Susan Smith incident that took place back in 1994 (can’t believe it was that long ago!).  Well, this article contained references to postpartum depression (PPD), and boy, was the article a MAJOR BOO-BOO, FAUX PAS, GAFFE.  Get the picture?

I was at work during all of this, and as such, I couldn’t read any blog posts, comment on any blog posts, tweet, or put up my own blog post.  I had to wait all day.  It’s now after 8 PM, nearly 12 hours after this all went down, and finally getting to really tweet anything or post comments on blogs.   And I had to wait until my daughter went to bed before writing this post.  It was NOT easy for me to have to wait when my entire being wants me to do it right then and there! 

In a relatively short period of time, with fast and furious tweets and the speed at which blog posts were put up by many bloggers soon thereafter, AOL got the hint.  Within 1-1/2 hours, it pulled all reference to a crime profiler by the name of Pat Brown (who is she?).  Well, now many of us will always know her to be the one who made the following horrendously off-the-mark and demeaning remarks about women who have suffered or are suffering from PPD–words which should incite anger in every one of us:

Most women who suffer depression after their children are born are suffering from post-how-did-I-get-stuck-with-this-kid, this body, this life? They may be depressed, but it is their situation and their psychopathic personality that brings them to kill their children, and not some chemical malfunction.

WTF?  The first sentence implies that PPD is nothing but a “crock,” a lame excuse for not being able to cope with the new baby and motherhood.  The second sentence implies that 1) PPD moms kill their children and 2) there’s no such thing as a chemical imbalance (hello, Tom Cruise?).  Again, WTF?!  I don’t usually like to swear even in acronym form, but these remarks merit such a strong reaction on my part.  Pat Brown, where have you been all these years?  A cave?  Because you seem to be stuck in prehistoric times.  Why does everyone have to think “Here’s another Andrea Yates” –who by the way had postpartum psychosis, not PPD–every time there is news about a mother who hurts or kills her young children?   Not all moms with PPD end up hurting their children, and even among postpartum psychosis moms, that is rare.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she is an anti-pharma proponent.  It’s quite clear she’s convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that, despite the fact that pregnancy and childbirth are all about extreme hormonal fluctuations, there is nothing chemical about PPD.   I see she’s been reading up on PPD, checking out numerous books listed on the Postpartum Support International website.  NOT!

For every step forward we make in destigmatizing PPD, we fall 10 steps backward thanks to false statements such as the ones uttered by this “criminal profiler.”  I hope she has learned not to drop comments about PPD in the media ever again.  At least, not until she REALLY GETS IT.  Just as I hope that AOL News has learned not to depend on people making comments on topics at which they are far from being experts.

I was disheartened by the fact that here we have people in media–this time AOL News–publishing misinformation about such an important topic with information derived from someone they thought was knowledgeable about PPD.  On the other hand, I was heartened by the immediate response from the sisterhood of PPD survivor mamas, all speaking up about their feelings–of contempt of course–for these irresponsible remarks made about PPD.  I can’t say I’m heartened that AOL removed the contemptuous comments as quickly as they did.  I was surprised, though.  And it’s all thanks to all you PPD survivors/warrior mamas out there that spoke up.  Good for you! 

It was IRRESPONSIBLE for Pat Brown–one who has no expertise or experience whatsoever on the topic– to make these remarks.  It was REPREHENSIBLE for AOL News to quote someone like this, rather than using medical professional who is trained in diagnosing perinatal mood disorders or someone from Postpartum Support International, the largest organization in the world dedicated to maternal mental health.  Postpartum Support International’s website is a wealth of information on the latest research and legislative developments, as well as resources for anyone and everyone interested in learning more about PPD.

