As stated on their website, Postpartum Support International (PSI) is an organization “dedicated to helping women suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including postpartum depression, the most common complication of childbirth. We also work to educate family, friends and healthcare providers so that moms and moms-to-be can get the support they need and recover.” I recently attended the PSI annual conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I learned a great deal at this conference and met some amazing people. Since the conference I have been thinking about the next steps I need to take in my pursuit to raise awareness about perinatal mood disorders. To be honest, I’m quite overwhelmed with all the information I have and hope to share. I am only one person and this interest is a side project I try to fit into my life which already includes working full-time in education, teaching fitness classes, raising a spirited three-year old with my husband and trying to promote a self-published book (which is related to this work but also different). I must remind myself that I need to take one step at a time. One of my first steps is to tell you some more details about this inspiring conference.
UNC’s Perinatal Psychiatric Inpatient Unit
Shortly after arriving in Chapel Hill, I had an opportunity to take a tour of the Perinatal Psychiatry Inpatient Unit. According to the UNC School of Medicine website, the unit provides “private, state of the art, specialty care for women suffering from severe perinatal psychiatric issues.” Hospital staff met us at the hospital and took us to this small unit. It was clean, bright and Pec Indman’s beautiful underwater photography was hanging on the walls. (Pec Indman is a known therapist and author in this field, and she happened to be on this tour at the same time as me. I was a little star struck – this happened continually throughout the conference…) As the nurses showed us the unit and discussed the program, they spoke with compassion and knowledge. I wanted to thank them for treating their patients with dignity and understanding, but I stood quietly and nodded. I couldn’t help but recall my experience at a general psychiatric hospital when I was merely 11 days postpartum. When I had been in the hospital, I had felt completely isolated, misunderstood and trapped in a place more like a prison than a therapeutic retreat. The memory brought tears to my eyes and I willed myself to keep my emotions under control as the nurses discussed the balance between the importance of the mother’s sleep and the need for mothers to spend time with their babies. I was feeling emotional not only because the tour reminded me of my abyssal and unnecessary separation from my son, but also because I know how sorely we need more perinatal psychiatric programs; they simply don’t exist in the United States. On a positive note, I know some of the healthcare professionals who toured the unit and attended this conference are working towards developing more programs like the program at UNC.
The Conference Begins
David Rubinow, MD, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at UNC at Chapel Hill, began the conference discussing rats and reproductive steroids. It was very interesting, but completely over my head. At one point during his lecture, I started to wonder if I had any legitimate place at this conference. My biology, chemistry and psychiatry knowledge is quite limited and his information was detailed, specific and full of words I didn’t know existed . Nonetheless, I think I understand some key points he made. He emphasized the need to treat depression and anxiety during pregnancy with antidepressants if necessary; not treating the depression negatively impacts the baby more than antidepressants. He also explained that the change in hormone levels during and after pregnancy can trigger depression in some women (or maybe just rats…), but not all women. (Oh, and the most important things I learned? Baby rats are called pups.)
The Book Signing
Although I found David Rubinow’s presentation informative, as I already mentioned, I certainly felt lost when he began discussing estradiol, and gonadal something or other. It was during that time that I began practicing my signature for my upcoming book signing. I have half a page of notes and half a page of signatures, using both print and cursive. When Rubinow’s presentation was over, I headed to the PSI book store for my very first book signing. I was giddy, excited and proud, but tried to remain somewhat composed for this event. The friendly PSI volunteers brought me a chair and had me sit right in front of my book.
There were many other books available on this table and I felt honored to have my book beside them (See Ivy’s beautiful book? One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood). However, a few minutes passed and no one seemed interested in buying my book or having me sign it. Surprisingly, this didn’t bother or phase me at all. I knew no one really knew me or my book, so I decided I would just promote the book as I met people during the conference. As it turned out, all the copies of my book sold by the end of the conference and I had a chance to sign a few copies. My signature practice was clearly time well spent! :) And while I’m on the topic of my book and book sales, you can purchase a copy through Amazon or CreateSpace. Follow the links below:
I look forward to sharing more about the PSI 2014 Conference in a future post. I will include information about Karen Kleiman’s new book and presentation, meeting Katherine Stone, feeling like a hot (and weepy mess) during a presentation about postpartum OCD, attending Samantha Meltzer-Brody’s presentation, and meeting some other great advocates, authors and experts in the field of maternal mental health.