Who's Checking on the Mental Health of New Parents?
ACOG's recent statement about seeing clients before 6 weeks got me thinking. While the statement was not aimed solely at postpartum depression and anxiety, that’s what it made me think of.
I was screened for postpartum depression at the first 3 visits to my youngest child’s pediatrician. It was a simple questionnaire. I answered honestly and I felt fine at the time. It made me think though. Postpartum mood disorders don’t always show up right away. For some, it can come later in the postpartum year, and some people even notice it after they wean from breastfeeding.
How can we possibly be doing enough to help if all we are doing is having virtual strangers screening in the first few months? To that effect, is that simple questionnaire even enough? How many people actually answer honestly?
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that pediatricians are trying to screen folks at all. Back when my big kids were babies, the subject of postpartum mood disorders (and depression in general) was still a pretty taboo subject. To give you a little perspective, my kids were born around the same time that Tom Cruise was trying to call bullshit on Brooke Shields use of anti-depressants following her struggle with postpartum depression. I know I had never heard of it and at the time I already had a 4 year old.
I actually really like our pediatrician, but I’m not sure I would open up to him if something came up. You can bet I would feel comfortable talking to my midwife about it. I feel like she knew me though. She checked in on more than my physical health at each visit and stayed in touch for weeks after this baby was born. Even a year later, I’d trust her with my feelings and my worries, so this recommendation is a no brainer.
While I check in with my clients after birth and do a postpartum visit, I felt like I need to be doing more. This is part of the reason that I started offering postpartum planning sessions. I recognized that there’s a big gap in what we are talking about during pregnancy. We should 100% be thinking out birth preferences, but we also need to think about what happens when the baby is here. Where are we going for help? What is our support system going to look like? Who can we can tell our scary thoughts to if we have them?
I’m committed to my clients, just as my midwife cared for and was committed to me. While our time together generally comes to an end after our postpartum visit, I am always available if something comes up. I am happy to keep in touch. I offer what I can, and if it’s something I can’t help with, I’m happy to offer resources for those that I trust to be able to take over. Postpartum doulas are also incredibly helpful in seeing what many might not, because they are with you in ways no one else is. Their presence is invaluable.
I look forward to hearing about the wonderful ways in which our own birth community here in Richmond puts these recommendations into action. I know the idea is to be seen, but sometimes, just being heard helps. If each one took a few minutes (and yes I know this time would add up) to reach out to their new parents a few times during these early weeks, it would make a world of difference. For some, just knowing someone cares enough to call (not email, not text, but call) could be a game changer.