Mom on a mission
Alumna Nikki Brooker’s nonprofit supports new mothers through the perils of postpartum depression.
Nikki Brooker understands the unique challenges that modern mothers face.
In 2016, the mother of three left her full-time teaching job in north Denver when working with at-risk students became more than her heart could bear.
“I came home so emotionally exhausted that I didn’t have enough for my family,” she said. “It wasn’t fair to anyone.”
But when tragedy shook her Highlands Ranch community, Brooker felt called back to service. She wanted to do more — for moms. That calling led the 1998 Metropolitan State University of Denver graduate to found a nonprofit dedicated to taking care of mothers.
That vocation came into focus the same year Brooker left her full-time job. She had started substitute teaching at her youngest child’s school, Bear Canyon Elementary. One evening in late November, the principal called to ask if Brooker could come in the following day.
One of the school’s kindergartners, 5-year-old Ethan Laber, and his 3-year-old brother Adam had been shot and killed by their mother in a murder-suicide. Brooker, who earned her bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science from MSU Denver, was one of two substitute teachers brought in to support students and teachers.
Among Brooker’s memories from that day was a sixth-grade boy sobbing in the hallway. He had been Ethan’s reading buddy. “As we walked to the counseling center, he stopped and looked me in the eye,” she recounted. “He said, ‘How do I know my mom’s not going to kill me tonight?’ How do you answer that?”
Tragedy struck again in January 2017 when 10-year-old Emma Benavides, a fifth-grader at Northridge Elementary School, was killed by her mother in another murder-suicide.
This time, the heartbreak hit even closer to home. A friend of Brooker’s had known the victim.
Desperate for a solution, Brooker started doing research, which led her to learn about postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. She began talking with other mothers in her community about what they could do to make a difference.
Unlike the “baby blues” — the mild mood changes, feelings of worry, unhappiness and exhaustion some mothers experience after giving birth — the symptoms of postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are extreme and make it difficult to carry out daily tasks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, postpartum depression estimates vary by state but can afflict up to one in every five mothers.
“Two factors in postpartum depression are isolation and the feeling of inadequacy, yet moms only get one postpartum visit at six weeks — everything else is for the baby,” Brooker said. “We need to do a better job supporting moms.”
In April 2017, Brooker founded YANAM2M (You Are Not Alone — Mom 2 Mom), a nonprofit committed to creating a space where every mother feels safe, accepted and valued. The organization provides services such as play dates for moms and kids (which were temporarily suspended due to the pandemic) and the option of being paired with an experienced support person.
“It is so important for moms to have a nonjudgmental person they can turn to,” Brooker said, “someone who can say, ‘I’ve been there. I’ve locked myself in the bathroom and cried too.’”
Brooker said funding has been the biggest challenge for the organization. But it hasn’t deterred her.
YANAM2M held the Strong Mama Gala this past December, raising over $19,000 to expand services to local hospitals. Once funded, the Strong Mamas, Thriving Babies program will offer new moms a support system from the beginning — including weekly meetings, an app for communicating with other moms and quarterly mental health check-ins — with the goal of thwarting postpartum depression.
The organization will be holding a poker tournament/casino night fundraiser for the Strong Mamas Program on April 9. Tickets are available for the event, which will be held at Beyond Fitness, 9150 Commerce Center Circle, Highlands Ranch, from 5:30 – 10:30 p.m.
As YANAM2M prepares to celebrate its fifth anniversary in April, Brooker is optimistic.
“It’s been a great program. We’ve done amazing things,” she said. “And it was the soul-fulfilling endeavor I was looking for, too.”