1. If you could go back in time to when you were struggling the most and have a conversation with yourself, what would you say to that past version of you?
That all the emotions; good, bad and in between, will eventually pass. The second time around with postpartum depression, I purchased some really nice wall art from Etsy with the phrase, This too shall pass. When I would sit alone with my thoughts while feeding the baby, feeling isolated and exhausted or not a good enough mom, all I needed to do was look up and be reminded that This too shall pass. The idea originally came from a therapist’s suggestion to put sticky notes around my house with inspirational quotes.
2. What inspired you to write your book?
I was hit with severe postpartum depression (PPD) and anxiety for about a year after my oldest was born. It’s the reason why I almost didn’t have a second child. When I was nine months pregnant with my second, I looked for a children’s book on this topic to read with my older son. As a Speech Therapist I would often use social stories to teach a concept. I figured there were tons of picture books on PPD since it’s the most common mental health complication of pregnancy. When I couldn’t find a single story that felt right for my family, I was inspired to write one.
I was looking for ways to approach conversations about what this illness could look like and feel like in our family using realistic scenarios and supportive communication strategies. What does it look like when mom doesn’t have energy to play with the older child/children? What does it feel like when mom isn’t able to give the same level of attention to an older child/children? What can the older child/children do when they feel frustrated? These were my guiding questions for writing this book and I knew I needed to address them in a way that would be both engaging and hopeful.
3. Was the book based on conversations you were having with your own child about postpartum depression?
The Little Blue Rocket Ship: A Story About Postpartum Depression is absolutely based on conversations and experiences with my own family. My son had a love of building and rocket ships at the time I was writing the book and I wanted to incorporate that into the story. Since I had difficulty connecting with my oldest after I had PPD, I was scared the same thing might happen the second time around. As a result, I focused my efforts on writing a story that my oldest son would connect with and enjoy. He helped make creative decisions such as choosing the main character’s hairstyle and clothing. He enjoyed helping me and it was a way to ensure that we bonded this time around which ultimately proved healing.
4. Did writing the book help you further heal or process your recovery from PPD?
This book is dedicated to every family impacted by perinatal mood and anxiety disorder. It’s for anyone looking for support or guidance on how parents and family members can have conversations about postpartum depression with children. It was definitely healing but it was also really difficult to complete.
As a self-published author, I had to learn how to become a traditional publisher. I needed to learn how to work with other "book professionals" including an editor, illustrator, and book designer. Once the book was complete, I needed to learn how to create my own website and plan for marketing, all while navigating postpartum depression/anxiety a second time. There were many days I was totally overwhelmed and wanted to give up. But I kept meeting families who were looking for ways to connect, engage, and not feel so alone when it came to postpartum depression that giving up did not feel like an option. I was proud of myself for completing the book but I think there is still so much work to be done in terms of helping families feel supported through PPD.
5. I understand that you wrote the book before having your second child, how closely did your second postpartum experience align with how you wrote your book?
Transitioning from a family of 2 to 3 to 4 is difficult enough. Now add in postpartum depression and the struggle is REAL. I think because I was hyper aware about PPD the second time around, it didn’t hit me as hard. I also expected to get it the second time around. My need to plan and research was in overdrive years leading up to baby #2, so when it did happen again, it wasn’t a shock to my system. On my best days, I was able to communicate with my oldest son like the mom does in my book. I based her on my own version of a good enough mom. There are many days I lose my cool but there's always hope and opportunity to turn it around. In education we give kids the opportunity to turn things around, to make better choices, and to be hopeful for a more positive outcome. It’s really no different when adults go through tough times with their kids. There are things we can do to get back to our baseline state. For me personally, I take walks and express myself through writing. Then I can come back and have the conversations I intended to have vs letting my emotions get the best of me.
Interview with Rachel Francis @the_semi_crunchy_doula
1. Who are you?
Hello! My name is Jessica Wendi Abel and I am a school administrator, speech therapist, mom of two boys, and a maternal mental health advocate. Speaking out about maternal mental health issues and bringing awareness is very important work to me. Postpartum depression (PPD) is the most common complication of pregnancy and yet, it’s still considered a stigmatizing and shameful topic for many. I had to learn how to talk about these issues honestly and openly. It did not come naturally to me and I imagine it doesn’t come naturally to many people. At least when I was growing up and coming into my adulthood, the common narrative around motherhood was that it was a highly transformative and positive experience. It was NOT common for me to hear people discussing their emotional struggles. Physical struggles were discussed with a caveat- “I felt so sick when I was pregnant but it was all worth it.”
