More than 4,000 people worldwide fought post-partum illness last month by participating in Climb Out of the Darkness hikes to raise awareness and funds. In Fredericksburg, 34 people took part in this year’s climb at Old Mill Park, raising $2,268 of the $3,000 goal.
Postpartum Progress, a 501c3 nonprofit, put on the fourth-annual event June 18. The fundraiser benefits the group itself in order to continue its mission of providing support and resources to women facing postpartum conditions.
Overall this year, Postpartum Progress raised more than $329,000. It surpassed its goal of $250,000 by more than 30 percent and exceeded last year’s amount by more than 35 percent.
It is the second year that area residents participated in the local Climb Out of the Darkness. The climb included a one-mile walk along Heritage Trail in Fredericksburg and was one of four Virginia climbs this year.
The event’s goal is to raise money and awareness about postpartum depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis and pregnancy depression. It also seeks to reduce the stigma associated with mental health disorders.
Lexy Sweet, a former Fredericksburg resident now living in Virginia Beach, took part in the Fredericksburg climb. Having experienced postpartum depression and anxiety, she returned to the area for the event and to support a relative who is combatting postpartum issues.
Sweet said that she was initially unaware that she had postpartum depression and anxiety, and in the last several years realized what her silent suffering really was.
“When I had my first-born son in 2004, it was a subject that wasn’t even spoken about at my postpartum appointment,” Sweet said.
She described it as “incessant and unrealistic worries” that plagued her mind and “countless days being held hostage” in her dark bedroom rendering her unable to enjoy her children.
“Climb Out of the Darkness is such an important movement for moms and their families who are currently climbing this treacherous mountain of a struggle,” Sweet said, noting that the events is “bringing more moms out of the shadows and shedding light on an immensely overlooked topic.”
Awareness about the condition is much-needed, she said, especially since it’s still somewhat taboo to feel down after adding a baby to the family — a typically happy event.
About 15 percent of new mothers — one in seven — suffer from postpartum depression, according to Postpartum Progress. The group estimates that the rate jumps to 25 percent of women of low socioeconomic status.
With about 4 million babies born each year, that means at least 600,000 women in the United States face postpartum stress or illness annually, members of the group said. Including pregnant women and women who have suffered mental-health issues from miscarriages, the number is likely closer to 800,000 women per year.
Fredericksburg resident Emma Rinker, who organized the Fredericksburg climb, said she’s been through pregnancy anxiety as well as postpartum depression and anxiety.
Her physician believed she was just nervous about being pregnant after suffering a miscarriage, she explained, so her condition first went undiagnosed.
But when she read a Postpartum Progress blog, she later realized what she was experiencing.
Rinker said that often there’s a lack of knowledge on where to get help for postpartum concerns, even when doctors acknowledge there’s a problem. She found there to be little instruction or support.
Often, mothers are given a prescription for an anti-depressant but not assisted afterward on where to go or how to wean off the medicine, she added.
Rinker said that by the time she had her second child, seeing a therapist who understood postpartum anxiety made a huge difference in her recovery.
Mothers, she said, should be referred to a therapist or clinical social worker for help after seeking help from a physician.
Locally, there are support groups for postpartum struggles. One meets at Life Wellness Center on Garrisonville Road in North Stafford on the first Thursday evening of each month. The other meets at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library the third Thursday of each month. Interested mothers should contact the groups for specific meeting times.
Women suffering from postpartum issues should always speak to their physician without hesitation, according to Postpartum Progress.
The group tells mothers on its website: “There is no need to suffer alone. Don’t try to wait this out. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are temporary and treatable with professional help.”
Postpartum Progress got its start after its founder, Katherine Stone, experienced postpartum OCD with the birth of her first child, a son, in 2001.
The group provides a variety of resources for mothers in need including lists of providers, services and support groups, descriptions of potential symptoms, frequently-asked questions and a free private online forum on it website. The group also provides a daily email hope and inspiration service for suffering moms.
It also explains related conditions and illnesses associated with postpartum depression and anxiety including antenatal depression (depression in pregnancy), postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, postpartum psychosis and bipolar disorder with a perinatum onset. Oftentimes, women don’t initially realize what they’re dealing with, the group said.
Postpartum Progress refers to new mothers or pregnant women facing any maternal mental-health illness as “warrior moms.”
The next major Postpartum Progress initiative is a Warrior Mom Conference, which takes place in Atlanta in October. The group reported that since the conference’s inaugural last year, it has seen a 40 percent increase in registrations and a 300 percent increase in speakers and topics on the agenda.
For more on the local support groups, email firstname.lastname@example.org.