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.

I Proudly Support the I Support You Movement

I couldn’t let World Breastfeeding Week go by without a blog post, especially since the I Support You movement is under way and quickly gaining momentum.  This is a movement I am so proud to be a part of, and I hope all mothers–currently breastfeeding versus bottlefeeding (or both), or who had previously breastfed or bottlefed (or both)–can once and for all cease and desist in the mommy wars when it comes to infant feeding choice!

I am SO glad thISL_I_Support_You_finalat I was oblivious to the extremist views at the time I was struggling to feed my baby 8-1/2 years ago.   Now, don’t get me wrong.  I was aware of all the marketing of breastfeeding paraphernalia galore that appeared EVERYWHERE I looked.   I took it all as a subliminal message that was trying to tell me that breastfeeding was the ONLY right way to feed my baby.  I had people that didn’t know me well ask me whether I was going to breastfeed my baby once she arrived.  And boy, did I want ever so badly to come out and say to these people “Um, can we all just mind our own business, thank you?”  I was of the mindset, because my brothers and I were all formula fed, that formula feeding was just as good as breastfeeding.  Granted, I know there are certain nutrients present in breast milk that can’t be 100% reproduceable in formula. And I get that breastfeeding helps with bonding.  But as I’ve said before, breastfeeding is NOT the only way to bond with the baby.  Just look at adoptive parents, for one.

But my circumstances postpartum were not good.  I did the best I could with the resources I had, the support I had, the health conditions I was suffering at the time, and the breast milk I was able to produce as a result.  I had ENOUGH problems as it was.  Fortunately, I didn’t dwell on or obsess with the fact that I failed to meet my three-month goal, which I attribute to the fact that I wasn’t into social media much at the time, and that’s probably what saved me from feeling even more of a failure.  I wasn’t on social media that could cyber bully a mom into thinking that she failed because there seems to be an overwhelming number of people who are ever so ready to attack others for their infant feeding choice.

Once I came out of my postpartum depression (PPD) journey, I was able to see the BIG PICTURE.  I was able to see that each mother has her own preferences and circumstances for choosing one way to feed over another.  Often times, things don’t work out as planned.  You start out with every intention of breastfeeding only to have some unexpected development like physically being unable to breastfeed (yes, some women just CAN’T, period, no matter how they try….and forcing a woman to keep trying until their own health and the baby’s health are jeopardized is a bad idea no matter how you look at it), or not being able to produce enough (like me and so combining pumping with formula is how the baby is ultimately fed), or developing a postpartum mood disorder so serious that medication (also like me, that may not necessarily be recommended for breastfeeding) is a must if the woman were to recover.

I marvel when I hear the success stories of women who breastfed with ease until their child’s first, second or even third birthday.  I would’ve been so thrilled if I were even able to at least reach my 3rd month target for breastfeeding.  But I didn’t.  Instead, I had to stop pumping entirely once I had to start taking medications.  Moms who have had the fortune of not only breastfeeding easily but breastfeeding the number of months they were aiming for may find it hard to empathize with those moms whose circumstances may not allow them to do the same.  They need to realize that just because things may have worked out for them doesn’t mean that everyone else is as fortunate.

Just as the saying goes “Do things in moderation,” being extremist in thinking is never a good thing. Being empathetic, especially when it comes to supporting others, is CRITICAL!  Can we all just learn to support each other, rather than tear each other down with our “My way is the right way, and you’re doing it the wrong way” attitudes?  Can we all just try to see the BIG PICTURE, rather than dwell on our approaches to parenting, infant care and feeding choices?

Please join me in this mantra:

I support a woman who breastfeeds
I support a woman who formula feeds
I support a woman who does a combination of the two

Please share widely:

Can we count on you to join this movement?

Online Support Groups for Moms

Today is the birthday of a dear friend of mine named Yael Saar.  I promised I would write a blog post on her birthday, and I am just barely making it before midnight!

Yael is an amazingly kind, supportive, gracious, and caring individual that I have had the fortune of meeting first online and then recently at the Blogher12 conference in New York City.  She is the author of  the blog PPD to Joy and the founder/leader of a Facebook support groups for moms called Mama’s Comfort Camp, a closed forum consisting of over 300 moms from around the world who provide one another with encouragement, support, reminders to be kind to ourselves and a non-judgmental ear to listen and share the ups and downs of our parenting experiences.   It’s a place where moms can vent and seek advice on a situation with which they are experiencing difficulty (i.e., in-law challenges, childcare challenges).  There have been all sorts of posts, spanning the whole range of emotions from humor, elation and excitement to sadness, anger, concern, and anxiety.  Members have been encouraged to share pictures, stories and blog posts to help them get to know each other better. Yael calls the group a “refueling station: a safe haven of self care and self kindness for moms.” Hence, the name of the group.

