Wendy Davis is the glue that holds all of us Postpartum Support International Volunteers together. She is an amazing woman and I have come to enjoy her friendship and support. Since embarking upon my peer support journey, Wendy has been more than willing to answer any question I may have and has encouraged me the entire way. It’s almost been like having a personal cheerleader! I know that I can take anything to Wendy and she will not only listen to what’s going on but aid in coming up with a solution that will work for all involved. Wendy does absolutely amazing work each and everyday and for this, I thank her. I am honored to post her interview today and hope you enjoy reading!
Tell us a little about yourself – What makes you tick?
I am married and a mom of two children who amaze me with their wisdom and humor. I was the 4th out of five myself, and then had 4 stepbrothers. I thrive on relationship even though I am by nature an introvert.
How did you get involved in Postpartum Depression work? What drew you in?
I had postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth of our first child in 1994 and I had no idea what was happening to me. Every negative theory of depression crowded into my anxious brain, and I could only believe that I was a complete failure and that my life was ruined. I thought I had made a terrible mistake by deciding to have a child. I had already been a therapist for 14 years when that happened, and had specialized in depression, anxiety, and grief. But nothing had prepared me, no course had taught me, and I was completely ashamed and frightened. When I did start to understand that I had postpartum depression, I found very few pictures of hope and healing, and that scared me more. After I recovered I was compelled to learn everything I could and to make a real difference for other women and their families. I wanted to make it safe for them to reach out. I didn’t need to reach big numbers, I just wanted each woman and dad that to know that there was hope for them. I wanted to help them learn to see their strengths and healthy instincts. After I had our second baby three years later, and I didn’t have a repeat PPD, I was even more motivated.
As a Mother, how important is it to remember to care for yourself? What do you do to recharge your batteries when they’re down?
I feel like it’s a continuous practice to remember to take care of myself. It’s not enough to just know I need to do it – I need strategies and reminders. And if I’m lucky, I get positive reminders like feeling good or having a friend ask me out, not negative reminders like getting sick or cranky. I recharge my batteries by taking walks in the beautiful Oregon mist, listening to music, going to visit my mom at the coast, having dinner with my sisters, brother, and their kids. And now that my kids are at the wonderful ages of 11 and 14, I really do recharge by being with them. That’s a great surprise!
What do you find the most challenging in motherhood? The Least?
The most challenging thing for me on a daily level is scheduling time for myself. The challenges change as kids get older: when they were little, the biggest challenge was having patience when I was frustrated or angry with them. I learned a lot about conflict management and how to express my frustration and anger by working on that. Another challenge is that it’s hard to make time to have dates with my husband or my friends. The least challenging? I seem to have a lot of tolerance for their individuality and creativity and it has always brought me joy to see them express themselves even if it’s … unique.
How did you get involved with PSI?
I had started the Baby Blues Connection in Portland and of course I found PSI as the main clearinghouse for information and support. At first, to be honest, I wanted to do it myself and didn’t know if I needed PSI. (PPD Risk factor: off the chart need for self-sufficiency.) All it took is one conversation with PSI founder Jane Honikman. I wanted to know her, to learn from her, and I felt immediately welcome and encouraged. That was in 1997, after my daughter was born. I became the Oregon Coordinator that year. In 2005 I volunteered to be the Coordinator of the State and International Coordinators and then I joined the PSI board as the Coordinator Chair. I love our PSI volunteers and I am immensely proud to be volunteering with them.
Awareness of Postpartum Mood Disorders has come a long way. In your opinion, what are some obstacles we still face in gaining even more acceptance and reliable treatment for new mothers who struggle with this?
There is less of a taboo than there used to be, but shame and fear still exist. I think that it’s hard for people, providers and the public alike, to have positive images of healing and recovery. Our local and federal policy-makers still have the habit of ignoring the needs of new mothers. It’s the same challenge WE have! I am optimistic though, and remain undaunted. Every challenge I see is another opportunity for education and communication. I used to be angry that people didn’t get it; now I’m just busy.
