Tag Archives: sharing the journey

Sharing the Journey with Susan Dowd-Stone

As the immediate past President of Postpartum Support International, Susan continues to be committed to supporting women with Postpartum Mood Disorders through advocacy and treatment. Susan has been very encouraging towards the beginnings of my work and advocacy with Postpartum Mood Disorders which has been very meaningful to me. As President of PSI, she was aided in the development of a series of PSA’s with CBS that highlighted increased awareness of PPMD’s and has also been very active in support for The MOTHER’S Act. She maintains a private practice, Blue Sky Consulting as well as a website, Perinatal Pro.  Thank you for all your hard work and for being such an influential voice for so many women, Susan. We are fortunate to have such a wonderfully compassionate ally!

Susan, along with Alexis Menken, have put together a wonderful book, Perinatal and Postpartum Disorders: Perspectives and Treatment Guide for the Health Care Practitioner. This book offers a major resource for healthcare professionals, mental health professionals, and medical, nursing, psychology, and social work students who will be confronting this problem in their practices. The contributions, by renowned experts, fill a glaring gap in the knowledge professionals need in order to successfully manage maternal mental health. Click here to order.

Tell us a little about yourself – just who IS Susan Dowd Stone when she’s not advocating for women and families struggling with Postpartum Mood Disorders?

An empty nester, I enjoy teaching and clinical social work. I am ardently involved in the promotion of animal assisted therapy, i.e. exploring and demonstrating the curative powers of our animal companions in therapeutic settings. Through associations with Angels on a Leash and The Delta Society I have initiated and helped sustain AAT programs in hospitals. After the death of my canine partner,I began facilitating a pet bereavement program on a volunteer basis and writing a column on pet loss for the Animal Companion Magazine. Deeply mourning the loss of companion animals is sometimes viewed askance leading to another form of disenfranchised grief. Currently I evaluate teams of handlers and animals for hospital work and live with 3 spoiled dogs and a husband who completely enables this.

I see many human parallels in maternal animal behavior which has broadened my understanding of birth trauma. For example, I watched a show on HBO called “Weeping Camel” about a mother camel who had an excruciating breach birth. When her baby was born after two agonizing days, she rejected it. The movie focused on frantic efforts to effect that maternal infant bond, seemingly to no avail. Finally a shaman was called in to play soothing music while the baby was again brought to his mother. The moment of reunification was deeply moving. Yet, when human mothers suffer greatly during pregnancy, the birth process or its aftermath, we unrealistically maintain expectations of immediate maternal bonding and bliss.

How did you get involved in advocating for women and families struggling with PMD’s?

As a social worker in the Department of Psychiatry at Hackensack University Medical Center, I was charged with guiding the hospital’s implementation of the emerging, but not yet passed, NJ PPD legislative mandates. We initiated a free mother baby support group and invited every mother who gave birth at HUMC to attend. In addition, we developed a postpartum depression psychotherapy program for women identified or diagnosed with a perinatal mood disorder. As the programs facilitator I became more involved in the process and developed awareness of my own isolating experience with the illness, never acknowledged and never treated. I then became involved in a specialty peer group, was recruited by PSI to be their conference chair and then their president. The legislative work continues and I believe we will prevail.

Postpartum Mood Disorders are receiving more and more press coverage these days. Recognition and even treatment options have come a long way but in your opinion, what else needs to happen to improve the current atmosphere and attitude towards these disorders?

We need to spread the message that these are MEDICAL ILLNESSES with true biological underpinnings. It neither signifies weakness or strength if a woman does or does not develop a pregnancy related mood disorder. These disorders have no association to a woman’s character.  Such stigma is crippling to progress understanding and obscures our ability to appropriately respond. The only time we can surely associate character with PPD is through acknowledgement  of the tremendous bravery and courage it takes each woman to reach out and accept needed help.

We often encourage mothers to remember to take time for themselves. What is it that YOU do to recharge your batteries?

Top of the list is spending time with my “baby” girl Julia now 29. Like any proud mom, being in her presence brings incomparable joy which keeps me buzzed long after our lunches or conversations have ended.She’s a  an intelligent hard working entertainment news executive who retains her grace and tender heart. My husband and I hike, read and sometimes just watch the sky. We are easily entertained by simple pleasures.

I find great solace and restoration in nature and try to practice Mindfulness when stressed.  I am captivated by hummingbirds. Their population peaks in August when the babies start coming to the feeders; they do not know fear and will perch a foot away and watch you intently, a truly magical exchange. It reminds me that fear is a learned response. Their long migration every fall to Mexico and return to their same home each spring is profoundly wondrous natural mystery.

I am always interested in new and different therapies used in treating PMD’s. Would you share a little bit with us about EMDR as a type of therapy? What is the basic idea behind this therapy and who would typically benefit from it the most?

EMDR can be a powerful adjunct to psycho dynamic or CBT oriented therapy. It is an empirically validated treatment with solid research to support its application in trauma, but its mechanisms are not entirely understood. Theory postulates that stimulation of eye movement “loosens” traumatic memories held either by the body without conscious awareness, or stored in our brains’s trauma sector (the amygdala) where their reactivation can be stimulated by sights sound and smells associated with the original trauma. This may cause the victim to feel as if they are re experiencing the event and its accompanying feelings of terror and helplessness.

EMDR seems to enhance the conscious processing of such memories allowing analysis and sometimes rapid resolution of troubling symptoms when managed in a secure safe environment. EMDR is especially helpful in supporting recovery from PTSD including war and other disasters. Offered prior to  infant delivery it can help increase levels of tolerance and acceptance in  women who have suffered physical or sexual abuse in the past, or who are fearful about delivery. In addition, it can be helpful in the postpartum for women who have had traumatic birth experiences and are “stuck” in an endless loop of traumatic recollection.

I also use EMDR to “install” positive associations between achievement of new skills and feelings of mastery. As interpersonal challenges often accompany new motherhood, many women are motivated to choose different behavioral options to better parent their child. This offers mothers and clinicians alike a unique therapeutic opportunity to remediate long standing issues.

EMDR is not appropriate for women who are experiencing suicidal ideation, who evidence psychosis, or who are extremely anxious. It should always be offered within a supportive psychotherapy framework AFTER the mood has stabilized and works best in this context as an adjunct treatment to supportive therapy.

What is your philosophy regarding your approach to Postpartum Depression? How did you develop this philosophy?

First, that it is a medical illness with optimal recovery dependent on attention to biological, psychological AND social support issues.

Secondly,  NO TWO ILLNESSES or RECOVERY PLANS are alike. I am outraged when I hear someone discouraging a woman from doing what she, her doctor and her family feels will best help her recovery. The incredible guilt associated with these disorders is often unbearable, increasing and prolonging associated symptoms. Well meaning loved ones can make it worse by presenting comparisons and opinions which invalidate sufferers experience.

This philosophy was developed witnessing the agony of women who felt like failures if they were unable to live up to recovery or treatment expectations set forth by others – including practitioners!!! If one recovery plan is not working, we need a new plan… As one of my therapy icons Marsha Linehan of DBT fame says, clients don’t fail, but treatment can!!

What advice would you give to medical professionals who may come in contact with a mother who is depressed? What are some of the best things they could do for this mom? What should they not do?

If depression is identified at a medical visit, an immediate referral should be given for further assessment, along with respectful reassurance that the mother is “not alone, not to blame and with help she will be well!” (PSI’s motto). This simple early validation goes a long way to mediate a mother’s sense of fear, shame, failure and isolation.

Many medical practitioners do not want to be in the business of mental health as their training and practice may not have prepared them for this additional challenge. But developing a referral list of professionals with a specialty in maternal mental health is both doable and essential for obstetrical and pediatric practitioners. This could lead to greater likelihood of more rapid engagement in the recovery process.

