Five Years of Stories 


A week from today Milwaukee will have its finale Listen To Your Mother show at 3 p.m. in the same venue that housed both our inaugural and second shows. It is a bittersweet feeling like watching my youngest skip off to kindergarten. Three weeks after our show she has her graduation ceremony. 

To our current cast, thank you for bringing your stories and energy to Alexandra, Rochelle and I.  We needed to see how much our community still hungers for connection and storytelling. To our alumni of the past four years, thank you for continuing to share your stories and champion storytelling. My life has been enriched by all these different perspectives. 

To Rochelle, thank you for making Milwaukee a trio. I’m always inspired by your words and your actions. As a mom raising daughters, your counsel and wisdom has helped me through so much. To Alexandra, what can I possibly say? You took a chance on me when I was still struggling from postpartum depression and anxiety. You saw a spark in me that I didn’t recognize in myself. Your faith and belief in me gave me the courage and confidence to go after my goals. To my husband, my parents and my girls, thank you for being the help behind the scenes. I appreciate it so much. This project gave me back my passion for theatre. Thank you for honoring and nurturing that gift even when you all worried that I bit off more than I could chew. 

Ann, thank you for creating this movement. I have been transformed by the amazing women and men I have met or watched from the sister cities. The love, energy and enthusiasm for using stories to bring our communities together is what fueled me. Come see the magic of Listen To Your Mother Milwaukee for our final show – get your tickets http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2935129

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Community Divided

I have been processing these past two weeks as an organization I volunteered for shut its doors. The changes I had seen were mainly surface and not of lasting significance. A pattern of repeated micro aggressions led to the departure of women of color. This pattern began over two years ago. I was part of the editorial team who wrote blog posts. We never discussed this first issue in depth. Those of us who remained discussed these issues with each other. When we attempted to discuss it as a group, we were dismissed. The women of color who were harmed at that time were asked to explain why certain comments were racist.  The tone deafness to hurting moms was appalling.  I stewed, and I ended up resigning from the editorial team.

I felt hope after seeing the differences made after the first conference.  There was an advisory board of women of color to ensure that we were representing all moms.  A women of color was hired to be the project manager for the Climb, and I was inspired to continue to lead a climb in my community.  I was actively engaged with the community, and I was getting ideas for outreach in different places I hadn’t previously considered.

When I read this, my first reaction was of sadness and hurt for my friend. Then I got angry. The latest in a string of issues led to her departure and the departure of our previous Climb project manager who had been positioned to help us build partnerships with local organizations. As I kept hearing even more stories than the ones I was aware of, I became even more angry. Why hadn’t the organization learned? Why were the same mistakes being repeated? I promised to tell those stories so that the community would see how shaky the foundation had been. This latest incident was the final crack in an already fractured foundation.  Say their names: A’Driane, Alexandra, Jenni, Divya, Jenna, Graeme and Jasmine.  Honor their contributions.  Honor their stories and listen to them.

I decided to resign from my volunteer duties. I notified the staff. I stayed on to help moderate a Facebook peer support group. That is the amazing part of the community of survivors. I liken it to the Marines. We do not leave a suffering mama behind. Postpartum Support International has stepped up to support our grieving community. Grief is a part of this process.

Anger being directed at those who came forward publicly to discuss the micro aggressions is NOT okay. I am calling out and calling in my white warrior moms. The statistics are 1 in 7 women will experience a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder. We repeat that statistic ad nauseaum. For women of color it is 1 in 4. How can we be for all moms if we don’t get uncomfortable and talk about race? How does race and culture affect how mental illness is perceived? If we aren’t actively learning cultural competency, how can we truly be for all moms?

I do not have all the answers. I am one voice who is using her white privilege to amplify the voices of so many women of color whose contributions went unappreciated. I am still learning about race and immigration. When a woman of color says that they have been wronged, believe them. Full stop. Prejudice and racism are built into the fabric of our society. This country was built on the genocide of Native Americans, and it was created by the unpaid labor of African slaves. That trauma and history is NOT something we can ignore. When we ignore it, we invalidate how another is feeling. As women who have struggled with mental illness, we know the power of validation and me too. I am my sister’s keeper. When she shares a painful experience, I need to listen and validate. How can we do this? We can use these phrases. I hear you. I see you. I see your pain. How you were treated was unacceptable.

See my last post for all the women who have helped that organization and in return had their concerns dismissed.  This was due to a lack of accountability from the board and the CEO.  The community is hurting, but it can heal by listening to our moms of color.  We can fuel this hurt, disappointment, and anger into something positive.  Mental health is a fundamental human right.  We can appreciate Katherine for creating the blog and the nonprofit in the first place, and we can also be angry with her for perpetuating white supremacy.  These two concepts seem to be diametrically opposed, but there is room for both and, not either or.

