It's a NEW YEAR!
So now that the holidays are over and we've spent time with loved ones, spent time to celebrate and spent time to reflect, it's now time to hit the pavement again.
And we started 2016 off with Postpartum Action Institute in Santa Barbara.
The Postpartum Action Institute is created for individuals who are committed to confronting the stigma of mental illness and the mythology surrounding new parenthood. In a user-friendly and non-lecture style, PAI provides unique learning experiences for all professionals and community leaders working with expectant and new parents. This Institute is dedicated to the power of professionals and advocates who are willing to improve care during the transition to parenthood. Attendees will practice skills in an interactive and intimate setting – not in a typical classroom. Through innovative training methods over one and a half days, attendees will gain insights not taught in schools or professional conferences.
The mission of Postpartum Action Institute (PAI) is to energize and revitalize professionals and parent advocates in order to support new families.
I met some fabulous women, had a great time discussing ideas and how to make a difference with our knowledge. My hope with this film is always to spread awareness about postpartum psychosis in particular. But the other hopes/questions, that arise out of that is: how do do we make a difference? How do we make an impact? How do we spread the word? It's more than just a retweet, it's more than posting articles. That's the thing about getting in these trenches. You have to get dirty and messy. You can't just stand on the sidelines. The beauty is, there are other women, moms, healthcare professionals, lawyers, midwives, etc... that are in the trenches with you and they are FABULOUS!!
Make sure to check out the institute and sign up if you can! 2016, take ACTION on mental illness and awareness.
One of the themes of this movie is FORGIVENESS. How do you forgive after such a traumatic event? How do you forgive the people that you told that something was wrong? How do you forgive yourself? How does your family forgive you? How does society forgive women? And this has been a huge conversation amongst all the women we interviewed. This forgiveness, or lack thereof, is causing women to fall into deeper depression, withdrawal and loneliness. In some cases even to the point of ending it all. My heart hurts everytime I interview a woman about life after postpartum psychosis and she tells me how many times she contemplates taking her own life. Particularly if infanticide has occurred.
Which brings us to Kathleen Hammil, State Appellate Defender. Her client was Debra Gindorf. A huge case in the 80's. She unfortunately, took the lives of her two children. She also tried to take her own three times but did not complete it. She ended up serving over 20 years in prison and eventually got her sentence commuted. READ HERE the news article about Debra's release. And if you can stomach it, please take a minute to read some of the cruel and callous comments towards this woman. Many articles about her and so many other women, label them a "baby killer". A monster who doesn't deserve to live. If you hear these labels about yourself pretty often, how long does it take for you to believe it? And after you believe it yourself, how do you even forgive yourself? How CAN you??
It's pretty clear how society treats women who have committed infanticide. How even some of their family members treat them. My question, my challenge to you dear reader: How will YOU treat a woman who has been through something like this? Are you one of the people who hear these news stories and automatically judges and condemns? Do you dismiss the claims of insanity. Do you squelch the cries of postpartum psychosis?
One of the intentions of this film is to hold a mirror up to this ugly illness. A mirror not only on the illness but US, our very own natures. Our own ugliness inside the depths of our souls. The ugliness of hatred, the ugliness of unforgiveness. The ugliness of being unmerciful. The crushing of someone's soul with our own quick unthoughtful harsh judgements. Our own wretchedness. Who's more wretched? The "baby killer" or the soul killer? Will you recognize what the mirror shows? This isn't pretty, this isn't neat and tidy, this isn't black or white. This is different shades of grey, messy and hard, and cruel and intricate. But we can't shrink back, we can't put the mirror down. Don't look away. Our women are suffering. Families are suffering. The pain is overpowering! So look intensely into that mirror and then hopefully you can at least talk about what you see. And after you have looked, after you have examined, pass the mirror on to others.
Watch Kathleen's statement below!
Teresa Twomey opens up and shares her experience with postpartum psychosis and talks about her book: Understanding Postpartum Psychosis.
