UT San Diego
August 5th, 2013 by TheBlueDotProject
Bumper stickers target women secretly suffering from postpartum illnesses
ESCONDIDO — Three months after her third child, Theo, was born in 2010, Peggy O’Neil Nosti’s family rented a summer home in Coronado and welcomed family to celebrate his christening. But what should have been the happiest week of her life instead became the first chapter in a months-long nightmare.
“I couldn’t get my shoulders away from my ears because I was so incredibly tense all the time,” she recalled in an interview last week at her Escondido home. “I wasn’t sleeping and I was burning through calories. I didn’t look good. Everything seemed harder than it should be and I didn’t think I was capable of leaving the house.”
After two months of suffering, Nosti sought help at UC San Diego’s Maternal Mental Health Clinic, where she was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety. With medication and therapy, she was herself again within months, and she vowed to help other moms some day by bringing the often-stigmatized malady out of the shadows.
That day arrived July 7 with the launch of TheBlueDotProject, a national awareness campaign for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. The nonprofit organization is marketing round, sky-blue magnets and bumper stickers to moms who have recovered from these illnesses. Project co-founder Dr. Katie Hirst, who directs the UCSD clinic, said that by placing the blue dots on the back of their cars, women can send a subtle message to other moms struggling with perinatal illnesses that they’re not alone.
“For a large segment of the population, there’s a stigma associated with admitting you’re not incredibly joyful during pregnancy or not in love with your newborn at first sight,” said Hirst, who helped launch the clinic in 2007 after a San Diego woman committed suicide a few months after giving birth. “Having to admit you’re depressed or anxious and not perfect as a woman or a parent is a double-whammy.”
Nosti, a credentialed school teacher who volunteers in the art program at L.R. Green Elementary in Escondido, said she hadn’t experienced any problems after the births of her daughter Ella, 8, or son Charlie, 5, so she didn’t understand what was happening to her body and mind after Theo was born.
Nosti’s mother, Pat O’Neil, drove down from her home in Palm Desert to help with the baby, and said she was shocked by what she encountered.
“She wasn’t herself at all,” O’Neil said. “I would come in the door and she would practically throw the baby in my arms and then go curl up on the couch. I was scared for her.”
At first, Nosti and her husband, North County dentist John Nosti, were against seeking help because they assumed it was just a case of “baby blues” and insomnia that would get better on its own. But Hirst said perinatal disorders are a chemical imbalance that can become dangerous if left untreated.
Hirst said one in six to eight mothers experience some level of anxiety or depression during or after pregnancy. Her clinic treats more than 200 San Diego County women each year, and the number is growing.
“I’ve seen women who are severely impaired from depression and anxiety, women who are unable to take care of their children and women who can’t leave their houses. I’ve also seen milder cases of women who feel sad and don’t enjoy things as much as they used to, or who worry more than they used to. There’s a wide range,” Hirst said.
Nosti, 41, said she was able to ease herself off medication after six months of treatment. But the experience was so traumatic, she and her husband decided not to have a fourth child.
“We have closed that door,” she said. “I’d rather be a good mom to three than a bad mom to four.”
The idea for TheBlueDotProject came to Nosti in May 2012 after Junior Seau’s suicide. Seau’s family and friends told the media they had no idea the football star was in crisis. Nosti said she wondered how many mothers with perinatal disorders feel desperate and alone, and could find some comfort in talking to others who have been there. A simple blue dot on a car in a school parking lot could become a spark for conversation or learning.
Through Jessica Heldman and the Postpartum Health Alliance in San Diego, Nosti and Hirst got an $18,000 grant last fall from the Mason Hirst Foundation (run by Hirst’s husband’s family). The money was used to print 7,000 blue dots as well as marketing materials, and to create a website filled with educational and resource information. Since its launch on July 7, the site has received more than 1,000 visitors.
Hirst said she is also giving the dots to her patients on their final clinic visit.
“They are so excited to have something they can use to help out other women,” Hirst said.
The blue dots (which have the website address printed on them) are being sold through the website for $10 each, with all proceeds going back into the project (O’Neil and Hirst are volunteering their services). The group’s goal is to make the blue dot as universally recognized as the pink ribbon for breast cancer or the red ribbon for AIDS. As awareness and blue dot sales grow, the partners hope to use revenues to provide small grants for the treatment of needy women.
So far, Nosti said nobody has asked her about the blue dot magnet on the back bumper of her Lexus SUV, and she has yet to hear about how the project has helped a woman in crisis. But she’s waiting.
“I’ve got some Champagne chilling in the fridge that I will pop open to celebrate on the day someone says ‘thank you for the dot.’”
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