Four years ago, Melissa Hoffman started a support group in Lawrence for women who suffer from postpartum mood disorders.
“When I went through it, there was nothing in Lawrence. I was a childbirth educator and a nurse, but I just felt so alone. I felt like nobody else felt like this,” she said.
She had panic attacks and intrusive thoughts that caused her reluctance to seek help. She finally reached out to her doctor when her son was 9 months old.
“I was just offered a prescription for a medication and sent on my way without any explanation of what was happening to me,” she said.
Four months later, she attended a presentation by Pec Indman, author of “Beyond the Blues,” in Lawrence. She went to take notes for her job.
“It was like, ‘Oh my God. That’s me. She’s talking about me,” Hoffman said. She bought the book and read it that night. Then, she reached out the Pregnancy and Postpartum Resource Center in Kansas City and spoke to the founder Meeka Centimano, who also experienced postpartum depression.
“It was the first time I didn’t feel alone,” Hoffman said. “I promised myself when I recovered that there would be something in Lawrence.”
Not only does she lead a weekly support group at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, but she’s also a volunteer for the Pregnancy and Postpartum Resource Center and she’s Kansas coordinator for Postpartum Support International.
“So often women don’t seek help because of the stigma that surrounds it and for fear of what people might think,” she said. “There’s also fear of, ‘Will they take my baby away?’”
Hoffman said 80 percent of women will experience what’s called the “baby blues” or the normal adjustment period. “It’s like an emotional roller coaster ride and getting used to your role as a new mom,” she said.
Baby blues should be resolving and getting increasingly better within two to three weeks.
If conditions persist past the three-week mark, Hoffman said women should seek medical help. Postpartum depression occurs after one out of eight deliveries. While it’s called postpartum depression, women can suffer a range of mood disorders, such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder and psychosis.
“Women often have more than one and they often cross over,” she said. “These are all separate diagnoses and one won’t lead to the next. Depression may become more serious depression but won’t lead to psychosis.”
Symptoms of postpartum depression include: crying, sadness, anger, change in sleep, change in appetite, loss of pleasure, headaches, stomachaches and rapid heart beat. Hoffman said symptoms can appear in pregnancy 10 percent of the time.
Women also can have intrusive or disturbing thoughts and they often are associated with the baby.
“These women are the very least likely to ask for help because they are so horrified and disturbed by the thoughts,” Hoffman said. “They are at high risk of suicide because of the guilt they feel from having those thoughts.”
Hoffman said these intrusive thoughts should not be mistaken for psychosis. Psychosis involves hallucinations and delusions, which the woman does not recognize as alarming. Psychosis is a break from reality and it is a mental health emergency.
“Women are not to blame in this,” Hoffman said. “They didn’t do anything to cause it, but there are things that put them at risk.” She puts the risk factors into three categories:
• Medical — history of infertility, thyroid disease, severe premenstrual syndrome and mood changes while taking birth control or fertility drugs.
• Social — poor system of support, stressful life events like a move or job change, quick return to work and short hospital stay.
• Emotional — family or person history of mood illness, poor stress coping skills, early childhood issues, relationship problems, loss of loved one, previous episode of postpartum depression and symptoms during pregnancy.
Hoffman said women should get a medical evaluation to rule out other illnesses. Then, there are three treatment options: medications, therapy and social support.
Hoffman said her support group, “Build Your Village,” meets Monday evenings, and the attendance typically ranges from 2 to 8.
“It’s a place to talk and not be judged. We support each other but try not to advise,” she said. “It’s a lot of things to a lot of people.”
Hoffman said there’s still a lack of resources and services in Lawrence when it comes to caring for postpartum depression. Women are having to seek inpatient and outpatient care in Topeka and Kansas City.
“My dream would be that every woman would be screened in pregnancy and postpartum, and then when somebody was identified as needing services that Lawrence would have a network of providers who have specific knowledge of postpartum mood disorder in place to see her in a timely manner. Truly, so often that is necessary.”
Hoffman said there were signs of anxiety after giving birth to her second child but they were manageable because she had the knowledge, right care and support to make a difference. Her sons are now ages 8 and 5.
“I knew so much more and was prepared for what might happen and so were the people who support me,” she said. “That made a huge difference.”
LAWRENCE SUPPORT GROUP
Melissa Hoffman, a registered nurse, facilitates a weekly support group Build Your Village for mothers suffering from pregnancy and postpartum adjustment challenges. The group meets from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Mondays at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, 325 Maine.
For more information, contact Hoffman at 505-3081.