Category

Maternal Mental Health

Art Party! by Elaine Dahl

By Caregiving, Community, Early Childhood, Maternal Mental Health, Parenting

Are you looking for way to beat the heat?  Look no further!  We’re re-airing this article from our 2nd edition of the LIFTS Magazine featuring a very fun family art party.

Art Party!

By Elaine Dahl

HMHB recently invited some families with little ones to make art! And if you have a little one who is ready, you could too!

Here are some suggested “how to” steps:

  1. Find a place. It could be a park, a family’s home, or a meeting place. Remember that, depending on the art you do, it could get messy!
  2. Find a time. Keep in mind various work schedules, bedtimes, and mealtimes. This party lasted a little over an hour, and families had the option to arrive late or leave early.
  3. Invite the families you would like to attend. Consider health protocols, such as telling families to stay home if they are sick, having the party outside, and/or offering masks.
  4. Tell everyone to wear clothes that can get messy, if you are using materials like paint.
  5. Decide on your projects. We had help from art teacher Em Thiessen, but you can also look online or ask your creative friends for ideas.
  6. Gather the supplies and any snacks or drinks you want to offer. Look for non-toxic, kid-friendly paints, kitchen ingredients like flour and food coloring, paper, and other supplies. And make sure you have clean-up materials like towels and wipes.
  7. When the time comes, welcome everyone and remind them that it’s not so much about creating great art, but about creating great memories!

And here’s why!

  1. It’s fun! (Seriously, it’s important to have fun!)
  2. It helps improve your child’s brain development, motor skills, exploration of things in the world, and visual understanding.
  3. It’s a great way for you to bond with your little one and connect with other families.

For this party, Em planned four projects:

Plastic bag painting

  1. Take a piece of paper and squirt three or four colors of non-toxic paint on it.
  2. Carefully place the paper inside a plastic bag and seal the bag.
  3. Allow your little one to smoosh the paint around, with their hands on top of the plastic. They can even try using a toy to move the paint!
  4. When the smooshing is done, carefully remove the paper from the plastic bag and let it air dry.

Handprints

  1. Each family member can paint their own hands with a brush, or you can paint each other’s hands.
  2. Once you have enough paint on your hand, press it down on the paper to transfer the paint. Your little one may need help with this part.
  3. You can layer your handprints, or you can make other designs.
  4. Sometimes, you may be inspired to make a more “avant garde” artwork!

Ball-in-the-box painting

  1. Place a small amount of one color of paint in a cup, can, or bowl.
  2. Drop a small ball in the cup, can, or bowl and make sure it’s covered in paint.
  3. Place a paper in the bottom of a plastic bin.
  4. Drop the ball with paint into the bin.
  5. Shake the bin so the ball moves around.
  6. When you’re ready for a new color, repeat all the steps above, using a clean ball and a separate small container for each color of paint.
  7. Remove the finished painting from the bottom of the plastic bin.

Totes with bubbles

  1. You will need several bottles of bubble soap with plastic wands.
  2. Drop a small amount of food coloring or non-toxic dye into each bottle of bubble soap so you’ll have a variety of colors. Label each bottle.
  3. Get a canvas tote bag or a paper set up on a table or on the floor.
  4. Blow bubbles in the direction of your “canvas.”
  5. You can pop the bubbles, or even stomp on them!
  6. Switch colors as you see fit

What do you do when your little one’s artwork starts piling up? Em recommends repurposing a paper project by:

  • Using it as wrapping paper for gifts;
  • Cutting it up into small rectangular gift tags, which you can punch a hole in and tie with some twine to your gift; or
  • Cutting it into small shapes (circles, squares, etc.) that you can glue onto gift bags, lunch sacks, or other items that need some decoration.

We thank Em Thiessen and the Martin family, the Petrik-Harris family, and the Stumberg family for attending!

Throwing your own art party? Write us at stories@hmhb-mt.org if you want to learn more or share what you did.

 

Finding Our Footing by Anna Temple

By Caregiving, Community, Early Childhood, Maternal Mental Health, Parenting

This is a featured article from our 2nd edition of the LIFTS Magazine.  

