When Tragedy Strikes a Community

Postpartum Support Charleston knows that some of you have been grappling with the scary events that have occurred this week in our area and in Florida. 

A home invasion and abduction of a child, as well as a shooting at a school, are among a parent’s worst nightmares. We held our breath and were overjoyed that 4-year-old Heidi Todd was found alive in Alabama and will be reunited with her family on Johns Island. And we grieve for the family members of the teachers and high schoolers who were murdered in a senseless act of violence at the hands of a young man. It is our hope that these families receive the mental health support they likely need to help them through the grieving process over the next days, weeks, months and years.

 

You may be feeling anxious and terrified right now, as parents, at the perceived lack of safety for yourself or your children. Please know that whatever feelings you are experiencing, they are not wrong. No one can or should tell you that your feelings are wrong. Everyone handles tragedy differently. Some may feel paralyzed, and some may feel compelled to take action. Both are healthy.

What is the actual chance of risk to me or my child?

 

We reached out to Cynthia Lenehan, a North Charleston licensed professional counselor who works with a lot of our moms, and asked her what parents may need to hear right now. This is what she said:

 

“When tragedy strikes our community, especially one involving a child, it is natural that our fear mechanisms are aroused,” Cynthia said. “It's a way that we learn to stay safe, by recognizing risk so that we can take appropriate action. But, it is also important to do so with facts. We need to ask ourselves in what ways is our situation like the tragedy that just unfolded? What is the actual chance of risk to me or my child? Is there anything different I can do to lessen that risk? And, this is very important, what are the consequences of my actions to lessen the risk? For example we know that the risks of automobile accidents are real, so we put our children in safe car seats with safe drivers rather than never let them get in a car.”

 

In regard to the Johns Island abduction, Cynthia said that these kinds of abductions are extremely rare, and while our instinct may be to shelter our children even more, it’s important to remember that there are risks involved for children if they are not given unstructured and unsupervised playtime. As parents, especially after events such as these, we must try to find middle ground to allay our fears and give our kids room to grow.

 

“We know that children need unstructured playtime, they need to learn to trust people in their community, and they need to learn body autonomy,” she said. “The consequences of them not developing the skills are dire. The chances of them being abducted by a stranger are incredibly rare. Mothers need to organize their children's life around accurate risk assessment.”

 

Mom hugging son.jpg

Bottom line: It’s OK to turn off the TV and disconnect from social media for awhile. The news can be overwhelming. Develop boundaries with your media consumption, such as not scrolling through your phone at night in your bedroom. Find healthy distractions such as exercise, going for a walk outside, talking with a friend, arrange a playdate or seeing a health care professional. (For more ideas, check out this insightful link.) Lean on Postpartum Support Charleston and/or professionals such as Cynthia in times like these if you need to talk. We are here for you.

#stand4moms: Tori

My name is Tori, and I am a mother two. My husband and I are from South Carolina, but only two weeks after the birth of our first child we moved to North Carolina so my husband could pursue better career opportunities. I found myself in a new state with no family, no friends, and a husband who worked 90-hour weeks. Our son had a tongue and lip tie along with reflux. Anxiety immediately set in. I would lie awake in our town house until about 2 a.m. just checking my surroundings for fear of anything happening to our son. I was told numerous times by doctors, friends, and family that anxiety was just something I would have to “work through” like every other mother. I was not given any sort of help, guidance, or even information on postpartum mood disorders. Eventually my anxiety did subside by making North Carolina our home for the moment. My comfort eventually grew for the area, and I made friends, got out more, attended moms groups, and found medical help for our son’s feeding issues.

