Category Archives: advocate

A Different Breed

She sighs, in the dark, as her baby snuggles closer to her neck, his chubby fists opening and closing as he exhales and relaxes his body with a small whimper. She waits, supporting him, waiting for that moment when the weight of sleep brings a random tingle or two to her forearm. Stands up slowly, using muscles in her thighs to lift her upper body as she does so, careful to not a muscle touching her now sleeping infant. Eyes flutter shut as she puts one foot in front of the other, heading for the crib. Baby shifts, stutter sighs, and moves, nuzzling further into her neck. She moves her hand to the back of his head, rubbing it softly as she hums their song.

She manages to lay him down and leave the room. As she crawls into bed, her calves sink into the mattress first, then the exhaustion surges upward until her eyes slam shut until morning, all of an hour and a half away when she will wake up to a hungry baby, a dog with a full bladder, and a toddler who has probably strewn cheerios over half the house because she needed to feed the dog.

Motherhood.

It changes us.

Mentally.

Physically.

For some, motherhood is a warm field on a sunny day filled with laughter, babbling brooks, playful deer, and an intoxicating joy.

For others, motherhood is a dark room in the bottom of the keep, covered with bars, the key well beyond our reach. We fight, we scream, we rage against the thick door but it won’t budge. We see the warm field in the sun from the window a the top of our room and long for it – long to talk walks with our little ones as the sun beats down upon our faces and a smile spreads across our face but instead, we are trapped inside our own special hell.

Motherhood without a mental illness is not the easiest road to tread, either. Heck, life in general requires some level of tenacity. One of the most frustrating things I am faced with is not discounting the struggles that each of us go through – respecting the journey of every single mother without demeaning the journey of another. And yet, it’s my goal.

Over the past several years, I have been privileged enough to meet some of the most amazing and resilient parents. Parents who fight for themselves, for their children, for their relationships, for life. Parents who work through even deeper hells than I can even imagine and still manage to parent their kids, all the while, worrying about how their experience will affect their kids, their marriage, their jobs, their lives. Yet, every morning, they wake, get out of bed, and take another step forward toward healing, even if they are absolutely exhausted.

A friend of mine posted on FB a quip about hockey players being a different breed. He was commenting on Rich Peverly’s alleged desire to get back into the game despite having experienced a cardiac event on the bench. Any other sport and the player wouldn’t be thinking about getting back in the game, right?

The same is true of mothers battling against mental illness, whatever form it may take for them. We want to get back in the game. We want to play, we want to laugh. We want to be free to just…be…without the burden or restraint of our mental health on our souls. This is why we cherish the good days and wade through the bad ones. Why we hold on so tightly to every single glimmer of hope crossing our hearts.

We are a different breed.

We aren’t worse.

We aren’t better.

We’re just different and we want to be loved for who we are, not what you think we should be or could be.

We just are.

Love us anyway?

On Walking Through Life as a Postpartum Mood Disorder Survivor

I had a very interesting discussion yesterday as part of an interview with a woman who is putting together a proposal for a book about Perinatal Mood Disorders. Both of us struggled with PP OCD and for the first time, I think we nailed it when we discussed how Postpartum becomes part of your life, even after the initial “crisis” phase passes.

You see, struggling with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder affects your entire life. It affects how you function, how you relate to everyone and everything around you, and it ultimately changes your outlook on life. This change, this transformation, at least for me, is directly related to know just how far down I slid when it struck me from out of the blue the first time around.

Diagnosis is one of the first steps toward healing. Diagnosis leads you to help and regaining your footing on the proper path. We all walk different paths and for some of us, our diagnosis becomes our mask. For others, it becomes just one part of us. Or for others, it becomes the very definition of who we are as a person, a mother, and whatever else we are…some become the personification of a PMAD. One of the things we hit on is how women who do not define themselves completely as their diagnosis find it easier to heal because for them, it’s essentially a broken leg instead of a full body cast if that makes sense. It doesn’t take as long to heal just one part vs. the whole thing. Even then, there are always mitigating factors affecting the pace of individual healing.

When you fight back, you develop coping mechanisms to pull yourself through. These look different for everyone and depend on how defined you allow your sense of self to be by the diagnosis of a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder. It is also important to note that these coping mechanisms may continue to be part of your life for the remainder of your days. It takes 21 days to develop a new habit. Therefore, it makes sense that if you continue something for longer than 21 days, it will become a habit. Whether this habit is healthy or not is up to you and your physician to decide. If it’s minor, no worries. But if it affects your normal day-to-day functioning, it might be time to evaluate things and consider breaking this “habit” as it isn’t healthy.

