BY JENNIFER MCGILVRAY Medill News Service
Illinois Times on May 22, 2003
She was suffering from postpartum psychosis and had just returned from a support group meeting with other women who were also suffering from the more severe form of ‘baby blues.’
“He was smiling and that made me feel good,” she said. Cynthia is recovering from postpartum psychosis through therapy and medication after the birth of her first child.
“It’s been since last summer since I had feelings of hurting my baby,” she said. One of the ways the illness affected her is that it made her over-concerned that she would do something wrong that would hurt her infant.
Cynthia is not alone–as she found out after being diagnosed as postpartum psychosis/bipolar. She is part of 1 percent of all new mothers suffering from an extreme form of postpartum depression, which itself affects 20 percent of women.
Postpartum Depression or Postpartum Psychosis?
The Postpartum Depression Illinois Alliance lists postpartum depression symptoms as despondency, tearfulness, intense feelings of inadequacy, guilt and fatigue. Postpartum psychosis has symptoms such as auditory hallucinations, hyperactivity and delusions.
When Cynthia and her husband first brought their son home, she said she was doing fine with him.
“I wanted to do everything for him,” she said. “Maybe a little too much.”
Cynthia said she was obsessing over his safety. “I went around the house and labeled everything just in case he digested something. And he couldn’t even walk yet.” Her condition got worse after she started hearing things that didn’t exist and then she became delusional.
“I was thinking that everyone was out to get the baby. I went to go hold the baby and I was too exaggerated (in my actions) and my husband was a little worried. He took the baby away from me and called 911,” she said. “911 came and I thought they were the bad people.”
She was immediately diagnosed by doctors and put on medication. When her family brought her son to visit, she said she had feelings of hurting the baby.
“I thought I was going to drop the baby,” she said.
Cynthia said she went into a deep depression after her prescription of Prozac didn’t work and she had to have her family watch her and the baby 24 hours a day.
“Taking a shower was hard to do,” she said. After reading a book about postpartum depression, Cynthia researched organizations to help her deal with her problem. This led her to support groups, a qualified psychiatrist and, finally, discovering she was not alone.
Coping with Normal Postpartum Depression
Sarah Allen, a psychologist who is director of the Postpartum Depression Illinois Alliance, said awareness and education of postpartum depression would help eliminate a lot of women’s suffering. She said women don’t want to talk about their experiences because others will think they are bad mothers.
“With motherhood, you’re supposed to look at your baby and bond,” she said. “But it doesn’t happen with everyone.”
Allen said hospitals need to have programs that will screen mothers who are at risk for postpartum depression and offer information about where to find help if symptoms persist. Hospitals need to look for a history of personal or family depression, hormonal and life changes. Allen said if a woman is stressed out, “this will put you over the top.”
Examples of Serious Postpartum Depression
Two recent examples of this that received nationwide attention both occurred in Texas. In the more recent case, a woman, Deanna LaJune Laney, said God told her to kill her two young sons. The boys, ages 8 and 6, had their heads bashed in with rocks. Her third child, a 14-month-old boy, was found bloody in his crib and was hospitalized. In the other case, Andrea Yates drowned her five children one by one. She is serving a life term in prison for the crimes; her plea of innocent by reason of insanity was rejected.
A new bill has been introduced in Congress to help combat this problem by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush. Named after a woman in Chicago who jumped to her death from a 12-story building, the Melanie Blocker-Stokes Postpartum Depression Research and Care Act will reallocate money from the National Institutes for Health for research and education. Allen said hospitals need programs to help women adjust to motherhood and educate doctors to look out for high-risk patients.
Chicago Postpartum Depression Programs
Northwest suburban Alexian Brothers Medical Center, St. Alexius Medical Center and Alexian Brothers Behavior Health Hospital are the only places women can go for postpartum depression prevention and programming, according to Leslie Lowell-Stoutenburg, director of the program. Women experiencing symptoms can attend the support group, get specific education and get referrals to mental health professionals. Alexian Brothers even offers information for fathers as their new role develops.
Elizabeth Vorne, who suffered from postpartum depression, used to dread waking up in the morning and taking care of her children. After getting treatment at a hospital for five days, Elizabeth turned to Alexian Brothers to cope with her depression. She said a bill to require hospitals to screen for postpartum depression and offer information about available support programs would have really helped her.
“I was being treated for general depression, but postpartum depression is so different,” she said.
Cynthia attended the same support group and said it gave her hope to see other women recovering. “Because when I was in it, I didn’t think I was going to get any better.”
Financing Postpartum Depression Treatment
Allen said money is a main factor holding back women from getting help.
Elizabeth paid for her treatment out of pocket. “For someone who couldn’t (afford it), I couldn’t imagine,” she said.
Cynthia didn’t even know about postpartum depression. She said if she would have taken some sort of prenatal class, she would have been prepared. She decided not to enroll in a class because it was too expensive.
“Looking back at it, it would have been so much better to just go through it,” Cynthia said.
Both Cynthia and Elizabeth are doing fine now. However, Cynthia said Dominic will be her last child.
“I don’t want something that happened to Andrea Yates to happen to me,” she said. “I don’t want to go through the feelings of hurting my baby again.”