Climbing Out of the Darkness of Postpartum Mood Disorders
By Mariah Warren, Guest Blogger. Mariah is a mother, warrior mom and an advocate for postpartum moms.
Imagine you have just landed your dream job, something you’ve wanted for years, may be applied for many times or just once. Your heart races with excitement as you hear the words “welcome aboard,” and you imagine all the new experiences this job will bring. The news spreads as you tell others, in person or on Facebook, and everyone offers their congratulations (“You deserve it!” “You’ll do great!”) accompanied by hugs and smiles. You can’t wait for your first day on the job, for the projects you’ll be doing, for the status it will bring.
Finally, the big day comes. Your new co-workers welcome you with a continental breakfast, and you spend your first few days decorating your workspace and meeting people. And then- the celebration is over, the hoopla dies down, and you are left to your job, with the expectation that you know what you are doing. There is no on-the-job training, no how-to manual. Just you and your computer and a workplace full of kind people preoccupied with their own work.
You attempt to dive in despite feeling unsure of what to do. After all, you worked hard to get this job, you’ve earned it, and so you should be a pro. But there’s so much to do, and so many variables at play. Your head is spinning, and you feel you can’t catch your breath. Each day, you leave the office thinking you’ll have a break, but your mind stays there, taunting and teasing you with your perceived inadequacies.
You have difficulty sleeping and lose your appetite as you begin to feel anxious about meeting expectations. Your mind tells you you’re not good enough, that you are a sham and don’t deserve this job. You make plans to quit, wanting nothing more than to run away from the stress, anxiety and sense of shame you feel on a daily basis. After the first week or two, you hand in your resignation convinced that you’ll be in a much better place once you have gotten away from the source of all your intense emotions.
Now imagine this dream job is becoming a mother. Something you may have wanted for a long time, you’ve looked forward to, and filled with rose-colored expectations. But it doesn’t turn out like you’d planned, not after the initial high of the baby’s arrival wears off. After all the company has left, and the excitement of the new arrival has faded, you are left alone to perform the role women through the ages have performed, with little to no instruction, just instinct (and tons of parenting books and mommy blogs to make you feel you’re not doing enough, or not doing the right things).
You feel like you’re drowning, and don’t deserve to be a mother, but you hesitate to tell anyone for fear of being looked down upon, or for fear that your child will be taken from you. You think you just aren’t trying hard enough, so you tell yourself to put on your big girl panties and deal with it.
Only you can’t; each day becomes harder as your mind races further and further and you neglect your own needs, trying to do all you can for your child despite how you feel. Your entire Self is slipping away as you spin out of control, and you decide you aren’t fit to be a mother. You want to give up. But unlike other jobs, resignation is not an option.
There is a new life, totally dependent on you for nurturing and care. You can’t give up on yourself, because that would be giving up on your child, the child you worked so hard for.
This was my reality, and it’s the reality for the 15-20% of all women will get a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder. That’s 1 in every 7, more than the number of women who will get breast cancer. In the ten counties of the Hudson Valley, there were 30,554 live births in 2012, the year I had my son. That means between 4,583 and 6,111 of these mothers suffered from a maternal mood disorder.
And this figure doesn’t even include out-of-county births or miscarriages/stillbirths (yes, postpartum depression and other maternal mental illnesses can strike any woman who has been pregnant, even if the baby is lost).
Only 15% of moms with a postpartum mood disorder get treatment- so in the Hudson Valley in 2012, that would’ve meant an average of 802 of those struggling moms. I am one of the lucky ones- I made it from wanting to escape my new role- in any way possible, like running away- to being so glad to be the mother of an inquisitive, funny, and sometimes exasperating three-year-old who makes my heart melt.
My mission now is to increase awareness of and support for postpartum mood disorders, so that 15% grows ever closer to 100%. No woman should feel she’s a failure as a mom or that she’s not trying hard enough, when in reality she has a treatable illness.
As part of my mission, I am co-leading Team Hudson Valley/Housatonic in its second Climb Out of the Darkness. COTD was created by Katherine Stone and her nonprofit Postpartum Progress, which provides “in-depth information, community and hope for pregnant and new moms with postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth (including postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, depression during pregnancy, post-adoption depression, postpartum PTSD, depression after miscarriage or perinatal loss and postpartum psychosis).
We know that perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like PPD are temporary and treatable with professional help.” On June 20th, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, PPD survivors, their family, friends, and supporters world-wide will hike local trails to symbolize their collective rise out of the darkness and stigma of maternal mental illness as well as to raise awareness and support. Funds raised will support the programs of Postpartum Progress, including an award-winning blog, a private peer support forum, Daily Hope emails to new moms, a social media advisory board, and “Plain Mama English” guides to pregnancy/childbirth-related mental illnesses.
In addition, 15% of all funds raised by teams in New York will go to the Postpartum Resource Center of NY, to provide support groups and training for both healthcare providers and consumers right here in our home state.
Team Hudson Valley/Housatonic will hike the white trail at Sal J. Prezioso Mountain Lakes Park on June 20th 10:00 AM. This easy-moderate, family-friendly hike is open to all, whether you’ve been through a maternal mood disorder, know someone who does, work with new moms, or want to lend your support. We’ll have a welcome ceremony, and, when we reach our lookout point, a picnic celebration (byo lunch). The hike will be held rain or shine, though in the case of severe weather, we will postpone until June 27th.
For legal reasons, all participants ages 16 and over must register at http://bit.ly/COTDHudsonValley2015. Fundraising, while encouraged, is not required, but consider this: a donation of $10 will keep the lights on at the Postpartum Progress blog for one day; $50, can help educate and support more than 20,000 moms for just one week of the year. Every little bit helps. For more info, visit www.postpartumprogress.org, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the name of new mothers everywhere, I offer a big “thanks” for your help in spreading the word about maternal mental illness. I hope that by sharing, I can help other women to feel less alone and less afraid, and that they will join me in climbing out of the darkness. It can be done, and I and many others are proof. Motherhood may not be rainbows and sunshine every day, but with the bad days, we can all the more appreciate the depth of the good ones.
For more information:
www.postpartumprogress.com– the blog, searchable provider database, information, Warrior Mom profiles, etc.
www.postpartumprogress.org– information on the Climb, impact reports, fund usage, etc.
www.postpartumny.org– local resources, information, events
http://bit.ly/COTDHudsonValley2015– to register and/or donate to our Climb
www.facebook.com/COTDHudsonandHousatonicValleys– our event page; sign up for updates
Mariah Warren lives in Holmes, NY with her husband, their son, and their cat. She received her Bachelor’s degree in music (voice) and is co-founder of the ACTS performing arts ministry at Gilead Presbyterian Church in Carmel, NY. In the summer of 2012, when her son was five months old, Mariah was hospitalized twice for severe postpartum depression and anxiety. She feels blessed to be able to take a painful experience in her life and turn it into something positive, via the Warrior Moms community at Postpartum Progress. She hopes that by sharing her story, she can make at least one mom feel she is not alone.