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.

 

 

 

Sleep? With a new baby?! Protected Sleep as an aspect of self-care

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Cory Bernard, LCSW, is a mom of two boys, aged 2 and 7.
She has worked in psychiatric social work for 12 years.  
And currently has a private practice in Bloomfield, CT with a specialty working with women during pregnancy, postpartum, and when experiencing the loss of a baby or during other life transitions. Cory is a founding member of PSI-CT Chapter and currently serves as the Treasurer as well as the chair of Fundraising & Events and Membership Committee, and as a member of the Resources and Professional Development Committee.

By Cory Bernard

Prioritizing good sleep is good self love.

What is protected sleep?

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.
  • Use earplugs

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. 😊

 

Motherhood Unveiled: “This Isn’t What I Thought”

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Thanks to our guest blogger, Lindsay Demchak, who is an active PSI-CT member and volunteers on the Communication committee! She juggles home life, mom life, and training to be a doula! Lindsay is passionate about pregnancy, birth, and postpartum support and believes in being transparent and honest about the real aspects of these seasons of life! Through sharing the struggles that she went through, she hopes to empower others to do the same and bring women together.

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.”