Wendy Lias, LSW
Dear readers, I am so excited to be able to share this wonderful woman you. Rebecca Fox Starr is an author, a blogger, and tireless mental health advocate. I’ve been following her writing for years. When I was a new mother myself, I used to devour her blog posts about motherhood while I was up nursing my newborn in the middle of the night. I’m thrilled that she’s agreed to chat with us here on Thoughtful Parenting.
Let’s get the basics out of the way, where are you from, how many kids do you have etc.
Hi, I am Becca, and I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, author, blogger, singer, musical theatre nerd, shoe collector, Philadelphia Eagles superfan and survivor of severe prenatal and postpartum anxiety and depression. In all seriousness, I am supremely grateful for the opportunity to write, share, and connect, especially in such a warm, nurturing environment. As of late, it has been hard to wear my “Becca the author/advocate” hat (more on that, later!) and so I really appreciate the chance to get to know you and your readers. I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, just about five minutes from where I live now; in fact, I bought a house on the same street where my paternal grandmother raised her five kids! I married the boy who grew up around the corner (after years of seeing the same childhood therapist and having my dog run away in his backyard). His name is Kenny and he is the most loyal, decent human I know. My daughter, Belle, was born in 2010 and she is my mini-me. We are currently on Season 5 of a Glee marathon, she just got cast as Dorothy in a local, virtual production of The Wizard of Oz, and she is the child I always dreamt of having. My son, Beau, was born in 2013 and he is the sweetest thing, with strawberry blonde hair, blue eyes, and a dimple in his chin that I truly cannot resist kissing (regrettably, for him, during his Zoom classes, which has gotten a bit embarrassing, but it is what it is). He is the incredible, hilarious, bright child I never imagined I’d get to know, and therefore the one who made me into the mother – and human – I am today. I have two dogs, which is still hard to type, as we lost our first baby, our 13-Year-old Yorkie, Lola, last month. Crosby is an Australian Miniature Labradoodle and Georgia is a four lb Yorkshire Terrier who thinks she is the boss.
Your blog, Mommy Ever After, has readers from all over the world. Can you tell us a little bit about how it started and how it’s evolved over time?
I became a mom on April 18, 2010, exactly one week after my 25th birthday. None of my close friends had kids and motherhood, to me, was enchanting AND hard at the same time. While I did not suffer from a diagnosable perinatal mood disorder after having Belle, plenty of loneliness and worry managed to creep up on me. And so, when she was just two-months-old I started a blog, which was still a pretty new thing, back then, called “Mommy Ever After.” It was hard to put myself out there in such a vulnerable way, so I sold it to myself as an online baby book of sorts; a place in which I could chronicle our daily goings-on in a raw, honest, familiar way. I developed a small following and kept writing, almost daily, which afforded me with the boost to write serialized entries about meeting and falling in love with Kenny, getting engaged, giving birth, and all facets of daily (spit-up-covered) life as a new mom. I was able to employ dialectical thinking and share how motherhood was so many things all at once.
After Beau’s birth on October 24, 2013, I developed severe postpartum depression. Four months later, after a wri-atus on the blog, I came out, in real time, with my story, effectively announcing, “Hey, I have been really quiet and that is because I have been suffering, and I am still suffering, so let’s talk about it.” I do not know what gave me the guts to write so openly during that dark (and, frankly, terrifyingly bleak) time, but it changed everything for me. Though much of my memory from that time is hazy, I remember saying, “Well, if I come out with this I will always be stigmatized as someone with mental health issues. BUT, if I can help one other woman by sharing my story then it will all be worth it.” My readership and following grew and I had the honor and privilege of connecting to so many women who felt exactly like I did; it helped all of us to feel less alone, I say with the utmost humility and gratitude. I was able to take the blog and turn it into a job, which, for me, gave me a profound sense of purpose. I began to heal.
From the blog, three books were born. Can you tell us what the books are about and who might benefit from picking up a copy?
