Photo by Marc Laferriere – taken at art display of Brantford’s 2012 Mental Health Week Kick Off Celebration.
It should be one of the happiest times in a woman’s life: bringing a baby into the world. Sadly, one in six women will develop Postpartum Depression (PPD). A new working group has been established in Brant to support women suffering from PPD. Created through a collaboration of local agencies, including the Ontario Early Years Centre and Kids Can Fly, this group has already offered a workshop for front-line early childhood educators to learn about PPD and Kids Can Fly has re-vamped its Parachute Program to offer a group for parents that are struggling with the transition to parenthood.
The working group established itself after hearing that there were women suffering from PPD in Brant that were having a hard time getting the help that they need. One woman named Mary-Ann describes her birthing experience as a relatively easy birth but then says she started to experience anxiety after her daughter was born. She didn’t recognize it as PPD and thought it was normal to have concerns about the health and well-being of her baby.
“I think when I found it difficult to leave the house or leave her with other care providers, and began to obsess about her general health, I knew that I was no longer functioning in a manner that I considered healthy.” She adds, “I really wasn’t enjoying the experience of mothering, so much as I was overcome with ruminations about potential threats to her safety. When my thoughts were consumed by these thoughts and interfered with my independence and happiness, I knew that it wasn’t Baby Blues.”
Many women will experience Postpartum Baby Blues the first few hours or days after giving birth to their child. This condition only lasts a few days and is characterized by fluctuations in mood, irritability, anxiety, sleep and appetite disturbances and usually goes away relatively quickly. It is possible for women truly suffering from Postpartum Depression to go undiagnosed. The difference between the baby blues and PPD is persistent feelings of sadness, inability to feel pleasure, sleep disturbance, fatigue, weight and appetite changes, decreased concentration, excessive feelings of worthlessness or guilt, recurrent thoughts of death or suicide and can include thoughts of infanticide. The onset of these symptoms usually occurs four weeks postpartum up to a year.
Once Mary-Ann reached out for help, she had a hard time finding services to meet her needs. “I didn’t manage my symptoms very well. In fact, I was in hell. I was very suggestible and all of this happened over the time of the H1N1 scare. All I could see were images of people wearing masks on TV and I became fearful that my baby or other children would contract this flu and succumb. I became petrified, consumed with fear to the point of paralysis.” From the safety of her home she made calls desperate to find assistance. There wasn’t one agency or service dedicated to, or focused on, supporting a woman with Postpartum Depression. What she really needed was help at home, one-on-one support and a chat with someone who cared. “My husband wanted to help, but living with a newborn and someone experiencing that level of anxiety can be overwhelming. Knowing how to cope, help or show you care is difficult. In truth, I persevered,” says Mary-Ann.
PPD remains largely undetected and many women suffer in silence mostly due to the stigma of the condition. They are fearful to share their feelings for the fear of being labeled an unfit mother or they feel that they’ll be judged. The barriers to recognizing PPD include the belief that struggles are a normal part of motherhood and some women may not recognize they need help.
There are signs that family members, healthcare workers and early childhood educators can look for in a mother. Some examples are that the mother appears despondent, irritable, tearful and withdrawn. Another indicator can be that the mother appears uninterested or not engaged with their baby. It’s time to seek help when the mother has these experiences.
If a woman or her family feels that she has PPD, she should contact her healthcare provider. Mary-Ann has advice for the family of a woman with PPD. “Family members have to acknowledge there is a problem. Enabling someone who is ill is different from offering help. Don’t hesitate to call a professional, a warm line, or other toll free number. Get information and educate yourself. Stay positive and supportive and realize that it is nothing you have done.”
It’s important for women to get help when they have PPD. Postpartum depression can weaken the developing bonds between a mother and her child making a toddler more passive, insecure and socially inhibited.
The Parachute Program – Transitioning to Parenthood will start on Wednesday, May 16th and will continue every Wednesday afternoon from 1:30pm to 3:00pm at St. Andrew’s Community Centre on 95 Darling Street in Brantford. For more information, contact Jane Flinders at 519-755-9482 or visit www.kidscanfly.ca.
A woman should contact her healthcare provider if she has the symptoms of PPD. Other resources include the Mental Health Emergency Crisis Line (519-752-2273), St. Leonard’s Community Services (519-759-7188), Telehealth Ontario (1-866-979-0000), Canadian Mental Health Association (519-752-2998), Family Counselling Centre of Brant(519-753-4173), and the Ontario Early Years Centre (519-759-3833).
The Postpartum Depression working group is continuing to bring more services to Brant to assist women. There are plans to offer mother-to-mother support through e-mail and phone calls, support groups and the continuation of public education on Postpartum Depression. The group is also raising awareness of family physicians on where to refer women and packages are being distributed to all local doctors’ offices.
Mary-Ann adds, “I would tell women to be good to themselves, and to be patient during the recovery process. Every journey begins with a first step. Take that step and soon you will find that you are not walking alone.”