#PPDChat Topic 03.10.2014: Media Sensationalism & PPD


ppdchat-03-10-14

 

Join me tonight as we explore the issue of media sensationalism and PPD. So often, as I stated in my post “On Not Wanting To”, when a mom hurts herself or her children, we get the sensationalized version of it and the details of her journey to that point (and her journey after the event) are dramatized as well. I hope you’ll join me for a passionate and insightful chat into why this needs to change as well as why we owe it to ourselves and to society to reach out to every new mother dyad with care, compassion, and understanding.

We cannot let the village continue to fail.

How the @BostonGlobe got Postpartum Depression Wrong


With more news stories mentioning Postpartum Depression these days, it is becoming painfully obvious that reporters are scrambling to get their facts straight. Bless them for trying but sometimes, even with the best of intentions, they fall short. Like Karen Weintraub’s article “When the ‘baby blues’ are something more” at the Boston Globe on October 21, 2013.

Karen defends herself in the comments (all two of them at time of writing) about the term “baby blues” by saying that in her researching for this piece, she discovered there is such a thing as baby blues:

Boston Globe Comments

Kudos to Ms. Weintraub for doing enough research to realize that baby blues ARE distinct from depression.

BUT.

There are a multitude of omissions and errors within the article as it stands right now. Let’s go through them:

Ms. Weintraub breaks the Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder experience into only three groups:

  • Baby Blues
  • Postpartum Depression
  • Postpartum Psychosis

Immediately, sirens sound. Particularly because the case study, a Nicole Caligiuri, a first time mother, states she felt “angry and anxious” all the time. While anger/irritability is a sign of depression, anxiety combined with anger is typically (in my non-professional opinion) more closely related to an anxiety disorder. Ms. Caligiuri, however, was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression.

By ignoring the additional facets of the PMAD spectrum, Ms. Weintraub does a severe disservice to those mothers who may be suffering from Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or Postpartum OCD.

Weintraub states that 50-85% of new mothers experience baby blues, 14% experience postpartum depression, and a “fraction of 1 percent of new moms” experience Postpartum Psychosis. If you go by those numbers (at the higher levels), nearly 100% of all new mothers experience one of these three phenomena and none experience Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or Postpartum OCD.

According to Postpartum Support International’s Get the Facts page:

  • Approximately 6% of pregnant women and 10% of postpartum women develop anxiety. Sometimes they experience anxiety alone, and sometimes they experience it in addition to depression. 
  • Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is the most misunderstood and misdiagnosed of the perinatal disorders. It is estimated that as many as 3-5% of new mothers will experience these symptoms.
  • Approximately 1-6% of women experience postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following childbirth.

But in Weintraub’s scenario, there isn’t room for the nearly 20-27% of women who develop these particular Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders. As a survivor of Postpartum OCD, I find this troubling. Particularly because OCD can scare a new mother into thinking she is experiencing a form of Psychosis due to the horrific intrusive thoughts.

As I have mentioned multiple times, it is beyond important to differentiate the varying aspects of a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder. Why? Because when you lump Postpartum Psychosis sensationalism in with Postpartum Depression, things get murky. You scare new mothers who may be a bit depressed into thinking if they go get help, they will be thought of as potential criminals and have their babes ripped from their arms the instant they admit to feeling anything less than happy.

An additional issue with this article is the strong focus on early motherhood. The logic of this focus is evidenced by the study on which it is centered but a quick mention that PMAD can persist beyond early motherhood would have been a quick fix for this bias.

Why is it important to emphasize that PMAD onset can extend beyond early motherhood?

Often, many mothers do not realize they have issues until they are well into the 6th month or more. I have had mothers contact me at almost a year postpartum to share that they think something has been deeply wrong since the birth of their child but they did not recognize it until now. Many Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders crop up within the first 2-3 months, often immediately after the period of baby blues, but some mothers do not recognize them or even get hit with them until much later. PMAD’s can crop up  within the first 12 months after birth and even then, may not be recognized until much later. But this information is not mentioned anywhere in the article nor are we ever told at what point Ms. Caligiuri sought help.

