Category

Parenting

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”.

 

The Unexpected Blessing, by Crystal Ascheman

By Birth, Down Syndrome, Medical Diagnosis, Parenting, pregnancy, Self-compassion, The Power of Story

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

The Unexpected Blessing, by Crystal Ascheman

I remember it as if it happened yesterday, even though it’s been seven years now. My husband and I are sitting in our week 20 ultrasound, excited to find out the gender of our second child together (the third of four children in our blended family). We’re feeling so much excitement and joy and wearing the biggest of smiles. A boy! But then, our celebration is cut short as the ultrasound technician gets quiet while she takes typical growth measurements. As I look up at the screen, I see what has caused her sudden shift in mood. Having attended pre-medicine in college, before starting a family, I know that the measurements are not typical for the gestational age of our precious baby boy. She tries her best to explain the possible abnormalities to my husband and lets us know that she will be sending the image directly to our doctor for urgent review. I don’t add to her explanation as I am still trying to process this unexpected new revelation in real time and am in complete shock. My two previous pregnancies had been typical; with no reason for concern. One week from that first ultrasound, we received a phone call confirming a 96% likelihood of a Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome) diagnosis. And so began the unknown journey into the blessings of the unexpected. Reflecting upon that overwhelming time in my life, I sometimes wish I could go back in time, sit down next to my 7-year-ago-self, look her in the eye, and reassure her. Here are some of the things I would say:

“I want you to know that it’s okay to feel all of these big emotions after the surprising news you’ve just received. It’s perfectly normal. It’s okay to not have all the answers right now. As parents, we will never have all the answers. Take your time to process and work through the whirlwind engulfing you. As mothers, we are the rocks to our families and we want to look strong and put together but, right now it’s okay to ask for help. (You will need to do this regularly throughout this special journey). You are not inadequate or failing. Just the opposite! You are strong and brave. In being so, you need support right now for your own mental wellness and health, so you can be the best version of yourself and be the mother you want to be. Please don’t suffer alone in silence trying to “hold it all together”. Extend the same grace and compassion to yourself as you afford to everyone else. Be kind to yourself. Little eyes and little hearts are learning from your example of self-care.

As you adjust to this new version of motherhood with a child with a disability, don’t be afraid to ask questions and reach out to the special community of parents and organizations who share your concerns, struggles, and triumphs. They hold invaluable experience on this extraordinary journey. They will truly be the only ones who will understand just how you’re feeling and the battles you will encounter. You are not meant to face these battles alone. You’ll need a collective community full of compassion and understanding. These will be your “people” and your precious son’s “people”. Embrace them with a happy heart. Learn from their experiences because they will help you to find your voice (for your son) and don’t be afraid to use it! You’ll need to speak up often along the way. And always trust your instincts as a mother–you can rely on them to carry you through.

As the weeks turn into months and months into years, you will encounter some hard days. On those days there will be many tears and doubts. Remember, they are but a moment in time and this too shall pass. There will be times when you feel like you’ve given your all and it’s still not enough. But I’m here to tell you that it is. You ARE enough. I’m here to remind you you’re doing a wonderful job, even though it’s a tough one. I want you to know that all the effort and hard work you’re putting in and all of the sacrifices you’re making DO make a difference. You might not be able to see it right away but, the most important difference you will ever make will be realized in the quality of life you’re giving to your children. There is no better reward in life than that. As you find your way through these hard days, you will also have days filled with a level of joy you’ve never experienced before. And, in the middle of all of it, you’ll have the subtle realization that you never would have found all this joy and strength and grace if you weren’t walking along this special path, holding his little hand in yours. While this journey is not one for everyone, it’s the journey you never knew you wanted, and it comes with the best unexpected blessings.”

 

 

Resources and Support:

To learn about statewide programs designed to help support families like Crystal’s, visit https://www.umt.edu/rural-institute/act-early-montana/resources/.  To find local resources, visit https://hmhb-lifts.org/ and search the term “child development”.

Crystal also highly recommends:

Community Children’s Pediatric Specialty Clinic: https://www.communitychildrens.org/services/pediatric-specialists/

Butte’s Special Riders program https://www.buttespecialriders.org/

The Importance of Community in the Years of Early Childhood

By Community, Parenting

This story features HMHB staffer Lauren Johnson’s experience with a LIFTS resource guide partner in her community.

