On June 18th at 10a.m., a group of stroller-toting families met in FDR park to participate in the annual Climb out of the Darkness event to benefit Postpartum Progress. The families were of different backgrounds and their kids were different ages, but they were all united by the fact that a mother that they loved had been affected by a postpartum mood disorder.
Climb out of the Darkness is an annual event held in numerous locations across the U.S. (and some other countries including Germany, Brazil and Israel) to benefit Postpartum Progress and raise awareness for postpartum and pregnancy mood disorders. Groups in different cities all meet on the same day to walk together, raise money, and, most importantly, to offer support to other mothers that have experienced postpartum mood disorders. Philadelphia’ Climb is led each year by Heidi Lengel, founder of Fullheart Family Support and Vice President of the Philadelphia Maternity Network.
Going into the event, I knew that I would not be able to understand the pain that these disorders had caused, but I did know the statistics—that one in seven mothers experience a postpartum or pregnancy mood disorder—and the fact that while seeking treatment can be a difficult thing to do, there are effective treatment options for postpartum mood disorders. What I was not prepared for, though, were the harsh and unhelpful responses that these mothers received from healthcare providers and therapists when they did seek help.
From being told to “calm down” to receiving recommendations for meditation tapes from Target, many of the moms’ complaints were not taken seriously, or their mood changes were being chalked up to the “baby blues.” One particularly striking story was that of a mother with a social working background, who was familiar with postpartum mood disorders and knew that something was not right as soon as her son was born. After going to the emergency room for help, she was placed in in-patient psychiatric care, and was told that this was her only treatment option. As her disorder progressed, she was told that she could not be prescribed any medication for her mood disorder since she was breastfeeding, another false statement.
While it would be easy to dwell on the unsupportive responses that these struggling mothers received, the real focus of the event was the support that these mothers did receive in their times of need, and the continued support they were offering each other by participating in Climb out of the Darkness. From family members that offered shoulder to cry on to husbands that took over childcare while their spouses got the help that they needed, these families were far more focused on what helped them to heal than what prevented them from doing so. And while the Philadelphia Climb alone raised almost $3,000, it was clear that for these mamas, the morning of support and recognition of what they had overcome was worth even more.