PSI-CT Advocacy Helps Win Perinatal Support for CT Families!

Paid Family & Medical Leave has finally come to Connecticut, only awaiting Governor Lamont’s signature (he has promised to sign)! PSI-CT has been advocating for this important safety net before we were even a chapter, (just in-utero if you will) as the Connecticut Alliance for Perinatal Mental Health, when we sent a photo similar to the one above to the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF)‘s Campaign for Paid Medical Leave!

PSI-CT members have advocated for this legislation by providing testimony, sending letters to the Hartford Courant, providing photos such as the above, and showing up for “lobby days” at the state capitol to personally talk with representatives. Our founding values are to provide support for Connecticut families by increasing awareness, education, and advocacy for the prevention and treatment of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

Here are two accounts of PSI-CT advocates experiences at the state capitol:

“When I first arrived at the capitol the day the Senate debated and voted on this legislation, I was struck by my reactions as I entered the building. I wasn’t surprised that there was security as my bag was checked and I “patted down” myself in front of a security guard. I was surprised by my feeling of intimidation as I walked in freely, wondering why no one was asking what I was doing there. I quickly thought “that is silly-this is your house”, and was embarrassed that I had not been there since my kids toured in elementary school. Democracy depends on active informed citizens speaking up, yet I have only a handful of times lifted the phone, much less showed up at the capitol. I realized that while I had unconsciously believed “I don’t know enough”, democracy can’t survive if we don’t put effort into being informed and realize that we don’t have to know every detail in order to speak up to those who represent us. It was my first time to do so in person, but won’t be my last.” Sharon Thomason, Ph.D pictured above with Carol Williams.

Last year I went with my son (who was 5 at the time) to lobby for paid family leave. The staff ft CWEALF was amazing and provided us with talking points and encouragement. I lobbied my State Representative, Michelle Cook, who is a supporter of paid family leave. She was happy to hear from a constituent and my son was happy to meet “the person who makes the laws.” It was an educational experience for him to see the State Capitol and the LOB and to learn about how we can influence public policy. As a social worker who does mainly clinical work, it was a reminder that it’s necessary for social workers to also be involved in the macro side of social work, as we have a keen understanding of how public policy impacts citizens. Amy Rodriguez, LCSW, son Gaitan pictured above

We need a dedicated leader of the advocacy work group on the communications committee! If you have interest in making a real difference for Connecticut’s perinatal families, please contact us at psictcommunications@gmail.com! WE WANT YOU!

Considering a Family while taking Medication

Sharon Voyer Lavigne MS, LGC is the Coordinator of MotherToBaby CT, an instructor at UCONN Health School of Medicine, is a founder of PSI-CT, and has served as both Treasurer and Vice President.  She has numerous publications in the field of teratology and performed countless numbers of outreach educational services to the general public and health care providers.

Congratulations!

You have gotten your mental health in check. You have been going to therapy regularly and have finally found a medication regimen that works well for you. You are feeling better than you have in years both physically and mentally. Now you are ready to consider starting a family. Will you need to stop your current medications or switch to alternatives you have had no personal experience with beforehand? Will your providers be supportive?

Will you be well during pregnancy and the dreaded post-partum period?

So many questions. So much concern. What should you do first?

Well take a deep breath and let’s walk through the process.


1- Make a preconception physical appointment with your OB/GYN provider to discuss medial health and preparation for pregnancy and also to review your medications in person. Discuss with them any concerns you may have about getting pregnant and being in treatment during and after pregnancy. You will get a sense for how comfortable or uncomfortable they are with caring for you on or off medications. If you do not feel supported, you may wish to search out a new provider that is a better fit in your case.


2- Plan on your next visit with your prescribing psychiatric provider to discuss pregnancy and review mediation and potential suggested alternative or additional medications. Just like with the OB provider, you will want to get a feel for how supportive they can and will be during this process. If they seem uncomfortable, you can reach out to the PSI Warm line for a referral for a therapist or prescribing provider that has been trained in treating women during pregnancy and the post-partum phase of life. (800)- 944-4773.


3- Reach out by phone (866- 626-6847), email (mothertobaby@uchc.edu) or go to http://www.mothertobaby.org for the most up to date reproductive data on our current regimen of medication and any possible alternatives. You can gather information on use while trying to become pregnant, use during pregnancy and any data on use while breastfeeding your baby. Each woman is given and individual risk assessment which includes risk versus benefits of medication treatment and the service is FREE.


4- Review results from MotherToBaby with your OB/GYN and psychiatric provider.

Now that you have consulted with your providers and come to an agreed upon medication regimen that will provide you with the best symptom relief and the least risk to a baby, you can get started on prenatal vitamins and any other recommendations made by your OB/GYN. Plan to stay in therapy and have regular visits with all your providers to give you the best chance at staying well throughout the process.