Until I joined this group, I had no idea just how much company I have in terms of the feelings of being overwhelmed, fatigued, uncertain and anxious.  Yes, indeed, there are other moms out there with similar experiences as me.  I just needed to know where to look for them!  I didn’t join Facebook until 2009, and my daughter was over 4 years old already by that time and I no longer felt the need new mom support any longer at that point.  It’s great to see it’s not all just about mommy wars and moms competing with moms.  There are many supportive women out there.  Ideally, you should already have some in your life that are prepared to assist BEFORE you embark on your journey to motherhood.

I learned AFTER my postpartum depression (PPD) experience that:

  1. there are PPD blogs to provide support and help you feel less alone in your experience,
  2. social support is critical in the first weeks after childbirth and there are doulas and baby nurses for those who don’t have loved ones available to help in the first weeks postpartum, and
  3. there are PPD support groups (like Lauren Hale’s Facebook PPDChat Support group and #PPDChat on Twitter at 1:30 pm EST and 8:30 pm EST on Mondays), infant feeding support groups (like Fearless Formula Feeder and Bottle Babies), and mom support groups (like Mama’s Comfort Camp).

Oh, how I wish I knew about all this BEFORE my own motherhood journey began.  I could’ve used all these resources to help feel less alone, anxious, and miserable in thinking I was the ONLY mother who felt the way I did.   While everyone else around me gave the appearance that motherhood was a piece of cake, I felt like an utter failure right from the get-go.  As part of my commitment to spread awareness about PPD, I want to also spread awareness of these online support groups that are available as wonderful resources for new moms.

I’m a Bottle Baby and I Am……a Mother of a Bottle Baby and Proud of It

As I have mentioned quite often on my blog, surviving my postpartum depression (PPD) experience has had a transformational effect on me.

My experience has:
1.  Educated me on the stigma and ignorance that exist with respect to mental health issues (and maternal mental health issues, which are of particular importance to me) in this country….and throughout the world, for that matter.
2.  Educated me on our society’s trend in the wrong direction with respect to ensuring that new mothers get the care and nurturing they need in the first weeks after childbirth.
3.  Opened my eyes to the toxic societal trends in the form of motherhood myths that cause unnecessary anxiety and unnecessary feelings of guilt and shame.
4.  Instilled a desire to help other new moms suffering from PPD (and any moms just seeking non-judgmental emotional support).

Speaking of  toxic societal trends, there are quite a number of them, the latest of which has the Breast is ALWAYS the Best fanatics behind it….brings to mind the far-right views on abortion (no exceptions, even for rape or incest), but I won’t go into that here.  This fanatical thinking that breast is ALWAYS the best–despite congenital/neonatal issues, childbirth complications (like mine), needing to take PPD meds to recover in order to BE a mother to your baby (like me), and the list goes on–needs to cease and desist!

Year of the Dragon – 2012

When it comes to the mental well-being of a new mom, I am ever so mindful of the stigmas, ignorance, attitudes, beliefs, myths, etc. that have a toxic impact on a new mom.  The dragon in me comes out (picture me with fire coming out of my mouth) and  I get VERY IRRITATED by the things I come across– whether it be from discussions I overhear (or have with people), articles/posts/comments I read on the Internet, or hear in the news–that have to do with any toxic ways of thinking.  Hence, much of what I post are my reactions to the good and the bad–there is unfortunately more of the latter out there. 😦

In the past few months, I joined these two wonderful Facebook groups for moms:  The Fearless Formula Feeder and Bottle Babies (Brisbane, Australia).    I wish I had such resources when I was having trouble breastfeeding over 7 years ago!    The ladies who make up these two groups are truly amazing, and I respect them so much for their dedication in helping new moms and providing them with non-judgmental emotional support.  Together, they recently released this video titled “I’m a Bottle Baby and I Am…..” that I would like to share with you:

“[How] you fill your [baby’s] tummy is not as important as how you fill their heart, mind and spirit.”
– Bottle Babies

Amen!

I’m such a new member of these two groups that I missed the opportunity to contribute to this video.  Well, anyway, here’s a picture of both me and my daughter as examples of two healthy, bottle-fed individuals with good heads on our shoulders.  🙂