Tuesday, April 21, 2009

So Beautiful And Yet So Full Of Sad

I'm having trouble determining who exactly declared this to be Blog Week in support of the MOTHERS Act, a bill which would provide new mothers with post-partum depression screening and education and increase funding for PPD research, but whatever the source, I'm happy to participate. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on the legislation, but if online updates can be trusted, this bill has received approval from the House but is currently stalled in the Senate.

What I will pretend to be at least a little expert on, however, is the devastating lack of support or understanding of mothers suffering from PPD. Through my work at Mothersville, I frequently encountered new moms who were in the grip of an unbroken sadness and/or anxiety, unable to enjoy their baby or new motherhood because of the intensity of their feelings of guilt, inadequacy, fear or just plain despair.

When I wrote about the topic a few years ago, I learned that PPD affects an estimated 10-15% of new mothers - more than pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes or Downs syndrome, which we are almost all screened for. I suspect the actual number is even higher than studies suggest, because mothers are so very good at putting on a brave face and hiding the true depth of their depression. Such was the case with Jenny Gibbs, a high school classmate of mine whose tragic story inspired her family and friends to create Jenny's Light, a PPD advocacy and education group. No one can ever say what might have happened if Jenny had found a group such as the one that now bears her name, but hopefully there are thousands of other mothers who will benefit from it.

My own struggle with post-partum depression was not as desperate, but it was a very dark and trying period of my motherhood, and I still look back and wonder why no one asked me - really asked me - how I was doing. I remember sitting in my OB's office, shuffled between nurses and medical students, answering every question about my recovery except that one. I mean, I'm sure there was the standard, "And how are we?" but no one asked, "Are you feeling down at all? Are you worried about how you're bonding with the baby? Have you had any thoughts of harming yourself?" Simply saying these words out loud to new moms would show them that they aren't alone, they aren't the only person to react to the "joy" of parenthood this way, and that validation alone would go a long way toward dispelling the shame of acknowledging PPD. I was lucky to have Mothersville as a place where I could be around other mamas and see that the reality of new motherhood wasn't all we had been promised, but the vast majority of first-time, and even experienced, moms feel overwhelmingly isolated in our modern, fend-for-yourself society. We're the daughters of feminists, raised to believe we can do anything we want to do; it's against our very nature to seek help at one of the points in our lives we need it the most.

So anyway, back to the MOTHERS Act. If you're the type to jump on these types of things, here are some actions you can take:

1. Contact your senator today or e-mail with your request for their support for S 324, The Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act

2. E-mail susanstonelcsw@aol.com to give your permission to be listed in the state by state constituent petition which will be presented to U.S. Senators the week of MOTHERS Day.

The health of our babies is directly tied to the health of our mothers, and taking one step toward better post-partum care benefits our entire society. Let's get walking.


Sassy Molassy said...

Gah, I feel like I totally failed you! I guess I didn't know from Norwegian stoicism.

Sarah Jane said...

Whew. I had a super scary delivery with Kip and lost a bunch of blood. I was in a such a daze, but thought, "I guess this is just how it goes." I think I was much more depressed then I knew at the time. Anyway, thanks for sharing.

Memphisotan said...

Hmm, I had a post-partum hemorrhage after my first labor. A quick Googling doesn't show any studies connecting blood loss during/after labor with PPD, but it would be an interesting topic to explore.

Sarah Jane said...

I hemorrhaged severely because my uterus inverted. I don't think I was depressed because of that, but rather it was another stressor.

Memphisotan said...

I just wonder if it's possible that the physical stress of severe blood loss can trigger or magnify the hormonal issues behind PPD. Birth trauma has been shown to impact the ability to breastfeed, so it doesn't seem like too far a stretch.