Do Good: MomsBloom and Postpartum Progress help new moms "Climb Out of the Darkness"

Congrats on that cute, little bundle of joy! Sweet, adorable… and, boy, are you in for a wild ride. New parents are faced with a variety of new challenges when baby comes home: Sleeplessness, emotional adjustment, recovery from birth, and getting a handle on household organization are only a few. It’s difficult enough to handle new responsibilities on a good day. But for a new mother with postpartum depression (PPD), just one day can seem interminably long.
MomsBloom is teaming locally with national nonprofit Postpartum Progress for its annual ‘Climb Out of the Darkness event on June 21 at Cannonsburg Ski Area in Belmont, Mich. The free event is open to anyone who wants to help raise awareness, fight the stigma, and provide peer support to new moms with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Join the climb -- or enjoy a hike – and celebrate coming out of the darkness on the longest day of the year.
That’s why ‘Climb Out of the Darkness’ -- the world’s largest event with 120 teams in 40 states and six countries -- is shedding light on PPD and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders on Saturday, June 21, the longest day of the year. MomsBloom’s Team Grand Rapids will be climbing the ski mountain at Cannonsburg Ski Area at 6800 Cannonsburg Rd. in Belmont, Mich. that day. The free event, created by nonprofit organization Postpartum Progress (PPP) will run from 9-10:30 am.

MomsBloom -- one out of only four organizations nationwide chosen by PPP to benefit from this event -- will receive 10 percent of the funds raised.

The birth of MomsBloom
“I started MomsBloom because of my own experience as a new mom,” says Sara Binkley-Tow, co-founder and executive director of the organization. MomsBloom provides physical and emotional support, and utilizes resources in the Kent County community. They also screen new moms for PPD.

Like one in seven women (and one in 10 men), Binkley-Tow struggled with high anxiety, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and intrusive thoughts. “Those in my inner circle weren’t familiar with the signs, and my husband was also struggling,” Binkley-Tow says.

As with many new moms, Binkley-Tow’s confidence was low, and she questioned her abilities as a parent. After researching her symptoms, she diagnosed herself with postpartum depression. Having discovered the cause of her misery, she decided to raise awareness and help other women who were also struggling with PPD. She searched for organizations that offered support to new mothers, but at the time, in 2008, there was only one, in Santa Fe, with a concept similar to what she had in mind for MomsBloom.

“MomsBloom provides three things: weekly assistance with tasks and chores; a connection to other parents and resources; and fact-based education that gives moms the confidence to make their own choices about childrearing,” says Binkley-Tow.

“PPD is debilitating and devastating,” she says. “It robbed me of the early years with my children. I didn’t get to experience the excitement and joy other mothers were talking about. People don’t understand PPD, and I wanted to get the word out.”

More than just the 'baby blues'
PPD -- the leading complication of childbirth -- is just one in a group of illnesses that can affect women either during pregnancy or up to 12 months after birth. Together these illnesses are called perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Hormones aren’t the cause; adoptive parents also suffer. A huge rise in stress and anxiety can increase the risk.

“Eighty percent of moms (and a good number of dads) experience what is called the ‘baby blues,’” says Binkley-Tow. Mood swings and weepiness are fairly normal responses to a lack of sleep, major physical changes, a demanding infant, and huge responsibility.

“If the wife suffers, the man is more likely to suffer, too,” she says. “PPD can be brought on by a difficult pregnancy or birth, the loss of a job, and the stress from working and caring for the family. We put so many pressures on ourselves. We all want to be super moms, and fathers are much more involved than before. We need to take time off for ourselves.”

Binkley-Tow says that it’s important to get help right away because PPD can affect the entire family. Families with lower job flexibility, lower social support, and a higher total workload are more likely to suffer PPD. Without support and help, the new mother can have problems bonding with her newborn, which is critical in an infant’s first weeks of life. Studies show that the bond children develop with their parents, particularly as babies and toddlers, is fundamental to their flourishing. Source.

It really does take a village to raise a child
When a mother doesn’t bond with her baby, it can affect the entire family -- and the community. Children without secure parental bonds are more likely to have behavior and literacy problems. International research suggests that insecurely attached children are at a higher risk of externalizing problems, characterized by aggression, defiance, and/or hyperactivity. On average, these children have poorer language development and weaker executive function, skills associated with working memory and cognitive flexibility. And insecurely attached children are less resilient to poverty, family instability, and parental stress and depression. Source.

The strongest predictor for children being insecurely attached is having parents who are not securely attached themselves. Parents who live in poverty, have poor mental health, or are young are also more likely to struggle with parenting and have insecurely attached children. Source.

Bonding problems have long-term effects, so it is critical to give support to new parents early on. “We’re seeing a long-term impact on the community and society,” says Binkley-Tow. “We’re seeing a lot of behavioral problems in young children.

Forty percent of children are insecurely attached. The ramifications for society are mindboggling. Source.

How MomsBloom helps new moms
Now 42, Binkley-Tow has two children, 13-year-old Samantha and 11-year-old Jake. Her husband, Jeff Tow, 41, is Chief Design Officer at Appropos in Grand Rapids. Since its founding in 2008, MomsBloom has helped over 900 families in West Michigan, primarily in Kent County. The number of families helped each year has risen from 25 the first year to 250 currently.

MomsBloom volunteers are carefully vetted, background-checked, and trained. Each volunteer is matched up with a family, and the volunteer then arranges a schedule with mom. Typically a volunteer commits to a few hours each week -- for six to 12 weeks -- with each family, and helps lighten the load. She may prepare meals, watch baby while mom showers or takes a nap, or do light household chores, whatever is mom’s most pressing need.

“We don’t bring a specific list of solutions,” says Binkley-Tow. “We simply bring a willing heart and ready hands to do whatever needs doing. In the process, we are helping mom to become confident in her role and adjust to the new routine. MomsBloom resets the expectation meter for parents. Then we reinstate the support network to help parents meet a more realistic set of expectations."

Binkley-Tow says, “The goal is not to be superwoman or a perfect parent. The goal is to have a healthy, well-adjusted mom who can raise her child using her individual skills as well as the knowledge and support of the broader community.”

Get involved:
- Join the Climb on June 21! Or enjoy a walk. Registration is free -- go here.
- New parents: Are you feeling exhausted and overwhelmed? Reach out to MomsBloom.
- Join the ‘MomSquad’ -- volunteer to lighten a new mom’s load.
- Help prevent child abuse, postpartum depression, family stress, and more - donate to MomsBloom.
- Keep up to date with MomsBloom on their Facebook page.
- If you have PPD, know that you are not alone -- learn more about PPD and how to cope.

Victoria Mullen is the Do Good editor at Rapid Growth Media.
Images courtesy of Sara Binkley-Tow
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