Helping Moms Cope

Posted on Mar 02, 2022

Kentlee and her daughter
Kentlee and her daughter

Kentlee was desperate. She was confused. She was scared.

After trying for a year to have a baby, her daughter was here, and Kentlee had a powerful sense of regret. She didn’t understand why, but she couldn’t eat or sleep. She was afraid to be alone with the baby because she didn’t know what she would do.

Kentlee needed help.

“I felt a level of doom and despair I’d never felt before,” Kentlee says.

Despite her feeling of helplessness, Kentlee wasn’t alone. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research shows about one in eight women experience symptoms of postpartum depression. Depending on age, race/ethnicity and geography, some estimates push the number of women affected to one in five. About three-quarters of individuals at risk for postpartum depression are untreated.

Kentlee, a nurse, reached out to a colleague for help. She wrote to Lacy Chavis, Psy.D., a Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital psychologist who has part of her time dedicated to the hospital’s Fetal Care Program through funding raised by A Woman’s Journey.

“This happens to a lot of women, and it doesn't say anything about them as a mother or their identity as a woman,” Chavis says. “Postpartum depression and anxiety disorders happen to a significant proportion of women who give birth. We need to acknowledge and validate that experience.”

Chavis says each woman’s experience is different, but about a third of women who experience postpartum depression or anxiety disorders begin to feel like they are not themselves before they deliver the baby, another third has the experience shortly after delivery and another third within a year after the baby arrives.

“It’s best to acknowledge that you don’t feel like yourself, be honest and talk to a friend, your partner, your OB or child’s pediatrician,” Chavis says. “Have conversations before you deliver. Because the more we talk about it, the easier it becomes and the less stigmatizing it is.”

Family and friends sometimes unintentionally exacerbate the situation or struggle to understand the mother’s feelings.

“It can be very difficult to explain to a partner or family or friends that are celebrating the occasion,” Chavis says. “It really helps for family and friends to validate and normalize the feelings the mother has and work as a support team to help her by acknowledging this significant life transition, assisting with infant care, allowing mother to rest, having time/space for self-care, and encouraging use of community and professional resources.”

Chavis taught Kentlee some relaxation techniques and how to recognize what triggered her feelings. Lack of sleep can be a big factor.

“I got better but only because of Dr. Chavis,” Kentlee says. “My world got better. My family got better. I learned to smile again."

“Moms sometimes need some help. They and everyone around them need to know it’s OK to ask for it. They’re not alone.”

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