Postpartum depression has come a long way
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) otherwise known as Postpartum Depression, have existed since the dawn of time. It’s taken society a long (long) time to catch up, and start a public discourse about their very existence -- only complicated by the needless guilt and shame that pregnant and new mothers feel when the symptoms of PMADs strike, and the general stigma around mental health in our country.
Thankfully, the tide is changing. Over the past 10 years, recognition and treatment of PMADs is slowly rising due to a number of factors.
As we look back on our first year of service to new moms, we thought it only right to shine a light on the historical happenings that are raising the national conversation -- and the level of care. Here are our top five:
1. Legislation and Policy
(Courtesy of Postpartum Support International: http://www.postpartum.net/professionals/legislation/)
Many states across the nation have enacted different types of legislation that address postpartum depression. Some bills mandate or strongly encourage screening, some aim to raise awareness, and some establish task forces to examine maternal mental healthcare.
...on the federal level...
2016: Representative Katherine M. Clark’s bill “Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act” passed in the House of Representatives and Senate. The bill authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide federal grants to states for the purpose of screening, assessing and treating PPD. The grants would allow states to create, improve or maintain programs around maternal mental health and help women who are pregnant or recently gave birth.
...on the state level...
Illinois, 2018 | A new law --PA 100-0574, formerly known as HB 1764 -- recognizes postpartum illnesses as a factor in criminal cases. The law is groundbreaking because it is the first criminal law in the nation to reference in any way postpartum illnesses. It makes postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis a mitigating factor in sentencing. It also, for the very first time in Illinois, provides for a new sentencing hearing after a valid sentence has been imposed.
New York, 2014 | S.7234 / A.9610 was re-introduced and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it into law. The law provides information and guidelines on maternal depression screening; information on follow-up support and referrals; and public education to promote awareness of and de-stigmatize maternal depression. In addition, the legislation is intended to ensure that New Yorkers are informed of the public health services that will help them understand, identify and treat maternal depression. This bill was inspired by and co-authored by The Motherhood Center’s very own Program Director, Paige Bellenbaum.
California, 2014 | ACR 148 -- put forth by The California Legislative Women’s Caucus -- requested that the California Maternal Mental Health Collaborative (now known as 2020 Mom), a nonprofit organization, establish a task force on the status of maternal mental health care. The California Endowment provided financial support for a research team at California State University – Fresno and 2020 Mom Executive Director, Joy Burkhard to convene the task force.
New Jersey, 2006 | New Jersey S213 was signed into law by New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine (D). This law, known as the Postpartum Depression Law, was introduced by State Senate President Richard Codey, inspired by his wife, PPD Advocate Mary Jo Codey, and is known for being the first in the United States to require healthcare providers/facilities to screen women who have recently given birth for postpartum depression and to educate women and families. A budget of $4.5 million was provided for a comprehensive program, including the establishment of a statewide perinatal mental health referral network. The program is called “Speak Up When You’re Down”.
Other states that have PPD legislation include Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, West Virginia, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
2. Crisis in the Media
Until recently, the media has covered only the most tragic PMAD stories in which a woman suffers from postpartum psychosis, and the outcome results in suicide and/or infanticide. This has done a disservice to the stigma surrounding TAKE OUT THE WORD AROUND (around) maternal mental illness. By sensationalizing the most severe cases, it draws the wrong kind of attention to a condition that 20% or more of all new and expecting mothers experience, and precipitates fear and shame.
Andrea Yates was a 36-year-old mother of five young children: Noah, 7; John, 5; Paul, 3; Luke, 2; and Mary, 6 months. When her husband went to work on June 20, 2001, Yates methodically drowned all five children in the bathtub of their Houston-area home. Then she called 911.
“I just killed my kids,” she told police when they arrived at her house. During her high-profile trial, her attorneys argued that Yates suffered from psychotic delusions that were amplified by repeated episodes of Postpartum Depression. She was sentenced to prison in 2002, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. In her 2006 retrial, Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to a state mental hospital.