My daughter recently turned six. This year, she started kindergarten, riding the bus, doing math, and reading. She has an established group of friends, and I know many of their parents. We can call each other when we need help with rides to activities or want to schedule playdates so other parents can go grocery shopping or clean the house.

But that wasn’t always the case.

My daughter turned two in early March of 2020, just as COVID quarantine was beginning. She was on the cusp of starting playdates, and we were about to lean more into relationships with other parents, but the pandemic put a pause on that. She was in childcare, and it became so complicated. My husband and I couldn’t go inside her facility, and we rarely connected with other parents and teachers. We turned more and more inward, didn’t ask for help, and didn’t seek connection with other families and resources. We felt lost.

We needed community.

When The Village Playspace opened in our community in 2021, some of the vacuum for connection was filled for us. It offered a safe and healthy place where parents could gather, children could play, and relationships could flourish. I crossed paths again with some of the moms from our “mom and me” yoga classes from infancy and had a chance to reconnect. Suddenly, we weren’t alone in our struggles and joys of parenthood. We found solace in sharing stories, tips, and commiserating over the challenges. It helped us begin confidently building relationships with other families.

Our community grew.

We gradually began seeing more families that we knew from our childcare center and started scheduling playdates. We found a sense of belonging, support, and camaraderie that we had been missing. We got other parents’ phone numbers, started having birthday parties together, and our connections grew.

The zero to five years are a blend of special moments, challenges, and rapid growth, and the importance of community during these formative years cannot be overstated. It’s not just about having someone to call for a favor or a playdate; it’s about knowing that you’re not alone. It’s about finding comfort in the shared experiences of others and knowing that there are people who understand what you’re going through.

A child swinging on a swing set, their hair flying in the air, while others watch and cheer at The Village Playspace.

Find your Village.

As my daughter has now turned six, we find ourselves gradually outgrowing The Village Playspace. While our visits may be less frequent, the connections we forged there remain invaluable. We are growing into other spaces for connection and have built a supportive community that will continue to guide us through the years ahead. For that sense of community and connection, we will always be grateful, and I hope every parent of children in the early childhood years is able to find their village.

Are you curious if your Montana community has a place like The Village? Check out our LIFTS Resource Guide and search “Play Spaces.”

Becoming a Dad, by Patrick Duganz

By Birth, Dads, Parenting, The Power of Story

Patrick and his son pause a game of football at their local park to embrace and smile for a photo.This is a featured article from our 3rd edition of the LIFTS Magazine.  Patrick also shared his story on our Motherlove Podcast –  Season 2, Episode 19.

Becoming a Dad, by Patrick Duganz

How can you tell a joke is a dad joke? It’s apparent. For people, it’s more complicated.

I don’t think you become a dad when a kid is born. Lots of kids never meet those he people who provided their genetics. Therefore, a child being born does not make a dad. So, becoming a dad must be something more. There’s a moment when a choice is made.

I was raised by TV in the 90s, so of course I wanted to be a dad. Sure, Homer Simpson was the most popular dad, but I also had Dan Conner, Uncle Phil, Jason Seaver, and Carl Winslow. Having grown up in a “complicated” family like I did, I looked up to these dad characters and how it seemed like they always knew just the right thing to say, or do, whenever a problem arose.

So years down the road, when we considered starting a family, I was pro “let’s have a kid”. My son is the outcome of a meticulously planned pregnancy process. We read books and went to a several-months-long birth class where we were free to ask any and all questions. We found a duo of midwives who his mom and I liked and who would, eventually, facilitate the birth. I was at every appointment, tracking our mixed-up RNA as it grew into something an ultrasound tech could identify. His mom wrote out a detailed and extensive birth plan and we carefully reviewed it with our midwives. We were going to go with the Bradley Method – a drug-free, low- intervention process.

If such a birth sounds intimidating to you, just understand that my son’s mom is fearless, and has a pain threshold far beyond us mortals. That’s how she was able to face 22 hours of labor starting and stalling before our midwife delicately advised that we might need to consider making a few changes to our very particular plan. From there, as is common, things got more complicated.

