Finding My Tribe at the Warrior Mom Conference
Sometimes I forget that I am a survivor too
"The two most powerful words in the English language are 'me too.'" That's how maternal mental health blogger Graeme Seabrook began her talk at the 2016 Warrior Mom Conference organized by Postpartum Progress. And, as I heard them, I realized those two words sum up my own personal and professional experience for the last eight years.
I recovered from two bouts of postpartum anxiety – the last time was three years ago, six months after my second daughter was born. And those two experiences, for which I am now deeply grateful, gave my career as a journalist purpose. That purpose is to let moms and women everywhere know that their struggles are understandable, shared, and surmountable. And because I have also lived those experiences, I can offer those two powerful words: "Me too."
These days I give them out more than I take them in. My relationship to postpartum anxiety now is more professional and rarely personal. But the two clashed in a way I did not expect at the conference because, as Seabrook also said, I was in "a room full of 'me too's.'" I was surrounded by survivors of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders who came together to support each other above all else.
The Warrior Mom movement was launched in 2008 by Katherine Stone who went on to found the nonprofit Postpartum Progress in 2011. Like me, Stone found her calling through personal struggle. She experienced postpartum OCD in 2001 when the term "perinatal mood and anxiety disorders" did not exist, and when no one was even talking about postpartum depression, let alone postpartum anxiety, OCD, or psychosis. Online help for mental health was nonexistent. Stone was crying out for help in a vacuum. So she started a blog.
And through the simple act of sharing her story, Stone gave birth to a movement. It has grown from just a few readers to 400,000 website views a month. Stone receives emails from all over the country from women and families in crisis. And moms all over the world now come to her rallying cry.
On October 14-15, 2016, nearly 200 of them filled a bright, beautiful hotel conference room in Atlanta. They came from 37 states and three countries to hear experts in reproductive mental health, maternal mental health advocates, and candid mom bloggers, and to learn how to reach out to other moms through peer support, advocacy, and online storytelling.
But more than anything they came to feel less alone. To be in a room packed with people who have been where they were or where they are, in the company of women who "get it." And Stone, who is now a renowned advocate for universal awareness of perinatal mental health and access to mental health care, never forgets that first and foremost she is a member of the community she built. When Stone stood in front of the army of Warrior Moms to open the conference, it was very clear that she is one of them. And it was also clear that she believes the first thing any advocate needs to do, before reaching out to others, is to take care of herself.
So in addition to talks by mental health researchers including Nicole Letourneau, PhD, chair in parent-infant mental health at the University of Calgary, and Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, director of the perinatal psychiatry program at the UNC Center for Women's Mood Disorders in Chapel Hill, the conference featured "self-care" breakout sessions including: "Nap," "Yoga," and "Coloring."
I went to the conference to write about it, to network, and to share Seleni's mission with the people I met. I did not plan to go as a survivor of postpartum anxiety. So I was surprised by how emotional I felt to be among a great big group of people who all know what I am talking about when I say I had postpartum anxiety. What a relief it was to sit next to people at lunch and not have to explain what I have been through, what I do, and why I do it.
Sitting in that conference room, I realized that I still have soft spots from what I have been through. That I am a survivor. That I am vulnerable and it's ok. I don't have to be a fully recovered, emancipated advocate. I am also the experience I went through and always will be. I am a work in progress, and I am in the company of humanity. Isn't that amazing?
Seabrook is right: "Me too" is one of the most powerful phrases we can say to someone else. It crosses the bridge, reaches out a hand, offers a smile, gives a hug, and allows people to be who they are at any moment in time. And yes, it saves lives.
If you have a story to tell, a friend who needs you to support her, time to give to a local moms group, or a new career to launch, do it – even if it feels a little scary. Do it today. When we can all be honest about the struggles we face in life, the stigma of getting help will be gone. What will be left is community. And when you have community, no one is alone.