Seventeen years ago I had postpartum psychosis (PPP) after the birth of my first child. It was the worst experience of my life. (And to put that in perspective, I was raped when I was in my mid-teens and I've been through breast cancer.) The only information I could find was either insufficient ("It is rare and a medical emergency") or focused on infanticide or suicide. I did not know if there was ANYONE out there like me -- a normal, bright, successful person (I had my own law practice) -- who had this illness. (Nor did I realize that many of those women who do commit or attempt infanticide or suicide are “normal, bright, successful” women just like me!)
When the Andrea Yates tragedy occurred, I knew I had to act. I began working on a book, became a Postpartum Support International Coordinator in Virginia and began giving talks about postpartum or perinatal mood disorders and my own experience. I gathered the stories of other women who’d had psychosis. Every single story made me cry – even though almost none ended in “tragedy.” The horrors, stress, pain and sorrow these women suffered from this illness often made my own experience pale by comparison.
My intentions for the book included:
Or so I thought.
After my book was published I became curious about what had helped other women in their “post-recovery recovery.” So I did some informal research, sending a short survey with a list of items that might help with this healing, such as: medication, talk therapy; meeting another survivor – and so forth. When I received the responses I was shocked and dismayed by the single most common answer. Shocked, because it had not even been on the list – it was a write-in response. Dismayed because the essence of these write-ins was, “I’m not recovered emotionally – not even close.” Some of these women had given birth only two or three years before, so that might have been a foreseeable response for them. But some of these women had experienced psychosis more than thirty or forty years before.
Looking back I feel I should have anticipated I would have gotten that answer. After all, I’ve talked to many women who have kept their illness a secret from all but their closest families. Some have held onto their pain for decades. I’ve met women in their seventies and eighties who still, as one said to me, “feel the pain just as if it were yesterday.” These were women who had not suffered a tragedy due to their illness. Nobody was harmed. Well, nobody but the woman who’d been afflicted with this illness. It is a terrible thing to go through something so horrific and then feel you cannot speak of it.
But I do understand. It wasn’t easy for me to come forward. As I’ve said to my husband, “I never wanted to become a ‘poster-child’ for anything – let alone something as misunderstood and stigmatized as this!” It still isn’t easy, even after all this time. But sharing my story and helping other women has made me realize I really am not alone and has helped exorcise the demons of “Why me?” that haunted the first few years of my recovery. Although I still cannot talk about the worst part of my experience without crying (I hallucinated that I’d killed my daughter), in my day-to-day life I’m blessedly free of the shadows of shame, grief, fear, sadness and self-doubt that plague so many.
I don’t know the best route to healing any more than I did before I sent out that survey. But I do know that keeping the experience and the feeling that follow it locked up inside isn’t it. It seems that perhaps this is one of those burdens that will only lessen by sharing it with someone else.
Now, whenever I see another woman sharing her story – on a blog, a video, a TEDx talk, a television program, a magazine or a book – I cannot help but smile to myself. For I know that although I know there is risk in doing so, I also know there is healing.
Teresa M. Twomey, is the author of “Understanding Postpartum Psychosis: A Temporary Madness” (Praeger, 2009); creator of the Postpartum Psychosis Forum Facebook page; and former State Coordinator and Legal Resources Coordinator for Postpartum Support International.
She is one of the leading advocates for raising awareness about postpartum psychosis and has shared her knowledge through interviews and talks throughout the U.S.
You can see her TEDx talk here.
Here is Part 2 of Marla's story and her experience with postpartum psychosis. If you missed Part 1, READ HERE.
I went back to work in January against most everyone’s advice including my principal, and that’s when life became really interesting. I had a huge caseload of special needs kids and now needed to make lesson plans and write IEP’s (I also lost the ability to read). Looking back it was almost funny how I thought I could possibly handle all of this. In my “spare time” I was also planning how I could rob a bank. All these absolutely crazy outlandish ideas became so real and attainable. I lost an absurd amount of weight and coworkers and students kept asking if I was ok. I wasn’t dead yet, but looked like death I’m sure. I had no right being a teacher at that time. I was sleeping on my floor during planning periods and the exhaustion of a solid 6 months with 3 hours sleep a day left my mind capable of almost nothing remotely sane or typical.
