You have to break through the uncomfortable…..We are losing a silent battle that no one wants to talk about.
Amen! These are the words Brian Gaydos utters when people ask what happened to his beloved wife, Shelane, and his answer “She died from a disease called postpartum depression” makes them uncomfortable. Discomfort from stigma is what keeps suffering mothers quiet and getting the treatment they need and deserve.
When I read the August 4, 2017 article by Michael Alison Chandler in the Washington Post titled “Maternal depression is getting more attention – but still not enough” and I saw Brian’s words at the end of the article, I decided I needed to blog about these words and about the tragic death of his wife. Shelane Gaydos, a 35-year-old mother with 3 daughters, lost a baby in utero at 12 weeks and within 3 weeks died by suicide. Family members did not realize until a while after her death that she had suffered from postpartum psychosis. The article mentions, and as statistics have always indicated, women are more likely to attempt suicide during the first year after childbirth than during any other time in their lives. It is important to note that a woman doesn’t need to give birth to experience any one of the various postpartum mood disorders, including postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum OCD and postpartum psychosis. She can suffer from these disorders after having a miscarriage as well.
The article mentions certain things I’ve mentioned all along in my blog and in my book:
- 1 in 7 new mothers experience a perinatal (during pregnancy and after birth) mood disorder, and yet these disorders continue to be under-diagnosed and under-treated
- A relatively small percentage seek professional help either because they don’t know what they are experiencing deserves and needs professional help and/or they don’t know where to go to get help and/or they are ashamed to seek help
- More obstetricians and pediatricians lack than possess the training needed to diagnose and treat perinatal mood disorders
- Certain risk factors are the reason why certain mothers develop PPD and others don’t: genetic predisposition to biological factors (some mothers are affected by hormonal fluctuations during/after childbirth and after weaning more than others) versus environmental factors (poverty, poor/abusive relationships, premature birth or miscarriage, inadequate support, inadequate paid leave from work)
- It’s thanks to advocates with platforms with a broad reach to members of the government and media that there has been progress in recent years. Brooke Shields is one of the first of the advocates to start the trend of sharing their own experiences, spreading awareness, and trying to effect change.
- There are still stubborn societal myths (thank you to the patriarchal and quite misogynistic forces and views still in place here in the 21st century) that only serve to put unnecessary, additional stress on women, encouraging the false notion that all mothers can not only care for their babies without any sleep or support, but also be able to breastfeed without any issues and return to their pre-baby bodies and weight quickly. Unbeknownst to many of us stateside, societies around the world (and in olden days here in the good ol’ USA) have customs in place that provide new mothers with the support they need to recover from childbirth and care for their newborn baby. Instead, because we are a strictly capitalistic society, more and more mothers now work and have anywhere between 0-13 weeks of paid leave and are expected to recover and jump right back to their jobs before having babies, as if they’d never given birth in the first place! If only men who think “Women have been giving birth for centuries should just up and go back to the way they were” can experience childbirth firsthand sometime!
Certain states, like Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Illinois have passed laws that mandate screening for PPD, and thanks to recommendations by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), healthcare providers are screening for PPD more routinely. What I would like to know is whether these screenings are even happening (I am dubious):
- In 2015, ACOG recommended that OB/GYNs screen women for PPD at least once during pregnancy and once after childbirth.
- In 2010, the AAP recommended that pediatricians screen mothers for PPD at well-baby visits during the first 6 months.
Postpartum depression is where breast cancer was 30 years ago.
I truly and sincerely hope and pray that it’s NOT going to be ANOTHER 30 years for us to see a significant change in the way we view PPD as a society and reduce the numbers of women suffering–and even dying–from perinatal mood disorders!