Photo courtesy of Nichole Peterson/NP Images
Hearing someone’s story is one of the best ways to deepen our understanding of their experience. Storytelling can play a powerful role in healing for the teller and provide perspective to the audience. One brave woman will be telling her story of returning to wholeness through a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder diagnosis at the 2016 DONA International conference.
Melissa Bangs is a storyteller and performer embarking on a one year tour to tell her story of motherhood from the birth of daughter Adelaide to her nearly month long stay in a psychiatric hospital and, finally, her return to health. In Playing Monopoly with God and Other True Stories, she uses honesty and humor to get to the heart of the matter promoting awareness, healing, and hope. Melissa shared a few thoughts with us about her upcoming performance and the role she sees doulas in promoting awareness, compassion and support for women experiencing postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Tickets are available for Melissa’s 7pm Saturday night conference performance and DONA International will benefit from the proceeds.
— Adrianne Gordon, CD(DONA, MBA
Why are you excited to perform at the 2016 DONA International conference?
Doulas, as well as midwives are, for me, real life superheroes. Each and every one of you should wear a cape. Truly.
Women are not meant to bear or raise children alone. Families are not meant to raise children in an isolated way. And yet we do. In our modern culture, so many of us are far from support systems and the close-knit, multi-generational models of the past.
Doulas are a beautiful and profound way to close the gaps that modern living has created. Doulas have the power to powerfully prepare, accompany, support, advocate for, hold and honor mamas and papas in these beautifully potent yet often incredibly vulnerable and even bewildering chapters of their lives. Often a doula will be a mother’s closest ally among all of the healthcare providers within her birth journey. The potential to support mamas in difficult postpartum chapters is profound. Of course you all know this! You do it every day and have done it for eons!
Why is it important for doulas to hear your story?
My hope is that you will hear and see and feel yourselves in my story, your clients in my story, moms and motherhood. This is one mother’s story told without shame, with brutal honesty and a great deal of self love. It is a story that could have remained, like so many shrouded in shame and stigma, and yet, I felt called to share it from a mountain top so that so many others might feel the room, the call, the permission to name what is, to feel less alone, to get help and to forgive.
What’s one thing we should take away from your performance?
If my story does nothing else, may it unleash yours!
And a second thing- postpartum mood and anxiety disorders are the number one birth complication, and yet, far too often, we are not talking about them.
Whether you are a birth doula or postpartum doula, my hope and call is that the entire birth field, doulas included, will garner extensive and appropriate training on postpartum mood and anxiety disorders and each play our role in peeling back the layers of shame and silence and proactively tackling an issue/an experience that is vastly shared and yet rarely talked about.
How can doulas apply what we learn and experience from your performance?
If you aren’t doing so already, have these conversations with your clients – during pregnancy, just after birth and in the weeks and many months that follow. Ask the tough questions. Provide the full spectrum of possibilities. If you haven’t already, fully educate yourself on postpartum mood and anxiety disorders and the referral resources in your community.
You are, as you know better than I, the front line. Postpartum doulas are often the only professional worker seeing mama. Or it may look like the doula, perhaps the midwife for a handful of visits, and then the pediatrician. Each has their role in providing a safety net for moms, a role in education, prevention, screening and accessing services when needed.
Doulas already know, so intimately and deeply, how important this topic is. Many know it much more so than I do.
How can doulas best support women dealing with postpartum mood disorders?
Have the open and frank conversations about all of it, from the bliss to the abyss. Make known before baby is here the array of PMAD (postpartum mood and anxiety disorder) possibilities. Normalize it, because it is very common. Make yourself an ally and nonjudgmental resource that moms (and dads!) can reach out to with questions with strange and disturbing thoughts or experiences and with the vulnerable and bewildered parts of themselves that they have never met before. Be the safe place, the informed place, the place of resources.
In the realm of maternal mental health at this time in the U.S., therapy and pharmaceutical medication are the two most common responses, and each have their own power and efficacy. Therapy alone has proven to cut the rates of postpartum depression in half. This is monumental. Talk to mama! Get to her talking to other mamas! Let her know about postpartum support groups or form one.
Medication can also prove effective and even life-saving for some mamas. Find a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner with perinatal mood and anxiety disorder training and expertise to refer your clients to. Beware that many do not have this training and can be a real disservice to mamas. If you don’t have a lot of local resources, connect moms to Postpartum Support International and Postpartum Progress so they have access to a hotline, closed discussion groups on Facebook, and highly trained professionals for support.
Also, educate yourself about alternatives available to psychotropic drugs as these options do not work for many moms. I, for one, could feel nothing on my medication. Nothing. I had to find another way, and I did. I found a naturopathic physician who tested and balanced my hormones and neurotransmitters, and brought me back to stasis and off medication incredibly quickly. She gave me my life back.
What else would you like doulas to know?
Doulas sit in a powerful place with the possibility of educating leagues of mamas and papas about the possibilities for their postpartum experience and the options for help and treatment, if needed.
You are the wonder women; you engage in the miraculous nature of new life every day, and you bear witness! I see you at the forefront of closing the enormous gap in services for mamas and families postpartum in this country.
Thank you for all you do and have done!
What’s next for you?
In September, we kick off a nine city west coast tour with the show.
We have just moved into a 19 foot Shasta Airflyte trailer and will for the next year make our way from Bellingham to Baja. By we, I mean my 6’4” hubby Eric, our 130 lb Bernese Mountain dog, Etta James, and my nearly four year old daughter, Adelaide, the only member in the entourage who has graciously agreed to remain small for the journey, and me.
We kick off the tour in Bellingham at Mount Baker Theatre September 13th and 14th. Our second stop in late October is Seattle’s town hall, a unique and powerful performance space. Then we wind our way down the coast from there.
Beyond the tour and in tandem- conferences, university performances and leading the preliminary phases of statewide strategic planning on maternal mental health in Montana (my other hat… strategic planner). Oh yes, and a book!
Find out more about Melissa, her story and performances at playingmonopolywithgod.com