Meet Pregnancy and Postpartum Health Alliance of Texas: Introducing AIGA Austin’s 2019 Changemaker Series Change Organizations

Julianne Hanckel
May 29, 2019 · 7 min read

The AIGA Austin Changemaker Series is excited to announce its 2019 Changemaker Organizations: Pregnancy and Postpartum Health Alliance of Texas, Black Mamas Community Collective, and Giving Austin Labor Support (GALS).

With the second ATX Changemaker Series challenge focusing on “How we might ensure all mothers have access to quality, equitable support and healthcare before, during and after childbirth,” we set out to partner with these inspiring nonprofits and change organizations that serve women in all stages of their maternal health journey.

Before the Change Organizations join us at our Weekend Workshop for the official kick-off to their three-month projects on June 8th, we wanted to get to know them a bit more.

Pregnancy and Postpartum Health Alliance of Texas (PPHA)

Pregnancy and Postpartum Health Alliance of Texas (PPHA) aims to create a community where women and families have the support they need before during and after childbirth. Our mission is to promote awareness, provide education, and increase the resources necessary for the prevention and treatment of perinatal mood disorders to the professional and public community.

We are a relatively small organization, but we are mighty! All individuals associated with PPHA are volunteers, with the exception of our part-time paid bookkeeper. Our Board of Directors is comprised of seven individuals with a wide range of experiences: three perinatal mental health specialists, a psychiatrist, a L&D nurse, and two passionate community advocates.

Q&A with Pregnancy and Postpartum Health Alliance of Texas (PPHA)

Can you tell us about the work you do with/in the maternal healthcare space?

PPHA seeks to serve individuals facing a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD). These can be moms, dads, same-sex partners, birth givers, adoptive parents, family members or friends who are trying to help. We were created in collaboration with mothers in search of community and healing, and mental health care professionals who specialize in PMAD.

We provide three primary functions to serve the Central Texas community:

  1. To serve as a resource for local families who may be in need of help. We do this by providing public access to a network of providers that specialize in perinatal mood disorders.
  2. We seek to educate. We hold training and participate in educational seminars for health professionals.
  3. Finally, and perhaps most notably, we offer three core programs for underserved mothers in the Austin community. These include a postpartum doula program, a therapy voucher program, and a psychiatric voucher program. All programs are available to mothers who qualify and give care to those who might not be able to afford it otherwise.

Who benefits from the services that your organization offers?

Moms, dads, same-sex partners, birth givers, adoptive parents, family members or friends who are trying to help. Ultimately, the entire family and community benefits, because the long-term impact of perinatal mood disorders can include substance use disorder, chronic mental illness, and even suicide.

In 2018, a total of 32 clients received direct services from PPHA. Of those 32, 7 were Therapy Voucher recipients, 7 were Psychiatric Voucher recipients, and 18 were Postpartum Doula service recipients (36% Latino, 21% black, 21% white, 11% Asian, 11% 2 or more races).

Our Postpartum Doula program alone showed amazing results with 78% of clients experiencing a significant decrease in their Edinburg Postnatal Depression Scale scores after receiving services. PPHA held 10 different trainings in 2018 which allowed for 153 individuals to be trained, ranging from mental health providers to the general public.

What projects are you currently working on? What’s in store for 2019–2020?

  • We recently redesigned our website to make it easier for us to update and cost-effective for simple modifications (now Squarespace).
  • We have updated our logo and along with that have been updating our marketing materials, including brochures, banners, etc.
  • We have been talking about creating an OB Toolkit, which could then be shared with OB/GYN practices to share relevant information and attainable resources for their patients. We’re also looking to provide clinical training sessions in cities across Texas, as not all communities have such a wealth of trained mental health clinicians.
  • We added a new Community Outreach board member in January of this year. She continues to work tirelessly at locating events and programs for PPHA to get involved with and participate at.

Right now, what’s the biggest hurdle in the way of your mission? What are your biggest frustrations?

Reducing stigma and raising awareness about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

One of the biggest hurdles in getting moms to reach out for help is overcoming the stigma and misinformation often spread regarding Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, and mental health in general. At a basic level, moms often feel pressure from those around her to “enjoy every minute” of their baby’s infancy, or that she “must feel so happy!” When she does not feel these expected blissful feelings or finds herself struggling to bond with her baby, she may withdraw and fear that sharing these feelings would be deemed shameful. It is so important to let moms know that what they are feeling is valid, and there is help if they are struggling.

