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W E COULD ALL USE A MANUAL

A Little Help With the Rough Spots Eighteen young Orthodox Jewish mothers sit on the floor, bending over their babies. A small bottle of safflower oil is passed around and each mother puts a few drops on her fingertips, listens attentively to the group leader sitting at the head of the circle, and begins to massage her child. “Baby massage is something that you do for both you and your babies,” the group leader advises. “Nourishing and healing. A way to bond, to comfort, and also to take care of yourself. A way to let your babies know that you love them and also to feel more at peace with your own feelings. You can sing to them as you do this, you know. Or you can pray. It all helps.” Each of the mothers is self-identified as having post-partum depression (PPD), a maternal condition that accompanies one in every eight births – provoking feelings of helplessness, despair and fear so strong that it can lead mothers to harming themselves, ignoring their babies, and even harming their babies. Linked to specific neurobiological stressors that can appear after any gestation and birth experience, the condition knows no income, racial or ethnic boundaries.

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A Voices from the Field Report

“A mother with PPD can feel so ashamed, so guilty, she can enter a tunnel of complete grief,” explains Esther Kenigsberg, the founder and Executive Director of SPARKS, a NYWF-funded organization that helps women in the Orthodox Jewish community understand what they are experiencing and take steps to overcome it. “Our referrals and counseling – our group services like this massage group – help those mothers feel less isolated, less self-blaming and more able to find their way back to health.” PPD is finally being recognized for what it is: a medical condition that requires support, reassurance, practical guidance and – occasionally – medical intervention. Growing awareness of PPD’s causes and effects has led to the infusion of new screening and support practices within a range of City programs. Experts familiar with PPD assert that the new awareness is probably saving more than a few lives and urge strong expansion of non-judgmental and truly supportive efforts such as SPARKS. “SPARKS helped me see that I am not a bad mother – that I just needed a little help with the rough spots,” murmurs one mother, gazing down at her child. “There is nothing worse than thinking that you can’t connect with your own child. But often it’s just that the mother needs a little help herself.”

Blueprint for Investing in Girls Age 0-8  

Experts in the area of early childhood development explain that for little girls, the period between birth and age eight comprises a coheren...

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