Do I still carry some of my OCD habits with me from my Postpartum days? Absolutely. But I know they are not a sign that I am still fighting the beast. They are there because they were a part of who I was for a very long time. There are still signals that speak to me and let me know that I am spiraling down the dark path once again, however. My habits tend to increase and begin to interfere with my day to day living when this happens. For instance, I will obsessively brush my hair, stop listening to music, and start looking for things to be upset about if I start to feel overly stressed. Learning to recognize these is a huge leap forward and learning to accept that little quirks you developed with Postpartum are just that, quirks, is also a huge leap forward.

Today was a huge milestone for me. I cleaned and organized the entire first floor of our town house because it needed it, not because I needed to do it. Yes, the clutter was bugging me but not to the point that it made me twitchy. To clean and not “need” to clean felt fantastic. In fact, I’m sitting here, basking more in the accomplishment of having cleaned NOT because of my OCD and because it needed it than in the fact that the downstairs (including the front closet) is completely spotless.

Our habits stay with us after Postpartum because we have immersed ourselves in them for so long as a coping mechanism. Sometimes we have thoughts that carry us back to those dark days and it is important to recognize them as such – just thoughts, not an actual fall back into the dark hole (unless they persist for more than a week or two – then you may want to seek help). Some of us may move on to a deeper, lifelong diagnosis of a daily fight against mental health. But the thing to remember is that you are YOU. You are not your diagnosis, you are not your habits. You are YOU and YOU are amazing, even when it is darkest.

A Simple Dream

A mum in the UK recently took her own life. Fellow PPD blogger Ivy Shih Leung wrote a very long and insightful piece about it here.

While I have not read anything beyond Ivy’s piece, I want to address one of the issues Ivy touches on in her post. For me, it is one of the primary reasons women who struggle with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder still fight so desperately with reaching out for help and then with actually receiving the proper help.

Our battle has multiple levels. Were PMAD’s a video game, we would have to survive level after harrowing level before finally reaching a properly educated doctor or therapist. Some of us may be lucky enough to skip all these harrowing levels but for most of us, we are destined to fight with all we have while we don’t have much just to get by in a world expecting us to be super mom while we are at it.

First, we have to fight with ourselves to acknowledge that there is a problem.

Then, we fight with loved ones for help with every day tasks and with reaching out for help.  We fight the argument that we are “faking” or “pretending” just to get out of housework or parenting. We are, some of us, told to suck it up and get over it. Move on. We’ll fall in love with our children eventually. Worse yet, some of us are told depression is some sort of luxury the former generations did not have time with which to deal.

Next, we fight with the front desk folks at the doctor’s office who may tell us such things as “If you’re not suicidal, don’t call us until you are.” (And yes, shamefully, that DOES happen in real life).

We then level up to arguing with a doctor who may brilliantly tell us that our hormones should be back in order by now so of course it can’t be Postpartum Depression despite the fact that we just admitted several high risk symptoms to them. So we are referred to the therapist who calls and reschedules until we are exhausted and cancel altogether.

So we suck it up and try to make do on our own until the next baby when we completely fall apart and start the entire routine all over again. Only this time around, there is a little less resistance from family members and friends because they have seen you go through this before and realize that maybe, just maybe, she isn’t making it up this time around.

But we have to stay off the Internet because it’s a dangerous place for a woman with a PMAD to be – we will be judged for breastfeeding while taking medication or for giving formula because we have to medicate. We didn’t try hard enough to protect ourselves, there is something wrong with us. Damn straight there is something wrong with us – it’s an illness, it’s real, and it is hell.

Psychiatric stigma is bullshit. The divisiveness motherhood brings to a woman’s life is bullshit. Hell, sometimes just being a woman altogether is bullshit. Why we judge each other so harshly for our choices is so beyond me I don’t even know how to begin to understand why we do this. I’m serious – I truly do not understand the in-fighting or bickering.

It comes down to understanding one simple truth:

Each mother needs to do what is best for HER and for HER family. As long as she is doing just that, we do not need to judge, we do not need to place blame, stigma, guilt, or any other negative blanket upon her or her family.

The Internet can be a fabulous place for support if you end up surrounded by the right people and ignore the wrong people. It’s finding the wonderful people that is the challenge.

I have a simple dream, in closing. It’s a dream that one day, mothers of all sort of different beliefs, will be able to have a discussion about parenting without inadvertently reducing each other to panic attacks and/or tears because they’ve judged someone for doing something outside the realm of *their* comfort zone.

One day, right?

veteran-infographic

When You Thank A Vet

Today marks Veteran’s Day here in the United States. It’s a day we set aside to honor those who have fought so valiantly for our country.

With the advent of technology, reaching out to Veterans to declare your support is easier than ever before. Businesses, organizations, individuals – everyone is sending a shout out to Vets today. It is amazing to see the support flowing forth.

But.

I think there is an aspect we often forget about as we reach out to give our thanks to the vets who have fought for us through service in various branches of our military.

It is important to remember they are human too. They have emotions, reactions, and they too, are remembering their journey in their own way as we lavish them with praise and appreciation.