Lisette Bemanga, 32, had originally faced life in prison for the 2012 slayings of her 4-year-old son Trevor Noel, Jr. and her infant daughter Violet Lily Noel. The ex-school teacher at P.S 58 in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn had fed her kids a cocktail of windshield wiper fluid mixed with grape juice before drowning them in a bathtub.
Bronx Supreme Court Justice Martin Marcus found in a bench trial that she was too emotionally disturbed to be charged with murder, and convicted her of manslaughter instead. Her lawyers had argued she shouldn't be held responsible at all for her actions because she had a mental defect related to post-pregnancy depression.
Cynthia Wachenheim, jumped from her 8th floor window in 2013. Ms. Wachenheim, 44, died. But her 10-month-old son, apparently cushioned by her body, survived. He bounced out of the carrier and suffered only a bruised cheek.
Jessica Porten, A California mother claims that she was escorted to a hospital by police after speaking to a nurse practitioner about postpartum depression. Porten, the mother of a 4-month-old, told a nurse practitioner that she was having “violent thoughts” and had a support system at home but needed “medication and therapy to get through this.” After a brief exam, Porten said she had to meet with police before going to a local emergency room. She said she was not examined by a doctor and was discharged 10 hours later with only handouts on local resources for postpartum depression support.
3. Celebrity Stories
Although it can be difficult for most women to identify with celebrity lifestyles, when a famous pregnant or new mother comes forward with her own personal struggles with a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder - it makes the condition that much more relatable, and common.
After giving birth in 2016, Teigen seemed to be loving new motherhood, stretch marks and all. But just a month shy of her daughter Luna's first birthday, she penned an essay for Glamour magazine revealing her struggle with Postpartum Depression. "I had everything I needed to be happy. And yet, for much of the last year, I felt unhappy," she wrote. Teigen had a hard time coming to terms with PPD, but realized she was "different than before.”
Bryce Dallas Howard
“Eclipse” star Bryce Dallas Howard also wrote about her experience with postpartum depression on GOOP, following the 2007 birth of her son. She discussed in detail the extreme difficulties she experienced with breastfeeding, her trouble with eating and sleeping, and her screaming “expletives" at her husband.
Gwyneth Paltrow discussed her experience with Postpartum Depression through writing in her weekly newsletter, GOOP. In regards to her PPD, she wrote, “I was confronted with one of the darkest and most painfully debilitating chapters of my life." Paltrow discussed in detail her battle with, which she says “lasted about five months" following the birth of her second baby in 2006.
In her book, “Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression", Brooke Shields talks about the horrifying thoughts and disconnection she felt from her baby while suffering with the disorder beginning in 2003. Also in her book she discusses the “war" that broke out between herself and Tom Cruise, when he blasted her for her use of prescription medications for treating her PPD symptoms.
And the list goes on...
Other celebrities joining (and driving) the conversation include Courtney Cox-Arquette, Catherine Tate, Amanda Peet, Kendra Wilkinson, Gena Lee Nolin, Britney Spears, Marie Osmond, Vanessa Lachey, Hayden Panettiere, Carnie Wilson and Lisa Rinna.
4. Pop culture
Popular TV shows and documentaries have taken on the PPD conversation in inspiring (and thankfully, true-to-life) ways, too. When pregnant and new moms are watching actresses portray their character’s struggle with a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, it has a normalizing affect.
Nashville and Jane the Virgin:
Despite their larger-than-life characters, both shows portrayed PPD as the indiscriminate, emotionally all-consuming equalizer that it is.
Last season, the best-loved show took a stand with women suffering from Postpartum Depression via a candid depiction of the way that “supermom”/ wife, Rainbow relates to her husband during this trying time. Playing out the serious conversations that must be had between even the happiest of TV couples wasn’t just good TV -- it was a true-to-life depiction of how impactful significant others can be in seeing the signs we may ignore in ourselves, and advocating for the help that we’re too prideful to seek.