The constant intrusive thoughts of death seeped into every space in my brain and body. To this day it is the hardest thing for me to think about. I couldn’t talk about it for so long and typing the words is still easier than saying them-I wanted my son dead; I wanted to die as well. I have nightmares still about what I wanted to do to him. I took pills a couple of times but never enough to quite get the job done. I would remove myself from Ethan when I wanted to harm him. I fought so so hard to not hurt him. I cried for hours agonizing and pleading for the voices to go away, for someone to save me, for a miracle, for God to take me and not let me kill my child. He was so beautiful and I loved him more than anything but keeping myself from harming him will forever be the biggest struggle and fight I’ve encountered and thankfully won. Nothing for the rest of my life will ever be as difficult as those months were. Everything pales in comparison.
By April my body had physically and mentally had enough. I cared about nothing. So when one of my students began sending messages that were inappropriate I responded in an inappropriate way as well. There were two students and I honestly can’t remember all that happened but I know that I began constantly sending sexual messages. It was attention and for some reason I thought they would save me. I do know that I didn’t start the messages but responded to them. I had been a teacher for 15 years in a community that I loved and was well respected. I graduated from this school as well and it was all I had known my entire life. The texting ensued for 10 days until I was caught. One of the students decided to share these messages out loud. To this day I’m thankful for being caught. I have no idea if I would still be here or not. I was saved after all-maybe now I could get the attention I needed.
I told no one my thoughts or how I felt about Ethan. Everyone wanted to blame the fact that my husband was never home and I was simply lonely-that I craved attention from high school boys. This wasn’t the case at all. Had I been in my normal mindset I would have never risked my career or gotten involved with my students. I was arrested and charged with two misdemeanors; official misconduct and endangering the welfare of a child as the one students was 16. My story made national headlines and was even featured on Larry King. It was on the news as far away as Alaska. I lost my job and can never return to teaching. This put a huge burden on the family financially as Ethan’s medical bills were still very high.
I went to jail for 30 days and this is when I learned about post-partum psychosis. My sister sent Brooke Shield’s book, Down came the Rain and for the first time I had a definition for what I had.
Throughout my entire case no attorney, doctor, nurse, or anyone that cared for my health recognized what was happening to me. There was NO screening process, NO information presented to my husband after birth, and mostly NO empathy or concern for me. All the concern was about the baby. But what if the mom can’t care for the baby? I wanted to be a good mom like I was to my daughter. I’ve always strived to the best I can and this one time in my life my brain failed me and I still don’t know why. I had no history of depression, or bipolar or any mental disorder that would lead to this life changing event for me. My sleep deprivation was compared by one doctor to that of a torture camp. He said that small amount of sleep alone could have made anyone go crazy.
Since being recovered and moving forward I have met some of the most amazing people ever. I have also lost many people whom I used to think were amazing. My circle of friends is very small now and I don’t easily trust anyone. I still live in the same community and it is much easier now than it was a few years ago. The hatred I have encountered is so gut wrenching, but hasn’t changed my heart. I want women to know that there can be so many good things after. Every day I see what happened to me as a blessing. That doesn’t mean I still don’t get angry and upset and sad. It means that I get to see life in a perspective I never would have otherwise. Ethan and Natalie get to have their mom and I love them so much.
My story is the best litmus test of people’s character. When I do share and I see how they respond, I know if they will love me for who I am and always was. I have so much to give and even more so now that I have a platform to help others and bring awareness to post-partum mood disorders. There is an after and I’ve learned that my future is what matters and my past is just that. It has given me strength I never knew possible. I get this life and that’s all. I don’t intend to let all that I’ve been through dictate how I love people, or how I live my life.
As it turns out Ethan is the most amazing kid. He is autistic and has a rare growth disorder and has a heart bigger than anyone I know. He fills my heart daily and I tell him my cup always overfloweth. My daughter Natalie will never know the depth to which she helped me survive. All the times she helped me with Ethan when she had no idea what I could have done to him. I have so much gratefulness and gratitude for those that help me now and have stood by me.
