Parent CornerBecoming Mom Without My Own Mom
Research International Study  Looks for Genetic Clues to Postpartum Depression
Focus: Teen Moms
"In giving birth to our babies, we may find that we give birth to new possibilities within ourselves." 
--Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn

Happy Mother's Day! We hope that this Sunday finds you appreciated and celebrated for all you are and do for your family.
We know that Mother's Day can be bittersweet for many of us. You may be mourning the loss of your own mother or a child, experiencing infertility, or enduring a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder. Or maybe you're just ambivalent about mothering right now. We see you and hope you can have the time and space to make this Mother's Day what you need it to be, even if it means not celebrating right now.
This month we have a special guest contributor, Kate Moscato Leen, who shares in a poignant essay what it's like to become a mom without her own mom. We also highlight teen moms, a group that is so often shamed but needs support--and celebration--too. And we cover the exciting new PPD ACT research study that seeks to understand the genetic component to postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.

Enjoy your day, mamas!
THERE'S STILL TIME! This Mother's Day, show all the moms in your life how much you appreciate them by sending them a special  Mother's Day Care Package from Perinatal Support Washington.  By doing so you not only support the moms in your life, but you also provide financial support that will help other moms in Washington who are struggling with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders--100% of proceeds from these Mother's Day Care Packages will be used for support services like Perinatal Support Washington's Warm Line, support groups, and educational events.
Care Packages come in different varieties and price levels. The best part is that we will write the note and send it out for you in time for Mother's Day! See our Care Package page for more information and to order.  ORDER TODAY TO ENSURE DELIVERY BY MOTHER'S DAY!
Becoming Mom Without My Own Mom

It was 11:00 at night in the fall of 2009 when the call woke us up from the beginning of sleep. I was nestled against my sleeping eight-month-old daughter, my husband next to me and our three-year-old son asleep upstairs. I'd been expecting this call, but it didn't make it any easier.

"She's gone," my dad said, his voice cracking over the phone. He and my younger brother, Nick, had been sitting with my mom as she died at the home I grew up in in Portland, and I had been three hours to the north at home in Seattle. I hung up the phone and cried, trying to not wake the sleeping baby next to me. I'd do my best to sleep for a few hours, then pack her and the rest of the family into the car for a trip down for our final goodbyes.  

I'd spent the last year sandwiched between two worlds. In one, I was happily expecting and gave birth to our second child, and in the other, I was saying a long, slow goodbye to my wonderful mom during her battle with brain cancer. There were many trips back and forth while heavily pregnant and with a newborn in tow. My husband and I developed a haphazard routine for these visits. We'd book a last-minute hotel near my parent's house so we wouldn't disturb my mom with constant kid noise, and I'd leave my newborn and three year old with him to be with my mom and dad. I'd race to meet up every two to three hours so I could nurse my hungry daughter and then head back to be with my parents. On other visits, I would bring just the baby with me and drive the three hour trip on my own, sometimes with her wailing in her seat, spend a night or two, and drive back accompanied by more wailing. I remember once pulling over at a rest stop and crying right along with her. That blur of a year was easily the hardest of my life, and I spent most of it in exhausted tears wishing I could be in two places at the same time, wishing I could be two people--a mother and a daughter--in a situation that constantly seemed to pit those roles against each other.  

It's been almost seven years now since she died, and it's incredible how fresh these memories still are. It would be disingenuous of me to say that time heals all wounds, or that it gets better. It would be more accurate to say that it gets different. My mom was my biggest supporter and cheerleader, and it was only after she died that I realized how much I relied on her for a boost when I needed it, for a reality check when I was beating myself up over my parenting, and for a look at my kids through unconditionally loving eyes that sometimes I wasn't capable of. I've had to learn how to seek that affirmation elsewhere, and to even ask for it when I really need it. Seeing grandparents with their grandchildren is still hard. Just recently, I had to leave a cafe in tears because seeing a grandmother lovingly play with her granddaughter in the play area was too much for me and I was overwhelmed by feelings of loss, angry at what my kids had been cheated out of by cancer. But at the same time, if I look around, I see all of the ways in which that void has been filled. They have wonderful relationships with some of the older people at our church, and with neighbors. Their remaining grandparents are loving and involved. I've had to seek out and foster some of those relationships in a way that hasn't always come naturally to me, but I try to make myself step out of my comfort zone for the sake of my kids.

This last one may be the hardest one to admit. My mom was a wonderful mother and so much of what I do as a parent is based on my experience growing up with her, but losing my mom also set me free from some of the expectations for motherhood that weren't working for me, often ones that I didn't even realize I was holding on to. Losing her made me question some assumptions I had about my own role, and try out some things that I know I wouldn't have felt as free to try if she was alive. As I said, that's difficult to say out loud, but as I look back on the years since I lost her, I must acknowledge that it's a reality.

In the time since, my kids have grown up. We had another baby and now have a ten, seven and two-year-old. In many ways the birth of our youngest both highlighted the absence of my mom and provided some healing for it. It cemented the feeling that while I don't like doing this without her and will always miss her, I can and am doing it. Calling my dad in the minutes after she was born brought tears of gratitude and joy, but also tears of loss as we talked about Mom and her absence in that moment.

