Maternal Health Month, may is maternal mental health month

Maternal Mental Health Week 2018

Starting yesterday, April 30, and running through Friday, May 4, the maternal mental health community celebrates and spreads awareness of the illnesses affecting women and mothers.

Did you know?

Created by Jennifer Butler Basile with info from

1 in 5. That means we all know someone whose mental health has or is suffering – and yet we may not know it.


Ask a mom you know – each and every mom you know – how she is doing: the pregnant mom, the grieving mom, the new mom, the fourth trimester and beyond mom.

Your question may be the first in a line of interventions needed to get her back to herself. Other points on the line may be her child’s pediatrician, her primary care physician or ob/gyn, a therapist, and/or organizations like Postpartum Support International and The Blue Dot Project.

You can help her start her journey. You can help her see she’s not alone.

The push is on this week. The hashtags are on fire these five days. But the struggle is real everyday.

Mental Health Month 2017

For All Mothers

Three years ago, Kelly Kittel began her journey of book tours and signings, publicity and PR for her newly published memoir, Breathe: A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Family Conflict.  I’d journeyed with her, on parallel paths, in a shared writing group for months before.  Kelly has journeyed today to Washington, D.C. to advocate for appropriate allocation of funding for maternal health programs.

In December 2016, the Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Dark Act of 2015 was signed into law.  Today and tomorrow scores of women visit the Capitol to discuss how to enact programs highlighted by the legislation.  It’s wonderful to see my news feeds filled with faces I’ve met in my maternal health circles, gathering together at the core of our country, for the health of mothers.

Kelly and I have had different journeys in motherhood.  She will be speaking to bereavement and infant loss.  She is speaking from her own personal experience.  My personal experience is with postpartum depression.  I was honored and touched that she asked me to give her my take on the care I’d received postpartum and what it may have lacked; to bring a firsthand account of what mothers in Rhode Island might need to recover and thrive despite postpartum depression.

To be a mother is to know the utmost joy and deepest despair.  While our manner of grief might differ, we all embody the emotion.  I thank Kelly Kittel for taking hers, and mine, on her latest journey.

More info on this initiative:

Living, Mental Health, parenting, Recovery, Survival

Not in Vain

Before my third child, I never dropped the JC.

I was no pure linguist, but I did not take the name of the Lord in vain.

In the months and years following her birth, it became a regular part of my vocabulary, satisfyingly venting my rage and frustration at things gone wrong. Stupid things. Teeth not being brushed. Butts not being wiped. Nothing that should unleash rage, but they were the proverbial straws.

I knew its use signaled a loss of center, of control.

Perhaps it was a desperate plea. But it came out sounding like a kid forced to say please and thank you. Totally inappropriate in tone and timbre.

Finally, one Lent, I decided to make a focused effort to stop saying it improperly. Keeping track of my missteps, I counted eight uses during those forty days. A significant reduction. I never did decide what would be an appropriate penance for each of those eight uses, but my non-JC oath habit stuck.

So here I am 32 weeks into pregnancy #4 and I’m being pelted with more stupid little straws.

My six year old has decided this is a fabulous time to assert her independence. Not in a dig-your-heels-in toddler sort of way, but in a snotty teenage you-can’t-make-me sort of way. Holding a stuffie I’d told her to put away at least three times, I stood over her as she sat on the bathroom floor fully dressed and not making any attempts to prepare for bed. I had to fight the urge to bean her over the head with it. After numerous non-oath reminders, I unleashed a torrent of reprimands peppered with choice words (though no JC – does that earn me some credit?).

Having to remove myself from the situation, I stalked in our bedroom, where my husband stood.

“This kid isn’t even born yet and I’m already swearing!”

He laughed. I think he appreciates seeing me get as frustrated as he does sometimes.

But his laughter also signaled to me that perhaps my reaction, while a bit overblown, was natural. I may be hyper-vigilant to signs of rage due to my postpartum experience last time, but that doesn’t mean that every freak-out is a bad sign. It could just be a bad day. Or a bad moment.

Just as uttering Jesus Christ in a proper context is not a bad thing, expressing anger or frustration in an appropriate way is not either. I need to watch the tone of my words and actions to see whether I’m struggling. It may not be a spiral, but a slight dip in the mood of the day.

I know many postpartum women – or anyone who’s suffered a mental health crisis – who see a bad day, a down period, a low point as a relapse. But even if it is, having been where we have and coming back from that place, we are equipped to do so faster, better, and with the proper supports.

We also are entitled to the same bad days our “normal” counterparts have all the time. Not every infraction is a sign of our condition, a harbinger of more to come.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done. Ironically, the organ we must rely on most strongly to convince us of our strength and resiliency is also the one most affected by our illness.

