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Marin postpartum center for struggling mothers opens new headquarters

Marin Independent Journal - 11/9/2023

Nov. 10—A center designed to fill a gap in mental health support for new mothers and their families has opened in San Rafael.

The nonprofit Postpartum Support Center at 4162 Redwood Highway provides services such as a call and text line, peer counseling, support groups and education programs. Families in need can also get free diapers and basic necessities through the organization's "Marin Diaper Bank."

Ivana Jagodic, the founder and executive director of the center, said the services are intended for the time between the discovery of maternal mental health issues and treatment. Many mothers experience wait times from one to two months to get the help they need, she said.

"We are not replacing therapy or psychiatry; we are holding mothers' hands while they're waiting for those services," said Jagodic, a San Anselmo mother of two.

"Moms need help, someone to guide them," Jagodic said. "All of our staff, they are mothers who have lived experience and are trained professionals to provide this service."

The center held an opening celebration on Tuesday.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health conditions are the leading underlying causes of pregnancy-related death, including deaths from suicide or overdose. Jagodic said one in five pregnant women and new mothers are diagnosed with a mood or anxiety disorder in the U.S.

The symptoms of postpartum depression are something Jagodic said she knows well.

Her bout with the illness started after the birth of her second daughter in 2018, Jagodic said. With her family back in her native land of Bosnia, she felt alone, she said.

"I just felt like everything I did was a failure, like I couldn't do anything right, like I was drowning," Jagodic said.

When she sought help, doctors told her it would be five weeks before she could be seen. She quickly realized that resources for mothers experiencing mental health struggles are lacking in Marin. Jagodic said she joined a Facebook group and learned that many mothers are going through a similar experience.

"There are so many mothers who live in this expensive county, who don't have support, don't have family, who feel ashamed and embarrassed to say anything," Jagodic said. She said she wanted to remove the stigma and create a safe place for people to talk about it.

"I felt like something had to be done for all those women," she said.

The Postpartum Support Center launched in 2019 in earnest, operating the diaper bank from the office of one of the board members. The organization moved operations to the First Presbyterian Church in San Anselmo and then moved the diaper bank to a mini-storage facility in town.

The support center in San Rafael is the nonprofit's first official home of its own.

One of the unique offerings at the center is the ROSE program, which stands for reach out, stay strong, essentials for new mothers. It's a series of educational sessions that teach expectant mothers what they need to lower the risk of postpartum depression.

Clara Love, a Marin-based doula, lactation education counselor and pre- and postnatal yoga instructor, leads the program. The class includes four prenatal sessions and one after delivery.

"It's about helping women to understand the role changes, how to identify if they're having symptoms and what is normal baby blues versus when they need to reach out for support," Love said.

Experts say baby blues often last only a few days and might include mood swings, anxiety, sadness, crying, appetite problems, trouble sleeping and other symptoms.

Postpartum depression might be mistaken for baby blues, but it is more intense and symptoms last longer. It can interfere with relationships, work and the ability to perform daily tasks. It can also lead to children developing cognitive, emotional and behavioral problems of their own. Symptoms can include thoughts of harming the baby, self harm, suicide and death.

Love said the ROSE program creates a network for mothers so they have a support system and the resources they need in case they do develop postpartum depression.

Kari Beuerman, social services director at the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services, said the center is a good resource.

"At times, the support they have provided to individuals who are pregnant and postpartum has made the difference between families succeeding and thriving rather than falling through the cracks of the system," Beuerman said.

"It is a fantastic agency that provides much-needed support for new moms who experience postpartum depression or anxiety after giving birth," San Rafael Mayor Kate Colin said. "It is the first program of its kind in Marin and was already successfully supporting local moms and families prior to opening up this new facility. This new physical location will enable even deeper engagement with and help for their clients."

Increasing the nonprofit's visibility and reach is one of the main goals of the board of directors, said board member LeeAnn Bartolini, a clinical psychologist and professor at Dominican University of California in San Rafael.

"I experienced postpartum depression 35 years ago and there were no services available at the time, no one spoke of it, there was no internet; I felt on my own," Bartolini said. "When I saw this organization existed, I said, here is my opportunity to give back."

The Postpartum Support Center received a $95,000 grant from First 5 Marin to help secure the new headquarters.

The nonprofit serves about 500 families a month. The center is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays. All programs are free.

More information is at postpartumsc.org.

Mothers in need can contact the peer support line at 415-320-6707. The Marin County suicide prevention hotline is 415-499-1100.

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(c)2023 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)

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