A Podcast Series from The Family Institute
In this episode of Let's Talk, Nikki Lively interviews LaShonta Edwards. Ms. Edwards is the Founder and Executive Director of A Mother's Sanctuary in Houston, TX as well as a doula, educator and advocate for maternal mental health. In this interview, Ms. Edwards discusses her own experience with a postpartum depression and how this led to a mission to help other women. She also discusses the evolution and goals for the upcoming Imagine Me: Living Beyond My Barriers conference, the first ever to focus on the maternal mental health needs of women of color, to be held in Chicago Fall 2018.
Nikki Lively: Hi everyone! My name is Nikki Lively and I'm the Clinical Director of the Transitions to Parenthood program at The Family Institute. We are a team of psychotherapists specializing in reproductive mental health and provide therapy and support to women, men, infants, couples and families in this important life transition. Today I'll be talking to LaShonta Edwards. Ms. Edwards is the founder and executive director of A Mother's Sanctuary in Houston, Texas. She is an advocate for maternal mental health as well as an educator, doula, author and mother of five.
So I thought I would start by asking you about A Mother's Sanctuary. You founded this organization, so I thought we could talk about what led you to do that and how you formed the mission and the services.
LaShonta Edwards: Absolutely. I founded A Mother's Sanctuary in 2014 after volunteering for a national organization, but what prompted me to do all of that is I am a survivor of postpartum depression. I had postpartum depression with my second child, who is ten now. He just cried all the time. So I felt like it was this never ending cycle. And unfortunately, with myself, I kind of felt like I was alone, like there was nobody else out there going through this. So I kind of went through it by myself. So I had an incident, and then you fast forward seven years. So remember I said I founded A Mother's Sanctuary in 2014, well this came after I saw two posts very similar on Facebook that made some really interesting remarks. And I got on there and I explained everything I had gone through with my journey, and I was like okay, more people need to know about this. 2:05 How am I going to get the word out? So that's when I started volunteering with a national organization. Unfortunately, when women would call in for resources they would ask for a support group or a doctor, I could only send them to places that were an hour or so away. Yeah we had nothing in our area, nothing! So, from that, from me scrounging and telling these parents, I'm sorry, but I don't have anything close to you. So, A Mother's Sanctuary was founded. 2:41
NL: Now I know a little bit more about the story to found the organization. I wonder about the mission because you said that your aunt helped you, and kind of said something to you, and noticed that you were struggling. I really love the mission that you articulated. That everyone be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of maternal mental health. And I've often found that it is family, close friends, a partner, etc., etc., that would be the best chance for her to be noticed as struggling, but often don't really know how to bring it up to her. So I'm wondering if you could say more about how you articulated that vision, and what are some of the ways you've found that your organization kind of helps support that vision? 3:26
LE: My reason behind the mission was, we cannot continue to put everything on moms. Like, somebody else has, they have to step up and they have to recognize that some of these things are happening. And I knew that if it wasn't for my aunt saying, hey, Shauny, they call me Shauny in my family, Hey Shauny, we need to get you some help. So, who do I need to go to to get you some help? I know for a fact that I wouldn't have gone on my own, and she recognized that. So to make this easier for the family we actually do community events. We do a lot of community outreach. We do, we partner with a lot of local organizations and we offer maternal mental health prep classes before they deliver. We are going to different doctor's offices, pediatricians, OB/GYN's to offer training. And even with that type of training they has to be some type of support, right? So we offer support groups, not just for mom, but we also offer support groups for partners and family members as well. 4:52
NL: I wonder if you have any guidance or what you might say to friends and family about red flags to look for in new moms? I agree with you in that often, the woman that I've worked with do have a hard time articulating what they are going through. So it really is not fair to put it all on moms. This is a public health issue. How you might give guidance about what friends and family should look for and how best to take actions on what they are seeing. 5:20
LE: Generally, I like to reach out to families prior to their delivery, right? Let's come up with a plan before mom delivers. And how we do this, we all, you know most people have this birthing plan. They know where they want their birth, where they want their birth. Some people know how long they want their birth. No one really talks about a postpartum care plan. So we are really adamant on creating this postpartum care plan. Who are going to be your biggest supporters? Who can you have come over if you want them to hold the baby, they will hold the baby. But if you don't want them to hold the baby and you want them to wash dishes, they'll wash dishes.