Finding Our Footing

By Anna Semple

My son “Alex” (an alternate name for privacy reasons) just turned three. I can’t decide if his birth seems like yesterday or a lifetime ago, or maybe both. They say that your brain goes through as many changes when becoming a mother as it does during the teen years. I’ve long known this because of my job in early childhood, but didn’t really take the time to think about what this actually meant until after I became a mother myself. Comparing my childhood self with my young adult self, I see the same person in so many ways, but with different priorities, ways of thinking about the world, and levels of confidence and skill in navigating life on my own. Parenting has brought on the same sensation of feeling different, but also just the same.

Alex has Down syndrome. When I was pregnant, I shared this information quickly as a way to bridge a connection and set the tone of the conversation. I didn’t want people avoiding real conversation because they didn’t know what was okay to talk about. My partner and I were lucky to have incredibly supportive friends, with the wisdom to ask how we felt about the diagnosis instead of jumping to the conclusion that it was a tragedy. Even awkward comments felt supportive, as long as people were open to hearing how we were feeling at that moment. I knew that a month earlier in my life I would have been unsure of what to say as well, and I was okay with imperfect expressions of support.

My feelings were complex during pregnancy, and talking them through with my partner and friends was incredibly important. I often worried that I wouldn’t know how to connect with my son. I leaned into the words I read from other parents, that “once your baby is born it will be fine, he will just be your baby.” Before becoming a mother, I didn’t know that love for your children grows out of thousands of tiny moments of nurturing, not because your baby shows up in a certain way. And when Alex was born, I could see the depth in his sparkly little eyes and knew I didn’t need to worry about connecting. I’m saddened now that I didn’t understand this before. People with Down syndrome are just people, and being able to connect really isn’t surprising.

 

Now that Alex is older, I am slower to bring up this diagnosis with people who haven’t met him. Mostly because there are so many other things to talk about, but also because some people’s default is to focus on the differences. I need to start with the foundation that Alex is in many ways the same as any other kid. I want to share conversations about bedtime routines, picky eating, and hilarious toddler antics. I want people to know that Alex is a little charmer who loves to play games, whether he is catching my eye with a sly smile before tickling me, or giggling as he hurries down a path to kick pinecones in the park. Only after we connect as fellow parents do I mention the extra chromosome, or tell them that I’m sometimes overwhelmed with the added layer of thought that goes into every parenting decision, with juggling all the appointments, and facing the scary unknown of the long-term future.

These friends and acquaintances are an important support system, but I am also thankful our family has had outside help with navigating the extra considerations. Young children with delays and disabilities often qualify for early intervention services, which provide free parenting support and specialized services (like physical, speech and occupational therapies) until children turn three. We enrolled when Alex was two weeks old after one doctor gave us a laundry list of things that we couldn’t do, including being worn in a baby carrier. After filling out a short form, we were able to get in quickly to see a physical therapist who determined that he could in fact be safely worn in some specific carriers. Walking in the woods is a big part of our family identity, and it was an enormous relief to learn ways to safely do this with our son. We worked with this same physical therapist until recently when Alex turned three and aged out of the program.

Our whole early intervention team supported us in setting goals for our son and our family. They worked with us all to help achieve those goals through therapy exercises and connection to resources in the community. Our family support specialist knew what paperwork or appointment needed to happen at different phases. They encouraged us to apply for and enroll in Early Head Start. Most of our experiences with doctors have been positive, but we occasionally received conflicting or confusing information at appointments. We knew our early intervention team couldn’t give medical advice, but they did help us generate questions and research options if we wanted a second opinion.

When looking into preschools, we were referred to someone at our local Child Care Resource and Referral office who equipped us with information on reasonable accommodations and a list of questions to ask when we visited different programs. This helped us self-advocate and, ultimately, we chose a program that was open to adaptations and that valued my family as collaborators in Alex’s education.

Each person we’ve worked with throughout these three years has been a such a cheerleader for Alex. He warmed right up to each of them, and adored being the center of attention during appointments.

Like any new parent, I can’t imagine how overwhelming these first years would have been for us without people to turn to for help. Friends who knitted blankets, left Tupperwares of food and stopped by to check in on us. Professionals who supported us in becoming advocates, and who began teaching Alex the skills that help him gain independence. Both helped us find our footing as we underwent the huge shift in perspective and lifestyle of becoming a family. We are forever grateful for the help we had welcoming our beautiful son into a whole community of people who care for him.

 

Resources: Use the LIFTS Online Resource Guide to search for “Child Development Information and Support” and find organizations that assist families in screening children and making appropriate referrals.

