PSI-CT will leading a climb on June 24th as part of PSI’s fundraising “Climb out of the Darkness”. Climb Out of the Darkness® is the world’s largest event to raise awareness of the real challenges of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Postpartum Progress began this event several years ago, and has now passed the baton to Postpartum Support International. I want to tell you about the event, why I am so passionate about PSI-CT pursuit of the mission to promote awareness, prevention, and treatment for perinatal wellbeing throughout Connecticut, and how you can make a difference.
My own and Andy’s personal “Climb out of the Darkness” began almost 25 years ago after Rachel’s birth, when I was so afraid of doing anything wrong, so anxious about the awesome responsibility of this precious new life that I became more and more anxious and depressed. I include Andy because together we quickly…
May is designated as “Maternal Mental Health Month”
and PSI-CT is busily working to increase awareness that as many as 1 in 5 mothers suffer from a mental health challenge. We have partnered with The BlueDot Project to increase awareness this month; please join us by sharing our posts and those from The BlueDot Project’s posts on your social media sites. As part of that project, we participated last week in the #RealMotherhoodChallenge, which asked Moms to post images and posts which reflected the real challenges of motherhood, rather than “rainbows and unicorns”. As a result of this national effort, the campaign reported that “the conversation around maternal mental health and the need to support every mother was immense. Because of you, we were able to have 8.5 Million timeline deliveries on social media and tripled our partner numbers from last year”. YAY!!! Let’s keep the momentum going!
June 23rd of 2018 will be the date of this year’s “Climb Out of Darkness”.
Our new PSI-President, Cory Bernard, LCSW, will be leading this year’s Chapter Climb in Simsbury, and we are excited to report that we have two other climbs in the state as well-one in Mystic/Groton and one in Fairfield County, (all three climbs will benefit PSI-CT and therefore Connecticut Families)! The “Climb Out of Darkness” is the largest, worldwide campaign to increase awareness of perinatal anxiety and mood disorders (PMADs). Cory notes that “The Climb brings together survivors, providers, advocates and families all over the globe on or around the summer solstice (longest day of the year). We share stories of hope and celebrate recovery as we gather together to raise money, raise awareness, support one another and give a voice to those who no longer have one. We climb for those who have fought their way out of their darkness, those who are still fighting and those who have lost their fight.”
Please join one of the climb teams already created or create your own team! If you start a new climb, please make your climb a chapter climb and request that the funds raised come back to PSI-CT. Just click on “Join the Campaign” to create your own fundraising page at https://climb-out-2018.causevox.com. Don’t forget to let us know where you’ll be climbing: firstname.lastname@example.orgThank you for support the families of Connecticut by supporting PSI-CT!
“This is a judgement-free zone,” we tell the women as they settle into their chairs. “It’s ALL in here.” The pregnant and postpartum mamas, understandably, often seem a bit nervous at the start of their first support group, unaware of what to make of this hour together. My co-facilitator and I try to put them at ease as quickly as possible, to know that this is a safe place, one with very few expectations or rules, and one where we hope moms can truly be themselves. We encourage every mama to simply “come as you are.”
Twice a month, our perinatal support group serves as a gathering place where moms come together to share. We invite moms to recount, “the good, the bad and the UGLY,” as they discuss their personal experiences around motherhood, and to receive respect and acknowledgment for their individual journeys. Moms joining this group may be going through depression and anxiety in pregnancy or the postpartum period. They may be sleep-deprived, worn out, feeling stressed or unsupported. They may have been referred by their therapists or seen a flyer at the OB or the local library. There is no one unique challenge shared by the women in this group. Nor is there a specific path that leads them to the group. Yet, through our diversity in thought and experience, we create a mutually supportive community that is open to all.
My co-facilitator and I hope moms can put their inner-critics on hold for this hour, or at least a few minutes of the hour. There is no expectation that anyone arrives on time, or changes out of pajamas. We invite breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. We invite diaper changing, and we certainly invite crying babies (and mamas). The group is a place for moms who need to talk and for moms who would rather sit back and listen, and though we would love it if women showed up to every group, it’s also totally okay to drop-in once in a while.
Truly, one of our only rules is that what happens in this room stays in this room. We take confidentiality seriously, knowing the vulnerability and bravery it takes to show up. Moms sign a simple contract at the start of their first group acknowledging that they will keep to themselves the names, identities and stories in the room. We think of this hour together as sacred space. Feeling Understood: Someone else has been there!
