Diane Ashton is the PSI Co-Coordinator for the state of Hawaii. Sasha Williams serves as the other Coordinator for the state of Hawaii. Diane is awesome. I’ve really gotten to know her via email and facebook (we’re both on Facebook WAY more than we should be). Diane is funny, honest, and a wonderful woman. I am thrilled she agreed to a very last minute interview (sorry diane! but thanks!) To learn more about the support Diane offers in Hawaii, visit her website, PPD Support Hawaii. Now here’s Diane’s story in her own words.
Tell us about Diane. Who is she when she’s not providing support to women with PPD?
Hi Lauren! It’s kind of funny how self-identified with postpartum issues a person can become! I know I’m singing to the choir here to say that PPD advocates are a passionate bunch! Along with my obsession, avocation, I am the mom to two older children–they’re 15 & 20 now, although I have no idea how they grew up so fast. You know how that is. And all my cherished skills I learned from and with the two of them. We grew up together, in many ways. We’re all a bunch of computer nuts, and are sitting in a 10 x 10 room on our own computers right this minute. It’s more fun than housework.
You’ve experienced PPD and describe it at the PSI website as a mystery/horror movie. Share with us your journey through this strange place.
It’s been over 14 years, so I tend to be a bit removed from the experience now. Maybe that’s encouraging to moms going through it now–knowing that eventually PPD won’t feel like something you live and breathe every. single. day. Why I described it as a mystery/horror movie was that, even though I’d probably been depressed in the past, I’d never been to the depths like I was with PPD. I’d also never been so sleep deprived. It was a sleep deprivation due to depression, not because my kids weren’t sleeping through the night. They were. I was too anxious to sleep; it was that kind of anxious/depression. And that was part of why it made it so hard to figure out what was going on with me. I didn’t feel “depressed”. I felt, like so many other moms have described, like I was “going crazy”. It was a mystery to me what was wrong. With all that came intrusive thoughts that were very gory. And they weren’t thoughts so much as very vivid images. They scared me and made me think someone would take my kids away from me, and me away from society forever–pretty much a horror.
What made you realize your moods after giving birth were not quite right? How were you treated when you sought help?
I…actually, …I waited until my daughter was around eight months old before I started sliding into that PPD pit. It was partly due to her big brother going off to kindergarten with all his little friends we’d seen every week for …4+ years. But kindergarten is somehow a big shift anyway, and can put moms off-balance for a bit. Or maybe it’s just us moms who’ve been on the PPD ride are more sensitive to changes. Anyway, by mid-October (6, 7 weeks into kindergarten) I was losing it. But no way was I admitting to it. Although I tried to look stuff up (1994–not much of an internet to surf then) I couldn’t find anything that described what I was experiencing.
Finally my husband took me for “a Sunday drive” to the ER, where they kept and observed me for a while. I stayed at the hospital for a bit and, well, my peers there were very interesting. The main thing was though that I finally got on a medication (Zoloft) and it started working. I began to feel a lot like myself again within a couple of weeks.
How did your family help you during this difficult time?
They were great. My in-laws had dd while I was in the hospital. Dh had ds at home, and took him to school each day. Afterwards, I stayed with my in-laws for more support and to get up to some kind of speed again. There were other times they stepped in in BIG ways over the next year too–I don’t know what we would have done without them.
Name three things that made you laugh today.
- A video the kids pointed me to, on youtube had us all cracking up. A bit on the potty humor side, but we laughed.
- Talking with a couple of my girlfriends about calling, texting, to American Idol–like we’re a bunch of tweenagers–how many phones each person uses to vote.
- Swapping stories with my fellow former classmates tonight at dinner.
What do you find the most challenging about parenting? The least?
Still occasionally wondering if we bonded well, if I messed the kids up for life, etc. But I imagine other moms who didn’t go through PPD wonder this as well. Also challenging… the age of 13. EEYuh…challenging. The least challenging–the easiest–is loving my beautiful, vibrant kids every day!
As fellow PSI Coordinators, we’ve had the concept of self-care proven to us time and again. What do YOU do for yourself that is not a need and soothes your soul?
The beach soothes me. Body boarding especially, but just getting in the ocean water balances me in emotional and visceral ways.
You work with women struggling with PPD all the time. Tell us a bit about what made you decide to turn your experience into advocacy and support. How empowering is it to do what you do?
It is partly because I didn’t get the name for the exciting journey I had until five or so years later–Oprah had Marie Osmond on, talking about her book about some illness called “postpartum depression”. I sat there pointing at the TV again and again. “That was ME! That was ME!!” I finally had a name for it. I Googled and found online information and bulletin boards where I then made myself at home. It was because I could find nothing here to help with PPD, and with my experience on the boards that I decided to become an Area Coordinator with Postpartum Support International. Might as well make some lemonade from the PPD lemons.
How empowering is doing what I do? What I’ve done for 5 years now is telephone support, email support, a weekly support group, and some speaking. –the support calls, email and the group empower the parents and are validating for both of us. Speaking to groups still feels empowering; our recovered moms/volunteers get a chance to speak at various events. I remember my first time too–it was empowering. People, providers, wanted to know what it is like, what could be done, how would you know. And they listened. There’s a threshold you cross when you speak publicly about your experience. What a great question Lauren. I have to tell my therapist how much it meant to me that she asked me to speak a number of times. It allowed me to step out of my shame and into myself.
Now that your children are older, have you spoken with them about your experience? If so, how did they handle the information? How do they feel about your current work with women?
They are around when I’ve been on phone calls with moms or providers, so they do hear my end of conversations occasionally. It’s just a part of our lives. I weave information in to our conversations when opportunities arrive, much like I have with sex education. Dd just had one of those “pretend baby” exercises where she had to care for a hard-boiled egg for 2 weeks as if it were her baby. Of course I wove in some PPD talk!
Last but not least, let’s say you have an opportunity to speak with an expectant mother (new or experienced) about Postpartum Mood Disorders. What would your advice be?
It would really depend on the situation. I used to be tempted to pass out information to every new parent I saw, just so they could avoid the journey I endured. Barring accosting new parents in the grocery aisles, what I would say though is that you’re not alone if you have a PMD, they are very treatable, they are not your fault and that honestly, I found a gift in my experience, eventually. Maybe it was my biggest experience of “whatever doesn’t kill you outright makes you stronger.” And in the case of PPD, as many mothers say, it loosens your judgments, revealing compassion.