July 11-12, 2015 brought a momentous event to the world of maternal mental health: the inaugural Postpartum Progress Warrior Mom Conference (#WarriorMomCon). Now, some of you may be wondering WHY there’s a conference, what it’s all about, and why I think it’s especially significant for mothers and healthcare workers alike. I don’t think I can really put it better than Katherine Stone, the founder of Postpartum Progress, so I’ll borrow some imagery from her opening keynote.
When addressing the “why” of the Warrior Mom’s Conference, Katherine explained that there are two reasons. The first reason is YOU (the mother who has survived–who is climbing back up out of the darkness of perinatal emotional complications). The second reason is all the other moms who will fall off the edge of that cliff. They need some of us, their fellow adventurers in the wilderness of motherhood, to circle back around and pull them out. Those of us who are beginning to see the sunlight on the horizon can be the safety rope that keeps other moms from sliding too far.
And so…we have #WarriorMomCon, where we learn to tie off, to smooth our own frays, and where we can maybe even grab a climbing buddy or fifty.
“As soon as healing takes place, go out and heal.” — Maya Angelou
There are some things that I’d like to go more in depth on later, and I’m planning a video series to share some of the therapist led activities we did, but for now, I just want to highlight the types of things we discussed and learned, for those of you wondering, “What, exactly, does one DO at a Warrior Mom Conference?”
We began with the Educate & Empower session, where we learned some of the basics of perinatal emotional complications: stats (including a presentation on the startling disparity between the numbers among different ethnic groups), risk factors, treatments, and community supports. In short, the explanation of why maternal mental health is such a crucial and impactful topic. And let me tell you, even suffering as I have with my own experience did not quite give me the “Oh shit” moment that I had when faced with the stark reality of these numbers and basic truths.
During lunch, I got to participate in a focus group on some exciting new tools coming to make it easier for pregnant and new moms (and their loved ones) to recognize and find help for maternal mental illness. I can’t say much more, but I CAN say that I’m truly excited by the concepts I saw, as well as by the fact that the target audience for these tools was sought out for feedback. If they do, in fact, incorporate our feedback? This will not be the standard doctor’s office pamphlet fare that you look at and wonder, “Who comes up with this shit? Do they even really understand who they’re talking to?!”
I think, because of where I am in my own personal journey, one of my favorite sessions (from which, as I mentioned, I’ll be sharing some exercises that I found to be particularly helpful and enlightening) was Thriving After Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMADs). In this session, we learned the concept of self-FULLness (as opposed to what we mothers often perceive as self-ISHness) and what things moms who thrive are doing that help them go beyond just surviving to actually enjoying the ride. The key takeaway? Moms who thrive love and respect themselves. It sounds so simple. But you guys? It’s not. And I get that it’s not. And that’s why I want to explore this topic in more depth with you later.
Because moms who suffer from maternal mental illness are not just middle class white women, (and those who ARE, like myself, can feel a little lost about how to reach out to their sisters in a sensitive way) I was thrilled to see a session on expanding outreach to underserved communities. In order to truly effect a revolution in maternal mental health, we have to be sure that, in our efforts to support and connect, we are recognizing and identifiying cultural differences and the ways in which they impact a mother’s ability to get help (as well as the methods of help that will be most effective).
The Warrior Mom Conference was, for me, the ultimate example of a support community. It modeled a place where mothers can be seen for themselves–where they can be authentic and connected to others who are attuned–others who “get it”. Every moment of the conference exemplified the idea that who we are is as important as what we do. We are moms (and damned GOOD moms!), but we are also individuals–people with an inherent worth of our own. And this meeting of hearts and minds modeled a safe place where we learned that “should” can be left behind. Where we can stand up and proudly proclaim, “Don’t ‘should’ on me!” (thank you, Peggy Kaufman, for that BEAUTIFUL sentiment!).