I deeply appreciate Ms. Weintraub’s effort to reach out to Dr. Katherine Wisner and Dr. Michael O’Hara, respected experts in the research field of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders, however, I wish she (or her editor) had taken the time to allow this article to be a bit more clear regarding the wide scope of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders. I also wish a side bar had been included to resources for women and families who are struggling with these issues, particularly given that Ms. Weintraub included this quote from Dr. O’Hara:

Social support is probably the most important thing to provide a new mother, who is at a particularly fragile point in life, said Michael O’Hara, a professor of psychology at the University of Iowa, who has been researching and treating postpartum depression for three decades.

 

Postpartum Support International will connect new mothers with social support. Also, specifically in Hadley, Massachusetts, there is Mother Woman, a fabulous organization who is making fantastic strides toward improving access to support and care for struggling women & families. Advocates in the trenches, such as the volunteers with PSI and Mother Woman, recognize how important it is to have peers support each other so they do not feel all alone in the dark. It is an oversight that neither of these organizations are mentioned anywhere in Ms. Weintraub’s piece.

Overall, Ms. Weintraub, despite making a few blunders, seems to handle the issue at hand with a respectable grace. The study at the heart of the article focuses on the development of depression in children born to mothers who struggled with depression but Ms. Weintraub is fabulous in her handling of this issue, particularly with this paragraph:

But parents shouldn’t feel like they’ve ruined their child’s life if they go through a period of depression, Pearson said. The increased risk of depression in their children is small. Overall, 7 percent of teens are depressed, compared with 11 percent of teens whose mothers were depressed early in their children’s lives.

She side-steps the potential onslaught of guilt and gracefully allows parents to breathe a sigh of relief by including this information from the study’s co-author.

As I stated in the opening, coverage of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders is greatly improving. But we still have a long way to go to get to fully informed reporting. For the most part, Ms. Weintraub’s article is generally free of sensationalism, includes quotes from respected experts, and manages to allay any potential guilt a new mother with a PMAD may feel in reading it. However, it is still just a few small adjustments away from being truly spectacular and informative.

Dear Sting, Postpartum Depression is No Joking Matter


Sting played a small venue in Chicago last night to promote ‘Last Ship’, according to this article written by Scott C. Morgan.

The article discusses the process Sting went through to bring ‘Last Ship’, a Broadway musical, to life.

Then at the end, is the kicker.

Though Sting is writing the score for “The Last Ship,” he won’t be appearing in the show. So Seller asked the singer how it will be for him to see other people performing his songs onstage.

 

“I imagine I’m going to have postpartum depression,” Sting joked.

 

Oh, Sting.

I have been a fan since I was a pre-teen and had to sneak off at my grandmother’s house to watch videos on MTV. Yanno, back when MTV actually showed videos.

You’ve been a source of solace for me in my dark times. I used one of your songs in a playlist of mine as I healed from my own bout of severe Postpartum OCD. The rhythm was just right and I liked the emotion it evoked within me.

But now?

I can’t do that.

Because you’ve said this.

In eight words, you have managed to completely undermine the seriousness of what I experienced. What millions of women experience every year. In eight words.

Do you see how easy it is to marginalize someone else’s experience? How easy it is to compare the hell that is a Perinatal Mood Disorder by saying you’ll go through the same thing as you watch other people perform your songs? While it may not be easy to see other people perform your art, I guarantee you that it is a hell of a lot easier than the depths of hell I and millions of other women witness as survivors and warriors in the trenches against PMADs.

We fight, Sting, for our fields of gold, fragile as we are. We fight because maybe, just maybe, tomorrow we’ll see a brand new day filled with hope. We don’t want to be the shadows in the rain, never coming home.

Please, think about what you are saying before you say it. Because when you do not think before you speak, you end up hurting people, minimizing their experiences, and comparing their hell to something which is not even close to their experience.

For now, I am gonna have to do the opposite of Rick Astley and give you up because you let me down.

Thoughts on Miriam in DC


On October 3, 2013, Miriam Carey tragically lost her life Washington, DC. She was supposed to be in Connecticut, taking her daughter to a doctor’s appointment according to the myriad of articles I have read this morning.

