Whitman: Seventh Mom Project helps mothers share parenting-related struggles – Tampa Bay Times

I positioned earphones on my swollen belly, blasted Alison Krauss and prayed the boy in my womb couldn’t hear me cry.

I begged God to make the anxiety stop.

I went to therapy, got tagged at-risk by my obstetrician and slept 15 hours a day.

I suffered from perinatal and postpartum anxiety. I also benefited from a strong support system. My husband and mom talked me through the worst. Educated doctors prescribed medication to balance the hormones wrecking my brain. Prayer kept me healing, hopeful and grounded.

Unfortunately, not all women struggling with maternal mood disorders know how to seek help.

Many keep the hurt to themselves and avoid medical treatment.

“As symptoms worsen, they retreat into isolation,” said mother Sarah Spire-Leavitt, who leads a faith-based mental health support group at Relevant Church in Ybor City. “It’s important to me that moms have a safe place to go and work through their experiences.”

Spire-Leavitt experienced depression after miscarrying her fourth child. Pregnant with her fifth, she became anxious and battled intrusive thoughts. As a Christian, she wrestled guilt.

“I worried about the thoughts I was having, thoughts involving self-harm and harm to others,” she said. “I want moms to know it’s okay. Experiencing unwanted thoughts doesn’t disrupt your salvation. It doesn’t change your relationship with Jesus or who you are in Him.”

At her personal low point, Spire-Leavitt connected with the Seventh Mom Project, a Tampa area non-profit dedicated to helping women manage maternal mood disorders. Spire-Leavitt attended monthly support meetings. She found community and became a sister mom (mentor) within the organization.

“Peer support helped me a lot but as a Christian, I always felt one thing was lacking,” she said. “Sometimes you really need people to pray for you.”

In early 2019, Spire-Leavitt approached Relevant’s connection pastor, Hannah Siegmund, about starting a Seventh Mom meetup at the church. The group held its first meeting Feb. 5, will gather weekly and is open to the public. Attendees can share personal experiences and hear advice from others. Discussion isn’t limited to mood disorders. Mothers can share other parenting-related struggles.

“Being a mom is a wonderful and rewarding experience,” Siegmund said. “It also requires an extraordinary amount of mental, emotional and physical energy. Some moms have never been told that it’s okay to be sad, upset or even angry. Having this group is vital for the emotional and spiritual health of our moms here at Relevant.”

Spire-Leavitt, who also attends church at Relevant, opens and closes each meeting with prayer. The goal is to let overwhelmed moms know they don’t need to hide, she said.

“God created us to be in community with each other,” she said. “It can be really scary but you are not alone.”

For more information, search Faith-based mental health peer support on Facebook, contact Relevant Church at [email protected] or visit seventhmomproject.org.

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The Tampa Jewish Community Centers and Federation recently announced the creation of the Hope Cohen Barnett Leadership Institute funded by community member Leslie J. Barnett in honor and memory of his beloved wife, Hope Cohen Barnett. An endowment fund is being created at the TOP Jewish Foundation to support this outgrowth of the previously named Jewish Leadership Training Institute. This initiative is a leadership development program for young Jewish emerging leaders maintained by the Tampa Jewish Community Centers and Federation and offered in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties since 2005. For more information, visit www.jewishtampa.com.

Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, 304 Druid Hills Road, will host New Orleans Jazz Style Worship services at 8 and 10:30 a.m. Feb. 17. For more information, call (813) 988-4025 or visit corlutheran.org.

Bahai Faith Worship and Community Center, 2898 Gulf to Bay Blvd., invites the public to a Meeting of the Minds dinner and current events discussion beginning at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 16. For more information, visit clearwaterbahais.org.

United Methodist Church of Sun City Center, 1210 Del Webb Blvd. West, welcomes Nashville Music Hall of Famer Charlie McCoy, Gospel Hall of Fame legend Rich Kiser and pianist Jason Coleman in concert at 7 p.m. Feb. 22. Tickets are $20 at the door or $15 in advance at the church. For more information, visit sccumc.com.

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