Here is but a partial listing of all the blog posts I have come across in response to AOL News and Pat Brown:

  1. Postpartum Progress
  2. Her Bad Mother
  3. Pretty Babies – includes unbelievable responses (two) from Pat Brown to Amy’s open letter to her (via email)
  4. Charmingly Chandler – includes unbelievable response from Pat Brown to Alena’s open letter to her (via email)
  5. Make Mommy Go Something Something
  6. Not Super Just Mom
  7. Erika Krull, Psych Central
  8.  Urban Moms DIY
  9. The Covered Wagon
  10. My Postpartum Voice

Here’s a wonderful excerpt from Her Bad Mother’s post, “The Monster in the Closet” written in response to this AOL debacle.  Please read the complete blog post as it truly hits home why media must avoid carelessly dropping remarks that are completely wrong and can be harmful to all too many people out there.  After all, isn’t it the news providers like the New York Times, CNN, etc. that are responsible for providing accurate news to inform and educate?  Mind you, I’m not talking about the National Enquirer or anything.

This is not to say that every mother who harms her child is struggling with postpartum depression, or any kind of perinatal mood disorder or non-perinatal mood disorder or depression or mental illness. This is not to say that there is no such thing as abusive mothers…..It is to say that blanket characterizations of mothers who harm their children as cold-blooded and shameful and bad – as does the horrifying, appalling article posted at AOL – can have a terribly – possibly deadly – effect on women struggling with the darkness, inasmuch at these deepen and perpetuate the shame associated with that darkness. A mom that is ashamed of what she is going through – a mom who fears being labeled ‘bad’ because she is battling darkness at a time when she is supposed to be – supposed to be! – dancing in the light – is a mom who might not admit to what she is going through, a mom who might not seek help, a mom who might not get help.

*Apparently, AOL has edited some of the original comments out of the article. That there was such an article in the first place, one that focused entirely on one ‘expert’s’ claim that mothers who harm their children are all cold-blooded criminals, is still evidence of the deeper problem that I’m speaking about here.

I’m sure there are a lot more out there that I’m not aware about through all the tweets and links I stumbled across within the past few hours.  If you’d like me to add you to the list, please let me know!

I just want to end my post with this:  I am proud to be one of the sisterhood of PPD survivors/warrior moms who have experienced the #1 complication of childbirth firsthand and truly know what it’s like to suffer from this debilitating condition.  Don’t ever let anyone who isn’t either a true expert or a survivor tell you that what you “claim” you have suffered is a “crock.”

Blogs Speak to Different People Differently

Feels like ages ago since my last post.  Anyway, I was motivated by Katherine Stone’s post from last week titled “Diverse Voices Are Important to Suffering Mothers” to write this post.   

I agree 100% with Katherine in that “Different people respond to different voices and different experiences.”  That’s why the more women who speak up about their postpartum depression (PPD) experiences, the more people we will reach–not just literally in terms of numbers and geographic locations, but figuratively in terms of being able to get through to all kinds of women.   Katherine’s Postpartum Progress blog has over the years cultivated a huge following worldwide.   She empowers women with knowledge about perinatal mood disorders.   Through the information she shares, she helps women suffering from PPD feel less alone in their experiences. 

Lauren Hale over at My Postpartum Voice and Amber Koter-Puline over at Beyond Postpartum are also wonderful examples of PPD bloggers who share the same goal as Katherine.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again….it’s these three inspiring women that have motivated me to devote my blog completely to PPD and other perinatal mood disorders.  We blog with the hope there will be fewer moms out there suffering the way we had suffered.   Though each one of these ladies has their own style and approach, they are all very focused on providing support.   

So, what’s my angle?  I always voice my own opinion on each one of my weekly blog posts.  I also voice my anger in response to ignorant comments made about perinatal mood disorders, or mental health, in general.  As some of my blog followers are already aware, my #1 pet peeve is behavior/remarks made out of ignorance, prejudism, condescension.    This comes about as a result of how I was picked on in high school.   Do I regret those days?  Sure.  But if it hadn’t been for my experience growing up, I probably wouldn’t be the way I am today, trying to tackle ignorant comments whenever they come up.  Whether they are in the form of media attempts to educate people about PPD or blog posts (and let’s not forget comments), I am going to speak my mind and point out incorrect/ignorant statements.  

