After several months of immersion in personal and professional activities, the PerinatalPro blog is back! One of the most motivating factors in my resumption of commentary was the appearance of articles and blogs across the web bemoaning the fact that despite the inclusion of The Melanie Blocker Stokes Mother’s Act in the now mandated Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act (i.e. Obamacare), the scarcity of funding for programs seeking to support new mothers continues therefore…
NOTHING WAS ACCOMPLISHED. NOTHING HAS CHANGED.
Well, I get it.
What was the point of all the advocacy, the trips to Washington, the petition signing, the personal stories, the substantiating research, and suffering through all those inaccurate media depictions of psychotic PPD moms if the outcome was not going to be substantial access to federal funding for PPD programs? Or the expedient creation of maternal mental health programs responsive to the multiple needs of new mothers and access to such services nationwide?
That hope remains the ultimate goal. But look around. We are on a long list of critical social programs for which funds are scarce. Despite this economic climate we are holding our own and moving forward thanks to the creativity and passion of advocates like you.
The encouraging reality is that more women and families struggling with PPD are receiving services right this second than ever before because of enduring promises and research advancing treatment and interventions. We still have a long way to go – especially in educating providers charged with the care of new moms and infants – but our issue is not falling by the wayside.
We won’t let it.
The perspective that little has been accomplished – which is thankfully not the case – could feel rather invalidating and demoralizing to the mothers who are currently debilitated by these illnesses. Sure we need to keep the pressure on, but let’s not invalidate the brave army of public officials who stood beside us – throughout our recognition seeking ignorance busting journey, the researchers who invested their expertise fueled only by their own passion, the organizations and individuals who stayed the course. They have not abandoned our cause.
And then there are our own amplifying voices, combined efforts and accomplishments which have gotten this issue on the map, in the textbooks and into those important early conversations that new mothers have with friends, loved ones and their physicians.
Change – especially around public policy and public myth – is an incremental and painstaking process. Education about why that change is necessary is step one. We have made great progress with responsible, professional media outlets who have partnered with us on the need to mainstream PPD! But it doesn’t stop there. We are educated about many things that do not feel essential to our current lives. People have to BUY IN to our cause through personal experience, association with the field, or the economic costs caused by NOT paying attention. And then they need to be motivated to DO something about it, whether that is to become a healthcare provider, an advocate, a legislator, fundraiser or a spokesperson.
That postpartum depression is now formally recognized by our country as a medical condition requiring treatment and further research seems like a no-brainer, but getting there took decades.
But the pace is faster now.
Directing NIMH to pursue research into the causes, treatments and potential prevention of PMAD’s (which the legislation does) is no small accomplishment. If you go to the NIMH pages and look at current solicitations or ongoing research, maternal mental health is well represented.
This was not the reality a decade ago.
Ten years previous, a major network would not have spent millions of dollars coordinating a public service announcement campaign on postpartum depression like CBS Cares. And PBS and their affiliates would not have undertaken responsible documentary projects on the issue leading to excellent programs of Emmy nomination quality!
Look at the list of available books on the subject! Amazon goes on for pages, books by survivors, providers, poets and advocates. You could barely find one reference to postpartum depression twenty years ago. How about the impressive findings of researchers like Katherine Wisner, Cynthia Battle, Scott Stuart and Michael O’Hara? The programs at Mass General Hospital, UNC and Brown? NJ’s Speak Up When You’re Down, now adopted across the country? And this is just a tiny reference of those devoting their professional and personal lives to this journey.
Sure we need more to keep up with the numbers of those afflicated with these conditions. We need more programs, more money, more research, more access to services in every childbirthing community around the world. But to believe progress has been lacking is to ignore a huge body of effort that has brought significant, effective results.
We now need to disseminate this knowledge and these programs across the country. This is happening, however slowly it feels.
The achievement of federal legislation on the books helps legitamize our issue, bringing more focused attention to the perinatal period across disciplines, encouraging investment, inviting evidenced based solutions.
Look to the many national and regional organizations solely devoted to postpartum depression to find evidence of commitment and progress! There was only one or two fifteen years ago? Jane Honikman’s Postpartum Support International’s amazing coordinator base, earning not one dime, but there to respond to the reference needs of struggling mothers? PSI’s Free Chat with the Experts? Katherine Stone’s Postpartum Progress whose readership now reaches millions around the globe? The National Healthy Mother’s, Healthy Babies Coalition who included pregnancy related mental health issues in their dizzyingly successful TEXT4BABY program? Kimberly Wong’s LA County Maternal Task Force in one of the country’s largest counties? Joan Mudd’s Jennifer Mudd Houghtaling Foundation which has been educating healthcare providers and women for over a decade! Jenny’s Light? I could go on for pages citing incredible, dedicated, EFFECTIVE programs and advocacy that have emerged after a prolonged period of frustrating nation-wide under-recognition.
And while federal funding is important (and scarce), it is not the last word. Within communities across the country, efforts are ongoing to fight these illnesses in newly formed centers and agencies supported by their cachement area and local philanthropy. One person who jumps to mind is Esther Koenigsburg, Founder of S.P.A.R.K.S Center for postpartum depression support services in Brooklyn. Esther has probably heard more “No’s” in terms of funding than anyone involved with this issue, but her passionate persistence leads to some very significant “Yesses” and associations. It has never crossed Esther’s mind to give up. Instead, she forms essential overlapping connections, inspires her volunteers and continues to build on whatever shoestring presents!
This is what it takes, all of it! While our ultimate goals seems to remain maddeningly out of reach, let’s not lose sight of where we’ve been, how far we’ve come and what has been accomplished!
So within this blog, anyway, 2013 begins with a huge THANK YOU to those who have stayed the course and brought us to this era of new opportunity for maternal mental health. We have inspired a whole new generation of people to walk with us and carry forward the essential torch of hope. Let’s not discourage them or those currently enduring these ravaging illnesses by sending a message of despair and surrender.
Please write to me with programs and services of which you are aware or in which you involved that are helping new mothers, their children and families. Whether it is helping ten or thousands, let’s get the word out there. I am especially interested in community based programs who are working at the grass roots level to provide local services to women.