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Fight Postpartum Depression


A couple of weeks after we brought our twins home from the hospital, I went on a long walk that still troubles me today.  It was the first time I had enough energy to make it more than a couple of blocks.  I think my mom said she would take over with the babies so I could go out for some fresh air.
As I got farther and farther away from my home on that sunny March day, I picked up speed.  I felt free for the first time in a while.  And suddenly, a crazy thought flashed through my head, "What would happen if I just kept walking?  What if I never went back?"
I mulled this over for the entire half hour jaunt and in the end, I turned right around.  But I couldn't get the idea out of my head - not just the weird fantasy of running away...but the frightening realization that a thought like that could even cross my mind.  Was this postpartum depression?
I didn't know. I was embarrassed.  I decided to wait and see.
I knew my hormones would be out of whack for a while.  When I went for my six week follow up, my OB discharged me, saying my C-section seemed to be healing right on track.  "That's great," I thought, "When will I feel back on track?"
I wondered about postpartum depression (PPD) throughout the entire first year of my children's lives.  Thankfully, I never suffered the debilitating effects which can leave a mother unable to perform day-to-day tasks or worse, even possibly harm her baby.  I got out of bed every day, I took care of all of the babies' needs, I exercised and even managed to settle our family into a new city across the country.  But still, I wondered why I sometimes felt overwhelmed, anxious about where my life was heading and just frustrated with my new role as a mom.
Our pediatrician made a very smart observation. We had been talking about the new moms she meets and how many of them seemed to share the very same challenges with the transition to motherhood.  "It’s amazing," she said to me, "The first year of life, we monitor babies every single month with 'well baby' visits.  Yet a woman gives birth and once she is released from her doctor's care, no one really checks up on her until she goes back for her annual exam."
And once you are out there on your own, managing the demands of being a caregiver, many women are just too busy to worry about how they are doing.  Yet, a lot of new mothers (myself included) don't realize they are at risk for PPD beyond those first initial weeks after giving birth.  PPD can strike any time during the first year and affects 10-20% of new mothers.  But less than 15% of those women will receive treatment this year according to Postpartum Support International, an advocacy organization.
That could change if Washington continues to move ahead with plans to better educate, screen and treat mothers for PPD.  Just last week, the House overwhelmingly passed legislation introduced by Congressman Bobby L. Rush (D-IL) more than six years ago.  H.R. 20, the Melanie Blocker Stokes Postpartum Depression Research and Care Act  provides new funding for PPD research and outreach to mothers.
This is not a done deal.  The proposal is heading to the Senate where there is a similar bill up for review: S. 1375, "The MOTHERS Act," introduced by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ).  Today, fellow women bloggers around the country are calling on citizens to keep the process moving by letting lawmakers know you want the government to do more to raise awareness about PPD.  To get involved, click here
There are a number of risk factors that can predispose certain women to depression, including family history of mental illness or substance abuse according to NIH researchers.  But mental health professionals say that asking for help with your new baby and taking time to rest and care for yourself are key.
In my own quest to find out more about PPD last year, I came across Sherry Duson, a family therapist based in Houston at the Center for Postpartum Family Health.  She created a wonderful tool to help new moms check in with themselves.  It is not meant to diagnose PPD.  Rather, Sherry's Well Mom Checklist provides some easy reminders to help all of us take a few minutes to rest and recharge. Check it out on this week's Well-centered page.
Now that my kids are just about 20 months, I know for sure that unless you take care of yourself, you cannot give your best to everyone else in your life.  It is a big reason I decided to write about wellness and motherhood and founded The Well Mom.  If you are concerned that you may be struggling with PPD, please call your doctor.  To learn more about depression before and after pregnancy click here.

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