My style may not be as “warm and fuzzy” as my fellow PPD bloggers, but that’s just me.  I am an analytical/scientific/logical kind of person, which comes from my being a science major in college.   My style or approach to blogging about PPD may not resonate with many of the mommas out there.  My reaction–or shall I say anger–to ignorant comments may scare some mommas away just as easily as it may attract followers.  As Katherine stated in her post:  “You may not like what someone says or how they said it, but if it helps a woman who is suffering and feels alone that’s what is important.  At least, that’s what is important to me.”  Amen, Katherine, Amen!

Not everyone is going to like my blog, as I’m sure no one blog is going to appeal to everyone.  Just like everyone is unique, every blog offers a different voice, a different experience.   Just like Katherine indicated, you can always start up your own blog, if you haven’t done so already and join the growing number of women who are speaking up about their PPD experiences.  Say it in your own way.  After all, that was the original purpose for having a blog–to keep an online diary of your thoughts and experiences.  We’ve come a long way from keeping personal diaries of one’s thoughts and feelings to be kept to yourself versus a blog, which anyone with a PC and Internet access can view in today’s digital way of life.

My latest example of tackling ignorant comments about PPD came about this past Sunday, July 4th.   All I wanted to do was search for the latest news on Georgette Massi, the woman from Mahwah, NJ, who drove drunk with 3 small children in her car less than a couple months ago.  There was this website that came up first when I did a search for her name on Google.  Well, I did what I probably shouldn’t have done, especially on a holiday as we were getting ready to celebrate with friends, which is read the comments.  There was one that had a warning flag of “Beware of possible ignorant comment and angry person behind comment.”  And what did I choose to do?  Reply to the comment with my typical FYI.  My gut was telling me that the link to my post about the possible correlation between PPD and the rise in the number of drunk driving moms (with kids under one) would spark a negative reaction, and boy, did it do that!  But I felt it was contained because the voice behind the person exchanging comments with me (not the one I addressed in my comment) sounded reasonable, relatively speaking.  Then, like 2 days later (today), while writing this post and going to the site to retrieve the title and URL (which I’ve subsequently dropped from this post because that site does NOT deserve any attention whatsoever), I did what I probably shouldn’t have done, which is check to see if there were any new comments.  Lo and behold, there was one.  And boy, was it a doozy.  This one was from the person whose comment I addressed on Sunday.   There was no reason behind it.  Just anger.  And this coming from a PPD survivor!  I couldn’t believe it.   She had blinders on and had no intention of taking them off.  Nah, she was not going to be open-minded, mature or intelligent.  There was only one way of thinking and it was all hers, as wrong as it was.  It was her way or the high way.  

Well, like I said earlier in this post, there are many kinds of people out there.  Some who survive experiences to be stronger, more empathetic people who want to make a positive difference for others.  And there are those who survive their experiences with a crapful of anger directed at everyone else, where there is no room for reasoning.  Just anger.  They don’t care about anyone else.  They don’t want to help anyone else.  Paying it forward doesn’t exist in their vocabulary.  Hey, all I can say to that is, there is such a thing as karma.  What comes around, goes around. 

Am I a masochist?  Maybe.  My friends and husband call me crazy.  What I really believe is that by tackling the comments as I see them, I am in essence tackling the stigma of mental illness.  It’s such a monster to have to tackle.  But where there’s a will, there’s a way.  And I’m hoping that with all our voices speaking up, we will chip away at the stigma so that women don’t have to continue suffering in silence, ashamed, embarrassed and not necessarily knowing what is happening to them.  And unlike what this “PPD survivor” was ranting at me, all belligerent and everything, no, not every woman with PPD is going to know she has PPD.  If that were the case we would be much ahead of where we are today!  The sad truth is that not every woman is going to know  she has PPD since everyone doesn’t know what the symptoms are.  Many women realize there’s this stigma and keep their experience unnecessarily to themselves, hiding behind a facade of smiles when deep down inside they are crying.  They want their motherhood experiences to be joyous and feel ashamed/guilty for not being able to have that experience.   And then to make matters worse, not all doctors diagnose correctly.