Early Head Start: My Family’s Experience by Kayla Goble

By Caregiving, Community, Early Childhood, Maternal Mental Health, Parenting

This is a featured article from our 2nd edition of the LIFTS Magazine.  

Early Head Start: My Family’s Experience

By Kayla Goble

Parenting is hard no matter how prepared you feel you are for it. I have always wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember, but becoming a mom was not going to be an easy journey for me. Before I got pregnant with “Bugs” (my nickname for my daughter) in 2019, I had some health issues and I was not sure that my dream of becoming a mom would ever become a reality. I knew that there are other ways to become a mom, and I have two amazing “bonus children” that I love dearly. Throughout my pregnancy with Bugs, I lived in constant fear that I would lose her, as we did not have an easy ride. I was diagnosed with several medical conditions requiring medication, and I struggled to carry her to full term. Ultimately, she made her appearance at 36 weeks and 6 days, at 5:30 a.m.

Once Bugs was born, I knew that I needed to have support and a village around my family in order to help Bugs be the best that she can be. As someone who is going to school for Early Childhood Education (P-3) and Special Education, I know that it is important to provide gentle parenting and to guide children in life, and to help them have a healthy attachment so that they feel safe and secure to explore the world around them. When Bugs was three months old, we moved from Missoula to Anaconda, meaning that my family and main support was an hour and a half away. Two months after we moved to Anaconda, COVID hit, meaning that we did not have time to build a support system there.

In March 2021, there was a fire in our building and we had to suddenly move again. We moved to Butte, where some of our friends lived and we would be able to find more services to support Bugs.

By the time that we moved, Bugs had been diagnosed with some conditions requiring  many doctor appointments and hospital stays. Anaconda does not have an Early Head Start (EHS) program, so when we moved to Butte, we started looking at the process of getting her enrolled in AWARE’s EHS program. AWARE runs EHS programs in Butte, Helena, Belgrade and Billings, while other communities provide EHS through different organizations.

In June of 2021, we worked with Family Outreach to have Bugs tested for delays and to see if she qualified for an IFSP (Individualized Family Support Plan). The results came back that Bugs was 25-90% delayed in all developmental areas except one, where she was 10% delayed. This showed that, while Bugs was advanced in many of the skills she had at a year and a half, she had missed some of the key skills that she would need to be successful in life. She also was showing some concerning behaviors when she became overstimulated or was in social situations. When we enrolled her into EHS in Butte, I was not sure how it would go and worried that Bugs would struggle and not succeed.

For the first three weeks that Bugs was at EHS, she did not talk there, while she talked all the time at home. All of the other kids wanted to take care of her and would get her whatever she wanted if she pointed at something. Over time she came out of her shell and showed her feisty, independent attitude. Now, she loves going to “school.”

Each time we have had Bugs make a transition – first to another EHS classroom and then to Young Explorers, which is an EHS Community Partner – I thought that Bugs would regress and that she would not be able to handle it. Each time it has been the best move for her. All staff have been supportive of figuring out and dealing with her medical issues. When the doctor decided on two occasions that she needed to change her diet, EHS made each change within 24 hours. Nine months after she enrolled at EHS, she was retested and her development scores had increased dramatically.

Not only is Bugs supported, so are we as her family. Some people might think that EHS is just for the child, but it’s about all of us. We have a team of 14 people who all help support Bugs, but also check in with us about our family’s sleep schedule, my relationship with my husband, and other aspects of our lives. There is a therapist on staff that helps us deal with things that come up, such as Bugs shredding paper. There is also a Family Advocate that works with us on various issues.

As a parent, I have been empowered to join the Policy Council, which Head Start and Early Head Start are required to have. Policy Council is made up of parent and community representatives from each of the cities that AWARE EHS serves. We meet once a month and act as a “check and balance” for AWARE EHS. We go over the budget and things that are happening in the centers. As parents, we discuss ways to improve things or make changes. The parents that are on Policy Council also help organize parent committee meetings every month, which help parents connect and learn new information to help them be the best parents that they can be. I am glad that I chose to trust someone to help and support me with raising my daughter and would not change that decision for anything.

Resources: Learn more about what AWARE can offer you and your child at www.Aware-inc.org/ecs. Or find out if there is an Early Head Start program in your community offered by a different organization listed in the LIFTS online resource guide.