It can feel so good to not feel alone. Motherhood can be a very isolating experience, whether being home alone with a baby, or around others but not feeling comfortable sharing true thoughts and feelings. One of the magical moments in a support group happens when a mom is talking and we see nodding around the room, or the verbal acknowledgment of, “Yes! I have been there.” Whether a mom is struggling with depression, feeding issues, pregnancy after loss, or any other issue she is often met with someone in group who gets it. As a facilitator, I see a weight lifting in these moments of solidarity.
Helping Others Helps Us
While group members are encouraged not to tell other moms what to do, or give outright advice (as we get enough “advice” outside of group), we do share what works for us individually. As a group member, it can feel downright awesome to tell another struggling mom that some form of self-care helped you feel better, or that you struggled and got through a similar challenge. I love watching a mom come back week-after-week and growing in her own self-confidence in motherhood. Perhaps in her first group she felt she was only able to receive support, but as time goes on, she is recognizing that she’s helping others through her own growth and healing.
Finding the Light
It may seem counterintuitive, but we laugh a lot. Motherhood is hard but also hilarious. Hardly a group goes by that there isn’t an eruption of laughter over some shared baby or pregnancy moment.
It’s more-than-okay if a mom can’t get to laughter, though. It’s okay if she hasn’t smiled in a while. We welcome her no matter what. We want the group to be a safe place to land during the upheaval and identity changes that equal motherhood. Our group offers a time to slowly start to feel oneself again. It’s an honor to be part of that journey.
As we say goodbye to 2017, I want to thank each of you for all of your hard work to help support Connecticut perinatal families. We increased awareness, strengthened the net of support through the state, and raised funds for the chapter to better serve-to promote awareness, prevention and treatment for perinatal well-being throughout Connecticut. Sometimes, because we are so passionate about this work and have such high expectations, it feels like we are pouring into pitchers with a lot of leaks. With that in mind, I want to remind you of your accomplishments this year (in PSI-CT, you have also made so many other accomplishments and demands in your lives!)
Not only were we able to raise awareness through events such as the Planned Parenthood staff training fair, CT Women’s Expo, and a La Leche League Meeting, we increased awareness and raised funds with the Climb out of Darkness and the Pastrami on Rye events. We wove the web of support wider and stronger by hosting and providing several trainings: a spring training on perinatal loss, a very successful support group facilitator training, and a traumatic birth training were examples of larger trainings. Individuals, dyads and small groups spread through the state providing talks for pediatric offices, gynecology and obstetric offices, and state agencies. We provided a teleconference training for Planned Parenthood staff and are working on creating an expanded template for future trainings. Our website has been updated and we are working with PSI to make it even better. We recruited more volunteers and committee members, and are increasing our social media presence. Many of us attended the PSI conference in DC and returned inspired to keep MAKING A DIFFERENCE!
In spite of many challenges in our larger world, we can still make a difference in our small slice here at PSI-CT. We have awesome plans for 2018- bringing Components of Care to Connecticut, another support group facilitator training tentatively scheduled for April, our first annual members appreciation event April 12th, May maternal mental health month events, and another Climb out of Darkness in June, are just some of the cords we weave this year in our net of support. Thank you for all you do to make it stronger, every little thing you can do helps! If you can’t participate as much this year, no worries. Every effort and every dime counts as we work together to support families.
Sleep is important to all humans; it’s one of our primary sources of energy. Sleep deprivation will affect all other areas of functioning . . . physical, mental and emotional. Uninterrupted sleep is essential to the recovery of a new mom or dad, particularly if they are suffering from postpartum depression, anxiety or other mood disorder. This is not to say that sleep alone will “cure” their emotional distress, but it can be key in helping them on the road to recovery. Being well rested will improve their ability to think clearly, analyze rationally and make decisions. When these abilities are negatively affected by lack of sleep, feelings of confusion, frustration, sadness, anxiousness and guilt can follow, further complicating the situation.
Protected sleep is a term that refers to the idea that the person (often but not always the mom) suffering from emotional dysregulation gets uninterrupted sleep. Her sleep time is “protected” in any number of ways by both herself and those around her. The following information, guidelines and suggestions refer to ideal situations. Even if ideal cannot be reached, any improvement in a mother’s sleep will be helpful in regulating her emotions, functioning and care for herself and her child(ren).
I sleep when the baby sleeps, isn’t that good enough?
