Healing begins Information, support key to helping women with postpartum depression

Sarah Moore struggled with postpartum depression after the birth of her now-9-month-old daughter, Violet. Moore says the support of her family in addition to medical treatment and support groups are what helped through the depression.

When Sarah Moore’s husband pointedly asked her if she was having thoughts of hurting herself or her 2-month-old daughter, Moore could only nod.

“If he hadn’t asked me that, I wouldn’t have told him,” the West Ashley mom says.

Moore was trapped in a guilty spiral of worrisome thoughts that are common among women with postpartum depression, according to experts.

“I was super anxious. I would wake up in the morning with a knot in my stomach thinking about having to get through the day with her,” Moore says. “It’s not at all what I pictured it to be. I felt so guilty about that.”

While Moore felt she was the only woman to ever feel that way, an average of 15 percent of new moms experienced symptoms of postpartum depression between 2004 and ’08, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This depression can develop within the first year after giving birth, and symptoms include feelings of anger or irritability, lack of interest in the baby, appetite or sleep disturbance, crying, feelings of guilt or shame, or possible thoughts of harming the baby or yourself.

It is a medical condition requiring treatment, usually therapy and medication.

Risa Mason, a licensed clinical psychologist and the executive director of the local Ruth Rhoden Craven Foundation for Postpartum Depression Awareness, treats many women with it in her private practice. She says the biggest problem is the lack of knowledge and women not being informed about the disorder prior to having their child.

They don’t know anything about PPD, no one talked to them about it and no one asked them the right questions, Mason says.

“Up to 80 percent of women fail to report their symptoms to their care provider even when they think they are suffering from PPD,” says Gene Blake, a certified nurse midwife at Lowcountry OB/GYN.

For two months, Moore suffered silently. She spent her days in tears, scared by some of the thoughts she was having.

Moore says she was so excited about having a baby and, having spent years working as a preschool teacher, felt prepared to care for her new child.

“Everyone says I would be a great mom,” she says. “Now I was thinking maybe this was a mistake, this doesn’t feel right. It was all very confusing. I felt guilty for having those feelings. I shared with my husband but just that I was having a hard time. I didn’t tell him I wanted to take my daughter to the fire station and drop her off.”

Feeling alone and ashamed is common among those with the medical condition, Mason says. Those feelings make it difficult for women to come forward and admit there’s a problem.

“It’s harder than regular depression to ask for help because there’s a baby involved and there’s so much guilt and shame,” Mason says.

That’s where a support group can make all the difference in helping women to see they aren’t alone in experiencing these kinds of thoughts and feelings, Mason says.

Once Moore admitted her feelings to her husband, she began treatment. She spent a couple of months with her family in Texas so she would have a support system while her husband, Michael, worked a busy schedule as medical school resident. She started therapy and medication and found a support group.

She said the group helped her realize postpartum depression is an illness that can affect any woman and it wasn’t a problem unique to her.

“It was so eye-opening because here I thought it was just a character flaw, that something was wrong with me that I didn’t want to be around my daughter,” Moore says. “I thought something was inherently wrong with me, but then I heard other women say the exact same thing and it made me realize it can’t just be me.

“It really helped me see it as an illness, something going with me right now. Just like the flu, I have symptoms and I feel bad, but I will get better from it.”

Mason, who facilitates support groups offered by the Ruth Rhoden Craven Foundation, says that these groups are an important part of overall treatment. Women who attend are at different stages of healing, so it can be encouraging for a woman just diagnosed with postpartum depression to see another woman who has come out on the other side and is feeling better and enjoying motherhood.

Women also share tips for coping and tricks for getting through the day, Mason says.

And yet, Mason says, women are sometimes even hesitant to attend the support groups because of the stigma. That can be remedied by talking about the disorder, making sure women and their families are informed, asking the right questions and looking for the signs, Mason suggests.

Blake also says women need to be talking to other women. Mothers need to share their true thoughts and experiences after bringing their babies home.

“It can’t be talked about enough,” she says. “Health care providers need to make women aware of the symptoms and the prevalence of the disease multiple times during the pregnancy and postpartum periods. Women need to share their experiences, good and bad, with their daughters, sisters and friends.

“In my experience, patients who come in struggling with symptoms of PPD seeking treatment routinely express regret for not seeking treatment earlier.”

Moore says had she known more about postpartum depression before having her baby, she believes she would have been better able to recognize it as an illness and cope with what she was experiencing rather than just thinking she was crazy.

“Pediatricians and OB/GYN (offices) need to be aware of the resources available in the community,” says Moore, who is now seven months into recovery. “People could tell something was bothering me, but they didn’t know what to do.”