Support Black Owned Businesses in Pittsburgh

Reparations. Dismantling systematic racism. These have become more mainstream topics of discussion, as they should be. But what does that mean and how can the average person help with what seems to some a monumental task? 
Well I’m glad you asked. I am here to help you with one way to address these issues. Let me be clear before I go on, this is one part of a multi step process and more work is required from individuals, corporations, financial institutions and government. But what I am talking about today is making a real effort to seek out and support Black Businesses.
I can hear internet screaming back at me. But that’s reverse racism. All businesses matter. First of all, reverse racism isn’t a real thing and yes all businesses matter. That’s why we must invest in Black business. Black owned businesses are not treated equitably in the United States and in order to reach the levels of success and saturation of their counterparts we need to support them. Despite having the exact same qualifications, Blacks business owners are denied loans at twice the rate of any other race. Also financial institutions are reluctant to invest in Businesses located within predominantly Black neighborhoods. So if you are Black and you want to invest in your own neighborhood the obstacles can seem insurmountable.  All business owners should be able to see their dreams come to fruition, even the Black ones. By looking to consciously support Black owned business you are giving them a much needed boost to thrive.
Black Business owners offer not only much needed diversity but also fresh innovative ideas and services. If you have read any of my posts then you know how many everyday items and concepts were the product of Black Business owners. Life would literally not exist as we know without the ingenuity of Black Businessmen and women. With all of our sustained support we can look forward to more vibrant and equitable local business community. 

Here are some fantastic resources we have found in our search for businesses and non-profits to feature.

(please note: these listings are in random order, and contain external links and will navigate you away from this post. To return, click your browser’s back button. Pittsburgh Mom Collective has no control over the content within these links. We are sharing them for informational purposes. We are not affiliates, nor do we profit from referral.)

If you know of any good resources we should add to this list, please let us know! Email Carri at [email protected]

Did you know there’s “an app for that”?

Pittsburgh Mom Collective is Launching an official Local Directory in 2020, however we are dedicating the Black-Owned Business Guide to support as many as we can, right now.

If you are an owner, or want to support a business or non-profit, please visit the form for information as listed. You will receive an email confirming your submission. We will do our best to list as timely as possible. Thank you for your interest.



Creeking and Outdoor Adventures in Pittsburgh

Who’s ready to get out of the house?!?!? Summer is here… and oh yay… pools are either closed or with heavy restrictions. 🙁 So what has our Pittsburgh Mom Collective family been doing… Going Creeking! Here are some of our most favorite adventures!

Buttermilk Falls

A newly completed 1 1/4 mile trail leads to one of Armstrong County’s best kept secrets – Buttermilk Falls! A great destination point, Buttermilk Falls is located on the outskirts of Kittanning, PA. Picnicking, hiking, nature observation and fishing are just some of the most popular activities here. We’ll also let you in on a little secret, if you like rope swinging and water slides you will want to check this place out!

Photo Credit: Julia Furgiuele

Cecil Township Park

Cecil Park, located next to the Cecil Township Municipal Building, is a place where you can enjoy the peaceful beauty of nature as well as the advantages of a world-class township.

Photo Credit: Nicole Lynn

Crooked Creek Lake

Burrowed among the rolling hills of Western PA, Crooked Creek Lake is a great place for a family outing. Located only 30 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, the U.S. Army Corps invites you to discover the scenic beauty of the lake and surrounding countryside. A variety of outdoor activities (fishing, picnicking, boating, waterskiing, sunbathing, etc.) will provide for a worthwhile experience. 

Photo Credit: Julia Furgiuele

Fall Run Park

Fall Run Park is located in Glenshaw, PA, is one of the areas most popular parks due to the beautiful waterfall that you find at the end of your mile long nature trail walk. Here children get to not only explore nature but examine how erosion happens over time and of course enjoy the excitement of sliding down the waterfall! The trails are easy to hike and the multiple bridges make it nice to cross over the creek. Can you figure out how many bridges there are?

Photo Credit: Meghan Meabon

Firelane Trail Loop

Located near Frick Park, Firelane Trail Loop is an easy 0.2 mile one way trail that leads from the Nine Mile Run over to forward Ave. The trail features a river and is great for all skill levels. Their are lots of small waterfalls along the creekside.The trail is primarily used for walking, trail running, and nature trips. Dogs are also able to use the trail but must be kept on a leash. Truly something for all ages to enjoy.

