Putting my PPD Behind Me- Published by Mother Muse

Words by Paige Bellenbaum

Published by MotherMuse Magazine

In the middle of the night on June 16th, 2006, when contractions were 3 minutes apart, my husband and I rushed to the hospital to finally meet our son Max.

After 18 hours of a physically and emotionally traumatic delivery, I was so exhausted when they put Max on my chest for the very first time, that all I could think about was eating a hamburger and sleeping. I didn’t feel that immediate unconditional love that you’re “supposed” to feel when you meet your baby for the first time. I wanted him off me and I just wanted to be alone. The next morning, at 8 AM, after receiving neither a hamburger or sleep, we were discharged from the hospital – out the door with a pat on the back from our doctor and a newborn, who was now our permanent responsibility.

The first few weeks we were home together as a family were a blur at best. I had complications nursing – oversupply in one breast and undersupply in the other. The pediatrician was concerned that Max wasn’t gaining weight and told us with an aggressive bedside manner to supplement with formula, while also dealing with Max’s severe jaundice and the required medical treatments. I felt moments of elation and moments of intense failure, but I chalked it up to the fact that my hormones were all over the place considering what my body had just been through.

At around week 6, things took a bad turn. I became increasingly anxious about everything that had to do with Max. I was obsessed with whether he was eating enough or sleeping enough or too much. I was calling the pediatrician daily convinced that something was severely wrong – believing that he was going to die. On top of the mounting panic, I felt totally trapped. Max refused to take a bottle after numerous attempts and would only sleep when he was in a sling on my body, physically always joined to me . I still didn’t feel emotionally connected to him at all – instead, I resented him for making me have this new “normal” that was tragically unrecognizable. I felt like I had made the biggest mistake of my life and there was no turning back.

I began sinking into what felt like a deep, dark sea, wishing someone would throw me a life preserver.I watched other new moms bonding with their infants saying it was the best thing that ever happened to them. To me it felt like the worst.

I stopped being able to sleep, even when Max was sleeping, because my mind was racing like a hamster wheel and I couldn’t stop it. I lost my appetite. I wouldn’t leave the house or respond to any friends or family. Every morning I would sit on the sofa, crying and begging my husband not to leave for work. I felt lonely, empty and scared and most of all so very hopeless. I was petrified of being left alone with a 9-pound human being who controlled every aspect of my existence.

At night I would sit on the cold bathroom floor crying and crouched in the corner hugging my knees while my husband and son slept. Staring at the medicine cabinet thinking about what pills behind the door I could take to make all the horrible feelings stop and escape from it all. Surely the two of them would be better off without me. I hated myself for feeling that way and for being such a failure as a mother. And I couldn’t tell anyone because I was so ashamed and disgusted with this pathetic shell of a self that I had become.

I want to stop here for a second and tell you that I am a social worker. I was trained to recognize and identify mental illness – yet – I was totally unable to diagnose myself. I was lucky to get dressed in the morning.

One day, after weeks of not leaving the house, I went outside because it was the middle of summer and so hot in our apartment. I was pushing Max in the stroller in a daze and the light turned red at the corner as we reached it. I looked to the side of the street and saw a bus coming. I watched the front of the bus get closer and closer, almost in slow motion, and in that second it was right there and every ounce of my body and mind told me to throw Max and I right in front of that bus and end it. Just end it all. Make it stop. And as the bus passed by in front of us, I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the window and I saw this woman that I didn’t know – but I knew she needed help.

I hailed a cab and told the driver to take me to the nearest hospital.  I was seen by a psychiatrist, and within 5 minutes was diagnosed with severe postpartum depression and anxiety.

I went on medication, began talk therapy, and slowly I began to heal. After an extended leave, 9 months after Max was born, I went back to work and began to put the pieces of my life back together. Most importantly, I began to finally love my son more than anything else in the world – like I was supposed to.

My story is not an exception to the rule. The Center for Disease Control’s research reflects self-reported cases of postpartum depression ranging from 10 – 15%. Yet thousands of cases go undetected due to shame and fear – increasing the estimate of sufferers to 20% or 1 in 5 – which would mean around 1.3 million annually.

Each year less women — approximately 800,000 — will get diabetes.

300,000 will suffer a stroke.

205,000 will be diagnosed with breast cancer. 

In fact, more women will suffer from perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD) this year than thecombined number of new cases for men and women of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy. 

When Max was 2 and I was pregnant with my second child, I found myself unable to shake the anger I felt. How was it that in the 21stCentury, in New York City, not a single medical professional asked me how I was doing after Max was born? How did nobody around my see the signs and tell me what to do?

I started researching what city, state and federal legislation existed to address postpartum depression. I looked at medical statistics, best practices, screening procedures and treatment options. Based on all my research, I created an outline of what I felt to be the most effective way to help women who were suffering.

I requested a meeting with my favorite advocate for women’s issues – NY State Senator Liz Krueger. I shared my story with her, and when I was done and I told her that I had put together an analysis of what I thought to be the best ingredients for legislation. I stumbled all over my words with self-deprecating comments like, “It’s probably silly, and I don’t even know what I am talking about…”  and she looked me in the eye and said, “Paige – stop. We’re doing this”.

Six years later, after multiple roundtables with stakeholders, bill drafts and re-drafts, introductions without making it to committee, getting vetoed, and then finally getting signed into law by Governor Cuomo in 2014, New York State law now mandates education on PPD for new moms and recommends screening and treatment for maternal depression disorders.