No one should EVER say…”Don’t worry, You’ll get over it, this is normal, go home and enjoy your new baby!! Even if a physician has known their patient for 30 years, all bets are off when rapid emotional and hormonal shifts introduce new and powerful vulnerabilities. The moment for connection is then lost and the silent suffering resumes. Many solid homes that lasted through decades of natural wear and tear on the Texas coast couldn’t survive Hurricane Ike! But we don’t blame the builder!

I feel family support is essential to postpartum recovery. What can we do to foster family involvement in the recovery period?

While we are doing a better job of implementing social support for moms, how about support groups for partners? They often feel ignored in the process and may develop their own feelings of depression as dreams of parental bliss are challenged by a mystery illness claiming their partner while increasing their responsibilities. How about friends and family members who want to know WHAT TO DO. Women often ask me “Can you tell that to my husband, father, mother, sister??”  So I bring in the immediate circle who are often grateful for clear information about what is happening to their loved one and how to best support them.

Family and partners MUST be part of the recovery plan. The social work perspective tells us that without environmental (as well as psychological and biological) adjustments, stressors may continue which prolong the primary episode. My assessment always includes inquiry about what has always been important in this new mother’s life, what she has found comforting in the past. If she rates her spirituality at 10, we explore how to incorporate such options. It’s not just about focus on psychological dynamics, mothering skills and past and present relationships, but on reintroducing the uniquely individual environmental and emotional supports that make each woman’s life worth living.

What is it that you are most grateful for today?

The capacity to love and exchange ideas with others. Solid belief in God and country. Optimism.

And last but not least, if you had a chance to give an expectant mother (new or experienced) one piece of advice, what would you tell her?

Successfully parenting your child requires diligent attention to your own needs. Self care and self love are no longer optional and illusive concepts, but requirements of motherhood.

Sharing the Journey with Dan

I first stumbled across Dan’s blog (LABAIRI) quite awhile back. I left a comment and he emailed me to thank me for my kind words. We’ve kept in touch here and there, mostly I read his Twitter updates. (I Twitter too – unxpctdblessing is my username there) A few weeks ago I asked him if he would be willing to do an interview as he is a dad who has PPD experience. Dan opened up and is very honest and forward with his answers. I sincerely hope you enjoy today’s interview as much as I did when I first received his reply!

Would you share with us your insight on your wife’s journey as she struggled with PPD?

Jenna suffered PPD with all three of our children. Each time was different, PPD isn’t the same for every woman – it’s not even the same for one woman! The second bought was the worst. It was just a dark time – so dark that there are moments during that year that Jenna and I don’t even remember. We look at pictures and have no idea the circumstances. The darkness was just overwhelming. Nothing was right and everything was difficult. She suffered a lot, and I was really at a loss at how I’d be able to help her through this.
What were some of the first signs you noticed that made you think things weren’t quite right?

During the first time around, we didn’t know this was even happening – only 5 years ago, but awareness has come a LONG way since then. But looking back I guess there was a huge lack of motivation to do anything from getting out of bed in the morning to get up in the middle of the night to feed our son. It seemed odd – but we thought that this must just be sheer exhaustion from Jenna also working part-time. Plus, during those first 8 months after Liam was born, our relationship was tanking. I remember thinking if this is what marriage is like after kids that I didn’t want any more of them. (You can laugh – we have three and another on the way from Ethiopia!)


How have you grown as a man and as a father as a result of PPD?

Wow, great question. As a father, PPD grew me up really fast. As Jenna had moments where she was unable to care for the kids as she would have liked, I had no choice but to step in and make it work. I wasn’t secure in my parenting skills by any stretch of the imagination (the first diaper I ever changed was Liam’s). But I loved my family more than life, and these times forced me to step up to the responsibility.

As a man, I know I am more sensitive to expectant and new mothers. I know how hard it can be. I know the hell that it can be on the family. I advocate for fathers to step up and care for their wives as this is the “for better or for worse” part of the vows we made before God. I’ve never been a “manly-man” with the barefoot and pregnant mentality, but this time reinforced that caring for our wives as Christ loves the church is the only way to make a marriage work. There is a lot of sacrifice to be made as a husband/father, with or without PPD. I’m definitely a better person for having been through this with Jenna.


How did your faith support you through your journey?

WOW. We couldn’t have done this without our faith. Almost without a doubt, without our faith we would never have made it through that first year after Liam. Those were really dark times. The Psalms were a great comfort as we journeyed though PPD. David talks so often of going through the valley and crying out to God for help. Those passages of lament gave words to the cry of our hearts, cries that found words difficult to come by. We also couldn’t have done this without our faith community. Especially after PPD was diagnosed and we could talk about it with some clarity, people brought us meals, they stayed with us and helped out wherever they could. The support structure our faith community gave us was invaluable and at least for me reaffirmed the beauty of the local church and the potential she has to do good in this world.


What do you love about being a father?

Coming home from work and having a little person scream “DADDY!” at the top of her lungs while running to give me a bear hug! Those moments make all of the bad ones disappear in seconds.

What lessons have you learned from PPD?

Hmm. What first comes to mind is that no one is immune from pain. I think we all figure that PPD (or anything else bad) won’t happen to us. Jenna had NEVER suffered any sort of depression before PPD. There were absolutely no warning signs on this one. We never prepared ourselves for the worst. Jenna and I had no plan for PPD when it happened, no safety net or plan b. As a result, we’re going through an adoption right now, which is going very well. But in the back of my mind, I’m preparing for what might go wrong – and there is plenty to go wrong in international adoptions. It’s given me a healthy dose of preparedness that I’d never had before.

Depression isn’t just a bad thing. I know, that sounds like an insane statement to make, but let me explain. Depression allows you for a time to see life, and perhaps embrace life, as it really is – broken and in desperate need of repair. As a result of PPD, I savor even the “just OK” times in life because I know how bad it can get.

People are good. Surrounding yourself with a support network is one of the best things you can do for PPD. Do this before you experience tragedy; experience the joys of community as well.

Share with us some of the ways you were able to participate in your wife’s recovery.

1. Realize that this is something that I can’t fix. Once that was cemented into my head, I was free to just be the best husband / father I could be.

2. Take over duties/chores. Taking away the stresses – cleaning, cooking, etc. – that I could seemed to free her mind to think about the kids. Along with this, I also had the freedom to flex my hours at work. I stayed home until the kids were fed and clothed. I was home for the bedtime routine and canceled my evening appointments. This isn’t easy, but this speaks VOLUMES to your wife – you’re making her a priority.

3. I went with her to her first PPD group meeting. I wanted to show my support, even if it was just driving her to the wellness center so she didn’t feel like she’d get lost. Along with this, I made her being able to go to PPD group a priority. I rearranged my schedule, took appointments out of my schedule, etc. To make that happen.

4. I made every effort to help her start Life After Baby, the support group she started at our church – helping design web images, fliers, etc. She has since graduated from the group herself, but the group will still meet with new leadership this coming year.

Let’s face it. Parenting is not easy. What are some of your most difficult daily parenting challenges?

We now have three kids. Jenna’s pretty much recovered from her third trip through PPD (this hasn’t been the worst, just the longest – Addi is 2). Daily challenges: navigating the kids through the best friends/worst enemy phase of being siblings. They can turn on a dime, and helping them work through the worst enemy side of that coin is not easy. Finding alone time with each of the kids and making sure that each is getting a good amount of personal attention. And I guess that last challenge would be more on the marriage side of things, but making sure that Jenna and I don’t lose touch in the process of caring for the kids. It’s easy to focus everything on them and give the leftovers to each other. We’ve got to make each other a priority!


Shameless plug time. Tell us about your blog and why you started it.

My blog: labairi (or life as best as I remember it) was started basically as an outlet for me to write my thoughts on life. I’m an avid journal writer, and figured I’d put that to good use for the world to read–No grand ambitions, just a guy and his thoughts. It’s definitely evolved in the past three years as I’ve allowed myself to become more transparent with what’s actually going on sharing our journey and my thoughts on PPD as well as my own bouts with depression and anxiety. Since starting the blog, it’s been amazing to see what being transparent can do. I’ve connected and helped several PPD dads and family members helping them walk through some of the worst moments. I’ve been able to read books on fatherhood sent to me by authors. And I’ve just met some incredibly cool people that encourage me to be a better person. My blog is sometimes serious, sometimes fun, but always real.