Fast forward about 22 months later and our second child is born. We still lived in North Carolina, but we were in a much more rural area. Our daughter was born at a healthy weight in a beautiful setting. I had tons of support in the delivery room, my birth went exactly how I “planned” — so why was I so miserable? Why did I not immediately feel warmth and love? I felt a twinge of love for my daughter when she came out, but I was not “in love.” Something instantly felt wrong and off. I thought that surely nursing would ultimately bond us, but it did not. I felt more and more aggravation as she also had a tongue and lip tie. Every time she ate she would immediately vomit all of her food. It was not spit up; it was explosive throw up every single time she ate. I took May to multiple doctors, with each one listening to me less and less. Each doctor tried to tell me it was reflux, and they would send me home with bogus medicine and another chip on my shoulder. I felt like such a failure. My child was suffering from throwing up so much, we were not getting sleep, and our now 2-year-old son was suffering from the tension. I still did not feel that gush of love for our daughter. I knew I loved her, but I didn’t feel this connection like I did previously. Guilt would override any cheery moment that I had. Eventually, a specialist listened to me. We found out that her food would not make it past a certain point in her throat, and proper measurements were taken. Amid all of this stress, I was adamant about keeping my friends and family out of my dark times. I made sure that my social media posts looked cheery and normal, even though I was secretly drowning inside. I kept conversations with family members distant. I put on the ultimate show to hide what was really going on.

Our 2-year-old son and husband were bearing a lot of my wrath during the few months that I felt off. I would have fits of anger and screaming matches with anyone that was near me. My depression and anxiety tumbled into anger, and rage was its copilot. I would take both of the kids out and have panic attacks over strangers. My anxiety grew worse with each outing. I would constantly think that someone was going to kidnap my children or touch them and give them an awful disease. At about two months postpartum, my husband and I took our daughter to a routine visit at the pediatrician’s office. My husband spotted an ad for mothers with postpartum depression and suggested that I look into the group. I eventually looked into the postpartum support group and reluctantly attended a meeting. I finally felt like I had real answers to what was going on. Other mothers knew exactly how I felt, and there was no judgment. During the course of about three months, I attended the meetings weekly. I did still have difficult times at home with my depression and anxiety. I eventually hit such a low that I planned on taking my own life. Even with help from my support group, two gorgeous children, and a husband that bent over backwards for me, I still felt like I was not enough. On the night that I had intrusive thoughts, all of the fire alarms went off in our home. Every single fire alarm was screaming in our home for no reason. I was lying on the bathroom floor comforting both kids, and it hit me that I was worth it. I needed to get myself better so that I could be here to comfort my two children. After attending the peer-led meetings, I eventually worked through some of my guilt, anxiety, and depression. A support system was what I needed, and I needed it to be an outside source of women who could say, “I get it. I’ve been there. Your mental health is important.”

I now understand the threat of an empty smile. I kept smiling for doctors, smiling for family and friends, and my depression went unnoticed. If a volunteer had not taken an hour out of her week I would not be here today to tell my story. I eventually ended up volunteering and facilitating with this North Carolina group and then moved back to South Carolina. In South Carolina, I found Postpartum Support Charleston. I now facilitate monthly meetings in Summerville. Everything does come full circle. It is so crucial that we open our hearts to the importance of a mom’s wellbeing and mental health so that she can be there for the baby. If a mom is happy, she can provide for a happy baby.

Remembering Ruth

On Dec. 5, 1999, the unthinkable happened.

A father arrived at his home in Lexington, S.C., and found his wife and the mother of his 2-month-old son had committed suicide after a short but fierce battle with postpartum depression.

RRC-update.png

Her name was Ruth Rhoden Craven, born and raised on Sullivan’s Island and Mount Pleasant. She was 33 years old and was very much loved by her husband, her friends and her family. She was a perfectionist and loved her job, and she had been excited to be a mother.
 

Back then, no one really talked about postpartum depression. While things are a little better now, too many women still struggle with the shame that comes with it and the lack of education for treatment by health care providers. Ruth’s story is all too similar to the millions of mothers who have struggled with similar prenatal or postpartum battles with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

But what makes Ruth’s story different is what happened in the aftermath of her death.

