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Serena: Hey Everyone, I’m Serena.
Tina: And I’m Tina and we are the Mental Health Mamas.
Serena: Welcome to No Need to Explain, we are so glad you’re here.
Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.
Serena: We come to you NOT as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as the parents of kids who struggle with their emotional health.
Tina: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You’ll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website, NoNeedToExplainPodcast.com.
Serena: We want to share a quick content warning with you about this episode. We will be talking about suicide in terms of attempt and also a death by suicide. Please take extra good care of yourself and utilize mental health resources if you are in need of support.
Serena: Today we are excited to welcome to the podcast, a fellow mama in mental health. She is a Mama on a Mission to remove guilt, shame and blame from the parenting experience in order to make room for connection, love and (all the) rest. Yael Daphna Saar is a survivor of postpartum depression or PPD and is passionate about reducing maternal isolation and, like us, normalizing the conversation around asking for help.
Tina: Yael is the founder of Mama’s Comfort Camp which is a Facebook group where mothers from around the world come to support one another. We love their motto…”Mamas don’t need more advice, we need more support!”. Welcome Yael, we’re so glad you’re here!
Yael: Oh my God, I love being here with you. I’m having a bit of a, like a fan moment with you which is kind of funny for me because I’ve known you for years and years. And then I started listening to your podcast and now it’s like one of my favorite podcasts because you’re so aligned with everything that my work stands for. And so this past week as I was getting ready for Passover I was cleaning and cooking and listening, you know, and binging on your podcast. So it’s just so exciting to be here with you today. Thank you for having me.
Serena: That’s awesome. Thank you. So tell us about your story and how Mama’s Comfort Camp came to be?
Yael: Mama’s Comfort Camp was born out of postpartum depression. I’ve had postpartum depression after each of my children was born. I have two boys. But also, the biggest effect of postpartum depression of my life was actually my mother’s. Trigger warning; I’m about to say something sad but things turned out alright in the end. So I lost my mother, my birth mother to postpartum depression when I was six. She had postpartum depression after I was born. It was exacerbated when my brother was born three years later and all I remember from my birth mom is that she was crying all the time. When I was six she died and they didn’t tell me it was suicide which was a very nice thing to do for a six year old girl. This was an excellent lie. I highly recommend it. They told me she had a heart attack and that she died and that she’ll be watching me from above. I totally believed that and so as a little girl I believed that my birth mom sent my step-mom over to us. That she couldn’t take care of us so she did, when she realized she couldn’t take good care of us she did what she could to make sure we had the mother that she wanted us to have and that she found her for us.
Which, fast forward not quite thirty years later, at this point I’m 32 and I’m having my first child and he wasn’t thriving. He was born early and he had a hard time sleeping. He had a hard time eating, he couldn’t swallow properly and so without eating he was having a hard time sleeping. A few months into it even though we bonded just fine there was all this failure to thrive. He was really not growing and not gaining weight and not sleeping and I just spiraled into depression. And at that point I believed that it was my turn to do what my mother did and that I needed to get out of the way and find a better mother for my child and a better wife for my husband. And I want to just say that at no point do I think my second mother was a better person than my first mother, but when you’re depressed these, you know, dichotomies, these lies that the postpartum depression demon, which I call the PP Demons. They create this story that is very easy to believe. And at that time it just sort of made sense that I just need to follow in my mother’s footsteps. So when my first son was about seven months old I overdosed on sleep medication and then I woke up the next morning in the hospital. Apparently my life was not in danger at any point. Like, whatever medications I had was not enough to kill me and that’s great. You know I was like, rock bottom, my suicide attempt was my rock bottom and now that I have a rock to push against, it was time to learn how to swim back up. And I have spent the following ten, well, no, my son is now 17 and I have been, ever since I’ve been on this continual journey of healing. Now, I had depression before I had children. Depression and anxiety are sort of part of my make-up, but all of the demands of parenting, of course, led me to a place where I was not able to manage my natural tendency toward depression and anxiety.