Enhancing Community Care: Vetted Guides for Effective Referrals in Perinatal Mental Health

By advocacy, Caregiving, Community, Community Support, Maternal Mental Health, Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders

Montana has far reaching support systems for families during pregnancy and early childhood. Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies (HMHB) works hand-in-hand with these networks and local groups, striving to gather and share the knowledge and skills necessary to serve families during these crucial stages of life. A frequent challenge we hear about is the difficulty in referring patients and clients to appropriate resources.

Communities can address this challenge by creating community specific vetted guides to help parents, caregivers, and providers find the assistance they need promptly. To support these efforts, HMHB and partners developed a toolkit to help community groups build an effective directory of perinatal mental health and support specialists.

vetted resource guideCollaborating for Comprehensive Support

HMHB collaborated with the Maternal Mental Health Taskforce of the Helena Early Childhood Coalition and the Flathead Perinatal Mental Health Coalition of the Flathead Valley Early Childhood Coalition to create this valuable resource. This toolkit is tailored to help community groups create, organize, and maintain an up-to-date list of local resources, ensuring that

families receive the best possible care.

The team at the Early Childhood Coalition of Flathead Valley recently went through the process of creating a new vetted guide.  You can see that work here.

What’s Inside the Vetted Guide Toolkit?

The toolkit contains resources and templates to simplify the process of building a community-specific referral list. Here’s what you’ll find inside:

  • Points of Consideration: Guidance on the language to use and categories to include in your resource list.
  • Criteria for Vetted Guides: Examples of criteria that can be adopted to create a reliable and vetted guide for your community.
  • Content for Outreach: Pre-made content to populate an online form for outreach and recruitment efforts.
  • Inspiration from Existing Resources: A compilation of other referral lists to inspire and guide your efforts.
  • Designed Templates: Ready-to-use templates to streamline the process of creating your resource list.

Empowering Communities Through Collaboration

By leveraging this toolkit, community groups can enhance their system of care and referrals, making it easier for families to access the support they need during pregnancy and early childhood. Our collaboration with local coalitions underscores the importance of working together to create robust, effective support networks.

If you’re in a community that hasn’t yet built a vetted resource guide, don’t forget to refer to the LIFTS Online Resource Guide for a comprehensive statewide list of service providers.

Let’s work together to build stronger, more supportive communities for all Montana families.

Lifting Up New Moms, by Emily Clewis

By Caregiving, Community, Feeding Baby, Maternal Mental Health, Parenting, pregnancy, Self-care, Self-compassion

This is a featured article from our 1st edition (2021) of the LIFTS Magazine.  

Lifting Up New Moms

By Emily Clewis

A new life joining the world is a very exciting time. Friends and family members may be eager to gather around to take part in celebrating the new bundle of joy! There are so many ways to show up for families welcoming a new baby. Before you invite yourself over to hold that new baby, there are some really important things to keep in mind.

While holding a new baby is exciting, it’s the birthing person that truly needs to be held, loved, and supported in this golden, but vulnerable time. If the mother is well supported, she can better care for her new baby. Supporting parents in what they need is just as important as welcoming their baby.

The first couple of weeks are crucial for bonding, and new parents may not want any visitors during this vulnerable period. Always ask parents what precautions they may be taking and if they are up for visitors before coming to visit. New babies have no sense of night or day, so parents may be sleeping with their little ones at noon after being up all night. Be flexible with your plans for visiting and understand they may change.

If you do visit, wash your hands well and keep your face away from the baby’s, as babies are vulnerable to common illnesses. Always ask the parents if it’s okay to hold the baby. If they say yes, encourage them to take a shower or quick nap while you’re there. This is a great opportunity for them to take care of themselves!

Offer to bring healthy snacks or a ready-to-heat nutritious meal. Ask mom if she has eaten, and maybe make her a meal (and then do the dishes!). New moms, especially those breastfeeding, are always thirsty and require more calories. If she feeds the baby while you’re there, help her put her feet up and offer to get her water or a snack.

Look around for things that need to be done: laundry, dishes, taking out the trash, etc. If there are older children in the house, offer to watch a movie with them or take them on a walk. Ask new parents what they need; they will likely tell you!

 

Finally, don’t overstay. Parents during this time are heavily exhausted, and even well-meaning company can make parents feel the need to entertain. An hour or so is plenty in those first few weeks.

The early weeks of having a newborn is a beautiful time to support moms and babies. With healthy support, parents are less likely to suffer from perinatal depression and their babies have better health outcomes. Feel empowered to show up for new parents in a way that is helpful, supportive, loving, and graceful.