Please check these out!
https://mothertobaby.org/mentalhealth/

PSICT Invites You to be a Provider for our Perinatal Resource Directory

We are excited to share with you that our hope and vision of having an online provider directory of perinatal mental health specialized clinicians is becoming a reality…our parent organization, Postpartum Support International (PSI) has developed the online infrastructure for this directory- ​National Perinatal Mental Health Provider Directory.​

There are categories for healthcare providers, mental health professionals, support groups and affiliated professions. Applicants are reviewed before approval, and need to meet the following criteria: A professional perinatal mental health provider in good standing with state licensing standards, who has completed specialized training in perinatal mental health, such as PSI’s 2-day Certificate training, the 2020 Mom/PSI Webinar Certificate Course, or other specialized perinatal mental health trainings.

Listing your practice in this directory is free. While it is worthwhile and important to be a member of PSI or a state chapter of PSI, this is not a requirement for your listing. The only requirement is specialized training in perinatal mental health.

Please be reminded that if you are a facilitator of a free perinatal support group, please contact Annie Keating Scherer, PSI CT Support Groups Committee Chair to get your group listing on our website. Connecticut perinatal support groups are listed at www.psictchapter.com

We will officially launch the online provider directory once we have an adequate number of providers so that mothers, fathers, loved ones, providers and PSI Coordinators conducting a search feels hopeful in finding at least once resource in their community. If you have received training in Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, we would like to invite you to list your practice in the PSI Provider Directory.

Light for Kara 5K Shines through a Gray Rainy Sky!

 

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By Cory Bernard, LCSW, PSI-CT President

It was still dark, and in the cold rain I joined a dozen or more volunteers to set up tables, put up signs, put out food and set up tents.  We worked quickly to beat the daylight when hundreds people would arrive for Connecticut’s first walk/run for Maternal Mental Health-The Light for Kara 5K.   When PSI-CT and Light for Kara partnered to bring this event to Fairfield County, our goals were to bring awareness, spread information about resources available to moms and families, raise money, and to honor Kara Kovlakas, whose bright life was cut short by Postpartum Depression.

Despite the bitter weather, soon over half of the 450+ registrants gathered to walk, run, talk, and support one another.  Some came to bring awareness of the devastating statistic that mothers and families face during pregnancy and postpartum: that 15-20% of them will experience a mental health complication.  Some are on their own journey through struggles of postpartum and of parenthood, and some were there to support family or friends. Others came to raise funds for Postpartum Support International CT Chapter or Malta House of Norwalk.  We all came to remember and celebrate the race’s namesake, Kara.

As day broke and the rain poured on, the children of the event participated in a fun run; the DJ played music to keep everyone’s spirits up, and pre-race speeches began.  I spoke about PSI-CT’s purpose and mission and invited everyone to learn more about us. Lauren Shrage spoke warmly and lovingly about the sister she lost, her and her family’s journey through grief, and their hopes of bringing awareness and purpose to the loss of Kara.  Mrs. Rhode Island, Amanda Adams, shared her journey through severe postpartum depression and anxiety to her brighter present. Lauren finished the speeches by asking the crowd to participate in a practice that has helped her . . . “place your hand over your heart, can you feel it? That is called purpose.  You are alive for a reason so don’t ever give up.” After these inspiring words we all took off to walk or run along the beautiful beach at Calf Pasture Beach Park in Norwalk. While running, I found myself really focusing in on the mile marker signs, noticing the businesses who chose to support us, including our own Pam Allon, LMFT and also noticing all the moms and couples running with children in strollers, making the race a family affair.

As the last few crossed the finish line we warmed ourselves under the tent, eating pizza and  visiting with each other. Over a dozen local businesses helped make this event possible through sponsorships or donations.  Over 450 people registered, during which they became aware of the existence of PSI-CT, Light for Kara, and Malta House. Over $20,000 was raised for PSI-CT and Malta House.  People with shared experiences from all over CT and the country came together to reflect and remember. The day far surpassed our goals.

After about a year of planning, it was really fulfilling to see how many people showed up in the pouring rain. Thank you to everyone who made this day possible. And to better weather next year!

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Presidential Introduction and Thank You!

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Cory Bernard, LCSW, President, PSI-CT with Jennifer, Vendetti, MSW, VicePresident, PSI-CT

 

Hello Everyone!

As I return from the PSI Conference in Houston in July and we enter into the last month of summer, I wanted to take a chance to introduce myself as your new board President and highlight some exciting things going on in PSI-CT right now.
Since becoming President this past May (2018), it’s been a wonderful experience working with our amazing board and members from every committee.  First, a little about myself since I may not be familiar to everyone.  I am a married mom of 2 boys (2 yo and 7 yo) and a clinician in part time private practice in Bloomfield, CT.  Like many of you, my own experience postpartum after my first son was born brought me to this work and ignited my passion.
I’ve been involved with PSI-CT since we were the CT Alliance for Perinatal MH, a grassroots alliance of people trying to increase support and services for moms and families in CT.  I am a founding member of PSI-CT (the first state chapter of PSI!), and was formerly the Treasurer and Chair of the Membership Committee.  I remain Chair of the Fundraising & Events Committee though this is an interim position (if anyone is interested in this board position, please contact me!)