Over the next 2 years, I continued to share my personal story with anyone and everyone who would listen – newspapers, news channels, radio shows, magazines and more. I met hundreds of thousands of women along the way who were struggling or had previously suffered from a PMAD. I heard over and over the painful stories of loneliness, guilt and shame, about the lack of access to care – how there were very few providers that specialize in treating PMADs and those who do, had month long waitlists. In the winter of 2015, I was approached by a friend that I had met in the course of my travels as a PMAD survivor and advocate – Dr. Catherine Birndorf– a nationally acclaimed Reproductive Psychiatrist here in NYC. (On a side note – we later came to discover that Catherine was on the team of clinicians who evaluated me at the hospital the day of the bus incident – how is that for full-circle???) I was stepping off the stage after sharing my story at the New York City First Lady’s press conference announcing city wide screening for PMADs. Catherine said to me “What are you up to these days?” And I said, “I want to be doing a lot more of this – all the time.” And we were off to the races.

Soon after that conversation, I joined forces with Catherine and her partner, and we spent the next year and a half preparing to open the doors of The Motherhood Center. In March of 2017, The Motherhood Center became the first of its kind clinical treatment facility in NYC for new and expecting moms experiencing PMADs through a range of interventions based on symptom acuity. Since we opened we have provided support and clinical care to thousands of women through our Partial Hospitalization Program or “Day Program” – where women receive group, individual, couples and psychiatric care five hours a day, five days a week with an onsite nursery; outpatient treatment consisting of individual therapy and medication management; PMAD support groups, and classes and workshops for all new and expecting parents ranging from breastfeeding support, returning to work, perinatal acupuncture and much more.

1 in 5 women. For those of this who do this work daily – we know its more like 1 in 3 – but the shame, guilt and stigma surrounding PMADs still serves as a massive barrier to treatment and so many women suffer silently for weeks, months and in some instances, years. The ironic thing is that PMADs are totally and completely treatable.

Thankfully – the conversation is starting to change. There are more and more famous women coming out and sharing their stories, more cities and states enacting policies around PMAD education, screening and treatment, and more providers becoming educated on what symptoms to look for in a pregnant or new mom and how to make a referral to treatment. There is still a long way to go – but if every mom who has experienced a PMAD can share her story with another new mom who appears to be struggling – think of how many moms we can give permission to ask for help.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a PMAD – get help today. With treatment – everyone can feel better.

If you are in the NYC tri-state area please contact The Motherhood Center at 212-335-0034 or visit: www.themotherhoodcenter.com

If you are anywhere else contact Postpartum Support International at 800-944-4773 or visit: www.postpartum.net

Pregnancy, Depression and Other Disorders – All at Once

Written by Elizabeth Masucci, a graduate of The Motherhood Center’s Day Program

*Note – all of the quotes in this letter are from this same book, unless stated otherwise.*

Let me start by quoting Dr. Alexandra Sacks and Dr. Catherine Birndorf from their book WHAT NO KNOW ONE TELLS YOU: A Guide to your Emotion from Pregnancy to Motherhood. 

“You don’t have to choose between motherhood and your mental health.”

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I suffered from depression and anxiety disorders. I was familiar with postpartum depression, but I didn’t know that depression and anxiety disorders were common during pregnancy as well. The statistics suggest that 1 and 5 women experience these symptoms during the perinatal period. The maternal mental health field calls it Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders aka PMADS. But call it spaghetti, call it whatever you want, I felt the worst I have ever felt in my life and I was about to have a baby for the first time.

I had nausea, hemorrhoids, heart burn, basically all of the other pregnancy symptoms, but the depression and anxiety took me to a very dark, insufferable place. I had debilitating panic attacks on a daily basis: a giant weight was on my chest and had me pinned to my bed type of sensation. And let’s not forget the general feeling of self-hatred. This was not what I was expecting to feel while pregnant!

My PMADs started around my fourth month of pregnancy, just when I stopped feeling nauseous all the time. I’ve always been an anxious person, as many of us are. And I understand excitement and the uncertainty of pregnancy can naturally cause anxiety and panic. It’s likely that becoming pregnant increased my anxiety and could have led to my depression.

“Sometimes anxiety alone causes you to start feeling depressed – living in that constant state of tension can become so depleting that it may burn out your pleasure system. Anxiety and depression become disorders when they interfere with your ability to function and experience any forms of pleasure.”

There were days I didn’t want to exist anymore. I didn’t go as far as planning my death, but I wanted to die. The question was, why was I feeling this way when I wanted a baby and planned this pregnancy?

I’ll start by sharing my anxiety symptoms (although many anxiety disorders and depression symptoms are interconnected.)

Symptoms of perinatal anxiety disorders manifest differently for everyone. I’ve heard women talk about how they have compulsive thoughts surrounding hurting their baby or fears that something bad will happen to their baby. For me, my compulsive thoughts had to do with a fear that I wouldn’t be “ready” for the baby. I had a fantasy that I would have it “all figured out” before she arrived. “If you’re used to finding comfort in control and planning, childbirth (and motherhood) is going to take you of your element.” I’d constantly be adding to a TO DO list (research how to use a breast pump, what kind of infant bottles to buy, etc.) “The nesting urge is an example of this impulse working well. Perinatal anxiety may be that impulse gone awry, or an exaggerated fight or flight reaction.”I’d just stare at the TO DO list like it was a death threat. But because I’m quasi-sadomasochistic and I had this disorder, I couldn’t stop putting things on this list and trying to get it all done. I felt like something would go terribly wrong if I didn’t complete it.