Be the Change, Be an Advocate, Help Other Moms

Some of you are probably thinking “Well, looky here….Ivy finally posted this.”  Yes, I know some of you who have your blog set up to receive my new blog posts have seen this title come up a few weeks ago.  I was indeed planning to post this a few weeks ago, but before I had a chance to write anything, I hit “Publish” by mistake.  And then of course another topic came along that I felt had to be published right away.  Before I realized it, a few weeks have gone by.  I finally found the opportunity to write this one up.

Why I Do What I Do

Those impassioned about certain causes usually aren’t motivated in such fashion unless they are directly impacted by a life-changing experience such as illness or death of a loved one.  It takes life-altering experiences, such as cancer, postpartum depression (PPD), or surviving the death of a loved one to motivate individuals to try to make a difference in the world and to try to help others.  Some are determined to help others by sharing their stories, like Brooke Shields, Marie Osmond, and Lance Armstrong. Others do what they never dreamed they would ever do, like run for United States Congress, which is what Carolyn McCarthy did after her husband was killed and her son was severely injured during the Long Island Railroad Massacre, and after the representative in her district voted against an assault weapons bill.  

For me, it was anger of people’s ignorance – those who were my doctors, those to whom I’ve talked and those in the media who say stupid things – that propelled me to write a book.  I was angered by the way I was treated by my doctors.  Angry for no one telling me about PPD in the first place and the lack of information that is given to the public via magazines, hospital training, doctors’ offices, and television.   Angry for the way society makes assumptions that all mothers have smooth and easy pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum experiences.   I decided I would channel all the energy stemming from my anger and do something positive and try to help others.  I would tell my story in the hopes of helping and educating as many people as possible about this silent and potentially deadly condition.  I would chronicle my experience and share the horrific feelings and manifestations of PPD that I experienced, so that others can know better what to look for.  

Determined to learn more about this misunderstood, underdiagnosed and undertreated illness, I joined Postpartum Support International in 2006 and attended two annual conferences since to network with and pick up the latest information from subject matter experts.   Each time I sat down at the computer to write more, I felt lighter and lighter.  I have never believed in keeping things to myself.  It is not healthy to keep things all bottled up.  Keeping things bottled up and keeping yourself so busy you don’t have time to think about things that are bothering you—these are popular tactics used to avoid having to deal with problems at hand.  But there is a major price to pay when it comes to doing either.  To maintain a healthy body and mind, you need to deal with the problem, rather than letting it build up over time until the brain becomes overloaded with stress, which can have mood and behavior consequences.  You need to talk about whatever is bothering you either verbally or in writing.  

I’m of the mindset that things happen in for a reason.  If I hadn’t gone down that incredibly painful path and been angered by the idiotic rantings of Tom Cruise and angered by the lack of compassion and understanding of the medical professionals with whom I sought treatment, I would not have felt impassioned about the topic of PPD and about writing a book….or blogging, for that matter.   Having my own blog has given me more courage in speaking out about my PPD experiences and what I have learned from those experiences to others. 

Be the Change

If we all adapted the attitude or belief that each individual is capable of helping to bring about change, the odds would be in our favor in terms of reducing the numbers of moms suffering unnecessarily from it each and every year, and perhaps–just perhaps–lowering the PPD occurrence rate….because and repeat after me “KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.”    If we all just sat on our tushes, waiting for the next woman to do something to make a difference, change will continue to crawl along at a snail’s pace.  Just as my experience with PPD has inspired me to write this book and set up my own blog, as well as tell people in person about my experience whenever the topic comes up, I hope your experience inspires you to try to increase awareness of this common and all-too-often ignored illness.  I hope you will feel the same urge to share your experience with others, so that in the long run, there will no longer be ignorance about PPD and as a result, fewer women will suffer this debilitating illness at a time when they should be enjoying their babies.  I hope you feel the same passion to help other mothers get access to the resources and treatment needed for a speedy recovery.

