This is a guest post by Kelly O’Connor Kay
When I moved to Los Angeles in the Spring of 2010, I was 5 weeks pregnant. My husband and I had just undergone a big life change, leaving friends, family and financial security on the East Coast in favor of sunshine, beach and the pursuit of a dream in Southern California. We had been together for ten years and married for four by the time I got pregnant. We had been trying to get pregnant for nearly a year when I conceived, so it was a happy occasion. Twelve months later, however, I thought my marriage was over. What do I know now that I didn’t know then? I was suffering from a form of maternal depression and it resulted in extreme marital stress.
Maternal, or perinatal, depression encompasses a range of mood disorders that can affect a woman during pregnancy and around the time of birth. At least 1 in 5 women suffer some sort of depression or anxiety during their pregnancy or after childbirth. In low income populations, that ratio increases to 2 in 5. Despite these numbers, maternal depression is hardly ever discussed. Having a baby is supposed to be the happiest time in our lives! The stigma attached to a mother who is having difficulties in profound.
When my daughter was 3 months old, I joined the Los Angeles County Perinatal Mental Health Task Force, a volunteer group dedicated to removing the barriers to the prevention, screening and treatment of prenatal and postpartum depression in Los Angeles County. Through this group, I have met a plethora of intelligent, strong, capable women who have also suffered from perinatal depression.
Ellie suffered from crippling anxiety after the birth of her first two children. The thought of being left alone with the baby sent her into a state of complete panic. She suffered from nausea, racing heart and tingling fingers.
Jessica was suddenly not able to sleep one month into her daughter’s life. Despite prescribed sleeping pills, black out curtains, a sound machine and trustworthy child care, she still could not sleep.
Danielle’s postpartum depression manifested itself in anger. She broke a window with a sippy cup, tore a hole in the wall with a mop handle, and broke toys by throwing them on the ground.
Jenni had thoughts of hurting her baby.
Siomara’s postpartum depression was mis-diagnosed as bipolar disorder and her case was reported to the Department of Children & Family Services.
All of the women above have been able to recover from perinatal depression through medication, therapy and/or social support. But for each of these stories, there are thousands of women who are suffering in silence. Left untreated, maternal depression leads to long-term depression in the mother, a lack of emotional availability for the baby and detrimental outcomes in the development of the fetus, newborn and developing child. The good news is that these conditions are often preventable and highly treatable. But for that to happen, we must normalize the condition and remove the stigma.
When I was pregnant, I didn’t know anyone who had suffered from perinatal depression. So when I was in the throws of it, I didn’t know what it was. Luckily, I was able to recover through couples counseling and social support. And while my marriage is a work in progress, we are in a happy place again.
In honor of May being Maternal Depression Awareness Month, the Los Angeles County Perinatal Mental Health Task Force is organizing a series of events designed to reduce the stigma around perinatal depression. It is not too late to become involved. Details of upcoming events can be found below:
May 30th - Community Awareness Forum – Learn about maternal depression and the need for all communities and sectors to address this important public health issue at this free forum sponsored by Second District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Included will be a discussion of the signs and symptoms of maternal depression, its impact on families and communities and ways to gather support and resources. The forum will take place from 12:00-2:00pm at Exposition Park, Administrative Offices East, 700 Exposition Park Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90037.
June 10th - A Discussion About Maternal Mental Health – Please join us for a discussion on maternal mental health and the role that social groups play in supporting new moms and moms-to-be! Speakers include: Lily Chan, mom, photographer, blogger and postpartum depression survivor and Ivy Margulies and Lisa Osborn, both moms, clinical psychologists and postpartum depression survivors. The discussion will take place from 2:00-4:00pm at the offices of Ivy & Osborn, 2730 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 550, Santa Monica, CA 90403.
Kelly O’Connor Kay is theDevelopment Director for the Los Angeles County Perinatal Mental Health Task Force. Learn more at MaternalMentalHealthLA.org.