If you are inspired by Marla's story or by this film project
Or if you just want to help raise awareness about Postpartum Psychosis
Please visit our campaign!
We are extremely grateful for Marla who opened up her heart to share her experience with Postpartum Psychosis. READ PART 1 BELOW
WRITTEN BY: MARLA GURECKI-HASKINS
It seems like a good weekend to write about my story with it being Thanksgiving weekend…..I have much to be thankful for….
Six years ago I became pregnant with what would be the most amazing child I have ever known...he is perfect in every way-physically and mentally. Only, he wasn't! Two months into my pregnancy the doctors found all kinds of issues. The baby was not growing properly and we were offered termination. I already had a beautiful 6 year old daughter and thought about what life with a child who had disabilities would be like. What is those disabilities were beyond my capabilities of caring for? I was a special education teacher and I knew many of the difficulties that may lie ahead.
After much discussion with perinatologists my husband and I decided to forge ahead. All the while my health was fading as well. My pelvic bone had fractured in a couple places and the constant excruciating pain set in. I wasn’t able to be that mobile and this placed a great deal of stress on me and my poor daughter who had to care for me and the house while my husband traveled for his job. I began what seemed like the unending weeks of appointments for ultrasounds and non-stress tests. Our baby was still not growing properly and we had no answers after doing all the diagnostic tests possible. I was scared and upset that this was happening. Depression started before even giving birth to my son.
Fast forward to the delivery where many doctors and nurses were present after being induced. They wanted a full team on board as they were expecting complications. Nothing about this felt natural or “right.” My daughter’s delivery had been typical and wonderful. This was surreal for me- I kept feeling like the process was an out of body feeling. What if I couldn’t care for this child? What if the baby died? What if my whole life that I was enjoying so much changed and I hated my life? I couldn’t grasp what was happening and it was after that that everything spiraled out of control in my brain.
Ethan Adam was born on July 11, 2009. He weighed 4lbs 13oz and didn’t look like my baby should look. He was tiny and didn’t cry and my husband almost seemed disappointed that it was a boy. I didn’t feel attached and I wanted the nurses to take him away. Paranoia had set in and I instantly began assessing everything. I had to look at the placenta, I wanted to see all the testing, I wanted to know everyone’s credentials—I wanted everything to go away!
They told me he was fine-just small. I told them he wasn’t fine and to take him away and check again. Sure enough within two hours they came back and said his heart was racing and he wasn’t breathing well. We rushed to the NICU because my little tiny baby was very sick and we were told that we needed to prepare for the worst. The hospital where I delivered is one the best children’s hospitals in NY. Ethan was hooked up to all kinds of machines and tubes and my mind was literally racing so fast that I couldn’t keep up with all the info that was being presented. We talked to geneticists, neurologists, cardiologists, internists, gastroenterologists, orthopedists, and the list goes on. Ethan’s heart had a small defect, his entire left side of his body was smaller than the right, he had infections, his limbs on the left side did not work in typical fashion and he had no suck reflex. When I visited him he didn’t seem to notice that I was there-he could look at me but it was more through me than having a bond or connection.
I had never felt so much stress and exhaustion ever! I had to pump for 9 months because Ethan couldn’t nurse, the hospital became our second home and we seemed to never have any answers as to what was wrong with our son. I was a maniac trying to find answers and was on a mission like a crusader. He was labeled failure to thrive and I thought, hell no we aren’t thriving…..I’m barely surviving- so someone please come help me. Only there wasn’t much help. My husband was gone 5 days a week for his job and was only home on the weekends. This left me all alone to care for a very sick baby whom we had no answers for what was wrong with him. My daughter lost her mom because every second of my time was with Ethan. I hated my life and what it had became. Absolutely nothing felt tangible anymore. My instant response to anyone who asked was, I’m fine, we are fine, and everything will be ok. Pretty sure it was a statement I was solely trying to convince myself of.
Sleep became almost non-existent-usually about 3 hours a day. Even when my mom or husband were home I couldn’t sleep. I had to take care of everything for Ethan. What if someone messed up his feeding? What if I didn’t have clean clothes for everyone to wear? The what if’s ate me alive. Anxiety was out of control as was the depression. For the very first time in my life I wasn’t having a bad day or a bad month I was having an out of body experience that I still have a hard time describing to this day.