Be An Advocate

There is still too much ignorance out there about PPD.  If you are currently suffering from PPD, consider joining the ranks of PPD advocates like Katherine Stone, Lauren Hale and Amber Koter-Puline to educate others after your recovery.  Be a legislative advocate like Susan Dowd Stone, whose efforts to support the Mother’s Act sponsored by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) helped push it through recently under the Health Insurance Reform.  Join Postpartum Support International and consider being a regional coordinator to provide support and local resources to PPD moms, start a blog, create a website, advocate education to expectant parents by hospitals, advocate education to all medical school students, or travel around the country to educate others about this serious condition affecting so many women, create a PPD support group, or write a book about your experience. 

As long as society remains ignorant about PPD, the stigma associated with mental illnesses–particularly around a time that is supposed to be happy (i.e., childbirth)–will continue to keep mothers mouths shut and suffering unnecessarily in silence.  It’s unfortunate how so many mothers suffering from PPD tend to feel ashamed for not being able to cope like all other mothers around them (not realizing that many around them may also be suffering in silence).

The more PPD survivors speak up, the more people in general will know about PPD.  Then, hopefully, PPD moms will feel less afraid to speak up and seek help.  PPD survivors must come together to break down that wall of silence and fight the stigma associated with PPD.  Look how long it’s taken to get where we are today.  If we sit there and don’t do anything, do you think change will happen on its own?  Do you think research will continue full-steam ahead?   I don’t think so.  So, it’s up to us PPD survivors to make a difference for our fellow women. 

Last but not least, and I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again…..progress in destigmatization of depression and postpartum depression includes addressing ignorant remarks whenever they are heard.  Simply ignoring them won’t accomplish anything, least of all public awareness.    For all those who are PPD survivors, whenever you hear people say off-the-mark comments about PPD, speak up and be heard! 

Help Other Moms

If you are currently suffering from PPD, consider helping other moms after your recovery.  Being a warmline volunteer and/or PPD support group volunteer would be tremendously beneficial to a mother who is suffering PPD.   Just think of it this way.  Try thinking back to the time when you wished you had someone to talk to about your experience, someone who could understand what you were going through.  Wouldn’t it have made a difference had you met a PPD survivor—a mother who has been through what you are going through and who is living proof that you too will get well? 

If there is a lack of PPD or postpartum support groups near you, after you are well again, you may want to consider forming one with other PPD survivors.  We need more leaders like Jane Honickman to take initiative and more organizations like Santa Barbara Postpartum Education for Parents need to exist.  She also, incidently, founded Postpartum Support International.    Now, this is what I call BEING THE CHANGE!

Dr. Shoshana Bennett is a 2-time survivor of undiagnosed PPD who was inspired by her experience to become an expert on PPD, having published multiple books, earning multiple degrees (2 masters degrees, a PhD and licensing as a clinical psychologist), founding one of the first postpartum groups in the country in 1987, acting as former President of Postpartum Support International, helping over 18,000 women worldwide through individual consultations, support groups and wellness seminars, traveling all over the world as guest lecturer and keynote speaker, and training medical and mental health professionals to assess and treat perinatal mood disorders.  Now, this is what I call BEING THE CHANGE!

Never Ending Fight Against the Stigma of Postpartum Mood Disorders

Yanno, I wasn’t quite sure what to post this week…that is, until I saw Katherine Stone’s post over on the University of Southern California’s Reporting on Health today.   