And last but not least – if you had a chance to share one piece of advice with an expectant father (new or experienced), what would it be?

Embrace every moment good and bad, you can’t get them back. Choose your family above your golf game and if you can help it, your work life. You may make less money, but in the long run you’ll be investing in something that lasts for eternity.

Sharing the Journey with YOU (Take II)!

There was ONE taker last time for this interview (Thanks Heather!)

So c’mon – just five questions. You never know who you might help by sharing your story with the rest of us because even though they’re similar, each one has their own unique nuances and experiences that may just reach out and inspire a Mom or someone close to a Mom to get help for her!

1) What is your personal experience with PPD? Are you a survivor, partner, parent, medical professional?

2) Has your experience with PPD changed your life? If so, how?

3) What are some of your favorite PPD resources?

4) What role, if any, did your faith play in recovery or in your treatment views of PPD?

5) And last but not least – If you could pass on one piece of advice to an expecting mother, what would it be and why?

Sharing the Journey with Adrienne Griffen

Meet Adrienne Griffen, an amazing woman, mother, PPD Survivor, and fellow PSI Coordinator.

Adrienne has been volunteering with PSI for about as long as I have and is located in VA. She recently launched her own non-profit, Postpartum Support Virginia.Not only is she one dedicated woman, she’s from my home state, VA. Gotta show the love, right?

Her first postpartum experience was awesome – she even held a dinner party for 40 people when her new daughter was just three months old! (YOU GO GIRL!) It was with her second child that events quickly spiraled out of control and Adrienne found herself struggling for someone, anyone, to listen compassionately to her and show her the way back out. Finally her husband located a physician who specialized in women’s mood disorders. Adrienne began to recover having finally located the correct help. Her third pregnancy was a lot like mine – she stayed on her meds, educated her doctors (even received an apology) and received a screening questionnaire at her 6 week checkup. (By the way, HAVE you written or called your Senator about the MOTHER’S ACT yet?) Impressed with how far the medical community had come, Adrienne felt great and was now fully dedicated to improving things even more. Read on to find out more…

Just like me, you’ve been driven to help other Moms struggling with PPD through an experience of your own. Would you mind sharing that experience with us and why it inspires you to help other mothers?

After my second child was born six years ago, I had a fairly significant episode of postpartum depression and anxiety. I knew something was wrong because everything about this birth and postpartum period was the opposite of my first experience with childbirth two years earlier. My second delivery was rather traumatic (emergency C-section); my second baby ate more, slept less, and cried more than my first; I had a toddler AND a newborn (which I believe is the hardest stage thus far of parenting); I was totally sleep deprived; and I just couldn’t imagine how I was going to survive the next 18 years until this baby went off to college, never mind the next 5 minutes. Compounding my misery was the fact that my next-door-neighbor had just had her second, and my sister just had her fourth, and they made it look so easy.

The hardest part was finding help. Despite realizing that something was terribly amiss, I couldn’t find the help I needed — or at least the help I wanted. At my 6-week postpartum, I told the OB/GYN that I wasn’t feeling well, and without any discussion she offered me Prozac. When I called the Behavioral Medicine branch of my HMO, I was hoping for a verbal hug from someone who could reassure me that others had felt like this and that help was available. Instead, I was told to call back during normal business hours, overheard the intake nurse tell her supervisor I was “homicidal”, was told that they would report me to Child Protective Services if I had hurt my children, and was charged two co-pays since I saw a nurse AND a doctor. The psychiatrist recommended sleeping pills — I wasn’t sure if he meant for me or for my baby. I called mental health providers but couldn’t find anyone accepting new patients. I called about support groups, only to be told that they were now defunct. I saw a psychologist for several months who never understood how desperate I was. I felt like I was banging my head on a brick wall. Finally, when my son was six months old, my husband located a psychiatrist who specializes in women’s mood disorders and gave me the reassurance and care I needed.

I vowed during this time that I would someday do something so that others could find help more easily. This isn’t rocket science. PPD is relatively easily diagnosed and treated. The hard part is getting information to new mothers and connecting them to health care resources.

Tell us about your organization, Postpartum Support VA. How long has this been in the works and what does it feel like to finally have it up and running?

Postpartum Support Virginia is a not-for-profit organization providing hope and help for new mothers through:

  • support for new and expectant mothers (one-on-one and group support)
  • information and resources for new mothers and their families
  • outreach and education

I think of it as an umbrella covering all the activities ongoing in Virginia dealing with postpartum depression. The website (www.postpartumva.org) lists telephone and email volunteers, support groups, and mental health professionals who treat women with postpartum depression and other perinatal mood disorders.

I’ve been thinking about creating an organization like Postpartum Support Virginia for about three years, ever since I started to volunteer with mothers experiencing postpartum issues. But with three young children (they are now 8, 6 1/2, and 3) I couldn’t devote the time and energy until now. My approach has been to build the infrastructure first, then put the superstructure in place.

In other words, I’ve spent the last few years laying the foundation — helping other volunteers get started, speaking to maternal/child health care providers, leading support groups, networking with others involved with PPD throughout Virginia, attending PSI conferences. The past six months have been about formalizing these operations — creating a not-for-profit organization, building a website, creating a board of directors. The next few months will be focused on fund raising. Postpartum Support Virginia is still in its infant stage, and I really feel like I’ve given birth to my fourth child.

What do you find to be the most rewarding about helping other PPD Moms and families?

There is such joy in helping these new mothers who are swirling around in the whirlpool of depression and anxiety. To see the change after they get the help they need is so rewarding. In particular, seeing a new mother fall in love with her baby is amazing. And to receive feedback like this email from a mom who attended one of our support groups makes it all worthwhile:

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart. The knowledge and encouragement that you all gave me in only 2 visits put me on the path to a better life than I ever could have imagined. I went from the worst time in my life to the happiest I have ever been so I am very grateful. Thank you so very much.”
How did your husband handle your PPD? Any advice for dads struggling to cope with their partner’s PPD?

My husband kept our little family going while I had PPD. He researched this illness and found the psychiatrist who finally helped me. He would come home from work at a moment’s notice when I was falling apart. Whenever I feel guilty about how he carried me through this time, he reminds me that is what marriage is all about. Spouses who see their partners suffer PPD, please remember that this is not her fault, you are not alone, and with help she will be well again.
What is the most challenging thing about motherhood?

The most challenging thing about motherhood is being mentally present for each of my children. They are each so special and unique, requiring different parenting skills from me, that it takes time and energy to give each what s/he deserves.
What is your most favorite thing about motherhood?

The same as all other mothers – BEDTIME! Just kidding.

Three things:

  1. I love making my children smile.
  2. I love seeing the progression towards independence, which is bittersweet but the goal of good parenting.
  3. I love watching the sibling relationship develop.

How long have you been a PSI Coordinator and how did you first find out about PSI?

I have been a PSI coordinator for two years. I heard about PSI from another PPD survivor and volunteer, Benta Sims, who raved about the conference she attended a few years ago. Joining PSI gave me the sense of connectedness and credibility that I needed to do this type of volunteer work.

What do you do when you take time for YOU?

Oh, I take LOTS of time for me to ensure I have time and energy for my family. On a daily basis I exercise and nap — in fact, I have taken a nap virtually every day since I was pregnant with my first child almost 10 years ago. I go to bed at 10:00 every night (except tonight while I am answering these questions!). I see a therapist, go to a chiropractor, get monthly therapeutic massages, and practice yoga. I host coffee once a week with three great neighbors — we solve each other’s problems and keep each other on track. And I have terrific in-laws who take my children for a few days once a year so I can revel in being alone in my own home. This is the best gift ever — and usually when I fall into a novel and read non-stop for two days.

