Episode 50: Starting A Peer Support Group

Episode 50? Woot woot! I probably should have baked a cake, right? I baked a chocolate cake last weekend for Julian’s birthday, so let’s just pretend that cake was also for the podcast.

Thinking of starting a postpartum mom-to-mom support group? Fabulous! These are my top eleven tips. (Ten sounds better, but hey, I thought of eleven.)

1.  If you want to start a mom-to-mom support group, do it!  Don’t worry about the frills and frippery.  You don’t need a website or blog header.  You don’t need to know who your first one hundred members are.  You don’t need a five year plan.  You do not have to be perfect in the beginning.  Your group can and should evolve over time.  Just start.

2.  Do what works for you.  In a perfect world, these groups would be offered in every neighborhood at dozens of different times.  But you are human.  You can’t be everything to everyone.  Pick the time, location, frequency, and logistics that work for YOU so the group is sustainable. 

3.  Lower your expectations.  Moms will RSVP and never show up for a meeting.  There might be weeks (even months) when no one attends.  Be patient and remember: you are helping a tough crowd.  Life with a baby? DIFFICULT.  Nap schedules change without warning.  Babies get sick.  get really excited when a mom makes it to your group, because damn, she worked hard to be there. 

4.  Don’t take anything personally.  I think this is critical for just about everything in life.  I can’t stop talking about The Four Agreements and think it should be required reading for humanity.  If you want to run a mom-to-mom support group, read that book!

But more specifically for running a mom-to-mom support group, some moms will attend and clearly hate the group.  That’s their journey.  It’s not you.  Even if it seems like you, remember, they are dealing with all sorts of emotional and psychological issues. 

5.  Some moms need to attend regularly.  Others need only attend once.

6.  Remember: you are not a mental health professional.  Be sure to mention that to any new moms who attend.

7.  If you have the money, Meetup.com is great.  At least in Pasadena.  But for spreading the word about your group, there’s also Facebook and emailing mom resources directly, e.g. obstetricians, pediatricians, mommy and me classes.   

8.  You are allowed to quit.  I quit when I was pregnant with my second child because hello, I had morning sickness until the day I gave birth.  I knew I could not keep the group going while vomiting all day long.  Know yourself.  Know your limits.  You have to meet your needs before you can meet anyone else’s needs. 

9.  You are allowed to start over if you do quit.  I restarted my group when Julian was about six months old and the second incarnation was even better than the first.  That’s when I committed to a regular time and day and asked The Family Room if I could use their space to host my meetings. 

10.  You are helping people who you never meet.  I promise, you are.  For some moms, just knowing your group exists is a huge relief.  It helps them realize they are not alone.  They need that.  I have dozens of moms whom have never attended my group but signed up for the Meetup, and I know they are helped by the group’s existence. When you start the group, you are fighting the stigma.

11.  You can’t save everyone.

Also: check our Jane Honikman’s books!  They are amazing resources!   I have listed them all below with Amazon links. I did not read these books until after I had started my group, so don’t feel pressure to read them first. (See Tip # 1.) But don’t feel like you have to invent the wheel by yourself.

Jane Honikman’s Books:

Community Support For New Families

I’m Listening: A Guide to Supporting Postpartum Families

Postpartum Action Manual: How to Provide Comfort, Encouragement, and Guidance to New Families

Gluten-Free!

I’ve been gluten-free for about ten days now. In theory, I’m also going “grain-free” but I’m letting myself cheat there a little. Like yesterday, my mom baked pumpkin bread with gluten-free flour. There were some other grains in the mix, but fuck it, I love pumpkin bread. I want to be healthier, but that’s not going to work if I’m expected to abstain from pumpkin bread until the end of time.

I’ve read in various places that grains, especially gluten, can cause depression and anxiety. Well hey now. I have certainly had my share fair of those symptoms. I have quit gluten to lose weight and regain control of my body, but if the GF life boosts my mental health, you will not hear my complaining.

In fact, you’ll probably hear me rejoicing.

I’m just not content with the status quo. I’m at a great place in my life, but I feel like I can do more and feel even more amazing than I do today.

But all in good time. I know me. I can’t overhaul my life in 48 hours and expect it to stick. I have to make changes one by one. That’s why I cut refined sugars in early September and waited five weeks to tackle this GF transition. And that’s why I’m not worrying about my diet soda problem yet. Today I’m cutting gluten and grains. That’s enough. I want to stop drinking soda eventually. I know it’s bad for me. But I also know if I cut soda and gluten at the same time, I will go bat shit crazy and end up eating all the cake in Pasadena.

Memoir Update

I have not been very active with this website/blog because I was so busy revising my memoir about postpartum depression. It’s my first book, and I have been learning a lot through the adventures of writing and revising.

I finally felt good about the second draft and sent it off to my editor in mid-September. She is going over it now and will flip it back to me in early November. I’ll then make some final revisions and get the book ready for publication – definitely in 2018, the earlier in the year the better. I’m ready to send this baby into the world!