The baby doesn’t need much of anything when they arrive, right? But because I felt I had to be “ready” that included buying stuff for my baby. I took an early trip to Buy Buy Baby with “the list.” As soon as I walked into this baby mecca, my heart felt like it would explode out of my chest. You learn about different strollers and their attachments, accessories, on and on…. And it didn’t help that those registry devices NEVER work right. I was overwhelmed by all the choices out there for all the gear and every little gadget. The walls started to close in around me and l felt like I was going to die in there. So, yeah, I never went back. But that didn’t stop me from thinking about what “needed” to get done. I had this unrealistic fear that I wouldn’t be prepared for my daughter’s arrival.

It was strange. I wanted to know everything about being a mom and what I needed for my daughter, but at the same time the idea of doing it all created sheer panic. Using my phone and opening my computer gave me heart palpitations. The “click click click” and “scrolling” of work emails and social media is anxiety provoking as it is. The plethora of information and choices were debilitating.

I’ll never forget feeling utter dread to leave my apartment, and even leaving my bedroom took effort. I walked around NYC aimlessly and thought “Why does everyone look so happy and like they have their shit together? How did they put that outfit together and do their hair?” Even during rush hour on the 6 train people seemed happy. I had this dark cloud following me like those antidepressant commercials.

So, I stayed home a lot to avoid these comparisons with people (I work from home, so that made it much easier to do.) And because of my anxiety disorder symptoms, I stayed far away from Instagram. I knew that would send me down a spiral of shame and panic attacks.

For those of you who’ve had depression, you know how excruciating it is. “You feel ‘flat’, as if the world- and your emotional life- has gone from color to shades of grey. It’s as if the machine that runs your natural pleasure system is broken.” On the really bad days, I would crawl in a ball on my bathroom floor and cry uncontrollably. We’ve all had that bathroom floor moment, right? I knew it took a turn for the worst when my main thought was “I want to die.” It was really scary place to be, especially because I was growing a human inside of me.

I felt numb even when the doctor told me that my daughter was healthy as we looked at her little body and big head on the sonogram screen. My husband, on the other hand, was beyond excited. There was a stark contrast between our experiences throughout the pregnancy. He did everything he could to help and support me but we both knew that I needed help from a medical professional.

I had been paying a therapist to listen to my problems for years and she kindly told me I needed more help than she could offer. She knew it was bad just by looking at me. (An interesting observation she told me was that I only referred to my daughter as “it” not “she”, or another cute name like “muffin.”) She recommended a few reproductive psychiatrists/psychologists who specialize in PMADs. I didn’t know then that doctors specialized in this field.

I called one right away. We had one long session where she asked a lot of questions about my history and then an hour and half in, she decided it would be beneficial for me to take medication, an antidepressant. She informed my husband and I of the research behind the safety of taking lower doses of SSRI’s (antidepressants) while pregnant. And how it was actually healthier for the baby if I was on medication than being in a constant state of depression and anxiety for the rest of my pregnancy.

I had mixed feelings about taking medication, so I walked away from that session even more confused. I knew taking a pill wasn’t going to make these symptoms all disappear. But also knew that my current state was really unhealthy for my daughter. “When mom is healthy, it’s not only better for her, it’s better for her baby too.” We are connected. It sounds like common sense, but I didn’t know how damaging a mother’s mental health could be for the growing baby inside of her.

A few nights later during a “I don’t want to exist anymore, please GD end it all” moment, I went to trusty google to search for a chat group or Facebook page where women discuss suicidal thoughts surrounding pregnancy and motherhood. Post Part Support International popped up. I found a number on there and called as if it were 911 and asked to speak to someone. I was directed to a volunteer based in NY. I texted her and she called me within a few minutes.

I was very straight with her and told her the nitty gritty of my experience with my pregnancy. She told me that it was common for pregnant women to feel this way as well, not just postpartum. Again, that was news to me. She had me write down two things: that I wasn’t alone and that it would pass. Of course, I didn’t believe her.

A complete stranger was consoling me on the phone from my bed (reminds me of that new show DEAD TO ME on Netflix.) It was nice. It was hard to talk about it with people that knew me. Maybe they would think I was being dramatic, hormonal, or ungrateful? “Complaining doesn’t cancel out gratitude.” I try to remember that statement even now. She suggested contacting The Motherhood Center in New York. I went the next morning.

The Motherhood Center is a clinical center that specifically helps women suffering from PMADs. I showed up for one of their ongoing support groups. The moderator/clinician of the group was a woman named Paige. She had fiery red hair and a bohemian, warm, maternal vibe. It was nice to be with other women even for an hour. “When you are isolated from others, your sense of shame may be amplified and the cycle continues, less a circle than a miserable spiral.” I felt better around these women even though it took a lot for me to show up. I had to get on the 6 train after all.

Since I felt better sitting in the support group, I asked if I could be in the day program (a more immersive outpatient program) there. I knew I needed to come back every day, all day. I couldn’t bare another moment in bed wishing this would all be over. And so I went to The Motherhood center for four weeks.

I would come in at 9am, Monday – Friday and sit (on these ridiculously comfortable recliner chairs, with blankets!) in a circle with other women who were also suffering from PMADs.  Moms can bring their babies to the center. And if she needs some time alone, there is an onsite nursery. It was very difficult to see mothers suffering with their babies in their arms. I definitely thought that would be me in a few short months.

We would start the day by checking in with one another and there was always a clinician (a social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist) in the room. Throughout the day, we would step out to meet with our personal psychologists and/or psychiatrists. We also had group therapy, restorative yoga classes and meditation practices. But if we wanted to just sleep on our recliner we could (most of us had insomnia). It was a depressed person’s “heaven.” It was so warm and welcoming; a safe haven for what we were all going through.

