Just Talkin’ Tuesday: The Power of Peer Support


When I was in the darkest days of my Postpartum, I found myself at the hospital, wandering, wishing for another mom to talk with about the thoughts in my head.

Yet, there I was. All alone. Deflated. Lost. Confused. Worried. Scared. Frustrated. Numb. Angry. Trapped in a giant whirlwind of emotions with no map out.

What the hell? How did I get here? How would I leave? I was drowning.

I knew one thing beyond a doubt though – Moms struggling like me needed to be connected to other moms.

As I began to recover, I searched and searched for a way to begin to support other moms. Through this search, I found the wonderful Jane Honikman and Postpartum Support International. Jane encouraged me. So did Wendy Davis, now the Program Director with Postpartum Support International. These two strong and amazing women nurtured me as I grew in my capabilities and strengthened my skills in peer support. There was a time when I questioned my abilities. Wendy assured me I was a natural at social support. Pec Indman would do the same down the road.

Then, I became pregnant. It was not a planned pregnancy. To be honest, not even a wanted pregnancy at the beginning. As I stated last week, I used to pray my doctor’s office wouldn’t find my baby’s heartbeat and then weep with guilt when I felt disappointment at hearing the normally reassuring thump thump of my unborn child’s heart. What should have brought me joy instead filled me with pain and heartache. Eventually this was replaced with joy and happiness as I blogged, continued with therapy, and medication. One of my biggest turning points was the opportunity to interview Karen Kleiman for my blog. Her book, What Am I thinking: Having a Baby After Postpartum Depression inspired me to start blogging to begin with as I attempted to reframe my pregnancy. Interviewing her was almost full circle for me.

During all of this, I also became Community Leader over at iVillage’s Postpartum & Pregnancy Depression Board. I had been a CL before but found myself unable to relate to moms with “normal” lives after my own life had suddenly turned upside down and scattered all over the floor. As I scrambled to pick up the pieces, it felt like those moms were busy eating bon bons as they looked down on me scurrying about to pick up the shattered china. I also served as a moderator at the Online PPD Support Page for a bit.

Connecting with moms like me saved me. It saved my sanity. It provided a camaraderie which I no longer had with normal moms. It became my calling and purpose in life.

I wake each and every day with the goal of helping at least one family.

I have yet to fail.

I have no plans to stop anytime soon.

So….

Do you have a special someone in your life who has provided invaluable peer support as you went through Postpartum? Tell us about it here. Have you helped someone? Did it help you recover? Why do you help others? What drives your passion?

Want peer support? Have a question or concern? Leave it in the comments. Someone’s bound to read it and respond.

Did you miss out on in person peer support? Need help finding peer support? Leave a comment. You’re not alone anymore.

Let’s get to just talking!

Sharing the Journey with Wendy Davis


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.

And it starts….


Well folks –

Here we go.

Let the TECH FREE FOR PPD weekend start!

Click here to sign up on my virtual pledge sheet!

A donation link will be posted Monday morning along with my handwritten account of how the weekend went.

My husband will be updating the blog this weekend to let y’all know how I’m doing.

I will be unplugging my laptop and putting it away in the bedroom. He will be changing the password to his computer so I can’t get on it either. I will be shutting my email and internet functions off on my Centro.

And just a quick FYI, my daughters are THRILLED I won’t be checking my email every few minutes. I think Alli is beside herself at having me all to herself this weekend!

I am probably in bed as this is posting as I’ve got it scheduled to go up at 1159p Friday night.

I’m looking forward to having the computer closed and focusing on my family. I’m sure I’ll probably have some withdrawal symptoms but I’ve been dialing back all week so hopefully that will help.

This morning I got an email from Jane Honikman about my weekend plans. This is what she had to say:

Hi Lauren, Wendy shared your newest fundraising idea with me and I checked out your site about it. Know you can do this too!  Actually it might be an opportunity to tell all who blog with you that Grandma Jane’s wisdom is “turn off your computer each evening at 5”.   Life without computers or tv means more face to face time with those around us.  Good for the soul and body to be unplugged! Good luck and enjoy your weekend!  I appreciate your continuing support for PSI!! hugs, Jane

I want this to also be an example that we MUST remember to take time for ourselves in this crazy and rushed world. It allows us to focus on what’s really important and also encourages our families to do the same. Starting these habits early with our children allows them to grow up and develop the good habit of learning to enjoy the little things and appreciate the time we have with others.