An annoyed anesthesiologist arrived in flip-flops to administer an epidural, and delivered a few doses of Pitocin. After several intensive interventions plus one final delay from shoulder dystocia, our son was here. It had been 25 hours.

The process of his birth was difficult for all involved. His initial Apgar score was low and his mom was exhausted. I felt useless and helpless as my son and his mom faced this incredible task of birth. Obviously, my experience pales in comparison to what she went through, and it feels wrong to say it was hard for me too. But it was terrifying to be that helpless when my family faced a crisis. I didn’t even know what “Apgar” meant.

But both were okay.

My son was the largest baby born at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital in 2013. I know this because, in those days, the nurses kept a sandwich board of height and weight statistics just outside of the nursery. While holding my newborn, I watched our nurse wipe away the high score of some smaller baby and replace it with the new champion: Baby Duganz at 10 pounds, 11 ounces, and 22 inches in length.

I remember thinking that he was a miracle, and that he was terrifying.

I was 28 and in the hours after his birth, it began to occur to me that I had no idea how to handle a baby. No idea how to comfort. No idea about needs. No idea about cues. No idea about anything because most of the books told me to, “follow mom’s lead.” So, as the nurses took his mom to recover after her feat, I realized the awful situation unfolding.

“You’re not leaving me alone with him, are you?”

“Yes,” a nurse said. A door shut behind her, and we were alone.

He cried. I cried.

Eventually, he ran out of energy and fell asleep in my arms. I felt like I’d failed my first test as a dad. My baby had to exhaust himself to find peace. Oof.

As we sat there alone, waiting for whatever was next, I was nearing 48 hours without sleep and started thinking of random nonsense until my brain fell on lighthearted fare like The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s a father and son story set in a post-apocalyptic world. There’s a bit near the beginning that stuck out to me when I first read it: “[T]hey set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.”

Each the other’s world entire. Heady stuff to consider, but that’s what my anxious and sleep-deprived brain spat out as I worried about who I’d be as a dad. Is the role of a dad to be the leader after a calamity? Is it more? Changing diapers? Making Money? Baseball coaching?

“I’ll get better,” I said to my kid, just hours old.

Like most men, I didn’t get paternity leave. However, my employer at the time did kindly lay me off for two weeks so I could go broke while learning basic parenting tasks like diaper changing and swaddling. The kid mostly breastfed and slept, with some interruptions from me to change his diaper, or swaddle him. I brought his mom water and snacks.

Soon I was back to work. The two of them were alone at home. It seemed like he’d change between the hours when I left and when I’d return. He was a new person every day and I was missing it. I began to feel useless to my family’s needs just as I was beginning to understand how to be useful.

This, of course, was a symptom of my own postpartum depression which is more common than most people want to talk about. I’d later learn that 1 in 10 dads experience similar thoughts and feelings during this time. Since I was still so focused on my time at work, I was ignoring these symptoms and was, unfortunately, unable to recognize that his mom was dealing with similar symptoms during the 10-12 hours I was gone each day.

When his mom returned to work a few months later, I adjusted my schedule to be home with our son on Mondays and Tuesdays so we could save on daycare. With her at work, the kid and I suddenly had 16 terrifying hours together. From what I’d been told, parenting was so good you could set a laugh track to it. Instead, mine felt like an episode of Lost, complete with decoding cryptic messages (infant cues) that were crucial but made no sense to me. It took weeks to even begin to understand just what the hell I was doing. I had missed a lot by going back to work.

But I had made a promise to him. So, I worked on it. It wasn’t fun or easy.

All of this is to say that the question “When does a guy become a dad?” remains complicated. Maybe it was that first night, but to me it’s waking up every day and making a choice to try and be better than yesterday. I try to engage with what he’s into. I try to lead my son through the calamities of everyday existence – a rude kid at school, his parents divorcing, or the frustration of losing at Rocket League. I try to be a better dad, and a better man. That’s the choice I make.

In that way, I become a dad every day.

A graphic displaying a list titled '8 Things I Wish I Knew as a Dad'. The text is bold and centered, with each item numbered sequentially. The background is likely a neutral color to enhance readability

Visit: https://hmhb-lifts.org/ services page and use the term “dads” for support groups and resources specifically for fathers and “counselors” or “mental health providers” if you or a dad you know is experiencing similar symptoms like depression or anxiety.