Some may struggle with PTSD. Others are lost in thoughts of brothers in arms lost to battle. Others contend with the idea that those who thank them for all they have taught them are themselves the teachers and worthy of praise.

We forget, all too often, I think, the intense emotional aspect of war. The toll it takes on all of us. Perhaps this is because best summed up by this quote:

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Is war something we are unable to closely associate with human emotion because of the very nature of it? Is battle too fierce? The fighting too gruesome? Do our psyche’s not allow us to carry the traumatic alongside the sensitivity? Is this our brain’s way of protecting us from an emotional overload? Or is it because the majority of soldiers for so long have been men and therefore not allowed to operate as anything less than robotic?

We do not broadcast our losses on the evening news as often as we should, a point made in this deeply moving post about a citizen sharing a last flight home by a soldier. Instead, we relegate ourselves to separation from the tremendous loss and focus instead on the reunions of soldiers with loved ones. We are not acknowledging, in my humble opinion, the steep and tragic cost associated with prolonged battle. The loss, the heartache, the raw emotions steeped in battle and drenched in blood shed against tyrants who dare to threaten our freedoms, are far too great for humanity to bear.

We, for whatever reason, do not often equate humanity with soldiering. Empathy and compassion fails to mesh well with the ferocity of battle. So when soldiering and emotion intersects, as it often does on Veteran’s Day for so many, it can be triggering. It may leave some feeling overwhelmed and not knowing quite how to deal with the gratitude flowing their way.

It is not like Christmas or Thanksgiving. We are not celebrating, we are honoring. There are no gifts or celebratory meals. Instead, there is quiet recognition and thoughtful consideration of all that our veterans have sacrificed. Like anything else, we all choose to do this differently for it is intensely personal for those of us who have a veteran in our lives. Whether they be brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, grandfathers, or grandmothers, how we choose to honor their memories is as unique as a snowflake which falls with the first snow.

We may choose to honor them quietly or we may make a public statement. For me, today, I am wearing my grandfather’s tag and will probably at some point watch Mister Roberts, a movie I used to watch with my grandfather quite often. Both of my grandfathers served in the Navy in WWII and although they never spoke of it with me, I knew they carried their experiences with them, as all veterans do. Military service is a part of their souls and the very fiber of their beings. Once you have served, there is rarely a time when you can untangle soldier from human. Therein, in my opinion, lies the challenge in coming to grips with the flow of gratitude on Veteran’s Day.

I only saw my grandfather cry once – when we were at a play meant to raise funds for the WWII D-Day Monument. As the telegraph notifications came in reporting the deaths of the soldiers in Bedford, Virginia, the hall went completely silent. Deeper than an audible silence; the kind of silence which envelops a room when there is great respect for what is occurring. I glanced over at my grandfather at this point to see his cheeks soaked in tears. I quickly looked away and struggled to hide my own flooded cheeks shortly thereafter. We never spoke of these tears but I never forgot them for they symbolized the emotional depths of war for me and always will.

For many, in particular those who have seen war since 2001, today is different. The memories are recent, the pain is ongoing, and they have joined the Greatest Generation in knowing the pain of war. Yes, the pain. War is not some glorified wonderful thing. It is not the Hollywood version where there is a rise to action, action, and then a conclusion. It’s messy, it rips families apart, it pushes soldiers to their limits and back again, and if they’re lucky, they get to come home, alive and still intact both physically and mentally. For all too many, this is not the case, and their wounds may not be visible to the eye.

veteran-infographicSuicide rates among soldiers, for the first time ever, outnumbers the deaths occurring in active combat. There is PTSD, and number of additional other issues which, again, because of technology and advancements in mental health awareness & medicine, are now at the forefront of the adverse affects of war. Women who are deployed face a higher risk of Postpartum Depression which in turn, affects an entire generation. War truly leaves a mark on every one of us, both on and off the battlefield.

So today, when you thank a veteran, particularly a younger veteran, take the time to embrace that they may be filled with emotions they may not be ready for today as a result of the onslaught of gratitude. Take the time to realize that these brave men and women have lost loved ones, brothers in arms, and they are replaying this in their heads as you thank them for their service. Respect their journey but also take the time to check in with them and ask them how they are doing.

For they are soldiers, they are brave men and women, but beneath it all, they have a heart, a soul, and they have bled for us, some more than others. They deserve nothing less than our greatest compassion and understanding for the hell they witnessed on the battlefield as they fought for freedom from tyranny in our great country’s name.

I Should Have Stood UP

We have just arrived home from a quick bite out for lunch. It was at a small restaurant not too far away. We love the food and the atmosphere – usually. Today it was quiet and relatively slow but one table made up of four people, started to chat rather loudly after they finished eating. Of course this is par for dining out – it’s what people do – they eat, they talk, then they carry on with their day.

But this conversation – it hit home. It enraged me. I almost pulled up a chair to their table to figure out the nuances of it because I wanted to verbally bitch slap the woman with the short brown hair into 2014.