How do you balance motherhood and work?

Balancing motherhood and work is extremely difficult, as most mothers know. I don’t really consider what I do as “work” because I find it so fulfilling — and because I don’t get paid (yet). The way I balance it is being my own boss. I know that at this stage of life I wouldn’t be happy with someone telling me what to do, answering to someone else’s demands or expectations or schedule, and forcing my children into my work schedule. So with my own organization, I can do what I want when I want.

Practically speaking, it means working while my children are at school or at night so I can be fully present for them while they are at home. During the summer I hire a babysitter a few mornings a week to take my children to their swim team or the park while I work from home. I’ve been ramping up slowly, but this year will be a big turning point as my youngest starts half-day preschool.
Finally, if you had a chance to pass on just one piece of advice to a new mom (experienced or not), what would you share with her?

Take care of yourself so you can take care of your family.

Sharing the Journey with ME!

Here’s a twist on the typical Thursday Interview fare around here.

I asked my husband to email me 10 questions. He sent 11. I figured it was only fair to allow him to interview me being that he was kind enough to do the same.

Enjoy getting to know me even better!

Tell me about the first time that you thought you might be suffering from PPD. How did you cope with it?

We were living in South Carolina and miles away from any family or support when our first daughter was born. Just a few months prior to her birth I discovered the online community at iVillage.com and became quite active there as I did not have any friends or family nearby and was practically bedridden due to severe pelvic misalignment issues. Allison’s birth was quite the traumatic experience (the doctor is very lucky I had a moment of sanity and decided NOT to kick him) and no one really seemed to offer any help after she was born. It was kind of an in and out experience, which, unfortunately, is the norm nowadays.

Once we got her home, the first thing that happened was an employee of yours stopping by the house with her son who was sick and sneezing. He proceeded to touch all of the baby stuff and I totally freaked out. At the time I did not see this as the beginning but the level of anxiety I felt that day took a very long time to dissipate. I really started to sink lower when you went back to work and remember standing over Alli’s crib and apologizing to her because I had no idea what to say to her. I thought she was judging me for not knowing how to be a good mommy. I was also very upset with myself because motherhood was what I wanted – even more than being a wife – I grew up wanting to be a mommy more than anything and here I was, finally a mom, and felt I was failing.

I realized it might be PPD through the online community at iVillage and reading things other women had posted. At three months postpartum and after some serious soul searching, I finally made an appointment with my OB. I was tired of the intrusive thoughts, the anxiety, the anger, I was tired of not being myself. So I went online, took a screening test and scored severely depressed having answered the questions about self-harm and harming my infant with a yes. I took this to my OB and he refused to acknowledge the possibility of PPD but did admit something was going on – PPD, no – because I was more than 6 weeks PP and my “hormones should be back to normal by now” Calm down now – it gets worse. Alli was screaming to be nursed as we discussed things (crying is my WORST trigger) and my OB brazenly asked how important it was to continue breastfeeding. What he said next shocked me. He refused to medicate me because I refused to quit nursing. His precise words were that I refused to stop nursing for trial therapy. I have my medical records to prove it. Because I was clean, had applied make-up, and was well-spoken, I couldn’t be depressed. Because I didn’t “look” the part, that couldn’t be what was wrong with me. He admitted something was going on but refused to admit that it was PPD. I was referred to the in-house counselor but they kept changing my appointment which made things worse so I refused to go and canceled my appointment.

Just two months later we moved back to Georgia and things started to improve because we were able to leave Alli with your parents and I started to get some time to myself. I thought I was recovered but sadly we discovered after I gave birth to Charlotte that I had not and things were worse than ever.

After giving birth to three children, how did your pregnancies differ in relation to your PPD experiences?

My first pregnancy was the easiest but I think all Moms say that – after all, you don’t have other little ones to chase around or keep up with. My first round of PPD was also mild compared to the second time around.

The second pregnancy was a bit easier physically because I knew what to expect but harder in the aspect that I had a toddler to run around after which is the last thing you feel like doing when your stomach is revolting against well, the world. The postpartum period after Charlotte’s birth was the most intense – her cleft palate, my depression and subsequent hospitalization, her multiple surgeries, Alli’s terrible two’s, your stressful and exhaustive job, pumping full time for Charlotte… you name it, there wasn’t a roadblock we didn’t face. But we made it through, clutching the bar holding us down into the roller coaster until our knuckles were transparent.

Honestly, how supportive was I when you were going through such a terrible time? What do you wish I had done differently?

Wow. Hard question. I think you were as supportive as you could be given the existential circumstances of each situation (no support system, birth defect & NICU, unexpected pregnancy), the information available to you at the time, and the irritability that you were constantly ducking from me. I am sure you probably felt as if you were walking on eggshells most of the time, not knowing if the next word out of your mouth would set off an “episode.”

Knowing what we now know as a couple about PPD, obviously there are some things we would have done differently like gone for a second opinion, pushed for better treatment, worked together instead of drifting apart into our own worlds which I think led to the path on which we found ourselves after Charlotte’s birth. I wasn’t able to be there for you and you felt as you couldn’t show any emotion when all I wanted was for you to show something – to let know that I wasn’t alone in feeling so lost about her cleft palate and the NICU stay. Of course I didn’t say this to you – I expected you to read my mind and got pissed when you didn’t. That’s just not fair at all (and is hallmark behavior of a postpartum woman)

Overall, you did a great job keeping us together as a family even if it meant putting on a show for me and for everyone else. As for having done something differently, hindsight is 20/20 and there’s nothing we can do to change our past behavior. I believe strongly that our marriage can now withstand anything anyone wishes to toss our way. We’ve certainly been through quite a bit in six short years.

You have certainly turned some very tragic events into ammunition to help other women fight PPD? How have your PPD experiences helped you help others?

I have found my inner strength, beauty, and grace as a result of the darkness of PPD. The same strength with which I battled my own PPD energizes me each and everyday to help other women who are in the same place I used to be. I will NOT let another woman suffer alone if there is anything I can do to change that for her. Each day I wake up with the goal of helping at least one woman. Small contribution but it goes back to a quote I fell in love with while in college by Ghandi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

What role has your faith and belief in God played in your battles with PPD?

Raised Christian and having given my heart to the Lord at the tender age of 6, I had fallen away from the Lord and had really not been close with him for quite some time when Alli was born. I started to pray more and continued with this throughout my pregnancy with Charlotte. After Charlotte’s birth, I could feel His presence and let myself lean on Him although not as much as I should have, looking back. God knew he wasn’t done with me yet so He sent us Cameron to show me how much of a miracle He was capable of making. And He made a cute one!

When I first started helping others with PPD, I was uncomfortable talking about faith and God. Now it’s one of the easiest things to talk about. God has truly taken me into his Arms and blessed me. And I figure – if Jesus died for our sins, what a small price PPD is compared to His sacrifice. It’s taken me nearly four years of intense growth and molding to come to that conclusion and is not something I have come to believe lightly. My faith is stronger than ever and is still growing.

On the other side of the coin, have your PPD experiences affected your faith? How?

My PPD experiences have certainly brought me closer to God. I have come to realize that He has big plans for me and I have learned to quietly listen to his voice and truly lean on Him during times of need. In fact, if I start to worry now, I instantly pray rather than let it spiral out of control. I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am for all the growth He has allowed in my life over the past few years!

Life can be busy. Ours certainly is. You are a mother of three, homemaker, PPD advocate and wife. It almost seems impossible what you do. So I have to know, how do you do it?

I have no idea. If you figure it out, let me know.

Seriously though – I grew up watching (and helping) my mother around the house. She was a Stay at home mom too and I picked up a lot of tips from her too. I still call every day (HI MOM) well, almost every day as I’m much busier now and she gives me lots and lots of tips.

A lot of the PPD work I do is online so I can do bits and pieces here and there. I’ve also got the housework down to a science and can have that going while I’m working on PPD stuff in the living room.

