Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What If? (Thoughts on the Melanie Blocker Stokes Mothers Act)

All right folks, I just came home from a very fun Enrichment and I was not pleased to find this (gardening excitement) buzz kill. Over at Postpartum Progress Kathryn Stone reported that some yahoos had this to say about the Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act:

"This MOTHER'S Act, with its innocuous sounding name will mandate 'mental screening' for pregnant women. This will lead to many more young mothers being labeled with fraudulent psychiatric conditions and many of them will be put on dangerous psychiatric drugs even while they are still pregnant. . .With help, we were able to stop this Federal bill dead in its tracks last year, but the drug lobby apparently never sleeps and they got it through the House of Representatives."

I gotta say, my family and I are personally hurt by this attitude. The OB who delivered my first baby completely dropped the ball when I needed help for PPD. At no point during my pregnancy, even when I came to a late third trimester appointment crying and shaking with frustration, did anyone in his office mention PPD. I went in for my six week check-up and told him that I felt sad and was having trouble loving my baby but I'd heard that those things were normal so maybe it wasn't such a big deal. I just had the baby blues, right? He had been writing something down and when I looked to him for guidance he only said, "Yeah. Probably." Because he didn't listen and didn't take the time to screen me (or any other patients) I thought my inability to love my child was normal. I thought that laying on the floor next to my baby and crying every time she cried was normal. I thought screaming myself hoarse in anger was normal. It wasn't until I became so paranoid that I was afraid to leave my house (I was too afraid someone would steal my baby or that I'd accidentally kill her) or wash my face (I knew it was irrational, but part of my brain was convinced that someone was waiting in my shower so they could stab me to death) or go to sleep (I had a recurring nightmare of someone sneaking into my baby's room and spiriting her away) that my sister finally convinced me to get help.

My baby was four months old at that point. I lost four months of her life. I struggled and cried and suffered fruitlessly for four months--and my baby struggled and cried and suffered for four months.

What if that doctor had stopped to listen? What if my prenatal educator had given more than the five minute blurb about PPD? What if there was a screening or education program in place to catch people like me?

I went to a different OB when I was expecting my second baby. The woman was a little brusque for my taste but when I told her about my previous PPD experiences (leaving out the paranoia and fears of accidentally harming my baby; I didn't want her to think I was actually nuts) she listened. She explained their screening program to me. She explained my risk factors. She gave me a website. When my second baby was three weeks old and I went back in and filled out a depression questionnaire my OB came in and hugged me. I cried a lot. She told me it wasn't my fault. She gave me a prescription and some business cards and scheduled a follow-up appointment to make sure I got a therapist. She caught me when I fell.

Thanks to a lot of therapy I've let go of the guilt surrounding my postpartum experience with my first. I'm not angry at my first OB any more. But I am still sad. Something died inside me through that experience--some sort of idealism. Motherhood will always be a double-edged sword for me. The wonderful moments will always be tempered by the scary ones. Some things you just can't forget.

I am lucky enough that most of the people around me love me and support me in my search for help and healing, but people making statements like the one above only contribute to ridiculous stereotypes. I cannot believe that there are people out there who think that perinatal and postpartum mood disorders are just a money-making ploy for drug companies. This bill actually gives no money to drug companies or any sort of funding for psychiatric medication!

Postpartum depression and other perinatal mood disorders are a real threat to society. As Kathryn Stone said,

"Have these people not seen the research? Do they not know that women with untreated postpartum depression can go on to have chronic depression for the rest of their lives? Do they not know that women with untreated depression during pregnancy are twice as likely to have pre-eclampsia, twice as likely to have a C-section, twice as likely to have a pre-term delivery and twice as likely to have their baby go to NICU? Do they know the odds of developmental delay for children whose mothers' illness goes on and on and on and on? Do they not know that suicide as a result of postpartum mood disorders is the leading cause of death for women postpartum in the US? The emotional health of approximately 1 million American families EVERY SINGLE YEAR depends on this."

Here's the link to a petition. Please consider signing it and contacting your Senator and Congressperson. Trust me; us depressed mommies (and our babies!) need all the help we can get.


Charlotte said...

Very powerful post, Laura! Thanks for sharing the bill and your experience with us. I'll go sign the petition right now!

Doc said...

I saw this too and thought it was completely outrageous. Thank you for always courageously sharing your own experience to rebut the Tom Cruise style extremists.

Some tragic pharmaceutical scandals of late have set back mental health and emboldened the anti-crazy crazies in general. We all need to follow your example and find the strength to push back.

mary lou said...

I subscribe to Woman's Day magazine. The current issue dated May 5, 2009, has an article called "Are antidepressants for You?" It seems to really focus on the benefits of women getting help for depression. I was pleased with the stories of PMS, postpartum, and other situations where women NEED medication. Hopefully people who don't understand depression will have a better understanding, and the stigma of being on meds will be lessened.