To learn about Patrick’s work as a Fatherhood Engagement Specialist and read more of what he’s written visit: https://www.healthygallatin.org/family-health/for-dads/

Valentine’s Day and the Seasons of Date Nights

By Parenting, Self-care, The Power of Story
Two parents find solace in each other's arms, dancing in their kitchen amidst the chaos of parenthood.

A moment of respite, a reminder to cherish the simple joys amidst life’s challenges.

Date nights. Self-care. Scrapbooking. For me, there was the daily to-do list (you know, like, survival stuff) and then there were the “extras.” These were the back burner items, the shoulds, the negotiables. But, as our first post-birth Valentine’s Day approached, my husband and I felt pressured to do what we’d always done in the past: dress up and go on a real date, only this time it would mean leaving our 3-month-old baby in Grandma’s care.

I remember it vividly. I wore black tights, a gray dress, and tall leather boots. The tights were nearly impossible to hike up over my still-healing postpartum body, the dress was tighter than I had hoped, the boots felt ridiculous and showy. As we entered the busy restaurant and made our way to the table, I realized that I no longer knew how to be confident in public. After months being isolated at home with our new baby, I suddenly felt raw and exposed. I was exhausted beyond measure, still bleeding, thinking about my baby every three seconds and the only thing on the menu that sounded good was strong, hot coffee with lots of cream. 

I also remember feeling so relieved to be out of the house. That’s the thing with being a new mom. You learn to hold tension between completely opposing emotions All. The. Time.

My husband cracked jokes with our waitress. Drank cold, delicious beer, relaxed. I watched the tiny bubbles rise in his glass in a sleep deprived fog. I was anxious and envious but tried to act like I was relaxed too. I glanced around at all of the women in red, heard the sounds of easeful laughter and glasses clinking together in holiday spirit. My breasts were on their own schedule and I began to long for my sweatpants and the latch of our sweet baby. Is this what date night would be like from now on?

It was one of those stark contrast moments. The split that happens the moment you become a parent. The before and after. Everything you thought you knew will be revised. Camping as a form of rest and rejuvenation? Sorry. Taking a nap on Thanksgiving Day? Nope. Night as a time to sleep? Forget about it. 

But, as one wise mom pointed out, there are seasons. And when you have a new baby, it’s not peak date night season. Things won’t always be so intense, so demanding, so full of love and exhaustion and devotion all at the same time. We won’t always be up at midnight on Christmas eve wrapping presents and filling stockings and bracing ourselves for the next sugar cookie crash.

So, because it’s Valentine’s Day, we wanted to celebrate the fact that date nights don’t have to be fancy and luxurious to be successful. What matters most is that we make time for quality connection and slow down enough to really see each other. Whether you plan a date with a partner, friend, your own little one or even just with yourself, spending quality time and honoring your relationships deserves a spot on the to-do list, even if that means that the dishes stay piled in the sink and the laundry gets all wrinkled and your un-walked dog gives you a dirty look.

Going out might be just what you need and if that feels good and exciting and fun – do it! Wearing something you love and having the guarantee that it will remain spit-up free for at least a couple of hours is indeed quite glamorous. Being served when you spend all day everyday serving a tiny human feels wonderful. Oh, and eating a meal that’s actually still hot while being able form complete sentences and have an entire conversation with another adult (especially one you love) is pure gold.

But, staying in counts too!  Just giving each other permission to take the night off and snuggle up with a movie and bowl of popcorn can be super romantic. Sometimes, it’s just about being close and remembering that raising kids is hard work and that you’re in this together and that you both deserve moments of peace. Chocolate and roses and written words never hurt. You might as well hold hands, too, and laugh about how crazy kids are. Because they are CRAZY and laughter is medicine.

If you have more than one little sweetie on your hands, you’ve probably learned the value of planning special one on one dates with each of your children. In this case, you’re the expert on what would make you both light up and, truthfully, they don’t really care what you do together, they just want your undivided attention. Go for a manicure or dress up for afternoon tea or a Shirley Temple with extra cherries. Swing on the swings, build a snowman or draw with sidewalk chalk- they just want our eyes and ears and heart all to themselves for a little while. When it comes to special time between parent and child, a little goes a long way.