They all seem to have the similar tone to them, these articles. That a woman tragically lost her life because she had Postpartum Depression.

Yet, medication recovered at her Stamford, CT, apartment would indicate that what was going on with Miriam went much deeper than Postpartum Depression.

A woman with Postpartum Depression does not simply break with reality and drive hundreds of miles out of her way to drive into barriers, lead police on a chase, and somehow end up dead, all with her infant daughter in the back seat.

The behaviour of Miriam Carey lends itself to the behaviour of a mother struggling with Postpartum Psychosis, the facts of which can be found at this page on Postpartum Support International’s site. According to this page, symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis can include:

  • Delusions or strange beliefs
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
  • Feeling very irritated
  • Hyperactivity
  • Decreased need for or inability to sleep
  • Paranoia and suspiciousness
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Difficulty communicating at times

There are a number of symptoms on that list I have seen discussed this morning. Some of them match up with PPP.

The other things I have seen discussed this morning are heartbreaking. Folks judging Miriam for her actions. Saying she’s a monster. Wondering how she could possibly have driven her vehicle into the barriers and toward a hail of police bullets with her daughter in the back seat.

I have also seen some honest discussion about what it means to struggle with a mood disorder after the birth of a child and how it hurts whenever something like this happens. I feel as if I have been punched in the gut, to be honest. I want to fall to my knees and weep for what happened to Miriam. But instead, I am writing and I am reaching out to those in the community I founded to support women and families struggling with mood disorders after the birth of a child.

Why?

Because this kind of support, on a human level, helps quell the storm. It lets others know they are not alone and there is hope. We help each other find the way in the dark, particularly when a storm like this tragedy looms on our shores. You see, at one time or another, we have all been Miriam. We have had those thoughts, the scary ones about driving our cars into solid objects, about letting go, about just giving up and moving on toward that great white light. Some of us have almost touched that white light. WE KNOW the darkness which drove Miriam to Washington, D.C. intimately. We have sat with it on our shoulders, in our hearts, and felt it try to gain control of our heads. We, however, are the lucky ones because we are still here, fighting.

When the women of the Postpartum Support Community band together, it is a beautiful thing. We are some of the strongest women in the world and we refuse to stand down. In the spirit of standing strong, I will be participating in a Blog Carnival “For Miriam” on World Mental Health Day on October 10th. If you would like to join us, you can find more information here on the FB page.

For now, know that you are not alone, it is absolutely okay to reach out for help, and you are loved.

If you or a loved one are currently struggling with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder, reach out to Postpartum Support International at their website or find me on Twitter @unxpctdblessing. There is also 24/7 support available via the hashtag #PPDChat and we have a closed FB group as well. You are never alone.

Postpartum Health Activist Writer’s Monthly Challenge 2012


Hey y’all!

Over at WEGO Health, April is their Health Activist Writer’s Month. They host a 30 day writer’s challenge to go along with this month. When you sign up, you’ll get prompts via email for 30 days. If I remember correctly from last year, they do send them out in advance so you’re not scrambling to write posts at the last minute.

I will be writing a post a day for all 30 days. I hope you’ll join me in writing every day about health. It’s going to be a lot of fun and I’d love to see what you have to say about each of the topics, too. Of course, I’ll be spinning the topics to relate to Postpartum Mood Disorders. I really hope you’ll jump in here with me!

All you have to do to join is click the banner below to sign up and you’ll be able to start posting once April rolls around.

Looking forward to writing with you! Let’s make sure Postpartum Mood Disorders are well-represented!

Is a Postpartum Depression Defense a Cop-Out?


A few of you who read my blog regularly and follow me on Twitter may remember a conversation I held with a woman who asked at her blog if Postpartum Depression is a cop-out defense when it comes to infanticide. This post is my response. It’s taken me some time to write due to research and the intense emotional aspect of this issue. The post below is lengthy. It is triggering. There are graphic descriptions beginning in the first paragraph. If you are easily triggered, go watch this video instead. Oh, and if you go watch the video? I’m not responsible for the ensuing addiction. (I’ve been listening to it almost non-stop for the past 36 hours.)