During lunch, if it was a rough day the mothers and I would just eat in silence. On more lighthearted days, we’d talk about peeing unintentionally, leaky boobs, celebrity news, and how we wished it was pizza day. Either way, we stayed in constant support of each others experiences. If someone wanted to cry, we gave each other permission to do that. Because “tears are just tears, they don’t cause any permanent damage.” We could let it out and be held.

The group therapies primarily used at the center were Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT). CBT looks at habitual thought patterns that can lead to troublesome feelings and behaviors. We would find techniques to gain some control over those negative thoughts. One major conversation topic was radical self-acceptance – I wanted to punch a wall every time they brought that one up because it was difficult to accept the pain.

Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT) helps manage painful emotions through mindfulness and come up with ways to decrease conflict in relationships. Most of us were having troubles with our partners, since it was hard for them to understand what we were going through.

When I left the program, I had tools and practices to help with my anxiety disorder and depression and I was putting them into practice. In the moments of panic and anxiety, I would try to pause and be kind to myself by just observing and accepting what I was thinking and feeling.

I felt better, when I “graduated” the program, but I wasn’t 100%. The great news was that I felt better. I was even able to go to the beach and hang with family and friends on 4th of July weekend. Watching every else drink rosé really sucked, but I actually had some fun.

I am extremely grateful I was able to go The Motherhood Center. The Motherhood Center team were incredibly helpful and supportive. I wish there were more centers like this specifically for mothers. (If men got pregnant would there be centers like this everywhere? Probably. Just saying!)

Sometimes depression and anxiety aren’t taken seriously enough or they are considered less medically critical. Maybe because it’s so common all over the world? Maybe because we tell ourselves to “get over it, tough it out, it’s not like you have cancer?” That’s what I told myself.

PMADs shouldn’t be taken lightly. Project Teach reported that “depression affects up to 15% of women in the perinatal period. Yet it remains largely under-treated despite significant risks. The risks include higher exposure of the fetus to alcohol and drugs, less adequate prenatal care, higher rates of preeclampsia and low birth weight, and more.” Dr. Sacks and Dr. Birndorf phrased it by saying, “untreated depression and anxiety raise mother’s stress hormones, which may lead to physiological changes that may impact the developing fetus.” Hopefully, there will more research in this field that leads to more treatments and centers like TMC.

My OB asked me, “how is your mood?” as I laid back in my crinkly, paper gown, but she asked after I gave birth at my six-week checkup. I didn’t open up to her because I was ashamed to be depressed during pregnancy and I thought I was being dramatic. Dr. Sacks and Dr. Birndorf say, “we believe that if women started sharing rather than keeping secrets about their bodies during pregnancy, it could normalize (and revolutionize) an experience that’s been viewed as a source of embarrassment or shame.” I think doctors should offer more than a nine-question survey about how moms are feeling during pregnancy and postpartum, but that’s a whole other issue.

I love that Dr. Sacks calls the perinatal period matrescence. “It sounds like adolescence, a well described developmental phase (puberty). Also, a time when bodies morph and hormones surge.” Estrogen is thirty times higher when a woman is pregnant and many other hormones increase including, cortisol which can cause irritability and anxiety. Remember being a teenager? These hormones can f*ck your shit up. Dr. Sacks further explains, “Everyone understands that adolescence is an awkward face, but during matrescence, people expect you to be happy while you’re losing control over the way you look, feel, and relate to everyone around you.” There are so many expectations on mothers, when we are going through major changes in our bodies, mind, and spirit.

I “should” be happy and blissful during my pregnancy, right? It’s the “bliss myth.”

Why do women experience PMADs? I’m sure hormones play a big part in it. “We believe that more studies need to be done to learn about brain changes during pregnancy and parenting, taking into account the hormonal shifts as well as associated changed in behavior and emotions.” For me, I think I also had a lot of pain that wasn’t fully processed and erupted once I got pregnant. My lesson through that time was to surrender and let go of a sense of control. You can eat healthy and exercise and take all your vitamins, but there is still so much uncertainty during pregnancy. When will the baby come? What will my birth be like? What will my child be like? Will I be a good mother?

I had to be kinder to myself and to stop telling myself that I was a bad mother before my daughter was even born. TMC repeated to us that “good enough is great” and “accepting the fact that you can only do your best.” Even when your best is taking a shower that day!

Luckily, there are more people sharing the truths about parenting and parenthood instead of only the blissful and joyful moments. “Consider the Instagram image of the pregnant and postpartum supermom: a nurturing, organized, sexy-but-modest multitasker who glows during prenatal yoga and seems unfazed by the challenges of leaking breasts, dirty laundry and sleep training. This woman is a fiction. She’s an unrealistic example of perfection that makes other women feel inadequate when they pursue and can’t achieve that impossible standard.” As a mother, there are so many moments of awe and joy, but as we all know there are also really sad and frustrating times as well. And I’d like to keep sharing these truths, so women don’t feel they need to meet these unrealistic standards of “I have it all together” and I’ve got kids!

Becoming a mother is taking on another identity and for me it was an identity crisis. I was living with the fear of whether I could handle being a mother. It’s a huge transition for us women. When we become mothers, we shed an old self (it’s a mini-death) and a new self is born. It’s a loss as well as a gain.

