Postpartum Depression Relief Effort – Women of the World Unite

The Bamboo symbolizes the Haitian People to a T, eh? We are a little people. The Bamboo is not a great big tree with a magnificent appearance. But when the strong winds come, well, even a great tree can be uprooted. The bamboo is really weak, but when the winds come, it bends but it doesn’t break. Bamboo takes whatever adversity comes along, but afterwards, it straightens itself back up. That’s what resistance is for us Haitians: we might get bent…but we’re able to straighten up and stand.
-Yolette Etienne

As I watch the news coverage of the earthquake in Haiti I find it impossible to wrap my mind around a humanitarian crisis of such magnitude. Images of an already impoverished nation torn apart by the sheer forces of nature flash across my television screen and I am overcome with the injustice of it all. The utter contrast bemuses me as I sip my morning coffee in the soft glow of the morning sun, dressed in worn flannel pajamas and fuzzy slippers tattered by the oversized mouth of a restless puppy. A good morning text message illuminates the screen of my cell phone- a daily ritual between me and my husband -while my dog romps happily across the living room floor with a slobbery squeeze toy hanging out of his mouth. Meanwhile, in an alternate universe there are dazed and confused people stumbling around in oceans of debris and the crumbled ruins of makeshift buildings, covered from head to toe in blood, dust and grime as they frantically call out for missing loved ones. Their dark eyes stare back at me from my television screen, and I feel so insignificant, so futile and trite.

I am thinking about the women there. They are mothers and daughters just like me. Because I am a woman, I relate most to them. I wonder how many Haitian women were pregnant when the first wave of tremors ripped through the ground beneath their feet. I visualize a mother huddled alone in a corner, praying for salvation with tears stinging her eyes and a helpless infant swaddled against her breast. There is a young woman being interviewed. She shares her story of how she left her daughter with a relative in Haiti and traveled to New York, only to return and find her precious baby had vanished in the rubble. We are worlds apart and yet, we are one and the same. Regardless of the color of our skin or the god we worship, whether we are rich or poor, young or old, we are all women. This is the universal tie that binds us.

I have been thinking quite a bit lately about what it means to be a woman. For over seven years now, I have acted as facilitator of a postpartum depression support group. This position has afforded me the opportunity to meet and observe hundreds of women from varying ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic levels, age ranges, professional interests and family structures. Despite the surface differences, some very important patterns have emerged. They are common patterns I cannot ignore, for they define the true essence of a woman. Whether oceans apart or right next door certain qualities persist as a kind of collective unconscious; a shared bond with a universal pulse that beats deep inside every woman’s soul.

When I first started leading the support groups I was concerned that I might not understand or connect with the suffering of these women. And yet, what I failed to grasp at the time was the truth about what these women really needed the most. As the years progressed I started to listen more deeply. Only then was I able to hear the universal pulse that beats inside every woman’s soul. Being a woman means so many things. It means loving so much it hurts sometimes. It means worrying and analyzing and longing and hoping. It means forgetting and then remembering and feeling guilty for having forgotten. It means wanting to please and feeling pleased when we are wanted. It means craving validation and asking ourselves, am I good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, thin enough? It means being a child and a grownup, a mother and a daughter, a wife and a sister, a warrior and a cheerleader. Being a woman means nurturing and nourishing, protecting and honoring, cherishing and adoring. It means giving everything we have to give and then asking ourselves, did I give enough? It means longing for lost youth and celebrating the wisdom that comes with age. It means vulnerability and strength, humble gratitude and glowing pride, holding on and letting go. Being a woman means grieving the end and celebrating the beginning, closing chapters and writing new ones.

As women we have an inherent need for balance, rhythm and harmony in our lives. The number one complaint I hear from women, both in the support groups and my private practice, is a sense of lost equilibrium. Women’s internal systems are highly sensitive to change, and therefore, quite easily knocked off balance by such things as hormonal fluctuations, relationship difficulties, emotional stress, health issues and even the most subtle dietary, sleep and climate changes. Balance is a relative term and each woman defines it in a vastly different way.