Photo Credit: Lanae Lumsden

Linn Run State Park

Linn Run State Park is a Pennsylvania state park on 612 acres in Cook and Ligonier Townships in Westmoreland County. The arrangement of the natural features of the area make this park a scenic place for picnicking and hiking. The Grove and Rock Runs join to make for a great location to go trout fishing all while enjoying the lovely waterfall.

Mingo Creek Park

Located in Washington County, Mingo Creek is open all year long and houses two covered bridges. The park offers a variety of experiences with their stunning nature trails, bicycle trails and fishing areas.

Photo Credit: Tara Work

Raccoon Creek State Park

Raccoon Creek State Park, located in Hookstown, is one of Pennsylvania’s largest and most visited state parks. Encompassing 7,572 acres and featuring the fascinating 100-acre Raccoon Lake there is everything from hiking, canoeing, fishing and much more! Experiencing the beautiful Mineral Springs is a must on this adventure!

Photo Credit: Ryan LaRocco

Let us know where your favorite Pittsburgh Area Parks are for trails and creeks? Post them in the comments below!

Looking for more outdoor adventures? Check out these posts.


HELP! Why hasn’t my toddler napped since quarantine began?!

Who has 2 thumbs and has a toddler that doesn’t nap?!  This mom!!!  I had a pretty much picture-perfect routine for my 2.5-year-old.  Up at 8am, nap from 1-3, bed at 8pm.  Who wouldn’t want that schedule?  Well than COVID-19 hit and so did quarantine and everything went down the drain.  Some days she would nap while other days she laid there for 2 hours banging on her head board singing a toddler version of a Cardi B song.

So here I am a sleep consultant that can’t get her toddler to take a consistent nap.  Then I realized it was my doing.  I needed to reign her in again.  Here are 3 tips on what I did to get my toddler napping again.

  1. The weather in Pittsburgh has just started to FINALLY get warm. So, I strapped my 4-month-old into a 4th generation hand me down baby carrier and off we went outside.  I realized it didn’t matter what we did.  She just wanted to be out there.  We would walk around the house about a million times, play with bubbles, and swing.  I started to go outside more and more just to keep her occupied.

With parks starting to open this is a great opportunity to enjoy the outside more.  Round Hill Park is our favorite and the animal farm has been open for a while.  As of this entry the playground is even open (if you are brave enough) however, the newly revamped splash park is set to be closed for the duration of the summer.

2. Typically, either my husband or myself may be gone from 1-4 days at a time out on the road. He’s a pilot and I’m a flight attendant.  These types of on time schedules that we have in the airlines keep us (well me) in a schedule at home.  But since the airlines are in a funk, we are both at home with both kids.  Bedtimes and naps have become kinda….lax.  When that happens, toddlers get less sleep and start asking for “1 more book, 1 more T.V show” just that one more of something can keep them up for another 30 minutes.  This doesn’t seem like a big deal to us but in the world of toddler sleep it is a huge deal!

Reign your schedule back in!  Make sure your wake-time is consistent.  Waking up around the same time each day sets the day to stay on track for naps and bedtime.  Make sure meals are (mostly) eaten sitting down.  This ensure that toddlers know what to expect of them at meal time.  Have your nap on track for the same time every day!  This will help with your bedtime.  Keep bedtime routine no longer than 30 minutes.  It’s adorable when you hear “mamma” or “dada” but it’s not so adorable at 3am.  Let your toddlers know that bedtime means just that BED-TIME.  Keep a strict routine and your toddler will know what is expected of them. 

Children love routine!  It’s difficult right now to keep one for ourselves since many of us are working from home and can’t really enjoy the basic things that we all took for granted.  But trust me, your children will thrive from a solid, predictable, schedule.

3. Toddlers understand more than what you think they can. They can tell the world isn’t right.  Whether that means they were pulled from daycare, pre-k, or haven’t gotten to see family members they know something is up.  Yesterday I took my daughter to Target for the first time in months.  I had my dinosaur mask on  (thanks to my sister in-laws handy work) and everyone in Target had on a mask.  My daughter pointed and laughed at me but stared around as she couldn’t see anyone’s face.

She didn’t get to see her grandparents or other children in months.  We were also cooped up inside for a few months before that due to her new baby sister’s arrival.  So being out for the first-time seeing masks was probably different for her.