In the years since my suicide attempt I have, you know, it became so important to learn how to manage my emotions, my thought, my thoughts about my emotions and my emotions about my thoughts. And mostly teaching myself how to navigate all of this in a way that is truly supportive to myself. And through that, two things became very clear. Normalizing the struggles of motherhood became one of my most important goals. There was a lot of learning involved and a lot of it was about self-care about myself and also I want to share that I’m very grateful for psychiatric medication and antidepressants and that sort of thing. But in my experience medications don’t solve the problem. They just help me find the wherewithal to learn the skills that then solve the problem or at least mitigate it greatly.
So that’s the personal learning and then there’s all the social learning and the paying attention to what does motherhood look like in our society. And there’s a lot of lip service for motherhood, you know, but it’s not real because even family values, when people talk about family values, it’s not often things that support mothers and children and families, right? It’s things that restrict their capacity to thrive very often. So there was a lot of engagement for me with looking at policy and politics and you know, learning that the personal is political. All sorts of steps of observing and engaging with other women, other mothers and feminism and understanding that the economic system we live in is so oppressive to everyone, really.
Tina: So it seems like this, kind of, deep dark place that you were in helped you. So I always think of the...I’ve gone through some stuff that has been really hard and I don’t know. I think, perhaps, I need to make a “why”. Like, what am I supposed to do with this, right? What am I supposed to do with this information that I’m getting? It stinks when you’re going through it. You don’t like it and what am I gonna do with it? It sounds like that’s what you did with Mama’s Comfort Camp, right. To be able to put out to the world all of this stuff, right?
Yael: Yes. So it became really clear that a lot of this is happening because mothers are disenfranchised because the people who actually are responsible for human existence are not empowered to feel all their feelings and think all their thoughts and communicate with each other properly in a way where all of their feelings are valid and you know, when the scary stories show up we support each other in noticing the scary part is not necessarily true and we hold each other up.
So at that time I started a website and it was called Postpartum Depression to Joy and then I started offering support meetings here in town. Peer support meetings. Again, like you guys, I’m not a professional. It wasn’t about an “expert” in the room. And I also was offering some phone calls. You know, people were able to call in to a monthly PPD Speakeasy. And it was mostly women that weren’t local. People that I met on the Twitterverse and we started supporting each other. And then Facebook offered Facebook groups which we were like, OK, let’s do that. We started a group with that motto of, “Moms Don’t Need Advice, We Need More Support”. Let’s listen to each other without trying to fix each other because that’s really where so much magic happens. When people can show up fully with all of their thoughts and their fears and their pain and then together find the path to hope.
So we created this group and we called Mama’s Comfort Camp and not Postpartum Depression to Joy because it turns out there were two problems with PPD to Joy. One was PPD and the other was joy. Some people did not want to associate with something they considered a mental illness and other people who were in the throes of postpartum depression could not imagine themselves being a part of something joyful in the moment, right. So first of all I want to say that even though postpartum depression is classified as a mental health, it is my opinion that it is actually a very logical and almost healthy reaction to a very unhealthy situation. Mothers today, you know, the lack of support to a mother in a nuclear family, no wonder her body and her psyche get to this place where guilt and exhaustion create the chemical imbalance that we call depression.
Tina: Part of what I’m hearing is that society has these standards that we all need to live up to, right? That mothers are supposed to be xyz, you know, everything. And it’s funny because we talk about that as the “Facebook Family”, don’t we Serena?
Tina: And it’s great. We love Mama’s Comfort Camp. You know, I think my favorite thing about Mama’s Comfort Camp is the rule around, tell us what you need to tell us and tell us what you need. Because that is awesome, right? It’s not, put it out to the world so that everyone can give you their opinion about it. It’s, here’s my stuff, I’m gonna put it right here and here’s what I need back and some of that stuff is, the reactions are just, it always amazes me to read them.
Serena: Yeah and I will add to that the judgment-free environment and the, just the holding space for the hard things that, you know, maybe we can’t share with everybody in our world. And the fact that it’s so well moderated that, you know, things are taken care of if things don’t follow the rules. I’ve seen that happen certainly. But it has created a sort of long-term group in a way that many groups kind of flounder after they’ve been at it for a while.
Yael: One thing I want to make sure our listeners are aware of is that Mama’s Comfort Camp is for Mamas of all ages and stages. And we have people often find us when they are mothers of babies but we also have some people that find us when they’re grandmothers and what we also find is that if you joined us when you had a baby and now your baby is twelve, you’re likely to still be with us. I mean, Mama’s Comfort Camp is nine years old. So we have people that joined us when their babies were newborns and now they’re nine and they’re not planning on leaving. In fact, they’re becoming moderators.