We need to be an inclusive community for all parents.  It is not just moms who struggle with postpartum depression.  It impacts fathers and their partners and trans women.  Learning does not stop.  We need to be life long learners to continue to help all those who struggle with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.  I am still learning on how to be more inclusive of my trans sisters.

“Careful the things you do.  Children will listen.  Careful the things you say.  Children will see and learn.” As Into the Woods teaches us, our children are watching us mamas.  Let’s sit and process our grief.  Then we rise.  “When we know better, we do better” – Maya Angelou.  Listen to me, my white warrior moms.  We know better.  WE MUST DO BETTER.

 

 

 

 

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#LoveBomb

lovebomb

Hi friends and loyal readers, how are you?  I am reflecting on a tumultuous weekend.  The current climate we are in is filled with anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, and transphobia.  White supremacy has reared its ugly head.  Whenever I start to feel discouraged, I remind myself to look for the helpers. I know these amazing women who had to leave a cause that they believed in to save themselves and their own mental health due to micro aggressions.  I want today to be a day filled with a #lovebomb for each of these women.

Alexandra Rosas, also known as the Empress, was my first Warrior Mom that I met in real life. We discovered that we lived close to each other.  She inspired me to keep writing and to share my story.  She helped me understand how stories connect us to each other and how someone’s story can save a life.

A’Driane Nieves first caught my eye with her beautiful spirit, her fierce writing, and her Dance Party Fridays.  Her creativity is out of this world.  She has moved from writing to visual arts.  Her talent inspires me to look inside myself and keep learning.

Jenni Chiu was on the editorial team of Postpartum Progress with me.  I didn’t know Jenni that well initially.  Then I started following her blog, and her sense of humor and her vlogs are like sunshine. She uses humor as satire to get you to think about why things might be problematic.

Divya Kumar and I met sitting in the back row seats of the first Warrior Mom Conference.  She was so kind, and her presentation on expanding our outreach into underserved communities touched me.  I saw so many opportunities that I had to do more outreach in my community.  When I was feeling really emotional at one point during that weekend, Divya was there to hold my hand and hold space for me.

Jenna Hatfield came into my life after several transitions of blog editors.  She is an SEO queen.  I watched the Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram come to life and thrive under her influence.  She did a bulk of the writing during her tenure due to burnout among the editorial staff and the loss of writers like Jenni and Alexandra. Jenna navigated an editorial staff of really hurt women with kindness, empathy and respect.

I met Jasmine Banks at BlogHer 2013.  I remember a sweet soul who was struggling with the loss of a dear friend. Later Jasmine became the program manager for Postpartum Progress’s Climb Out of the Darkness fundraiser.  In that position, she continued to challenge our group and help us remain focused on our mission of continued outreach into our communities, particularly marginalized communities.  Jasmine brought cultural competency and her counseling background to the climb which helped the climb leaders take care of their own mental health while being able to hold space for others. Jasmine taught me so much and gave me so many ideas and immediate actions that I could take to help moms in my local community.

Graeme Seabrook and I met for the first time in person at the Warrior Mom Conference. I didn’t connect her twitter handle with her until nearly the last day of the conference.  She looked shocked when I said.  “Graeme, you’re honestly Mama G?” I love your blog and your tweets.  Graeme was working on the education piece for mental health first aid training.  She also runs this amazing group called the Self Care Squad, and she’s a life coach.

I invite you to join me today to give each of these women a #lovebomb in recognition for all the work and support that they have given to help mamas struggling from mental illness.  They deserve love and recognition for all their work. As Alexandra reminded me, hope is what we need to hang on to. Never give up hope. Our sisters need our love and support. We don’t leave a mama behind.

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This is Nine

My sweet Munch,

This has to be in my top five favorite pictures of you and I. We are laughing and enjoying each other.  I know that soon you won’t hold my hand in the parking lot or seek me out first for advice.  My job is plant your roots and give you wings to fly.

I love your grace, kindness and empathy. As the oldest child, you are paving the way for your little sister. I know she can annoy you a lot. Don’t forget that both Daddy and I were the oldest in our families. We are experts in annoying little sisters. Thank you sweet girl for showing us unconditional love and forgiveness when we make mistakes. 

