Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders can destroy hope. We’re on a mission to bring it back.
By Sarah Ornst Bloomquist, Co-founder and Executive Director
Postpartum depression, anxiety and the various perinatal mental health disorders 1 in 5 women suffer through can be ruthless. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) can cut through a woman’s soul and expose her deepest fears – that we made a mistake having a child and are not meant to be a mom. As a two-time survivor of postpartum depression and anxiety (PPD/PPA), and as the Executive Director of Moms Mental Health Initiative (MMHI), I know and see firsthand the agony as they attempt to navigate an illness that steals the life-giving joy of motherhood. One’s experience is deeply imprinted in their psyche. Once recovered, the sting of the experience lessens over time, yet is never forgotten. Although my experience with PPD/PPA is years behind me, there are moments, when I hear the laments of others in their suffering, that my breath suddenly speeds up and I enter that place of bleakness I clearly felt years ago, and it makes me more determined to make sure others don’t have to feel that too.
Addressing Mental Healthcare Injustices for Mothers
There are many injustices PMADs breed and having a healthcare provider lack proper knowledge about them as well as facing various obstacles to getting adequate help in a timely manner just adds to that anguish. MMHI was launched to address these issues head on. Part of our duty to those suffering is to help connect them to the RIGHT help NOW. The longer a woman goes untreated, the longer it will take to recover. PMADs are treatable with the help of various tools available to meet the diverse needs of each person – therapy, medication, peer support, body work etc. Yet, the illness itself prevents people from getting access to those tools. PMADs lie and assault the core of a woman: “If you really wanted to be a mother, you wouldn’t feel this way”, “You are not a good mom”, “Your family will be better off without you” are common deceits suffering women tell themselves. Shame, guilt, and complete overwhelm make the work of reaching out for help and finding the RIGHT help near impossible. Many women have been ignored, given inadequate treatment and care, and have been shamed by trusted providers which propels a treatable illness even further into its clutches. I know this all too well from my experience. Tragically, it also destroys HOPE – the hope that it will ever get better.
Through the past six years, MMHI has built up a strong network of perinatal healthcare providers that have training and/or experience in treating PMADs. These providers understand the urgency of getting a women treatment. Finding an available therapist or prescriber that takes one’s insurance is becoming more and more challenging in this current healthcare climate. With MMHI’s resource brokering, we can be the bridge between a mom and a screened and trusted healthcare provider that can effectively support someone through their journey with perinatal mental illness. With suicide being a leading cause of death among postpartum women, it’s imperative that women are well-informed about postpartum depression and related illnesses and that when they speak up, they are heard and given the proper attention they need and deserve.
There’s More Work To Do
To be honest, it tears me up inside when the mental health of our pregnant and postpartum mamas gets ignored, or minimized, or shamed. I get infuriated at the way mental health is addressed in pregnant and postpartum women – as though it comes second fiddle. Untreated PMADs are detrimental to both mom and baby. It makes me angry that misinformation prevents women from seeking the treatment they need. It breaks my heart how alone we feel when we are stranded in the middle of the darkness when all we long for is to feel better – and be the mom we dream of being.
Healing from a PMAD doesn’t happen overnight. For those amidst it, there will be a time you are not always asking yourself, “Am I feeling better? How do I feel now?” There will come a time when you enjoy the moments, more than dread them. There will come a time when you feel more confident in your role as a mom. This is but one chapter of many in your life. PMADs impact your world view. They impact your view of yourself. They change you, not always in a negative way. But they do not define you.