What you mentioned, we call that our posting format where we’re asking our members to...we’re basically, the posting format is a support structure so when you allow yourself to be vulnerable and you know, powerfully vulnerable, what you get is useful for you. So you’re gonna keep doing that. As opposed to any format or structure then the likelihood of getting what you don’t want is high enough and that’s gonna shut you down. You’re not as likely to open up again. So that’s one of the most important things about why we bother to ask people to post a certain way. So basically we’re asking people to say what this is about, what is the topic, what is your need, and what is your don’t needs. So it’s boundaried and it’s clear. And what’s wonderful about that is that people tell us that they take this with them everywhere. So they are now, you know, because of the Facebook group that is actually the face of a non-profit organization, that I should definitely make sure I mention a little bit about that in a minute. People tell us that because of the way they’re learning to communicate at Mama’s Comfort Camp, you know, with that clarity and boundaries that their communication with their spouses is the first thing to change. Their communication with their Mothers-In-Laws improves. The way they approach people at work if they are working and also what people tell us is that after a while, after they’ve been communicating this way in Mama’s Comfort Camp for a while and they’ve had the experience of sharing their feelings and being sort of propped up and being met with love and, you know, that gaze that sees everything you’re capable of that at some point they stop needing to post it in order to receive it.
There’s gonna be video content about how to support yourself and your nervous system when things get hard and the video aspect of it will be free for Mama’s Comfort Campers but there will be options for our members to go into, sort of, like community classrooms where you take a course and you get support in community with other people and you go through things in a sort of more systematic and structured way and for that we will be making it affordable but still something that pays back the investment of creating this content.
Tina: That is very cool and I’m glad to hear about it. We’re aware that Mama’s Comfort Camp, we just heard a lot about it, which is awesome and it’s just one very small part of your larger organization called Mother Up! Can you share with us some of your other projects that are in the works?
Yael: Yeah. So, Motherhood is a Joke is a program that supports Mothers in turning our motherhood struggles into comedy gold. And it was kind of fortuitous to start this in the months leading to the pandemic because, boy, don't we all need that skill, you know. It was a collaboration with the Kitchen Theater and was a group of 15 mothers of various ages, stages, religions and languages that came together to perform. You know, it was a five month project of learning how to write and feel comfortable with our stage presence and then we were supposed to perform on March 31st, 2020. So we had a rehearsal with an audience but our show never happened. We had everything shut down before the show. And so we have stuck together and we’re supporting each other through Zoom and then 6 of us were able to perform in November and we made a video recording of that. This summer we’re going to start another class of Motherhood is a Joke which will be an online class and then we are creating that with the intention for mothers around the world to be able to participate in that. And the delivery of their comedy act will happen online either via video or audio or both for those who are interested.
Tina: So people can find that information on MotherUp.org, correct?
Tina: OK, awesome. Good.
Serena: Can you give us just a little bit of information about Parents2Polls?
Yael: Parents2Polls is a program where mothers and parents are supporting each other and everyone else in voting. So it’s not always easy for a parent, especially a parent of young children to go vote. So the first time we tried it was in the election of 2018. It was the midterm election and we were supporting parents in the polling places by meeting them in the parking lot and if necessary, staying with the child in the car so a parent could run in to vote. Or if there was a line, standing in line for the parent so they don’t have to leave their children for a long time. And that’s how it started. And then in the election of 2020 there were early voting and during the pandemic it was so much better for everyone involved if people could spread out their votes. So there were nine days and two polling places here in Tompkins County and what we did is that we invited people to sign up for specific shifts so every day you had at least two hours in each polling place where we advertised that we were gonna have support outside of the polling place. So people who needed help could come during those hours. And what we found was, this was not all only supporting parents. It became a way for parents to show up for the entire community, but also teens joined us. High school students joined us. And what we ended up doing was mostly helping people, you know, for the first several days the lines were pretty long and the weather wasn’t great. Just the fact that there were all of us there and we would stand in line for someone if they needed to go to the bathroom or we were there to answer questions and we were there to lend umbrellas and hand sanitizer, like all of that. And we were wearing these little Parents to Polls signs and we explained that nobody’s being paid. Everybody is a volunteer and this was not about, there was no political party involved. It was just like parents and teens wanting to help the community feel supported in their voting.
