Believe Her.

By advocacy, birth, Maternal Mental Health, pregnancy, The Power of Story

Recently, I’ve been listening to women. And, you know what strikes me? That really listening to women is a radical act. Believing them without minimizing or dismissing their experiences (even if what they’re saying makes you uneasy) is downright revolutionary. This is especially true when it comes to experiences around pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum journey. In many cases, women are second-guessed in crucial moments of their perinatal experience. There seems to be an inherent mistrust when it comes to a woman expressing and advocating for her own body. I’ll give you a couple examples.

I have birthed two babies in two very different ways. My first was reluctant to emerge. Ten days past her due date, she was still hanging out in there. She likes to do things on her own watch, still. The more you pressure her, the more she resists. Her entrance into the world was no exception. I tried everything, I hiked up a mountain, I ate an entire pineapple, I choked down the spiciest food I could find. Hell, I even went for a run which is not something I recommend doing when you are a week overdue. But, what I didn’t know, is that I could have, and maybe should have, just chilled out and trusted my body. I didn’t know that listening to my own intuition may have been the best choice of all. And when I begged and bartered for a few more days, my doctor didn’t listen. Instead, she presented me with facts and figures until I was scared enough to agree schedule an induction, which led to lots of other medical interventions, me feeling incredibly disconnected from my body and, ultimately, an emergency c-section that felt to me like a monumental failure. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful we all survived, but I can’t shake the feeling that things may have gone very differently had I trusted my own instincts, had my doctor given me more space to voice my needs and taken them seriously.

My second is an entirely different story with the same theme. Let’s start with the fact that, in my town, I couldn’t even attempt a Vaginal Delivery After C-section or VBAC. It’s against hospital policy. Let’s continue with the fact that I had to talk my husband into driving an hour and a half in February to the next town over that would allow me to birth my baby the way I wanted to. Let’s go even further to the part where I show up at that hospital in labor, with actively intensifying contractions and the nurse doesn’t believe me. She instructs me to take a hundred laps around the labor and delivery ward to see if I’ll dilate more. I circle around the nurses station and pass by the rooms of real patients, which feels ridiculous and embarrassing considering I’m getting ready to bring a new life into the world. She is unimpressed by my lack of progress. The pain is coming regularly now. She tells us to leave, go out to dinner, maybe come back later but says we’ll probably just have to head back home and try again another day. Go out to dinner? Um, yeah, no thanks. The noise, the smell of food, the niceties, the people all around me just, ya’ know, eating dinner while I’m enduring labor pains? Maybe some other night. So, we check into the Super 8 Motel (that’s currently ongoing construction) but is closest to the hospital and cheap. At least there’s a bathtub, I think to myself. A few hours later, when I can no longer stand the pain and the intensity increases to what feels extremely urgent, we go back to the hospital. They allow me to lay down in the sort of limbo room and check me. Apparently, they aren’t going to let me in to have a baby unless I can prove myself through ample vaginal dilation. I can’t. But after they poke and prod at my most sensitive bits with no sensitivity at all and leave the room to compare notes my water breaks and I think, Ha, take that motherfuckers. They can’t turn me away now. I’m in.

All moms have a different birth story, it’s true. But, one thing I hear all too often is, “They just didn’t listen. They just didn’t believe me.” This isn’t right and it isn’t fair. It shouldn’t be normal for women feel bullied, pressured or neglected during labor and delivery (or at any other time in their lives). They shouldn’t have to prove they’re in need of care. They deserve to be heard. They deserve to be trusted and honored. They deserve to be praised and supported in their process. They’re trying to tap into a deeper wisdom than that of policy and procedure. These are our life-givers. Hear them, believe them, please.

