Katie Derbyshire was desperately aware that she needed help. She had just given birth to her first child — a son — and felt consumed by anxiety. She couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t think about anything but her son and endless what-if’s. What if the baby stopped breathing? What if something happened to him? What if her life as she knew it was over?
“I felt like I was completely losing it,” Derbyshire said. “I wasn’t able to cope with anything. I remember telling my husband, ‘I’m not feeling good. Something is not right.’ It’s one thing not to keep yourself together, but not being able to take care of your child — that’s a whole different ballgame. It’s the worst feeling in the world. And you feel like there’s no way out.”
Derbyshire’s sister-in-law, who had suffered from postpartum depression, urged her to seek support from the Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness at Christiana Care Health System. Six weeks after giving birth, Katie made an appointment with behavioral health specialist Megan O’Hara, MSW, LCSW, who immediately recognized the signs.
“Katie was suffering from a severe perinatal mood and anxiety disorder,” said O’Hara. “This disorder can come out of nowhere, even up to a year after giving birth, and can be extremely frightening, as Katie experienced.” Because anxiety is the primary symptom and there is a range of severity from mild to severe, some women don’t recognize it as depression. However, women experiencing all levels of severity can benefit from treatment.
“It hits you without warning,” said Derbyshire, a successful sales manager who lives in North Wilmington. “People think, ‘it won’t happen to me, I have everything together.’ No woman wants to admit she’s having a problem.”
Derbyshire began seeing O’Hara once a week, and given the severity of her symptoms, she enrolled in an intensive, six-week program at an outpatient treatment center and continued meeting with O’Hara.
Through the Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness, Christiana Care supports women through all stages of pregnancy and early motherhood, from planning to become pregnant, throughout pregnancy, delivery and the first year after birth. That support can include outpatient therapy and medication management when needed. In 2015, the team consulted with 240 new mothers in the hospital immediately following delivery and conducted 2,750 outpatient visits. Christiana Care screens all new mothers for mood and anxiety symptoms after childbirth, before they leave the hospital.
“Women need to know that these disorders can be treated and they can recover,” O’Hara said. “A lot of women question whether or not they have postpartum depression. There’s a fear of admitting that this is how you envisioned life after having a baby. People will tell you it’s supposed to be the best time of your life. It’s devastating when it’s not. We are here to help.”
With treatment, Derbyshire felt like herself again. When she and her husband started planning for their second child, they took both Derbyshire’s physical and mental well-being into account.
“I definitely had some anxiety going in to my second pregnancy,” Derbyshire said. “But I knew that working with Megan and the Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness, we would have a plan.” She met with O’Hara in advance of her delivery to talk about using the mindfulness and relaxation techniques she had learned, about incorporating outdoor exercise daily and about the medication she would need.
Derbyshire delivered her second child — another son — in May 2015. She continues treatment at the Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness to work through any anxiety she experiences and to receive expert guidance in navigating the challenges of motherhood.
“My entire family is doing great,” Derbyshire said. “The Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness has helped me deal with the emotions and issues that follow having a baby. It’s my safe place. It’s where I got better. Adding another child to our family is no longer out of the question.”
In addition to offering one-on-one counseling services, the Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness has launched Moms Heal, a weekly support group for pregnant and new moms. Attendees discuss adjustment challenges, depression and anxiety during pregnancy and after giving birth, and learn effective coping skills. The group meets on Thursday evenings from 6 to 7 p.m. at Christiana Hospital. Sessions are free, registration is not required, and attendees do not need to be patients of Christiana Care.
For more information about the Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness or the Moms Heal Support group, call 302-733-6662.
If you feel you are in crisis, call 911 or go immediately to the nearest emergency room, or call Christiana Care’s 24-hour Crisis Line at 302-320-2118.