You really had to be there to experience the full impact of combined stakeholder passion in this group of PPD advocates whose combined voices said “Now that we’ve created awareness of the crisis; here is the solution”.
It was standing room only at this uplifting, invigorating luncheon held in the historic Ways and Means Committee Room. This was about solutions, not pleas for attention or attempts to educate an unaware Congress. Those who attended S.P.A.R.K.S. luncheon were ready for action.
Advocates, bloggers, nonprofit leaders concerned with maternal health, came to hear from S.P.A.R.K.S. founder, Esther Koenigsburg and the program’s committed honorees and legislators, how S.P.A.R.K.S. might further its groundbreaking work. How with a little more funding and support it can extend its services and move into a dream facility to raise capacity. How it can take its life-saving accomplishments and replicate them across the nation. How it has already helped THOUSANDS of families.
There should, after all, be a S.P.A.R.K.S. center in every community.
And just what is the S.P.A.R.K.S. program perspective? Inclusion of any evidenced based modality that returns a woman, her infant and her family to health. Mind, soul and body therapy that will relieve women mentally, spiritually and physically. Any service which will keep her home running while she heals herself within S.P.A.R.K.S. compassionate doors, that will strengthen the bond with her tiny infant and other children who crave their mother's love and pray, with each smile and cry, for her wellness and return to health.
This program is destined to succeed.
It has every policy element associated with successful primary prevention and needs based services. It has listened to those it seeks to serve asking mothers what they need, as well as guiding them toward what research tells us is effective!
It doesn't matter how great a program is if you can't get there. If you can't find someone to stay with your children while you seek help. If you are feeling so guilty that you won't seek treatment if it means dinner won't be on the table or the home will not be clean. Or if the program in your community has a narrow insistent perspective that you don't believe will work for you. Or if the budget just won't stretch to afford the therapy and medication you are told you need and since you're not working you feel too ashamed to ask your family or partner for more help. Or if you are afraid of being judged.
S.P.A.R.K.S. has addressed these realities of barriers to treatment and reached within its own community to deliver many of these needed services. It has concerned itself with education, cultural competency, spiritual healing and total family outcomes! It has gathered experienced professionals to deliver the medical model of care and local volunteers to deliver an array of coordinated concrete services. And it focuses on peer support, mom to mom support, family support to reach its dual goal of recovery and reduction of stigma.
Legislators in attendance were a Who’s Who of Congress. The sheer number of their participation was in itself great testimony to the momentum the issue of postpartum depression has generated. But it also indicates that after a decade of awareness campaigns and public service announcements they are in solutions mode!
Community leaders, legislators and policy makers are searching for programs born of compassion, professionalism, efficiency, cultural competence, effectiveness, replicability, responsiveness, significance, fiscal prudence, creativity, viability and the necessary leadership to sustain nationwide access to such services. They seek programs which draw funding from the townships they serve, the community partnerships they form and available state grants. If this is not in place, if such efforts have not been made, why should federal funding take an expensive gamble on program sustainability? S.P.A.R.K.S. has diligently followed each of these paths.
How about investment in a S.P.A.R.K.S. franchise in every community across America?
One that would gather the best of what’s been created in each state or town and synthesize it into the one facility approach that would create even more access and less stigma? The public/private partnership taking its form from economic and social necessity?
It is impossible to plan or predict the “spirit” of an event. The best possible facilities can never guarantee the synergy in the room. You might think that a two and a half hour luncheon of speech after speech would quickly result in stifled yawns. But these speakers were all on fire keeping participants engaged and moved. From the spirited proclamations demanding audience commitment NOW to the moving account of a couple who confronted postpartum psychosis and found their healing through S.P.A.R.K.S., participants were awed, involved and on their feet!
Who was there? PPD bloggers like Ivy Shih Leung, who came all the way from NJ to be present for this caucus and has just finished a book on her own experiences. Judy Meehan, CEO of The Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition and her Deputy Director Jennifer Sharp. They know a thing or two about how to gain consensus as they birthed their stellar TEXT4BABY program with dedicated partners. AWHONN was represented and Postpartum Support International‘s Adrienne Griffin came in from VA with Dr. Barbara Byers, a reproductive mental health psychiatrist at Georgetown University.
Among the legislators present were Congressman Jerrold Nadler, New York and James E. Clyburn, South Carolina, (assistant Democratic leader, making him the #3 Democrat in the House and a champion supporter of community health centers). Congresswomen included Carolyn McCarthy, New York, who has 30 years of experience as a nurse, Allyson Y. Schwartz, Pennsylvania, a social worker and a former healthcare executive from Philadelphia, and the dynamic Shelley Berkley from Nevada, who secured the room for this prolific event. There was representation from California and Illinois.
Honorees were Rabbi Elie Abadie, who is also a physician, Raffi and Ruthi Fouzailoff and their generous daughter who donated her bat mitzvah proceeds to SPARKS, Naftali Horowitz, supporter and SPARKS volunteer, and advocates Suri Simone Kraus and Toys4U owner Yossi Itzkowitz.
As one of the honorees, being invited to this fantastic gathering was gift enough. I have believed in S.P.A.R.K.S.'s vision since meeting Esther Koenigsburg several years ago. But to have this beautiful plaque presented to me by Esther and a smiling Congressman Bobby L. Rush was one of my life’s most humbling experiences. When this man, who pioneered the idea of a bill that would combat these illnesses and with U.S. Senator Robert Menendez took it all the way to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, walked into the room, it became an historic event. He was there to continue his decades long sheperding of one of his key issues. As always, Congressman Rush goes anywhere and everywhere his presence might elevate, transform and inspire those carrying out the work he knows will help heal a nation.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand had been our designated keynote speaker, but the untimely death of her her former friend and mentor Geraldine Ferrarro called for her presence in New York. So instead, this gracious lady invited the honorees to her office later that same day. She listened intently to the story of PPD’s ascent to a national issue of critical importance and the role S.P.A.R.K.S. has assumed in turning the tide. All in all, a day I will never forget. Made all the more memorable by the presence of my own precious child, Julia Michelle Rish, who has taken this lifelong journey with me.
We continue to gather steam only because of the efforts of so many early and recent pioneers. Mary Jo and Syl, you were with me. All of you were with me. Most of you reading this blog have made incredible contributions to our issue, from bravely sharing your own story so that others might be spared your agony, to leading the legislative charge or devoting your careers to maternal mental health. I represented each of you at this luncheon and thank you for your devotion to mothers, infants and families.
I hope you will now join me in the promotion and elevation of S.P.A.R.K.S. There is need of all of you on this continuing leg of our shared mission.
To see more pictures from this event, click here.
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