After my children, the greatest accomplishments of my life have been writing the two books about my experience with prenatal and postpartum anxiety and depression. “Beyond the Baby Blues: Anxiety and Depression During and After Pregnancy” was released in January 2018 and is my own story along with actionable advice from an expert in the field of perinatal mood disorders. I was also incredibly fortunate to include the stories of five other women (spanning many decades) as a way to emphasize the fact that no one is immune and no one is alone. “Baby Ever After: Expanding Your Family After Postpartum Depression” was released last January, just before the pandemic really hit us here in the U.S. and is about the “if” and “how” of having more children after surviving an episode of extreme perinatal distress like my own. This was born out of my own experience wrestling with the future picture of my family as a young, fertile woman whose husband had a hasty vasectomy and whose family had deep scars surrounding the notion of my embarking upon another pregnancy, as I’d only previously survived by the skin of teeth. This book is an exploration of my own journey to find answers, how this decision can be approached, the factors to weigh, the options available, including a future pregnancy, IVF, surrogacy, adoption, and, importantly, the valid choice to not expand the family after postpartum depression. Again, I was blessed to include the stories of seven other brave souls who shared their experiences, worries, woes, triumphs, heartache, and solace. Spoiler alert: I have not expanded my family. But, I have not closed the door tightly, either. As I say in the book, when the door is left ajar, the weather is always windy.
I am extremely excited about my third book, which is a picture book for children aimed at normalizing negative emotions and opening a dialogue about mental health for parents and their kids. I have not officially announced the title, yet, but I am very excited to say that the publishers will be releasing “Mommy Ever After” next year, as I explain that I may not always be happy, but I will always be a mommy.
What does your life look like right now, mid-pandemic?
I alluded to this earlier, but life during the pandemic is – like so many things – awful and amazing. I recognize that I have an incredible amount of privilege, so my worries and woes cannot compare to those of so many others. I have great anxiety surrounding health (read: GERMOPHOBE AND HYPOCHONDRIAC) so this is a perfectly awful storm for me. Every sneeze feels like a potential grenade being thrown at me, but I am leaning on the members of my treatment team, medication, and Kenny for a lot of support. As a family, we made the decision to take a very conservative approach to COVID exposure, and so we have not been inside a building, save a few necessary doctor visits, since March. My kids have been in virtual school exclusively, have not touched another child in over ten months, and are counting down the days until they can return to day camp and Five Below. I feel like this time is showing me that I am a strong, resilient mother AND an awful, incapable mother, often at the same time. I spend all day, every day trying to meet their academic, physical and emotional needs and I am always falling short in some respect. In order to keep them physically healthy I am putting a tremendous strain on their emotional health. However, I feel better equipped to handle mental health issues than I do if they were to contract COVID. This means I am teaching first and fifth grades simultaneously while trying to keep our house in order, make sure all humans, dogs, and plants and souls are fed, connections are maintained, lives are enriched, and it is a hard tightrope upon which to balance. I have had to give up a lot of the things that are “just Becca” things, like music, which I used to do as a life-long singer and new guitar player, and writing. I haven’t had a proper date with Kenny or a girls’ night out with my best friends, and, like everyone else right now, I feel crappy about that. But, as someone told me when I was in the throes of my postpartum depression, this too shall pass. I repeat that to myself. I believe that.
If you could give one piece of advice to parents who are struggling with all of complications that 2020 threw at us, what would it be?
For any parents struggling with their own mental health issues right now, the first thing I would say is to repeat the above: this too shall pass. I don’t say this to minimize. I see you and I validate you, busy, stressed, clobbered parents. Though I have not been able to make time for many extracurriculars, as of late, I have made it a point to carve out time every week to speak to my treatment team members, including a psychologist, psychiatrist, dietitian, and primary care physician. Ideally, I want parents to be able to do those things and also to take time to engage in the things that make them feel alive, passionate and make their hearts sing. But, meeting basic mental health, nutrition, sleep, fresh air needs is salient. I know how it feels to not have time. It is crushing. BUT, we all have time for things like three deep, cleansing breaths; a body scan meditation before bed; a healing podcast while doing chores; a ten minute walk outside; a three minute stretch; an episode of “Sex and the City” from the first half of the sixth season; an admittance of “I am not OK right now” to someone who will listen. Even writing this list is illustrative to me, as I realize I am doing more for myself than I often realize.
If people are looking to follow you and your story moving forward, where should they look?
I am all about making connections, especially now. If you are looking to follow my journey, I am most active on Instagram @rebeccafoxstarr. There are almost eleven years of archived posts on Mommyeverafter.com and if you’re looking for a laugh, go to the site and type in a random search word in the big bar above the title and see what comes up! The most vulnerable, raw writing I’ve done can be found in the books (which are available wherever books are sold!) In all seriousness, If you are struggling, I implore you to reach out to me. I check my DMs. I am here for you. We can do this.
Thank you so much to Becca for joining us here on Thoughtful Parenting to share your thoughts as well as these wonderful resources!