By Elizabeth Reinke
Did you know 90% of new mothers experience some form of stress, depression, or anxiety in the perinatal period? Probably not. I didn't. Did you know 10-20% of mothers will suffer from post-partum depression (PPD)? The symptoms can start immediately after birth or appear when the child is 18 months old. Or the depression and debilitating anxiety can start during pregnancy and carry through to the toddler years. I fall into that last category and remain there as my son approaches his second birthday.
The odds of developing a perinatal emotional complication (PEC) were stacked against me. I lost my job, experienced a pregnancy complication, and my husband was in Afghanistan for a year-long deployment. I was also in my last semester of nursing school, an additional stressor. Even though my instructors in nursing school had briefly mentioned PPD and my midwife had some concerns, I still didn't think it could happen to me. No one else seemed to be concerned about my mental health, so why should I be worried? I didn't know anyone who had PPD. At this point, I just knew it happened to a few women.
And then it hit. HARD. The next year was a complete blur with a few moments that stand out and define my postpartum period. "Just stop breastfeeding and take the pills I am going to prescribe," my doctor said. "Things will get better," my therapist reassured me. Yet things weren't getting better. They were getting worse. I felt as if I had jumped out of an airplane with no parachute and all I could do was wait for rock bottom to arrive - but it never did. I just kept falling. The depression brought me to deep, dark places where intrusive thoughts quickly turned to suicidal ideation.
I had thought postpartum depression couldn't happen to me. But it did. I had a dedicated doctor and a therapist with whom I met weekly, but none of my health care providers knew how to deal with PPD because they had minimal training. They couldn't direct me to community resources. They did not know about the high rate of perinatal emotional complications. Essentially, they did not know how to help me. But MotherWoman did.
The brightest light I found in those dark days was from the MotherWoman post-partum support groups I religiously went to every Tuesday morning. It was better than therapy. It was better than anti-depressants. I was able to sit in a circle with other moms and their babies and share my experience without being judged and given advice or fearing I would be reported to the Department of Children and Families. In that circle I had a voice. A voice that spoke the truth about motherhood--the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.
MotherWoman empowered me to keep on going, to live my life the best I could each day, and to be present for my son. Through the support group, I learned I was not alone in my struggles. I am part of a community of women who are still fighting isolation, battling anxiety, and facing mountains of unrealistic expectations because our society does not support mothers or families. MotherWoman supports mothers and families. MotherWoman cares and knows that when a mother struggles, so does her family. MotherWoman knows most parents do not have paid sick time that allows them to stay home and care for an ill child. MotherWoman understands what it is like to parent in the United States where women do not receive guaranteed paid maternity leave, where families cannot afford quality child care, and where a woman's number one risk factor of experiencing poverty in her lifetime is to have a child. MotherWoman gets it.
The women of MotherWoman have a collective, powerful voice that is bringing awareness to the silent struggles mothers and families live through every day. They are changing the world in which we live because mothers now have accessible resources and knowledgeable providers. Mothers in Western Massachusetts have an organization that is present in their local communities building coalitions, training support group facilitators, and educating health care professionals about perinatal emotional complications.
MotherWoman is making a significant impact and is changing the way we view postpartum depression. The groundbreaking, lifesaving, social-policy-changing work they are achieving is being done with 1 full-time employee, 6 part-time employees, and a few college interns. Just imagine what could be accomplished if they could expand their staff. Imagine the number of community clinicians that could be trained to help women experiencing PECs. Picture dozens of trained facilitators in each community holding support groups during the day, evening, and weekends to meet the needs of working mothers. I look forward to a time when postpartum depression, seen in 10-20% of all mothers, gains as much awareness as diabetes, a condition affecting 8.3% of the population, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Postpartum depression did find its way into my life despite thinking it could never happen to me, a middle-class registered nurse who knew how to access the resources I needed. It can happen to any mother because it does not discriminate. MotherWoman saved my life. I will continue to struggle with the events of my postpartum period, but I will not let those terrible days define me as a parent. MotherWoman helped me realize I am a good mother and I am the best mother for my child.
WATCH to hear Liz tell her powerful story.
Author's Bio: Liz is a mom of 1 and wife to an Army National Guardsman. She lives in Tewksbury, MA and works at Greater Lawrence Family Health Center as the Maternal Child Health Clinical Care Nurse Coordinator. In the Fall of 2012 Liz became a MotherWoman Group Facilitator. She is working with peers in the Lawrence community to get a mothers' support group going - hopefully in the Spring! Liz is learning Spanish and enjoy reading, gardening, and spending time with her family.