One rule I’m working on is that when the girls are awake, I am all theirs unless I have to cook or clean. Even then I try to get them involved so they don’t feel left out or get them playing with play-doh at the dining room table so they’ll at least be having fun. I love my times with the girls as it’s what keeps me sane – well, along with time with you too!

What do you find most challenging about motherhood?

It never ends. My mom has a cartoon on her fridge at her house that I would LOVE to have – a census worker is at the door and a woman is standing there. She is saying, “Work? I just wake up and there it is.” I am never off – I am on call 24/7. Just today I was mother, nurse, friend, poopy cleaner, fan fixer, chef, linguist, wife, writer, brain-stormer, dishwasher, laundry lady, pie maker, dog walker, hand-holder, singer, and most importantly, ME.

What is your favorite thing about motherhood?

Bedtime.

Seriously though – I would have to go with getting the kids to laugh and have a good time. There is NOTHING more heartwarming and uplifting than allowing myself to be a total kid right along with them. I know this is not something you’ve seen terribly often but I’m working on it. At least I’m singing more in front of you more, right?

And last, but not least. What is it like being married to such a hunk and amazing man?

I’ll let you know when that happens. 😉

It’s like the way the Earth smells right after an afternoon rain shower. No matter how many times you experience it, it’s always new, refreshing, and uplifting even though the storm that brought you there may have been the most difficult storm you’ve ever experienced.

Sharing the Journey with My Husband

As I sit here having just read this interview, I am blown away by how far we have truly come since the birth of our first child. We have overcome so much and I know it is because neither one of us is afraid of staring adversity in the eye. Chris and I met November 2000 while we worked at the same company. We’ve been inseparable ever since, no matter what the storm brought to our world. Relying on each other’s strengths and shoring up each other’s weaknesses, we’ve managed to build an extremely strong marriage that has been tested time and again in the short six years of wedded partnership. And you know what? We’ve come out of each storm stronger and closer than before. There’s a quote by Louisa Alcott:  “I am not afraid of the storm for I am learning to sail my ship.” Together we are not afraid of the storm and have slowly begun to master sailing our ship through whatever mighty waves come our way. I hope you enjoy this honest and compassionate look into my PPD experience from my husband’s perspective.

Would you share your experience of watching the woman you love suffer from Postpartum Depression? What were some of the emotions you went through as you watched me spiral downward and what was the hardest part for you?

Wow, thats tough. I guess it is hard because I have blocked that out of my mind. I think the best way to answer that question is to just explain what PPD looks like from the outside from the perspective of someone who is uneducated in the signs, because that is where I was when it all began. Honestly I really didn’t know what to think. All I knew is that the woman that I married and loved was gone. You were reclusive and moody most of the time. All I really wanted to do is just tell you to snap out of it, and I think that I did a couple of times. I thought you had become lazy and selfish. I knew something was wrong, but I thought it was more of a problem with lack of motivation and lack of discipline. It made me angry. After our second daughter was born, I had educated myself. I found that even though I got frustrated with you, I understood. I probably didn’t show it all the time, because I had my own stresses going on with sixty hour work weeks and the hospitalization of our daughter. The hardest part of it all though was watching you hurt. I just wanted so bad for you to be happy and it just didn’t seem to happen.

Looking back, would you agree that the lack of diagnosis/treatment of my first episode compounded my second episode?

Definitely. I actually believe that it just carried over into the second pregnancy. You never really recovered from the first episode. It wasn’t until nearly a year after the birth of Charlotte that I even began to recognize you as the same woman that I married.

You recognized my PP OCD the second time around well before I was able to admit there was a problem. In fact, you even made the call to my OB’s office for initial treatment. What were some of the warning signs that alerted you to the beginnings of this episode?

You had become anti-social. You were sad most of the time. You did a lot of cleaning, and please don’t take this the wrong way because you really are a great housewife, but neither one of us is Mary Poppins when it comes to keeping the house clean. What really tipped me off though was that you just didn’t seem well. You wanted to sleep a lot and you also seemed to snap very easily at the smallest things.

My hospitalization absolutely frightened me but ultimately became the turning point in my recovery. Would you share your memories and feelings surrounding my hospitalization?

Honestly, I was scared to death as well. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was working sixty hour work weeks with a two year old and newborn at home and I didn’t know how I was going to take care of them. And how would I juggle having to make the hour drive back and forth to the hospital that you were in to bring you the things that you would need and to get milk for Charlotte? I didn’t know how long you would be there. I was really scared. I was also concerned for you. I love you and didn’t want to see you hurting. I was also thankful for the fact that you were getting the help you needed. When you called me at work and told me that you were having intrusive thoughts, I couldn’t get home fast enough. Who knows what the outcome would have been had you not gone to the hospital that day? That thought still crosses my mind today. I am so grateful that you understood the severity of your problem and took the help that was given to you. I think it all goes back to education.

We worked very hard together to prevent PPD after Cameron’s birth. What were some of the differences in how we approached the postpartum period this time around?

Well, I know that you took antidepressants during your pregnancy, but we also had a set of written guidelines as to what to look for and for how we would respond if certain events took place. We tried to educate (there’s that word again) our families about the signs to look for and also what were the right and wrong things to say and do in the event that PPD reared it’s head again. During your second bout with PPD I really think that we were better educated, but our families were not. This caused a lot of tension and strife. With the whole family knowing what to look for, it helped make everyone sympathetic to the situation. Boy do I wish we had that in place when in the throes of your second episode.

What is the biggest lesson you feel you’ve learned from my PP OCD episodes?

I always viewed mental illness as something that happened to other people. I viewed people with mental illness as weird or abnormal. The biggest thing I learned is that mental illness can strike anyone, at any time. I suffer from ADHD, depression and anxiety and would have never sought help with my issues had I not educated myself about yours.

What has it been like to watch me grow from mother suffering from PPD to the PPD Advocate I am today?

First I would like to say how proud I am of you. You have turned adversity into triumph. I have been amazed at the transformation. Most people just take their hard knocks and then move on, but you have taken up a cause and have made a difference in other peoples lives. I am inspired and in awe. I love you and encourage to keep up the great work that you are doing.

Share with us what you find to be most challenging about fatherhood. The Least challenging.

I have always been a rather impatient person. Fatherhood is teaching me patience. That is a challenge since I tend to want instant results. Maybe that is just the ADHD in me. Kids sort of move at their own pace, and I have learned that they are learning all along the way. To rush them along is not only detrimental to their growth and development, but it is also unfair to steal those learning experiences away from them. The least challenging is loving those precious kids. I just can’t seem to get enough of them and can’t give enough hugs and kisses. That is not a challenge at all.

How important do you feel it is to hold onto a sense of self once you become a parent? What are some ways a father can provide some much needed alone time?

You must know who you are before you can help someone else, namely your children, discover who they are. The best way to do that is to have some “me time”. It is very difficult to get when you are a parent between diaper changes and cleaning mud (or other mud like substances) off the walls, but is essential. Sometimes I will stay up late to get some alone time or will go to the store. Don’t forget though that you and your spouse need some time together too. Also, it is ok to ask your wife to take the kids for a few hours while you go get some coffee. Just remember though that you need to provide her with that same luxury as well. Ask the Grandparents to take the kids too. Even if it is just for an hour or two, you and your spouse can have a nice dinner or just go home and work on some of those household projects that you have on your “honey do” list.

And last but not least, if you had one piece of advice to give an expectant father (new or experienced), what would it be?

Educate, educate and when it’s all through educate some more. You can never fully prepare yourself for everything that fatherhood throws at you, but knowing some of what to expect takes a lot of the anxiety away and relieves a lot of the stress on you and your spouses relationship

Sharing the Journey with David Klinker

 There is a reality as powerful and profound as Motherhood. It’s Fatherhood.