While sleeping when the baby sleeps is what we are taught to do, and sometimes babies are good sleepers so this might be enough for a mom, often it is just not enough. Many babies sleep in 1-4 hour windows which means mom is getting less time than that per opportunity to sleep. This is barely enough for a nap, never mind full, rejuvenating sleep cycles. Also, frequently mothers have other obligations (self-imposed or otherwise) which they attend to when the baby does sleep for longer. These can include caring for older children, cooking, cleaning or working. The goal is for mothers to get at least 5 hours (more if/when possible) of uninterrupted sleep. This does not include time needed to get ready to go to bed or fall asleep, it only applies to time asleep.
How am I supposed to do THAT?
A common question when the discussion of protected sleep comes up. The answer takes a team effort, consistency and practice. A mom may not sleep as long as hoped the first several times. Perhaps she is having anxiety about the changes being made or her body is adjusting to being “allowed” to sleep. Even in these early attempts, having quiet rest time is beneficial to mom. Here are the basics on protected sleep, some tips and other ideas…
First, protected sleep means the mom is “off duty”…completely. This means she does not have other expectations or obligations, and there is another trusted adult who is responsible for the baby and other children during the protected sleep time. Preferably protected sleep will happen at night to maintain regular sleep cycles but, particularly when baby is young, this may be difficult. If daytime is the only time someone can be available, take it! Even getting a full night “off” once a week can really help.
The baby’s other parent is often the “go to” when looking for someone to care for baby/children during mom’s protected sleep time. But what if that person is not available? Sometimes there is no partner or the partner works nights.
If partner works nights, have a conversation about how mom can get protected sleep time during the day when they are there and awake.
Try another family member such as a sibling of mom or partner, parent, cousin, or a friend you trust. Anyone can have their sleep interrupted for a night. It’s not as much of an imposition as you would be inclined to think. Remember, they don’t sleep in your house with a new born every night so being there once a week or a couple nights in a row will not cause them the distress that your lack of sleep is causing you. If they can not spend the night, enlist their help during the day to get some sleep.
Not everyone has friends or family in the area. In these cases, partner may be the only option and there may need to be a conversation about both of you losing “some” sleep.
Hire a postpartum doula, night nurse or babysitter. If you have the means, this can be a wonderful resource when it comes to sleep.
***Be sure whoever is caring for baby has questions answered and a resource other than mom to contact if something comes up. This prevents mom being woken with questions during her sleep time.
Second, when protected sleep time comes, prepare for sleep. Some people are very deep sleepers and once they fall asleep, noise won’t bother them, but this is not the norm for new moms. Put your phone away in another room, take a shower or relaxing bath, drink some calming tea, listen to calm music or a guided sleep meditation (consult with doctor before doing meditation), journal or use other methods to calm and empty your mind to prepare it for sleep. None of this may be necessary if you are exhausted but it’s good to establish a sleep routine if needed.
In order to “protect” sleep time, put as much space and buffer between you and baby as possible.
Close doors (as many as are between you and baby)
Sleep on a different floor if possible (basement rooms are particularly good for insulating noise)
Put on an air conditioner, fan or other “white noise” machine
Put on soft music, spoken word (mundane book or podcast) either out loud in the room or through headphones if you can sleep with them.
Since space is a luxury not everyone has, you can also remove baby from the home in order to create the buffer.
Have a trusted adult take baby out of the house completely (even if it is just in the yard). They can go to the library, a playground or a long walk. Once you have had time to fall asleep they may be able to come home put baby down for a nap, read books or play quietly if you are a deep sleeper or have some buffer abilities. Try to protect sleep for as long as possible.
But I’m breastfeeding….
One of the most common concerns or roadblocks to consecutive sleep is a breastfeeding mom. While it may be particularly difficult to fit in protected sleep in early weeks, it will become easier as baby feeds less often. There are also ways to work around breastfeeding to limit the amount of time mom is awake.
You may not be able to get “uninterrupted sleep” but you can still protect your sleep by asking your partner to change the baby before bringing her in for feeding and then to take baby back out of the room to rock and put back to sleep right after feeding. As baby gets bigger and feeds less, you will get more protected sleep.
You can also prepare a bottle for one feeding a night and just wake up, pump and go back to sleep. Keep a cooler in the bedroom to store the milk or ask you partner to come in when up with the baby to get the milk and put it in the fridge/freezer.