The other day we talked about “pretty”. At first my  heart sank because I thought you hated how you looked.  Your definition was someone who dressed up all the time. I asked you to list off your best qualities – intelligence, artistic ability in both visual and performance arts (dancing), kindness and beauty. I reminded you that true beauty is both inside and out.  I nearly burst into tears. The amazing young woman in front of me was confident and assured well beyond her years. You are so loved, my sweet girl.
Love 

Mama

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Six Years

My sweet Skeeter,

When I whispered to you last night that it was your last night as a five year old, your eyes sparkled with delight. You told me that you’re not too old and you’re not too little. You’re just right for the age you are.

All day kindergarten has brought some changes with it. You tell Daddy and I how much work you do during the day. You were surprised to learn that you have to wear your uniform every day. You love your specials – art, music, gym, library and Spanish. Your capacity to remember all melodies and song lyrics is making Spanish so much fun for you. You are learning your new language primarily through music which is your love language. You just might be the only kindergartner whose favorite song is My Shot from Hamilton.

Never lose your sense of wonder and delight with the world.  I love to watch you sing, write, dance, and create.  Life brings us joy and pain, and I cannot shield you from the pain as much as I want to.  I want you to know how much you are loved.  Your capacity for love and joy is your greatest gift, sweetheart.

Thank you for healing the wounds in your mama’s heart.  I felt like I would not be able to be the mom I wanted to be for you and your sister.  When you watched my Listen To Your Mother video this past year, you broke my heart open with your capacity for love, grace and forgiveness.  You patted my cheek and whispered I love you as I cried listening to my story of how desperate I had been after your birth.  I was transformed from that experience into the mama you know today, perfectly imperfect just like you.

 

Love,

Mama

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Why I Climb: Connection and Healing

***Trigger warniwhy-i-climbng: If you are feeling fragile, or struggling, this post might be triggering.  I talk about intrusive thoughts and suicidal thoughts.****

I struggle with sharing some of the harsh truths that marked my experience with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.  It is hard for my family and friends to read on my blog stories I struggle to articulate in words.

During the few weeks leading up to the Climb last year, a dear friend shared her story of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.  When I saw her at the climb, I hugged her.  I thanked her for her courage, and I whispered in her ear that I had those feelings of suicide too.  Later she read this story aloud, and it broke me wide open.  Her story and her journey to recovery is different from mine; however, we both struggled with those feelings of utter despair and hopelessness.  I felt like I wanted to just disappear.  I felt like my husband and my daughters deserved better than me.  I didn’t have an active plan. I just wanted to disappear into nothing.  I have mentioned that I had intrusive thoughts of crashing my car headfirst into oncoming traffic.  These thoughts were my thoughts of escaping.  I did not realize that these intrusive thoughts were considered passive suicidal ideations until after I read Dr. Walker Karraa’s book, Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth.  After I read this book, I wept with the realization of how sick I had been.  It is only in looking back that I realize how anxious and despondent I had been.

Suicidal thoughts are more common than we realize among postpartum women.  In fact suicide is the second most common cause of mortality in postpartum women. I never said yes to the screening question about hurting myself or others because I was afraid that I would lose my husband and my daughters.  I was one of the lucky ones – the 15% that receive treatment for their postpartum mood disorders.  I got help, and I recovered.

I climb for the moms who we lose every year to suicide.  I will keep climbing, and I will keep telling my story.  I climb for all the women in my life.  I climb for the warrior moms past, present and future.  I see your struggle, and I see your brave.  I will continue to encourage others to tell their own story. I do not want another mom to feel like she is all alone in her struggles.  I have been on the edge of that precipice.  Take my hand, and I will support you as you climb out of this darkness.  You will be well.  It does get better.

If you’re local to the Milwaukee area, please come join me and my little ladies and a host of amazing women as we walk through Havenwoods State Forest for Climb Out of the Darkness 2016 http://postpartumprogress.org/climb-out-of-the-darkness/. If you are not local to Miwaukee and want to find a climb in your area, http://postpartumprogress.org/climb-out-of…/find-a-climb/.  Together we can shine a light of hope for moms on their darkest days.

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10 signs of a musical nerd family

1. You and your husband sing together and pick out songs that have harmonies.

2. You have several copies of the same song in different keys.

3. Your children watch YouTube videos of their parents’ favorite musicians.

4. You have no idea what Kidz Bop is.

5. Your family is vehemently opposed to auto tune.

6. Your children ask in disbelief how you know so many songs. It’s called sight reading.

7. You can pick out individual voices in bands and ensembles. You shush your children at Mass so you can hear your college friend cantor.

8. You show your children pictures and videos of shows that you were in.

9. Your children request show tunes for a bedtime song.

10. You embarrass your children by singing show tunes in front of their friends.

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