New mothers and their babies during a Circle of Mothers meeting...

New mothers and their babies during a Circle of Mothers meeting May 3 at the Nesting Place in Yaphank. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

On a recent Friday morning, a group of about a dozen moms sat in a circle, their babies in front of them on blankets festooned with teethers, soft books, stuffed animals and rattles.

One by one, the women spoke of their highs and lows of the week.

For Alexandria Baxter, mom of 5-month-old J.J., her “low” was finding a stray dog; her high: feeling better about navigating life postpartum.

The women are members of the Circle of Mothers group, which meets in Yaphank and Farmingdale. The group is run by The Nesting Place, a center for parents that offers paid services such as baby music and postpartum fitness classes.

In addition to in-person meetings, members of the Circle of Mothers also take part in a group text chat, where they share their thoughts, ideas and concerns.

“It’s good to get a lot of different opinions because then you can find what works for you,” said Baxter, 35, a psychotherapist from Sayville.

Kaitlin Tacoma with her 8 month-old son, Trevor, during a...

Kaitlin Tacoma with her 8 month-old son, Trevor, during a recent Circle of Mothers meeting in Yaphank. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

While the members of the Circle of Mothers have found support, Laura Siddons and Jacqueline Aiello, who opened The Nesting Place in 2019, know how difficult those first few months — or even years — postpartum can be.

About 1 in 8 women report symptoms of postpartum depression in the year after giving birth, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office on Women’s Health. Common signs include feeling angry or moody, eating more or less than usual, withdrawing from friends and family and “unusual” crying or sadness.

In an effort to reach these new moms — and moved to act after a Long Island mother died by suicide last year — Siddons and Aiello have launched No Mom Left Behind, a free peer support program that pairs new and expectant moms with trained volunteers who can offer companionship or, if necessary, connect them with mental health resources.

“We just wanted to make it so that this doesn’t happen again,” Aiello, 37, said.

RAISING AWARENESS

After an uneventful pregnancy, Andrea Kolbe, a 35-year-old dance instructor from Huntington, experienced severe postpartum depression. She was prescribed medication following an emergency room visit, but had trouble finding an affordable therapist, according to her sister, Kyra Vocci.

In December 2023, three months after giving birth to her son, Kolbe died by suicide, her sister said.

“I think the health care system failed her,” said Vocci, 44, of Towson, Maryland.

Andrea Kolbe and her son.

Andrea Kolbe and her son. Credit: Kyra Vocci

Vocci recently founded Andrea’s Wish Foundation to raise awareness about postpartum depression.

“There’s such a horrible stigma that surrounds it, still to this day, and it’s my hope that we can alleviate that,” she said. Through the foundation, Vocci said she hopes to raise money to cover mental health visits for moms, educate the public about postpartum depression and advocate for policies that support maternal mental health.

With No Mom Left Behind, Aiello and Siddons are also trying to help women who may be struggling with postpartum life.

In April, they launched the program, which allows mothers to get support without leaving home.

“We wanted to start this other program where we can actually do outreach to moms from our homes to their homes,” said Siddons, 38, a doula who has three children. “Obviously, the end goal would be for them to come into the in-person support groups, but sometimes they’re not feeling good enough to do that.”

The Nesting Place founders Laura Siddons, left, and Jacqueline Aiello.

The Nesting Place founders Laura Siddons, left, and Jacqueline Aiello. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

The program connects women with a peer mentor who will check in regularly by phone, both before they give birth and after.

“Essentially just making sure that these moms know they’re not alone, with someone who’s removed from their immediate circle,” said Siddons, adding that some new moms can’t get out the door with their baby because they’re so overwhelmed.

Peer mentors will be tasked with asking, Siddons said, “Have you showered today? Have you been feeding yourself properly? Have you thought of getting out to this mom’s group? If not, what are the barriers to that, and how can I help you address those barriers?”

Mothers who may be reluctant to open up about their struggles with friends and family might be willing to share with the peer mentor, Siddons said.

“It’s so powerful when someone just says, ‘Me, too’ when you’re struggling,” Siddons said. “It’s just such a sigh of relief when you know that you’re not the only one. You feel like you’re going crazy in the thick of postpartum.”