Even though the world has changed a toddler’s world does not have to.  Try to keep your home life the same.  Stay on that consistent schedule, face time friends and family members, play outside, and just enjoy yourselves in a time of such craziness.

Submitted by our Newest Author Amber Baker

 Amber is a Pittsburgh native who grew up in Irwin. She now lives in Rostraver Twp with her husband Justin and two girls Haisley and Isla.  Amber graduated from CCAC in business and also from Pennsylvania State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Employment and Labor Relations.  Recently she has graduated from the Family Sleep Institute to become a certified Sleep Consultant. Currently she owns NorthStar Sleep Consulting ( and is a Pittsburgh based Flight Attendant for the past 13 years.

When I’m not working I enjoy coffee, Target (LOL), and baking.  Everyone in my family (Isla doesn’t know it yet) loves desert!  Haisley and I love to cook every chance that we get.

Once the kids go to bed Justin and I enjoy the quietness outside in the warmer months or love watching a good movie.

Check out my website at for more sleep tips.

Navigating Race & Marriage

He doesn’t understand the pain his words cause me. “All lives matter,” he says. “It’s a police brutality issue, not racism. Cops kill white people too,” he says. 

Twenty plus years of an imperfect marriage; we’ve said our fair share of hurtful things, but these words hurt differently. Not because it’s an attack on me, but because it’s a lack of regard for the experiences of my father, uncles, brother, cousins, and so many black and brown men in this country. It says to me that in our years together, he has learned nothing. 

I woke up angry at the nation. Mad that another black man died at the knee of a police officer. Literally. For more than seven minutes George Floyd, begged for his life and called for his mother. For more than seven minutes, bystanders pled with officers to perform their sworn duty to protect and serve. And in the very same news cycle, a white woman, offended by the audacity of a black man to request she comply with rules, called the police and pretended to be in imminent danger.   Amy Cooper calmly warns Christian Cooper (no relation to Amy) of her plans to tell the officers that an African American male is threatening her. It’s a premeditated attempt to weaponize her local police department. Why? Because she knows that black men and the police can be a fatal cocktail. All of this, just days after a video of Ahmaud Arbery being ambushed and murdered by armed vigilantes attempting a “citizen’s arrest” for a perceived crime. 

I woke up angry at the nation. Needing a release from the anger and frustration, I began to vent, to complain, to cry, to hurt. Trying to wrap my head around the callousness, brutality, and complacency of the world. Trying to find solace in the one space that should be safe – my home. Looking for comfort and support from the one person who has promised to do just that – my husband.  

More than once, I’ve tried to make clear that these statements hurt. During civil discussion using logic and in fits of pain using tears. The conversation is always the same. It starts out supportive, understanding, sympathetic. But should I complain too long or too loud, I am quickly reminded that blacks aren’t the only victims. “All lives matter,” he says. “It’s a police brutality issue, not racism. Cops kill white people too,” he says. He doesn’t understand the pain his words cause me.

I know that the police kill hundreds of white people a year, sometimes nearly twice as many as African-Americans. But when adjusted for demographic ratios, the statistics are clear, black men are 2.5 times more likely to die at the hands of a police officer than white men. You can’t tell me that racism isn’t a problem when people of color are more likely to be suspended from school. You can’t tell me that racism isn’t a problem when black males are more likely to receive stiffer criminal sentences than their white counterparts. You can’t tell me that racism isn’t a problem when the experiences of my friends and family say otherwise. 

The death of Trayvon Martin may have been the catalyst to national awakening. An awakening that has been gaining speed with each Michael Brown, with each Eric Garner, with each Tamir Rice. It’s also been the catalyst for personal discovery. As a fair-skinned black woman, I am aware of the privilege my skin tone has afforded me. A level of opportunity and benefit-of-the-doubt that my cousins, nieces, aunts, and uncles may never have. But I’m not blind to the inequalities of our system and the grossly disproportionate effect it has on people of color. 

My husband, who grew up in a tiny, very white, very rural community, will never be able to empathize with black men. I wasn’t expecting that. But he does have intelligence, access to resources, and has heard enough anecdotal evidence from reliable resources to be able to offer more than the most basic level of understanding and support. 

