Today Kelly G. is a happy, active mother of two. But for months after the birth of her second child, postpartum depression kept her from being the mom she wanted to be.
She had difficulty bonding with her baby. “I couldn’t go into my daughter’s room in the morning,” she said. “She got her first tooth and it didn’t mean anything to me.”
While she struggled, her husband and mother took care of the baby at their home in North Wilmington. Eventually, she was hospitalized for depression.
At the hospital, Kelly found medication helpful in reducing some of her symptoms, but she struggled to find connection and support in the group-therapy setting.
“People talked about challenges and problems I couldn’t identify with,” she said. “At the same time, people couldn’t really identify with what I was experiencing; nobody there had a baby or had experienced postpartum depression.”
Her doctors referred her to Christiana Care’s new Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness for outpatient therapy and medication management, where she received the supportive care she needed.
The health care professionals at the Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness understand the tremendous impact a woman’s emotional health has on her pregnancy, her attachment to her infant and her entire family. They specialize in identifying and treating perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, which represent the most common complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
“We want women to know that challenges associated with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are real, and they can be scary, but they are not a woman’s fault and they are very treatable,” said Megan O’Hara, LCSW.
O’Hara introduced Kelly to techniques to promote bonding with her baby, starting with 15-minute activities, such as taking the baby for a walk, feeding or playing with her. O’Hara also recommended regular exercise. Kelly’s supportive boss provided access to a treadmill at work where she could exercise for 20 minutes each day.
“Exercise provides immediate relief,” Kelly reported. “I feel so much better after I work out. Gradually, I could do more, and I started to feel normal again. Megan truly understood my problem and was always there to offer help.”
The Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness offers outpatient therapy for individuals and couples, as well as evaluation and medication management. Upcoming additions to the program will include group-therapy and support-group programs. The center provides streamlined access to therapy services for women coping with mental-health challenges before, during and after pregnancy.
“Preconception counseling is especially important for women who are on medications for bipolar disorder or depression, because this allows opportunity to configure a plan of action before a woman becomes pregnant,” said Malina Spirito, PsyD., MEd, a licensed psychologist at the center.
The three full-time members of the team — O’Hara, Spirito, and Janet Brown, APRN, BC, a board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner — collaborate with psychiatrist Rebecca Moore, M.D., Cynthia Wiles, Ph.D., psychologist, and social workers from the maternity and Healthy Beginnings programs at Christiana Care. They also provide education to medical professionals throughout Christiana Care and in the primary care community to raise awareness about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. To OB-GYN and pediatric providers, they emphasize the importance of screening for postpartum depression to identify women who may need support.
“We know that as many as 20 percent of women develop postpartum depression or related disorders,” Brown said. “In a health system where more than 6,000 babies a year are born, there are many women who need care.”
She encourages any pregnant or postpartum woman with concerns about her emotional health to reach out for information and support. Call 302-733-6662 or the 24-hour crisis line at 302-428-2118.