The table was comprised of two adult women and two obviously teenaged boys. They appeared to be brothers. One was probably mid-late teens with the other one just getting started. The younger one had a speech impediment. It was not at all horrific, it just made him sound as if he had an accent of sorts. In fact, that’s what I thought it was at first until I listened closer. While I hate this analogy, he sounded like Elmer Fudd but with obviously deeper issues than just his mispronunciation of an “r”.

The conversation was innocuous at first – discussing swimming, school work, etc. Then it turned to this young man’s speech.

The adult woman with the brown hair, we’ll call her Hilda for the sake of saving me from typing a lot more than necessary, laid into this poor young man for his speech. “You’re going to have a hard time getting a job..yadda yadda yadda… you should try harder, if you just don’t move your tongue… maybe if you did yadda yadda yadda..I can barely understand what he says most of the time.” You get the drift.

Hilda kept on at him.

He defended himself.

She kept going.

He KEPT defending himself. Finally he asked where the bathroom was and left. I ALMOST went over when he left but decided that IF I did anything, I wanted him to be there when I did it so he would KNOW that people are willing to stand up for him and not everyone is going to tear him down.

But I didn’t.

I let the ball of anger grow in my heart, this rage for this young boy who was being attacked within earshot of me by someone I assumed to be his caretaker (mother, aunt, whatever.. she was obviously close to him). I just sat there and eventually J gave me the keys to the van so I could leave and as I did, I overheard Hilda ask the boy to say “Girls.”

He said, “Goils.”

“Now, say it again but don’t move your tongue.”

“Goils.”

“There! I think it sounds better without you moving your tongue.”

Only there was no noted difference.

I muttered, loudly under my breath as I left, “What, are you some sort of SPEECH THERAPIST? JEEZ, lady!”

This evil woman. This sorry excuse for a human being is making this poor boy think that he is going to LOSE at life because of his speech impediment. She is setting him up for failure before he EVEN GETS STARTED AT LIFE IN THE BIG WORLD. I left without doing anything. I LEFT WITHOUT SHOWING HIM THAT PEOPLE WILL STAND UP FOR YOU.

I should have said something. I should have told him that as long as he is doing the best he can with what he has, that’s all anyone should ever expect of him. Of course we all want to strive to be better. As a mother with a daughter who has her own speech issues due to a cleft palate, I should have stood up and fought for him against this horrible monster. I have seen the strength it takes to pronounce a single sound when your mouth isn’t built quite right and know the complexities involved in forming what we take for granted in perfect pronunciations. So he has a lisp or an impediment. Big deal. He’s still an awesome kid and doing the BEST HE DAMN WELL CAN. Recognize that. Build THAT up. Don’t tear it down because that? That is not helping.

Don’t assume because someone talks differently that they are stupid. Don’t assume that they are idiots or that they can’t talk right simply because YOU cannot understand them. The issue there – with not understanding them – is YOURS, not theirs. FOR THEY ARE COMMUNICATING THE BEST THEY CAN WITH WHAT THEY HAVE. Are you listening the best you can with what you have? Are you merely listening to what they are saying or are you striving to actually HEAR what they have to say beyond what may originally sound like garble to you?

For the record, I understood EVERY single word this young man said and I wasn’t even sitting across the table from him as Hilda was doing. His speech impediment isn’t that bad in my opinion. But according to the way Hilda discussed it, you’d think it was some horrific “he will never be able to communicate with the world at large” issue. Only it is not that way at all.

In my humble opinion, Hilda is the one with the impediment because she fails to see the beautiful, driven, dedicated young man who is fighting with all his might to communicate with others. She fails to see that he is already miles ahead of her emotionally because instead of tearing her down in response, he simple defended himself.

I should have said something. So instead, because I didn’t stand up then, I am writing about it now. Maybe this is the coward’s way out. But I could be quiet here too – quiet on a platform I have at my fingertips. When someone else is being torn apart and there is something you can do, you shouldn’t just walk away. I failed. But I am writing this because I want to apologize for walking away and hopefully inspire someone else to NOT follow in my footsteps.

If we all stood up for those who are caught in the sights of a bully (like Hilda), the world would be a far more awesome place and maybe the bullies would think twice before attacking someone and tearing them down.

 

How the @BostonGlobe got Postpartum Depression Wrong

With more news stories mentioning Postpartum Depression these days, it is becoming painfully obvious that reporters are scrambling to get their facts straight. Bless them for trying but sometimes, even with the best of intentions, they fall short. Like Karen Weintraub’s article “When the ‘baby blues’ are something more” at the Boston Globe on October 21, 2013.

Karen defends herself in the comments (all two of them at time of writing) about the term “baby blues” by saying that in her researching for this piece, she discovered there is such a thing as baby blues:

Boston Globe Comments

Kudos to Ms. Weintraub for doing enough research to realize that baby blues ARE distinct from depression.