Another common barrier is confusion caused by stories in the media describing abhorrent cases in which mothers have taken the lives of their children and/or themselves. A majority of the time these mothers have been suffering from “Postpartum Psychosis”, but it is often referred to as “Postpartum Depression” by reporters. This can lead to moms who are feeling depressive symptoms to fear that either they are at risk of developing more severe symptoms or to fear reaching out for help, due to concerns that others will assume they are capable of such horrific acts.

Postpartum Psychosis does happen, but it is rare (~ 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 deliveries). This form of a PMAD usually occurs soon after childbirth and the mother experiences episodes of disconnection from reality. This is a serious mental illness which requires emergency intervention, for her and her baby’s safety. But again, this is rare and the vast majority of moms who reach out do not have this serious diagnosis.

A few more notes about PMADs that are often confused:

It is not just postpartum. Many expectant moms find themselves facing significant or debilitating anxiety or depression during pregnancy. The term “Perinatal” includes pregnancy and the year after birth.

2. Not just depression. Moms can experience a range of mood and anxiety disorders, including: depression, anxiety, OCD, panic disorder, PTSD, and in rare cases, Postpartum Psychosis.

3. Not just moms. Dads, adoptive parents, non-biological parents, and survivors of miscarriage or stillbirth can experience PMADs.

4. Many treatment options. It can take time for a mom to work up the courage to ask for help. When she finally talks to her healthcare provider, her symptoms may be downplayed, she is offered only medication or options suggested that she cannot afford. We encourage moms to find the help that works for her, and we are here to help!

Additionally, we ensure that each medical provider is vetted through a process for placement in our Provider Directory. As much as we’d like to continue adding medical providers — OB/GYNs, midwives and pediatricians who regularly interact with pregnant and postpartum patients — to our directory, the process of vetting them is a challenge. Since we need to communicate with doctors before adding them to our directory, having a conversation with the provider is imperative; office managers in their practices serve to be effective barriers and don’t always share the information we have with their physicians.

Finally, we primarily rely on Amplify Austin for the bulk of our fundraising, which has been sufficient, but we are concerned that it may not be sustainable over the long term. We also charge therapists an annual fee to be included on our Provider Directory. Our operating budget hovers around $14,000 a year.

What do you wish the public knew about your work, your cause or about the people you serve?

That we are here, we exist! We can help by providing a central repository of information regarding mental health resources related to the of pregnancy — infertility, loss, pregnancy, and postpartum.

How does your organization work to overcome the many myths and misconceptions that exist about maternal health?

We conduct training for individuals who work with pregnant and postpartum individuals, sharing information about the range of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and treatment options.

By attending professional conferences and webinars, and reading journal articles about the latest research and trends in treating PMADs, we endeavor to keep ourselves as up-to-date as possible. When the Texas Legislature is in session, we work closely with Texans Care for Children, an advocacy and policy development organization. They help write policy and bills that may include measures that impact pregnant and postpartum moms. When bills are under consideration in a committee at the Texas Capitol, Texans Care for Children requests our assistance to testify or officially register support.

Have you worked with designers before? What was the overall experience like? Is there anything you wish designers would do differently or you would do differently?

Not officially. We don’t really know a whole lot about the process, but are excited to learn!

What’s your organization’s problem-solving process like? How much room for creativity and out-of-the-box thinking exists in decision making? Have you incorporated any design thinking methods into your organization’s workflow?

The Board of Directors meets for a Board Retreat each summer, to explore our current status and plans for the future. Special projects and events are often staffed by subcommittees.

If only one thing was to come out of the 2019 Changemaker Series experience for the benefit of your organization, what would you want that to be?

New and fresh ideas for how to extend our reach and be able to help more moms and family members to get the help they need!

To learn more and connect with Pregnancy and Postpartum Health Alliance of Texas:

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Have more questions about the AIGA Austin Changemaker Series?

Email us at changemaker@austin.aiga.org. Follow @AIGAAustin on social media or join our Changemaker Series email list to stay in the loop.

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