In that case, perhaps a call to the Lord would not be in vain.

Maternal Health Month, Maternal Health Month 2014, may is maternal mental health month

A Common Language


I’ve been thinking a lot about how to ensure that available mental health resources get into the hands of the women who need them. When and where resources are available, there seems to be a gap between the offering and the accessing. As always, I think back to when I first slid on the shoes of the women now making the postpartum trek.

Women of all socioeconomic, racial, and educational backgrounds share one extremely daunting obstacle when in need of such help: they must articulate their exact problem in order to get the help they need.

In a complex web of medical jargon, insurance restrictions and loopholes, and a frustratingly-absent physical presentation of symptoms (for the most part), it falls upon the sufferer to demand treatment for the condition that, no doubt, impairs the very confidence, decision-making skill set, and strength it takes to do so.

It’s an ironic catch-22. The doctor has the tools to ‘fix’ you, but you must lead her to the workshop. The doctor is the artist, but cannot pick up the paintbrush unless you led her to the canvas. The horse must determine the source of water before the doctor can lead it there.

There is no solution unless the patient gives the doctor information to determine the problem.

When I hinted that I felt like running away a few months postpartum, my midwife recommended I talk to a LISCW. This therapist helped me chip away at the enigma that dragged me down, but it was I who eventually had to request medication from my physician. When that dull cloud still hovered, I made the final call to increase dosage. More recently when I intimated to her that I still felt low sometimes, I apparently wasn’t descriptive enough because I was told the meds shouldn’t make me feel flat; there should be ups and downs.

How well my mental health situation is addressed directly correlates to how accurate I am in describing it. How empowering and crippling at the same time. If I do not share every pertinent detail in clearly descriptive language, I will not feel better. I will not get the meds, therapy, tests, information, etc. that I need to make anything resembling a full recovery.

Regardless of my level of medical literacy, the debilitating effects of depression and anxiety can keep me from adequately representing my plight. Regardless of the quality of care available to me, its benefits will not be afforded to me if I do not say just how much I need it. Nothing will be given to me unless I ask.

How do we on the receiving end of such conversations draw the stories out of the women who need help? How do we teach/speak the language to give them a voice? How do we release the language bubbling beneath their skin? In that wordless abyss is the bridge between therapeutic, wholistic maternal care and the women who need it.

word bubbles


Maternal Health Month, Maternal Health Month 2014, may is maternal mental health month

What Postpartum Depression Recovery DOES NOT Look Like

Read this article, peeps.  Truth.  Simple, yet sage advice.  Your rational side may know it all already, but that stubborn irrational side of you needs to hear it again.  Believe me, I’ve been there and felt all these – and so has Katherine Stone, the author.


What Postpartum Depression Recovery DOES NOT Look Like.

Get well card with fresh chamomile flowers on blue background

Maternal Health Month, Maternal Health Month 2014, may is maternal mental health month

It Just Makes Me Sad

News broke late last week that a California mother had taken the lives of her three children.  Conduct a man-on-the-street interview and you’d likely hear outrage, vile epithets directed at the monster who would kill her own offspring.  My own husband brought it up to me in a pained tone of voice.  He was disgusted.  It IS disgusting when such a thing happens.

But I’m not angry at her.

Horrible events like this make me sad.

Sad that three lives on the cusp were snuffed out.  Sad that poor defenseless, innocent babes were terminated.  Sad that the father had to watch his bloodied babies be carried from his home; that his partner in life, in giving life, was the one responsible.

Sad that no one connected to this woman perceived any threat of dangerous behavior. Sad that perhaps she felt she couldn’t express such feelings before it was too late for fear of judgment, backlash.  Sad that she didn’t know how to get help.  Or perhaps didn’t have such resources available.

Sad that things like this continue to happen needlessly.

We live in a society with a different-hued ribbon for everything – and things like this still happen.

And woman like this are still labelled as crazy.  I found ONE account that handled this story sensitively.  (Read here)

In the anger and outrage that follow such an event, it’s easy to point fingers.  Why was she left alone with the children?  Why didn’t anyone ensure she got treatment? Thankfully, I never experienced postpartum psychosis (nor has it been substantiated that this woman did); even still, I hid my negative feelings for fear of judgement as a bad mother.  I never asked for help because my struggles were so far out of the realm of a competent mother.  Would I have been more likely, then, to admit to homicidal thoughts toward my children?  Not something someone who loves and cares for their children – which all postpartum mothers do on some level – would readily admit.  Therefore, there may not have been warning signs of this impending tragedy.  Many postpartum mothers are uncannily adept at masking the turmoil inside.