BUT.

There are a multitude of omissions and errors within the article as it stands right now. Let’s go through them:

Ms. Weintraub breaks the Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder experience into only three groups:

  • Baby Blues
  • Postpartum Depression
  • Postpartum Psychosis

Immediately, sirens sound. Particularly because the case study, a Nicole Caligiuri, a first time mother, states she felt “angry and anxious” all the time. While anger/irritability is a sign of depression, anxiety combined with anger is typically (in my non-professional opinion) more closely related to an anxiety disorder. Ms. Caligiuri, however, was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression.

By ignoring the additional facets of the PMAD spectrum, Ms. Weintraub does a severe disservice to those mothers who may be suffering from Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or Postpartum OCD.

Weintraub states that 50-85% of new mothers experience baby blues, 14% experience postpartum depression, and a “fraction of 1 percent of new moms” experience Postpartum Psychosis. If you go by those numbers (at the higher levels), nearly 100% of all new mothers experience one of these three phenomena and none experience Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or Postpartum OCD.

According to Postpartum Support International’s Get the Facts page:

  • Approximately 6% of pregnant women and 10% of postpartum women develop anxiety. Sometimes they experience anxiety alone, and sometimes they experience it in addition to depression. 
  • Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is the most misunderstood and misdiagnosed of the perinatal disorders. It is estimated that as many as 3-5% of new mothers will experience these symptoms.
  • Approximately 1-6% of women experience postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following childbirth.

But in Weintraub’s scenario, there isn’t room for the nearly 20-27% of women who develop these particular Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders. As a survivor of Postpartum OCD, I find this troubling. Particularly because OCD can scare a new mother into thinking she is experiencing a form of Psychosis due to the horrific intrusive thoughts.

As I have mentioned multiple times, it is beyond important to differentiate the varying aspects of a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder. Why? Because when you lump Postpartum Psychosis sensationalism in with Postpartum Depression, things get murky. You scare new mothers who may be a bit depressed into thinking if they go get help, they will be thought of as potential criminals and have their babes ripped from their arms the instant they admit to feeling anything less than happy.

An additional issue with this article is the strong focus on early motherhood. The logic of this focus is evidenced by the study on which it is centered but a quick mention that PMAD can persist beyond early motherhood would have been a quick fix for this bias.

Why is it important to emphasize that PMAD onset can extend beyond early motherhood?

Often, many mothers do not realize they have issues until they are well into the 6th month or more. I have had mothers contact me at almost a year postpartum to share that they think something has been deeply wrong since the birth of their child but they did not recognize it until now. Many Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders crop up within the first 2-3 months, often immediately after the period of baby blues, but some mothers do not recognize them or even get hit with them until much later. PMAD’s can crop up  within the first 12 months after birth and even then, may not be recognized until much later. But this information is not mentioned anywhere in the article nor are we ever told at what point Ms. Caligiuri sought help.

I deeply appreciate Ms. Weintraub’s effort to reach out to Dr. Katherine Wisner and Dr. Michael O’Hara, respected experts in the research field of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders, however, I wish she (or her editor) had taken the time to allow this article to be a bit more clear regarding the wide scope of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders. I also wish a side bar had been included to resources for women and families who are struggling with these issues, particularly given that Ms. Weintraub included this quote from Dr. O’Hara:

Social support is probably the most important thing to provide a new mother, who is at a particularly fragile point in life, said Michael O’Hara, a professor of psychology at the University of Iowa, who has been researching and treating postpartum depression for three decades.

 

Postpartum Support International will connect new mothers with social support. Also, specifically in Hadley, Massachusetts, there is Mother Woman, a fabulous organization who is making fantastic strides toward improving access to support and care for struggling women & families. Advocates in the trenches, such as the volunteers with PSI and Mother Woman, recognize how important it is to have peers support each other so they do not feel all alone in the dark. It is an oversight that neither of these organizations are mentioned anywhere in Ms. Weintraub’s piece.

Overall, Ms. Weintraub, despite making a few blunders, seems to handle the issue at hand with a respectable grace. The study at the heart of the article focuses on the development of depression in children born to mothers who struggled with depression but Ms. Weintraub is fabulous in her handling of this issue, particularly with this paragraph:

But parents shouldn’t feel like they’ve ruined their child’s life if they go through a period of depression, Pearson said. The increased risk of depression in their children is small. Overall, 7 percent of teens are depressed, compared with 11 percent of teens whose mothers were depressed early in their children’s lives.

She side-steps the potential onslaught of guilt and gracefully allows parents to breathe a sigh of relief by including this information from the study’s co-author.

As I stated in the opening, coverage of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders is greatly improving. But we still have a long way to go to get to fully informed reporting. For the most part, Ms. Weintraub’s article is generally free of sensationalism, includes quotes from respected experts, and manages to allay any potential guilt a new mother with a PMAD may feel in reading it. However, it is still just a few small adjustments away from being truly spectacular and informative.