“All lives matter,” he says. “It’s a police brutality issue, not racism. Cops kill white people too,” he says. He doesn’t understand the pain his words cause me. Is it a lack of respect for my feelings? How, as a black woman, married to a white man, do I navigate this situation? How angry do I become? How many tears do I cry before he sees the pain? 

When does it end? When have we had enough? When does someone with power stand up and say, ‘no more’? How many black men have to die before things change?

Author Anonymous

Covid-19 and Black Trauma

I haven’t written in a few months.  Its hard to even focus long enough for this short piece.  I was on a roll feeling good and then Covid-19 changed everything. I am lucky because I can still work from home and I am grateful to be employed by our family business. There are days when I just don’t get to work and my dad understands. Homeschooling 3 kids is a lot. Not having the time and space to decompress alone has been a real struggle. But by far the most challenging and unexpected part has been dealing with the overwhelming presence of racism and white supremacy coaxed out by the virus. And let me be clear I always expect white supremacy and racism to weave its way through my daily life, I foolishly didn’t expect it to be a major side effect of Covid-19. 
I was prepared with toilet paper, sanitizer, and a well stocked snack cabinet.  What I didn’t think about was how I would handle report after report, post after post, and all the daily reminders that in this country equality is a luxury Black and Brown people can’t afford.  Not that forethought would matter, the trauma of racial inequity will always persist. Perhaps its the lack of escape that makes this burden unusually heavy. No Sunday family dinners, no backyard get togethers and no nights out with friends. No where to retreat and shut out the suffocating reach of white supremacy. Its everywhere. I see it in the packed subway cars in NY exposing Black essential workers.  Its in the lack of testing in urban areas and Congress debating over who deserves to struggle and who doesn’t. People are dying and to a large portion of the country it’s just collateral damage. 
I saw a white woman protest quarantine with a sign that said muzzles are for slaves and dogs, not people.  That message took the air out of my lungs. On the surface comparing wearing a mask for the protection of others to slavery was bad enough, but the underlying message cut deep.  Black people are nothing but slaves, we deserved to be tortured. (FYI Iron muzzles, gags and yokes were used to torture and break Africans into subordination) And we are no better than dogs. Well maybe not on the same level as dogs, they fair much better when it comes to advocacy than Black People in America.  Look at Central Park and Amy Cooper. The comments were filled with rage over the dogs treatment. I did not see the same level of care and concern for Christian Cooper’s life and mental well being.  I even wonder if the dog had not been part of the equation would it have elicited such a strong response.  Three different stories of white people falsely accusing Black people made national headlines this weekend.  Then the manifestation of that fear, lack of empathy and dehumanization puts its knee on George Floyd’s neck and murdered him.  
Image credit to Dee Wooten, 2020
Please do not say this is not what America is. This is the foundation of everything you hold dear. Its the freedom to threaten politicians and spit on police so you can have the right to expose people to a deadly disease in the name of profit, but only if you are the right complexion.  As documented over and over again, speaking up against real injustice will get you blackballed, beaten, arrested and killed. 
And with all this on my mind I have to remember to stay 6ft apart, but I need a hug.

Are you ready to comply with the airline’s new rules and regulations?


With travel starting up again there are bound to be few new changes to what the airlines will be doing to ensure their passengers remain safe.  Some the new rules and regulations that the airlines will be implementing may not be easy for people to handle at first.  It will take some time for people to adjust to how long it may take to get through the airport, the new restrictions for boarding airplanes, and precautions while on the airplane. 

First let me say, after 9/11 there were many new rules and regulations put into place including TSA security.  We also were introduced to the scanners at the gate where each passenger had to scan their boarding pass.  This helped to ensure people were getting onto the correct flights and also security.  When these new rules went into place many people were up in arms.  They had to take off their shoes, belts, watches, and everything had to go through the x-ray machine.  It meant that the process to board an airplane went from a few minutes to now several hours.  It was an inconvenience at first, but after a few years it became the normal. 

New Airline Rules
Photo by Pixabay but together with Canva

People will adjust to the new rules and regulations but it will take time.  If you know some of the rules and regulations hopefully it will make it easier for you to travel.  Here are some of the changes you should expect to see in the coming months when it comes flying. 

