A big “thank you” to Kristin Davis who encouraged me to set up this blog to reach fellow moms and their families via the Internet. I have this voice that has been deep inside me wanting to speak up about my bout of postpartum depression (PPD) in 2005.
Fueled by the passion to help other women, angered by public remarks like “There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance,” and determined to help stamp out the ignorance about PPD, I set out 5 months after my daughter was born and 2 months into my recovery to start writing my book and get the message out that those remarks couldn’t be further from the truth. Determined to learn more about this misunderstood, underdiagnosed and undertreated illness, I joined Postpartum Support International (PSI) in 2006 and attended annual conferences to network with and pick up the latest information from subject matter experts. I also attended two PSI fundraisers in my old hometown of N. Caldwell, NJ, which was hosted by Sylvia Lasalandra, author of “A Daughter’s Touch” and attended by Senator Robert Menendez, Governor Jon Corzine, former NJ First Lady Mary Jo Codey (PPD survivor), Senator Richard Codey, and Dr. Manny Alvarez of Fox News, among many others. I plan to participate in the Sounds of Silence Foundation second annual run/walk fundraising event on May 9th on Long Island.
Having PPD at a time when mothers are “supposed to feel nothing but absolute bliss”-one of the “motherhood myths” I touch on in my book-is so embarrassing and difficult to talk about, that most women will not tell their stories to people they know, let alone to the world. There’s this fear of being judged, criticized and labeled as crazy and, worse yet, unfit mothers.
Well, I am not afraid to tell my story, especially if it means helping other mothers. I want to make a positive impact by empowering women with knowledge about an illness that is more prevalent than people think. One out of eight (or up to 20%) of new mothers suffer from PPD. And I’m not talking about the baby blues, either. Approximately 80% of mothers experience what is referred to as baby blues-the tendency to be teary/emotional due to the huge hormonal changes that occur with childbirth-within the first couple of weeks postpartum and resolves on its own.
PPD is a very debilitating illness that can occur anytime within the first year postpartum and in nearly all cases requires the help of medication and/or therapy to resolve. Research has shown that PPD has neurochemical causes-for instance, a decrease in neurotransmitter serotonin levels-which is why in so many cases SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) antidepressants like Paxil are prescribed and are effective in treating large numbers of PPD patients. There are so many people out there–Tom Cruise for one–that are vehemently against medications and even the fields of psychiatry and psychology. And you wonder why moms keep quiet about their experiences. Hey, all I can say to naysayers and doubters of PPD is “Mind your own business and stop passing judgment on others. Until you’ve actually experienced PPD, keep your opinions and negative comments to yourself.” I am not usually one to take medications. In fact, I will only take medications when I absolutely have to, like to kill a bacterial infection. My mom will confirm that I’ve been hell-bent since I was a toddler never to take any medications. She used to chase me around the house. In fact, she still chases me, but by phone nowadays. Without the Paxil, my suffering would have been painfully prolonged. As it was, I was deprived of the opportunity–never to be had again–to enjoy several precious weeks of my baby girl’s life.
Unfortunately, PPD is all too frequently mistaken by doctors for the baby blues. Had I known about PPD before my baby was born, I would not have been so scared as to why I had insomnia and couldn’t sleep even though I was exhausted beyond words and even during the times my daughter slept. My fear would not have escalated to full-blown anxiety attacks. I would’ve recognized other symptoms like loss of appetite (I lost so much weight so fast that within a couple of weeks I weighed less than I did before I got pregnant!). As soon as I started to have insomnia instead of merely taking the Ambien prescribed to me by my OB/GYN, I would’ve immediately known to question it as a sign of PPD and gotten the right treatment then, instead of having to go through the hell that I went through not knowing what was wrong with me and not being able to enjoy my time with my baby as much as I wanted to.
Knowledge about PPD will empower women to make a difference for themselves. You cannot rely on doctors to recognize and treat PPD, as a large number of them still do not know how to. It is through organizations like PSI that are trying to spread awareness to healthcare professionals around the world.
PPD awareness before a woman has her baby is important to ensure that, if she were to experience it, she would seek help immediately and not suffer alone and in silence. My ultimate goal is to lend a voice to mothers suffering from this debilitating illness through the knowledge that they are not alone and PPD is a real illness with different treatment options. There is no need for any woman to suffer the way I had suffered, not knowing what was wrong with me and being treated the way I was treated by my doctors.
I am just one voice, but hopefully others like me will gain the courage to let their voices be heard. With more personal stories available to women-and to healthcare professionals, even-the ignorance about PPD will hopefully one day come to an end. It’s a long road ahead of us, and we must never give up!
Stay tuned for regular updates to my blog in the weeks (and months) to come, as I wrap up my book and seek to get it published. I will share more about my personal experience, and what I have learned through my experience, with this #1 complication of childbirth. More importantly, feel free to speak up if you are experiencing or have already experienced PPD. Don’t be afraid to reach out.