Let me preface my post by saying that awareness is an essential prerequisite to destigmatizing postpartum mood disorders–including postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum traumatic stress disorder, postpartum OCD and postpartum psychosis.  As I’ve said before, there has been more progress in public awareness in the past decade than all the years before that combined.  However, for every 2 steps made in the right direction, the media knocks us back by one BIG step.   Yes, the media.  This is why progress has been so painfully, unnecessarily and maddeningly slow.  Nothing gets me more steamed than people who–whether they mean to or not–say things that only contribute to, rather than dispel, the stigma of postpartum mood disorders. 

You’ve seen me post about people who make ignorant comments about PPD.  You’ve also seen me post about ABC’s Private Practice’s failure at depicting PPD in an episode last February.  You’ve also seen me–along with many other PPD survivors and advocates–sign a letter that Katherine Stone wrote to address a Time article that missed its mark with respect to PPD

This time, it’s a failed attempt on the part of Discovery Channel to accurately educate the public regarding postpartum mood disorders.  As part of Discovery Health Channel’s Baby Week, it aired a one-hour documentary titled “Postpartum Nightmares.”   Personally, I feel a bit turned off by the title of this show.  I’m not sure how many viewers would want to watch something educational that has a title like that.  For the viewers who did tune in, I’m fairly confident the documentary served to confuse them more than educate them.  What do I mean?  Well, just put it this way.  Just like printed media like newspapers and magazines are all about attention-seeking headlines just to sell more copies, I believe Discovery Health Channel came up with the “Postpartum Nightmares” title to get viewers to watch the show.   Consistent with the title, there seemed to be this over-emphasis on symptoms of other postpartum mood disorders  without educating viewers of the different types of perinatal mood disorders and their respective symptoms.  The end result is that people walk away from the show thinking “Oh my gosh, if that’s what it’s like to have a baby, then I better not have one!”  Or “All moms with PPD end up either having intrusive thoughts about, or actually succeed at, harming their babies,” which is completely wrong.   The end result is no better than the vast majority of people out there who believed, or still believe, that Andrea Yates suffered from PPD–when in actuality, she suffered from postpartum psychosis. 

Katherine points out that subject matter experts on perinatal mood disorders were consulted, and three PPD surivors were allowed to tell their stories, which is all great.  But when can we expect to see a TV show, documentary, or movie that succeeds at ACCURATELY telling the public about the different kinds of postpartum mood disorders that new mothers can experience?  When are they going to forget those attention-getting headlines and sensationalistic plots and depictions based on misconceptions and stereotypes–or what Katherine points out as horror movie editing, images and music, empty rocking chair theme, zooming in on a “gleaming, sharp and serrated knife” in the woman’s hand–and focus instead on facts that are based on the knowledge of experts in the field and actual women’s stories without the temptation to exaggerate scenarios to grab the viewers’ attention. 

There are so many women out there suffering from PPD with what I refer to as “non-sensational” symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, loss of appetite, panic attacks, inability to focus, loss of interest in most of your usual activities, inability to laugh, and overall impaired functioning.   Those were my symptoms.  Those are the symptoms of many of the women whose stories I’ve read about and of those who have shared on my blog.  Why can’t media focus on these symptoms?  What have they got to lose?  Oh, wait….without a sensationalistic title or filming techniques, they would be risking a lack of viewership.  Hey, even if the usual PPD symptoms sound “boring,” I am waiting for the day that some creative, intelligent and empathetic type–one who cares more about public awareness and destigmatization of mood disorders than the revenues they generate–will depict (based PURELY on facts from experts on the topic) the real deal about the different postpartum mood disorders (including PPD, postpartum and postpartum psychosis)–in a TV show, documentary or movie…oh, and cut out the dramatic, stereotypical effects.  

I CAN’T WAIT.

Beautiful Letter to PPD from a PPD Survivor

I wanted to share this very beautiful piece about postpartum depression (PPD), written and read by Helen Ferguson Crawford to introduce a speech about depression made by a former LA Times President and Head of CNN in Atlanta.   Not only is Helen a talented poet, she’s an award-winning artist, architect, and designer living in Atlanta.  