Hearing over and over that our bad feelings are something we should ignore and internalize for the greater good of parenting (like the wildly helpful comment, “Just suck it up”) made me feel even more guilty and ashamed. The first year after giving birth to my oldest son was the worst year of my life. I thought there was something deeply wrong with me because I did not fit into society’s narrative of the happy, strong, appreciative mom. Sometimes I felt appreciative. Sometimes I felt defeated, resentful, and like running away. Once I got myself into therapy and the support group world and learned who I could speak honestly and openly with about these issues, my shame and loneliness lifted. I realized I was NOT alone. Not by a long shot.
2. Why do you do what you do?
It became important for me to check in with new parents and be as supportive as possible after having gone through PPD/PPA myself. My journey was different the second time around because the first experience helped me learn to prioritize my mental health and be kinder to myself. It was also not something that came naturally. Like being a good mom, or a good enough mom, or a mom who meets the basic needs of her children. Any of those moms I just mentioned are equally awesome in my book. When we put pressure on ourselves to be the ‘best’ mom, that’s when we run into trouble.
I wrote my first children’s book, The Little Blue Rocket Ship: A Story About Postpartum Depression, to help my oldest son understand the changes our family could face after the birth of his baby brother. The story was based on actual conversations and experiences we had as a family.
Interview with Lynn Turcotte-Schuh @happymamawellness
1. As much as you feel comfortable, please share your story and what led you to write this book.
While I was pregnant with my first son, I was physically ill and depressed but I noticed that when I honestly spoke about my feelings, people were uncomfortable. I felt that people on the whole expected me to talk about how excited I was and how good/happy I felt, when that wasn’t true for me. I always wanted to be a mom, but I never considered how pregnancy and after pregnancy would make me feel. Not until I was hit with terrible postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum anxiety (PPA). I learned to internalize how badly I was feeling. I also felt guilty that I did not feel how people told me I should feel. People said things like, “You should be happy. Your baby is healthy.” I believe they said it with the best of intentions. One of my favorite people said it to me. But this is how I learned to be quiet and feel so awfully alone with my thoughts.
My PPD symptoms manifested as feeling resentful about my new life, feeling little connection with my baby, crippling insomnia, and crying spells that I now know were caused by the hormonal fluctuations of giving birth and breastfeeding/pumping. I put so much pressure on myself to feed my baby breast milk. All the pressures and preconceptions I had about motherhood greatly exacerbated my PPD/PPA. I still don’t remember things accurately from that first year after my oldest son was born. I do remember punching pillows and praying for some kind of relief. I fantasized about being another person, living a different life. At 6 months postpartum, I joined a support group where I finally felt I could be myself and speak honestly. Those were my people. The fog finally lifted once I completely stopped nursing at 1 year postpartum. I always wanted more than one child but I was TERRIFIED of going through that again.
2. What did you do differently with your second child that you wish you had known to do with your first?
I read books to help me prepare and went to therapy. I did a lot of panicking and obsessing about how life could be with two children and living with PPD/PPA (not everything I did was productive! lol). When my oldest was 4 years old, I finally felt ready to try for a second baby. This time around (in the Pandemic no less), I put myself in virtual therapy when I was still pregnant. I joined virtual support groups and went to them for several months postpartum. I was kinder to myself. I took a much longer maternity leave. I learned to take self-care when I needed it.
When I was a month away from giving birth with my second, I tried to find a book to read with my oldest son about what PPD/PPA could look like in our family and surprise, surprise, there was nothing out there that I could find. I had dreams of becoming an author but I always had trouble finishing projects. This time felt different because I had a sense of urgency from all the families I'd met over the years who were profoundly impacted by this illness. Giving up on this project didn't seem like an option.
I want to help other families that might be struggling with something similar. I love the idea of a book that encourages supportive dialogues and helps families find a voice when they're feeling vulnerable and maybe don’t know what to say. The myth of motherhood and how women/families should feel when becoming parents runs so deep in us AND it can also be very damaging. We shouldn’t feel guilty about our feelings. Having a baby is really hard and we should be supporting families, not stifling their voices. It's a mindset change- learning to be supportive of other people's struggles instead of dismissing them (despite having the best of intentions). When someone tells you that you should feel a certain way or be happy because of XYZ, this may not be the best person to go deep with in terms of how you're truly feeling.
3. What advice would you give an expectant Mama who is trying to prepare for the postpartum period?
It’s okay to make plans as long as you accept that plans can change. For example, if you notice that putting pressure on yourself to nurse or pump is impacting your mental health, switch to formula and do not regret it. Your mental health is JUST as important as your physical health. The support groups taught me that mom has to take care of herself first in order to be there for her family. Just like the airplane analogy where you need to put your mask on and THEN you can help your kids.