What I Need
A few weeks ago I traveled to Atlanta to attend “The Warrior Mom Conference” for Postpartum Progress (#warriorconmom) in Atlanta. The Warrior Mom™ Conference is a patient-centered, community-focused conference for survivors of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and those still working toward full recovery. This is focused on this Warrior Mom community – the volunteers, blog readers, forum members, and staff that have changed the face of PPD for so many women and families over the last 11 years. The theme was Together, Stronger. Simple words, but incredibly meaningful.
There were amazing speakers talking about research in the field, reducing the stigma and shame surrounding postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) and of course the incomparable, Katherine Stone, who is the founder of Postpartum Progress. (OMG! I met Katherine Stone!) A woman who suffered from a PMAD about a year or so before I did – and braved it to create the largest peer-to-peer support for women and families who suffer from maternal mental illness, by raising awareness, reducing stigma, providing social support and connecting mothers to help for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like postpartum depression. A mission near and near to me.
So what did I want and need from this conference? I really had no idea what to expect, but of course I had wanted to meet other women who experienced the same illness that I did. These wonderful and courageous women who I had only met over the past year through their Facebook profiles. I had the desire to learn from them and get ideas on how to help my community more. What were others doing? There’s so much to be done – at times it’s been overwhelming to think of this huge mission and to believe that I’m making any difference. Not being the center of attention or in-your-face type, I question if I have “enough” to give.
There were around 170 of “us” survivors – from all over the world. Some of us were further removed from the actual throes of PPD, some a lot closer to it and some still suffering. I was definitely one of the older mother’s there and I think my children’s ages (almost 12 yrs old and almost 9 years old) were on the older side as well. While there will always be a part of me that feels the effects of the illness, for simplicity sake, I could say that I am “cured.”
The most amazing feeling was that we were all on the same playing field. The commonality here was that we all suffer/ed and have the same goal of kicking this sucker of an illness where it hurts, so no one has to experience what we did. There was nothing in the air that said/felt “I’m better than you” or “I don’t want to hang out with you,” which was a cool feeling, especially in at atmosphere of almost 200 women! You know how those things can get!
So what did I actually get out of the conference? While I achieved most of what I set out to, overall my outcomes were also slightly different from what I thought they’d be.
There were amazing breakout sessions about self care and making sure you take care of yourself. You had different options to choose from and it was really challenging to pick – well, except the “Having a Baby after PPD” session. Because no. All the clichés…that shipped has sailed; this factory is closed; etc. I attended sessions about community outreach best practices; a panel of leaders in PPD support; boundaries in peer support and societal pressures on motherhood. Where else would you get to hear only women speaking to and about only women? The passion of the leaders, contributors and attendees were contagious. It was hard not to feel re-energized about this mission – and about myself. This was the start of my “aha” moment of the conference. I was starting to validate how far I’ve come in this thing called life!
Besides learning more about where Postpartum Progress is going and what I can do to help, I had the opportunity for a few other new experiences. A couple of ladies were hosting Shabbat on the Friday night. Since my roommate and I wound up with one of the biggest rooms in the hotel, we hosted it in our room. It was an honor to partake in this event with these ladies. I also tried to learn a bit about crocheting and cross-stitching. (Yep, mommy – still uncoordinated hands. I think I’ll stick to writing!)
The social aspect of the conference was interesting, as many moms mentioned meeting their “warrior mom soul mate” and/or became really tight with others. Did I meet my warrior mom soul mate? Did I make new BFFs? No, I don’t think so – there’s always next year. But this was my tribe – wasn’t I supposed to come away with life long bonds? Maybe/maybe not.
Yes, this was my tribe – but in reality, I know it’s one of my many tribes. All awesome in their own way. My tribes aren’t perfect, but they’ve all been pretty good and pretty supportive when I’ve needed them. They did not know that I was suffering all those years ago, as I did a nice job faking it. So yes, all my tribes are incredible and I’ve been lucky to have them. The Warrior Mom tribe is now a part of my ye olde village and I thank them for allowing me to be part of theirs.
As the conference was wrapping up, others started talking about how hard reentry to the real world and to their families would be – husbands didn’t understand, stuff with kids was hard, etc. I actually questioned myself a bit because as crazy as things get, I was completely cool with coming home. Is there something wrong with me? I didn’t feel disconnected from my family and maybe the conference solidified how lucky I am that I have them. Of course hings can suck at home, but I had no qualms whatsoever about coming back to real life. Because of this, once again I questioned “needing” this new tribe as much as maybe some of the others did. Nah, that wasn’t it….of course I belonged here, but it just couldn’t pinpoint exactly what I was feeling. It was “something,” but not sure what that “something” was!
In responding to a Facebook post after the conference where some of the attendees were talking about this challenging reentry back into “real life,” it officially came to me as I stated “I came away (from the conference) realizing and knowing how far I have come and how proud I am to be “ME”…all my experiences have shaped me, not just the PPD, into who I am today. Adored everyone at the conference and wish I chatted with more mamas and more often, but maybe that’s not what I needed from the conference?”
That. Was. It. This was what the conference was about for me. It was me. Not my kids, not my husband, not the tribe – but me. Little ol’ me! I love me. Okay, well not always, but for the most part – yes. I’m smart, I’m fun, I’m a good person, I contribute to society – and I’m a survivor!
Having postpartum depression, and in turn wanting to become involved with Postpartum Progress, gave me a journey to follow. This includes the journey with Suburban Misfit Mom, which became my first outlet for sharing my stories. Since then I have contributed to a compilation of a book all about women who have survived perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. (Go ahead – search for my name in Amazon – I’m there!) I signed up last year as a Warrior Mom Ambassador for Postpartum Progress to educate and bring awareness to the community, and while I still have a ways to go, I have most definitely made a dent – even if I don’t feel it. Women in my community have thanked me. Doctors have thanked me for the materials I’ve given then. I had a quick chat with a mom friend who mentioned that she and another mutual friend were talking about how I was getting myself out there for the cause. They see it. Even when I don’t. Even when I don’t see it or feel it, I am making a difference.
My understanding that the conference is an annual event. I hope I’ll be lucky enough to score a ticket again. I’m never going to be the loudest one in the room, and I’m sure I’ll still have moments of shyness and insecurity, but I am going to continue to be part of this.
But next time – I hope to focus more on the friendships and the tribe. Even if that doesn’t happen, I’ll always have me.
So enough about me – it’s time to get out, do the work, and continue to help the mamas.
To learn more about Postpartum Progress, please visit www.postpartumprogress.org