Connecting the Dots

Peggy O'Neil Nosti '94 and friend


Taking a rare seat midday in her Escondido, Calif., dining room as her sons chatter, Peggy O’Neil Nosti ’94 (BA) is yoga-calm. She savors being a mom to her children — Ella, 8; Charlie, 5; and Theo, 3 — perhaps especially since not too long ago, she couldn’t savor anything.

When Theo was just 4 months old, an inexplicable, intense anxiety suddenly took hold of Nosti, robbing her of sleep, appetite, even the ability to think clearly. “When I drove through an intersection,” Nosti (above, right) recalls, “I would have to say to myself, ‘green, green, green, green,’ so I was sure the light was green.”

A discerning overnight doula recognized that Nosti was suffering from more than sleep deprivation, and referred her to Dr. Kathryn Hirst, founder of the UCSD Maternal Mental Health Clinic. Treatment for her postpartum anxiety, including temporary medication, returned Nosti to health, and her family.

What haunted her after the ordeal, however, was how the stigma of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) often silences women. Talking to friends, many shared their own stories — some in whispers — giving Nosti both comfort and pause.

“I wanted to start something to let women know they weren’t alone,” says Nosti.

True to her word, she launched The Blue Dot Project in July 2013 with co-founders Kathryn Hirst and Jessica Heldman ’04 (JD), president of the board of Postpartum Health Alliance (PHA). The project, which operates in affiliation with PHA, centers on an informational website and thousands of baby-blue magnetic or bumper sticker dots with the website’s address.

“The overarching feeling I had when I was depressed was that I was a terrible mother,” says Held-man (above, left), who suffered debilitating postpartum depression after the birth of her twins. “I did not know I had a disorder. I thought I had a character flaw.”

With increased awareness and understanding of PMADs — which affect one in eight new moms — the BlueDot campaign encourages women to speak up and to seek help early. “There are resources that can help,” says Heldman. — Trisha J. Ratledge

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