It has been one of my great joys to see this organization grow, develop, and have wonderful successes.  For instance, for this year’s Climb Out of the Darkness, we increased the number of chapter affiliated climbs from one last year to 4 this year!  And our teams raised over $5000 for PSI-CT! (A great big thank you to everyone who climbed or donated).  

Our committees are hard at work building membership, planning trainings, compiling resources, outreaching to community providers, and increasing the number of support groups around the state.  This fall, we will be collaborating with Light for Kara to bring Connecticut’s first 5K for Maternal Mental Health to Norwalk, CT.  Please register to run or walk with us! (https://runsignup.com/Race/CT/Norwalk/lightforkara)  
There is so much to be excited about but we can’t do it without each of you- our members and collaborators.  If you are not yet a member, please consider becoming one TODAY!  And if you are a member, consider getting more involved by becoming part of one of our committees.
Please feel free to reach out to me at psictpres@gmail.com or to any of our other board members as needed.   You can find all of our current board members at www.psictchapter.com/aboutus
Looking forward to the second half of 2018 being as eventful as the first!
Thank you all for your support and involvement,
Cory Bernard

Climbing Mountains to Support Families of Connecticut

By Amanda Salvo

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Amanda Salvo is a homemaker, mother of two beautiful children. She serves as a Volunteer Facilitator for the Adjustment to Baby Challenges Support Circle of Southington, is a member of PSI-CT and a member of the PSI-CT Support Group Committee.

On June 23rd I participated in my first fundraising climb-the “Climb Out of the Darkness” climb benefitting the Connecticut Chapter of Postpartum Support International (PSI-CT).  There were three climbs throughout the state that day, and one climb in Fairfield County was postponed until July 14th due to thunderstorms. From our climb at Talcott Mountain in Simsbury, we raised over $3,000 to raise awareness and support for families struggling to overcome perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs). While this may seem like a small amount, when it comes to battling a PMAD, any little amount helps.

I know, because I have needed help. As a new mom, five years ago I was diagnosed with postpartum depression following the birth of my first child. At the time it was not something that I wanted to admit. Trying to tackle it independent of help only made things harder. Admitting I was suffering at the time to me was like admitting defeat; and being sucked into a category of being “crazy”. When I finally came to terms with myself and sought help through therapy and a support group like those which PSI-CT works hard to develop, I was finally able to beat it. With help I was well.  I realized that my own fears too in tackling this obstacle were tackling social stigmas. The enormous mountain of expectations and social criticisms that accompany motherhood and parenting soon became surmountable.

For more than two years now I have been running free support groups as a volunteer facilitator to help moms through the challenges, the good and the hard. I want moms and families everywhere to know that postpartum depression is temporary, and it doesn’t happen with every pregnancy, and things do get better!

This climb was for me symbolic of the struggles we face as parents and those who suffer terribly from a PMAD.  The Simsbury hike was categorized by avid hikers as an “easy climb”. But when you start the trek on the yellow path to the tower at the top it starts as a relatively steep incline. Hiking with my husband, five- year old daughter and six-month old in carrier, we very soon stopped to catch our breaths.  My daughter claimed that she was tired when we only just began. The two of us commenting on the steepness, best footing to reduce slippage on rocks, and how we wished we were a little more fit or a little more prepared for the exertion (for again an “easy climb”), only paralleled the conversations of so many people we heard along the way, including our fellow hikers. The more we cheered each other on and encouraged each other to get to the top “just a little more to go, you can do it”, “when you get to the top you will see the tower,” “we’re almost there,” the easier it became.  It really became easier, and as the rain lightly cooled us we were able to stop along the way to take in the view.

The payoff at the top was a tour of a beautiful historic home, an open sky (albeit a little wet at the time); and knowing that as a family we had made it. Surrounded by others who shared in the journey feels like a success. Moms and dads, kids, families, friends and strangers all hiked together for one cause. It is much like a parent’s life. You’re never fully prepared for the obstacles that pregnancy, delivery and parenthood bring. You have days when you are at the bottom of a mountain and getting to the top seems impossible, or days when you scale it with ease. For those who suffer from a PMAD, know that there is a light at the top of your great big mountain, and we are with you every step of the way.

You can still donate! Click the links below to donate and support PSI-CT supporting Connecticut perinatal families!

DONATE This Year to the Simsbury Team 

DONATE to the Mystic Team

DONATE to the Fairfield Team

DONATE to the Mansfield Team

Come As You Are: What Happens In a Perinatal Support Group?

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Annie Keating-Scherer, LCSW is the Support Group Committee Chairwoman of PSI-CT and is the co-founder of the Adjustment to Baby Challenges Support Circle, formerly the Blue Mamas group, in West Hartford, CT. Annie maintains a private therapy practice in West Hartford and is the mother of two wonderful little girls.


“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.”

Coming together  

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.

Confidentiality

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.