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Can You Help Give Moms a Strong Start?

A couple of years ago, my friend Kristin wrote about her experience with postpartum depression:
“Would you just sit still?! I don’t know why the snow is on the ground! Mommy can’t answer any more questions right now! Stop crying!”

This is how the feelings of rage began. I felt overwhelmed, stressed, and tired and then I'd just let loose and forget who I was speaking to. And then I was flattened by guilt. A crushing wave of shame crashed over me and I was suddenly the worst mom in the world. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I pull it together? What’s the big deal if we were five minutes late to Mom and Tot Swim class?

We've all had fleeting moments of rage as parents. Bad days, bad weeks even where nothing seems to be going right. We all sometimes feel like we're going to lose it. And sometimes we do.  But for some moms, the rage, the sadness, the anxiety, or the guilt can be all consuming. They may feel like they can't handle being a mother or that their baby deserves better. They may not feel a bond with their baby. They may feel sad, nervous, and overwhelmed. They may be unable to focus, to eat, or to sleep. Those moms are suffering from postpartum depression (PPD).

Unfortunately, too few moms get help for their postpartum depression. According to Katherine Stone from Postpartum Progress, only 15% of all women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders ever receive professional treatment. That means that 850,000 women in the United States, and their families, are suffering from the negative effects of untreated PPD. At Postpartum Progress, Katherine has been working hard for the past seven years to help increase awareness of postpartum depression and provide support to mothers. Awareness and support are both so critical to fighting this illness.

According to Katherine, there are several reasons why women don't get the support that they need for PPD:

  • Women still don't always recognize when they have postpartum depression or a related illness

  • They are afraid to reach out for help

  • They don't know who to reach out to for help

  • They are given misinformation by doctors and community members

  • There are few supports available to them, especially in rural and low income areas

When moms don't get help or don't get the right help, the results can be devastating. A year ago, my friend Jennifer lost one of her best friends to postpartum depression. After a difficult year in which Jennifer suffered from depression herself over the loss of her friend, she was finally able to share the story. On her blog at Z Recommends, Jennifer wrote:
A year ago today, Kristi died after nearly five months of torturous depression. She was seeking treatment and had a strong support system, but depression is not always cured by popping a Prozac. It's often a long experiment to see which drugs have an effect on your body while trying to be convinced that the thoughts coming from your mind are not your own. She left a six-month-old daughter, a loving husband, and countless others to mourn her.

I cannot imagine the rest of my life without Kristi. My heart breaks for her daughter who will never know the light that shone so bright from her mother, but also to think of the sadness and pain from which she so desperately needed relief. I still mourn her every day. I wonder what I could have done, what any of us could have done to help her. I think about all of the other people in the world who have lost loved ones to suicide -- all of the other children who must grow up without a mother or a father, all of the parents who lost their children too early.

Jennifer ends her post with a call to action:
I can't change what happened to Kristi (oh how I desperately wish I could) but maybe if we all work together we can change the next person. Maybe we can make postpartum depression be treated as a serious issue by our society and our media. Maybe we can help support new moms better and make sure that they are getting the help and the relief that they need while they are adjusting to becoming mothers. Maybe together we can ask all of our new mom friends, not just "How is the baby?but "How are you?" "Are you feeling sad?" "Do you know the signs of postpartum depression?" "What can I do to help you?"

When we see a loved one who seems to be struggling, we can reach out to them -- offer help, help them find help, tell them that depression is not a way of life -- is not something to brush off. We can make our children aware of the signs of depression and suicide -- help them become fluent in identifying those signs -- maybe help them save a friend. We can work together to stop the damned bullying already.

Katherine and Jennifer are two of the women that I most admire. The work that they do advocating for the causes and issues that they believe in is incredible. Today, they are both asking for our help. Jenny is participating in the American Foundation for Suicide's Out of the Darkness walking team and is asking for donations on her participant page. After seven years of working incredibly hard with no funding, Katherine is trying to raise money to help more moms get the support that they need. She is planning new projects such as an awareness campaign, new and improved patient education materials, and the translation of materials into Spanish and other languages. Today on Strong Start Day, Katherine is trying to raise more than $30,000 to support Postpartum Progress' work. You can donate by clicking on the button below.


I hope that many of you will be able to help with this cause, either by making a financial contribution or by working to increase awareness and to reach out and offer help to your friends and family. Let's help more moms step out of depression and give them the opportunity to enjoy motherhood. Will you help?
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Reader Comments (14)

Thank you so much for this beautiful post and for including Jennifer's cause as well. So glad to know you, dear friend.
- K

I have struggled with depression since I was very young (as well as PTSD), but shortly before my daughter turned 2, I felt myself feeling just like this. Unbelievably angry and frustrated with her for the littlest things, like when she was having an extra clingy day, or was difficult during a diaper change. I would yell and then absolutely hate myself for being so horrible, because I KNEW it wasn't my daughter's fault. Since my daughter was already 2 at the time and I'd had issues with depression before, I don't know whether or not it was PPD...but it was absolutely miserable. I started taking Zoloft and can say that I am so much happier and calmer, and my daughter is, too. Thanks for reminding me to reach out to my mom friends and ask about them and their feelings as well as how the baby's doing.

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCate

I suffered from postpartum depression after my daughter was born. It's real, it's serious and more people need to talk about it. I'm so grateful for the work that Katherine has done to bring this issue to light, and help so many other moms.