Consider a Haitian woman who rises at 4AM to prepare a pot of rice for her children, then fights through waves of hunger and fatigue to earn a few pennies selling bruised fruit in a crowded marketplace. How does she maintain her equilibrium? Where does she find her balance? Perhaps she finds it in the sheer will to live- a survival instinct stronger than any force of nature. She knows exactly what she needs to do and where she needs to be; her body and mind, heart and soul are committed. Haitians have a saying, Nou pliye, nou pa kase – “like the bamboo tree, we bend but we don’t break; like the flexible bamboo tree we-Haitians use even the momentum of our falls to stand back up…”

Regardless of the circumstances, whether rich or poor, young or old, shanty town or luxury tower, we women of the world thrive on balance, rhythm and synchronicity. In the postpartum depression support groups where women share the common experience of recent pregnancy and childbirth, imbalance is a common theme. There seems to be a collective grief in this subgroup of women, stemming from a perception of lost time, missed experience, and disconnection from the present moment. Regardless of the individual symptoms, which range from debilitating anxiety/panic to intrusive thoughts of harm to the self or the baby to severe depression and hopelessness, there is a common thread running through the fabric of this illness.

All new mothers must learn a brand new dance- the dance of the mother and infant- and in some cases, a woman falls out of step with her partner. When this happens, the grief descends like a tsunami- sudden, fierce and all encompassing.Women with postpartum depression tend to grieve what they sense they have lost- a smooth and harmonious transition into the turbulent waters of motherhood. They imagine most other women are doing a better job. They feel all alone with their suffering. They grieve lost time in the first few days, weeks and months following the birth of their child. They fear being exposed as unfit and incompetent. For all of these reasons, I have come to think of postpartum depression as an illusionary disorder. The illusion stems from the unrealistic expectation that young motherhood should be effortless, natural and entirely joyful.

A humanitarian crisis like the one in Haiti requires a worldwide relief effort. Postpartum depression requires the same. Women suffering from this illness must be reminded of the universal pulse that beats deep inside every woman’s soul. The sense of relief is palpable when these women first learn they are not alone with their suffering. They are thirsty for a sense of kinship and the common experiences of other women can be as precious and life affirming as fresh water following a prolonged drought. The media and society in general have painted a dismal picture of postpartum depression as a dark and morbid illness than only a small percentage of women are afflicted with. We hear about the absolute worst cases, and for this reason women are terrified and ashamed to be labeled with this diagnosis. They suffer in silence and avoid seeking the help they need so badly. However in most cases the symptoms are far more common than we realize, highly treatable and easy to manage with the proper support systems in place.

The Ruth Rhoden Craven Foundation will host its 7th annual 5K “Moms Run/Walk” for Postpartum Depression Awareness on Saturday May 8th 2010 (Mother’s Day weekend) at 8:30AM at the Charleston Battery Stadium on Daniel Island. The Ruth Rhoden Craven Foundation is dedicated to the proper screening, diagnosis and treatment of postpartum depression. Post-race activities will include good food, live music and family friendly vendors. Whether you have been personally touched by this illness or simply believe in the cause, the race is a wonderful opportunity for the entire family to get outside and enjoy the beauty of a spring morning in the low country.

Postpartum depression is similar to breast cancer in that a woman does not have to suffer personally with the illness to connect with its cause. At all stages of the parenting process from family planning and fertility challenges to pregnancy and childbirth and the years that follow, there are halcyon days and dark lonely hours. Remember, a woman must learn to be like the bamboo tree, bending and swaying when the fierce winds come. The Moms Run is devoted to the women of the world and the people who love them. Together, we can fight to make a difference. So close your eyes and listen deeply for the collective pulse that beats deep inside every woman’s soul, from here to Haiti and beyond. seamless bamboo bras

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