As the girls played with play-doh this morning, Alli found a sheet of paper and was using them as directions. Charlotte wanted to have some so I ended up writing some down for her – and of course, Alli wanted those same directions so I made her a copy as well. The following is what I wrote and I hope that you will take some of it (minus the getting the play-doh out although it IS fun to play with it!):

First you get out the play-doh.

Then you play and play and play and play some more.

And last, you let your imagination run free.

Don’t worry – it will come back to you.

Sharing the Journey with Jane Honikman


Jane Honikman was one of the first people I reached out to while  researching PPD support groups prior to starting my own. She very graciously sent me her books and even included a handwritten note of support (which I still have!)
And that’s the kind of woman Jane is… caring, understanding, compassionate, everything a mother with PPD would ever want to find in their time of desperation and need. She truly embodies what PSI stands for and I consider it to be a true honor to post this interview. I emailed Jane the questions a couple of days in advance but the interview was conducted via phone. The following is what I managed to capture so “listen” in and I hope you enjoy what Jane has to say.

 

 1) In your book, I’m Listening: A Guide to Supporting Postpartum Families, you mention the practice of Mothering the Mother. How important is this concept and why do you think this practice has vastly disappeared from our society?
I think what people have done is found subsitutes because immediate family is not as available as it has been in the past due to geographic separation. My generation subsituted friendship as mothering. We need to be more vocal about the need for mothering the mother and more organizational about it. Mothering is the essence of life – we can’t do anything alone, life is all about connection and partnerships.

 2) What did you find (and continue to find) to be most challenging about Motherhood? The least?

 The most challenging aspect of motherhood is keeping communication flowing. Making sure you are able to make your own wants known and yet listening at the same time to the needs of those around you. I feel that finding a balance between these is the key to successful communication.

 The least challenging is falling in love with your children.

3) How did you develop the Postpartum Mantra (You are not alone, You are not to blame, You will be well with help)?

 When I started getting educated about this in the early 80’s – listening to what was being said through the grassroots & research, it was clear that there were three simple messages. I’ve always tried to take the complex and simplify it. A lot of advocates have used this concept for other purposes as well. I have been involved with self help in the 60’s and 70’s and those experiences fed into this mantra. Blaming and being well is something also used by Alcoholics Anonymous.

4) What advice would you give to partners and families of women with Postpartum Depression? What can they do to best help the mother?

 Hanging in there as with any illness -stay mindful that it is not the person’s fault, just like the person with cancer didn’t get it on their own. With any mental illness, when the behaviour changes and it is harsh and alienating, it is hardest because you don’t want to be there for them. Encourage them to get help and be there for them. Never give up on them or yourselves.

5) When you started PEP (Parents Educating Parents), what was the primary motivating factor?

 We were a group of girlfriends providing support to each other and realized we were motivated to share the support we were experiencing in our small group with all the families in our surrounding community.

 6) Has PSI’s success in supporting women and families with PPD experiences surprised you?

 No, I knew eventually it was a matter of staying committed and patient and given my previous experience of working in communities, I knew it would just take time. I always felt that this was the right thing to do.

It didn’t surprise me – it delights me.

7) What activity refreshes you the most when you’ve had a rough day?

 Most important to me is to not allow intrusions into family life. I will turn off the computer after five o’clock then go start dinner and focus on family. I also enjoy music and play the flute. Another thing that refreshes me is friendship, including my friendship with my husband.

8 ) As a woman who has experienced PPD, what has it been like to guide your children through their parenting experiences?

 We were very mindful and the absolute most important thing is the supportive stuff. Our oldest married someone who had no idea what depression was and the most important thing was finding a simple book (english was not his first language) for him to read to educate himself about this. Once he read about depression, it was amazing to see the light go on and see him grasping an understanding of depression. We focused on getting educated, increasing awareness, and providing a lot of mothering through the child-birthing process. I am grateful that there is improved support for my children’s generation because there certainly wasn’t the same level of support when I experienced PPD.

9) Any advice for other women who want to pay their experience forward and help women with PPD?

  Take care of yourself first. The issues will still be there but you absolutely must get yourself to a strong place first. Delegate, don’t do things alone. Set up an organization so you don’t have to go it alone.

10) If there was one piece of advice you could give to an expectant mother (new or experienced), what would it be and why would this be important for her to hear?

 Listen to your body and enjoy it…every pregnancy is different. You have to focus on staying well and get help when you need it – you can’t do this alone.