While all of this may seem like more work, in the end, it pays off and you will get into a routine. Remember: The ultimate goal is to stay in bed, asleep as many hours as possible (within reason) to give your brain and body time to rejuvenate, refresh and recover. 😊
“I Didn’t Think it was THAT bad”: Seeking Help from a Therapist
“I didn’t think it was THAT bad!” is a statement I’ve heard in many permutations from so many moms when they explain why they didn’t seek therapy sooner. Often they have waited until it is REALLY bad. Other times they have have sought treatment during the second pregnancy, because during the first pregnancy they had not sought treatment for Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and they do not want to suffer again.
I am often curious what is meant by “THAT bad.” When we explore it, sometimes it means that what they’ve heard about postpartum/perinatal depression is that “moms who have it don’t feel bonded to their babies” or “moms who have it try to harm their babies or themselves.” Sometimes “THAT bad” means they believe only very ill people go for therapy/counseling or that only “weak” people go, or only those who don’t have enough faith in God need this kind of help.
Many reasons exist for avoiding and delaying help from a therapist: it is hard to take the step to meet with a total stranger and acknowledge, “I’m struggling.” It takes courage to expose our vulnerability, to share our inner world, and to claim the time, space, and cost to seek professional help. It takes energy to make the calls, find the therapist with an opening, make the appointment, find a babysitter or negotiate with partners regarding childcare for older children, negotiate with employers for time off from work. It costs money, at a time when money is often short. It can be overwhelming. So often the thought “well, it’s not THAT bad” just seems the easier way to go.
Seeking professional help does cost time, money, and energy. Seeking help often means receiving “push back” from others who have the resistances described above. These barriers often make it even harder to dig deep for the courage to do what needs to be done: make the call. Don’t wait until it is “THAT” bad.
The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is the theme here. What is often not known is that with help, perinatal anxiety and depression often resolves very quickly! If you don’t feel like yourself, or if the thought arises that “Maybe I have postpartum depression”, then seek help. If you experience any of the following or ANY other symptom that worries you, please seek help.
Crying a lot
Having scary thoughts that just pop into your head (a sign of perinatal Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, not a sign that you want your thought to happen)
Are irritable and “snap” at others
Don’t have energy or motivation to do much
Don’t enjoy what you used to enjoy
Sometimes one or two consultations with a perinatal specialist will be sufficient to determine an individualized plan for your recovery. In addition to possible continued individual sessions, a plan may include free support groups, family consultations, a plan for additional practical support and other recommendations to help you feel better as quickly as possible. Seek help as soon as the question arises in your own mind, or others raise it. Sometimes others see cause for concern before we can see it in ourselves.
Your wellbeing is important for you and for your family. Many studies show that perinatal anxiety and depression can have negative effects on the baby as well as the mother. When considering this decision to seek help, remember that this time with your baby and your family is, like the popular commercial says, “priceless”.
Postpartum Support International-Connecticut Chapteris here to help you find the support you need. Go to our website for free support groups and resources, and join us to spread the word that there is no shame in seeking help. Help sought at the right time will benefit not only moms and dads but will benefit our babies, our families, and our future.
Over the course of ten long and beautiful months of pregnancy there is so much excitement; the dreams, the little outfits and baby showers. There are maternity photo shoots, feeling your baby moving inside, and carefully placing all of their clothes and diapers in drawers. There are countless hours of preparation and anticipation that goes into the process of building and bringing an amazing new life into your world. With this, there is a huge focus on what we call ‘the movie style mother’ that all of us knowingly, or unknowingly, have stored somewhere in our brains. The movies that portray a perfect pregnancy, an easy and quick birth, and the complete bliss of having a new baby. Whether we realize it or not, much of this influences our mindset and gives us a perceived idea of what this stage of life will be like. We’ve heard of the women who have had tough births, the colicky babies, the long nights, but our minds have a way of pushing those things to the side and focusing on what we want to believe. This is an amazing attribute of the brain, and keeps people in step with optimism and gratitude, but when it comes to new motherhood, there has to be a willingness to listen and understand that it isn’t exactly how we all think it’s going to be.
I’ve talked to many mothers over the last year, new mothers and veteran mothers. There always seems to be a common theme in their thoughts of how they felt once becoming a mom for the first time- “this isn’t what I thought it was going to be like.” That phrase is so important: it’s not meant to be pessimistic towards new motherhood, it’s meant to bring a sense of reality to the season of life. When we focus so much on the perfect ideals in our head of what this time is supposed to be like, we start to have high expectations of this whole motherhood thing, and we all know high expectations don’t always serve us well.
