By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor

Michelle Lacy is the mother of all mothers on this Mother’s Day. The 47-year-old Gilbert mom of two grown children was named the 2019 Arizona Mother of the Year by American Mother’s, Inc., a nonprofit that recognizes the importance of motherhood through education and community outreach and is the official sponsor of Mother’s Day and the Mother of the Year. “Well, I think my biggest thing as a mom is I have also dealt with postpartum mood disorder and have two children who are medically involved and have used those experiences to help other moms,” Lacy said. “If my story can help other moms reach out for help and not suffer in silence, it’s so worth it.” Lacy also is a certified perinatal mental health clinician and clinical director for Women’s Health Innovations of Arizona. The Gilbert organization serves mothers and families struggling with mental health and substance use disorders around pregnancy, postpartum and parenting regardless of ability to pay. Lacy’s story began with her first pregnancy at age 26. “Motherhood was nothing I expected it to be,” she recalled. “I envisioned it to be full of joy and excitement and instant love and really knowing what to do.” But it was nothing like that, Lacy found out 18 hours after the birth of her son, Jacob. Jacob was born with a heart problem and would go on to have two surgeries. “I was super anxious the first year of his life,” Lacy said. “I felt very much alone.” Approximately 6 percent of pregnant women and 10 percent of postpartum women develop anxiety, according to health experts. Sometimes anxiety is experienced alone and sometimes in addition to depression. Symptoms include constant worry, feeling that something bad is going to happen and racing thoughts. When Lacy became pregnant at 28 with her daughter Hope, she was again racked with anxiety. Hope was born with a chronic medical condition that is being managed. “I was consumed with worry, fear and anxiety,” Lacy said. “I was just overcome. I saw fear in everything. I really believed I was scarring the children for life but that is the lie of postpartum illness.” At one point, she found it hard to leave her house. “I felt bad things would happen,” she said. “The reality is, I lost myself.” When her daughter was 4 months old, Lacy’s husband, Jason, insisted she get help. She found a lifeline from a leading expert in postpartum disorders and “good news with proper care, you will be well,” Lacy said. “It is treatable. I found out how many women suffer in silence and I found that unacceptable.” Lacy, a licensed counselor, switched from working with teens to mothers and families. She has been a member of Postpartum Support International and is a Subject Matter Expert for PSI’s certification. She also served as board president for the Arizona Chapter in the past and is a founding member and served as vice president of the Arizona Postpartum Wellness Coalition. Lacy also credited the support from family and her faith for helping her on her road to recovery. Besides recognition as No. 1 mom in Arizona, Lacy was able to apply for a $1,500 award, which she has chosen Women’s Health Innovations of Arizona as the recipient. She also recently attended the 84th National Convention of American Mothers, Inc. in Washington, D.C. where she was able to meet with Arizona representatives such U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema to discuss the needs of Arizona mothers. “A lot of women and families are suffering and are in need of improved services,” Lacy said. Today, Lacy’s testimony as a mom is seen through her children. Hope is 19 and attends The University of Arizona and Jacob is almost 21 and is an associate worship director at Plymouth Covenant Church in Minnesota, taking online courses at Grand Canyon University. Lacy’s advice for other moms who are going through postpartum disorder is to seek out support. “They are not alone,” she said. “There is support out there.” Every year American Mothers, Inc. names an inspirational mother from nominees across the 50 states, District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. These 51 women were selected for their contributions as mothers in their communities, workplaces and homes. All were nominated by a friend, relative, peer or by the governor of her state.  The 2019 national Mother of the Year went to Fargo resident Dr. Renae Reinardy, a psychologist and director of the Lakeside Center for Behavioral Change.