Behind the Scenes
Spotlight: Jennifer Moyer
Biography: Jennifer Moyer experienced postpartum psychosis when her son
was eight weeks old. She has put in the hard work of personal recovery and has built a life filled with the love of her family and her determination to leave a positive imprint in this world. She has focused her efforts on being a mental health advocate in the area of perinatal mental health in order to help others experiencing mental illness related to childbearing and in support of general mental health issues.
Jennifer served as a Volunteer Area Coordinator for Postpartum Support International, providing emotional, practical and informational support to mothers and families experiencing mental illnesses related to childbearing. She also serves as a postpartum support and education consultant, a certified postpartum doula and speaker about mental health issues.
Jennifer has various media experience including her personal story being published in the February 2002 issue of Glamour Magazine resulting in a guest appearance on CNN’sThe Point. She was also interviewed for an article appearing in the December 2002 issue of Psychology Today.
Jennifer is currently working on a book about her experiences with postpartum psychosis and in the US mental health system.
Interview: You survived a postpartum psychosis episode and lived to create a good life with your husband and children.
I am in awe, first, of your general life resilience as a person, and then of your advocacy and your work. As I write this, I have the chills. I worked with persons with severe and persistent mental illness for 3 years, and witnessed psychosis often. The first time I witnessed psychosis, it was scary, confusing and very curious. I salute you for your work and strength.
Q: I understand that you had an episode of postpartum psychosis when your son was 8 weeks old. That must have been a most life-changing experience. I can’t begin to imagine what changes that brought to your self-perception and to your family. If you are willing, can you tell us a bit about your experience? How did it modify your self-concept? Did it modify your family?
The onset of postpartum psychosis was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. I was educated and well-prepared during my pregnancy but not once did I read or hear of postpartum psychosis. As a result, my family and I did not know postpartum psychosis even existed so it was impossible to recognize some of the warning signs leading up to the psychosis.
Although my labor and delivery was long and difficult, I recovered physically and emotionally within two weeks after my son was born. After my husband returned to work, I had support. My mother, who lived 1200 miles away, came to help about a week after my son was born. In fact, I now consider my mom, who had given birth to 8 children of her own, to have been my postpartum doula for about 4 weeks. During that time, I was able to focus on taking care of my son, while my mom helped more with the practical things.
At about 6 weeks postpartum, my mom had to return to her home in another state, my husband was already back to work full-time and my closest family members lived an hour away, things gradually began to change. I became more irritable. I was unable to sleep through the night even though my baby started sleeping 6 to 8 hours at night. Looking back, there were early symptoms but I did not realize it. At about seven and a half weeks postpartum, fear occurred. I was certain someone was going to harm me and take away my son. The fear was sudden and it came out of nowhere. I was so frightened; I did not even tell my husband. As a result, I went three nights without sleep. At that point, I guess it was inevitable that postpartum psychosis would strike.
Having no prior history of mental illness, I was completely ignorant of the mental health system. I had worked in healthcare marketing for years but was naïve about mental health care. So my family and I were literally thrown into the mental health system overnight. It took another hospitalization and a second opinion to get the correct diagnosis of postpartum psychosis. Once I received the diagnosis, a weight of despair, paranoia, and confusion lifted. But my experience was so dramatic that although I stabilized from the postpartum psychosis, eventually it turned into depression and anxiety, which took a long time for me to recover.
Q: I imagine that having a psychotic episode and then recovering from it changed your perspective on mental health forever. Did it modify your ideas about persons with severe mental illness?
Yes, my perspective on mental health has changed forever. I had had limited contact with persons with mental illness so I was very naïve in that area. My first experience with mental health care was at 8 weeks postpartum. I was thrown into a system that grouped me with individuals that had serious mental illness unrelated to childbearing. I had great compassion and empathy for the individuals I encountered in the hospital but I felt devastated even more and the guilt I felt as a mother escalated. The reason being that the persons I encountered had real problems that I could not identify with and here I was with a beautiful baby, who I loved dearly and no real problems yet for some reason, I was seriously ill and I did not understand how or why it was all happening to me.
Q: Were you so aware of the necessity for mental health before that episode?
No, I knew very little about mental health issues prior to my being struck with postpartum psychosis and the aftermath of the illness.
Q: Did it change your ideas on the way individuals view persons with severe mental illness? Did it change your ideas about how society provides (or should provide) services for such individuals?
My experiences absolutely changed my perspective on how individuals view persons with serious mental health issues. Over a period of time I saw such individuals treated disrespectfully, treated as criminals, over-medicated and often treated as if they were incapable of learning or being a partner in their treatment. As a result of numerous hospitalizations over the years, I became motivated to help educate others about their rights as a patient.
