The story of Andrea Yates stunned the nation. The enormity of a mother drowning her five children — one after the other — in the bathtub of their home is difficult to get your mind around.
Frankly, I didn’t want to.
On an average day in suburban Houston, Yates filled her tub. She then held Noah, Luke, Paul, John and Mary under the water until they were dead.
Horrifying. Heartbreaking. Preventable.
When I hear of a case like this, the first question I ask is, “How old was the baby?” There is so very often a baby.
Mary Yates was six months old.
Andrea Yates, by many expert accounts, was suffering from postpartum psychosis.
Postpartum depression is not postpartum psychosis, but the Yates case brought an issue with which so many new moms struggle into the national spotlight.
There is no shame in it.
Some new moms are ashamed when they don’t feel this mythical boundless joy at new motherhood, some see depression as a weakness or something they should be able to overcome with willpower, some think it’s just the baby blues (also real, and more common than PPD) and some don’t recognize that they’re depressed until they’re feeling better.
But imagine if all new moms who suffer with PPD were able to catch it early, and get help?
Now imagine these moms knew they were at risk before their baby was even born. Imagine that, by knowing this, there might be something a mom-to-be’s doctor could do to lessen the severity of their symptoms, or watch them closely after birth for signs that they’re spiraling into depression, and do something about it quickly?
Some research out of the University of California at Irvine say it’s possible.
The study — which is admittedly small — tested the levels of a hormone produced by the placenta midway through pregnancy. The success rate in identifying women who would later develop postpartum depression was 75%.
That is too large a number too ignore.
The hormone is placental corticotropin-releasing hormone. This hormone regulates the body’s response to stress, and is normally present in very small amounts. During pregnancy, though, the placenta produces a lot of the stuff. This may be to prepare a mom-to-be for the stress of labor.
BUT, in women who may be headed toward PPD, this hormone was detected in even higher amounts at 25 weeks gestation. Doctors were 3/4s of the time able to accurately predict, with this simple blood test, who would show signs of PPD. They say adding psychological evaluations increased the accuracy.
If you’re likely to get postpartum depression, you want to know. Not only does it make difficult for you to cope with simple, everyday issues, but it makes “baby boot camp” (which is hard enough) nearly impossible to navigate.
That is not ok. You deserve the joyful yet intimidating and exhausting time with your new baby you expect to have.
And PPD is not good for babies. If a new mom is overwhelmed with the symptoms of depression, she simply cannot care for her newborn in the way an infant needs. Newborns need to be touched and held and responded to when they cry. If they are not, they can develop cognitive delays and behavior problems. It can also interfere with the very, very important attachment process between a mom and her baby, which can have lifelong consequences.
So if a simple blood test could identify if you’re at risk, well, that’s wonderful! After further study, maybe docs will add it to the list of second trimester tests you’ll be getting, anyway.
Much more on postpartum depression — the signs and symptoms, the treatment, and why you should not be ashamed — can be found in our Pea in the Podcast on “Baby Boot Camp”, which is what we call the sometimes overwhelming time after you bring baby home. We talk to Dr. Alison Wilson, a psychologist who is an expert in PPD. She is also featured in our podcast on your emotional health during pregnancy. I urge all of you to check them out. So few of us are prepared for the emotional pitfalls of pregnancy and the postpartum period.
I wasn’t. I didn’t suffer from PPD, thankfully, but no one prepared me for the overwhelming emotions — the high highs, the low lows, the intense love and the intense exhaustion — I would feel after my baby came.
No one really can, it’s that singular an experience, but I hope we at Pea in the Podcast can help you be better prepared for this wild ride!