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!
“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.
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.
***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.
Since space is a luxury not everyone has, you can also remove baby from the home in order to create the buffer.
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.
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. 😊
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.”
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 joined the statistic of 3 out of 5 couples who experience decreased relationship satisfaction after a baby, as we dealt with the multiple challenges of more decisions, more work, and interrupted sleep with no rhythms. Luckily, we were able to get help and we regained our balance.
I am passionate about preventing and treating perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) because it is one of the best intervention points to change the world. OK, I know that is ambitious to say the least, but bear with me. When a baby is born, parents are born, a family is born. When moms and dads are suffering from anxiety, depression, or (rare) psychotic symptoms, it interferes with bonding, with babies getting their needs met, and with healthy family development, which can lead to increased adverse childhood experiences such as lack of bonding, neglect, divorce, and even abuse.
We know that adverse childhood experiences have tremendous impact upon the health and well being throughout our lifetimes: four to twelve times increased risks for alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and suicide attempts alone. More adverse childhood events also increased the risks of smoking, physical inactivity, obesity, heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, skeletal fractures, and liver disease.
Despite all of the glowing photos of smiling parents with laughing babies and children, every experienced parent know that there are at least as many moments where crying, sadness, and whining are happening (and that’s just the parents:) The challenges of a baby can be overwhelming! If we can bust myths and address fears such as “it is all good”, “you must be inadequate if you can’t do it on your own and be happy about it”, “only moms who want to kill their kids suffer from postpartum depression”, and “if I seek help they will take my baby away from me”, then families can get the help they need, which will lead to decreased adverse childhood experiences, healthier family functioning, and decreased addictions and serious health problems!
This is why I ask your donation in support of “Climb out of Darkness”. You will make a difference! With your donation, our local chapter can spread the word to increase knowledge and decrease the stigma of PMADs and of getting help, improve access to resources, and help train more individuals to support families. My personal goal is to raise a minimum of $1000. If 50 more people give $18, or 25 give $36, or 9 give $100, that goal will be met. DONATE HERE! Want to join our team on this climb and participate in the fundraising? JOIN US HERE! Want to volunteer in other ways to help PSI-CT, (we need you!) VOLUNTEER INFO HERE!
Thank you so much for your support of PSI-CT, and please contact me at any time to discuss PSI-CT!
Sharon Thomason, Ph.D. PSI-CT President PSICTPRES@gmail.com
The field of maternal mental health is growing by leaps and bounds and we couldn’t be more thrilled by what we see happening in our communities and in our health care practices! We are especially excited to see more research, education and outreach to this very special population.
Please join us in celebrating the growth of maternal mental health and wellness in Connecticut with the creation of our very own statewide chapter of Postpartum Support International (PSI)! The Connecticut Alliance for Perinatal Mental Health will reorganize and transition over the next several months…so stay tuned and look for our presence here on social media and across the state. We look forward to welcoming new members and health care providers, promoting awareness, educating our state on the issues in maternal mental health, providing training and outreach and acting as a resource for all those impacted by perinatal and postpartum mental illness.
No one is alone and together we can support and assist all of our moms, dads, families and communities in striving for better maternal wellness.