Regional Perinatal Consortium of Monmouth and Ocean Counties (RPCMOC) health educator Amy Goldberg mailed 600 fliers to local religious organizations offering her program on pregnancy related emotional wellness.
One person responded.
That person was Rachel McKibben, director of youth and family ministries at Trinity Episcopal Church in Red Bank. For McKibben, the flier didn't just represent another ministry opportunity; it was a highly personal invitation to do something about an issue that has shaped her own life.
McKibben is one of a tiny percentage of women who have experienced Postpartum Psychosis. Although she had no history of mental illness and no symptoms after her first pregnancy, she did have some risk factors for Postpartum Depression (PPD).
McKibben said she came down with Shingles and Bell's Palsy in the last month of her pregnancy, moved into a new home 5 days before the delivery, and gave birth to an 11 pound baby by cesarean section.
At the March 3 program that Trinity hosted as a result of McKibben's interest, Goldberg said common PPD risk factors include:
- difficult pregnancy or difficulty getting pregnant
- very fussy baby, multiple births, medical problems with your baby
- lack of sleep
- patient, family history of depression
- social isolation
- lack of support from family and friends
She said perinatal mood disorders can affect any woman who:
- is pregnant
- recently had a baby
- had a miscarriage
- ended a pregnancy
- stopped breastfeeding
In addition to feelings of extreme detachment from both her baby and her body, McKibben said she had panic attacks every 30 to 40 minutes, delusions, and suicidal ideation. She said family members advised her to "get over it."
"When I was in the hospital, I would leave her randomly in hallways," McKibben said of the daughter she cherishes four years later.
"I actually don't think we connected until she was four months old," she said.
Goldberg said warning signs for PPD include:
- trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- feeling irritable, angry, nervous, or exhausted
- lack of interest in baby, friends, and family
- feeling guilty, worthless, or hopeless
- crying a lot
- feelings of being a bad mother
- low energy or trouble concentrating
- thoughts of hurting the baby, oneself, or others
It wasn't until she became suicidal 5 weeks after her daughter's birth that McKibben was hospitalized and put on anti-psychotic medication. When she was released from the hospital 6 days later, she and her husband hired a doula to care for the baby at night so that she could get the rest that was vital to her recovery. She said it took a year, but with treatment and adequate support, she was "100 percent cured."
Goldberg advised struggling women to:
- get as much rest as possible
- focus on wellness through healthy eating and exercise
- ask for help
- talk about your feelings
- attend a support group
- take medication that has been prescribed by a doctor
Father Christopher Rodriguez said he had no prior experience with Postpartum Psychosis, but after living with two extremely colicky babies and seeing his wife suffer from anxiety after her pregnancies, he gained empathy for new mothers.
"I've been there. I've seen it with my wife and pastorally," Rodriguez said.
I asked him how he ministered to McKibben.
"What I told her is that as Christians we don't believe in body and mind being separate things. They're united. We're a whole. I prayed for her. I told her the church was there to support her and that I was there to support her. I spent a lot of time working with her husband too, because he had no idea what was going on," said Rodriguez.
"Father Chris was a brand new priest here, and was sort of instrumental in helping guide me, and I gave myself to the Lord. That's when everything really changed," said McKibben.
Goldberg advised friends and family members to:
- offer to help with daily responsibilities before a woman asks
- encourage her to express her feelings
- be alert to depression symptoms
- encourage her to see a doctor
- create a safe, loving, and accepting environment
Because of what she went through, McKibben valued the services Goldberg was offering to the families in her church.
"I have it on my heart to help other women. Whenever women are pregnant or just have delivered babies, I always try to reach out," said McKibben.
Throughout the program at Trinity, one woman kept raising her hand, not so much to ask questions, but to share her struggles with those who might listen.
A pregnant mother who had difficulty after her first pregnancy asked Goldberg if women suffering from PPD risk losing custody of their children when they ask for help.
Goldberg said no.
Later I asked her what the protocol is, given that clinicians have a responsibility to act when patients are a danger to themselves or others.
"[The authorities] would not remove custody from [the mother]. They would find somebody to care for that baby until she's well," Goldberg said.
"The thing about Postpartum Depression is it's curable. If she gets the appropriate treatment, she will get better, so to remove custody legally from the mother doesn't make sense," she explained.
The appropriate role of faith-based organizations in supporting women suffering from PPD is "support, not treatment," according to Goldberg. She said there is an 80-90 percent success rate with treatment and suggested that faith-based organizations refer women to a support group or consider establishing one of their own.
Trinity Episcopal Church, for example, is launching a mother's morning out program. It will begin with a study of the book Guilt Free Motherhood: Parenting with Godly Wisdom by Julianna Slattery and will run every Tuesday morning from 9:30-11 a.m. beginning March 15. Childcare will be provided.
- For more information, contact Rachel McKibben at 732-741-4581.
A variety of PPD support groups meet at hospitals and health centers throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties and other groups meet online.
- For more information about PPD, call 1-800-328-3838 or go to www.njspeakup.gov. Clinicians are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- For more information about RPCMOC or its services, call 732-363-5400, or go to www.rpcmoc.com.
- If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 1-877-294-HELP.
(Note: Christine A. Scheller is a member of Trinity Episcopal Church.)