Humankind cannot bear too much reality.

T.S. Eliot

Since the dawn of time, humanity has grappled with parental induced deaths of infants and children. In Paleolithic and Neolithic ages, infanticide was an acceptable practice, one meant to preserve the balance of man and his immediately available resources. Later, in some cultures, infanticide grew to be gender-based with girls specifically sacrificed due to the cost of dowry required at marriage. Ritual sacrifice, unwanted birth, illegitimate birth, gender disappointment (including financial reasons such as dowry), birth defects or deformities, preservation of ecological balance, and a number of additional reasons peppered several cultures as legitimate reasons for the practice of infanticide.

Common early methods of infanticide included but were not limited to: exposure, suffocation or asphyxia, ritual sacrifice, brute force, blunt force trauma, and others. The most common method was exposure as this freed the parents from any direct involvement in their infant’s actual death according to societal belief. In fact, Romans often abandoned their infants with the hopes they would be raised by others, in which case they were referred to as “foundlings.”

Infanticide, the murder of a child older than 24 hours yet younger than 12 months, is carried out in our modern ages primarily by the mother and typically does not involve brute force or violent methods. The child is instead smothered, drowned, poisoned, or asphyxiated. Some cases do involve more force and more heinous methods.

Most mothers who commit infanticide are in a lower financial class and lack support from family and community. It’s also important to note many victims of infanticide are not first born but instead second or later born children.

Interestingly enough, not many fathers were cited in the research in regard to infanticide. In fact, only four known cases of infanticide with fathers at fault are present in current literature spanning the subject of infanticide. Fathers are far more prevalent in filicide cases which are cases involving children over 12 months of age. In these cases, the father is more likely to also harm the mother and himself in addition to any children involved.

In many infanticide cases involving mothers, a mental health disorder is cited as part of the defense or reason for the crime. Occasionally this directly relates to a Postpartum Mood Disorder, specifically Postpartum Psychosis. But for the mothers who use a Mental Health defense, is it a worthwhile defense or is it a cop out?

Postpartum Mood Disorders have been mentioned in literature since Hippocrates. Within the past several years, research and community awareness has exposed these conditions as real and palpable. While the true cause is not yet known or fully understood, researchers are working to expose the root cause and improve treatment for those affected. To date, we understand some physical roots but experts are still teasing out the specifics of these causes. Increasing social support surrounding mothers has proven time and again to be key to preventing and shortening the Postpartum Mood Disorder experience. Creating awareness and understanding of a less than Utopian postpartum experience lends a helping hand as well. Improving access to knowledgeable professional resources such as psychiatrists, therapists, and the like, also increases the potential for recovery success in families struggling with Postpartum Mood Disorders.

In many infanticide cases, the mothers and their families did not have adequate access to knowledgeable and compassionate personal, community, or professional help. If they did realize help was needed, they were either discouraged from reaching out for it via societal stigma (ie, the husband didn’t want his wife on medication, they were told to get “over it,” or there were religious beliefs preventing the necessary help) or there simply was not adequate sympathetic and knowledgeable care within physical or financial reach. That said, every infanticide case, as with every Postpartum Mood Disorder case, is different from the next. There are important basic factors from each which carry over into the next but the idiosyncrasies differ which make each case nearly impossible to successfully compare in entirety to the next.

From a legal perspective, choosing a Mental Health Defense is more of a crap shoot or a game of roulette. Postpartum Psychosis and Depression, while a real and experienced phenomenon, is not a guaranteed defense against the crime or action of infanticide. It is a transient defense at best, one wholly dependent upon the current legal status of mental health defense within the state and/or country in which the accused mother resides.

