HEART program helps with postpartum life

ST. ALBANS- Amy Johnson, Parent Child Center Director at Northwestern Counseling Support Services (NCSS) describes herself as super jazzed when she was pregnant. But when she finally gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Luna- everything changed.

For the previous nine months she knew how to protect her baby. Johnson had played by the books and done all her research. She had taken childbirth education and infant care classes, she knew how to change diapers, and how she was supposed to burp her newborn. She was prepared for rashes, and sicknesses, and felt ready to bring this tiny human into the world. But when Luna arrived, she realized there was a whole other side of parenthood that she hadn’t prepared for – the mental and emotional shift.

“When I was pregnant I had been showering with my belly to the side, so the hot water wasn’t hitting my belly when Luna was in the womb. I remember doing that after she was born, and starting to cry. When my mother asked me what was wrong I remember saying, ‘I knew how to protect her and keep her safe when she was in the womb, but I don’t know how to do it now,’” Johnson said.

For several months after Luna was born, Johnson struggled with this feeling. She would show up to doctor appointments, painting a look of a healthy baby and mother.

“I would take the postnatal depression screenings at the pediatrician’s office and I just would be like yep, yep, yep, everything’s fine, but inside I had this crippling anxiety that something bad would happen to her,” Johnson said.

Johnson was experiencing a form of postpartum depression, but she didn’t want to talk about it. She was afraid people would think she might hurt herself or her baby. What she didn’t know was that postpartum depression consists of a spectrum, of many different mood disorders, with the majority of cases being nowhere near as severe as postpartum psychosis. In fact, according to Postpartum Support International, psychosis only occurs in approximately one to two of every 1,000 births.

Thirty to 80 percent of all new mothers may experience what’s known as “baby blues”, which includes anxiety, crying, insomnia, tiredness, moodiness and sadness. When these symptoms last longer than three to ten days, the “baby blues” are then classified as postpartum depression, effecting approximately 21 percent of new mothers. Other forms of postpartum depression can take form in panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, or anxiety disorders.

These types of disorders, Johnson says, are rarely openly talked about when a woman is pregnant or considering pregnancy. She mentions the most she heard when pregnant was the “baby blues” term, which she says comes across as minimizing and benign.

“It’s imperative that families are educated on postpartum depression and other disorders, and their frequency, to aid in de-stigmatizing them and also help families recognize when to seek support.,” Johnson said. “As it is now, people often suffer in silence.”


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