  1. Boarding airplanes will be different. We may expect to line up similar to the way Southwest airlines lines up their passengers.  However, when lining up you will have some distance between you and the next boarding passenger.  Also, expect to have your masks on during the boarding process.  The gate attendant may not allow you to board without a mask on your face.  The scanning of boarding passes may change as well.  The scanning machines may be slightly larger having each passenger scan their own boarding pass whether it be paper or electronic. 
  2. It is time to FOG! Several airlines are “fogging” the interiors of all their aircrafts.  Fogging takes place while the planes are sitting each night, and some airlines are ensuring between flights as well.  According to the airline Southwest’s website, they are using EPA approved, hospital-grade disinfectant throughout the plane’s interior cabin spaces.  Here is the website to check out their sanitizing procedures:
  3. Sanitizing wipes! Yes, some airlines will be handing out sanitizing wipes to each passenger prior to boarding.  The airlines will be asking you to help sanitize.  Now you maybe thinking, why would they want me to sanitize if they are spraying down the planes.   This is more for your stuff to sanitize prior to boarding.  Sanitizing things such as phones, purses, laptop bags, headphones, computers, tablets, etc.  Anything that you have on you that could be contaminated.

    Sanitation for your safety
    Photo by Pixabay but together with Canva
  4. Expect delays in getting onto your plane after the previous flight deplanes. After the passengers deplane, the crew previously had anywhere between 10 – 30 minutes to turn around a plane.  This was to help ensure that airlines could keep up their “on time” status.  Ten minutes is not much time to disinfect an entire plane, so expect it to take longer now so they can spray and sanitize. 
  5. Who liked the middle seat anyway! It may be that the middle seat will not be available to book.  To give some space between passengers, the airlines have talked about not allowing people to book the middle seat.  If you are family of six and are used to taking up the entire aisle, you may now have to book two aisles.  It is unclear whether or not the airline would allow you to book the middle seat if your entire family is traveling together.  This may be something where you have to contact the airline directly. 

As a travel agent who travels a lot, I know that these changes by the airlines are not going to be easy.  I do expect that it will be an inconvenience, but my hope is that it will be temporary until the dust settles on the spread of COVID-19.  Afterall, Life is Better Traveling even if you have to Dream Now, Travel Later. 

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your upcoming travel and are looking to book with a travel agent, please make sure to feel free to contact me.  We are an Award-Winning Travel Agency that has helped thousands of clients travel to amazing destinations all over the world.  Our Life is Better Traveling travel agents are always here to help!

Becoming More Resilient Parents During Coronavirus

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Here in Pittsburgh, we’ve become accustomed to coronavirus quarantine since mid-March.

Since all that upheaval two months ago, things have sort of leveled off. We’re even starting to see some restrictions eased a bit as our region did quite well containing the virus. But there’s still that underlying sense of disappointment, loss, unease, discomfort, and dare I say it … grief.

Not because someone died (though we have experienced loss in my circle of family and friends during the past two months). Grief, because we’re mourning the loss of normalcy, of our old routines, of the old way of doing things. Grief, because we’re also mourning the loss of what we could have had but can’t now that coronavirus restrictions are in place across the country.

And, like many people, I struggled. Still do. Part of what helped me was learning more about resilience.

What is Resilience?

Resilience is being able to bounce back after failures, setbacks, tragedies, and the like. Resilient people do not falter when faced with tremendous hardship; instead, they find ways to not just cope, but pivot. It’s a characteristic that some people possess naturally, but it can be learned, too.

Teaching Yourself to be Resilient

Becoming more resilient parents helps us to raise more resilient children. For our teens, this is one of, if not the first, defining period of their lives so far when the entire nation grieved and reacted as one. My generation had the Columbine shooting, 9/11, the subsequent occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the recession in 2008 and 2009. Possibly the Gulf War, for my peers who are just a few years older. My 17-year-old stepson has lived through multiple school shootings in the news, but thankfully nothing that hits close to home. So for him, the feelings of unease and uncertainty on a national scale are truly unprecedented.

And for us, as parents, just because we’ve lived through at least one major national tragedy doesn’t mean we are able to cope with the fallout from coronavirus, especially when a lot of us are also trying to juggle working from home with the kids.

This one article in Harvard Business Review’s On Emotional Intelligence helped me to understand resilience better, and how to cultivate it. According to the article, resilient people have three characteristics:

  1. They accept the harsh realities facing them.
  2. They find meaning in terrible times.
  3. They can improvise, making do with what they have and adjusting as needed.

Step One: Accept Reality.

