Is This the Way A Doctor’s Office Should Treat a New Mom with PPD? Heck No!

Before you read this post, please read this: 
If either you or a loved one gave birth in the last few weeks or months and you are having problems with insomnia, don’t feel like yourself, experiencing a great deal of anxiety and/or rage and/or are scary thoughts, please call Postpartum Support International (PSI) at 800-944-4773 where trained individuals (many of whom are survivors themselves) will listen to you and connect you with informed providers.

Note that the story you are about to read is an example of what may happen if you and your loved ones are not informed about mood disorders that occur during pregnancy and after childbirth, and your OB/GYN and staff are not properly trained to detect, diagnose, treat and/or refer patients with perinatal mood disorders.  It does not mean that the same thing will happen to you.  If you have any concerns about your own situation, please leave me a message and I will get back to you asap.  Or give that PSI number a call.

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This is the Facebook post that went viral right after it was posted this past Friday, January 19, 2018. Instead of taking legal action (which I most certainly would have done), Jessica is paying it forward by sharing her story so the public can see how broken the healthcare system is when it comes to postpartum care for new mothers.  She also turned down the numerous offers for help she has received since her post went viral and instead asks that everyone who has reached out to her offer their service for a woman of color.

Following is her experience in a nutshell.

  1. Usually, new moms have their first postpartum visit with their OB at 6 weeks. Her first appointment wasn’t scheduled until the 3rd Her OB kept cancelling her appointments for a month, so by the time she went she was 4 months postpartum. That’s not good.
  2. At the doctor’s office, Jessica told the nurse practitioner that she had postpartum depression, which included fits of anger and violent thoughts. She also said she wanted to discuss medication options, needed medication and therapy to get through this, had a strong support system at home, and she would never hurt herself or her baby.  If she’d spoken to me or anyone with experience diagnosing and treating PPD, I would think “Okay, this is a woman who is informed and knows what she is talking about. I have no reason to doubt that she knows what she’s saying, so I will have the doctor see her now so they can talk about treatment options and/or referral to someone experienced with treating PPD.”
  3. But instead of telling the doctor so he could properly assess her condition and discuss treatment and/or referral options, they called the police! In exchange for her honesty and being knowledgeable enough about PPD to advocate for herself, she was treated like a criminal!   A grueling 10-hour ordeal ensued, with her infant in tow.  No medication. Never once speaking with a doctor. No follow-up appointment. She drove with her baby to the ER with 2 police cars escorting them. They took her blood and she had to give a urine sample.  A security guard stood guard.  She had to remove all her clothes, which they took away and locked up.

Like Jessica, I would want to effect change but I would want to give the nurse practitioner and doctor a piece of my mind.  I would’ve been so pissed by this overreaction to a mother knowledgeably informing her doctor’s office of her PPD and the ensuing humiliating experience that ensued, plus I don’t forget bad experiences that easily and who would?  When a mother is suffering from PPD, she is already in an emotionally vulnerable state and this kind overreaction can be the tip of an already unstable iceberg.

Everyone who comes in contact with new mothers should ABSOLUTELY be trained to recognize symptoms of a perinatal mood disorder, to understand that a new mother with a perinatal mood disorder needs support and treatment.  This would apply to nurses, OB/GYNs, general practitioners, pediatricians, doulas, and midwives.  At this point, there shouldn’t be a single OB/GYN doctor and nurse that doesn’t know how to recognize symptoms of a perinatal mood disorder and either treat her or refer her right away to someone who can.  This kind of training should not be optional.   IT MUST BE MANDATORY….i.e., you can’t practice as an OB/GYN doctor or nurse without the mandatory training that Postpartum Support International offers. Let’s advocate for change at the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG) level, as I’ve been saying for years.

At the end of her post, Jessica proposes crowd sourcing as a way of coming up with solutions to fix this broken healthcare system. She poses very thoughtful and key questions that should prompt immediate discussions among everyone who has anything to do with maternal mental health (e.g., advocates, mental healthcare practitioners, doctors, nurses).  These are her questions, which I’m putting here to help get the word out, as not everyone is on Facebook.

  • Why is the way I was treated standard procedure?
  • What can we do to improve standard procedures for all postpartum mothers, but also specifically those at higher risk for developing PPD and presenting with signs of PPD.
  • Who is most qualified to make suggestions for improvements?
  • Who is actually capable of making the changes to standard procedures, and how can we can contact them?
  • Why was I let go, when so many others would have been put on a mandatory 72 hour psychiatric hold, and had their children taken away?
  • Why do a disproportionate number of women of color who have PPD not receive the services they need, even when they initiate treatment?
  • Why are a disproportionate number of women of color who have PPD misdiagnosed?
  • Why are black women half as likely to receive mental health treatment and counseling as white women?
  • What can we do as a community to lift up our marginalized members and make sure they receive the quality care that we ALL have a right to?!?

I am hopeful that we will make some headway, since this post has gone viral as she’d hope it would be.  I am already hearing that advocacy groups like 2020Mom reach out to Jessica, who is going to join 2020Mom in a rally in Sacramento, California state capital, which just so happens to be where Jessica’s story took place.  2020Mom is in the process of introducing 4 bills in California.

I have previously shared how my PPD experience was a critical steppingstone to becoming the person I am today, and do not regret it except for the time that I lost during the weeks I was not myself. My PPD experience changed the course of my life.  I believe I had PPD for a reason, as it has given me the courage to speak up, blog, publish a book, and change my career path.

I somehow get this feeling that Jessica’s PPD experience is a steppingstone to advocacy and change when it comes to maternal mental health matters.  I am pretty sure this is just the beginning of her involvement in maternal mental health advocacy.

Thank you, Jessica, for sharing your experience!

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Update to post: 
Jessica Porten’s story has gone viral and made it into various news media, which is what I’d hoped would happen.  The more ways her story gets shared, the more people she reaches (including folks in the medical field). Here are just some of the places her story has popped up:

Sacramento CBS news: “Mom Shocked After Doctor’s Visit For Postpartum Depression Leads To Police Escort To ER” by Steve Large.

NowThis Her video

Medium: “Address Postpartum Depression with Training and Treatment, Not Police” by Ann Smith, current President of PSI.

Slate: “She Asked for Help for Postpartum Depression. The Nurse Called the Cops.” by Darby Saxbe.

Upworthy: “A mom told her OB she might have postpartum depression. Then they called the cops.” by Evan Porter.

Romper: “This Mom Had The Cops Called On Her After Seeking Help For PPD, & Her Story Is A Must-Read” by Karen Fratti.

Romper: “Why Are We Letting Our Mothers Die?” A Conversation About Postpartum Treatment” by Ashley Stoney.

Research4Moms: “No More Excuses: Providers Are Accountable for Their Lack of Knowledge About Moms’ Mental Health” by Shannon Hennig.

Dearly: “Mom Says She Needs Help for Postpartum Depression. Nurse Leaves the Room…to Call the Police” by Prudence Hill.

Huffpo Canada: “A Mom With Postpartum Depression Asked For Help. Her Nurse Called The Cops” by Patricia Tomasi.

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