 

Boundaries to Support You

During postpartum, it is easy to be led by excitement and pride. You want desperately to share this new human with the world and to shout, “Look what I did!” from the rooftops. As women, we know that in the first few weeks, we are supposed to rest and allow our bodies to heal and recover. But our friends and family start calling, and we tell ourselves that we will rest later. Suddenly, visitors and responsibilities snowball, and somewhere under it all, there we are, crushed and tired as hell.

Here are some simple phrases to help draw boundaries around yourself in postpartum.

“We are not ready for visitors at this time.”

“I’m feeling really tired today. Let’s plan for another time when I’m feeling up to company.”

“My body doesn’t feel up to that. I’ll let you know once I feel recovered.”

“I don’t feel comfortable with that quite yet. I can reach out to you when I feel ready!”

“I know we had plans, but I’m not quite up for it after all. Let’s try again in a few days. In the meantime, here are some sweet pictures!”

“What I really need help with at this time is…”

“No.”

Mama, feel empowered to listen to and advocate for your own needs during this time. Speak them fiercely and unapologetically, even if your voice shakes. Your own mental and physical health is so important, and you have permission to draw a circle of protection around yourself.

 

 

To find resources and support for postpartum, parenting and more, visit our LIFTS Online Resource Guide at https://hmhb-lifts.org/. 

HMHB in April Issue of Health Affairs

By Community Support, Maternal Mental Health, Native American Initiatives, Native Cultural Connections, Parenting

Behind the Scenes: A Strategy to Support Perinatal Mental Health By Collaborating With Tribal Communities in Montana (A note from our Executive Director, Stephanie Morton)

Hello HMHB Supporters,

I am elated to share that staff at HMHB authored an article that will be featured in Health Affairs, April issue on Perinatal Mental Health and Wellbeing.  You can link directly to the article and full April Issue (both are open access).

Led by Dr. Amy Stiffarm, PhD, MPH, Director of Native American Initiatives at HMHB, HMHB staff including myself, Dawn Gunderson, CLC, Program and Communications Coordinator and former Executive Director, Brie MacLaurin, collaborated with Nicole Redvers, Maridee Shogren, Terri Wright and Andrew Williams, to produce the article titled, “A Strategy to Support Perinatal Mental Health by Collaborating With Tribal Communities in Montana.” The article highlights work completed to include family-supporting resources on Reservations in Montana into the LIFTS Online Resource Guide (hmhb-lifts.org). This project was completed in partnership with HMHB and Dr. Stiffarm while she was a graduate student at the University of North Dakota in the Indigenous Health Program. Funding from the Montana Obstetrics and Maternal Support (MOMS) Program made it possible for the HMHB Team to fittingly engage Tribal communities in the process of mapping local resource relevant to pregnant and parenting families to be listed in the LIFTS Resource Guide.

The HMHB team is so appreciative of the funding, partnership and support that has allowed us to engage in this important work. Many of you have been key partners in this work and for that we are deeply grateful. Additionally, we are so thankful for the community members who shared their time and knowledge to improve the system of care for families in Indian Country in Montana. Please join me in congratulating Dr. Stiffarm and the team on this success. We are so proud to work with you all to continue to improve the health and wellbeing of Montana moms, babies and families.

Sincerely,

Stephanie Morton
Executive Director

 

Find Native Cultural Connections and other support in your community on the LIFTS Online Resource Guide at https://hmhb-lifts.org/.

Learn more about Dr. Amy Stiffarm’s work and our Native American Initiatives Program

 

A parent and child sit amidst packed boxes, representing the struggles of eviction.

Facing Eviction: The Critical Impact on Children Under 5 in Montana and Across the Nation

By advocacy, Caregiving, Community, Eviction, Housing, Parenting, Perinatal Substance Use Disorders
Today on the HMHB blog, we’re sharing crucial new insights about eviction in Montana, graciously communicated by our colleagues at the Montana Legal Services Association. Michelle Potts, Director of Strategic Focus and Development, has provided us with invaluable information regarding the impact of eviction. Read more about this pressing issue and its implications.

 

From Michelle Potts, Director of Strategic Focus and Development at Montana Legal Services Association:

Howdy! I know you all work so very hard to make our communities a better place, and thought you might find local Montana data to be of help in your work. We recently published two new Montana reports: Beyond Housing Affordability assesses the data of 65 client households who faced eviction in both rural and urban areas of Montana, while A Sample of Personal Narratives allows the clients to tell about the impact in their lived experience.