It begins with accepting things as they are, without denying the facts, sugarcoating the reality, or putting overly optimistic timetables in place. It’s not pessimism; it’s seeing the reality for exactly what it is at the present time and preparing yourself how to act accordingly. The goals are to endure, and to respond (not react).

So instead of saying something like “I bet things will reopen and get back to normal by Memorial Day/July 4th/etc” we instead prepare ourselves for a long recovery, with a transition that’s hard to plan for, that could change, and that when things reopen, it won’t be the same as it was before. If we keep that in mind, how can we plan our lives and our activities if we accept there isn’t a clear timetable?

You’ll remember I said above that the goals are to endure … and respond. When we respond to a situation, we have control over our actions, and we can see alternatives. When we react, we fly by the seat of our pants.

Step Two: Find Meaning.

The second step is to find meaning. It’s easy to react negatively with all this coronavirus mess. I have had more than my fair share of alcohol and food during quarantine … it’s a short-term coping mechanism that I seriously need to work on! Most of us have a space we go to in our heads that’s not entirely healthy when we’re faced with something big and uncertain and uncomfortable, like coronavirus. The goal here is to first acknowledge your feelings, give them validity … then move on.

How can we find a purpose in chaos? The article suggested envisioning where you want to be when the really hard stuff is over. Where do you see yourself? How can you use that vision to create concrete goals for yourself now? A friend of mine is using this time to work out more often and get in better shape, even though he’s laid off. My sister-in-law enrolled in a digital marketing certificate program with Duke University. A friend’s stepdaughter has used this time to learn how to cook and get crafty with DIY projects.

Me? I’m finding meaning in the day-to-day things that I am thankful for but haven’t been able to envision a long-term goal yet. What has helped me is to practice gratitude and try to get more sleep.

Step Three: Improvise.

And third, continually improvise. Make the most of what you have and try to imagine possibilities that maybe didn’t exist before. In our daily lives, this can be as simple as putting dinner together with a hodge-podge of ingredients. Or creating a life size version of a game, like that one family did with Hungry Hungry Hippos. There’s always been camping in the back yard as an option or using paid time off to just stay at home and relax instead of taking a trip.

What’s your parenting contingency plan going to be, in other words? Let’s start by thinking like our kids, who operate out of sheer curiosity half the time. My toddler likes to throw the same two-piece plastic ball at the floor to find out how he can break it open, for example. My 19-month-old daughter will eat a granola bar sideways. No idea why she does it; but she experimented with different ways of biting it and for her, sideways works best (until it splits in two). My point is, let’s continue to get inventive about how we spend our time and what we do with our families.

My son, Gabriel. *original photo*

Learning to become more resilient isn’t as easy as 1-2-3, and it’s a circular process. We have to keep going back to remind ourselves of certain things, like finding the good in the bad. Hopefully though, we can learn to become happier, more present parents who can guide our kids through this pandemic with a little bit more clarity and thoughtfulness. And wine. Always the wine.   

Why you shouldn’t put your camera down during a pandemic

Several summers ago we took our kids on a road trip vacation to the Delaware shore. I was eight months pregnant with my third child and the entire trip was a nightmare start to finish. Sleep schedules were off, I had to give my toddler the Heimlich maneuver, and my older son ran out into the road in front of oncoming traffic. Yet they both LOVE pulling out our album from the trip, reminiscing about how fun it was to dance among the stars and run their toes in the beach sand. Kids’ memories are selective that way. 

In the first few weeks the schools were closed for the Covid-19 pandemic, my kids craved the attention of their friends. We set them up on the Facebook messenger app and allowed them zoom meetings and online video games. But as time passed, they asked for those connections less and less often. Last week I asked my five-year-old if he was anxious to return to school. He hugged me and said “No, I don’t like being around other people anymore.” 

kids are playing with bubbles outside

It is too soon to know how deeply the social distancing and constantly present fear of the virus will affect our children’s mental health, and how that effect will present itself. But it IS affecting the way that we spend our time together. 

I am pretty sure I have never had as much “quality time” with my kids as I do now during the pandemic. Even as I wrestle with mom guilt over allowing them an unseemly amount of screen time, we are also treasuring the lack of pressure to BE somewhere or DO something. Instead of packing them up for the Science Center, we hike through nature and look for bugs. My kids build fort after fort after fort. Even my toddler jumps from pillow to pillow, avoiding the ‘lava’ floor. 