In my experience, it seems that often the services provided to individuals struggling with serious mental health issues are designed to focus primarily on medication rather than incorporating a complete plan to achieve wellness. In fact, the services are lacking and broken when they do not address all areas of wellness. For me, areas of wellness have included the proper medication, therapy, social support, practical support, emotional support, spiritual support, proper exercise and nutrition as well as stress management and coping skills.
I believe that the society, who “locks the door and throws away the key” and gives no hope to individuals with serious mental health issues, is a society that does not understand that with proper care and treatment, education, support and awareness, all individuals have the potential to contribute positively and productively to society.
Q: In the aftermath of the tragedy of Newton, can you share with us your ideas about the pressing necessity of how we as a society need to address mental health? Have you formulated an informed opinion regarding mental illness and gun control that you’d wish to share?
In my opinion, the biggest obstacles in addressing mental health is access to care and the ignorance and stigma often associated with mental illness. The stigma and ignorance prevents individuals and families from seeking help when services are available.
As for gun control and mental health, the research I have done when writing my articles and blogs indicates the mentally ill are no more likely to be violent then the general population unless there is a co-occurring substance abuse problem. The majority of violent crimes seem to be related to substance abuse, which is a big problem in our society. Guns do not kill people, people kill people and those that kill will use whatever weapon is available. If we increase the gun control laws, will it really prevent those individuals with intent to do harm from doing harm? The majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens.
In my opinion, if someone is intent on doing harm with a gun, they will be able to obtain a gun illegally no matter what background checks, etc. are required. I believe the bigger problem is that the mental health care system is broken in our country, not because of guns, but rather because the funding for mental health care is often cut and not made a priority making access to care more and more difficult. When tragedies such as Newton occur, it is devastating. But I believe they are preventable tragedies. Tougher gun control laws will not likely make the tragedies preventable. Rather prevention is more likely when we consistently recognize as a society, as a community and as individuals that people need to be treated with respect and dignity. And when individuals are struggling with mental health issues or other difficulties, we need to remember the importance of supportive relationships and the need for someone to reach out a helping hand.
Q: Tell us more about your panel presentation at the upcoming PSI conference: The Next Chapter: Building from Our Own Stories: I love the idea and can’t wait to participate as an observer!
I am thrilled and honored to be participating on the panel you mention. The individual presentation will be brief but I plan to discuss the elements of advocacy and how important it is to give a voice to others that may not have the ability or opportunity to speak up. There will be opportunity for questions so I am looking forward to interaction with the audience and all of the other panel members.
Q: What are some of your other projects going on now?
My biggest “project” has been and will continue to be that of a wife and mother.
That being said, my son will be graduating high school in a year so I will have more opportunity and ability to focus on advocacy in the area of mental health, specifically postpartum psychosis.
I am very excited about my current project, which has actually been a project for a long time now. In fact, I was ready to give up on it many times but something would bring it back up and I would attempt once again. But it finally moved to the next level. I have been working with a literary agent for the past year. After so many rejections, I was ready to give up.
But my agent, was the first agent to really take the time to work with me to get my book proposal and writing to a level that she could represent and ultimately find a publisher. As I write this, the book proposal is finalized. My agent is dedicated to the project and has assured me she is going to see the book is published. So the next step is to find a publisher. It is very exciting.
Q: Do you have some professional mentoring-type advice to those who wish to become voices for advocacy in the perinatal mood disorders world?
My best advice is to first focus on your own recovery and wellness.
I say this because many of us, who become voices in perinatal mental health or any other area of mental health, do so because we have been personally touched in some way by what we are advocating.
Before you can reach out and be an advocate for others, you have to be an advocate for yourself.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
First, I must say, thank you, Kathy! You are doing awesome work in the area of mental health related to childbearing. I am honored to come along side you in hopes of reaching out to as many as possible to increase the education, awareness, treatment and prevention of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.
My mission is to give hope and inspiration to individuals and families facing mental health issues. Having someone come along side you that has been through similar experience helps tremendously in the recovery and wellness process. I believe support is critical to success, not only in wellness and advocacy, but in all areas of life.
If any of you are interested, please subscribe to my blog at www.jennifermoyer.com/blog. If anyone would like to contact me or learn more about my experience and story, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you, Kathy, for this interview and for helping to share the light
Jennifer, I much appreciate your work and your advocacy work in mental health.
Thank you for shining your light on the broken mental health system in our country.
I hope to be one of the first to review your book when it is published,
here on BirthTouch someday, Jennifer!
See you in Minneapolis!