Unfortunately, our Montana study confirms a new study from the Eviction Lab, which shows that children under age 5 make up the largest group facing eviction nationwide. Hopefully this data will help you make the case for the support you need for your work.

Key takeaways from our Montana report include:

  • 48% of households facing eviction had at least one child
  • Over half of the respondents spent more than 10% of their annual income on the cost of the eviction itself – a huge burden for families already struggling to meet basic expenses.
  • 100% experienced increased expenses before the eviction, including medical emergencies, added childcare expenses, domestic violence/divorce, or added elderly dependents.
  • Respondents reported additional up-stream social breakdowns: 17% had a death in the family; 18% had violence or abuse in the household; 12% had alcohol abuse in the household; 14% had a divorce or separation; and 69% had a mental illness in the household. For households with children, these events are considered Adverse Childhood Experiences, which are linked to chronic health problems and mental illness in adolescence and adulthood. At least 5 of the top 10 leading causes of death are associated with ACEs.
  • 31% of respondents were in unstable and at-risk housing after the eviction process, including 26% of households with children. 18% were homeless as a result of the eviction.

The report includes interviews and direct quotes from Montanans facing eviction, including:

  • When asked what factors led to the eviction, one respondent replied that the “landlord doubled the rent with 10 days’ notice from $1,200 to $2,400.”
  • Survey respondents described the impact of facing an eviction on their families: “One of my children dropped out of school afterwards and did not finish high school” and “I attempted suicide 6 months after I moved.”
  • “It took all the funds I had for the storage units I had to rent and the U-Haul, plus I lost my food stamps because I had no rent but had to pay cash if I stayed anywhere.”
  • “The only reason we had a child was because we thought our rental situation was going to be long-term, and now, the only “home” my child has known is a hotel room.”
Thank you to the team Montana Legal Services Association for allowing us to share this information.  To reiterate what Michelle eloquently stated, “Hopefully this data will help you make the case for the support you need for your work.”

Rural Roots: Mothering Under the Big Sky, by Kelly Rumney

By Birth, Caregiving, Community, Maternal Mental Health, Parenting, pregnancy, Self-compassion

This is a featured article from our 3rd edition of the LIFTS Magazine.  

Rural Roots: Mothering Under the Big Sky, by Kelly Rumney

As Montana residents, we all have some sense of what rural life looks like. In fact, living in wide open spaces can be peaceful and rewarding; it’s one reason many of us choose Montana as home in the first place. But, as a mother of a newborn, it can also be isolating and intimidating.

I live on a beautiful ranch 10 miles outside of Cascade, a small town of around 600 people. As soon as my husband steps out the front door, he’s already at work, tackling jobs that require him to report for duty seven days a week, during most of the year. Living the dream! Except…I am 45 minutes from the nearest medical help or activities for my children. As a new mother, this definitely caused anxiety. Raising my children here is sometimes comforting and sometimes lonely. Often, it’s both. When they were little, I learned to get out and interact with other mothers because, through conversation, we shared similar worries, struggles and wins. Talking with them helped ease my anxiety and depression so much. But, getting up and out of the house and on the (long) road is easier said than done.

When I gave birth to my daughter, I was 22. I had never changed a diaper or interacted with babies other than our calves. Needless to say, I was unsure about motherhood. So, after she was born, the friendly nurses made sure the car seat was good to go and I was released into the wild – sore, exhausted, and terrified. I arrived home, a panicked mess, and tried to act like I knew what I was doing. Fake it ‘til you make it, right? I felt so unprepared. Luckily, my mom stayed for a few days to help, and my mother-in-law lived next door. They both offered advice, but it was mostly conflicting and definitely wasn’t what I’d read in the baby book. Visitors came, and they too would offer heaps of advice.

Meanwhile, no one warned me that I would continue to look and feel like a whale, or that nursing would be so darn hard, or that I would be so sore. Did I mention the baby was 8lbs, 10oz after 17 hours of labor? The cows out in the field make it look a lot easier! Eventually, things quieted down but, as soon as it did, I longed for people to come back and advise me. I was alone all day, every day with only my own panic for company. Is she pooping too much or too little? Eating enough? Crying enough? Too much? What if she stops breathing? Why won’t the baby stop crying; is she fevered? I swear I took her temperature 12 times a day.