During my pregnancy, I felt that I had a healthy view on the fact that motherhood was going to be hard. I talked to friends and strangers and asked them the hard questions about having a baby and becoming a mom. I made sure I remembered that there were going to be long, sleepless nights and bouts of crying for no reason. I made sure I realized that things wouldn’t always be perfect, that my child may make me frustrated and angry and I wouldn’t always feel this sense of amazing love every second of each day. I thought I had all of this down, that I had the balance of anticipation and reality. It turned out, as most find themselves in this same place, that I was in fact not prepared for this reality at all! There’s nothing that can prepare you for how you might feel and react once this tiny being is placed into your arms and you’re sent home.
In the first few weeks of my sons’ life, I dealt with some “baby blues”. I felt even in those first few days that I already missed my husband. I missed being able to do whatever we wanted, I missed hanging out alone and watching movies all night. I missed the empty headspace that wasn’t now completely revolved around a baby. I also immediately felt the pressure of the “social media life.” I immediately started comparing and thinking how everyone else seemed so happy and elated with their new promotion to motherhood, that nothing phased them and they had this thing in the bag. I tried to push myself to feel those ways and to show that I felt the same way, but deep inside I felt a sense of resentment and questioning this new world we had put ourselves in.
As someone who has previously dealt with anxiety, the worries of postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression were in the back of my mind, but I never thought it would become a reality. I had an amazing husband and great support from family and friends. After a few weeks, I truly did feel that I was fine and happy and those feelings were in my past, but when a series of stressful life events came up, it seemed to spur on something that was bubbling under the surface for me. I felt incapable of handling life and a child, I felt incapable as a mother and a wife and it sent me into a tailspin of emotions. I quickly became immersed in relentless irrational anxiety and went in between complete joy and love for my son, and depressive patterns that made me feel like I couldn’t take care of him or myself. I spent a very long and desperate year in this state of despair, suffering through each day with life altering anxiety that crippled my ability to function as a thriving wife and mother. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. That thought kept me captive in my issues for a long time. Everyone else was happy and loving life, everyone else had it all together, and everyone else was an amazing mom.
This is how so many of us are left feeling alone and shamed that our feelings are incorrect and abnormal. My hope through this blog post is to remind you that you are not abnormal. If every single one of us is honest, motherhood is not fun and is not amazing every moment of every day. We all deal with those feelings on different levels, and the way you deal with it is not wrong. I want to be at least one person in your life to speak straight to your heart: “you are okay, and you will be okay”. I never thought I’d see the light at the end of this dark and painful path, but I did. Through the help of my husband, family, supportive friends, and speaking to a therapist, I did come to the other side of this. In a weird way, I am thankful for all that I went through. It helped me to have a healthy reality and outlook on motherhood. While it’s hard for me to think back to those days because I feel like I ruined so much of our first year as a family, and it is hard for me to imagine how I actually felt those ways; those days were still necessary.
I’ll be the first to tell you that there are days my son still drives me crazy and I wish that I could go sit on an island by myself. I’ll tell you the honest truth about how all this motherhood and kid stuff looks on a daily basis. What you see on the other side of your phone screen isn’t real and it isn’t truth. It’s a set up picture showcased for an internet outlet. It doesn’t show the screaming ten seconds after, the frustration they felt and the lunch food thrown all over the floor. We need to bond together as mothers and women to fight for honesty and authenticity in our lives, because the latter isn’t helping our fellow mothers. There will be days that go amazingly, when your child won’t throw himself on the ground in the middle of Target and clear a shelf of breakables and there will still be days that you feel like everyone is staring at you and judging you because you can’t get your child to stop crying. Both of these days are so necessary to life, but we have to remember to be gentle with others and ourselves: sometimes our days are ugly.
So if you’re the mother out there with tears in your eyes because you thought you were the only one, I want you to know that you aren’t and that you are okay. It is okay to not be okay, to feel broken and weary and confused. You are amazing and you are enough, in whatever state of mind and heart you are in right now, a thousand times over you are enough. View your struggles as ways to grow and reach out for help. Strive to empower women with your pictures of imperfect living rooms and long days in PJ’s. That’s what bonds us as mothers, our capability to look at each other and say, “me too.”