Dates with friends are important too but they don’t have to be elaborate and if anyone understands that, it’ll be your closest friends. Do whatever sounds nourishing and try to laugh and cry and give voice to your experience. It’s important to know you’re not alone and it’s really important to find friends who will understand if you need to cancel or reschedule. As a new parent, these are your people. 

Valentine’s Day, ultimately, is supposed to be one day out of the year when we celebrate love and if there’s one thing every parent knows, it’s unshakable love. So today, let that love be unique to you and those closest to you. Let that love carry you through. 

Our Love for 406 Families

By Parenting

When families are looking for supports, the best advice often comes from the people who’ve been there — the parents in their community who have raised a child through the early years and have done the hard work of finding a pediatrician, enrolling in child care, and planning fun weekend activities. That’s why our team was so excited to connect with the team at 406 Families, a rockstar group of moms in the Missoula Valley who created a platform for families to find events, activities, and resources.

They work hard to create guides that address needs that families may have, including Education, Indoor & Drop-In Activities, Classes & Sports, and even Birthday Parties! The rest of their website includes articles written by the team and other moms about their own experiences, including the exploration of our beautiful state.

We met with Laci Rathburn, one of the founders of 406 Families, and she explained what makes the website so popular. The posts that their readers love are based on the personal experience and opinions of the parent who’s had to make these decisions. Sometimes, moms just want to know “who’s your favorite?” 406 Families is taking that on, but they are always looking for ways to diversify their voices — they want to represent even more caregivers! If you’re a Missoula parent and interested in sharing content, reach out to them at 406families@gmail.com.

You may think, how does this differ from LIFTS, the online resource guide that Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies created for parents across Montana? Our goal is to share with parents of kiddos aged zero to three a list of all services in their area, but we don’t always have firsthand knowledge of what it means to work with that provider or attend that event. We hope that localized information like what 406 Families created happens in even more communities in our state. If you have an amazing resource specific to your community like this, please let us know!

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

Emily Clewis

Supporting Mothers in the Postpartum

By Archives, Birth, Breastfeeding, Feeding Baby, Maternal Mental Health, Parenting, Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders, pregnancy, Published Work

Written by Emily Clewis on behalf of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies and the Maternal Mental Health Task Force of Helena.

In honor of May as Maternal Mental Health Month, Helena’s Maternal Mental Health Task Force, in partnership with Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, would like to highlight ways that communities can support moms during the postpartum period.

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. Their body and mind will have run the ultimate marathon and they will need support. If the mother is well supported during this time, she can care well for the new baby. If you’re visiting in the first weeks, remember you are there to support the parents. Remind them they don’t need to host you and that you are there to help.

Always ask parents before coming to visit. In the blur of the first few weeks, flexibility is best! Remember: 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. If they say they are welcoming visitors, when you get to their house, wash your hands well and keep your face away from the baby. Babies are vulnerable to common illnesses. Offer to bring by healthy snacks or a ready to heat nutritious meal! New moms, especially those breastfeeding, will be hungry often as it takes much energy to care for newborns. If they feed the baby while you’re there, help her put her feet up and offer to get her water or a snack (then, maybe do the dishes).

Look around the home 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. 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. 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, unless the parents ask otherwise!

Keep in mind that the No. 1 complication of birth is postpartum depression. One in six Montana mothers will experience it. Knowing the signs and symptoms of mood disorders in the postpartum period increases the likelihood of treatment. Some things to look for include sadness, guilt, inability to make decisions, poor self-care, low self-esteem, mood swings, appetite changes, excessive crying and more. While only a health care provider can offer treatment, if you, or the new mom in your life, is experiencing any of these symptoms, encourage them that it’s not their fault they feel that way, and that help is available through their OB or primary care physician.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic may have made the experience of having a little one more nerve-racking. Families may have varying feelings of comfortability having multiple visitors during this vulnerable period of recovery. Ask parents what precautions they may be taking and if they are up for visitors! If they aren’t, you can still support them by dropping off easy-to-heat meals, or sending a gift card to DoorDash, Grubhub or their favorite restaurant.

Families in the postpartum, or fourth trimester, thrive with healthy community support. Additionally, moms are less likely to suffer from perinatal depression and babies have better health outcomes. Together, we can ensure that parents have a positive postpartum experience!