I’ve learned that the “bad” feelings are signals for transformation or an awakening. If you aren’t well, listen and surrender. We don’t need to be fixed and your feelings aren’t facts. Life is truly a rollercoaster. One day you’re on that bathroom floor hoping it will swallow you, and soon after you can feel peace again. My journey was that I needed to hit bottom and learn how to mother myself in order to become a mother. Mother yourself. That’s a lesson for us all.

—Elizabeth Masucci
actress, producer, maternal mental health advocate

To All Dads on Father’s Day

To All Dads on Father’s Day

David’s entire life turned upside when his wife experienced postpartum depression after the birth of their son. His personal story takes an honest look at how PMADs (perinatal mood and anxiety disorders) impact the entire family.

I walked into the apartment after seeing an NBA game to find my wife sitting on our couch with an interesting look on her face.  I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but then a little pair of booties was sitting on our coffee table.  “What’s that?” I asked.  She responded in her normal coyness “what do you think it is?” “What’s that?” I asked again, the sound of blood rushing to my head.  Tears started to form in her eyes as she said “We are pregnant.” I couldn’t get my headphones, jacket, backpack off quickly enough.  I felt like Will Smith in Independence Day after he took down one of the alien ships.

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Fast forward almost 9 months later, and there we were on the labor floor in a hospital with my wife finally getting some sleep as we wait for our little man to arrive.  I had that moment of clarity, that calm before the storm, that let me know we were going to be ok. Seeing my wife sleeping, breathing peacefully, on her side, I knew we were going to get through whatever came next.

That next step was one hell of a curve ball.  Everyone says to watch out for the “Baby Blues.” I have two nieces and a nephew, and I was around my sister a lot right after the birth of her first two.  I saw the blues, I saw the mood swings, I saw the pain, at least I thought I did.  When I started to watch my wife go down that path, I thought I knew what to do.  Wow was I wrong; it was the most helpless feeling.  In our relationship and friendship, I could always say or do the right thing to make her smile, to pull her off the ledge; however, this time I was a deer in headlights.  I had no idea how to care for the woman I loved, the mother of my newborn son, and to make matters even more difficult, I had a child that relied on me and her for everything.

I saw the blues, I saw the mood swings, I saw the pain, at least I thought I did.  When I started to watch my wife go down that path, I thought I knew what to do.  Wow was I wrong; it was the most helpless feeling.

You try to dig your feet in to stop the descent but that didn’t do anything; complete free fall and all you can do is try not to lose everything you love. So many things are going through your head is my son eating enough? Is he sleeping enough? Is he sleeping too much? Am I holding him right? Do I need to buy specific laundry detergent?  Are the bottles he is using good? And then worst slips through, what about SIDS? How what are the signs? Will I be able to save him? Even going through this list, you see how long it took me to get to the question, how is my wife?

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It is always darkest before the dawn; you have to hit bottom before you can full recover. There are so many clichés that can describe getting worse before it gets better and that was my experience as well.  Some people it takes a while to get down to that level; we got down really fast.  In the span of three weeks, I saw my strong, independent, Wonder Woman of a wife have the clouds block her out almost completely.  There were times that she was still “herself”, but they were few and far between.  It took us three weeks to hit the bottom and almost three more months to pull ourselves up to where our heads were just above the water (we weren’t even close to being out of the pool yet). It was a constant battle that came in waves; waves that hopefully kept an upward trajectory.  The down hours and days were always harder because they followed a moment of clarity, a moment of a normalcy.

… is my son eating enough? Is he sleeping enough? Is he sleeping too much? Am I holding him right? Do I need to buy specific laundry detergent?  Are the bottles he is using good? And then worst slips through, what about SIDS? How what are the signs? Will I be able to save him? Even going through this list, you see how long it took me to get to the question, how is my wife?

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My son is almost 11 months old now and we are approaching my first Father’s Day.  He is a little person that is pulling himself up on everything in sight.  The best sound in the world is hearing my son and wife laugh together.  In those darkest times, I didn’t think laughter was ever going to be possible.  Today, I take joyful sound for granted.  It feels like a different lifetime and at the same just yesterday. PMADs affects both partners in a relationship, obviously in VERY different ways. 

The Motherhood Center helped my wife get through a very dark period in her life. The Motherhood Center also helped me get through that period too; whether it was me helping my wife with her daily mindfulness exercises or just having a place to chat with other people going through a similar situation. 

Happy Father’s Day to all those mommies out there.  It is because of you, that we get to have a day!

Get Involved in Maternal Mental Health Month

May 1st is World Maternal Mental Health Day!

The month of May is a special time for mothers. It includes one day where moms are celebrated everywhere, and if we are really lucky we may get a card, or flowers and a trip to the spa. But, May is also World Maternal Mental Health Day. On May 1st of every year, World Maternal Mental Health Day draws attention to essential mental health concerns for mothers and families around the world.

Women with PMADs

Worldwide, as many as 1 in 5 women experience some type of perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD). Statistics vary by country, but this is a worldwide concern. PMADs include postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder, postpartum bipolar, and postpartum psychosis. 

Women Hiding Their Symptoms

Estimates are that 7 in 10 women hide or downplay their symptoms. Without understanding, support, and treatment these mental illnesses have a devastating impact on the women affected and on their partners and families.

Family Mental Health

Perinatal mood disorders affect the entire family. Many people don’t realize that about 1 in 10 dads develop depression during this time. An integrated approach to family mental health allows both parents to move beyond the postpartum period as a thriving family unit.

Miscarriage or Stillbirth 

It is estimated that 20 – 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth. In addition to grief, many of these women also experience postpartum depression. Giving birth to a premature child, or having a child spend time in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, can also take a toll on maternal mental health. 