The Elephant in the #PPDChat Community

Inferior without your consent

This past week, Katherine Stone over at Postpartum Progress announced the the Warrior Mom Leadership Team, an editorial team comprised of a diverse group of writers and advocates, who will help run her blog throughout the year. I am a member of this team along with several other fellow dedicated and amazing survivors who have battled through so much. Along our journeys, we all have been incredibly honest, dedicated, vocal, and driven to share our stories. Some of us started with the most basic of intentions but somewhere along the way, we became recognized advocates through hard work and repeatedly putting ourselves out there sometimes meeting with Fall Get Uprejection along the way. We brushed ourselves off and put ourselves back out there all over again.

Often, we did not even mean to put ourselves out there but had our stories noticed for whatever reason, forced into a higher level of publicity with our very personal battles than perhaps we were ready to deal with. So we rolled with it because we had to not because we wanted to.

One of my primary goals with my growth as an advocate was to develop an online network women and families could access 24/7. My goal with #PPDChat was not to develop a network to lift bloggers and advocates to higher popularity or to create popularity cliques within the community. My goal was to increase peer support for women and families to access whenever they need it, wherever they were. The worst aspect, for me, about a PMAD, is the overwhelming feeling of being all alone. That isolation, the fear that YOU are the only one stuck in this dark hell, is absolutely terrifying and what needs to be remedied first.

#PPDChat exists to create a sisterhood and community, yes, but it is not meant to cause divisiveness or jealousy of any friendships which may seem to net more opportunities or be more intimate than others. I realize these things will happen because this is the nature of humans in a group setting. We gravitate toward others like us. It’s hard-wired deep within us to do so.

The primary goal with #PPDChat was to create a safety-net. To move those who are hurting and isolated toward a place of healing, warmth, and eventually, a return of joy. One of the side-effects of this community has been the development of advocates as they have felt supported and buoyed by the community at large. Certain members have grown stronger in their advocacy voices as they have discovered they truly are not alone and witnessed the power of conjoined voices will do for a woman still fighting. Other members have continued along their own personal path of healing, not joining in the advocacy movement for their own personal reasons. But we have come this far together, as a community.

One of the definitions of community is: “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” #PPDChat is definitely all of those and what keeps it fascinating is that even though PMAD has brought us together, our interests are broad and undefined – allowing for individual friendships to organically develop. Not once have I ever seen it as something which has intentionally excluded certain members. If anything, there have been multiple opportunities to include yourself with other members through guest posts, guest hosting within #PPDChat, and various other outreach situations. We all operate within our “circle of comfort” because of our various issues, something which may limit our exposure to the Social Media world at large, something which often moves faster than the speed of light. It can be exhausting to keep up and we are all moving at a different pace.

Regarding reaching out to involve everyone on an equal footing, Katherine has multiple opportunities for being involved at Postpartum Progress:

I, too, have offered to post guest stories and often highlight Postpartum Voices of the Week. I realize I have been slack over the past year but now that I am actively blogging, I plan to resuscitate this part of My Postpartum Voice. It is important to remember, however, that neither Katherine nor I nor every advocate can possibly read every single thing on the internet about PMAD’s. So we all highlight what we can when we can, which leads to some people feeling left out while others get a few minutes in the spotlight which may lead to other “opportunities”.

That said, those who have become more public and vocal are not any better than those who have not.

Repeat that.

Those who have become more public and vocal are not any better than those who have not.

This is where we return to the quote with which I started:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” ~Eleanor Roosevelt~

When you allow a decision which seems exclusive to hurt you so deeply you lash out toward those who have been included, you are giving that decision power over you and thereby creating your own storm of emotions.

For those of us who ARE more public and vocal, opportunities are not viewed as something we covet or even necessarily seek out. For many of us, the “opportunities” may even be anxiety-inducing but we see them as an opportunity to educate, inform, and raise awareness so we charge forward. We do not see the opportunities as making us better than those who are not “chosen” for these opportunities – they are not a platform on which we place ourselves so others may look up at us and feel left out. Our words, our fight, our journey, for whatever reason, has included these turns and curves. As I emphasize ALL THE TIME:

EVERY JOURNEY IS DIFFERENT AND MUST BE RESPECTED AS SUCH.

I will not apologize for being a member of Katherine Stones’ Warrior Mom Leadership Team. No one should have to apologize for being a member of this team nor should Katherine be made to second guess the folks she has placed on the WMLT. Katherine is entrusting her blog, a blog she has worked tirelessly to develop a strong, ethical, and respected reputation for, to the members of this team. I get that she needed to choose people SHE felt she could trust to continue the tradition of the brand she has developed. I know I would be unable to trust my blog to just anyone. I respect her decision as just that – HER decision.