I needed to go back to work and wanted to. I thought if I was around people it would help me feel normal again. It was now October-three months had passed since having Ethan and the hallucinations and delusions started. I heard voices all the time. Those voices told me that death was an option and I agreed with those voices like they were my best friend giving the world’s best advice. At first only I needed to die. I had a plan and it was to leave Ethan with capable people. I believed I was a horrible mother and didn’t deserve to have my children. I’ve never been super religious but my thoughts became very spiritual. God had better plans for me and they didn’t include staying here. There was a man (he looked like the grim reaper minus the sickle) who would sit in the back of my car and talk to me. The first time he showed up I hit a mailbox because it scared me so badly. After that, he became a face I looked forward to seeing. He would chat with me and talk about death being my only option. Soon after, those voices started telling me that Ethan should go with me because his life would be horrible without me and I wanted so badly to be a good mom. He needed to come with me...
Part 2 Coming Sunday!
If you are inspired by Marla's story or by this film project
Or if you just want to help raise awareness about Postpartum Psychosis
Please visit our campaign!
I can't even begin to tell you the emotional roller coaster ride over the past few days. But I will try. This is going to be a long post, but I have to share this story about setbacks, conviction and courage. You'll be blessed by the end, I promise! :-)
So we launched our indiegogo campaign last Wednesday. We put a call out to quite a few people. The Postpartum Community joined in my efforts to spread the word. We had a pretty good first two days. BUT... there's always a BUT. BUT THEN SOMETHING CRAZY HAPPENED. Everything came to a screeching halt. Nothing, nada, no likes, no shares, no hits, nothing. In addition to all this going on, I'm not hearing back from any of the press that I normally go to for my other projects. None of the bloggers, media, journalists, magazines, were getting back to me. NOTHING. Mind you, these people have done press on my previous projects. Interviews, write ups, spotlights, etc...
Complete and utter FAIL.
WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON??! I just KNEW we were going to have a successful launch. I was pretty much cocky, prideful about how successful this launch was going to be. I had put in the work, I had prepped, I had laid the groundwork... See where this is going? I, I, I.
So in the midst of being baffled, in the midst of the emails coming in from people saying they posted and shared but nobody could get to the link, I'm wondering what in the world happened??? How could I have failed so miserably. My worth became wrapped up in how many likes, shares and donations we had gotten. How many followers, how many blog hits, how many comments.
Meanwhile PSI and postpartum supporters had tapped into the community and put a call out to women to share their stories about postpartum psychosis. The emails from these women are coming in while the other emails are coming in about people not being able to go to our IndieGogo page.
One woman in particular has helped me through this weekend. She has no idea. She shared parts of her story and directed me to her blog. She wanted me to state my intentions because she was hesitant to support this project. See where this is going?
Meanwhile, I'm crying, I'm disappointed, I'm feeling like a failure to not be able to make this campaign a SUCCESS STORY according to Hollywood. You know those stories right? How after only two days on IndieGogo an investor sees the project and wants to finance the film (The Last Fall), or celebrity friends donate 10k (Lena Horne) or how social media around the filmmakers and it makes the news, CNN, etc.... You see, I've done crowdfunding campaigns before. And have been quite successful! What is happening?
My mother calls, she is encouraging me. She tells me "You know Nik, things have never come easy for you. But God is using you, He will not fail you." Convicted.
Thanks Mom, no pressure! So now Sunday rolls around. We've been down for two days GASP! I'm scrambling to move our campaign to a different platform.
While I'm updating the site, Facebook, twitter, graphics, etc... I'm replying to this one particular woman. I'm telling her that I want to spread the word about postpartum psychosis. I want people to have compassion on women who have gone through this. I want to shine a light on our treatment of women who have committed infanticide. I want to offer hope.