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

Thank you Annie. I had perinatal depression and thought I was imagining it all until I found sites like Postpartum Progress.

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristine

I had postpartum anxiety so bad, I can't even describe it. It's not something I can describe without fear of judgement, even from a friendly source towards postpartum mood disorders. It was very dangerous, lets just say that.
I went for help. The help was not helpful. Oh, how I wish I could go back and diagnose myself properly so I and my family wouldn't have to go through what we went through. But what can you do?
Eventually, after baby #3, and postpartum anxiety for the third time (once was post adoption, which is even MORE stigmitized~there are no hormones involved, right?!) that got so bad I rarely slept (2-4 hours per night, about half the time; the other half I didn't sleep at all), and had anxiety attacks, that I finally diagnosed mySELF and dug around for a support group and a therapist that were designed for PPD/A. I also emailed my midwife, who happened to be a naturopath, and asked her for some alternative treatment suggestions.
I take fish oils with high doses of DHA and EPA, a B complex vitamin, and several others. I use Saint John's Wort for breakthrough anxiety that I can't get on top of with techniques I learned through cognitive therapy.
I'm a different person.

In the end I figured out I have had an anxiety disorder for years, and it was compounded by my pregnancies and babies.

Anyways, this post will help save lives. For a mom who parents (now, quite well) with a mental illness, thank you.

October 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Thank you for continuing the effort to raise awareness about this very real, very serious issue. The hardest part for so many women to get past is the stigma they feel and the subsequent guilt of being "less than perfect" in the eyes of others. It's already a challenge for so many women (especially once we become mothers) to ask for help or to show any signs of "weakness," which of course lends itself to the covering up of PPD. Of course, the whole family suffers, not least the mother. Once we can let go of the cultural desire for mothers to be "perfect" (you've talked about this eloquently before Annie), and when we recognize PPD as a real illness requiring treatment in some form, we can help those who need it see that they is no shame in suffering from PPD. We, as a society, should only want to help, educate, raise awareness and acceptance (which you're doing here, thank you). Everyone benefits. Mothers with PPD, it's not your fault, and it's not psychosomatic. It's real and will get better with treatment.

October 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiana

Thanks for this ! Katherine is doing such a great job bringing so many people together! She is so inspiring! It is so great that there is her blog to get resources & support! I wish I had her blog to go to long ago, when I suffered from a debilitating postpartum depression after I had my son 17 years ago. I did seek some help, did see a therapist. However, I would not take medication, as she recommended, as I was breastfeeding. Back then, there was not the research available there is now regarding pregnancy, breastfeeding, and psychotrophic medications. Luckily. there is 20 years of research now. Info can be found at www.otispregnancy.org and uppitysciencechick.com . I had many risk factors, such as a previous depressive episode in my lifetime, a major physical move, leaving a lucrative career on Wall Street . La Leche League really helped me alot back then. But I remember my depressive episodes quite clearly. I haven't had any depression for fifteen years. I think that changing my life focus to helping others allowed me to live my life with purpose. Spending the last fourteen years getting a masters degree, gain licensure, and set up a practice focused on pregnancy, birth & postpartum is my life's work.

October 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Morelli

I had post partum depression 3 times... it was truly awful and definitely the darkest time of my life.

I was blessed to have a family doctor that recognized it in me the first time at my son's 3 month check-up and she talked to my husband and told him everything to watch for and he was able to recognize it the second time around. The third time around we were really on top of it. It could have been so much worse. To this day I am so thankful I didn't harm my children or myself. We lived on the 14th floor of an apartment building and there were many days I imagined just jumping off my balcony. So scary.

I think it is so important to talk about it so thank-you for posting about it.

October 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTarasview

Melissa -
What an inspiring journey you have had! So glad to hear you are happy and well. And I love to hear about how others designed their own personal treatment plan for their personal recovery. Women have the right to honor their own personal preferences and needs and individual ways of coping. There are so many great ways to parent and you are so proactive, picking and choosing what works for you. You are an inspiration. It sounds like you figured out how to build joy into your life!

October 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Morelli

Thank you Kathy! Being proactive and resesarching/choosing a course of action works really well for me, as do natural approaches.
The thing I wish is that I had been able to recognize it earlier. I had dealt with depression in the past, but I knew I wasn't depressed, and that something was seriously wrong, but I couldn't figure out what it was. Spreading awareness will help prevent that from happening to someone else!
I'm enjoying my fourth baby's first year without out of control anxiety, and it is pretty amazing =)

October 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Hey Melissa - Isn't it weird how depression and anxiety can sort of co-exist and co-occur and we wonder how we are feeling? We are such complex wondrous beings! And I just re-read your post. It is truly amazing. I am impressed by your regimen.....did you know it is World Mental Health Day on Monday, October 10? PsychCentral is having a blog party in honor of World Mental Health Day....they are looking for contributors... here's the link if you are inclined to share your story even more! http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mental-health-day/
Cheers! Kathy

October 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Morelli

Thanks Kathy! I will definitely check this out!

October 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Very interesting!!

October 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterau pairs uk

[...] and nursing. Spreading awareness saves lives!  PhDinParenting wrote a post this week called Can You Help Give Moms a Strong Start?  In it she describes one woman who lost her battle with postpartum depression, and her [...]

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