As I write this, I'm sitting in the backyard of a house my mom never saw, watching a little girl she never met blow bubbles and run through the grass. Every day, month, and year feels a little further away from who I was when she was alive. It's hard to know where to end this essay, because there's really no end to this story. She continues on as a part of our lives, just in different ways. Especially if I have a tough day, I'll talk with my kids about why I'm sad and share with my kids stories and memories about her. I don't want them to grow up feeling like grief is something you hide away from the people you love. Over the years, my grief has evolved from anger and sadness into something that has become a part of who I am, something that can be shared and turned into almost a bittersweet joy. Having my children to share this with as they grow has been a true blessing. My path of grief could have been very different without them, could have easily fossilized into something hard and bitter, a place to remain safe but stilted. Instead, my kids forced me to keep moving forward through the pain, to keep getting up every day, to find ways to keep growing with it, to allow it even to shape me. And although my kids are growing up without my mom, I know that in this way she will always be a part of them.       

Kate Moscato Leen is a musician and mother who lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband and three kids.   
International Study Looks for Genetic Clues to Postpartum Depression

In an effort to understand the possible genetic basis for perinatal mood disorders, a University of North Carolina-led research team will use a new iPhone app, called PPD ACT, to gather data. They hope to collect at least 100,000 DNA samples from women who have had postpartum depression, and compare them with the DNA of demographically similar women who have been pregnant at least twice but never experienced depression. Any woman who has experienced a perinatal mood disorder, even if not recently, is welcome to participate.

The research team theorizes that postpartum depression may be distinct from depression in the general population, and involve more readily identifiable genes that are activated during or after pregnancy. The discovery of specific genetic markers for postpartum depression could lead to more effective and targeted treatment options.

PPD ACT is free, currently available in the USA, Britain, and Australia, and assesses experiences of sadness, anxiety, and psychosis after childbirth.

Women who score high on the assessment are invited to donate saliva via a mailed "spit kit." To ensure a broad spectrum of DNA samples, the app will also be made available on iPads in rural and urban clinics, and spit kits will be immediately available on site. Researchers will genotype the samples for about 600,000 genetic markers, according to one of the scientists on the project. 

Jenny Benson, a program coordinator with Perinatal Support Washington, is one of the many participants. "I experienced postpartum depression and anxiety when my son was born eight years ago. It devastated me, and I'm hopeful that this study will provide answers so that so many other women don't have to go through this," she said.

For more information about the study, the PPD ACT app, and how to participate, see
Teen Moms

With Mother's Day around the corner, it's important to recognize a specific subset of mothers during this time of celebration: teen mothers. Teen mothers are a part of the mothering population whose existence is often shamed and virtually unnoticed in the images and voices that  we celebrate during this holiday. In quite the opposite fashion, as the National Teenage
Pregnancy Prevention campaign kicks off every year on May 1, their images are often seen as a shameful public health problem.

According to the US Department of Health & Human Services, 333,746 babies were born to mothers under the age of 20 in the United States in 2011. Of those babies, 5,579 were born to mothers in Washington State. While the teen pregnancy rate has decreased since 1991, teen parents still exist within our communities. And while teen pregnancy prevention is an important public health matter, the historical use of shaming, labeling, judging, and isolating current teen moms does little to support these mothers and their children within our community.

Teenage mothers face a number of unique struggles, including societal stigma, educational challenges, as well as increased risk for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Every month can be emotional for teen moms; however, May can be particularly challenging with National  Teenage Pregnancy Prevention ads that remind them that they are a statistic, "dirty", and that their children are disadvantaged. To help counter these ads, organizations such as the Strong Families Movement and and #NoTeenShame work to raise awareness of the stigmatization of
teen mothers, while, at the same time, promoting positive messages around reproductive health and parenthood through sexual education.

If you are looking to celebrate a non-traditional mother this Mother's Day, the Strong Families Movement created, where you can choose a free e-card that shows love and appreciation for all mothers. The goal is to provide cards that are reflective of all families. They believe that "mamahood is not one size fits all. All mamas deserve to be seen and honored..." including teen mothers.

If you are a teen parent in Washington State, visit The site, managed by the statewide non-profit WithinReach, connects pregnant and parenting teens to important and necessary health information, state benefit programs, and community-specific support resources.

  • Seattle Mom Prom is May 14, starting at 8pm, at Fremont Abbey Arts Center in Seattle. This is special night to celebrate and honor moms--a night to let loose on the dance floor, enjoy some drinks and desserts, and ultimately help raise money for postpartum support. It's a chance to celebrate and acknowledge all the hard work moms do, support a great cause, and have tons of fun. It is the ultimate ladies night out! For more information, see our Event page.
  • Film screening of Dark Side of the Moon is June 14, 6:30pm at Bellingham's downtown public library. This movie "delves into the unseen world of maternal mental health in the U.S. It will uncover the disconnect within the medical community to effectively screen, refer, and treat the 1.3 million mothers affected each year, giving a face and voice to the countless women who have suffered in silence."
    After the viewing will be a discussionled by Perinatal Support Washington's Program Manager, Mia Edidin, MSW, LCSW. For more information and to register, see the Event page.
  • Seattle Climb Out of the Darkness is June 18, starting at 10am at Maple Leaf Park in NE Seattle. PS-WA is spearheading the Seattle climb, which is part of the international event from Postpartum Progress that raises awareness of all types of PMADs. For more information and to register, see the Event page.
  • June 4, "When the Unexpected Happens: Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth," in Tacoma. See the event page for more information and to register. 
  • June 13, "Prevention, Identification and Treatment of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders: Best Practices," in Port Angeles. See the Event page for more information and to register. 
  • June 14, "Prevention, Identification and Treatment of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders: Best Practices," in Mount Vernon. See the Event page for more information (save the date--registration coming soon).

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Perinatal Support Washington (formerly Postpartum Support International of Washington)