When I was pregnant, I was in the hospital for 2 weeks before I gave birth. When my son was born, he was three months premature and weighed only two pounds. Less than 24 hours later, I was given my walking papers and sent home.
To say I experience postpartum anxiety and depression is a bit of an understatement. The experience left me shaken and shattered. On the exterior I think I appeared to be handling it well (maybe not, but that’s the image I thought I was projecting), but at home I clearly wasn’t. Whenever I closed my eyes I saw a nurse roughly handling my tiny child’s naked body. I was plagued by the thought of them touching him with their cold hands. At work I was terrified every time the phone rang, sure that it was a doctor calling to tell me that my baby had died. I would wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to stop crying. I couldn’t concentrate long enough to read a sentence, cook a meal, or even have a decent phone conversation.
Luckily, the hospital where I visited my baby every day did a good job of monitoring mothers for postpartum issues. Luckily again, my partner was attuned to my mental state and made me get the help I needed. I ended up visiting a psychiatrist and got medication which I’m convinced to this day saved my life.
My son is almost four, and it’s just this year that the haze has begun to clear. The past four years have been fantastic is so many ways, but one morning not that long ago I woke up and I finally felt like myself again. It was shocking. As this article describes, postpartum depression can last along time. It’s not just the baby blues. It’s not just not being able to get out of bed or wanting to hurt your child. It’s not just ennui experienced by bored, white middle class women. Postpartum depression is complex, it manifests itself in many ways, and it affects women around the world.
Postpartum mental health issues are, I think, among the most hidden and most taboo. There are a few very brave celebrities who have spoken about their experiences (Alannis Morissette, Brooke Shields), but women are still bombarded with the message that they should ease gracefully into their new role.
One thing that initially stopped me from wanting to get help was a fear that my child would be taken away from me, particularly as a gay woman. My child was in the hospital, and I was worried that if I exhibited anything less than stellar behavior, the social workers and doctors would decide that he couldn’t ever come home with me. To this day, I rarely tell anyone about the experience. It’s too scary to admit. It means failure, it means weakness, it means the threat of losing my child.
The scope of reproductive health issues that women face is so large that it can’t possibly fit under the umbrella of family planning. Postpartum depression is one of the most common complications of having a baby, but we don’t see it addressed nearly enough in discussions about reproductive health.
Among the many things that Obama’s Affordable Care Act will put into law is the H.R. 20 — Melanie Blocker Stokes Mom’s Opportunity to Access Health, Education, Research, and Support for Postpartum Depression Act.
What does Mitt Romney have planned?