By Jacqueline S. Kates, M.D.
I love my work as an obstetrician/gynecologist. I went into medicine to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology because I could not imagine a more important way to spend my days (and nights) than providing care for women. I dreamed of improving the lives of women and their families.
I went through excellent medical school and residency training. Yet when I think back to how much training I had pertaining to perinatal emotional complications, well, let's just say I don't need to think about that for very long. I had virtually NO training in these important issues -- and unfortunately, mine was NOT a unique experience.
When I first arrived in Western Massachusetts eight years ago, very little attention was being paid to pregnancy-related mood disorders. Even among healthcare professionals, hardly anyone spoke about postpartum depression.
Routine screens have become the standard of care for pregnancy-related diseases that are far less common than postpartum depression. For example, gestational diabetes affects 3 to 7 percent of pregnant women. Perinatal depression, however, can affect as many as 20 percent (which, if you look at my waiting room on any given day, is a lot of women!). Yet there has been little awareness or screening and virtually NO community resources to address this critical issue
Women have been suffering alone.
For mothers, there is so much shame and stigma attached to a prenatal or postpartum struggle. It's the big secret -- the elephant in the room. They wonder, "Isn't this supposed to be the best time in my life?" They worry, "If I admit to having a hard time, people will think I'm an awful mother!"
I remember sitting in a small examination room, after diagnosing a patient with postpartum depression. I remember spending the better part of an hour talking with her. And, I remember the sinking, nauseous feeling I had, knowing that there were very limited resources to help her.
Today, in Western Massachusetts, that has changed. That change is largely attributable to a visionary organization called MotherWoman, which is working to build networks and community infrastructure to support not just mothers, but their families, and the health care providers who care for them.
Now, when I sit with a patient, I feel empowered.
I am part of a team who has recognized the importance of universal screening as the first step in caring for a woman who is struggling. I am now armed with resources that help me help my patients! I can give names and numbers of local mental health professionals, local support groups, and online resources. I can provide reassurance that she is part of a community who cares about her.
MotherWoman's efforts have led to systemic change for mothers and families -- and in the lives and work of healthcare providers who care for mothers. It is a different world for mothers in western Massachusetts today, compared to even just eight years ago.
Together, we really can change the world -- by helping one mother, one family, one community at a time.
Jacqueline S. Kates, M.D., is a board-certified physician in obstetrics and gynecology. She has been in private practice in the Pioneer Valley since 2006, currently at Women's Health Associates. In addition to using her knowledge in the clinical setting, Dr. Kates is passionate about the importance of training other healthcare professionals about postpartum depression and perinatal emotional complications. She has spoken throughout Massachusetts on this critical topic. Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Kates is the mother of two young children.