The Importance of Being Seen

By Parenting, Self-care, Self-compassion, Uncategorized

Yesterday morning, my good friend (and fellow mama) was recapping her morning. She exuberantly recounted all that had taken place in the past 12ish hours: last minute book report that required modeling clay and her participation in molding said modeling clay into a character’s face, strategically relocating the elf on the shelf, playing the role of tooth fairy, letting the dog out several times in the night due to a canine tummy bug, getting her daughter to school early for student council and making an extra trip to the grocery store to supply holiday treats for a class event. As I listened to her run through this very normal but highly stressful list, I felt deep compassion and empathetic anxiety for her. I felt my chest seize up and my breath go shallow. I thought to myself, Dang, that’s a whole lot to handle before even coming to work for the day. And I was so glad to be the one to listen and breathe and laugh with her about just how ridiculously overwhelming it all can be. If I hadn’t been there to see and hear her, all of this would have gone completely unrecognized. It would just have melted into the giant, steaming cauldron of stuff moms do behind the scenes. And she would have done what we do – she would have mustered up the strength and stamina from that deep mama reservoir and kept on truckin’. By the way, she forgot to leave the tooth money under the pillow and had to get very creative in the midst of all of this in order to redeem the tooth fairy’s reputation. Because, you know, she didn’t already have enough on her plate.

So, when there’s so much going on in parenting land, a good friend is good medicine. Pour out the crazy that might be trapped inside. Drink a glass of water while looking out the window. Find a deeper breath or two. Laugh or cry. Express the hard, not just the good. And, if you don’t have access to a compassionate ear you may have to try to be that for yourself. Take stock of all you’ve managed and navigated in the past little chunk of time and give yourself the gift of recognition. Give yourself your own, dang that’s a lot. You deserve it.

Claire Larson is the Program and Communications Assistant at Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies: The Montana Coalition which is dedicated to improving the health, safety and well-being of Montana families by supporting mothers and babies, age zero to three. (Featured image captured by Michelle Gustafson.)

Linking Infants and Families to Supports (LIFTS)

By Uncategorized

With funding from Blue Cross, Blue Shield, HMHB has been working on many fronts in improving healthcare for those experiencing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) in Montana.  Work continued on developing the Perinatal Screening Protocol for Primary Care Providers and a complete draft including the algorithm and narrative were presented in early December. We plan to have a final draft in December after a few finishing touches and be able to distribute the final product in 2019.

In addition to that working group, Melissa Bangs is wrapping up her work with community-based perinatal support coalitions in Missoula, Helena and the Flathead.  Currently, these groups are working to find permanent homes and facilitators within their communities to ensure their long-term success.  Coalitions are determining their own work plans, which include goals such as maternal mental health public awareness campaigns, education for providers and resource and referral guides.

On October 20 and 21st, HMHB in collaboration with the Clinical Psychology Department at the University of Montana, hosted The Perinatal Mental Health Conference at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort.  This two-day intensive workshop will bring in national experts to help professionals working with folks in the perinatal period to identify, diagnose and treat PMADs.  Over 200 folks working in the perinatal space attended and evaluations show they were overall pleased with the conference and are eager for more training.

Safe Sleep for Baby

By Uncategorized

HMHB has a long running program called SafeSleep for Baby which provides Pack ‘n’ Play Playards and safe sleep materials at no cost to families in need. When a family is identified, local public health departments or early childhood specialists make a referral to the program and Terry places the order for the Safe Sleep Kit.  This program provides approximately 130 cribs per year to Montana families in need of a safe sleeping environment for their babies.           

A recent partnership between DPHHS Family and Community Health Division, The Montana Children’s Trust Fund and the Montana Department of Justice will allow HMHB to send greatly expand the number of kits distributed.  This will also allow sites to store safe sleep kits on site, removing the timing lag between identifying the need for a safer sleep environment and orders being fulfilled and shipped.  In November HMHB surveyed a broad array of possible recipients including Child and Family Services, public health departments and home visitors.  Responses to the survey have been very enthusiastic and we are shooting to order 250 cribs by the end of the year!

Building Bridges for Better Births Year 2 (B4)

By Uncategorized

In August 2018, HMHB was awarded a second year of funding from the Montana Healthcare Foundation (MHCF) to assist in building community connections to support MHCF’s Perinatal Substance Use Disorder (SUDs) Initiative.  Grantees of the initiative will be integrating behavioral health (IBH) services into OB/GYN care across the state. These efforts to improve perinatal behavioral health care got a shot in the arm in November when DPHHS received a $3.2 million dollar HRSA grant that will expand current grantee sites across the state.   HMHB is delighted to continue these efforts at new sites. More info found at: https://mthcf.org/2018/11/press-release-announcing-perinatal-behavioral-health-initiative/