Serena: As we say on our website and we all know to be true, parenting is hard. Tina and I have talked on previous episodes about the various expectations others have of parents and even the expectations we have of ourselves. So tell us your thoughts on expectations vs. reality?
Yael: Well in my experience, suffering is the result of the gap between expectations and reality. Things happen and some things are painful. A lot of things are painful, right? But humans are pretty good at handling pain. It's when painful stuff is in contradiction of what we expect, our initial view of reality. Then we take the difference between what is and what we believe should be as sort of proof of our failure and in my experience that is sort of where shame and guilt and rage and fear are, all of those hard emotions happen because of our attachment to the very unrealistic expectations in a society that really does not support parents and especially does not support mothers.
And so at Mama’s Comfort Camp we have multiple mottos and one of them is, we are here to meet needs, rather than expectations. So we avoid the sort of, adding insult to injury. Like you’re, it’s enough that you’re exhausted and unsupported, what would happen if the energy that you use when you compare yourself to that view of what you thought things would look like, if that energy instead of being turned into finding your proof of failure was something you used to just notice, well this is really really hard and I am struggling. Of course I’m struggling. And use that energy to validate and support yourself. And that’s very very hard to do. So the primary functions of discussions in Mama’s Comfort Camp is a mother saying well this is what is and it feels like a failure and then all the other mothers are like, no, it’s what is for me too. You are not the only freak in town. You are not alone. You are never alone. And then that frees up your energy to be used in supporting yourself and caring for your family.
Tina: So parenting is hard enough and then we add a pandemic. So tell us how that’s been for you. Has it been different? The same? Any thoughts on that? Parenting in a pandemic.
Yael: Well, you know, I’m sure you’ve seen the Primal Scream, the series of articles the New York Times did on mothers in the pandemic. Primal scream is exactly it. And you know, for me, the pandemic was just an illustration of all of the things I’ve been saying for years about how our society is treating mothers like candy wrappers, right? Like as soon as the baby is born the wrapper is discarded. I don’t know if that’s making sense.
Serena: No, no, it makes sense.
Yael: All of the things that are wrong with how society treats mothers were just dialed up 1000%. And so for me it was heartbreak, how heartbreaking and being at a place of watching all of them, the thousands of mothers in Mama’s Comfort Camp having their experience and talking about it. You know, on one hand I was so grateful that we had this thing ready for exactly when it’s needed, when we’re so isolated. But also, you know, we weren’t supported, we weren’t able to get additional support during this time so our moderators and me were working crazy hard during this whole period so it really does feel like sometimes we barely have a nostril above water. And working really, really hard to meet all of the needs. But at this point we’re beginning to see, you know, the light I guess you could call it and I’m so grateful to our new moderators that are coming in so there’s more hands on deck and I’m hoping that for more and more mothers, whether in Mama’s Comfort Camp or not, there’s more ease coming in and more support and more capacity.
Serena: Yeah, so let’s shift a little bit to talk about self care and the various ways you find to practice self-care as busy parents, this is something we like to ask our guests. So you probably know that Tina and I don’t particularly care for the “put on your mask first” idea, especially in the middle of a pandemic. I think we tend to talk more about self-care as filling our cups...and if those cups happen to overflow, then that only benefits those around us, right? So I have always loved the way that you talk about self care for parents…can you share that with our listeners?
Yael: Thank you. I’d love to. So I really do hate the oxygen mask analogy because it really centers on the idea that you take care of yourself so you can take care of others. It’s like, it’s again centering other people’s needs. Whenever people say that I just want to scream, hey, you could put on the oxygen mask simply because you deserve to breathe mama. Helping other people, yes, it’s good, we like that. But let’s not have it be the “in order to”. Self-care is for any one of us to feel good. It’s not only so we can keep going in service of others. And oh my God, can you feel me on my soapbox?