Deleted Scene: Checking the Burners

Here is yet another deleted scene from my forthcoming memoir about postpartum depression.  This scene comes from a chapter about the OCD rituals that I developed during the postpartum months.  

Our kitchen had a 1950s stove with gas burners that sometimes went out.  Even before we had Pippa, the stove terrified me a little.  I checked the burners every day to make sure they were lit.  If I discovered an unlit burner, and Nathan was home, I scurried out of the kitchen and held my breath as he struck a match with an extra long stick.  That way, if a fireball erupted, I could drag Nathan to safety.

If I was home alone, I opened all the windows and turned on the ceiling fan.  After a few minutes, I would lean as far from the stove as possible before lighting the match. 

It was not long before the stove was added to my nightly rituals.  While walking from front door to back, I would pause and hover my hand over the burners to feel the heat of a lit flame.  Not trusting myself, I then crouched down on the floor and looked until I had visual confirmation of each little blue flame. 

Soon, I was checking the burners every time I walked through the kitchen.  Since the kitchen is in the middle of our house, that meant I was hovering/crouching at least a dozen times a day.  Sometimes, if I was feeling extra anxious, I passed my palm against the burners so I could really feel the heat.   

More than once, I felt compelled to check a burner just after using it.  I would press my palm on the burner itself and gasp as the metal scorched the skin.

I did not mean to burn myself intentionally, but the pain felt good.  So long as my palm ached, I knew the burners were lit and Pippa was safe from invisible toxic fumes.  And for a few minutes, my palm would hurt so badly, it would even eclipse the anxiety.

Episode 43: Katie’s Story

This week, Katie Flores, a holistic health coach, shares her postpartum adventures.  Katie suffered from crying episodes, dreams of running away, becoming easily irritable, and just knowing that something was wrong.

I think that’s so important. Sometimes, we don’t know how to label it, but we just know “something is wrong”. I know I felt that way for months but was too afraid to ask for help because people kept insisting that the newborn phase is tough and things would get better at the three month mark.

Katie’s worst year was not the first year postpartum, but the time from when her daughter turned one until she was two.  There’s an emphasis on the first year postpartum, but you know what? A woman’s body works in mysterious ways. If you feel like crap, reach out for help, no matter how far along you are during your postpartum journey.

For Katie, the postpartum depression was not the diagnosis but a symptom for another issue with her thyroids. Postpartum thyroid issues mimic postpartum depression, so your doctor should test your thyroid as well.

Her website is right here at KatieEFlores.com.  It’s a beautiful site and hey, Katie offers a free strategy phone call.

Katie also offers a free healthy mamas’ support group. If you would like a free copy of Katie’s free Thyroid Labs Checklist, head over HERE and sign up for her newsletter.

Thanks, Katie!

I Started A Hashtag

I started a hashtag yesterday: #PPDforDummies. Let me explain.

When I was recovering from postpartum depression (and postpartum anxiety) (and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder), Postpartum Depression for Dummies by Dr. Shoshana Bennett was my bible. It helped me understand what was happening to me and gave me tons of great ideas to help me get better.

I remember finding this book online and thinking, Holy crap, For Dummies published a book about this? Then it must be really common.

A few months later, as I started to feel more like myself, I thought, This book really needs to be in the waiting room for every pediatrician and obstetrician.

That was over three years ago. At last, I am finally following through on my idea to make sure this book is EVERYWHERE because no woman should think she is alone when she is suffering from a maternal mood disorder.

 

I donated a copy of Postpartum Depression for Dummies to the parent education class that Julian and I attend.  They have a library with books about pregnancy and baby care, and now they have PPD for Dummies. I think this is the one book about maternal mood disorders that every mom needs in her life.

Folks, I’m publishing a memoir about my postpartum adventures in a few months, but this is the book I really want everyone to read. That is how serious I am about this book.

I have thought long and hard about the best way to get copies of this book into the waiting rooms of pediatricians and obstetricians. Should I start a Kickstarter? Form a non-profit? Host a fundraiser?

Then I realized the best way to start was to just start. Sometimes a little grassroots advocacy is the most effective way to raise awareness.

I hope I can inspire other advocates to donate copies of PPD For Dummies – or whatever book they love the most – to all the places that moms visit.

And you know what? This does not have to be a purely altruistic mission. I wrote a little love note with the address for my podcast’s website on the front page of the book. Think of the marketing possibilities for doulas, midwives, therapists, and anyone else working with new moms! In a world where everyone is screaming for attention on social media, why not differentiate yourself from the pack and reach moms in a totally different way?

I am going to create an actual nice “bookplate” to paste into future copies that I share. Something much prettier than my handwriting. But hey, I did not want another excuse to procrastinate. Maybe a mom will be in that classroom tomorrow and see the book and go home, order it from Amazon, and finally get the help she needs. How could I wait another day to make a pretty bookplate when there are moms suffering right this very second?