How important is it to have the entire family involved in Mom’s recovery? What can family members do to create a supportive and positive environment around her during her journey towards recovery?
It is essential to have the family involved not only in Mom’s recovery but in the prevention of a crisis. Family members can first gather information for support and care before there is a crisis. Every family that is planning to bring home a new child needs to know where to turn for help if they need it. If mom is struggling, family members can be most helpful by believing in her strength and recovery, and truly listening to her when she is able to tell them how she feels and what she needs. In the beginning, most women don’t know what to ask for. At that time, family can just stay present, don’t judge her, don’t scare her, but tell her you’re there for her all the way through.
You currently serve as the Volunteer Coordinator Chairperson for Postpartum Support International. What advice would you provide to those who wish to provide support to women with Postpartum Mood Disorders? What is most important to remember when embarking on this endeavor?
If you want to provide support for other women, the first step is to check in with yourself to make sure that you are taking care of your own needs. Contact PSI to find out what is going on in your area and how you can become involved. You can contact the office or go to the support map and find your area coordinators. Learn about the great service of social support and what that means. Read through Jane Honikman’s website as well. It is not giving advice or recommendations; it is being a peer who can listen and help women learn that they are not alone, it is not their fault, and there is help.
Name three things that have made you smile today.
This question. Voters. My daughter made a necklace out of a peace sign.
Last but not least, you have a chance to share with an expectant mother (new or experienced) some advice regarding Postpartum Mood Disorders. What would you share with her?
Don’t be afraid to reach out. Know that it is a statistical risk factor to be a high-achieving, self-sufficient person and that it might not come naturally to you to look for support or help. It is a great new skill and made the biggest difference for me between my first and second postpartum experience. What we survivors have learned is that the new strength is the ability to ask for help when needed, even before it’s needed, and to take it in. If you are struggling now, know that you are not alone and that you will get better if you stick to a plan of self-care and recovery. There are many options for treatment – choose what works for you. The universal aspect of recovery is the connection with hope, coming out of isolation, and knowing that you will come through this no matter how severe your symptoms are when most acute. If you need help, we are here to help you find what you need.
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Well said Wendy, and Lauren.
Pregnancy can be a focued time of learning to feel good about asking for help- all kinds of help, from asking others to bring food during your prenancy and postpartum, to playing with your other kids, to doing your laundry, housework and grocery shopping.
It is so unnatural for women to ask for this type of care, but a certain sign of strength when we do- as Wendy so articulately pointed out.
We PSI members love the analogy of the airplane. When we travel we are intructed that in the event that there is a loss of cabin pressure, we are to put on our own air mask first, then put them on any small children we may be traveling with. Pregnancy, childbirth, and life with a new addition to the family IS a loss of cabin pressure. Everyone knows that and expects the air masks to come down- that’s why they all want to help.
Women can learn to look for validation, like the man who offers to help load groceries into your car, or the other women who offer endless streams of ‘advice’. People all around us want to be of use to new mothers. Take that validation and run with it! Get good at stating what you need and want.
It’s OKAY to ask someone to do your laundry for the first postpartum month or two; they will probably be happy to bring food by at the same time. You can always set up a comical amount of help for yourself, and then scale back later if you decide to do so.
One idea is to post a ‘needs chart’ at the front door. A list of all that is needed is a great way to ask, without asking. Any visitor can see what you need clearly, even if that means dropping groceries by without knocking on the door. People kind of like the sneaky feeling that they did something wonderful when they dropped food by at a set time without knocking.
Pregnancy, and baby showers, are great opportunities to brainstorm ideas about showering the mother with support. Try it, then be emboldened and put ideas on paper. Pass the paper, or email responsibility off to a girlfriend and get REALLY good at receiving care. Chances are, you’ll be glad you did.