I first heard of Baby Blues Connection shortly before the birth of my son Lewis. I was given a pamphlet at the doctor’s office and then another one at the hospital. Being prone to depression and anxiety I was diligently looking for all of the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression but after the 6th month came and went I figured I had dodged the bullet.
I am not going to lie, being a new parent is the hardest thing I have ever done. But I really didn’t feel any worse than I would have expected after 6 months with no sleep and every other aspect of my life being flipped upside down. I took 3 months off work and then spent an additional 3 months juggling care with my husband before we finally decided to put Lewis in daycare. After a few weeks we settled into the drop off and pickup routine and really loved our son’s teacher. We tried our best to stay healthy but even with all of the hand washing, exclusive breastfeeding, probiotics and diligent care we took at home he was picking up every germ and illness from the daycare center.
All of my friends and family who had been through this before assured me this was “normal” and that it would ultimately be good for him and would build up his immature immune system. Over Thanksgiving break in rural New Mexico, Lewis’ month long cold took a turn for the worse and at the recommendation of our on-call nurse we drove him to the emergency room at 10pm with symptoms of Pneumonia. At the hospital they poked him with needles, gave him multiple blood tests, chest x-rays and large doses of antibiotics. After 3-4 hours of worry and waiting we were allowed to leave and told to be back in touch if the fever or shortness of breath returned.
A few days passed and he appeared to be getting worse. He was struggling to breathe, had a relentless fever and he couldn’t keep anything down. To see my small and totally helpless baby struggling like this was absolutely terrifying for me as a new Mom. Back at the hospital they gave him more tests, more x-rays, more needles and more antibiotics. We missed our flight home and lived at the Albuquerque Children’s Hospital as our son’s oxygen levels were dangerously low and no concrete diagnosis could be found. After a few days of this uncertainty things slowly improved and we were released only to race home as fast as we could, terrified of the symptoms returning before we were safely back on the ground in Portland.
Once we were home, Lewis improved quickly and was back to daycare only to be faced with more germs and illness. This is when I started to feel like things were spinning out of control for me. I felt like every day I was putting him in harm’s way by leaving him there. But everyone I was counting on for support and advice was telling me it was OK and that it was good for him to be there. At each pickup we were met with more handouts and warnings about Pink Eye, RSV, Hand Foot & Mouth Disease, Stomach Flu and then the regular Flu. At one point they had several staff members and kids out with confirmed cases of the Flu. The state eventually came in and shut down the facility for a week requiring a thorough cleaning by a third party company. Was this really normal?
My anxiety was through the roof and that was causing me to feel depressed and at times like I was losing my mind. Since I was nursing there wasn’t a lot I could do to manage all of these emotions. I talked to my primary care provider who gave me the BBC pamphlet again along with the name of a therapist who specialized in working with new parents. Since my health insurance didn’t cover mental health I decided to start attending my local group sessions with BBC. I really can’t begin to describe what a relief it was to know that once a week other parents who were feeling all these same feelings would be getting together and if I wanted to I could join them. And if I was too busy they would understand. Just sitting in that room with 5-10 other tired, protective, sensitive, struggling and completely raw people to share, listen and provide support gave me the strength and perspective I needed to hold it together and keep trudging forward.
We ultimately took Lewis out of daycare and had a family friend sit with him at home while we worked during the week. My husband and I are lucky we had the ability to do this. I learned through the crazy rollercoaster of emotions that first year of Lewis’ life that parenting is really, really hard and it takes leaning on a lot of people to get through it. I learned that a mother’s intuition is there for a reason and that well-meaning people will tell you things that are not always true for you. I learned that sometimes you just have to follow your gut and that it is OK to reach out for help and support. It doesn’t matter if you have 1 or 100 people you can call when you need a sympathetic ear, there is nothing like the understanding of someone who is RIGHT THERE WITH YOU feeling all of the same feelings you are feeling. I am so thankful to BBC for the support they provided to me during this very difficult time in my life and I am touched by the work they do in helping so many Portland area parents. – Darcie Alexander
Below is a short interview with Angie Fitzpatrick, Executive Director for Baby Blues Connection:
How did you become involved with BBC? I had postpartum depression after the birth of my first child. I started as a volunteer six months later and was hired as staff the next year. I love my job. I love being involved with an organization that does valuable and important work!
Who is your typical client or person who benefits from your services? This is a good question! We primarily support mothers although we also get calls from dads and partners, grandparents, and concerned friends.
Who is your typical donor? Mental health and medical providers who refer to BBC and families who have benefited from our support.
What are your most utilized services? Phone and group support sessions.
What is your most underfunded service? It’s more difficult to convince a donor to sign up for a monthly, reoccurring donation even though it’s the easiest way to give!
If someone was interested in volunteering, what services might they be able to help provide and who should they contact? We have twice yearly volunteer training. Some years we may have three but it’s less common. There is a simple form to fill out online. Most who volunteer want to work with parents although the time commitment can be greater so we find folks with less availability working with committees or behind the scenes. You can find out more about volunteering here.
Below are some interesting facts I learned about BBC from reading through your website. Is there anything else we should know?
1. 80% of new moms experience a mood disorder postpartum. Rates of postpartum depression are 1 in 7, although some sites will report 1 in 8.
2. New Dads also need support and can experience symptoms of “baby blues”. It’s interesting- if depression or anxiety is present in the mother, the partner has a 50% chance of having symptoms themselves.
3. We’ve just received a grant for a pilot program for LGBTQ support. One objective is to establish a ‘parent’ group where all attending are just seen as a parent struggling regardless of sex or gender. We need $1000 in individual donations to move forward with implementing the program. There is an option to donate specifically to this program on our website through the donate now button found here.