So that is why I started a hashtag. If you feel inspired and donate a copy of Postpartum Depression for Dummies to your pediatrician, obstetrician, whomever, please let me know! Post a photo on Instagram or Facebook, don’t forget to tag #PPDforDummies, and I’ll let my podcast listeners know. (I’m @Courtney.Novak on Instagram. Tag me, too, to help spread the word and make sure I see your post!)

I’ll start a page on this website to list all the people who get involved and include links to where you live online. This is such an easy way to make a difference.

We can change the world one book at a time.

Deleted Scenes: The Inner Monologue Of A Mom With Postpartum Anxiety

My memoir on postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and postpartum OCD should be out soon (fingers crossed!) (tightly crossed!) In the meantime, here is a deleted scene that gives a glimpse into the inner workings of an anxious mind.

We paid a local maid service to clean our house every other week.  Given my new obsession with germs, a reasonable person might assume I would hire the service to come more often.

I was not a reasonable person.

A trio of cleaners always came on the same day of the week, but their arrival time was uncertain.  The day before the scheduled cleaning, the service would call and give me a two hour window for when the cleaners would arrive.  Sometimes, the cleaners arrived a half hour before the window; other times, not until fifteen minutes after the window expired.

This was not a problem for most customers who worked away from home and gave a spare key to the cleaning service; but there was no way in hell that I was giving a spare key to a bunch of potential maniacs.  I therefore had to be at home when the cleaning service arrived to let them in and then stay at home to supervise them and make sure they did not steal a laptop or scrub the counters with rat poison. 

This should have been easy for an agoraphobic recluse.

It was not.

It was hell.

What if I was breastfeeding when the doorbell rang? 

What if I was changing Pippa’s diaper?  And I got distracted and walked away to answer the door and Pippa rolled off the table and smashed her head open? 

What if Pippa was napping and the cleaners woke her? 

Whatifwhatifwhatif?

While the cleaners worked, I listened. 

Was that a sniffle?  A cough?  A sneeze? 

Was someone sick? 

Monsters!  

Was that another sniffle? 

Should I ask the sniffler to wear a face mask? 

Would she hate me? 

Oh god, she would hate me. 

Was that another sniffle? 

She said it was allergies. 

What if it was pneumonia? 

Was it contagious? 

How long could germs linger on a counter? 

The cleaners clomped and stomped and jumped and bumped and crashed and thrashed and made an ungodly racquet with no regard for humanity.  The vacuum cleaner was so goddamn loud.  What the fuck were they doing, vacuuming a pile of nails and tossing around bolts of thunder?  Was Zeus himself vacuuming the bedroom?

And what was that vile smell?  

Bleach? 

It smelled like death.  It was death.  There was poison in the air and Pippa would breathe it and suffocate AND DIE.

This was not a cleaning service. 

This was a barbarian invasion that would be the death of me and all I loved.  

I blamed my anxiety on the cleaning service, fired them and felt a surge of bliss and wellbeing.  But like the calm I felt after washing my hands, it was very, very short-lived.  

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Episode 37: Of Zoloft Weaning And Sensory Deprivation Tanks

It’s just me again this week talking about my mental health and advocacy work, but I promise, we’ll be back to interviews next week.  (Probably.) (You know how it goes.) (#MomLife).

I talked about my gradual tapering off of Zoloft.  I am down from 150 mg to 75 mg and easing myself into 50 mg. I was a bit cavalier this week and took 50 mg two days in a row before my body was ready for the leap and oh boy, did I suffer.

I felt like this:

But Nathan says I was actually more like this:

I feel better now. Whew.

But I jeopardized my mental health today by trying a sensory deprivation tank.  I was in the dark, floating in about six inches of water that was loaded with Epsom Salts for an hour. I thought it would be tranquil and energizing. It was quite the opposite. By the time the lights went back on, I felt like the photo above.

But hey, it was an adventure.

I just finished reading  The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and loved it. I’ve already started The Four Agreements Companion Book because I can’t get enough. I highly recommend both books to anyone looking to improve their mental wellbeing. I wish I had learned this stuff before I had PPD!

The Guilt

When I had postpartum depression I felt so much guilt. All the time. It was like an appendage.

If I went to bed early, I felt guilty about abandoning Nathan.  But if I went to bed at a normal time, I felt guilty that I was being too needy and clingy, not letting him have some downtime.

I felt guilty about making breakfast.  What sort of mother was I?  Leaving Pippa to play on her mat for five minutes unattended so I could prepare a bowl of oatmeal?  MONSTER!!!!

I felt guilty about leaving Pippa alone in her crib to start a load of laundry.  I should have waited until Pippa went to bed at night to do chores.

I felt guilty that I was not leaving the house more often.

I felt guilty about wanting to leave the house.

I felt guilty for feeling guilt.

I felt guilty for not feeling guilty enough.