Family

Having a baby can be painful. Life after shouldn't have to be.

A new recommendation urges medical providers to screen new mothers for depression.

Having a baby can be painful. Life after shouldn't have to be.

"I was like, 'Hey, I'm having postpartum depression.' I went to my OB, and he kind of brushed me off."

Almost immediately, Heidi Koss knew something wasn't right. The psychology major was experiencing some of the symptoms of postpartum depression and sought help. Sadly, it was hard to come by.

She went to her obstetrician/gynecologist only to be told she needed to "get out more" and maybe "buy a nice dress." She wasn't being heard. She wasn't being taken seriously.


"I kind felt like help was unavailable to me," she says.

She loved her baby, but she didn't love motherhood. Heidi recognized the symptoms of postpartum depression right away. Photo by Heidi Koss, used with permission.

Her postpartum depression continued on, untreated, for 17 months.

For those who've never experienced depression, it may be hard to understand what it's like to feel the symptoms compound over time. Heidi had nightmares, she felt scared, and she was irritable. The more time passed, the worse it got.

"And while I bonded to my baby and I loved my baby, I wasn't enjoying motherhood," she said. "It was a nightmare becoming a mother even though I loved my child."

It wasn't an issue of not bonding with her baby. She did. It was the depression, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and fear that kept her from keeping calm. Photo by Heidi Koss, used with permission.

Her story isn't at all out of the ordinary. Pregnancy-related depression is very common.

According to Postpartum Support International, between 15% and 21% of women experience moderate to severe symptoms of depression or anxiety during pregnancy. Roughly 21% experience depression after birth. In fact, at that rate, mood and anxiety disorders are one of the most common pregnancy-related complications.

"It was a nightmare becoming a mother even though I loved my child."

Various studies have found that untreated depression and anxiety leave potentially lasting negative effects on parents and children.

That nightmare Heidi went through with her first doctor? It should never happen, but now it should happen much, much less.

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, an independent review board, in early 2016 issued some new, potentially lifesaving guidelines for depression screening. Here's what that means:

  • All adults should be screened for depression (including pregnant women and new moms).
  • Treatment should be made available for people who test positive.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. As Heidi's story illustrates, even when mothers actively sought help, it was sometimes denied. Now, hopefully, screening for depression will become a routine part of pregnancy, and new mothers won't face that same struggle.

"I think it's imperative to do early screening with every single mother every single time," Heidi tells me. Photo by Heidi Koss, used with permission.

Having a treatment plan in place ahead of her second pregnancy made all the difference in the world for Heidi.

Knowing she was at risk — mothers affected by mood and anxiety disorders are more likely to develop them during future pregnancies — she took preemptive measures before and during her second pregnancy, such as receiving therapy and medication to help ease the transition. Shortly after giving birth, symptoms of depression returned. Luckily for her, she had the right people and care providers in place.

"With my first, it took 17 months before I found an appropriate care provider who actually listened and got me into appropriate treatment. ... 17 months is a world of difference."

Not only will new guidelines help prepare doctors, but they'll also reduce stigma that surrounds depression.

In 1996, a National Mental Health Association survey found that the majority of Americans "think of depression as a sign of personal or emotional weakness." Other studies have shown a belief that seeking therapy or medication to treat depression or anxiety is a sign of poor character. Medically, these beliefs are flat-out wrong. Even so, they may deter people from seeking treatment.

If doctors roll depression screening into the battery of tests that accompany pregnancy, they will help normalize and reduce the stigma associated with it.(And, you know, it ensures that they're equipped to help out in these types of situations, as well.) Other tests can be self-administered, such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.

This was a huge step forward in identifying and treating an all-too-common complication.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."