So here’s the lowdown:

  • For all its awareness, we still live in a society where women are compelled to hide their unhealthy mental symptoms.
  • For all the coverage of tragedies such as these, a lot of people still cannot recognize or suss out the warning signs and symptoms of the mentally ill to prevent future scenarios.
  • For all the resources available, the paths to these therapeutic and rehabilitative programs are still unclear and/or blocked.
  • For a species that values nurturing, we are quick to throw a troubled and needy person under the bus.

There is work to be done, people.  It is sad that we cannot look each other in the eye and see the need in that person.  It is sad that we look away for fear that the beast inside us will be awakened by the raw reminder in front of us.  It is sad that, instead, we cannot look and see a solution, a way to lift up the depressed and rise together.


Maternal Health Month, Maternal Health Month 2014, Mental Health, Mental Illness, motherhood

May is Maternal Health Month


May is actually Mental Health Month. If you were hanging around these parts at this time last year, you’d know that all too well. Every day of May, I posted something germane to that topic: reflecting on my own struggles and successes, reviewing symptoms and warning signs, offering hopefully helpful resources. While I got increasingly more depressed the more posts about my own depression I logged, it was a valuable exercise. So much so, that I’ve decided to do a similar one this year.

Since the plot line of my mentally-ill life spiked with the birth of my third daughter, I decided to tighten my focus onto maternal mental health. In no way am I discounting any of the other myriad aspects of mental illness and/or health, but those surrounding mothering and the female hormonal system are an animal in and of themselves – a big, nasty, brutish, spiky-haired one, may I add.

Colloquialism has us turning into fierce mama bears when our children are threatened, but what of the threats that come from inside us?

This month, I hope to explore that and perhaps lay some of that hair back down.

Join the pack.

There are so many of us out there, even if it feels each of us is trapped in a dark cave all alone.

A general banner for Mental Health Month, but I chose the image of this woman alone on the beach because very often, our family is fine, we're the one (feeling like we're) struggling all alone; that there is something we must fix within ourselves before we can connect with the family.

A general banner for Mental Health Month, but I chose the image of this woman alone on the beach because very often, our family is fine; we’re the ones (feeling like we’re) struggling all alone; that there is something we must fix within ourselves before we can connect with the family.


Identity, Living, May is Mental Health Month, Mental Health, Spirituality

Where Is My God When It Hurts?

Another great post from Cate Redell at Infinite Sadness . . . or Hope?

Her thoughts are what runs through many a tormented mind, I think, trying to figure out why its owner is suffering.

In the darkest days of my postpartum depression, I peered into every corner, lifted every heavy layer up, searching for some reason why this was happening to me; some redeeming seed I took take forward and grow into something useful.

God is not vengeful. I don’t think this was put upon me as punishment. I don’t think I deserve this.

But are there some lessons I can take from it?

I work extremely hard at controlling things, often to my own detriment. I am horrible at admitting I need or asking for help, much to my misery. I am a perfectionist, punishing myself with an impossible ideal.

When my world spun out of control, these were all things that were impossible to maintain.

And from my earliest days, God instilled in me a desire to help others. If even one person could learn from my suffering, would that be the reason for it? My ability to not lose faith and turn my trials into something positive?

In the end, it’s all about perspective and how we choose to react to what’s given us.

Cate’s post gets to the heart of that. Enjoy!

Infinite Sadness... or hope?

Last week I wrote about struggling to find hope in the midst of the chronic pain and fatigue of  fibromyalgia (see Fatigued Hope). I admit I’m still battling this one. I don’t think there is a simple answer, yet I am frustrated by having previously written about hope, but not being able to find it to apply in this situation.

A number of people commented, in relation to that post, that I should perhaps look to my spiritual beliefs. Hence my question: where is my God when it hurts? The question is phrased as it is because I believe that spirituality is an individual thing, and as such where your God is when I hurt is not actually of much significance to me. It is in terms of how you might find comfort in your trials, but for me personally, it only about my perception of who my God…

View original post 1,215 more words

anxiety, May is Mental Health Month, Mental Health, motherhood, parenting

Why three is the most stressful number of children to have – BUT mothers of four are MORE relaxed | Mail Online

Why three is the most stressful number of children to have – BUT mothers of four are MORE relaxed | Mail Online.

Third time’s a charm.  1,2,3 – GO!  The three amigos.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Celery, carrots, and onions.  Huey, Duey, and Louey.  The Three Little Pigs.  Even the tri-cornered hat.  Three is a magic number!

Unless you have three children.  Then, apparently, it drives you out of your gourd.

My husband sent me the link to the article above in an e-mail one day with the subject line, “interesting article . . .”  Well, the ellipses said everything.