Peer mentors undergo a half-day of virtual training covering how to be an active listener, risk factors of postpartum depression, how to spot perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and how to utilize community resources from The Nesting Place’s database, including professionals who specialize in maternal mental health, which they can recommend to the moms.

“It’s like building a bridge for making these other connections, because one person can only do so much,” Siddons said.

‘A REALLY HARD ADJUSTMENT’

Catherine Del Percio believes she would have benefited from a program like No Mom Left Behind.

After she gave birth to her son, Luca, seven months ago, Del Percio said she was hospitalized for severe postpartum depression. Throughout her pregnancy, she said people had told her that she would experience a love like never before when she gave birth.

But she said, “That wasn’t my experience, so I felt there was something wrong with me. It was just a really hard adjustment.”

Del Percio, 30, a psychotherapist from Kings Park, said she started attending the Circle of Mothers group when Luca was 3 months old.

“I think the most helpful thing for me was just being around moms who were struggling with the same thing and kind of normalized the feelings I was having,” she said. “Sometimes we just want a place to vent; sometimes we want advice or resources.”

Catherine Del Percio with her son, Luca, at the Kings...

Catherine Del Percio with her son, Luca, at the Kings Park Bluffs. Credit: Linda Rosier

Ashley Mapoli, a mother of three who is now a peer mentor for No Mom Left Behind, said she struggled after her second child was born.

Living in North Carolina at the time, Mapoli said, “My postpartum anxiety hit and I spiraled into postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis to the point where I couldn’t even take care of my oldest, and my husband had to take time from his job in the Air Force to be home and support me.”

Now a birth and postpartum doula, Mapoli, of Medford, said she turned to The Nesting Place after her third child was born. After participating in some of their programs, she realized she was in need of counseling.

“I’ve learned coping skills that have just been tremendous, and my mental health turned around,” Mapoli, 28, said. “I still struggle with the mental aspect of it because I have three kids and it’s really, really hard to balance three different schedules.”

PAYING IT FORWARD

Devon Butler, a veterinary tech from Lindenhurst, has also drawn from her experiences as a new mother in her role as a peer mentor. Butler, 33, said she had a hard time after her son Julian, now 4, was born.

“I was one of the first of my friends to have kids, so I didn’t really have a lot of support from other moms,” she said. “So when this [No Mom Left Behind] came out, I really wanted to pay it forward for the people who helped me.”

For the past couple months, Butler has been paired with Stephanie Wilches, a nurse practitioner from Huntington who is expecting her first child in August. Wilches, 31, said the two have talked about resources for postpartum support, childcare costs and even what to put on her baby registry.

“It was nice to connect with someone on a level that felt comfortable and at your pace,” said Wilches. “Because she’s been checking up on me so much during my pregnancy, I know that she’s going to be somebody I can count on after I deliver.”

Butler and Wilches in Heckscher Park earlier this month.

Butler and Wilches in Heckscher Park earlier this month. Credit: Rick Kopstein

As a health care professional, Wilches feels well-attuned to the potential for postpartum difficulties. She said sharing with a peer who is not in her immediate circle was different from speaking with a family member or friend.

“It’s better to be in an environment where I don’t feel hesitant sharing my thoughts. It was important for me to feel comfortable in a judgment-free zone,” she said.

Mental health is often a taboo subject, Wilches noted.

“I feel like when you have someone there talking to you, and just checking in, it makes it much more comfortable and prevents a lot of things from possibly occurring,” Wilches said. “It’s a completely safe space.”

Butler, her mentor, said she hopes she can offer a sense of hope, after what she experienced as a new mother. She said that, for a while, she had questioned whether she would want to have another child because of what she went through with her first.

But her second son, Simon, is now 11 months old. And, she said, “I feel like Simon is proof that you can get better.”

If you are pregnant or a new mother and feel like you are struggling, you can call 833-TLC-MAMA (833-852-6262) for free confidential support. If you’re in mental health distress or are having thoughts of harming yourself, call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

For more information about No Mom Left Behind, visit thenestingplaceli.com.

For more information about Andrea’s Wish Foundation or to make a donation, go to
andreaswishfoundation.org
.

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