This Mom’s Story Will Break Your Heart but You Have to Read It
You’ve probably noticed I talk a lot about being a new mom on this blog.
The short reason for why this topic is so important to me—aside, of course, from the fact that, like most moms, I adore my kids—is that I am so passionate about being real about the experience of being a new mom, because it is HARD. Like, first-class, level 10, soul-crushingly and body-exhaustingly HARD. (The most divine and beautiful thing, yes, but also all of that.)
I’m also posting it because, let’s admit it moms, you, too, have wanted to slap that new mom who is all over Facebook wearing makeup and looking cute and talking all about how her 6-week-old slept through the night.
There is no easy motherhood experience. There are simply moms who tell you the truth, and moms who don’t.
My truth: After having a baby, your body is wrecked, you’re perpetually exhausted, your friends don’t invite you places anymore (not like you could go. HA!), your boobs (if you nurse) are like giant and burning boulders of FIRE, and oh, if you formula feed, you will be shamed. Also, you will forget every. single. thing. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Bottom line: You’re just not yourself… for a while.
I have written before about a strange zombie-like state I was in after having my son, and also about the anxiety I had after having my daughter 20 months later. Although I was never diagnosed with anything, I did know that I just wasn’t feeling like “me.” I spoke with my doctor and decided that talk therapy was the best route for me in those months after my second child, and I am grateful to say I found my way out of the woods, with my therapist’s help, relatively quickly. I was lucky.
In the spirit of passing along realness and HOPE for all new moms out there who are lonely, lost, disconnected or worse, I want to share with you an interview with a father who is fighting for new moms everywhere to get the care they need in that most difficult of times.
Steven D’Achille founded the Alexis Joy Foundation, which is dedicated to helping women deal with the sometimes-debilitating emotional side effects that come with new motherhood.
His story is both devastating and inspiring. I urge you to read the whole thing. It is wonderful to see the work Steven is doing for moms everywhere.
To the new moms and to those who love them—please read this, pass it along, and know, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
I know there is a very personal and tragic story at the heart of the Alexis Joy Foundation. Can you tell us a little about it, and what are you hoping to accomplish?
The foundation started because my wife tragically lost her battle with postpartum depression in October 2013, just 5 1/2 weeks after our first child Adriana was born. Shortly after Adriana was born there were signs of the “baby blues.” [But] about three weeks after birth, these baby blues started to progress into something much more than what we had ever heard about.
Alexis and I had regular contact with doctors—her PCP, OB-GYN, pediatrician, crisis clinic, multiple hospitals—you name it, and we tried it. She was very well aware of what was happening and was desperate to fight it and be the mother she always dreamed of being.
During her last two weeks, it was daily calls to a crisis clinic, and hospitals almost every other day. Each visit [we] left with doctors and social workers saying, “It’s just the baby blues; go home and be with your family and friends.”
We both knew it was much more. We were desperate to find help. Throughout the process we were both given different options or psychiatric hospitals to go to.
It seemed like we were constantly […] trying to pick the lesser of two evils. On one hand, I wanted to keep her safe from herself, but on the other, I didn’t think it was fair to put her into a psychiatric ward with people suffering from every imaginable form of behavioral and mental illness, the main reason being she would not have access to see our new daughter Adriana.
All of this [is] going on and [I’m] trusting the doctors when they said, “It’s just the baby blues. This will pass.” I even had one doctor in a hospital working in the psychiatric ward send us home. [He] told me she was too beautiful to commit suicide “in a dirty way,” i.e. anything that would compromise her appearance. I was told to remove any prescription pills and car keys from the house.
She found a sloppy way to do it. Alexis spent 2 days in intensive care before she eventually passed.
It is important to know that Alexis never suffered a day in her life with any form of mental illness. [Emphasis mine.]
While in Intensive care, after speaking with my family priest, I had a calm come over me and I knew that Alexis had given me a new mission in life. From that day forward, I was determined to make the help that we so desperately needed accessible to the women and families that need it—the key being that these mothers need to be able to get treatment with their new babies.
What things does your foundation address that other postpartum health groups hadn’t addressed in the past? In other words, how are you guys different?
The unique thing that our foundation has is a relationship with a major healthcare provider (Allegheny Health Network), and also a major Health Insurance company (Highmark). This relationship gives us the ability to guide struggling mothers that reach out to us to world class care—most importantly, very quick access to a psychiatrist. I believe we are at 48 hours, but [it’s] typically within 24.
Nationwide there is a huge shortage of psychiatrists leading to very long wait times. In my situation Alexis, had over a month to wait before she had access to a psychiatrist.
What signs of postpartum issues should loved ones of new moms look out for?
There are many signs—crying, anxiety, depression, failure to bond with the new baby, etc. All of these are symptoms Alexis had.
Be observant and understand warning signs for [the point] when postpartum depression can turn into a psychosis. Alexis’ behavior got very strange. [For example, she] wouldn’t go outside if it was dark, would keep the heat blasting at 84 degrees even though it was September, and [also experienced] suicidal ideation. [Editor’s note: Suicidal ideation is when someone is preoccupied or consumed with thoughts of suicide.]
How has the response been to the foundation so far?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive from literally everyone—the community, Allegheny Health Network, and Highmark, local businesses, friends, and family.
Are there plans to expand the foundation’s reach?
We do have plans to expand to other cities*. I’m [also] proud to say that we will have a state of the art 5,000 square foot facility opening in 2017 at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh. This will be a mother/baby day hospital, and I believe there are only four similar facilities in the United States that offer this. It’s hard to imagine, [but] facilities like this are common practice in Europe.
What resources do you suggest new mothers reach out to for help or with questions?
[Do] your homework up front. I think they should have discussions with their PCP, OBGYN, and any other doctors they see, before they give birth.
So many new parents go to parenting classes and read books, etc., but most don’t think about PPD. I believe this is because of the stigma about how becoming a new parent is supposed to be—the happiest time of your life—when in actuality it is one of the hardest.
I think it also depends on where you live. In my experience, it seems like there are many support groups for women with PPD. Most are run out of homes by women who have suffered themselves.
I think it’s important to hear from someone else who has been through it to say you will be okay. This will get better.
What events are coming up for the foundation, and how can people who live far away contribute or participate in fundraising?
We have various fundraisers throughout the year, the big one being our annual “Night of Joy” which will be held at the Omni William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh on April 21st, 2017.
For our “Night of Joy” gala, all auction items and donations can be made through your cell phone, so anyone in the world can log on that night and participate.
If you are a new mother and experiencing thoughts of suicide, please reach out to your doctor immediately or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
*Currently the Alexis Joy Foundation is partnered with heath care providers located in Western Pennsylvania.