The birth of my first child was traumatic. Because of a medical misdiagnosis, I was catapulted from a “normal, healthy” pregnancy into a maelstrom of fear, exhaustion and chaos that was beyond my wildest nightmare. Looking back, it seemed I had done everything right. I innocently read the industry standard of pregnancy books, went to pre-natal yoga class, attended birthing classes and, armed with my birth plan and my copy of What To Expect When You're Expecting, my life was turned upside down. I became one of the hundreds of thousands of women who annually slip through the cracks in the U.S. maternity care system and suffered silently with postpartum depression.
One out of every seven new mothers suffers from postpartum depression. The catch is that while postpartum depression is the most common obstetrical complication in the U.S., (with more cases than breast cancer or gestational diabetes) it is also the least diagnosed. Translation: there are a lot of unhappy new mothers in our country that no one is helping. Why is it so common? And why is it so unlikely to be diagnosed? Important questions with very simple answers: because no one is watching for it and as a society, we are conditioned to believe that “mothers know best” and any divergence from the unrealistic standard of the perfection or “myth” of motherhood is shameful. Studies have shown that an estimated 50% of new mothers are suffering silently from postpartum depression due to cultural stereotypes and stigmas which prevent them from speaking up and getting the help they need and deserve.
The pressure for mothers in the U.S. to be Facebook-ready within hours of giving birth is no more present than it is today. We are a media-saturated culture obsessed with maternity clothes, accessories and baby goods, but when it comes to new motherhood, our country falls short and our mothers are paying the price. Mothers are our greatest asset. And we as a country need to do a better job of taking care of them. As the number one complication surrounding pregnancy and childbirth, rates of postpartum depression are reaching epidemic proportions and we can no longer afford to sit quietly on the sidelines. It is easily treatable but we must speak up and act now.
What can we do?
- Speak up. Tell your story.
- Talk to your care giver — be it your obstetrician, midwife, general practitioner or therapist and tell them how you are feeling.
- Reach out to new mothers you know — friends, family, coworkers —and let them know they are not alone.
- Contact your local state and city representative and tell them to stand with mothers and offer universal screening for everyone.
- Research your options and be sure to make an informed decision about your birth choices. The U.S. has the highest rate of postpartum depression in the world. Studies have shown that births attended by a midwife (for a normal healthy pregnancy) are less likely to have complications for mother and baby. Furthermore, doulas provide essential support for mothers before, during and after childbirth. Hospital interventions such as epidurals and labor induction have been linked to complications in delivery and mother-baby bonding immediately after birth. A difficult birth puts the mother at-risk for postpartum depression.
- Know the triggers ahead of time: have a support system in place, choose a reliable birthing partner (doula, spouse, family member, partner, friend), inform yourself of your rights, check your family history for depression, get as much sleep as possible, make sure to eat and stay hydrated, and if possible arrange for maternity leave.
Women deserve to have the best care no matter where they are on the spectrum of motherhood. We speak as a nation about how children are the future, and indeed this is true, but if our mothers are not healthy and happy how can we expect their children to be? Ironically, in the United States, we as women have some of the greatest opportunities and rights available to us, yet we are plagued with one of the worst maternity care systems in the world. In an age where politicians, legislators, health care companies and corporate entities are in increasing control, it is more crucial than ever to talk and share our stories. We must not let the corporatizing of our maternity care system break us. Our stories form a mosaic. What can feel so deeply personal and isolating is in fact more universal than we realize. Postpartum depression is easily treatable but we have to speak up. We need to stand together as mothers, sisters, daughters, friends. If we all shared our story, imagine how big the mosaic would be.