Please Join The Motherhood Center as we raise awareness around the critical issue of PMADs on MMHday!

World Maternal Mental Health Day raises awareness of maternal mental health issues, so that more women will get treatment and fewer will suffer.

How you can get involved:

During the weeks leading up to the day, you can highlight what you are doing to help women with perinatal mental health problems by using the below tools:

  1. Use the hashtag #maternalMHmatters on social media

  2. Like the Maternal Mental Health Day Facebook page and share your events, stories, facts or research

  3. Adopt the Twibbon on your Facebook or Twitter profile picture – MMHday Twibbon

  4. Tell your story to help raise awareness of maternal mental health issues so that more women will get treatment and fewer will suffer on MMHday’s blog

  5. Join or support activities in your country or region – check the global events pages here

  6. Come up with your own ideas to highlight that #maternalMHmatters in your country or region and let others know by submitting your event details to MMHday via email

  7. Use MMHday’s infographic to highlight that maternal mental health is an issue globally or adapt to your own language and cultural setting. Request the template via email

  8. For more detailed information, media releases and sample tweets: Download the Social Media Toolkit in English 

Recognition of World Maternal Mental Health Day

Sign the petition calling on the World Health Assembly and the UN World Health Organization to officially recognize WMMH Day, to be commemorated annually on the first Wednesday of May.

Maternal mental health advocates, researchers, academics, clinicians, and people with lived experiences are committed to improving the mental health support for women during and after pregnancy throughout the world.

Sign Petition Now

The information is courtesy of https://wmmhday.postpartum.net/.

World Maternal Mental Health Day – to learn more visit: https://wmmhday.postpartum.net/

Acupuncture for Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

A Question & Answer with Holly Crafts Colasanti, The Motherhood Center's Pregnancy and Postpartum Acupuncturist

Acupuncture has been used to address illnesses for over three thousand years. But the western world has only recently discovered and used acupuncture as a tool to promote and restore a healthy self-care routine; and for many great reasons, acupuncture has evolved into being known as one of the best alternative medicinal treatments in the world.

Since its creation, ancient Chinese acupuncture has revolved around Qi, an internal energy force that can regulate your body’s balance and energy. When factors like a stressful commute or family fight disrupt your body’s Qi, it is said to create anxiety, disease, and pain offsetting the body’s median.

In today’s society, our bodies are in a constant fight or flight response. Acupuncture can help relieve that tension and anxiety our bodies feel,

says Holly Crafts Colasanti, a New York City Acupuncturist and mother of two. Here, at The Motherhood Center, we believe acupuncture can be a wonderful addition to any new or expecting mother’s self-care routine. Below is our interview with Holly Crafts, TMC’s perinatal acupuncturist:

What type of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders does acupuncture help manage?

Acupuncture helps manage several symptoms, but the most common are: anxiety; depression; OCD/ruminative thinking; PTSD; panic disorders and general stress.

From a scientific perspective, how does acupuncture work?

Depending on which body points are targeted and where the needles are inserted, acupuncture can,

  1.   cause the nervous system to produce painkilling chemicals, or neurotransmitters;

  2. jump-start the body’s natural ability to heal itself by resetting the nervous system from its fight or flight activation to rest and digest setting;

  3. and/or stimulate the part of the brain that releases feel-good hormones and controls emotions, including depression and anxiety.

Is acupuncture safe for women while pregnant?

Yes, it is absolutely safe for pregnant women!

If so, does it also treat the baby- as well as the mother?

There’s an old saying in Chinese medicine,

treat the mother, treat the child,

which is to suggest that what is beneficial for the mom, is also beneficial for the baby. Because, acupuncture can promote relaxation by lowering blood pressure, mitigating the release of stress hormones, and promoting healthy circulation in mothers, the same can also benefit the baby. Any good habit you adapt into your lifestyle, like sleeping, exercising, eating nutrient dense foods or getting acupuncture, is just as good for the child as it is for the mother!  

How often should a woman receive acupuncture treatment in order to see health improvements?

Although it depends on the individual, and her health history, generally, the mother should seek treatment for 4-6 weeks in order to see health improvements. This is a great way to create a healthy lifestyle habit and incorporate acupuncture into one’s overall healthy self-care routine.

Besides addressing PMADS, how else is acupuncture helpful?

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can be an invaluable part of post-labor recovery, helping with lactation promotion; stress management; pain relief; promotion of healthy digestion; improved quality of sleep; addiction, and withdrawal side effects; general immunity, including seasonal allergies; skin issues, in both mother and child; healing of tissues (incision/tearing), post-surgical and wound recovery; improving blood production; and recalibrating hormones as the body transitions from pregnancy through labor and delivery.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can also be extremely essential in: the 1st year postpartum by… reducing anxiety, helping promote calm and positive moods; improving the quality of sleep; supporting healthy thyroid & pituitary function to balance hormones; promoting a healthy appetite and digestion; easing body aches and muscle spasms, before they become chronic pain patterns (like the nursing hunch and the “baby back” low back pain); and reducing overall stress.

What is the difference between Chinese acupuncture and western acupuncture?

The essential difference between Western acupuncture or “dry needling” vs Chinese acupuncture, is that the latter is part of a larger philosophy of health, including herbal medicine, manual therapy and lifestyle modifications.

Western acupuncture, including dry needling, can be practiced by non-licensed practitioners (ie. a chiropractor or physical therapist), though this is without the training and experience of a lengthy master’s acupuncture program.