THIS is what our kids will remember about quarantine: these simple times together. 

boys playing board games at the dining room table with dad

As I age I rely on pictures of my childhood to recall those times clearly, photographs printed from film that together fit into one small bound album covering my first 18 years of life. We are lucky to live in the age of digital, having such a simple and always-present tool to capture memories with: our cell phones. With every picture we take we have the power to help shape our children’s memories, too, because these pictures are ultimately for them. 

I will be printing an album of pictures chronicling our family life in quarantine, and it will be chock full of nature hikes, mud jumping, running amongst bubbles, and catching fireflies. Because I know that, like the Delaware road trip album, my kids will be pulling the quarantine album off the shelf to reclaim their memories and reminisce. And I plan to help them remember all the good times. 

toddler in pajamas laughing and running through house while family sits at the table in the background

“Suffering in silence is no longer an option” One woman’s story of healing. By Rochelle Leeper

May is Maternal Mental Health Month — giving us all an opportunity to pause and reflect on the mental and emotional health of moms and moms-to-be.

At Allegheny Health Network, we are devoted to caring for women — all of her, all of her life. A large part of that is focusing on a woman’s mental and emotional well-being and stepping in to support her when she needs us.

Our Women’s Behavioral Health Program helps women heal — with a special focus on moms affected by postpartum depression. We’ve also championed — a blog about real experiences, real struggles, and real solutions.

As we work together to break the stigma of postpartum depression — we bring you Rochelle’s story, a mother of three and a postpartum depression survivor. Read her story, told in her own words. 

When I first began to think that I had postpartum depression, I was in denial. The stigma connected to the diagnosis had always seemed negative — those who had it were usually on the news for killing their children and society attacked the truth of the claim. Accepting such a label came with the feeling of defeat and being a bad mother. How could I, Rochelle, have postpartum depression?

I felt guilty for how I felt because I was blessed to have the ability to birth a child and have a husband who is a hands-on partner and parent. I had just graduated with my bachelor’s degree in social work and worked for child protective services in my local county. I had provided children a safe place to live and worked with parents who had different mental health issues. Yet, I found myself depressed — sitting in the dark, with no television, barely eating, with a newborn baby and breastfeeding. 

When I Googled postpartum depression, I didn’t match what the internet described. I didn’t want to harm my baby. I still enjoyed parenting my other two children. And, it didn’t mention starting to strongly dislike your spouse for lack of understanding.

Suffering in silence

From this point, only two weeks after giving birth, I decided I would suffer in silence and get over this emotional hump by myself. My plan to avoid addressing my feelings was this: I would sit in the same spot, all day, after dropping the children off at school. When my husband returned from work, I’d turn on the television and find the strength to be happy to see him and the children. Sadly, the more I hid my feelings, the worse the depression became.

One day, as my husband came into the house, he asked me: “Have you been sitting there all day in the dark?” I responded “yes,” but he didn’t make anything big out of the answer. I attempted to address my feelings with other family and friends. They either downplayed my feelings or expressed the seriousness of postpartum depression and how I could be involuntarily committed into a mental health facility.

There I sat for another week, screaming literally on the inside and outside for help. I am considered the “strong friend” of my group — so at my moment of weakness — nobody thought I had an excuse to not clean, cook, or bathe. They thought I’d shake the feeling in no time. My mother and friends kept saying that I should just stop breastfeeding. That made me very angry because the last thing I needed was another reason to feel defeated and like a bad mother.

Reaching out for help

It wasn’t until I took the baby to his 1-month checkup and his doctor gave me the postpartum depression screening that I sat asking myself: “Do you really want the help or not?”

In the African American community, mental health isn’t addressed. Those who do address it are often labeled as “crazy.” Being in the field of social work gave me the knowledge that if I was honest on the screening, exposing my mental health crisis, the doctor and I were then held responsible for the information. I completed the screening honestly and felt relieved of the mental prison I sat in everyday alone because no one understood the thoughts that ran through my head.

The doctor and the nurse walked back in the exam room and I saw the alarm on their faces. They recommended I contact my OB-GYN, who referred me to the Women’s Health Behavioral Center at AHN. Finally, someone heard my silent cry for help.