Oh, the mom brain! I imagined horrendous things happening to my infant. I once spewed out all the thoughts in my brain to my husband, who seemed so calm in his transition to parenthood, changing diapers like a pro and unfazed by screaming or fussing. He asked how a person could stay sane with the thoughts I was having. Well, I wasn’t! I was struggling with postpartum depression but didn’t realize it until the birth of my son, two years later.

Everything felt so overwhelming. John would go to work, and I would worry about all the possible accidents he might get into. It seemed like I was faking it, but not making it. Even doctor appointments and grocery shopping felt daunting. Since we lived so far from town, we would try to fit in as many errands as we could into one trip. This meant long days spent trying to function in public. Nursing in the car’s not easy, and I constantly worried that people would hear my baby crying and judge me.

Finally, someone told me “Dumber people than you have raised perfectly healthy and happy children.” And, for whatever reason, hearing that made me feel better. In fact, 16 years later, I still remind myself of this. I came to understand that we all have strengths and weaknesses and despite, or maybe because of them, our kids will be okay, as long as we care enough to try. Let me repeat: TRY, not master!

I started to relax and let the baby cry for a few minutes in the crib while I showered. I napped when the baby slept. I went for walks, taking time to just breathe the mountain air and visited my 15-miles-away-neighbor who had a baby the same age and found that we shared a lot of the same worries and self-doubts. I saved my favorite show to watch during night feedings, so it felt like a special treat. And, instead of putting pressure on myself to keep the whole house clean, I just chose one spot (the kitchen sink) and focused on keeping that clean. The rest of the house might be a disaster but, if that sink was shiny and tidy, I felt like I was succeeding in life. These were small things, but they made a big difference.

Then, along came child number two and it seemed like everything I had learned up until then no longer applied. Depression hit hard. This baby did not sleep and, honestly, I can’t share much about how I got through this time because I don’t even really remember. We faced jaundice, ear infections and thrush (which made nursing excruciatingly painful). Labor was more complicated, so recovery was harder and took longer. I had intrusive thoughts that scared me and kept me up at night, but I also had thoughts that seemed so apathetic and disconnected they didn’t even feel like my own. I’d say to myself, “What kind of mother thinks this way?”.

I felt like I was in an exhausted stupor most of the time; just running on fumes in auto-pilot mode. I’d forget things and miss things and was afraid of what that could mean. I no longer felt like a healthy mom, so I finally asked my doctor to help me with the curtain of apathy and exhaustion that had landed between me and my world. The cowboy mentality of “spit on it and rub a little dirt in it” was not going to suffice here. I was isolated, sad, and tired, but none of that was my fault.

My husband was incredibly supportive and involved with the baby, which was great but, in some ways, made me feel worse. Why was this so easy for him? Eventually, I realized I was not a bad mom. Like so many other moms, I was trying to live up to an unrealistic ideal that just doesn’t exist. By taking the time to care for myself and allowing myself some grace, I was doing a much better job of taking care of my baby. I was learning to ask for help and that accepting help didn’t mean I was failing as mom; it actually meant I was rocking it!

As I look back, I realize that every parenting journey comes with unique challenges, and you have to just parent in a way that works for you and your family. Take the advice that helps and leave the stuff that doesn’t. Just because you don’t have a chore chart doesn’t mean your kiddos won’t grow into responsible adults. No two children are exactly the same, so no two parenting styles should be the same either. What worked for my first born had to go out the window for my second born. In balancing a teaching career along with parenting over the past 10 years, I have spent a lot of time with other people’s children and, from what I can tell, the kids that seem to be growing into fully functioning citizens are the ones whose parents consistently try their best, but also allow for chaos, mistakes, and messes. They surround themselves with support so they can be reminded that one bad day does not mean the end of it all. So, give yourself some grace, find support, and just TRY!

Resources and Support:

To learn about statewide programs and resources designed to help support rural families in Montana visit: https://www.frontier.care/beyondtheweather.html

Or, visit https://hmhb-lifts.org/ for local resources using the search terms “counselors” or “support groups”.

 

Dr. Amy Stiffarm & Claire Larson

Native American Initiative Series on the Mother Love Podcast!

By Birth, Indigineous Maternal Health, Maternal Mental Health, Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders, Uncategorized

November was Native American Heritage Month and, in case you missed our Native American Initiative Series on the Mother Love Podcast, we wanted to let you know all about it so you can check out some of the amazing conversations we captured.