This month we’ll be focusing on the Father’s point of view through interviews with David Klinker, the Father’s Coordinator with PSI, Dr. William Courtenay, a psychologist and Men’s Coordinator for PSI (meaning he works with men who are suffering from PPD – yes, that happens too), Michael Lurie, author of My Journey to Her World, and my own husband’s experience with my PPD.
Today you’ll read about David Klinker, his survival through his wife’s PPD and his website, Postpartum Dads, which is designed to be a resource for new Dads. David is wonderful and I often send families his way because I belive that the entire family needs to heal and recover – not just mom. Thanks David – for your hard work and for supporting Dads everywhere. You are doing amazing things! 

 Fatherhood” © 2005 Paul C. Smits

© 2005 Paul C. Smits

1) What is it like for a partner to witness a Postpartum Mood Disorder in action?

Things for us spiraled down very quickly.  In some ways things happened so fast that I felt like I was taking part in some made for TV drama.  At times I felt almost detached, like I was just playing a role.  At other times I felt devastated thinking about losing Denise and all that we had together.  I was very lucky to have supportive family and friends; otherwise, I know it would have been much worse.  Fortunately, just as quickly as things spiraled down, Denise got better.   

 

 2) Would you share your family’s experience with PPD? When did you first realize something wasn’t quite right and what steps were taken to get help?

 Here is our story:  https://home.comcast.net/~ddklinker/mysite2/Johns_Story.htm

 

3) Has becoming a Father changed you?

 The moment I looked into my daughter’s big brown eyes for the first time, I was a changed person.  I felt a huge sense of responsibility come over me as I sat there in the delivery room holding her.  The greatest changes came from needing to consider her needs over my own. 

 

4) What aspect of being a Father is the most challenging? The Least?

 I think the most challenging aspect of being a father is dealing with the fear of doing it wrong.  How do I know that the choices Denise and I make are the right ones?  Are we doing enough for the kids, or too much?  What makes us qualified to shape the lives of two wonderful human beings?  I deal with these fears but remembering that Denise and I are there to provide opportunities, guidance, and boundaries for our kids.  They shape their own lives, we just have to do our best to help them make good choices in their lives.

The least challenging aspect of being a Father is enjoying the special times together when everything seems right with the world.  Whether it watching them ride their bike for the first time, watching them catch their first fish, or just driving home after a softball game.  There have been many times where I know I’ve gotten the father thing right and it’s a great feeling.

 

 5) How did you get involved with PSI and how rewarding has it been to work with Fathers who are where you have been?

I got involved with PSI the same way many other volunteers have, I talked with Jane Honikman.  I knew that I wanted to do something to help other dads and Jane was very encouraging.  PSI has recognized the importance of reaching out to partners for a long time and needed someone to take the role as Father’s Coordinator.  I volunteered and was very warmly welcomed in the organization.  I have met many wonderful people through PSI and it has been a great experience for me.

My main involvement at PSI has been talking to fathers on the phone, responding to emails, and maintaining my website.  I usually only have 5-10 calls and maybe 10-15 email contacts within a year.  Most of the calls are from dads that feel cut out and rejected by their wives.  These dads feel devastated and powerless to doing anything about the situation.  I have several stories on the postpartumdads.org website from dads dealing with rejection.  I have to say, these calls are tough and I often feel inadequate to provide the kind of help these men desperately want.

On a more positive note, I have had several phone calls where I do feel I have made a difference.  It is very rewarding when I feel like I have helped someone through a tough time.  I have also received a lot of positive feedback on the website, especially the stories. 

 

6) What led you to develop your website for fathers/partners?

After taking some courses through Landmark Education I knew that I wanted to make a difference in the world.  While talking with a friend whose wife was experiencing PPD I realized I didn’t know what to say to help him.  I talked to him about my experience but I didn’t know what resources were available to help.  After looking for resources on the internet I saw that there was very little directed towards the needs of dads dealing with the depression of their wives.  I came up with an idea to develop a website that featured stories from other dads with very practical suggestions.  I got some great encouragement from the local PSI coordinator Shelly Ashe and from Jane Honikman.  With very little experience creating website, I figured out the basics and started with my own story.  I have been fortunate to have other dads contribute stories and I am very proud of what we have created.

 

7) Just as women with PPD learn that taking care of themselves is important, this is a lesson that Fathers should heed as well. What do you do on a regular basis to feed your soul and ensure that you stay in a good place?

I “feed my soul” by doing projects around the house, riding my mountain bike, taking walks, and playing with the kids.  I’m currently building a retaining wall in the back yard and I get great satisfaction out of seeing the progress I make each week.  It’s the most physical labor I get during a week.  I try to mountain bike once a week and the 20 minutes of flying down hill, after the 1 hour going uphill, are the best therapy possible.  Everyday at lunch I take a 20 minute walk that helps to clear my mind.  I also like to spend as much time with the kids as possible.  I enjoy being with them and it’s a great way to see the world through their eyes.

 

8 ) Did PPD strengthen or weaken your marriage? Do you feel that you both are in a better place now than prior to PPD?

PPD strengthened our marriage.  Denise and I have been through some very tough times together and we have been able to support each other through them.  Each time we have made it through the tough times we have felt closer as we have more invested in each other.  Watching Denise recover from PPD, as well as a life-threatening illness, has been an inspiration to me and many people around her.

 

9) What aspect of Fatherhood should be celebrated the most?

I see my primary role as a father to be setting the boundaries for my kids.  This means keeping them safe, but it also means allowing them to take risks and sometimes going further then their mom would allow.  I see myself as being there to back them up as they try new things, from riding a bike, to the first day at a new school.  I think the role that fathers play in fostering independence and confidence should be celebrated.

 

10) If there was one piece of advice you could give to an expectant father (new or experienced), what would it be and why would this be important for him to hear?

My one piece of advice to new dads is to trust your instincts.  If something doesn’t seem right it probably isn’t.  That applies to dealing with PPD was well as dealing with setting boundaries.   

 

Sharing the Journey with Karen Kleiman

Yes, I know this month’s interviews are dedicated to moms of women with PPD but I am just so excited about this interview that I just had to put it up!

If you’ve been following this blog from the beginning (and thank you if you have!), you know that Karen’s book, What am I thinking? Having a Baby after Postpartum Depression was what I grabbed immediately after the positive pregnancy test. It was that very book that led to the inspiration for this blog so in a way, this is coming full circle for me because it was about this time last year that I found out I was pregnant.

Karen runs The Postpartum Stress Center in PA and her website and books are the first places I will send a new mom or family member. She’s got her stuff together and in my opinion has some of the best straightforward advice and information for women and their families! I am so honoured to be sharing this with you and even more honoured that Karen agreed to do the interview. Thanks Karen for all your hard work! Keep it up!

 

What led you to specialize in women’s issues?

To steal a line from my new book, “Ever since I was a young child, I wanted to be a mother.”  I remember playing with dolls and always taking on the role of the perfect mother.  I remember proudly asserting to my own mother, “when I grow up, I’m going to be a mother!”  After studying to be a therapist and then, becoming a mother myself, it felt natural to narrow my professional focus to women and their unique needs.

How did the idea for The Postpartum Stress Center come about and what brought it to fruition?

When my children were born, twenty plus years ago, I went back to work part-time as a social worker and trained to be a lactation consultant so I could connect with new mothers when I wasn’t working.  That experience provided one of my earliest exposures to the emotional upheaval of new motherhood.  Women started telling me how bad they were feeling.  (As you can imagine, if you can talk to a stranger about your nipples, you can talk about anything!)  I wasn’t sure if it was because I was a therapist or because they were so overwhelmed, it didn’t matter who was on the other end of the phone, but either way, I became aware of how many women weren’t feeling good after they had their babies.  Some felt bad about their babies, some felt bad about their marriages, some felt bad about them selves.  The common themes were: lack of support, exhaustion, and chronic worry. 

