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updated: 4/2/2011 11:39 AM

Helping moms cope with postpartum moods

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  • Wendy Fink of Sycamore is a mother of "two under 2" -- Ayden, 21 months, and Leah, three-and-a-half months. She says she has been helped by a postpartum support group at TriCity Family Services in Geneva.

       Wendy Fink of Sycamore is a mother of "two under 2" -- Ayden, 21 months, and Leah, three-and-a-half months. She says she has been helped by a postpartum support group at TriCity Family Services in Geneva.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

 
 

A baby is born and everyone celebrates.

It is a life changing moment but it isn't always easy, especially for those moms who suffer from postpartum mood disorder -- often referred to as postpartum depression.

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Seventy-five to eighty percent of all new moms experience some form of "baby blues" within the first few days after giving birth. The feelings usually subside after a few weeks. Ten to 20 percent experience intense feelings of anxiety, sadness or despair that does not go away, symptoms of postpartum mood disorder.

"This disorder is often confused with postpartum psychosis," said Pauline Gekas, a family therapist who facilitates the Women in Need support group that counsels new moms who are having a difficult time.

"If a mom suffers from postpartum psychosis, she might do harm to her baby. That doesn't happen with women who are suffering from postpartum mood disorder."

Gekas was one of the original founders of the group that began 10 years ago through a joint partnership with Delnor Hospital and TriCity Family Services. She is now joined by Delnor nurse, Mary Ellen Pollina.

"For some reason, moms feel that they aren't adequate or that there is a stigma attached to being diagnosed with postpartum depression," said Gekas. "Also, there are a lot of misconceptions about the disorder. It's not about not being able to get out of bed in the morning. It's more about not being able to cope with the demands of motherhood."

Three courageous moms shared their stories in hopes that others might be helped. All of the women were in their 30s and had not experienced similar symptoms with the birth of their first child.

"Because I hadn't had the same symptoms before, I probably waited too long to get help and it got a lot worse before it got better," said Melissa May. "I didn't want to talk with my friends about it, because I didn't want them to think I was a bad mother."

May felt like she was in a constant state of panic. She had a hard time sleeping and then worried how she would cope if she didn't get enough sleep.

"I didn't want to take any drugs and I didn't want to seek counseling," she said. "In the back of my mind I kept thinking, 'what will people think?'"

Finally, she reached the point where she knew that she had to get help.

"I knew that I was in a very dark place and I knew that I couldn't do it on my own," she added. "I had to get help."

May's doctor found her level of serotonin was very low and prescribed the drug. He also encouraged her to join W.I.N.

"Originally, I had felt like a light switch went off in my head," said May. "After I started on the serotonin, I felt that the light went back on."

She called TriCity Family Services to get information about the group and was surprised to hear how accommodating the group was for new moms. She was reassured by a lactation nurse that taking the serotonin wouldn't be harmful to her baby. That single phone call made her feel very welcomed.

"I couldn't believe that they offered free child care and that they met each week," she added. "I stayed in the group for over a year and a half and it was comforting to talk with other moms who were going through exactly what I was going through."

For Wendy Fink, the birth of her second child was very different from the birth of her first.

"I couldn't nurse even though I really wanted to nurse my baby," she said. "I wasn't myself. I would get angry at every little thing. I was pretty mean to my husband, but I don't think that husbands really understand what you are going through because it didn't happen with the first child."

Pauline Gekas realized that spousal support was important for the moms, so she created a brochure to help the husbands deal with the disorder.

"Husbands often expect their wives to just snap out of it, or they get very frustrated when they can't immediately fix it or help their wives," said Gekas.

Amanda Abel found that she wasn't herself after the birth of her second child. She had feelings of helplessness and often took her frustrations out on her husband.

"I know I was pretty nasty to him," she said. "But I felt so out of control. I remember driving on Bliss Road to Sugar Grove and wanting to just drive away."

"I knew I needed help so I called the help line at Delnor," she said. "The nurse at the other end of the line talked me through it and I remember feeling good to hear someone say that it was OK."

Even though Amanda Abel felt as though she had reached rock bottom, she found the energy to go to the Tuesday morning meeting at TriCity Family Services. She left there thinking that she was OK. She wasn't crazy and she could get help.

"After a few weeks my husband said, 'It's good to have you back,'" said Abel.

All of the women interviewed encouraged others who are in need of support to join the group.

"What have you got to lose, an hour and a half in your day?" said Wendy Fink. "Even though I felt like a failure, I realized that it is OK to admit that I was not going to be that number one perfect mom. I was still great."

WIN meets at 10 a.m. Tuesdays at TriCity Family Services, 1120 Randall Court, Geneva. Child Care is available. For details, call (630) 232-1070 or visit tricityfamilyservices.org/postpartum.

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