I went to the screening of the maternal mental health documentary, Dark Side of the Full Moon, last night, organized by Leslie McKeough, LICSW - a Lynnfield therapist - and the North Shore Postpartum Depression Task Force. The documentary highlights the experiences of several women who experienced perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, the dismal state of screening for emotional complications in pregnancy and postpartum, and the barriers to treatment for these women. Interspersed are the news stories of the lives lost to maternal mental illness while they were filming the documentary.
Women feel guilty, self-conscious, isolated, and overwhelmed when they're experiencing emotional complications in the postpartum. Supporting women with perinatal emotional complications is about more than a 10-item questionnaire, though that's a good first step. It's about more than having a therapist's phone number, though that's needed too, and hopefully many people have that therapist's number or know where to look. It's knowing that if they reveal to you how they feel, they're doing so with fear and worry about not being a good mother, about their baby being "taken away," about never feeling like themselves again.
Supporting women with perinatal emotional complications is about having effective systems of care in the community that would include
These issues, this stigma, these barriers to care are why I and three colleagues founded the Every Mother Project with the belief that every mother deserves comprehensive perinatal support. We developed a Perinatal Toolkit for women's health professionals to better understand, recognize, know how to talk about, and support women through perinatal emotional complications. We've had lactation counselors, doulas, pelvic floor physical therapists, midwives, acupuncturists and many other birth and postpartum professionals download the toolkit. Our hope is that with more training and awareness for all the myriad of people who come into contact - and often develop quite close and important relationships - with pregnant and postpartum women and new parents, more women will feel heard and understood and will be able to be connected to the right supports.
The movie didn't get into the racial and socioeconomic disparities that exist in maternal mental health, but I'd be remiss in not mentioning them here. There's been yet another study that examined stress in pregnancy and risk of postpartum depression, finding that more stress events (financial, partner, trauma, or emotional) in a woman's life was directly correlated with a higher risk for emotion complications. Other studies have identified that experiences of racial discrimination during pregnancy (which can be prevalent within medical systems) not only affect the pregnant woman's own emotional and physical health, but also impact the infant's stress physiology response. So yes, institutional racism and systemic oppression have real effects on pregnant and postpartum women of color and women in poverty, increasing their risk for perinatal emotional complications, all while making it harder for them to be identified and access treatment.
I'm so thankful for the chance to view Dark Side of the Full Moon, and that so many others did, too. We have much to do still to better support women through perinatal emotional complications - even in Massachusetts. Please, at least take a look at the trailer if you missed it. And maybe we can organize another viewing...