Helen received her art and architecture education at Parsons School of Design in New York, and at Princeton University.  Her work has appeared in exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, among other places.   Helen has provided commentary for NPR, Metropolis magazine and the New York Times, and was featured as one of “30 Artists: 30 and Under” in the New York Times Magazine.

* * *

Dear Post Partum Depression,

After the birth of my daughter, you silently slipped in, and settled down.

I recovered from birth, hugged my family, and watched autumn change to winter, while you slowly grew.

You hid behind other temporary, post partum illnesses, undetected.

You fed on stress. You fed on fear, until I found myself in a black hole so deep, dark and terrifying.

The sides were wet, damp and crumbly dirt; the width of my arms.

Up far above, the sky was barely visible.

Sometimes I could feel the sun for seconds.

There in that place, I accepted that you were here.

With intense fear, I stood up and gathered my army – friends, family, therapist and psychiatrist.

But even at night, when I lay on the cool floor of my porch, listening for anything – birds, trains, wind – waiting for the anxiety attacks to stop, waiting weeks for the medication to work, waiting for sunlight, sleep and appetite to return, I knew you were not me.

Depression, you are something that happened along the way – a situation. I accept this. You do not define me.

I laugh, sleep, play with my children, talk with my husband, draw, paint, smile, pray, cry, spend days with friends and live.

I climb, inch by inch, fingers dug in the sides, pulling myself up.

Each inch I climb is a triumph. I am on this path that is life.

My light shines from within.

– Helen Ferguson Crawford

*  *  * 

I’ve had the pleasure of becoming friends with Helen over the past few months.  She constantly amazes me with not just her artistic and creative talents, but also for her dedication in seeking supporters through such social media forums as Facebook and Twitter.  She formed the FB Group – “Sign This – Post Partum Mother’s Act.”  Having gone through a serious bout of PPD and still in recovery, she is determined to contribute to positive change that is desperately needed in this country with respect to early detection and treatment of PPD, which occurs at rate of one out of eight new mothers.  That’s right, PPD occurs in approximately 15% of all new mothers! 

Helen and many other advocates for PPD education and public awareness—like myself, Katherine Stone, Lauren Hale, Amber Koter-Puline and others—do what we do because of our experiences and want to help prevent other moms from having to go through what we went through, not knowing, fearful, miserable, deprived of a joyful motherhood experience, and with doctors, friends and family members not necessarily helping or understanding due to lack of awareness.  Out of lack of awareness comes stigma.  From our experiences, came the realization that our experiences could have been minimized or prevented had we known about perinatal mood disorders the way we do today, had we been screened early enough to detect that something was wrong before our illnesses spiraled into nightmarish experiences.  We realized that what this country desperately needs are the following:  1) education and awareness, 2) increased research into effectively detecting and treating perinatal mood disorders, and 3) an increase in training of healthcare practitioners.  Without these improvements, mothers will suffer the way we suffered, or worse—families being torn apart, death of the mother and/or baby(ies).

EVERY MOTHER DESERVES TO HAVE A GOOD POSTPARTUM EXPERIENCE.  So, if you haven’t done so already, please sign the petition today in support of this long overdue legislation!

Fellow PPD Blogger’s PPD Video on WebMD

Just a real quickie from me today to share the PPD video of fellow blogger over at Beyond Postpartum, Amber Koter Puline.  It’s a great video, so please be sure to check it out!   

For those who are currently struggling with PPD, a reminder to NEVER give up hope.  You will be well again.  And once you are, I hope you will join in awareness and advocacy efforts of other PPD survivors!    With education, there will be less ignorance.  With less ignorance, there will be less stigma.  We need more PPD videos like Amber’s, more PPD blogs, more media coverage on PPD (that’s accurate) in newspapers, magazines, and television.  But what you can do that doesn’t cost a whole lot of money or effort is to simply speak up about your PPD experience.  Fear not, you are far from alone in your experience!  Remember the statistics.  One out of eight new moms–that’s 15% of all new mothers out there–experience a postpartum mood disorder.