So when I went into private practice, I started studying postpartum depression to better understand what some of these women might be experiencing.   It didn’t take long for me to realize that most of these women were falling through the cracks of the medical community, remember, this was twenty four years ago.  No one was talking about postpartum depression like they do today.  As my practice developed and I started treating more and more women with depression, it was apparent how insufficient the healthcare system was in response to this great need.  This is when my clinical practice evolved into the next phase which included psycho-education, trainings, in-services, and writing, in order to enhance the community’s understanding and promote optimal treatment options.

As a mother yourself, what has been most challenging? Least challenging?

As much as I hate to admit it… this Empty Nest thing… I don’t love it.  It’s funny, I often think to myself how fortunate I am to have such a loving husband (twenty five years with me cannot be easy!), a fabulous career and all kinds of wonderful things to fill my days.  Still, it’s hard not to have the kids here.  Both are close enough to home, but, it’s not the same.

Least challenging?  Laughing with and about my kids.  You know that feeling that a new mother gets when she hears her baby belly laugh for the first time?  It’s like you want to stop the whole world and tell everyone to listen to this exquisite sound, as if no one had ever heard a baby laugh before!  Nothing in the world feels better than hearing your baby belly laugh.  And when the baby is 15 years old, or 21, or 24?  It feels exactly the same way.  It’s magical.

How has becoming a mother changed you?

Motherhood has inspired all that I do, most of what I say, and much of who I am.

What activity refreshes you the most when you’ve had a rough day?

I love coming home and sitting on the deck with my husband after a day’s work; surrounded by flowers, birds, dogs, good food, and lots of laughs.  It is actually essential to my well-being.  I get very cranky if I don’t laugh.

In your opinion, what aspect of motherhood should be celebrated the most?

I don’t think there is any aspect of motherhood that can be singled out to be celebrated.  I truly think all mothers, as well as fathers, always do the best they can at any given moment.   Women need to stop comparing themselves to others; they need to try to quiet the critical voice inside their own heads and believe in themselves.  Mothers need to learn to celebrate their own accomplishments, big and small, and realize the greatness in all that they do.  If they wait for appreciation from others, they will, undoubtedly, be disappointed and disillusioned.

What led you to write The Postpartum Husband?

After working with the postpartum population for some time, I began to realize that husbands were often kept out of the treatment loop.   As more and more partners were joining our sessions, I became aware of their enormous influence on the recovery process.  Not only did they need information and support, but their presence and their connection to the process made a significant difference in how women recovered.

Your book, What Am I Thinking?: Having a Baby After Postpartum Depression, was what I grabbed when I got my positive pregnancy result for Cameron and it really helped me to put a positive spin on my pregnancy – inspired this blog, actually. What went into the authorship of this book and why would you recommend it to women who are facing either a decision about pregnancy or an unexpected pregnancy after experiencing a Postpartum Mood Disorder?

Well as you know, the decision to get pregnant after experiencing a previous postpartum mood disorder is a difficult one.  In my practice, I have seen that women will feel more confident, more in control and less anxious if they have information.  The information gathered from a previous experience of depression can arm a woman with details that can help her learn a great deal about herself.  It has been shown that preparing for the postpartum period by fortifying her resources can reduce the likelihood of a full-blown depression.

  As with all the books I have written, the women I see in my practice have literally led the way.  They tell me what they need to know, which is how I determine what should be addressed.  Postpartum women have taught me what I know and what I need to teach others.  I’m so glad to hear my book helped support you through your pregnancy and postpartum period!  And it inspired this blog?  What a sweet thing to say.  I think this blog is such a fabulous idea and I’m certain it has offered much support to women going through similar circumstances.

 I hope you don’t mind me plugging my newest book which is due out this September.  “Therapy and the Postpartum Woman: Notes on Healing Postpartum Depression for Clinicians and the Women Who Seek their Help” (Routledge, 2008 ) will be a nice companion book for women with PPD who are either in therapy or considering therapy. 

Any sage advice for families currently experiencing issues with a Postpartum Mood disorder? What steps should they take to help Mom get better?  

Talk to her.  Sit with her.  Stay close to her.  Tolerate her anxiety and ambivalence.  Encourage her to contact her healthcare practitioner.  If she doesn’t, make sure she knows you will do that with her or for her.   Do not assume she is fine if she says she is.  Stay connected to the process.  Do what needs to be done to enable her to sleep, eat, rest and get out for fresh air.  Remind her she is loved and no matter how long this takes, you will be there.  Tell her she will not always feel this way. 

If there was one piece of advice you could give to an expectant mother (new or experienced), what would it be and why would this be important for her to hear? 

An expectant mother is at a turning point in her life.  She knows that no matter how things unfold, her life will never be the same.  This can be experienced with great anticipation or with great anxiety.  Either way, it is best to prepare by being mindful and attentive; to her own needs, to those of her partner and to those of her marriage.
 
For women who may be symptomatic during or after their pregnancy, I am reminded of a wonderful quote by Emory Austin:

“Some days there won’t be a song in your heart.  Sing anyway.” 

Sharing the Journey with Helena Bradford

Welcome to the second interview in this month’s series, Mothers of Women who have Struggled with PPD. Today’s interview is with Helena Bradford, mother to Ruth. Helena has courageously dedicated her life to helping women with PPD through her foundation, the Ruth Rhoden Craven Foundation. She tragically lost Ruth to PPD as a result of inadequate medical care and lack of information provided by medical professionals and is passionate about not letting that happen to anyone else. Helena has a wonderful quote as part of her email signature and it has immersed itself in my life and has kept my bad days limited to being singular in occurence as I remind myself of WHO holds my tomorrow. I want to share it with you and thank Helena for sharing it with those who email her.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds,
but I know Who holds tomorrow.

Helena truly has turned her tragic loss into such a powerful and wonderful shining light, filling those who are suffering with hope and allowing them to know that yes, there are people who care and they are NOT alone in their suffering. Thank you Helena, for your bravery, optimism, perseverance, and compassion. All four are awesome traits needed in the PPD world and we are indeed a lucky community to have your dedication to improving and spreading knowledge and resources to women and families who need it!

  

What was it about your daughter’s experience with PPD that led you to start the Ruth Rhoden Craven Foundation?

 The fact that she received exceptionally poor treatment and died as a result. We received no information about PPD, no guidance in how to help Ruth stay alive, and no support from the medical community. We were certainly never told PPD was temporary and totally treatable, so these are some of the services we provide to the public through our Foundation. 

 How soon after your daughter gave birth did you begin to notice something wasn’t quite right with her? What were some of her primary symptoms?

 Shortly after delivery – like a day or two. Ruth’s symptoms included:  

  • I’m not sure I’m capable of taking care of this baby
  • Social withdrawal; behavior totally out of character

    Ruth made the statement she felt she needed to be institutionalized and that scared her to death

  • MEGA frustration and feelings of inadequacy – how can I do everything that has to be done and do it in a manner acceptable to me?

  • “Freaking out”, internally, every time the baby cried even though she knew there was someone there to take care of Andrew when she didn’t feel she could. Felt it was her responsibility – not someone else’s

  • Couldn’t sleep because her brain wouldn’t quit racing about how she was going to get everything done for the baby as well as her normal, everyday duties – mega problems with sleep deprivation

  • Found her on the floor in a corner between two large pieces of furniture one morning. When asked why she was there, she said she was hiding.

 

  What were some things that you drew strength from during this difficult time with Ruth?

 My faith in God and the support of friends and church family. 

 Has working with the Ruth Rhoden Craven Foundation taken Ruth’s tragedy and turned it into something positive for you?  

   Absolutely! I believe God has taken Ruth’s totally needless death and saved many lives through the story of her tragedy.  

 How uplifting is it for you when you are able to successfully help a woman and family in need?  

 Indescribably powerful and affirming. Being able to rescue moms and their families from the devastation of postpartum depression/perinatal mood disorders removes some of the senselessness of Ruth’s death. It gives positive meaning to her life and to the beautiful person she was.  

  Do you feel that the resources available to women with PPD have improved? 