Through their grief and anger, Ruth’s mother and two of her best friends started the Ruth Rhoden Craven Foundation in Mount Pleasant, S.C in March 2000. They wanted to bring more awareness to the disorder that took their beloved daughter and friend from them. They wanted to make sure that no more Lowcountry women took their life over a treatable illness, and that no more children would be left behind without their mothers. When they felt ready, they passed the baton to the board members of what is now Postpartum Support Charleston.

We are quickly approaching the 18th anniversary of Ruth’s death, and we want to bring her story back to the forefront of our organization. We are meeting with Ruth’s family members and friends, as well as other integral members to the founding of what is now Postpartum Support Charleston, and we are retelling the story. We want you to know about her and why her story is important to the health of our community.

Postpartum Support Charleston wants to erase the stigma surrounding perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and we want EVERY mother to be screened. We want to remove barriers that keep women from getting help, and we want to connect them with other women who have recovered, so they can see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

One way you can help us is by participating in our Stand For Moms T-shirt campaign. Proceeds from this fundraiser will help with our awareness efforts in the Charleston area. Your money can help us in our work, and believe us, we are on fire for this cause.

Thank you, and be on the lookout for Ruth’s story and how you can help make a difference to a local mom and her family.

ruthmemorial.JPG

My Experience with Postpartum Depression (round two)

1 in 5 moms will suffer from postpartum depression or anxiety after the birth of their child and some even while pregnant. Postpartum Support Charleston staff member, Amber, is one of those moms. She shares how she experienced ppd with both of her children and how the path to her recovery was different and exactly what she needed. Thank you, Amber, for sharing your story and "Standing for Moms".

Amber's Story.png

Editor's note: This blog originally appeared on Amber's personal blog in March 2016.

amber.jpeg

Last year in January [2015], I remember vividly what my life was like. My daughter was 3.5 years old, and my son just turned 5 months old. When I went to bed on New Year's Eve 2014, I was cursing my neighbors for lighting (loud) fireworks, causing my dog to have a meltdown and inducing a panic attack over whether my infant was going to sleep through the noise. As I scrolled through Facebook, I saw friends around the world ringing in the new year. I was so jealous, especially over a college acquaintance being on an incredible African adventure filled with yoga, massages on the beach and solitude. What kind of bullshit was that, I asked myself full of anger.

On New Year's Day 2015, I went on a big Facebook friend purge. I deleted that acquaintance, along with other people I didn't consider absolutely essential. That helped, but only a little. I was SO tired, I was SO sad because I was SO tired, and I was SO overwhelmed with juggling toddlerhood with infantdom. Through all this, I was sending emails and Facebook messages to my most trusted people about my sadness. They really tried to help as best they could. It really put a strain on my relationship with them -- I'm sure it was stressful for them to witness this all from a distance. 

By mid-January, I had a phone conversation with a friend of mine who talked to me about her own experience with anti-depressants. This mama had gone through a really tough year and found incredible relief from it. And to me, she would've been the last person I ever would've thought would use pharmaceuticals to help her through something. She helped facilitate the courage I needed to have to admit that, yes, I was dealing with postpartum depression again, and yes, it wasn't going to be the end of the world to go on a drug like Zoloft.

A few days later, I took my kids up to see my health care provider. While the kids were cared for by the staff, I cried to my nurse-midwife that I felt like a horrible mom and that I couldn't sleep and that I wish someone else could take care of my kids and, again, that I was a horrible mom for not wanting to be around my kids all the time. Lots of hugs were given, and my nurse-midwife reassured me that this time was temporary -- that I would one day come off the medication, most likely a year from then, and be in a new and easier place in my life. And she wrote me a prescription for Zoloft.

I took the plunge, and took the meds. And it was the *best* thing I have ever done for myself.