I feel I would be remiss if I did not also point out that this is not an award, this was not a contest, and we are not being paid to be on the WMLT. It is volunteer – and something we agreed to do because it promotes the community and it is going to help further reduce the stigma and misconception of PMAD’s.

Would I be saying all of this even if I were not on the WMLT?

Hell yes.

Because I GET that it’s her choice because it’s Katherine’s blog.

We cannot (and should not) internalize everything. We cannot expect every single door to open for us – the doors which open for us are the doors MEANT to open for us. Some may take more work, more drive, and some may seem as if they open easier for other people.

While it’s perfectly normal and acceptable to feel left out, the manner in which this has been expressed over the past 48 hours in reaction to Katherine’s announcement has greatly saddened me. The sub-tweets, the sub-textual expressions, and the chit-chat behind the backs of those chosen (and yes, I saw a good deal of this on Twitter) has broken my heart because for me, this defeats the very idea of a unified community.

We are all advocates. We are all responsible for dismissing stigma and fighting back against myths with our voices and our journeys. When we fail to support those who, for whatever reason, end up surging forward in the public realm, we fail the community as a whole.

Am I saying it is wrong to be upset?

Absolutely not.

What I AM saying is there needs to be honesty and respect in how we express these emotions. There needs to be the realization that your words WILL be read by those who have managed to not be “looked over” or become “it” girls. Words DO hurt. I get that you are disappointed and you are hurt, I do. I have felt that myself when yet again, my blog fails to gain any recognition or when #ppdchat fails to gain any recognition in an awards process. It’s frustrating as hell. But do I publicly denounce those who have won recognition? Hell no. I congratulate them with grace and deal with my disappointment privately.

BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT YOU DO. You support the community, you empower it, and you rejoice that the subject matter is receiving attention. It does not matter WHO is doing it, but WHAT is receiving the recognition. It is about furthering the cause, not about garnering individual attention. (Again, however, human nature celebrates when individual attention is received and deflates when it is not – hard-wired, not a faulty reaction at all).

The moment you make it about “ME” is the moment you are not advocating for “US” and that, in my opinion, is failing to kick stigma’s ass.

In that scenario, no one is a winner.

We all have different reasons for writing and when we summarily dismiss the achievements of those around us based on a personal negative reaction, we damage any progress we may make as a whole.

I write because I love to write and I will be damned if I let someone journey along this road alone. I do not write for glory or to be an “it” person, whatever the hell that is. I have never, ever considered myself to be an “it” person, in fact, I have always thought of myself as the complete opposite.

It’s okay for people to be sad and I’m not trying to fix it but at the same time, in expressing their feelings, they are dragging those who HAVE been chosen down and not expressing their disappointment in a healthy manner, which leads to divisiveness and guilt. “United we stand, divided we fall” and all that.

For me, accepting a place on the WMLT means Katherine can focus on doing more with Postpartum Progress, the non-profit which means she can make even MORE strides against PMAD’s. She’s been kicking ass for years with her blog and is already making waves with her non-profit. So if she asks for help, I will say yes as long as it doesn’t interfere with what I already have going on (because it is healthy to make sure you don’t overload your plate).

I’m speaking up because I do not want this recent decision to divide the community. I want us to remain supportive of each other. I want us to be able to express disappointment without attacking other members and without making other members feel guilt and/or shame for achieving something for which others feel they have been “overlooked.” When we drag one person down for achieving something, we impede EVERYONE’S progress toward a better tomorrow. Is that what we want?

We, all of us, are better than this.

We, all of us, know battling alone sucks.

We, all of us, want to win the fight.

We, all of us, are winning this fight, in our own little ways.

Let’s just make sure we do it together – as a team.

To Empower without Condescension

There is a habit I have witnessed within a multitude of places in the perinatal support realm. It is the habit of treating women who are struggling as if they were instead their infants. The habit of “Oh, she’s not well enough to do this yet, tell her to do x,y, or z instead” or “What is she THINKING” when a mother attempts to regain her foothold in the world at large as a normal human being.

It disgusts me.

Mothers with mental health issues are still adults.

They have a sense of self, intelligence, a sense of the way life is meant to be lived, and they know how to do what needs to be done. Right now, however, they may need a little bit of support. That does not mean, however, that we lay them down, swaddle them, stick a pacifier in their mouths, and treat them as if they are infants who need every thing done for them.

Why on earth is it that we do this to those who are suffering and struggling?

Their very fight is one dedicated to returning to the person they once were and want to be again. When you treat them as an infant, you decry their struggle. You strip the person they once were completely out of the equation, turning it into a pointless battle. In fact, when you treat them this way, you are doing more harm than good.

I would not want to be demeaned when I reached out for support – would you?

When a mother reaches out for help, she has managed to gather enough courage to say “I can’t do this on my own.” Respect her strength and audacity.

When a mother reaches out for help, she expects to be heard. Hear her voice, her adult voice, and respond in kind.

