From Nicki Petersen of Bloomington, IL - Maternal mental health advocate, Founder of Surviving to Thriving
"My story is a bit of a backwards one. I really didn't realize I had suffered from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders until many years later. I mean, I had heard of postpartum depression. Those are the women you see in the horrific news stories, right? It wasn't until I was helping someone look for (non-existent resources) that a light bulb went off. I didn't realize such things as postpartum anxiety, OCD, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and psychosis existed too. These disorders can happen anytime during pregnancy and up to one year postpartum. They are temporary and treatable but can persist for months or even years if not treated.
Turns out feelings of intense regret, unwanted scary thoughts, anger and rage, and feeling like I wasn't cut out for motherhood didn't make me a bad mom. It made me a mom experiencing symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Realizing that there were little to no resources locally, I decided I wanted to make a change. I started volunteering with an organization called Postpartum Progress. That non-profit has since dissolved, but the knowledge I gained and the relationships that came out of that time have been invaluable.
I started leading an awareness and fundraising walk called Climb Out of the Darkness. This is where my perinatal mental health advocacy journey started.
I felt that God had laid this on my heart to make a difference and ensure that other moms knew that this was common, temporary, treatable, and that help was available and healing was possible.
I dug in and began attending as many trainings as I could to gain as much knowledge possible so I could share that with the community and provide education and support. I attended a peer group facilitator training in New Jersey and started a local support group of my own, called Surviving To Thriving.
As I spread the word and began raising awareness online, women of all ages started to reach out. Some thanking me for giving a name to how they felt all those years ago when all this time they just thought they were a terrible mother. This work is incredibly heavy.
I hold the deepest darkest secrets and thoughts of some of the most amazingly strong mothers. When I started on this advocacy journey I always said, "If I save at least one life, it's all worth it."
Many people don't realize that suicide is the leading cause of death in woman who have given birth in the last year.
The weight and the guilt of these thoughts and feelings can become too much to bear when you believe you are the only one experiencing them. It's so very common and I want every person who experiences these symptoms to know that they are not alone and help is available.
Our mission in Surviving to Thriving is to provide a safe space where people can learn they aren't alone, be directed to resources, and find the hope to heal from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. The sooner that people reach out for help, the sooner they can feel better. To the mom suffering in silence: I see you, I understand, you are a good mom who can and will feel better.
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