Dark Side of a Full Moon:
A documentary depicting two mothers -- one, an unwitting PPD survivor searching for personal answers, and another on a one-woman campaign to bring maternal mental health services to women in 5 southern states -- as they uncover the history, the origins, and mythology surrounding the dark side of motherhood, while forging a way to find the best system of care for women to find the help they need with ease and without shame or silence.
When the Bough Breaks:
The thought-sparking documentary -- courtesy of PPD survivor, activist, and actress Brooke Shields -- was one of the first to spotlight Postpartum Depression (and it’s much-deserved treatment) in the everyday.
5. Access to Resources & Treatment
Although some resources and treatment options exist for new and expecting moms suffering from PMADs, there is still a long way to go. Here are some of the “fore-mothers” in the resource and treatment arena:
Postpartum Support International | postpartum.net
Dedicated to increasing awareness among public and professional communities about the emotional changes that women experience during pregnancy and postpartum, PSI’s purpose is to provide current information, resources, education, and advocacy for further perinatal mental health research and legislation. PSI has members all over the world, including volunteer coordinators in every one of the United States, and more than 36 other countries.
Postpartum Resource Center of New York | postpartumny.org
The nonprofit IRS recognized 501(c)(3) organization in New York State representing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders support and education, with a goal of empowering parents and the community to improve the lives of families by addressing maternal mental health and parenting with psychiatric disabilities, and a mission of increasing education, screening and treatment through providing support programs and services, training healthcare providers and consumers, and building community partnerships.
NATIONAL TREATMENT FACILITIES
Intensive Outpatient and Partial Hospitalization Perinatal Psych Programs (courtesy of Postpartum Support International)
California: El Camino Hospital Maternal Outreach Mood Services (MOMS)
California: Hoag Hospital Maternal Mental Health Clinic
California: Huntington Memorial Hospital Maternal Wellness Program
California: UC San Diego Maternal Mental Health Program
Illinois: AMITA Health Perinatal IOP at Alexian Brothers Women & Children’s Hospital
Michigan: Pine Rest Mother and Baby Program
Minnesota: Hennepin Mother-Baby Day Hospital
New Jersey: Monmouth Medical Center Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders Program
New York: The Motherhood Center of New York
New York: Perinatal Psychiatry Services at The Zucker Hillside Hospital and South Oaks Hospital
Pennsylvania: Drexel University Mother Baby Connections Intensive Outpatient Program
Pennsylvania: Women’s Behavioral Health West Penn Hospital /Allegheny Health Network
Rhode Island: Brown Alpert Medical School / Women & Infants’ Hospital of Rhode Island
Utah: Serenity Recovery and Wellness Maternal Mental Health Intensive Outpatient Program
Utah: Reach Counseling
Utah: St. Marks Outpatient Perinatal Program
Washington: Swedish Perinatal Center for Perinatal Bonding and Support
Much has changed over the past 10 years regarding the way Postpartum Depression and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders have been viewed, discussed, and tackled. The conversation is changing - for the better. Yet there is a long way to go. Hopefully, one day the term “postpartum depression” will be as common as the terms “diabetes” or “high blood pressure”, and treatment for it will be just as accessible.
Paige Bellenbaum, LMSW is the Program Director at The Motherhood Center. After experiencing severe postpartum and depression after the birth of her son, once she got better she made it her plight to ensure that women would not have to suffer as she had. In 2016, she joined forces with The Motherhood Center founders, Dr. Catherine Birndorf and Billy Ingram, and together, with an excellent team of reproductive Psychiatrist, psychologist, social workers and specialists, treatment for mild to severe PPD symptoms is available for pregnant and new moms that are suffering. And the good news is, with treatment - everyone feels better.
If you think you have PPD, Call The Motherhood Center - 212-335-0034. We are here to tell you for sure if you have postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. And more importantly, if you do, we will provide the treatment you need to feel better. With the right treatment, EVERYONE feels better.