When a mother reaches out for help, she expects to be met with compassion and respect. Do that. Do not belittle her behaviour or her requests. Guide her, refer her, but dear God, do NOT tear her down any more than she has already been torn down.

One of my primary goals when women reach out to me for support is to respect them as adults, as humans, as independent women who are temporarily scared shitless by the dark hole surrounding them. They do not need me to baby them any more than a soldier needs to be babied after being injured during war. They don’t need me yelling at them either, but you get what I mean.

Strike a balance. Be compassionate, respectful, firm, and guiding, but do NOT demean, belittle, or treat a woman as incapable of participating in her own recovery. The second you deem a woman as incapable of participating in her own recovery, you have opened the door to defeat.

If we expect to help others recover, we must empower them without condescension. If we cannot do this, we absolutely should not be in the field of helping others because we are only harming.

Hear, respect, respond, guide, empower, let go.

These are the basic rules by which I operate. Simple. Straightforward. Rooted in compassion.

The next time someone reaches out to you with a mental health issue -postpartum or not- keep these words in mind. You might be surprised at how far it will get you – and how many lives it will save.

Dear Sting, Postpartum Depression is No Joking Matter

Sting played a small venue in Chicago last night to promote ‘Last Ship’, according to this article written by Scott C. Morgan.

The article discusses the process Sting went through to bring ‘Last Ship’, a Broadway musical, to life.

Then at the end, is the kicker.

Though Sting is writing the score for “The Last Ship,” he won’t be appearing in the show. So Seller asked the singer how it will be for him to see other people performing his songs onstage.

 

“I imagine I’m going to have postpartum depression,” Sting joked.

 

Oh, Sting.

I have been a fan since I was a pre-teen and had to sneak off at my grandmother’s house to watch videos on MTV. Yanno, back when MTV actually showed videos.

You’ve been a source of solace for me in my dark times. I used one of your songs in a playlist of mine as I healed from my own bout of severe Postpartum OCD. The rhythm was just right and I liked the emotion it evoked within me.

But now?

I can’t do that.

Because you’ve said this.

In eight words, you have managed to completely undermine the seriousness of what I experienced. What millions of women experience every year. In eight words.

Do you see how easy it is to marginalize someone else’s experience? How easy it is to compare the hell that is a Perinatal Mood Disorder by saying you’ll go through the same thing as you watch other people perform your songs? While it may not be easy to see other people perform your art, I guarantee you that it is a hell of a lot easier than the depths of hell I and millions of other women witness as survivors and warriors in the trenches against PMADs.

We fight, Sting, for our fields of gold, fragile as we are. We fight because maybe, just maybe, tomorrow we’ll see a brand new day filled with hope. We don’t want to be the shadows in the rain, never coming home.

Please, think about what you are saying before you say it. Because when you do not think before you speak, you end up hurting people, minimizing their experiences, and comparing their hell to something which is not even close to their experience.

For now, I am gonna have to do the opposite of Rick Astley and give you up because you let me down.

Celebrating by Giving Back: Pregnancy & Postpartum Support MN

I’m excited to share with you about Pregnancy & Postpartum Support MN. I’m even more excited to tell you that their Associate Director, Crystal Clancy, will be our guest on Monday evening. We will be discussing how a Postpartum Helpline functions and what goes into getting it up and running.

According to Crystal, here’s a bit about the organization:

How we started:

We started in 2006 as a small group of mental health practitioners with a desire to support new /expectant parents who are struggling with mental health difficulties. Our goal was to provide resources and education to professionals and new/expectant parents.

What we do: What PPSM offers that is unique are two things:

1) The resource list for practitioners and parents. This is a list of vetted mental health practitioners and psychiatrists who specialize in perinatal mental health. We also list support groups, classes, and are working on adding alternative options.

2) The HelpLine, which is a call in line for parents and providers who are looking for resources and ongoing support. They can be paired with a trained peer volunteer, most of whom have survived their own experience with a PMAD, or know someone very close to them who has. The peer volunteer offers phone support, and we make it clear that it is NOT a substitute for therapy, but more of a “am I going to get through this?” helping hand.

Planned events:

The annual Beyond the Baby Blues Conference in June, sponsored by NAMI; we are also hoping to pull together a 5K for next fall! In addition, we try to have “Meet and Greets” 3-4 times per year for people who would like to know more about PPSM and how they can get involved.

How people can donate/volunteer:

On our website (which should be back up and running soon), or they can contact us through our Facebook page and we can find a workaround that they can donate to Paypal for PPSM or find out how they can volunteer.

Here’s the link to PPSM’s FB page. Click there to find out more about them and nose around their social media presence. As Crystal shared, the website is under construction at this time and they hope to have it up and running soon.

I hope y’all have a great weekend! Crystal and I are looking forward to chatting with you on Twitter on Monday night at 8:30pm ET, 7:30pm CT, and 5:30pm PT. Just follow the hashtag #PPDChat. See you there!