DING DING DING.... How God can humble someone right? She writes back, I read a few more of her blog posts and I cry. I cry because my heart got wrapped up in SUCCESS while she's struggling to be heard. I cry because I lost focus. I cry because I feel wretched and prideful. I cry because the Lord brought me to my knees and revealed my own selfishness during these past 3 days. This woman who wants to trust me and my intentions, this woman who lost her son in 1999. This woman who has the courage to share her story, who has the courage to demand from me what I want. I want to help. Lord, I just want to help. Convicted again.
I wake up this morning prepared to email her. I check my inbox, we received a donation. The note attached said this only: PROVIDE HOPE! Again I cry. At this point I'm a blubbering mess. Thank God I had the house to myself this morning. I cried, snotted and then I pray. I pray that the Lord will use me to provide HOPE. I pray that when my flesh raises up and I get distracted, that the Lord will continue to reveal myself to mySELF and that I will do what He has called me to do. To tell this story. To spread the word. To rally up women, mothers, society to offer HOPE to women who have suffered so tragically. That's the focus, it's not about me anymore!
So I bring you to the blog of Natachia Barlow Ramsey. SURVIVING POSTPARTUM PSYCHOSIS
Setbacks, Convictions, Courage. She embodies these words. Please take the time to read her blog. She has poured out her heart, she has shared her struggles, her setbacks, her convictions, her courage. One in particular that I beg you to read, that I myself have read over and over the past few days is this one
MY PSYCHOSIS SONG
I will leave you with a few words that she wrote to me in her email
"This life is not an easy life to live. Yes, there are days I want to give up and times I go silent. It's been helpful and harmful being out of Maine. I miss my family but feel a bit freer in being able to go out and about. It felt like a graveyard there. I wish I could have both worlds and I am hoping at some point to be able to. In the meantime, I am continuing to try and make sure I advocate, speak loudly and survive".
Setbacks. Convictions. Courage.
If you want to make a difference, if you want to support, if you want to join the efforts to advocate and help those struggling to just survive, JOIN THE MOVEMENT HERE.
So we have officially launched our campaign to raise funds and raise awareness. It's been a looong journey for me. From the conception 6 years ago to today. I've had many doors shut in my face. I've had many people saying nobody wants to see a film about a mother who kills her child. I've had many people who wanted me to make significant changes.
But, my mother raised a stubborn woman. So here I am. Raising funds for this film and raising awareness about this mental illness and perinatal mood disorders. I am awed and I am humbled to take on this amazing task. To share the story of postpartum psychosis in such a deep and meaningful way.
So I have to pause and think on the women, doctors, lawyers, mothers, who shared their stories with me throughout the years of research. Who opened their hearts and shared their pain, their confusion, their despair, their tears, their knowledge, their legal expertise, their hopes, their plans for the future and so much more. That brings me to one of the most inspiring women I have met on this journey.
There was a woman who I was interviewing this summer, Naomi Knoles, who had suffered from Postpartum Psychosis and killed her daughter, Anna. She had served 10 years in prison and was now home, remarried, and trying to start over. She expressed how difficult it was for her to share her story, but she knew it needed to be done. She expressed the burden of guilt and shame. She also expressed that she was going through a rough time at the moment, battling depression. And after she expressed these things to me, after she bared her soul... one week later, she committed suicide. I was stunned, I was shocked, I was ashamed that I had missed the warning signs. But I was even more compelled to tell this story. She inspired me to be dogmatic about getting our film out there, to not shy away or back down or diminish what we are doing.
Naomi survived postpartum psychosis, she survived the death of her daughter, she survived prison, but for some reason, this courageous woman couldn't survive being home. And that to me, is a tragedy. So, today, as I face my fear of bringing my art to the world, today I take courage from Naomi and Anna. I celebrate them and the gift of their lives that will help the postpartum community. It will not be in vain.
Read their STORY HERE and hopefully you will be moved to want to do something.
And if you are moved, if you want to know more, if you are trying to figure out how you can help, please visit our campaign HERE. Spread the word. There are many more stories out there from women who have suffered from postpartum psychosis. There are many more Naomi's out there. They desperately need your help.
I, need your help! Spread the word about what we are trying to do!