I have this biggest thing about visitation with a purpose. I mean that may seem a little harsh, but if you're going to come over I would like a pan of lasagna, just doing some of those things before hand to take away some of those stressors after delivery. So she doesn't have to worry about those clothes piled up in a corner. And she doesn't have to worry about, okay when am I actually going to get a shower? You know, who is going to help her doing that? So when you generally see mom, there are all types of emotions happening, you know, from happy to sad, to sometimes just down right angry. When you notice mom, mom's behavior is getting really sad, or she may be raging, or she may not be eating as much, or she's eating more than what she should be doing, after two weeks of delivery. You know, that first one to two weeks is the baby blues, right? 7:11 But after that two weeks, if things start to span after two weeks we like for the family members to reach out to their local organizations to see if there's any support for moms. I don't want people to get so confused that postpartum depression is all crying. Right? Like there are just so many symptoms, and I think the disconnect is well, it can't be postpartum depression because they haven't been weepy and they haven't been really sad. So it has to be something else. You know rage is a symptom of postpartum depression. 7:56
NL: I've noticed that anxiety, or worry, excessively worrying, which can cause people to be quite irritable is probably more common than I've seen with just a pure sadness. So it's a little bit of a misnomer to call it quote-unquote "depression" because of the way we can think of depression as sadness. I think it can throw people off. 8:17
LE: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. And then you know, unfortunately, they are sitting there not getting the help that they deserve because they feel like they don't fall under that category. I'm an African American woman and if the only thing I see is a pamphlet of a Caucasian woman, weepy and crying, eyes bloodshot, I'm going to automatically assume, oh this isn't for me. Culturally appropriate materials — materials, have been a huge barrier and that's something we are trying to work on. 8:54
NL: Yeah. That's a really good point. I think people need to see their communities represented, otherwise it's pretty stigmatizing. It's stigmatizing anyway for moms. And then not to be represented in the information and the educational material just adds another layer. Speaking of educational materials, the book, A Dark Secret, I think it's subtitled, "Real Women Share Their Trials and Triumphs with Maternal Mental Health," how did you come up with the title for this book and what led you to work on this project? 9:28
LE: So I was working with so many moms during support groups and that's what prompted me to start this book process. I put the feelers out there. Hey, you know, I would like more moms to tell about their stories, but with this journey I didn't want it to just end on, I have postpartum depression and that was it right. It was like, I have postpartum depression and this is how I overcame it. So if you read the stories, they go into their stories very deeply, but they also talk about what treatment plans they did, what support groups they may have gone to, and where they are right now in their lives. So we brought it down but we made sure we brought it up. 10:16
NL: Now I'm super super duper excited because we are very lucky, I think, in Chicago that coming up in October, October 11th-14th I believe, is a conference that you're a part of organizing called, "Imagine Me: Living Beyond My Barriers." As far as I know, it's the first conference specifically addressing the concerns and needs of perinatal mental health issues in women of color. So I wondered if you could talk about how this conference came to be and the significance of its name. 10:48
LE: So we've gotten so many topics. We've actually got a panel on multicultural diversity and maternal mental health. And that spans so many ethnicities. I'm really excited about that because every culture is different. So every cultures healing process is different. So we'll learn about that. We'll learn about microaggressions and intersectionality, and when I tell you there's just so much information that we'll be giving out, it's just, I can't bring it to words because I'm really excited about this because I've yet to go to a conference where it was completely focused not just on maternal mental health, but some of the social injustices that are happening within our communities. 11:38
NL: So last but not least, any final thoughts you'd like to share with families about transition to parenthood, maternal mental health? Any messages for Maternal Mental Health Month?
LE: It's really about finding that community for the new parents. Right? Making sure that you are helping them in terms of, maybe they do need you to come prepare a meal, or even have that fixed before they deliver. You know, I've worked as a doula and even you just being here, like just having another adult here is really major for me. And I sat there and I just talked to her. Sometimes that's really all they need. I'm also really big on, if she says she needs help, get her help. Do not try to convince this mom that she can do it. Okay. Because I've seen this way too many times where it's like you can just do this by yourself. You know that's something from my culture, African American culture. It's like, whatever happens in this house better stay in this house. Don’t go outside and tell our business. But then they suffer because they are doing it alone, and then they don't have anyone. So if she is asking for help, help mom look for help. 13:06
NL: Thank you so much for being with us today LaShonta. I really appreciate all your wisdom and sharing all the experiences that you've had.
LE: Aw, thank you! This was great!
NL: And I want to encourage people to go to your website for more on LaShonta Edwards and her work. It's LaShontaEdwards.com. Or if you're interested in her organization, A Mother's Sanctuary, especially if you're listening in the Houston area, the website is amsmothers.com. And, last but not least, if you are going to be in the Chicago area in October, to register for Imagine Me, you can go to their website at imaginemeconf.com, that's c-o-n-f.com and we will throw all the information up on our website, too. And if you are interested in more information or enrolling in Becoming Us at The Family Institute, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us at 847-733-4300, ext. 899.
Edwards, LaShonta. A Dark Secret. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.