The legal definition of Postpartum Psychosis is not congruent with the medical definition. Both are based, at this time, officially on speculation. The DSM IV eliminated Postpartum Psychosis as a classification. The DSM III listed Postpartum Psychosis in the index but not as a separate illness. According to the DSM III, Postpartum Psychosis was thought to fall under: schizophreniform disorder, brief reactive psychosis, atypical psychosis, major affective disorder, and organic brain syndrome. Postpartum Psychosis occurs in 1 to 2 births out of every 1,000, or at a .1% rate. Postpartum Psychosis is considered a medical emergency with immediate treatment necessary. Onset is sudden and occurs within the first 4 weeks after birth, most often within the first 2-3 days. Postpartum Psychosis is the deadliest of the Postpartum Mood Disorders with a 5% rate of infanticide.

The legal definition of Postpartum Psychosis is no different than that of any other Mental Health Disorder as far as fault-finding and therefore subject to the same rigorous testing of any other Mental Health defense. In the United States, this is dependent on the state of residence. Some states abide by the M’Naughten rule while others abide by the A.L.I. test. In three states, Montana, Idaho, and Utah, the Insanity Defense has been abolished even though these states still admit evidence of mental status in cases.

Even with access to a state by state chart of current Mental Health Defense guidelines, it’s confusing at best to determine what your outcome would be in a court of law. In the United States, there is argument against setting a legal specification for Infanticide  as England did in 1922. The current argument against this specification cites lack of a true medical definition for Psychosis along with the potential for a growth of sympathy for mothers who kill and would then invoke the status.

If a mother who commits infanticide invokes a Mental Health Defense, she is not guaranteed freedom if not convicted of murder in the criminal sense but is instead found Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity (a conviction, by the way, not available in ALL states and very dependent upon which test your state uses to determine sanity at time of criminal action). She instead opens herself up to be remanded to a State Mental Institute more than likely with high security. This is not like going home after trial or heading off to a luxurious Club Med vacation. This is dark, gloomy, filled with meds, psychiatrists, therapy, and communing with a population who is equally if not more disturbed than the remanded mother. She is cut off from family, from friends, and from her life, just as if she were sentenced directly to jail. Also, she is continually judged by society, regardless of her convicted status as a psychiatric inmate versus a mainstream high security or possibly death row inmate.

Once remanded to a Mental Institution, the sentenced mother is at the hands of whatever governing body is responsible for releasing psychiatric inmates. This also differs from state to state. More often than not, it is the Court but a few states hand this responsibility to various agencies within their purview. She may also be sentenced to spend a specified amount of years at the Mental Institution despite therapeutic or rehabilitation status, thereby subjecting her to additional exposure to a less than preferable environment for years after conviction just as if she were a mainstream inmate.

The legal and medical diagnosis and defense of Postpartum Psychosis are at best subjective to the diagnostic technologies, sound judgment, and ethics of the medical and legal professionals privy to each individual case of infanticide, thereby further complicating the transient nature of this defense. Therefore a conclusion claiming Postpartum Depression/Psychosis defense as a “cop-out” is erroneous at best as this defense rarely guarantees the defendant the freedom to which she had access prior to her accusation and subsequent proceedings regardless of any legal outcome.

As David G. Myers stated in Social Psychology, “There is an objective reality out there, but we view it through the spectacles of our beliefs, attitudes, and values.” Infanticide has an objective reality in the courtroom. It is a crime. The precise charges depend upon the circumstances of the commission of the actual crime. The defense relies upon the knowledge of the psychological and criminal experts examining the accused. The prosecution relies upon them as well but relies heavier upon the requirements set forth by the law and the justice system to which they are bound. Society at large, meanwhile, is set free to judge, convict, and develop opinions not bound by the court. Our convictions of the accused mothers may be harsher, intrinsically darkened with our own emotions and experiences.

In the end, far more than one life is lost in every case of infanticide. Yes, one life moves on to eternity, but the lives of those surrounding the one lost will never recover. Infanticide is therefore not an incident captured in a vacuum but a ripple vacillating through families and communities like a tornado. Conversations must be held, action must be taken, and the stigma of asking for help signifying failure at motherhood must dissipate if we are to begin to battle the further destruction and loss of mothers, families, and infants to this crime.


Giving up BACON for Mothers & Babies


Bacon Sacrifice Campaign for Postpartum Progress

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