 Yes they have, but we still have an exceptionally long way to go to eliminate tragedies and devastated lives and families as a result of PPD. I would say the majority of medical care givers and lay people are still totally ignorant of facts surrounding perinatal mood disorders and their treatment. That’s unacceptable.  

 

 What were some of the things you did as a mother to try to help Ruth?  

 I lived with Ruth and took care of her, the house and the baby for nearly 6 weeks. In addition, I brought her home with me a couple of times. For 2 ½ months, I was with Ruth more than I was away from her. Although that kind of support is crucial in battling PPD, it may not be enough if bad medical treatment is being received. It certainly wasn’t for Ruth. 

I tried to find good medical care for her but was unsuccessful. I wish I had taken her to Raleigh, NC where there is a PPD support group. I think she would have benefited tremendously from the group. 

 

 Tell us about your Walk/Run coming up in September that helps to raise awareness for PPD as well as funds for your organization. How did it get started? 

 Well, that’s a really neat story. One of the sweetest men in the world came to our house one night about five years ago to deliver an oxygen machine to my husband that his doctor had prescribed. While Gary was explaining the operation of the machine to us, we got off on the subject of the Foundation. After hearing Ruth’s story, Gary was in tears and said he wanted to do a fundraiser for us. THAT was the birth of the PPD Awareness Walk/Run. 

 The Run is held annually at Hampton Park in Charleston, SC. (For more information, please visit our web site at www.ppdsupport.org.) Both runners and walkers are invited to participate. Each year folks from all over our country, who work with PPD issues, travel to Charleston to participate. To me, that’s the most fun part because I get to meet the dedicated, passionate professionals and volunteers (some are PPD survivors) with whom I work throughout the year. 

 

 In your opinion, what should all expectant mothers know about PPD? 

  Postpartum Depression is totally treatable and is a temporary illness. No one needs to die as a result of it.  

  • There is help available. Please reach out for it, and don’t hesitate to change doctors if you feel you are receiving improper treatment or if you are not being heard. Postpartum depression is a valid illness that is equally as serious as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Thank God, it is temporary if treated early on and properly

  • Although there are definite risk factors for experiencing PPD, to my knowledge there is no way to know who will experience it and who won’t. That’s why I feel good PPD information should be provided in all birthing classes.

Have a plan in place before symptoms appear – just in case you happen to experience PPD. Some of the things a plan should include are:

  • a psychiatrist who is experienced in treating PPD

  • a night nurse or postpartum doula to take care of the baby at night so the mom can get plenty of sleep at night. This is critical.

  • friends/family members who will help the mom for several weeks (minimum) after she comes home from the hospital 

    

 Any advice for other mothers whose daughters are struggling with a Postpartum Mood Disorder?

 Make sure your daughter finds the best available medical care. Help her understand medication is necessary in most cases, and there is nothing wrong with taking that medication any more than it is to take medication for heart problems, diabetes or a whole host of other physical ailments. PPD is a physical illness that just happens to affect the brain instead of some other “more acceptable” organ in the body. No one deserves or asks for PPD!

Sharing the Journey with my Mom!

Happy May Day!

Today I am starting a series of interviews in honor of Mother’s Day. Interviews this month are focusing on Mothers of women who have suffered from Postpartum Depression. Up first is someone I am very happy to have the privilege of being close to and honoured that she agreed to be interviewd for my blog. My Mother is an intensely private person and yet it is because of her that I feel comfortable in being myself and reaching out to others. Raising three kids is no easy task (as I am discovering these days) and I am grateful that I have my mom to reach out to and certainly do not take that for granted. Thanks for all you have done for me over the years, Mom, and Thank you for your wonderful continued support in my life!

1) I know that you have a strong faith in God. How do you feel watching me go through Postpartum Depression and the subsequent growth I’ve experienced has affected your relationship with Him? Has it made it stronger?
 
   Having a close relationship with the Lord, has allowed me to let Him take care of  life situations. Through all the PPD that you have experienced His strength has given me just all the more reason to be thankful for the gift of patience and understanding. It has been amazing to look back just not at your journey but mine also and seeing the understanding of what and who God can be in our lives everyday.
    As far as a stronger relationship with God, every year I grow with Him in my life, His strength has always been the strongest for me, and His strength is always there.
  
2) When and how did you first realize something wasn’t quite right with me after Allison’s birth? What were some of the signs that didn’t sit well with you?
 
       Being the mother of three children myself, and that back when PPD was really just something that was not talked about or not even believed to have existed, my feelings of what you went through were really not in that place at that time. I can only understand after Allisons birth the constant calling to be reassured was a need for security from my point of view. Unfortunately because of the distance of living situations I only heard your feelings and immediately prayed and gave them  and your family to the Lord.
    
 3) I want to Thank You for your willingness to help so much after Charlotte’s birth when we were back and forth to the NICU. How hard was it for you to come down and help care for Allison while watching Chris and I go back and forth to Atlanta to visit our newborn daughter?
 
       This is a very easy question, I have always felt if I could be there for our children I would be. It comes back as your mom I knew that in my heart you would feel much better knowing I was there for you and your family. This particular time was when you started sharing more with me the emotional struggles because of Charlotte’s disability and also the understanding of the situation among all family members was new so there was quite a bit of distress.
 
4) You also dropped everything to come down when I was admitted to the hospital for PPD to help Chris with the girls. What were some of your thoughts as we went through that weekend?
 
     My immediate reaction when I read this question was one of I prayed! Next I knew because of what you, again had shared, the reasoning at this time was a medication issue. I will just say that the peace that God gave me is a big answer for this one. It was His strength not mine and His peace came  along with it.
 
5) How do you feel I am doing this time around with postpartum issues?
 
   You are more understanding, mainly because you are aware of what the problems can be. You still call a lot but I am seeing more of you sharing what the children are doing and the funny sayings, antics etc. I see a willingness to look outside “yourself” which in my opinion has helped you grow because
 its  allowed you to see how others in your life live. Your own relationship with the Lord has grown. That is a wonderful blessing!
 
 
6) What, if anything, have you learned from my postpartum experiences?
 
    I guess one of the biggest things I learned is that I do feel for all the mothers out there who had PPD and had no idea what was going on with their emotions.
Years ago when PPD was unknown and how so many of us have been affected and we kept asking is this normal?  To understand that as a society today we also no longer have families living close by and therefore the help that would once have been there has caused extra stress and therefore insecurities.
  
7) Do you feel that my motherhood has brought us closer?
 
    Yes and no. Yes, because of knowing that you care about my opinion and also seeing the relationship with our Lord growing. No, because of the distance of where we live keeps a lot of what we would share face to face out of the spectrum of our lives.
 
8 ) Have you done any research on your own into Postpartum Mood Disorders? If so, did what you find surprise you?
 
      I have done a bit but since at my age I am experiencing a lot of emotional changes in my own life I am giving it to the Lord who has been my strength when I have needed it. I am hardly ever surprised at much anymore. Emotions run the gamut, all over map.
 
9) What is your opinion on how open I am about my experiences and my determination to help other women not suffer alone?
 
       This, is one area I can say I am proud of you that you have taken it upon yourself to let others see and hear about what you have gone through. A beginning, yes, for knowing you have ” kept” a part of yourself and I know as your children grow you will hold onto yourself so when you are older you will know who you are.
 
10) Any advice for other mothers whose daughters are struggling with a Postpartum Mood Disorder?
 
    As you have shared many times already, keep the communication lines open. There will be plenty of times when as a parent you really have a hard time dealing with communication but I have found it the best way to help is to listen and learn and also just be there even if you have nothing to say. I have always shared with my children that if you ask I will give you my opinion, but you do not have to take it. There are so many resources out there now and some of the best advice I can give is to get all the advice you can from all possible places and then make an informed decision. Prayer for my family has always been an answer, God opens the doors to show me the right decision to make!  As a parent of someone who has PPD, just give love unconditionally!