Do they both treat perinatal mood and anxiety disorders?

No, western acupuncture (dry needling) only treats musculoskeletal pain.

Does acupuncture hurt?

Acupuncture needles are solid and so thin that they can be tied into a knot.

The most common response to the first needle is ‘that’s it?!’

Beyond the initial pinch of insertion, there might be warmth, heaviness or a tingling sensation. There could also be a deep and dull, weighted feeling, or ache. However, most commonly, people are surprised by the sensation, expecting it to feel like a shot, but it often doesn’t feel like anything!

If I am pregnant, can my baby feel the needles?

Needles are only inserted right below the skin to the superficial layer of the muscles. As far as we know, your baby can only feel the calming effect of your nervous system response.

How long is a typical session, and do I have to go every week to see improvements?

A typical session lasts between 20-45 minutes. It is recommended to go every week; however, it is not necessary.

Will the more I go the better I feel?

Yes, acupuncture is similar to exercise in that it has a cumulative effect.

Can my toddler get acupuncture with me? Is it safe?

Acupuncture is safe for children as young as 1 day old, though the treatments for children only last a few moments. As long as it will be relaxing for you to have your child nearby, and there is adequate staff on hand, it is fine and safe to have your child in the room.

Do you individually treat women depending on their symptoms?

Yes, each treatment is tailored to the unique presentation and current needs of the individual on that day, at that moment. At the same time, there is also similarity in treatments and point selection across the same health concern or condition.

If I am not experiencing a PMAD, should I still receive acupuncture to help address any symptoms?

Absolutely! Acupuncture is one facet of medical based prevention methods! Supporting the body’s hormones to stay in balance, maintaining healthy blood pressure and appropriately responding to stress, will help prevent any myriad conditions.

The Motherhood Center offers a weekly acupuncture group session with Holly Crafts Colasanti for pregnant and postpartum women on Mondays from 3 to 4 PM.

Holly is a licensed acupuncturist and received her master’s degree in acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in New York.

The Motherhood Center would like to thank Holly Crafts Colasanti for speaking with us about acupuncture, and allowing us to interview her for this blog post.  

Please find her information and class sign up linked here:

Body-Based Practices in the Perinatal Period

Body-based practices such as yoga that include movement and breath work can be a powerful skill set for women in the perinatal period. The transition to motherhood includes normal physiological changes that are adaptive to the stages of pregnancy, birth and postpartum. These bodily changes, however, can influence mood and increase the chances of depression or other intense stress reactions. The Restorative Movement group at The Motherhood Center utilizes body-based practices to address this mind-body connection, focusing on skills that seek to decrease arousal and reclaim the bodily experience of emotion.

Most therapies, including psychological and pharmacological, target normalization of the stress response through cognitive processes and brain chemistries. Since physical syndromes and bodily sensations are a part of the symptomology of mood disturbances, engaging with those sensations through interoceptive processes like yoga and other mindfulness practices can be instrumental in resetting the stress response and managing emotions. It is normal to feel “out of control” of our emotions sometimes. By instructing the body and breath in deliberate ways, we can work to establish or re-establish a sense of agency over ourselves.

Working with a PMAD population requires extra sensitivity and is best served by a trauma-informed approach with a focus on safety and autonomy. In this particular setting, less is more when it comes to movement and breath work. Instead, the yoga practice is utilized as a “noticing” practice with lots of options to self-direct and modify, which means moms are free to feel what they feel without becoming overwhelmed, ashamed or collapsed. This kind of self-reflection is a skill that can enhance our ability to not only regulate emotions but perhaps even understand our driving factors.

The easiest example of how yoga can impact emotion regulation is through the effect of yogic breathing. The breath is an automatic function that is necessary for survival. Because of this, information from the respiratory system is noticed and attended to immediately by the brain. We can use this to our advantage by deliberately controlling the breath to effect change in the body. Specifically, it is the act of the exhale that slows the heart rate and activates the “rest and digest” part of our nervous system. In restorative movement, we experiment with different breathing techniques as a way to soothe the body and decrease arousal.

It is not uncommon to hear from moms though that they are too tired or overwhelmed to “work out” with the body. The most important takeaway here is that less is more, especially during this profound period of transition. In fact, focusing less on time and more on frequency is critical to recovery. If we do a little bit of practice every day, we are far more likely to effect change. Like any habit, emotion regulation is a pattern of physiological functions that repeats itself in response to different stimuli or stressors. To change these patterns, it is more important to do one thing consistently over time than to attempt an hour at the gym once a week.

Sometimes the practice is simply acknowledging that we are tired. It is also okay to let the body rest. In fact, short periods of constructive rest throughout the day can deeply impact a mother’s felt experience and replenish her reserves to cope. Instead of working out, we are “tuning in”. By cultivating stillness, we learn that there is an internal sanctuary to which we can retreat at anytime, even if it’s for just three cycles of deliberate breath. This restorative aspect of the yoga practice is an important part of the Restorative Movement group – it provides safe, structured down time for moms to relax and reintroduce feelings of well-being.

These body-based practices are just one part of the integrated approach to healing at The Motherhood Center, which recognizes the importance of engaging the whole person in treatment through a collaborative and interdisciplinary effort. Stress is often multi-dimensional and so it makes sense that supports are equally dimensional in which there are varying opportunities to regain balance. By taking time to nourish and soothe the body through restorative movement, we are supporting our chances of returning to a physiological steady state. From this steady state, moms can begin the process of rebuilding their emotional scaffolding in order to better cope with the transition to motherhood.