Throughout my time receiving counseling for postpartum depression, things got worse before they got better. I refused medication for a year. My marriage felt most of the effects, and I even purchased divorce papers. My counselor and close family and friends talked me off that ledge, but I felt as if my husband didn’t understand and wasn’t supportive of my current mental state. Just like I did, he did his research on postpartum depression, and he didn’t believe I had it because I didn’t match the criteria.

It wasn’t until I began to have suicidal thoughts that he realized it was deeper than just mood swings. Those suicidal thoughts became worse by the day until finally, I texted my sister something that frightened her. Once I got to the children’s school, one of the teachers asked me if I was OK, and I broke down crying. I told her about my suicidal thoughts. From there, my husband and sister talked to me and I called my counselor and agreed to medication.

Moving forward

Today, I’m able to look back and see that my husband was very supportive with the knowledge he was given. I’m happy we were able to get back on track, even stronger than before.

This experience did leave me to wonder: How many marriages end due to untreated postpartum depression? And where are the support groups for the husbands and mates that have a partner experiencing such an emotional diagnosis?

As I pursued my master’s degree in social work, I was required to write about a mental health diagnosis. I chose postpartum depression just to gain more information and was shocked by the results. The fact that there is no clear indicator of how one develops postpartum depression was mind blowing.

Throughout my postpartum counseling, I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, all of which stem from the trauma of my childhood. Although I am in a better mental space and was able to heal from some of the childhood trauma on this unexpected journey, I am still left with unanswered questions. One of the major questions is, if I wouldn’t have experienced such childhood trauma, would I have still experienced postpartum depression? Is my daughter likely to experience it even though she doesn’t have the childhood trauma? And, as a social worker, is treating postpartum depression through therapy enough if we still don’t have enough information on what causes it?

While we wait for these answers, the only thing I can do is share my honest experience with other women to let them know suffering in silence is no longer an option. Heal, sister.

If you or someone you love is suffering from postpartum depression, please contact AHN’s Women’s Behavioral Health Program at 1-866-951-6390

This sponsored post is brought to you in connection with our partnership with Jefferson Hospital, part of Allegheny Health Network.

The Tale Between Two Pregnancies

Six years ago I was pregnant with baby number one. I was every pregnant woman’s dream. I had no morning sickness. I wasn’t nauseous. I didn’t start to feel uncomfortable until after 30+ weeks. I felt great. My pregnancy was easy compared to what some of my
friends were going through.

I don’t know if it was first time mom excitement, but being pregnant with baby number one was a breeze.

Here I am six years later and oh my God why is this so hard?

This pregnancy is so vastly different from my first that for the first three months I thought we were having a girl. Spoiler alert: It’s a second boy!

Since day one of finding out I was pregnant, I have felt awful. A new symptom comes every few weeks and other symptoms often repeat themselves. First it was feeling nauseous, then came the excruciating headaches, and then I had to give up coffee! With my first pregnancy I still stuck to my one cup a day. This little one made me give it up within the first 8 weeks.

I’m twenty-two weeks in and I’m still waiting to feel some sort of normal. But, I’m growing a human so that’ll probably be well after delivery.

20 weeks pregnant

I still get nauseous. The first trimester exhaustion has doubled instead of disappearing. The headaches are estrogen headaches and not caffeine withdrawal. I haven’t gained much weight, but I feel so uncomfortable morning, day, and night.

My hips move out of place where I yell in pain. My abdomen is being stretched so I feel cramps and soreness regularly. I can cry at any given moment because this is all so overwhelming.

Many of these differences are physical, but some are also normal pregnancy related symptoms.

I feel like I had more cravings with the first. This one I’m definitely having more food aversions. But, not to chocolate chip cookies. I mean who refuses chocolate chip cookies?

The heartburn came super early and my chocolate chip cookie addiction mentioned above does not help.

I keep a water bottle near my bed because I am so thirsty no matter how much water I’ve drank throughout the day. Then of course I have numerous bathroom breaks throughout the night.

The dark circles under my eyes do not lie as I may go to bed early, but I’m still not getting much sleep.

My friend recently asked me if I thought my pregnancies would be similar. Um, yes! I did not expect the huge difference between the two.

Maybe I feel so different because I’m six years older or because I have a five-year-old to look after. Being quarantined and working from home while watching my son isn’t helping much.

So if you see me I’ll be impatiently waiting for September to arrive so I can finally have that well deserved glass of wine!

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