Postpartum Progress stresses to all its Climb Out of the Darkness leaders that size doesn’t matter — and neither does fancy swag bags or free food. What matters is coming together to let others know they aren’t alone. What matters is that, as a Climb leader, I did what I could to raise awareness of perinatal mental illnesses such as postpartum depression within my community. They stress that even if I am the only one who shows up, my time and effort matters.
In June, over 4,000 people in over 180 cities around the world gathered for Climb Out of the Darkness. These Climbs varied in size greatly, as did the activities that were done before, during, and after. Some had restaurants donate catering services. Some asked Climbers to bring their own lunches. Some Climbs gathered to only walk. Some had photographers that donated their time and talent to document the event. One even had ponies to pet!
Freakin’ PONIES, ya’ll!
Climbs are just as diverse as the Climbers themselves. All of us from different parts of the world, different ethnicities, different backgrounds, different financial statuses. Each Climb is different because each leader does what she can with what she has. Some of them had a co-leader to help with follow-up calls for sponsorship or in-kind donations, others — like me — did everything on her own during hour nap time or with children in tow.
But no matter how big our Climbs ended up being or what goodies/entertainment we had for our participants, our cause was the same: to raise awareness of the number one complication due to pregnancy and childbirth.
Last year, Fredericksburg’s Climb Out of the Darkness team was about registered 20 adults. It was mostly my family and friends. I asked everyone to meet at Alum Spring Park and bring their own lunch. I read a speech and we took a walk. Wegmans donated water, which no one drank (and that might have been a good thing because they recalled it that very night). Easy and simple.
However, since the Climb was mostly people I knew, I debated whether or not I would organize another Climb this year. I didn’t want to spend money on a shelter and promotional items just to end up with a small family reunion – and neither did Mr Boots. But I did, because I had to believe that all the work I did last year planted seeds for the event to take off.
(Plus there’s believing in raising awareness and letting people know Postpartum Progress is an excellent resource to turn to for help and learning more about their illness. Especially because where I live, the most qualified people to help are at least one hour away.)
This year, Team Fredericksburg had 34 registered Climbers and about 24 of them showed up, including some of their children. Wegmans donated water and bananas, and BJ’s donated a gift card so I could buy some snacks. Parks and Rec donated the rental fee for a shelter space so my Climb could be more legit. My family prepared a lot of what we ate at our Climb. I painted some rocks with positive words on them for Climbers to take home – which was a last minute decision based on feeling like ALL the Climbs were giving something for their participants to take home.
I didn’t have ponies.
I spent most of the morning worrying about whether or not my Climb would be “good enough” because so many others had “stuff” and in-kind donations and activities I wish mine did. Had only friends and family participated I wouldn’t have cared. But strangers were arriving, and one or two of them gave me the impression they expected more from a world wide community-based event.
But when I stood up in front of a group of 24 people – family, friends, and complete strangers until that day — to read the speech written by Postpartum Progress’ founder, Katherine Stone, I found myself unable to do so. My heart swelled and I cried. Luckily, Lauren from The Scoop Mama graciously stepped up and read it for me.
I learned that many moms who walked this year were not well enough to do so last year. They loved the idea, they loved that I was getting the topic of perinatal mental illness out in the open, but they were not ready to be a part of it.
One mom in particular is someone I have run into several times since meeting her while promoting last year’s Climb. She was two weeks postpartum and in a bad place. I ran into her two more times after that. Each time she was in a better, stronger place.
She was recovering. Which is exactly what Postpartum Progress strives to let mothers and their families know: maternal mental illnesses are treatable with help.
Many, many times while organizing Fredericksburg’s Climb I asked myself “Why am I doing this? Why am I putting money and effort into this?” When I saw that very same mom walk to our shelter space I realized, SHE was my reason. Knowing where she was when I met her, learning pieces of her story each time I ran into her, and seeing where she was the day of the Climb made everything worth it.
So, yeah, I was a bit jealous of the Climbs that had catered food or ponies or photographers. And yes, it’s my hope that with both kids in school next year I’ll have more time to find businesses willing to make our Climb even better for the participants.
But that stuff is not what Climb Out of the Darkness is about. It’s about coming together to let each other know – to let our communities know – that maternal mental health matters. That WE matter. It’s to be able to share a little bit of your story with someone who can nod their head in agreement and say, “Me too!” It’s to reflect on and celebrate your own personal struggle and journey out of the darkness of maternal mental illness.
You don’t need stuff for that.