I’m also really concerned about how the commercialization of self care and the shaming of people who don’t manage to go to yoga or don’t have the time to or anyone to stay with their kids or can’t afford a massage because that’s expensive. And you know, massage therapists should be paid well, but you know, wouldn’t it be good if society, you know if we all got a massage as part of our taxes, right. Not just the removal of trash, right? Some day in maybe some alternate universe. So what I’m focusing on and that was a huge part of my recovery from depression is recognizing, what am I trying to achieve with self care? I’m trying to reset my nervous system and replenish depletion. And so for me that looks like self-kindness movement which is kind of like yoga but for exhausted people. It’s also about extremely kind self talk because sometimes how we talk to ourselves creates a different chemical environment in our minds. So when we’re saying soothing things to ourselves, our mind is rejuvenated and replenished and when we are only saying things that are judgmental then our inner critic holds the mic then we’re gonna generate physical suffering for ourselves.
So over, in my recovery from depression I have gotten really good at resetting my nervous system and being really replenishing for myself and at this point I can really, it can take just a few minutes to support myself either through movement or self-talk or for me art is...I should even say color, it’s not about making things look like something else. It’s not about a drawing talent but just playing with color. Water color or coloring pages. For me just a half hour of playing with color is very nourishing for my nervous system so I do that a lot. And we actually created Mama’s Comfort Camp coloring pages in the shape of mandalas or we have one that looks like a Mama’s pandemic survival trophy but it looks like a uterus because that’s in the shape of a trophy. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that before.
Tina: Love it, love it!
Yael: And again one of the changes that happened to me during the pandemic is that up until now I was really, I really centered on creating the Mama’s Comfort Camp spaces where people could support each other and I really did not try to make myself be a coach in that space. I do sometimes work with coaching clients. I don’t really have the bandwidth so I don’t do that very often but this past year just watching how these self-kindness skills that I have have kept me from sliding back down in my, you know because my tendencies for like anxiety and depression didn’t go away and during the pandemic and the isolation and the being stuck at home with the people I love most I noticed that I was getting depressed. So I was using all of these things, it was so helpful that together with the advisory board for Mama’s Comfort Camp we realized it was really time to shift gears and create and offer this content because it’s so useful and needed. So that’s about shutting my “who do you think you are” monsters of like you’re not, make yourself, don’t make it about you and your skills but these are actually important and easy to learn and I call them not secrets, not weapons but they’re like the secret sauce. And it’s really time to make them more available to more people. These things literally saved my life and it’s really time to share them.
Serena: That’s great. I am gonna ask you one more question as we bring this episode to a close today. We are strong believers in the idea that we, as parents, are Experts by Experience and Mamas with Lived Experience. You are definitely a holder of both of those titles and we wonder if you might share a bit of your well-earned wisdom for our listeners? What do you know now that you wish you had known earlier in your journey?
Yael: I think the most important thing is you’re gonna go through moments where you hate yourself and you think that you’re, you know, messing everything up and if we all know to expect those moments when they come and we’re prepared to meeting ourselves with self-kindness and giving our nervous system what it needs, asking our community and family members to support us in a way that is truly supportive then a lot of the pain that mothers and parents are experiencing because they are so unsupported could be greatly reduced. So really it is about changing the expectations, right? It’s about being very clear about having more transparency and more avenues for people to share their parenting struggles so people experiencing them won’t feel that what’s going on for them is a failure.
Tina: You are putting things out into the world that are and we appreciate that. So we will bring this episode to a close by thanking you so much for joining us today and sharing your wisdom with us and our listeners. We will be putting links in our notes and on our website, NoNeedtoExplainPodcast.com, for all of our listeners to learn more about the various projects of Mother Up! And if you’re a Mama and not yet a member, we definitely recommend that you look for “Mama’s Comfort Camp” on Facebook and even our listener in France can join because it is worldwide, right?
Tina: So, yeah. Consider joining this positive support community of Mamas.
Serena: Yes, definitely join that Facebook group! And Yael, I just want to thank you for being so open and vulnerable with us today and you know, normalizing this conversation and putting things out there that other people are feeling and need to hear so they hopefully feel a little less alone. So thank you so much for joining us today.
Yael: Thank you so much for having me. You’re some of my favorite people and I’m very grateful to be spending this time with you.
Tina: So podcast friends, we are, and are always grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple podcasts, leaving us a review, subscribing and sharing with others.
Serena: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.
Tina: Thanks again for listening!