Yes, taking an anti-depressant does change your brain. I was scared about that. But I took them anyway, and a few weeks later, my internal sunshine started shining again. It didn't change my situation with my children. But I could actually sleep at night, without waking up constantly, listening for my baby. I didn't dwell on all the bad stuff as often as I used to. I could actually be the mom that I wanted to be, and the wife I wanted to be for my husband. And I could be the best version of myself in that period of my life.

Like all things, change is inevitable, and I knew that it wasn't always going to be like this.

Fast forward to March 2016. My goal had always been to wean in the spring time of this year, when the sun was shining more and the temperature was warmer. Earlier this month, I decided to act. For two weeks, I halved my tiny little Zoloft tablet before I went to bed. And then last week, I decided that I was done. I knew that the time was right. I didn't need this anymore.

Slowly, I have embraced my old emotional self again: the woman who cries easily when she is sad or happy or when someone else is sad. I missed her -- I missed this version of ME. I am happy that she is back because I love her. I have found over the past week that I still can get pretty angry at my kids; I can still get overwhelmed. Those are things I need to work on, and they are easier to work on because my kids are older and I can approach them differently. 

I share this story because it is important. I am being vulnerable, laying out my story of my experience with postpartum depression (round two). I did talk therapy the first time, and it was awesome and it was what I needed then. And this time, I used medication, and it was awesome and it was what I needed when parenting two kids. Taking medication is never an answer to everyone's problem. It's a very personal decision. But no one should ever feel ashamed to take it. It is only one tool to utilize if the need arises.

Plus, the great thing I have learned by being open about taking medication is that there are so many other women who have turned to medication. These are friends that I never would've guessed would've used it. We don't talk about these things, and it's only a detriment to others. When we get these things out in the open, it helps everyone.

Mama, if you find yourself going through a rough time, just know you are NOT alone. The light at the end of the tunnel may feel far away right now, but you will get there eventually. Open your heart, and let yourself be open to help. I got through it, and you can too.

Amber and her son Evan in December 2014

Amber and her son Evan in December 2014

#Stand4Moms

October was an exciting month for Postpartum Support Charleston. Just a few highlights: 

  • We reached out to the community, sharing our mission and resources with expecting and new moms.
  • Hosted support groups and walks all over Charleston.
  • Awarded four grants to moms seeking professional counseling.
  • And, to round out an incredible month serving moms, three members of our team attended peer support training in New Jersey with Bloom Maternal Wellness. The training gave us a new jumping off point to refocus our efforts and bring it back to where we know moms will benefit the most; peer support.

We are excited to announce that beginning January 2018, you will see peer support groups all over the tri-county area. We'll start by continuing and expanding the Summerville support group at the YMCA, and we'll add a Saturday support group at the Charleston Birth Place in North Charleston. We are fortunate to have such great support from these two community businesses.

In addition to our new support offerings, we are excited to launch our "Stand For Moms" campaign on November 6. We'll be selling T-shirts as a way for individuals to join our movement here in Charleston. By purchasing a T-shirt, you can show moms that you are standing with them and supporting them in their journey to becoming a new parent. 

We'll also highlight personal stories of struggles and triumphs from local moms and share why they #stand4moms. We'd love for you to join us and share your story on your Facebook page and tag us or send us an email and we'll feature you in an upcoming blog post. 

1 in 5 women will suffer from a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, such as depression, anxiety, OCD or PTSD. That is approximately 950,000 women each year! These moms need us to Stand For Them! With this campaign, we aim to break down the stigma and show moms that this illness is common and with the right help and support it is temporary and treatable.

We Stand For Moms!

Pictured are members of the Postpartum Support Charleston staff and board at the Bloom Maternal Wellness peer support training. From left to right: Elaine, Katie and Amber are all survivors and they #stand4moms.

Pictured are members of the Postpartum Support Charleston staff and board at the Bloom Maternal Wellness peer support training. From left to right: Elaine, Katie and Amber are all survivors and they #stand4moms.

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 1.17.26 PM.png