Dr. Amy Stiffarm joined Claire Larson (our usual host) to help lead these conversations as she is an expert on the topic of Indigenous maternal health and had pre-existing relationships and friendships with our guests. She is also HMHB’s Native American Initiatives Program Manager and an incredible leader in her field. Plus, she’s super fun and engaging which makes her a great co-host on the show!

To listen, please visit our Mother Love webpage at: https://hmhb-mt.org/podcast/ or search ‘Mother Love’ on Apple, Audacy, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Be sure to follow us so you never miss an episode.

The 5 part series consists of these episodes:  

  • Season 3: Episode 5 – Native American Heritage Month: An intro to our Native American Initiatives Series with Dr. Amy Stiffarm

  • Season 3: Episode 6 – Native American Initiatives Series: The Current State of Indigenous Maternal Health with Dr. Janelle Palacios (Amy guest-hosts!)

  • Season 3: Episode 7 – NAI Series: “Life’s Blessings”: A Culturally Immersive Event for Nurses w/Margaret Anne Adams & Mary Ellen Lafromboise + *Bonus* Episode Intro: Decolonizing Thanksgiving w/Amy & Claire!

  • Season 3: Episode 8 – NAI Series: Cultural Inheritance and Toddler Mayhem w/Indigenous Artist Rachel Twoteeth-Pichardo

  • Season 3: Episode 9 – NAI Series: Sweetgrass in the Psych Unit w/Chelsea Bellon

 

*A note on this final episode in the series with Chelsea Bellon- the list of resources and show notes we compiled is such a hearty one that we had to list it here on our blog instead of below the description of the show. Please do check it out!


Show notes/Resources from “Sweetgrass in the Psych Unit”

Chelsea recommends

Claire recommends:

And, if you’re just now hearing about our Mother Love podcast, here’s a little more info:

On Mother Love, you’ll meet a new guest (or sometimes guests) each week. They are here to speak honestly about what they know now that they wish they’d known before. They want to give voice to their experiences in ways they just couldn’t when they were right smack dab in the middle of them. We talk about the pressures we put on ourselves and how real parent life looks very different from fantasy parenting life. And, most of all, we share these stories because they prove that resilience is real, that joy exists right alongside anguish and that if our guests can move through the hardest parts of all, you can too.

If you have any questions about our Storytelling Program or would like to share your own story, please contact Claire Larson via email: claire@hmhb-mt.org.

Pointing Families to Helena’s Perinatal Support Workers

By Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders

As a direct service provider, you’ve most likely been in a situation where a client sat across the table from you with a complex problem, looking to you for help, and you didn’t have what they needed. It is a terrible feeling, especially when it’s a new mother and she is on the verge of crisis. 

We know it’s tempting to throw a hand out together out of desperation and urgency but, unfortunately, if this process goes awry, it can be damaging and dangerous. Referring an individual suffering from a PMAD to someone who doesn’t understand the nature of these conditions can have disastrous and devastating effects. Think added shame, blame, isolation, and worse. These are complex mental health disorders that require specialized care.

In response, Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies created a framework that communities in Montana can use to create a local resource guide that truly feels like a tool. One that providers and patients/clients can consult with confidence. One that allows the referral process to feel more like the passing of a torch than a shot in the dark.

We are currently piloting this project in Helena. The Maternal Mental Health Task Force of the Early Childhood Coalition will publish the guide and update it annually.

In addition to listing providers and clinicians with specific PMAD training & expertise, the guide will also list: 

  • Support groups led by clinicians and trained peer advocates
  • Local prevention, wellness and support services 
  • National and local warm-lines and support-lines

We are seeking more providers to apply who have experience working with people in the perinatal period!

In order to be included in the guide, which will be in print and online, eligibility requirements are:

  • A minimum of 10 CE hours on the topic of Perinatal Mental Health for healthcare and mental health professionals or 5 CE hours for non-healthcare professionals
  • Minimum of one year in practice with perinatal clients
  • Up-to-date and licensed in your field
  • Additional vetting criteria is available if you don’t meet these requirements, please just ask

If you or the providers you represent meet the qualifications to be listed in this guide, please fill out the below application so that our Resource Guide Committee can review your information. Questions can be asked via email at helena.mt.ecc@gmail.com or by phone at 406-763-6811.