TJ Halliday is a certified yoga instructor currently completing a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology + Mind Body Connection at Columbia University. She leads yoga for Day Program clients at The Motherhood Center.

PPD Changed This Mom’s Life—Here’s What She Wants You to Know

Originally Published November 2018 on The Bump
Read the Original Article Here

The following is an interview with The Motherhood Center’s co-founder Paige Bellenbaum.


I’m a California girl–born and raised in San Francisco. I moved to New York City in 2000 to attend Columbia University for my Masters in social work. I was all ready to move back to San Francisco, but right before then, I met my husband-to-be. In 2005, after one month of marriage, we found out we were pregnant. I guess I’m fortunate in the sense that my husband only had to look at me for that to happen.

After our son Max was born, I was immediately filled with intense anxiety, which led to severe postpartum depression.

Catherine Birndorf, MD, co-founder of the Motherhood Center, was actually part of my clinical treatment team, but we didn’t realize this connection until much later!


It was the darkest time of my life and I almost lost my life because of it. It’s like being in an ocean and not being able to swim, and just waiting for someone to throw you a life preserver. I couldn’t believe that nobody was talking about it, despite the fact that research suggests 1 in 5 new and expectant mothers experience a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, otherwise known as postpartum depression (PPD).


After I recovered with the help of medication and therapy, I became furious that nobody was talking about how common PPD is. Instead, women like myself feel guilty and ashamed for their feelings and thoughts and keep it to themselves. I worked with a New York state senator to draft legislation requiring new mothers to be educated about PPD before they are discharged from the hospital, and strongly encouraging ob-gyns and pediatricians to screen for PPD.

My primary goal in life is to make sure other women suffering from perinatal depression and anxiety don’t have to suffer silently, which is why I agreed to help open The Motherhood Center with Catherine!


The Motherhood Center is a first-of its-kind clinical treatment facility in New York City for pregnant and new moms suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs), otherwise referred to as postpartum depression. We offer various tiers of treatment based on the client’s symptom severity, including:

  • A day program with a nursery for the babies

  • Outpatient therapy and medication management

  • Support groups for new and expectant moms who are having a difficult transition to parenthood

  • Various classes and workshops preparing mothers for childbirth, breastfeeding support, and much more Clients are referred to us primarily by ob-gyns, pediatricians, doulas, psychiatrists and therapists, but we also get a lot of referrals from our social media efforts.


The Motherhood Center is one of only a handful of “Perinatal Day Programs” in the US. Our Day Program provides clinical treatment for new and expecting mothers with severe PMADs, who are having a very difficult time caring for themselves and/or the baby.

Clients of the Day Program are with us five days a week, five hours a day and their babies are cared for in the nursery. Clients participate in therapeutic support groups, mindfulness, meditation, art therapy, yoga and more, and each one is followed by an individual therapist and psychiatrist that specializes in PMADs.

What truly differentiates us is that, unlike the handful of other day programs out there, we’re not affiliated with a hospital. We are a standalone center, meaning we have the ability to create a warm, nurturing, non-clinical environment for women receiving treatment. It feels like a giant living room!


People are starting to talk about it more! Celebrities like Chrissy TeigenSerena Williams and Adele sharing their personal experiences with postpartum depression gives permission to women everywhere to talk about it and hopefully seek treatment. Many states have legislation on the books, which includes mandatory screening, PMAD education, public awareness campaigns and more. And many national medical associations are strongly recommending screening for PMADs.


Ask mom how she is doing. All the attention is on the mom until the baby is born, and then mom is left in the dust. If mom appears to be overly anxious, depressed or easily irritated, is having obsessive thoughts that are running like a hamster wheel in her head or feels helpless or hopeless, she may be suffering from a PMAD.

You can let her know that she’s not alone—more than 20 percent of new moms experience postpartum depression and anxiety, and those are just the ones who talk about it. Tell her it’s not her fault and that she can feel better with the right support and treatment.


I would have told myself women who have a history of depression and/or anxiety are at a much greater risk of developing a PMAD. I didn’t know that at the time. I would have had a treatment team all set up for me, and I would have warned everyone around me to look out for the signs. I would have screamed in my own face, yelling, “Asking for help does not mean you’re a bad mom! Every new mom needs help! We are one of the only cultures in the world that doesn’t have built-in support for new moms!”


It was the second hardest thing that happened after my PPD. My daughter was a huge surprise. It honestly compares to the immaculate conception (remember earlier when I told you all my husband has to do is look at me?!).

I was so not ready to have another baby. In fact, I was never going to have another baby after Max was born. I couldn’t tolerate going through that again. But after some serious soul searching (and therapy), I decided that I was not going to let my first experience define me. I took total control over my situation, and I created a plan that covered all the areas I felt had contributed to my PPD the first time. I did everything differently, and it paid off. I did have a PPD relapse when she was 9 months old, but it was less severe and I knew exactly what to do. Antidepressants are wonderful thing.


Going from one to two kids is like going from 1 to 10. My kids are two years apart, so they were both in diapers for a substantial period of time. And sorry, No. 2, but by the time mom gets to you, we have often been through the worst of it with the first one and now we have perspective. The second-born has to figure out a lot of things on her own!


Red wine and binge-watching British crime shows with my 85-pound mama pitbull snuggled up under my chin.


If you or someone you know is suffering from postpartum depression and you live in the New York Tri-State Area, call The Motherhood Center at 212-335-0035 to get the help that’s needed to feel better.

For national resources, visit Postpartum Support International (PSI). PSI has PMAD resources available in every city and town across the US.