The article, though, doesn’t give any specific reasons why, I thought – at least none I hadn’t already known.  My husband and I had already joked that we’d  moved from man-on-man defense to zone defense once we had three.  I already told people that the only thing that helped going from two to three was that you already knew how to keep multiple balls in the air – but that, now, there was always a ball in the air.  The woman quoted who said it was easy going from one to two?  Yeah, no.  I swear my second is still a light sleeper because I was constantly shrieking at her sister to stay away from her as a newborn (can you say undiagnosed case of some sort of postpartum something?  No wonder the $#*% the fan with the third).

As far as the benefits of having four, I already reap some of those now with three.  A Dr. Taylor in the article says about perfectionism that “‘there’s just not enough space in your head’ once you have at least four children.”  There is no available space in my brain.  Burn photos or video to a DVD?  I knew how to do that once.  That knowledge oozed out my ear during one of the twenty minute periods of sleep of some child’s infancy.  And forget head space – what of physical or mental energy?  Once upon a time I hung sheetrock at Habitat for Humanity home sites, after scoring and snapping it myself.  I fought vehemently to do things around the house my way.  Now if the home improvement fairy comes and takes care of things, I don’t really care as long as it gets done (with the possible exception of painting/decorating).  Something’s gotta give.

And that’s where I do agree with something Dr. Taylor says.  “The more children you have, the more confident you become in your parenting abilities. You have to let go.”  There is confidence in repetition, practice.  I didn’t worry about ‘breaking’ my baby after countless diaper changes and pulling little arms through tiny shirt sleeves.  I didn’t freak out as much over breast feeding and whether they were getting enough to eat.  But did I worry if I was doing enough?  Not doing the damage that would land my kids in their own form of therapy someday?  Heck, yeah.  That didn’t change with multiple kiddos.  That increased.  Still, for self-preservation – and really, theirs too – you do have to let go.

A dear friend, who had her three children three steps ahead of mine, and therefore in the as-cool-as-a-cucumber phase while I was just entering the anal-retentive, told me when I had my third, that I was much more relaxed.  When I relayed the story to my father-in-law, hinting that she’d called me anal-retentive, he agreed!  I hadn’t seen what everyone else had.  People laugh now because I’m so laissez-faire with everyday concerns.  When my impatient five year-old says she wants a snack so emphatically that it sounds like she’s gone without food for days, I say, ‘That’s nice.”  After the thud, I wait for the scream or wail.  If my child wants to go to school looking like it’s mismatch day everyday of year, more power to her.

I could be accused of being lax.  I could be accused of swinging the pendulum so far away from anal-retentive, it’s a tad too much.  But somedays I feel like I’m living inside an episode of The Three Stooges.

At least my kids are cuter

At least my kids are cuter

I can’t be all things to everyone.  I sure as hell can’t be perfect.  And I’m not going to try for a fourth to test this article’s theories!

anxiety, Identity, Living

A Change in Me

I was totally on my game last night.  I mention it because it is so not me.  I was laughing, telling jokes, comfortable, making comments without much worrying about what people would think of me.  In other words, I was my authentic self.  Not insecure, not worried, not painfully self-aware.  And there were times throughout the night when I realized this and took note; not quite like an out-of-body experience watching it from afar, but my insecure or irrational or timid mouse inner self noticed and was pleasantly surprised.  And then I tried to tell her to go away, to enjoy it for what it was worth, to follow this relaxed, uninhibited self however far she would go.  Not to jinx it, second-guess it, scare her away with too many self-checks and ruminations.  And now I think of the Halloween party we went to last Saturday.  My kindergartener was invited to a classmate’s family party.  Their neighbors were there, family members, other classmates and their families.  Walking in to a crowd of ‘strangers’ was a bit daunting, but surprisingly only a little.  A playmate’s mom soon walked up and introduced herself.  I found the host’s mom and introduced myself.  I sought out other classmates’ parents.  I told jokes.  I talked to strangers.  I initiated conversations.  I was so not me.  But then, I said to my husband, I was on my game.  Because that is me – part of me, anyway.  The part that is uninhibited, comfortable in her own skin, totally inhabiting the spacious self that is she.  My authentic self.

Is it this place?  Is it the excuse, the opportunity of a change in place to make things happen, to reinvent myself?   Because I could’ve done all these things in my former home.  But I didn’t.  Was it the memory and residual trauma of postpartum?  Was it the repression of people who knew me from way back when, when I was a certain way?  Was it the familiar that I began to blend into?  I was scared.  I was stuck.  Now I’m free.  I don’t know if it’s the physical space that now surrounds us that is freeing us; the mental space that in turn affords (if you believe if in the elements of Feng Shui); the need to ground ourselves and make connections since we don’t have any.  But life seems to be shaping up.  And me right along with it.